Seven years earlier. Our first meeting; Rossignol and I.
Let me go back a few years to a happier time, some seven years earlier, when Rossignol and I first met.
We were both thirteen years old.
She was walking to her aunt’s home; a twenty-minute walk away from the marketplace, when she’d been distracted by the sound of a bird from the forest at the side of the road.
She’d wandered off the track to see where its song came from.
After looking everywhere around her, and still not seeing it while following its progress, she was ready to give up.
“It’s almost directly ahead of you.” I spoke from one side of her, startling her.
“Please do not be afraid. I was also attracted to its song. I was exploring down by the river and followed it up here.”
She was not afraid.
“You say it is ahead of me. Where?”
I came out from where I had frozen, hearing her approach, and pointed, as my other hand touched low down on her back. She flinched.
Her eyes followed my arm to where the bird was, near the top of a tree. My face was near her neck... close enough to feel her warmth and to catch her scent. My head began to spin. I wanted to kiss her there, but knew that I shouldn't, but I could look down into the front of her dress.
“It seems a remarkably plain bird to have such a beautiful and powerful song.”
I spoke softly so as not to scare either her, or it, away, as I looked at her everywhere I could see.
“Exterior appearances are often deceptive, in nature, and vice versa (but not with her. She was beautiful through and through, I did know that about her). It is a nightingale. You are named after it... ‘Rossignol’.”
I know I did not speak like a typical thirteen-year old, but nor did she. We had both been tutored by those who valued the chivalry and good manners of an earlier age, and which demanded it. I had lost most of the bruises to remind me of that, and I had not forgotten. I now began to see the value of that teaching. Of some of that teaching.
She turned to look at me.
“How do you know my name? We have never met. We would never be introduced. And you are a Vaillancourt. Guillaume Vaillancourt.”
I smiled. “Touché. I am. And you are a Chambertin. Rossignol Chambertin.” I bowed from the waist as a gentleman should. “For two persons who have never met, we seem to know each other quite well. You, would be impossible for me not to notice.”
She was at a loss for words, even blushing. She could have said the same thing to him.
Our families were very different; they were rivals. There was no love lost between them.
“I don’t think you should be here.” She was right.
“Why not?” As if I needed to ask.
“My brothers.” Those two words conveyed a world of hurt for me if I were discovered with their sister.
“But where are they?” I swept my hand around us. We were surrounded by trees and underbrush. Not a brother in sight. I even felt bold.
“They are not here. We are truly alone. If I were your brothers, I would never let such a vulnerable and fragile beauty as you, out of my sight, even for an instant.”
Her eyes flashed to my face. We were surprising each other... even more than that... we both felt it... this nameless, 'something'.
I tried to explain.
“The woods are not safe. There are wild pigs; boars; fewer of them now, I know, but they are still about. Snakes too. I doubt you could easily climb a tree in that dress to avoid either one. It is also easy to get lost if you go too far off the track.”
“I shall not get lost. My aunt’s house is not far. I am to stay there for a few days while my mother is ill.”
Why was she telling me this?
“What were you doing down by the river?” She was looking me up and down.
I suppose I looked grubby from what I had been doing.
“I was exploring a cave down there.”
“Oh. Are there caves?” That was the first she knew of any cave.
“There is one interesting cave that I know of. There may be others.”
She wanted to ask about it but knew that she shouldn’t. She should never have talked to me at all.
“I must go. I cannot say that my aunt will worry if I am late, because she won’t. She sleeps most of the time. I am not even sure she knows that I am living with her for the moment, even though my things were brought over this morning.”
She thought for a while. “If I....” She hesitated. "Would you show me that cave, if I asked? I know I will be able to break away.”
“Perhaps.” I was non-committal, but my heart was singing.
She re-thought it. “But no. I shouldn’t ask. I was warned to keep away from... your family. If my brothers saw you... with me....”
I tapped my sword.
“I’ve had the best teachers.”
Indeed, I had. Though I knew it would never get to that. Her brothers had bullied me in the past, but never individually. To do so now would invite more trouble that they might want to know.
I was a mature thirteen, big for my age and strong. They no longer had that earlier advantage.
I was cocky too.
“Then... adieu... except...” She looked around, lost. She had become disoriented.
“Could you point me...?”
“I can do better than that, fair maid. I shall escort you, if I may. But there will be a price to pay for my escort.”
She frowned. I felt her disappointment in me.
“It will be a simple price. I shall request that we talk openly, as we stroll together; that we answer each other’s questions without evasion, and that when we get back to the track, that you shall take my arm until we reach your aunt’s house. The track is rough and uneven.”
She blushed again, at having been caught thinking the worst of me.
We reached the track again after a few minutes. After listening for a few moments for the beat of horses’ hooves, and hearing nothing, we proceeded. She took my arm as agreed, and we spoke at length.
I swear we took almost half an hour to walk barely half a mile. We paused often, as she admired another flower or heard another bird singing. We wandered off the track often, as we talked, but soon came back to it. She seemed as loath to part from me, as I was, from her.
We learned so much about each other in those moments.
She seemed disappointed when we saw her aunt’s house at the end of the road.
I had to ask what was in my heart and my mind. “Must you go?”
I think she heard the disappointment in my voice.
“This time, sir, I must.” She seemed to feel as I did; resting her hand on my arm as though to comfort me in my loss.
“May I see you again, fair Rossignol?”
She blushed and nodded.
“I hope so. There is nothing to occupy me here from one hour to another.”
I took my cue from that.
“The day is still young. May I see you this afternoon?”
“Yes. But I expect that my father will check on me at lunch time, to see me settled in with his older sister. When he departs, I will be free then, for several hours, and even for a few days. My aunt is deaf and will not miss me, and there is but the one older servant. As long as I appear for dinner, and for breakfast, they will not care where I am.”
Hearing those words, I rejoiced. My heart began to beat as it never had before, and I hugged her arm closer to me.
“Can we be seen from the house?”
She looked around, and she giggled nervously. After those words, any wise woman would be very nervous, alone with a man who could barely control himself, and with her knowing exactly in what way.
I was too obvious, physically, and she had seen the flush on my face as well as felt that other problem I could not hide from her.
“Not if we step off the track, sir.” She seemed to know what I intended, and was not in any way put off, or scared by my condition for her.
We moved out of sight into the woods again. She turned into me, and for the first time, we kissed.
She was still not scared, despite what she could feel of my body pushing at her, and with her pushing back, letting me know how welcome I would be.
I had never known such excitement, such a deep pleasure as I felt at that moment. I did not even know where I was for several minutes. I wanted to raise her dress even then. I doubt she would have stopped me, but would, perhaps, have helped me.
When we parted, we were both out of breath, stroking each other’s faces, speaking words that reflected our feelings... of... it had to be love. It was, 'love'.
I saw her walk to the house, watching her graceful movements and with her, deeply conscious in turn, that I had no choice but to watch her. She turned at the door where no one could see us and waved. I waved back.
I studied the track. I would notice when anyone had ridden by on it, so I would know if her father had come, and gone, when I returned.
I had things to do.