Your father is forcing you to marry someone you have never met. The night before your wedding you tie your sheets together and make your escape through the window. Half way down you make eye contact with someone doing the exact same thing a few windows over.
It’s not happening! I thought as I started the descent down the tower. There was no way in this life I’d marry some stranger. I didn’t care what my father wanted. As much as I loved my family, I’d heard far too many horrors resulting from arranged marriages. Stories that were filled with cruelty, abuse and mistreatment. I wasn’t a piece of property to be married off for fortune or political leverage. My family would survive without the money or elevated social status.
Arranged marriages were always held at the sacred ceremonial room inside the monarch’s castle and my room was up at the top of the main tower, several floors above. With only the pale moonlight to guide me, I struggled as I rappelled down the tower. Having never been very physical in my 18 years of life, this climb was harder than I imagined. I gave no consideration to how my normally vibrant, flowing blonde hair would obscure my sight and make my task all the more difficult. I didn’t have the foresight to tie it up before I left. To make matters worse, my hands were sweating and I felt like I may slip. I was nearly halfway down when I heard a hushed grunt. Startled out of concentration, and curious to it’s origin, I looked over to my right. Exactly two windows over was a man who shared my intentions and was currently climbing down the building as well. The moon provided just enough light to make out his physique and hair color.
I almost lost my footing as I stared at him. I was so caught off guard by his presence and his rugged good looks that I missed a step and fell briefly. I let out a shrill scream as I began to fall, but my flailing arms managed to grab purchase of the makeshift rope again. I steadied myself and took a fortifying breath. Nervous about the scream I just released, and the fact that someone probably heard me, I decided to refocus and double my efforts.
Without looking down, I started my decent again. I managed to make it the length of two sheets down before I felt my muscles begin to fatigue. Fear took a hold of me as my hands began to cramp. I struggled to hold on. I wrapped one of my legs around the sheet rope hoping it would keep me from plummeting to my death. It was foolishly naive of course. When my hands and arms succumb to the increasing fatigue, I lost my grip and began to plummet. The leg that was wrapped around the sheet kept me from falling momentarily, but at a great cost. I flipped over and my head crashed against the hard stone wall of the castle, left to hang upside down for a few brief moments. My vision blurred as my body struggled to get through the pain, and then suddenly, I began to fall further. The terror of my imminent death was what kept me from losing consciousness.
So this is how I’m going to die? My brain briefly idled at the thought. In perhaps some small measure of comfort, I was happy I would no longer be forced to marry a stranger. I knew I was about to hit the ground, so I closed my eyes tight and waited for end that would come when I hit the earth. An end, that to my surprise, never came. Instead a pair of powerful arms caught me before impact, and then we both stumbled to the ground. My head landed harshly against the hard ground for the third time and I felt the darkness close in around me. Before my eyes shut against the pain, I swore that the man I saw climbing down nearby was cradling me in his arms speaking to me. I was uncertain, as my injuries began to intrude on my ability to focus before unconsciousness took a hold of me.
When I awoke I didn’t understand where I was. I looked around and realized that I was lying in the grass by a running stream. My head was pillowed by something soft. I tried to sit up and my head swam. I felt so dizzy that I immediately laid back down and moaned in pain. My hands felt raw and my body sore. I lifted my pale arms to look them over and saw why I was in such pain. My hands and arms had suffered many scrapes and bruises. A result no doubt from the fall. I turned to my side and realized my pillow was made up of some of my escape sheets. How in the world did I get here and who did this for me? Then it dawned on me. The handsome stranger that caught me. Did he bring me here? Did he drop me off and continue with his escape? I didn’t see him anywhere. I guess I really couldn’t blame him. I was fortunate he caught me.
What was I going to do now? I wasn’t supposed to be in so much pain when I escaped. How was I going to get away from the castle and from my situation in this condition? It was twilight now. I must’ve been out for several hours. I knew I needed to get going. I tried sitting up again. The pain was still intense. It felt as if someone put my head in a vice, but I would survive. I started rubbing my temples in a soothing way when I heard someone approaching.
I panicked and scooted back till I hit a tree nearby. I could hear the leaves crunching under someone’s steps as they neared. I was in such a fright that I thought my heart would beat out of my chest. I looked around for anything to use as a weapon. The options were limited, and less than ideal. My best bet was a long stick I saw near my feet. I picked it up and stood up quickly almost causing myself to pass out again. I leaned on the tree and readied myself with my stick. Hoping like hell it was just a deer, but I knew better. The steps coming my way were heavier and more consistent with a human. They were close now and their steps faulted. I knew they were right behind me now probably not realizing that I was on the other side of the tree. Fortunately, the tree was large enough that it shielded my presence. Without giving myself the option to flee, I turned and swung my improvised weapon at the stranger.
“Whoa!” He said as he caught the incoming branch. I held firm trying to move forward until I saw his face and froze. “It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m sorry I left you, but those cuts on your arms were looking pretty serious. I went down to the river to get some fresh water to help clean you up.” There was a dripping cloth in his left hand and his right hand was still gripping the tree branch. My arms relaxed, dropping instantly, and I started to sway. I put all my remaining energy into that attack and now I felt weak and drained. I sagged back into the tree and he approached me slowly.
With measured steps he walked towards me and told me he was going to clean my cuts. I nodded quietly while I took him in. It was dark when I saw him initially. In the morning light I could see how handsome he really was. His dark brown hair fell in waves over his forehead and his ears. His eyes caught my attention next and it was hard to look away from them. They were a stunning green color with flecks of brown surrounding the pupil and yellow mixed in with the green. His mouth curved up in a half smile when he realized I was staring at him. Unrepentant, I continued to look him over. He carried himself well and I could tell by his walk that he was sure and confident of himself. Filthy as we both were, he still managed to look incredibly attractive. I initially thought rugged when I saw him and I wasn’t wrong. He had a barrel chest and strong arms that strained against his dingy white t-shirt. I paid special attention to his arms as he wiped the dried blood away. There was just something about nice arms that enticed me. It was then I realized, I was letting a complete stranger clean me. For some reason it didn’t bother me as much as I expected.
I looked into those stunning eyes again and saw him smiling at me. Before I could get distracted by those breathtaking eyes again I asked him, “Who are you?”
“Apparently I’m your future husband.” He admitted with a smirk and a playfulness in his eyes.
I smiled despite myself. “How do you know that?” I asked a bit suspiciously trying to mask my smile and appear more serious.
“Your hair. It’s still has the wedding braid with the blue ribbon and seeing that they only do one wedding a week that means your the one.”
Subconsciously I reached up and felt for the braid. Sure enough it was still there. I meant to take it out before I left. I guess things happen for a reason.
“So why are you running away?” I asked curiously.
“Probably for the same reason you are.” He said rather quickly without meeting my eyes.
“Oh, I see…so you’re afraid that your future husband is a man stronger than you who will be cruel to you and abuse you on a daily basis?” I said with a wry smile as I watched him carefully.
He flinched just slightly when I brought up abuse. “Maybe I just don’t believe in arranged marriages. Maybe I might want to choose who I spend my life with. I don’t want to be pressured into something so important because of some decision my father made.” He said on a shrug.
I couldn’t agree more.