Anna slept, and dreamed.
She was riding Peony, and she was half in, and half out of her body, sometimes looking out from herself through her own eyes as she rode; as well as sitting out-of-body, and looking at herself cantering along, as though she was someone else observing what she was doing.
When she looked out, she felt as though everything was as it should be, but when she observed herself from a few feet away—as she could in this dream—she was actually, totally naked.
Riding naked? Unthinkable!
But that body could not be hers. It was too beautiful; interesting, strangely pleasing, so it could not be her body, except, who else would be riding Peony but her?
Besides, if it was her body, she should not look upon it with any pride or curiosity, as she was doing.
Her body… or someone else’s body… what did it matter? It was only a dream. Anything was possible in a dream, and where one’s greatest fears, or one’s most cherished wishes could take flight, on a fancy.
This could not be her, because that girl, that young woman, was certainly riding totally naked—not a stitch of clothing on her body—loping slowly across the landscape; though she did have a simple necklace about her neck.
Perhaps that was enough. It seemed to be.
Apart from her being without clothing, there was nothing out-of-place here. Nothing to invite censure with no one to see her in this state. It was very daring of her, however she had managed this.
She was tossing her head like a rebellious spirit, feeling her long hair streaming out behind her, and she was exhilarated, shouting out in pleasure; feeling the rush of air over her body as she urged Peony along, but hearing nothing other than the sounds in her head, and the occasional clop, of the horse’s hooves. Everything was so smooth.
It was also raining hard, with water running down her face and over her body and she was comfortable with everything the way it was, which in itself was strange. She’d never felt comfortable to be without some clothing covering her before, even in private.
Loping, was not an accurate description of how the horse was moving beneath her. Peony was gliding in long arcs, rising, then falling in slow motion; her feet rarely touching the ground before springing up again, as though she were one of those roundabout-horses Anna had ridden as a child when the fair had been set up on the ice of the frozen Thames.
Then, she had been bundled up to the eyeballs, gloves, scarf, heavy shoes and stockings, and even the gentle flow of cold air over the little skin that was exposed on her face at that time, had felt unpleasant; tingly, but this was different. It was warm for one thing.
The pace in this dream was slow, yet she must be moving fast. Peony’s ears were forward, attentive to everything in front of her; one of her ears, turning back, every so often to hear the voice of her mistress.
Her mane was streaming and bouncing on her neck. Anna’s own light necklace with its protective cross was bouncing upon her chest, rising to tap her gently on her chin or was blown over her shoulder as she leaned forward, almost lying out along Peony’s neck, and she knew that her own hair was streaming out behind her, like that of a wild woman.
She was galloping in impossibly slow motion, yet she had never ridden so fast, chased only by the wind, so it truly was a dream where anything became possible. Such things never happened in real life.
Why did she not feel mortified or embarrassed to be so naked? But why should she be embarrassed? She was not ashamed of her body, and there was no one to see her.
It was warm, and she felt uncharacteristically defiant; as Joan of Arc must have done, riding into battle—though in full armor, and lightly clad under that, no doubt—or as Lady Godiva did, hundreds of years earlier, in her own rebellious way, as she rode naked through the streets of Coventry to make some point or other; if that story were true.
Never, never under normal circumstances, would she ever have let her completely-naked body be exposed; not even to herself in front of a mirror.
But that was foolish. She had changed. That had been the former Anna, the one in that other life. Now, she did not care so much about some things as she once had.
Sometimes, however, she’d had no choice about being naked—as when she bathed—but that was always behind screens to keep out the drafts, and no mirror in sight where she could catch a glimpse of herself.
She had never admired her own body, not even when she had been growing up, seeing nothing beautiful in it. As a girl, she had been horrified when her breasts began to develop, and she prayed and hoped that they would soon regress, but they never did. They just kept on growing and getting bigger and bigger. She had learned to live with those changes.
Most of the time, women were ugly creatures with their wide, ungainly hips and large breasts. Those who prided themselves on their beauty—having believed what they had been told by others with less than commendable motives, were misleading themselves. Pride was a tool of the devil, and led down some treacherous paths.
This body she was looking at was beautiful, but her body was not, except it was… wasn’t… was.
It was confusing!
No woman’s body was beautiful. Yet this one, was. Something had changed for her to think that.
But what was this? She was not alone!
There was a feeling that she was being followed.
Peony’s ears flickered back more often, and she could hear something behind them. Anna looked back, seeing a large black horse bearing down on her.
Tornado! She knew the name of that horse. He was steadily gaining on her and there was another naked person on its back.
A man! A man, naked, and he was catching up to her, and he was... that way!
Oh, Lord. Surely not!
He was laughing, as she was, waving to her and calling her name. How did he know her name and she, not know his? Did he want her to slow down? Why?
As if she needed to ask with him like that.
This was a peculiar game, if it was a game, and he was steadily gaining upon her.
She urged Peony forward, laughing too.
She should not be laughing. He might catch her, and what then? As though she didn’t know. So how could she be giggling about it? Did she want him to catch her? It seemed like it, but she would not make it easy for him. He would have to work to catch her, and then....
Even more excitement. She would resist him at first, of course, as part of this game. She would try to keep him out of her... but it would be a losing battle... she was pleased to say.
She leaned farther over Peony’s neck to encourage her forward. The pace changed, becoming even slower, no matter how hard she urged Peony along. Her seat also seemed less secure, with her riding side-saddle as she was.
The one behind her was still gaining, chasing her down, and with the advantage of a more secure seat and on a bigger horse. Why was he following her like this? Chasing her? Laughing?
Were they in a race? Clearly, they were, and she was trying to escape him and his obvious intentions for her. Why was she trying to escape?
She knew why. She had to win this race for her virtue's sake.
What a laugh! What virtue?
She was a vulnerable woman, and she had too much to lose if he caught her. And never mind what he said or did, waving his arms at her to persuade her to slow down. Salvation was somewhere ahead; damnation, behind her.
She knew why he wanted her to slow down. It was what all men really wanted when they hunted, and then caught you.
She would stay ahead of him, at least at first, and then she would let him catch up to her and then capture her.
Half of her wanted to slow and let him catch up to her—unthinkable—and half didn’t. This was just an impossible game, in an improbable dream of competing moralities. She should soon wake up, but didn’t want to. Not just yet.
She sensed, as any woman would, that what was at stake was something much more than her life, yet she was laughing, as though this were nothing more than a harmless game.
Try as she might, she could not escape him. She could even hear him shouting to her, though indistinctly, probably because of the wind.
What did he want? As though she needed to ask.
What was he saying? Warning her about something?
Was he really trying to get her to slow down? Of course he was.
He was warning her of something.
She felt herself losing her seat and falling; falling, tumbling over and over in darkness.
She was fully dressed now with all of her clothes covering her again, thank god, and she was falling in slow motion.
Her landing was unexpectedly soft, except for a slight jar to her head, and it was no longer warm, but cold, very cold. Cold enough to take her breath away, and she couldn’t get it back. Something was stopping her from breathing.
She glimpsed him again, but less distinctly.
He was also dressed now (thank the lord), and was closing in on her, still riding, but more urgently.
It was no longer a game but something more serious. He threw himself from his horse, running over to her, and she felt him come up close to her; looking down at her as though from a great distance, and as though she was looking up at him through smoke.
He reached out, and took hold of her. She was fighting for air. He grabbed her by her arm and pulled…!
Then nothing. Again.
When she awoke, she was in a peaceful place. She was naked once more in front of a blazing fire, (she was naked a lot, recently) and so was he, naked, and his body was too close to hers, lying over her as she stroked his face, and he was touching her, running his hands over her warm body and she was not complaining, no matter where he touched, or how.
They were both flushed, with a feeling of excitement.
He was kissing her, and their bodies were touching everywhere… and… and… he…. They were still laughing with each other, kissing even more intently.
It was nice to be kissed like that.
Then they became far too serious about something else, falling silent in an ominously wonderful kind of way, and she knew why, knowing what was going to happen next; anticipating it, wanting it. Did she have to plead with him? She would plead if she had to.
He was breathing heavily, kissing her, looking deeply into her eyes, melting her momentary resistance to him.
She adjusted her body beneath him and pulled him closer to her.
This could not be her, doing this. Not the Anna that she had been.
But it was, happening.
She gasped and froze for a moment; feeling something else. Something very hard and insistent.
She’d felt that! And... and... it was slow, shocking, unthinkable... and wonderful, stretching her in a very tender place that no man had ever visited before. He was so big, and he was still advancing, and she was not complaining, but striving to help him like some shameless wench that she'd only heard about!
Surely not! Not that. And not there! But she was not fighting him away from her. She was helping him; welcoming him into her body with that insistent part of his. Again!
She’d lost count of how many times she'd experienced this with him, but it was coming back to her now.
This could not be happening to her, should not be happening. But it was.
As before, her mind fragmented!
She began to wake up. Something was waking her up, but not what was happening to her. Something else, or someone else was trying to wake her up.
She rebelled and fought it away.
No! She must not wake up! Not yet! This was too wonderful to want to leave! It was not yet finished. He, was not yet finished with her, but had barely started, and she need to feel all of it happening again.
She fought to remain in her dream.