raced through the trees, trying desperately to escape. Branches caught and tore parts of her flowing
chiffon gown as leaves planted themselves in her long, fire red hair. She had no idea where she was going, but she
couldn’t go back. She refused go back to
the castle that felt more like a prison than a home that night. Her golden eyes darted around the darkness,
the sun setting on the horizon. Her
vision blurred but her feet wouldn’t stop and they took her farther and farther
away from her the wedding…her
Never had she thought she would be rid of him, or escape from him. But, as she started to walk down the isle, she had found a way, running past him and the priest to a back door left open. Now, she was running to be completely free from him. If she could find a place to hide then, when they came looking for her, she would be safe, out of sight, and they would eventually give up.
She cried out with a start when a huge branch caught her veil and pulled her to a stop. She struggled to tear the headdress from the tree’s grasp, but it was too tangled. She finally yanked the veil from her head and continued running, leaving it stuck in the tree. She had lost her shoes what seemed like hours ago, and now her feet and the hem of her dress were muddy and wet.
Tears flowed freely down her freckled cheeks as she breathed heavily and her pace began to slow. She couldn’t believe what she had just done, but she had to do it. She wouldn’t live in misery in a loveless marriage just please her family. What could possibly be gained from it? Her parents had arranged it when they were children, but he had turned out to be a spoiled, arrogant dog who cared nothing for anyone but himself. Why would her parents force such a man on her?
One thing was certain: the LaRouche family had just been dishonored. But Beatrice could care less about her family honor. She just wanted happiness and love. Was that too much to ask, even from her family?
“I must keep going,” she panted. “If I do not, they will surely find me.”
She hobbled along for a few steps, but her feet soon gave way beneath her and she fell to the ground in exhaustion. Mud caked her face and dress as she crawled to a nearby tree for shelter. It would begin to rain again, soon, and she needed to get inside. But the next village wasn’t for miles. She prayed for some miracle to get her through the night, though she knew, because of her recent actions, God would not listen.
“Take two knights, a third if you have to and find my daughter!” Lord Ian LaRouche barked at one of his knights, his amber eyes flashing with anger. “I want her here by morning!”
“Yes, my lord,” the knight nodded and backed away to leave the great hall.
“Dear,” Lady Tatiana called, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. He turned to her and her emerald gaze met his. “Your men can find her, and Valin is searching for her. Do not be so angry.”
“How can I not be angry when our daughter has run out on her wedding day?!” Ian boomed, enraged at the situation.
“Perhaps, she needed some time alone?” Tatiana guessed, gently moving a strand of Ian’s fire red hair from his face. “We’ve been planning the wedding for a year.”
“Then why did she not say something?” Ian groaned, leaning his forehead on his wife’s shoulder, hopeless. “She knows she can tell us anything.”
“Perhaps not,” Tatiana murmured. “After all, she is allowed some secrets. Perhaps she felt she couldn’t share this one with us?”
“My lord!” one of Ian’s knights called and he turned to him as he entered the main hall. “Sir Valin is requesting to accompany us in the search for Lady Beatrice. Shall I---?”
“Tell him it is his decision,” Ian interrupted firmly. “She is his fiancé.”
“Yes, my lord,” the knight nodded and left. Tatiana slid her arms around Ian’s chest, laying her head on his shoulder as he twirled one of her long, golden curls in his fingers.
“She will be alright, my love,” he whispered, wrapping his arms around her shoulders. “They will find her before sunrise tomorrow.”
“That is still enough time for something to happen,” Tatiana whimpered.
“Do not fret, my dear,” he whispered again. “Go to our chamber. Try to sleep. I will be there shortly.”
Tatiana nodded and pressed a kiss to his cheek before walking out of his embrace and down the hall toward their chamber. Ian sighed and sat at the table, his head in his hand. He slammed a fist down on the table in rage and grabbed a mug of ale to hurl it into the fireplace. The fire blasted forth then died down in a second. He would get no sleep tonight until Beatrice was safely home.
Valin mounted his horse, his armor clanging with every movement. His brown eyes scanned the forest ahead of him through strands of black hair. Beatrice had to be there. And he would find her and marry her if he had to drag her down the isle by her hair, kicking and screaming.
What on God’s green earth had possessed her to run away from him on their wedding day?! He didn’t care. All he knew was that she had run away, and he was going to find her. He would find her, marry her and teach her a lesson she would never forget for leaving him at the alter.
“Sir Valin?” his lead knight, Jag, called riding up next to him, gazing around with his jade eyes, his own black hair matted from the rain. “Where shall we start looking for Lady Beatrice?”
“We start in the woods, of course,” Valin replied as if the man should know. “Where else would she try to hide but in the woods?!”
“I’m sorry, my lord, forgive me,” Jag said quickly and Valin raised his head triumphantly then rode into the forest.
Beatrice huddled beneath a tree, bringing her knees to her chest as she wrapped her arms around her legs. She leaned her head on her knees and sobbed quietly. What had she done? She was away from her home and everything she knew and now night was falling. She had never been on her own before, even when she played outside there was always someone with her. She was truly alone.
A twig snapped behind her and she stiffened as she suddenly heard slow hoof beats on the other side of the tree. How did they get this far into the woods so fast?! She slowly and silently stood to run if she had to, pressing herself against the tree to avoid being seen. The hoof beats were coming closer, their pace still slow and steady.
Beatrice silently took in a breath and cautiously looked to her left as a lone horse and rider came up next to her. Her heart pounded in her chest with fear as she saw the horse turn, facing its side to her and its rider turned in his saddle to face her. Her fear now turned to confusion.
She knew every one of her father’s knights personally and she had memorized Valin’s knights’ faces, but this man was not familiar at all. He sat tall on the black steed, his black hair combed, messily to one side, his golden eyes scanning over her in evaluation as he kept the reigns to his horse in one hand, his sword in his other.
“A lady should not be out in the woods alone at night,” the man said as he dismounted and sheathed his blade. “What is your name, my lady?”
“Beatrice,” she replied, staring at him in awe. “And begging your pardon, my lord, but I am not alone.”
“No?” the man wondered, frowning slightly in confusion. “And who is here with you?”
“You are, my lord,” Beatrice replied. She always made jokes whenever she was frightened of nervous and it was a habit her parents were not fond of. But as she said it with a straight face, the man laughed, heartily then walked toward her, still holding his horse’s reigns.
“So I am,” he smiled. “My name is Jasper, my lady.” He took one of her hands and kissed it politely then frowned at it. “You are covered in mud.”
Beatrice cast her eyes down in embarrassment and tried to dust it off of her gown, but to no avail.
“Yes, my lord,” she mumbled. “I was…running and I tripped.”
“Pray, tell me, what were you running from, my lady?” Jasper wondered, genuinely.
“Nothing of significance,” she lied, her eyes still staring at the ground as she started wringing her hands.
“Well, whenever you wish to tell me, I will listen,” Jasper said, pulling his horse closer at Beatrice looked at him in shock. “We have a bit of a ride ahead of us.”
“I beg your pardon?” Beatrice frowned as Jasper mounted his horse again.
“As I said before, a lady should not be alone in the woods at night,” he replied simply, offering his hand. “My castle is not far from here. You can clean up and rest there tonight and I shall return you to your family in the morn.”
“Sir,” Beatrice huffed. “I do not know you. Nor do you know me. I could be a lunatic, or you could be, for that matter.”
“If you do not trust me, you can walk beside my horse,” Jasper retorted with a smirk. “Though, it will take longer to get to our destination.”
“That is not the issue,” Beatrice retorted just as quick. “Would I be so inclined to go with you in the first place, how am I to know you are an honorable man and that you will not sneak into my chamber as I sleep?!”
“I offer my help, and you insult me?” Jasper laughed slightly. “Very well. If that is the case, I shall return to my home and leave you to the devices of the forest.” He urged his horse to go and began walking back the way he came. “Farewell, Lady Beatrice of Mud!”
Beatrice gasped in disbelief as she watched Jasper ride off into the darkness. She growled slightly in frustration then sat down in a huff, crossing her arms in front of her with a slight pout.
“Who does he think he is, talking to me that way?!” she hissed. “I am a lady, not a common maiden!”
She squeaked with a start when she was suddenly picked up and plopped into a saddle. She looked behind her as Jasper mounted the horse, his arms around Beatrice to hold the reigns.
“I thought my insults had offended you,” Beatrice smirked, but Jasper merely glanced at her as he turned the horse toward his home.
“I couldn’t live with myself if something happened to you that I could have prevented,” he replied seriously. Beatrice’s smirk dropped and she looked at her lap in guilt.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured. “No one has ever offered their help to me for nothing.”
Jasper stared at the back of her head in disbelief then sighed.
“I understand,” he said, gently. “I should not have joked about such things. Forgive me, my lady.”
“Only if you forgive me for saying you were not an honorable man,” she replied. “You are far more gentlemanly than my betrothed.”
“Betrothed?” Jasper echoed with a frown of confusion. Beatrice gasped and slapped a hand over her mouth, but she knew it was too late. “So, this is your wedding gown and I take it you ran from your wedding, correct?”
“Yes,” Beatrice muttered, removing her hand.
“May I ask why you would do such a thing, my lady?” Jasper asked and Beatrice sighed.
“My fiancé is not---I’m afraid I do not…I do not love him.”
“Then why were you going to marry him?”
“I do not. My parents arranged the marriage when I was five years old.”
“I see,” Jasper nodded. “And you say he is not honorable?”
“He is a dog,” Beatrice blurted. “Arrogant, hot-tempered, impatient, self-centered---!”
“I see why you do not love him,” Jasper interrupted quickly. “And I also see why you ran away.”
Beatrice looked up at him, her eyes glowing with disbelief.
“You do?” she breathed and Jasper looked at her.
“Yes,” he replied. “To have your life dictated and your future planned out of you, without your say in the matter? That is no way to live, in my opinion.”
“Some would prefer to have their fate handed to them on a silver platter, planned and dictated to every breath one is to take,” Beatrice said.
“True,” Jasper agreed. “But some would rather try to look for their fate without a plan on a silver platter. You are the latter, I think.”
“Really?” Beatrice chuckled. “And you can deduce that in the short time we have spent together, can you?”
“You did run from your arranged marriage, my lady,” Jasper reminded her. “You certainly do not wish for anyone to dictate your love life, that is certain.”
Beatrice’s eyes widened in surprise, but she said nothing. He was right, of course. She didn’t want her fate handed to her, she wanted to find it and she wanted to find with whomever God so fit to choose for her. He alone could dictate her life, but no one else. Not her parents and certainly not Valin.