Heat suffused his face at her words, her boldness. She laughed, playful, delighted at his discomfort, and charmed by it too, and left him with the tingling warmth of her hand under his chin, as if he were the dog that rescued her, and she’d scratched his fleas there in gratitude.
And there it was, the opportunity of a lifetime, all because of a rabid dog.
In and of herself, Nahaia was pleasing to the eye, and Arlun counted himself fortunate; marriages were often arranged, and he’d seen some of the mates of his friends, both male and female, and his heart went out to them.
He knew, at least in theory, that in matters of the heart such things were ultimately superficial, since some of those marriages flourished in spite of the physical shortcomings; it wasn’t often, but it did happen. Shaking his head again as he packed, he put it from his mind.
It was not an issue for him.
Strange land, strange customs, strange people, foods, gods, and so forth were going to occupy his days so much that he didn’t need to worry about anything else.
The sun climbed, wearing down the day hour by hour, until finally, shortly after noon, he was ready to depart.
After tearful goodbyes and long hugs that showed fear and reluctance of accepting their new positions, they realized that in their eagerness to please, they’d opened themselves up to public examination, and courtly interference; there was nothing to be done for it now.
Arlun set out on a good, sturdy horse his father procured from the local horse trader; the man’s eyes positively glittered with greed at the thought of having a palace connection, and he was all too happy to accept a small deposit for a lucrative profit when the horse arrived safely; Arlun’s father’s word had proven consistently good throughout the years, and he was respected and trusted as a man of integrity, even among those who snickered at his poverty behind his back.
The animal was fine and even-tempered, and Arlun found himself relaxing as the road unfolded in its own lazy, meandering way toward the land of his bride-to-be. The afternoon sun was not overbearing, and the road was empty of everything except the creatures of habit that needed to cross it.
Seeing no real need to rush, his hands easy on the reins, he let the horse set it’s pace, and allowed his mind to wander…
She was resplendent in a gown of dark blue trimmed with gold, bedecked with a necklace, rings, ankle bracelet, and armbands set with sapphires and lapis lazuli, her raven hair unbound, but styled to frame her delicate face, and draped just so over her slim shoulders, her deep brown eyes rimmed with kohl and shadow, and when she smiled at him, his heart was bewitched beyond recall.
He heard no music, tasted no food, saw no other rival for her in his eyes, and blinded his heart to the possibility.
Her father saw the stars in his daughter’s eyes, and the smitten smirk on the young man’s lips, and approved, for the youth, as far as he was concerned, had already proven his valor. His queen spoke to Arlun’s mother of plans, and he spoke to Arlun’s father of coin, and before the night was over, an agreement was reached.
Arlun knew none of it, and would not have cared if told.
As they danced, he breathed in the honeysuckle fragrance on Nahaia’s cinnamon skin, longed to taste the berry stained gloss of her lips, wet and gleaming in the festive light; he longed to hold the slender, graceful sway of her body and make it sway in other ways, and could tell by her shy smile that these were mysteries she would keep for him alone until he pledged for her.
“Ah, Nahaia, my princess, my bride, my wife…” he rolled the words from his tongue, thoughts in the distance, and at first did not hear the rider fast approaching behind him.
When he did, it was too late.