A/N: Very special thanks to playxhardx187, SilverMoonPanther, Mandie, and Jokerlover92 for your reviews!
It was mid afternoon by the time Godfrey was finished writing his letter; it had turned into a gray, misty day, and when Godfrey set out down the road, he could feel the cold seep in through his simple tunic and begin to chill his skin. He moved with a swiftness as he passed the stables and went over the hill, heading towards the road that would lead him up into the trees. The people were out in abundance, rushing this way and that, going on with daily tasks and household chores, and as Godfrey passed them he kept his head down, not interested in making eye contact, although he could feel eyes on him from each direction at every moment.
It was only too much of a blessing for Godfrey to move into the trees, leaving the noise of the village behind him. He basked in the silence of the trees, listening to them breathe as they swallowed him, clouding overhead so he could no longer see the gray of the miserable sky, soaking up any sound so that he all he could hear were his own footsteps. It was bliss.
The silence gave him peace of mind in which to think on things, and he was beginning to have second thoughts. What if his army never were to pass the road that led to this isolated village? Would he be stuck there for more than days? Weeks, even? Could he even stand it? What was he going to do, if he was holed up in the village for so long? Surely he would go mad amongst these simple village folk. He had to come up with an alternative plan.
A bird called overhead in the trees, and Godfrey looked up but all that met his eyes was the rich green canopy hanging over him. He wondered, if it were to start raining, if it would even meet the ground beneath his feet; the trees were so dense and the air so heavy. He sucked in great greedy breaths of cool air; it was then he heard brisk footsteps coming out of the trees behind him.
"Do you deliberately disregard warnings, Sir Godfrey?"
Godfrey slowed his steps, smiling wickedly to himself. There was fast becoming no other sound in the word he delighted in hearing more than her voice, if only to hear it quake in his presence.
Coming to a halt, he pivoted on his heel and turned to meet her. She came towards him quickly, a bundle of green herbs in her white hands, her strawberry hair a brilliant contrast against the green that surrounded them. Her eyes were wide but he could see the hint of exasperation buried within them, whether it was with him because he was wandering the forest alone, or with Thomas due to their earlier argument. He didn't know, but he was sure he was about to find out.
"Warnings, milady?" He asked, his voice rolling off his tongue like rumbling thunder.
She came to sidle beside him, giving him a fishy look. "As I've told you before, wandering by yourself in these woods is especially dangerous."
Godfrey smirked as she stopped next to him, and he gave her a quick once over, just to delight in the way her fingers tightened around the herbs she held. "And you, milady? I suppose you're better prepared than I?"
He pointed with his finger to the long trails of her tea gown. Secretly he wanted to take the folds of the fabric between his fingers, just to feel its softness, but he didn't dare in that moment, and turned his gaze up to her once more. He knew he was right; she didn't even appear to have a blade on her person; what protection, if any, did she have against whatever might meet them?
There was a playfulness in her eyes that he could not ignore as she stared up at him. "I've known these woods since I was but a child; I can find my way back in a matter of minutes."
Godfrey smirked, not positive if she was being serious or if she was just baiting him. "Tripping over your gown in the process?"
A tiny smile splayed on her pink lips, and drawing her eyes back to the road, she began to walk, and Godfrey, smiling to himself, stepped forward to walk beside her.
"I understand your lord did not...approve of our early ride this morning." Godfrey carefully mentioned, keeping his eyes on the woods ahead of them. He didn't want to blatantly point out that he'd heard them fighting, which would have been most ungentlemanly indeed, but perhaps alluding to it was a more careful way to approach a subject he wanted to talk about.
Beside him Reagan bowed her head, threading the herbs in-between her long white fingers as if he they were feathers. He could tell she was embarrassed.
"I must apologize," she said, lifting her big green eyes to meet his. "Thomas is prone to...overreactions. He's been this way since we were children."
Godfrey made a thoughtful sound in his throat, as though to intimate that he wasn't quite sure what she was talking about. "Overreactions?"
She sighed a little heavily as though she didn't want to discuss it at all and yet felt that it had to be brought out to the open right away. "To be truthful, he was positively livid when he learned of our ride to Saint's Creek this morning," she said. "He seems to be under the impression that you are some...rogue come to sully our quaint little town with your dark ways."
Reagan tittered nervously, and Godfrey too laughed a little as though it were nonsense; he couldn't help but notice she didn't mention the theory Thomas had that he, Godfrey, was a bandit of London come to carry her away into the woods, a sure sign that she thought it was pure ludicrous and didn't want to offend him by mentioning it...or perhaps she liked the idea enough to keep it to herself. It pleased him immensely.
"So sorry to disappoint," Godfrey said, somewhat cheerfully.
Reagan looked up at him and gave him a full bright smile, as though she couldn't believe his good-natured response to such a ridiculous notion. "I've told him you've been nothing but a gentleman, but of course once Thomas has an idea in his head..."
She stopped herself and pressed her lips together. She figured she'd said enough. After all, Godfrey had indeed proven himself to be a perfect gentleman, what would he think of her as a lady who groused about her fiancee?
Of course Godfrey couldn't help but smile to himself. He found it especially interesting how all he had to do was be on his best behaviour in order to have this young woman entrust some of her deepest thoughts to him, thoughts that she'd obviously longed to voice to a confidant for some time.
"Perhaps I should speak with him," Godfrey suggested, in a careful tone. "Apologize, even; I have no wish whatsoever to cause trouble for you."
He couldn't believe what was coming out of his mouth; he loved it. He could have laughed!
Reagan smiled to herself, and Godfrey spied it, knowing that once again he had won her favour over the reasoning of her jealous fiancee. "That won't be necessary, Sir Godfrey, but I thank you for your consideration. Thomas will simply have to-"
Suddenly, behind them, there came a great screeching sound unlike anything Godfrey had heard before. Looking sharply over his shoulder, he only caught the glimpse of a large, dark figure coming towards them at ample speed directly from the trees, and he reacted quickly.
Reagan gasped, and in a second Godfrey seized her, curling one of his arms around her thin waist and pulling her towards him; holding her tightly he spun them out of the way just as the giant figure rushed past them. Their feet stumbled in the loose dirt, and while Reagan immediately lost her footing, Godfrey maintained his stance and held her tighter. He would have taken great delight in feeling her arms grasping his arm and shoulder, in feeling her press her body against him for protection...if only his attention wasn't drawn to the enormous wild boar that had charged them, that they had just narrowly dodged.
The boar slowed and rounded ahead of them. In an instant Godfrey drew his sword, and while he felt Reagan's panicked fingers clasping his tunic, he released her, and ushered her away with his hand. "Go, go!"
For a moment Reagan seemed hesitant to leave him to fight the boar on his own, but then, without another moment's hesitation she grasped the folds of her gown, lifted them from the ground, and moved quickly towards the trunk of a large tree.
Godfrey kept his eye trained on the boar. It was large, about the size of a small pony. Godfrey had never hunted one before, but he knew of their grisly reputations. He had to be at his utmost guard.
The boar snorted, its breath like great clouds in the cool air, and it rounded on Godfrey and seemed to narrow its black eyes, letting out a great squealing noise as it stomped its hooves and lowered its head. Godfrey readied himself; he knew the thing was about to charge him, and while he had meant to call to Reagan to go back to the village, the boar then charged and Godfrey readied his blade.
But the beast was crafty, and it seemed quite a bit larger than he first imagined. Godfrey raised his sword but the boar caught sight of it and charged around him as Godfrey swung the blade. Godfrey knew he'd underestimated the great girth of the boar when he was brushed with the beast's hind-end and nearly knocked off his feet. He collected himself and jumped back to position.
But the boar seemed to have other ideas. It was stomping its hooves and lowered its head, and Godfrey could see its intimidating tusks and the drool that escaped its jowls. Only it wasn't targeting Godfrey; it'd caught sight of Reagan.
Godfrey spied Reagan pressing herself against the trunk of the tree where she'd been hiding, and it seemed as though she were frozen to the spot. He looked to the boar and realized it was going to charge her instead of him, and he called to Reagan to get her attention. "Reagan!"
But then he realized what she was about to do. She stretched one arm out around the trunk of the tree, and she never tore her eyes away from the boar. He watched her footing; she had one heel pivoted in the dirt. Carefully Godfrey set his sword down on the ground, pulled his dagger from his belt, and watched the boar, readying himself to spring forward.
Finally the boar let out a terrifying screech and charged at Reagan, and although he could see her trembling, Godfrey watched as she waited until the very last opportune moment and then she rounded about the trunk of the great tree, clear out of the way of the boar's charge, and the beast, realizing its target had suddenly disappeared, turned to evade the tree, but too late. The boar bashed the side of its head into the trunk, slowed, and that was when Godfrey leapt forward.
He jumped on the boar's broad back, despite the beast's screech of fury, and Godfrey rose his dagger and plunged it deep into the boar's spine, using it to steady himself as the boar let out a great shriek and tried to shake him off. Godfrey steadied himself as the boar took a few steps and once again tried to shake him off. Godfrey, with one hand twisted tightly in the boar's mane, pulled his dagger from the boar's back, trying to ignore the black blood that spurted forward, and with all his might he plunged the dagger into the boar's side as forcefully as he could.
This time the boar did shake hard enough and Godfrey was thrown from the beast, forced to let go of the dagger. He rolled on the dirt and had to take a moment to collect himself before he realized the boar had rounded on him and was charging him with newfound fury.
But the glint of a blade in the low light caught his eye, and he watched as Reagan held Godfrey's sword and lifted it as high as she could and swiped its tip to slice the boar's side. It worked, for the boar screeched once again and dodged Godfrey, rounding sharply on Reagan, who held the sword tightly with its tip out.
But Godfrey knew the beast was too big for her, and it would easily overcome her. Fast as he could he stumbled to his feet, just as the boar charged her once again, and with all his might pushed himself into the boar's side, colliding with a broad wall of pure muscle, and he didn't know how it'd happened, but he'd managed to push the boar over onto its side.
Quickly, ignoring the pain in his shoulders and arms, he rose himself up, turning to look at Reagan over his shoulder. She stepped forward and tossed him his sword, and Godfrey took hold of its hilt, gripped it tightly, and swiped horizontally along the boar's soft belly, watching as it split open, its innards leaking through, and the boar let out a miserable sound for a few moments before it quieted and stilled.
Godfrey stood and panted, trying to catch his breath, but holding his sword at the ready in case the boar was still alive. But he could already see that the beast had stopped breathing, and its innards were beginning to spill onto the cold dirt ground beneath it. Godfrey took in a few breaths and planted the tip of his sword into the dirt.
Behind him, Godfrey heard Reagan approach carefully, stopping right at his shoulder, and Godfrey turned towards her.
Her eyes went to his tunic and a look of worry overcame her soft features. She stepped forward and brushed her fingers against his chest. "Sir Godfrey, you're bleeding!"
Godfrey looked down at this tunic and saw what she meant; there was black boar blood all over the front of his tunic, probably from the dagger wound, and as he allowed himself to calm down, he realized just how much he was enjoying feeling her fingers pressed cautiously against his chest.
Gently, he took her white fingers in his and lifted them again from his sullied tunic. Reagan looked up at Godfrey, her wide green eyes full of question, and he eased just the tiniest smile for her. "It's the boar's blood, milady."
Reagan pressed her lips together, reddening in the cheeks, and for a split second she curled her fingers around his before pulling out of his grasp completely, stepping away from him. For a moment Godfrey almost wished he had been injured in the struggle, just to see that look of concern in her big eyes once again, and feel the touch of her perfect fingers on his muscles.
They both turned and looked down at the boar. The poor beast's tongue had lolled out of its mouth, and its innards were slowly seeping out and staining the ground. But Godfrey couldn't help but smile to himself; there would be definite feasting that night.
"Go back to the village," he said to Reagan over his shoulder. "We can't possibly drag him back by ourselves."
When he didn't hear her footsteps, and the air was quiet and calm between them, Godfrey turned towards Reagan. She was staring at him very intently, with her fingers curled in the material of her dress, all the blood drained out of her face. Godfrey thought for a moment that she was in shock, so he stepped forward and gripped her shoulder lightly to bring her out of it.
"Are you all right?" he asked clearly, watching her eyes.
She swallowed tightly and nodded, easing just a tiny smile. "I am, I..." she looked away, cleared her throat, and then raised her eyes again. "I'm fine, I'll go to the village right away."
And then she pulled out of Godfrey's grip and walked past him, briskly, crossing her arms over her chest with her eyes on the ground, and Godfrey watched her go until she was clear out of view.
Reagan paced relentlessly at the door to the great hall, waiting to hear that Godfrey and the others had come back with the boar. Once she'd arrived at the village after the kill, she sent several of their fine young hunters to go and meet with Godfrey and bring the boar back. The news of the kill had spread quickly throughout the village. Many of the young ladies were tittering about the stranger and how he'd taken down the beast, forget that Reagan had had her hand in the kill as well, but she didn't bother correcting them. She was too confused and conflicted.
She had been so terrified when she saw the blood on his tunic, after the boar was dead. She thought for sure he had been cut and was bleeding profusely. His nonchalant reaction to her concern would have normally given her pause, but she remembered how he'd taken her hands in his, how intently he'd looked at her, and just how unfazed he was about it all, just how...strong he was. This man too was a true hunter at heart, quite unlike anything she'd ever beheld before.
Reagan was still pacing when a commotion caused her to look up towards the road. She saw the village children running to greet Godfrey and the other hunters as they dragged the boar along the dirt road by its tusks and legs, and all over the people were talking amongst themselves about how large the boar was, and about how they would feast on its meat. Reagan smiled haplessly as they brought the boar to the great hall.
When Godfrey raised his eyes to her, she smiled a little and noticed how his face and clothes were soiled with blood and dirt. When the three young hunters took the boar into the great hall to be roasted for dinner, Godfrey stopped to wash his hands in the trough, and Reagan approached him.
"Come," she said, gently placing a hand on his arm, surprising him. "I'll wash your tunic so it doesn't stain; come up to the house."
Although he seemed exhausted, she could see the relief in his features, and the gratefulness in his dark eyes. He didn't say a word, he simply followed behind her as they walked to Theodore's house.
Reagan desperately tried to ignore the noises of the young ladies they passed, tittering and giggling, and she refrained the urge to glare at them. Godfrey, on the other hand, couldn't help but smile to himself. Not only had he won over the approval of the other young ladies of the village, but it appeared as though Reagan wouldn't share him with them.
When they returned to the house, Godfrey was surprised, but delighted, to hear Reagan insist that she wash his tunic and draw him a bath. He hadn't been aware they had a bathtub in the house but then he supposed it was used rarely, when they had the water to spare and enough fire to heat the water. When he was in London, he enjoyed baths immensely, and enjoyed them whenever he wished, but he knew it was because they had extra hands to make preparing a bath that much easier. It appeared Reagan would prepare his bath all by herself. This only delighted him further.
Reagan had in fact gathered volunteers from the close vicinity of the house to help her prepare the bath for the stranger who had killed the boar, namely a couple of the young ladies who were only too eager to help her and seemed anxious to catch a glimpse of the stranger within the house. When the bath was ready, Reagan shooed them away out of the house, annoyed at their tittering and whispering, and she was laying out spare clothes for Godfrey when she heard him come in.
She smiled uncertainly as he came inside, his skin and attire looking that much dirtier in the low firelight, and she motioned to the clothes she had left him. "If you'll leave the soiled tunic, I'll have it washed, and I've set these out for you in the meantime."
Godfrey's eyes were drawn to the vat of hot water, and there was an anxious gleam in his eyes, as though he were simply dying to get clean. Reagan decided she certainly wouldn't overstay her welcome, so she simply slipped past him and moved towards the door.
Godfrey watched her, for it seemed as though something was dying to be said between the two of them, and yet it was unclear what. And then, just as she was about to leave, she placed a hand on the frame of the door, paused, and turned to look at him over her shoulder.
There was a mix of admiration and embarrassment in her eyes, and Godfrey didn't know why. Her voice was shaky when she spoke. "Thank you, for what you did today. You're...you were right, I wasn't well prepared."
Then she bowed her head a little. "I feel...foolish. That boar could have very well killed me, unarmed as I was."
Godfrey listened to her and he wanted to grin but he only beheld her with a touch of fondness; he had the utmost urge to step forward and place his hand on her shoulder, gently touch the small of her back, graze her jawbone with a knuckle, to give her the assurance that she was obviously looking for, put her embarrassment to ease.
He took one step forward but didn't dare move any closer, for her eyes rose to meet him, full of question and a touch of alarm, and so he stopped, and stood where he was, and was rather taken aback, for a split second, by just how lovely she looked in the low firelight.
"I assure you, milady..." Godfrey spoke slowly, and sensually. "It would have never come close."
Her features reacted to his comment. Her eyes widened and glimmered, and the corners of her lips twitched as if she wanted to smile. It was there for a split moment, and then she quietly excused herself, closing the door behind her. He could hear her footsteps continuing down the hallway.
Godfrey drew in a deep breath and let it out in a deep sigh, running a hand over his shaven head, and hastily undressed so that he could bathe and scrub himself clean. The water was scalding, just as he liked it, and seared his skin as he washed away the dirt, grime, and boar's blood.
But as he bathed, he looked at his arms and was overcome with thoughts of sharing his bath with Reagan. He thought of having her long fingers wash his aching, well-muscled limbs, of her long hair clinging to her wet skin, and the bathwater turning her creamy white skin into a delightful pink.