Miri descended upon the stream, the spot where she'd agreed to meet Peder so that they could take a walk. The familiar tawny hair peeked into view and she saw him.
"There you are." Peder smiled his crooked smile and Miri blushed.
"Hello, Peder." He tried to reach for her hand, but she got nervous, tensed, and yanked her hand away before they could touch, faking a need to scratch her ear.
Peder frowned but gestured for her to follow him. It was a familiar trail, along the side of the stream, well-worn and lined with stones. Next to the stream, on the other side, were a series of larger rocks, facing the setting sun, perfect to sit on.
They did not speak as Peder led the way, two or three paces ahead of Miri. Her elbow-length brown hair was loose, and she could feel a slight wind tousling it as she walked. She could hear Peder muttering something to himself. He chuckled.
"What is it?" Miri said.
"Nothing." He put his left hand on her shoulder, and she immediately became aware of a large gash in his hand that had long since scabbed over and became a scar.
"Peder! What happened?" She grabbed his hand and looked at the scar. Peder laughed but did not say anything. Miri raised her eyebrows. "What? Did a goat bite you again?" She teased.
Peder smiled, "That was one time! I was seven!"
Miri laughed, "That's what you get for taunting a goat. But why the scar?"
"Oh, I just wasn't careful enough when I was carving that hawk of yours. It wasn't that bad." He took the hand that she was examining his with in his right hand. She blushed.
They kept walking.
A comfortable silence.
"Miri? You seem awfully quiet."
"What is there to say?" She inquired.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
"Why wouldn't I be?" She gave up on the rules of Conversation then.
"Well... if I'm correct, you are the academy princess, you weren't chosen to be the prince's princess, and you've been held hostage and nearly killed by a wolf-pack of bandits, all over the course of a few weeks. You'd be right to be a little... frazzled."
"Yes. Frazzled. Now answer the question, please."
"I'm worried about you... Liana's ma said the same thing after she fell down the side of the quarry, and they found her weeks later in the corner of the hut, curled into a ball weeping."
"Well, I didn't fall down the side of the quarry."
"Yes, your predicaments, if anything, have been worse."
"You flatter me."
"I don't mean to."
Miri gasped but saw that he was fooling when she heard him chuckling and looked over to see him smiling.
"Has my ma ever told you how she and my pa got married?" Peder said.
"No, I don't think so."
"Well, they were friends all throughout when they were young, but when my ma was fourteen, she had to go to the lowlands for a while to visit some dying uncle. Then, when she came home, she and my pa went on a walk, and he proposed to her out of the blue."
If she hadn't been paying attention, she was now.
"It doesn't work the same for us mountain men as it does for the prince. We don't get to have a fancy school set up and all the girls pore over us for a year, then just get to choose whichever one we want. I talked to Os, and my pa, and a couple of other men, and they said they married their best friends. And if there's ever a time..." He faced her, "It's now, before I lose you to something or," he swallowed, "someone."
She blushed and got nervous, and before she knew it, her feet were taking her in the direction of the village, Peder standing there, bewildered.