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, social status, or political leverage. My family would survive without the money or elevated social status.
They held arranged marriages in the sacred ceremonial room inside the monarch’s castle. 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 even more difficult. I didn’t have the foresight to tie the long tresses back before I left. To make matters worse, my hands were sweating, and I feared I would lose my grip. I was nearly halfway down when I heard a hushed grunt. Startled out of concentration, and curious about its 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.
As I stared at him, I almost lost my footing. I was so surprised by his presence that I missed a step and fell briefly. I let out a shrill scream as I fell, but my flailing arms grabbed 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 refocused and doubled my efforts.
Without looking down, I started my descent again. I made it the length of two sheets down before I felt my muscles begin to fatigue. Fear took a hold of me as my hands cramped and 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 naïve, of course. When my hands and arms succumbed to the increasing fatigue, I lost my grip and fell. The leg that was wrapped around the sheet kept me from falling momentarily, but at a significant cost. I flipped over and my head crashed against the hard stone wall of the castle. For a few brief moments, I hung upside down. My vision blurred as my body struggled to get through the pain, and then suddenly, I fell further. The terror of my imminent death 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. They could no longer force me to marry a stranger. I knew I was about to hit the ground, so I closed my eyes tight and waited for it. To my surprise, that end never came. Instead, a pair of powerful arms caught me before impact, and then we both stumbled to the ground. My head smacked harshly against the ground. Third time’s the charm because after that 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. Something soft pillowed my head. 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 comprised of some of my escape sheets. How in the world did I get here and who did this for me? Then I realized it was the handsome stranger that caught me. Did he drop me off and continue with his escape? He was nowhere to be found. 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. My vision blurred as I felt myself fall to one side. My head throbbed as the sides felt like they were pressing in on my brain. I would survive this, I promised myself as I rubbed my temples in a soothing way. Once I quieted my thoughts, I heard someone approaching.
Panicked, I scooted back until I hit a tree nearby. As they neared, the leaves crunched underfoot. 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. Sadly, my options were minimal and less than ideal. My best bet was a long stick I saw near my feet. I picked it up and stood quickly, almost causing myself to pass out again. Breathing deeply to steady myself, I leaned on the tree and waited with my stick. Hope clung to the idea that it was just a deer, but I knew better. The steps coming my way were heavier and more consistent with a human. As they drew closer, their steps faltered. 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 will not hurt you. I apologize for leaving 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 in agreement while I took him in. It was dark when I saw him initially. In the morning light, I could see how handsome he was. His dark brown hair fell in waves over his forehead and his ears. His stunning green eyes caught me next. They were a forest green with flecks of brown and gold surrounding the pupil. It was hard to look away from them. 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 with confidence, evident in his posture and gait. 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 muscular arms that strained against his dingy white linen shirt. As he wiped the dried blood from my arms, I couldn’t help but watch the flex of the muscles in his arms. There was just something about nice arms that enticed me. It was then I realized I was letting a complete stranger clean me. It didn’t bother me as much as I expected.
I looked into those stunning eyes again and saw amusement in them as he smiled. 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 wink.
I smiled despite myself. “How do you know that?” I was suspicious, but secretly pleased. I was trying to appear serious and failing horribly.
“Your hair. It still has the wedding braid with the blue ribbon and seeing that they only do one wedding a week, that means you’re the one.”
Subconsciously, I reached up and felt for the braid, finding it almost instantly. They braided the blue ribbon into the top half of my hair yesterday upon arrival. 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 shot back without meeting my eyes.
“Oh, I see…so you’re afraid that your future husband will be a cruel man that will use his strength against you and abuse you, seeing you only as a possession?” I said with a wry smile as I observed him.
He flinched just slightly. “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 with a shrug. “I couldn’t agree more.”