Early morning sunlight streamed through the window; it was a fine summer day – a hunting day, Gwaine decided. He slid out of the tiny bed he shared with his mother. The other side was cold, meaning she had already gotten up and left for work – a whole day spent working on other people's farms. Gwaine rolled his shoulders and stretched, his body sore from having to be contorted to fit onto such a small bed. He was getting bigger, taller. At twelve years old, he was no longer a child. Soon, maybe even tonight, he would have to start sleeping on the floor.
There was a somewhat frightening growling sound and Gwaine winced, realizing it was coming from his stomach. He pulled on a shirt and a pair of boots, both of which were a pinch too small for him now and more than a little worn. He raided the small kitchen's cupboards and found half a loaf of bread and two bruised apples. He inhaled one of the apples and left the rest for his mother, who would be ravenous when she returned home. His stomach roared once more, dissatisfied with what he had to offer. There, there, thought Gwaine, patting his abdomen absent-mindedly as he grabbed his late father's bow and arrows and went out the door. I'll get you something. But for now I'd thank you to shut up.
The sound of her mother's voice jolted Victoria out of her daydream, in which she was riding a galloping horse on her way to some great adventure. Sheepish, she made her way inside to find Miranda, her mother, hunched over a working table with her latest creation – a beautiful gown made with red, white and gold silk. Miranda herself only wore a dull blue dress. The dress on the table wasn't for her, after all. It was for the Lady Yolande, one of King Carleon's many beautiful daughters. The money made from selling this dress would be enough to feed Tori's family for months.
"Yes, Mother?" she said.
"Aunt Margaret said she would have the fabric I asked for ready by today. Go fetch it for me, won't you, darling?"
"Sure, Mother," Tori replied, working hard to keep in her sigh. Aunt Margaret's house was on the other side of the village, near the woods. She always tried to keep away from that side, hating the eerie sounds of unknown beasts hidden among the trees. She smiled wryly at herself. Look at me, wanting to ride off on adventures yet too afraid to face some animals.
She grabbed an empty basket to carry the cloth in and headed outside. It was still early morning but the sun wasn't shy. It spilled its light onto the entire town, making the place and the people look brighter and happier than usual. Shopkeepers and fruit and vegetable vendors smiled at Tori as she walked by, wishing her a good morning. She couldn't help but smile back, feeling everyone's happiness override her qualms about the woods. Maybe going to Aunt Margaret's house wasn't such a bad thing after all. She much preferred the beach on her side of town, but it wouldn't hurt to expand her horizons a bit.
A while later she was knocking on Aunt Margaret's door. Aunt Marge's daughter, Elen, answered.
"Morning, Tor!" she chirped, opening the door wider to let her cousin in.
"Morning," Tori smiled as she stepped inside, instantly affected by Elen's infectious warmth.
"Are you looking for Mother?"
"Yes. Is she here?"
"'Fraid not. She's gone to the market. But she told me, that if you came round, to give you these," said Elen, opening a small cupboard and pulling out rolls and rolls of beautiful cloth.
"Thanks, Elen," said Tori, holding out her basket while her cousin assembled the rolls artfully. And when she was finished, "I should get these back quickly. I'll see you later, yeah?"
Elen caught the sleeve of Tori's dress before she could turn. "Wait, Tori. I wanted to ask you – what do you think of this?" She turned around and gestured toward her flaxen hair which was intricately bound by a velvet sea-green ribbon that matched her eyes.
Tori studied it a moment, admiring. "It's beautiful."
"D'you really think so? I spent ages on it. I'm going to see him today!"
"Oh." Elen was twelve; only one year older than Tori, but she had such a keener interest in boys – Tori couldn't understand it. It was only a few years ago that the two of them had sat whispering together in corners about the evils of boys, and now she was spending time with one. "Well, have fun. I'm sure he'll like the ribbon. And you."
Elen beamed and gave Tori a hug, before ushering her out the door, leaving her feeling deflated and somehow tired. She stood on the doorstep for a while, not wanting to go home just yet, wanting to be outside a little longer. Without knowing why, Tori found herself staring off into the woods, trying to see past the dark tree branches. She wondered if there were bandits out there right at this moment. Maybe they –
Her train of thought was abruptly cut off as she caught sight of a young dark-haired boy. He couldn't have been much older than she was but he was wearing a bow, a quiver of arrows and a somber expression that would have much better suited someone older. The boy was walking purposefully toward the woods. She suddenly knew who he was. Their town was a small one and she'd seen him around often enough – smiling and joking – though they had never spoken. He was quite well-known in the village. People talked about him. Partly because he had a dead nobleman for a father, but mostly because…well, Tori didn't really know. His looks, she supposed. She knew girls – older girls – who pretended to turn up their noses at him, yet she'd always noticed little wistful sighs leaving their lips. If only he were older, she knew they thought. Then it wouldn't be so inappropriate.
Tori observed the back of his head as he entered the forest. She wondered what he was going to do in there. Hunt down beasts? Kill bandits? Out of nowhere, Tori was seized by an overwhelming curiosity. She sensed an adventure waiting for her amongst those trees. She wanted to do something she'd never done before, something unexpected. A little rash, even. Her legs tingled with the yearning, almost as if like if she didn't start walking toward the forest right now she would combust.
She followed after the boy.
After what seemed like hours, the excited curiosity had worn off and all Tori felt now was miserable. It had rained the previous night – and it looked as if it would rain again soon; the bright sun was no longer anywhere to be found – making the ground muddy and wet. Tori's feet sunk into the soft earth, the hem of her dress dragged through the mud and her arm ached from carrying the heavy basket of cloth. She felt foolish, now, for acting so impulsively. It really was unlike her. I am never going to do this again. Finally, she stopped to look around. The woods were filled with strange noises that made her skin crawl and a thick canopy of leaves kept most of the sun's rays from penetrating through. The overall effect of this was…not pleasant. As if that weren't enough, the ground in front of Tori was smooth as glass. Perfect. On top of it all, she had lost the boy's trail. Now she was just wandering aimlessly about.
That is, until the arrow shot past her head.
Tori let out a startled yelp and staggered backwards. Her dress got caught on a stray tree root and, with nothing to hold on to, she fell.
"Hm. You're not a deer," said a voice from a few feet away. Tori glanced up and, seeing as it was the boy, hastily got to her feet. The boy came closer. He had dark wavy hair that he'd obviously not bothered to cut in some time, and a dead squirrel hanging by his belt. The squirrel didn't bother her as much as she knew it would have bothered other girls – like Elen. Having a butcher for a father had made Tori accustomed to seeing dead animals. Morbid, but true. However, something about the mischievous glint in the boy's eyes not only unsettled her, but made her livid. Well, that, and the fact that he'd almost impaled her brain.
"What do you think you're doing?" she snapped. "You could have killed me!"
"I'm hunting," said the boy, gesturing to his bow. "I thought you were a deer."
"What on earth made you think I was a deer?"
The boy grinned at her brunette hair and mud-covered form. "You're very brown." Then, sensing this was not a very flattering thing to say to a girl, added, "And your eyes."
Tori's face had turned bright red with indignation and embarrassment at the 'brown' comment, but she had to ask. "What? What about my eyes?"
"Well, they're quite doe-like, aren't they?" the boy answered, amused by her acidic tone.
As if just to contradict him, Tori narrowed her dark blue eyes and didn't reply.
"I didn't ask."
"Well, I just thought you should know the name of the person you're following."
"I wasn't following you!"
"Oh, I think you were."
"I wasn't! Don't be so full of yourself."
"What were you doing, then?"
"I…was…" Tori's eyes darted around, trying to find a plausible reason for her to be in the woods. Instead, they landed on her basket full of fabric, lying upturned in a puddle of mud. "Oh…oh, please no."
"What is it?" asked Gwaine. He was ignored.
"No, no, no, Mother's going to kill me," Tori groaned, kneeling beside the basket and inspecting each of the rolls, hoping in vain for one that remained unsoiled. Gwaine knelt down beside her and whistled.
"Those must have been expensive."
"Not really," Tori replied automatically, momentarily forgetting she was angry at him. "We got a good price for them since they were made by Aunt— Oh, God!"
"What? What?" said Gwaine, becoming quite worried about the way she was moaning, with her face buried in her hands.
"I'm going to be killed by both Mother and Aunt Marge!" Tori muttered, her voice muffled.
Gwaine couldn't help it – he laughed. Tori lifted her head and scowled at him, irritated once more. When he continued to laugh, she gathered her things and got up huffily, stomping away…or attempted to stomp, more like. The soft ground somewhat lessened the effect.
"Oh, come on…don't…don't be like…that," Gwaine gasped between his laughter.
Tori turned on him, fuming. "It's your fault I dropped my basket and you have the gall to laugh at me for being upset?"
"Hang on," said Gwaine, the smile fading from his face. "None of this would've happened if you hadn't been following me in the first place. Why were you, anyway?"
"I've told you, I wasn't following—oh, forget it!" She turned on her heel, not bothering to waste her energy on coming up with a good enough lie.
"Fine!" Gwaine shouted at her retreating back. "It's forgotten! Good luck finding your way back! The rain's going to clear away all your tracks soon!" This was true. Dark clouds had gathered with surprising swiftness; it was already starting to drizzle. What had started out as a beautiful morning had now turned as moody as…well, the girl.
The girl ignored him, and Gwaine – usually easy-going – became irritated. After all, it wasn't his fault she had followed him; wasn't his fault she'd startled him into releasing that arrow; wasn't his fault she was clumsy enough to have dropped the basket; and it most definitely was not his fault that she was about to get hopelessly lost.
In fact, all of those things were her fault. In addition: she'd cost him a hunting day! Gwaine had only managed to shoot one scrawny squirrel before he'd heard the girl behind him. He couldn't hear her now, over the sound of rain drops pelting down on leaves, but he knew – just knew she was lost. She didn't seem the kind to be perfectly at home in the woods like he was. Her mother was most likely a seamstress, judging by the amount of fabric in that basket, and seamstresses usually spent a lot of time indoors.
With a groan, Gwaine started trudging in the direction the girl had gone in – the wrong direction. If he let her walk that way any further, she would never get home and that would be forever stained upon his conscience.
When he finally caught up with her, she wasn't moving. Just standing still in the middle of the path, shielding her eyes from the rain. Gwaine could almost hear her thinking I can't be lost, I can't be.
"You're going the wrong way," said Gwaine, having to shout a little to be heard over the rain. The girl whirled around, startled. When she saw it was him, she frowned and clutched her basket closer to her, as if afraid that his mere presence would be enough to topple it. Not that it would have made any difference; the cloth was all soaked through anyway.
"No I'm not," the girl argued. "I recognize that tree from when I was coming in here." She gestured to a gnarled tree on her right. "It's got that funny little root, see?"
Gwaine studied the root in question and smirked. "Yes, I see. It looks like the funny little root on this tree." He pointed to the tree directly behind him. "Oh and that tree also has a funny little root! In fact, most trees in this forest have funny little roots."
The girl's mouth opened and closed, like a fish out of water. Ironic, really, since she was sopping wet. For the first time, Gwaine noticed how small she was – the fact emphasized by her sodden dress and hair. She was shivering and looked close to tears. Suddenly he felt awful for being so callous.
"I'm sorry," he said, his voice kinder. "Come on, let me take you home."
The girl looked at the hand he had just outstretched with suspicion.
Gwaine noticed her hesitation. "If you stay out here you may very well die of cold."
"All right, all right! When you put it that way. But if I keep holding this basket, my arm will fall off, so here—" she handed the basket off to Gwaine and his hand drooped slightly, not expecting it to be so heavy. But he recovered well. The girl wrapped her arms around herself and they went on their way in awkward silence. Until…
"I still don't know your name."
She rolled her eyes. "Can't we keep it that way?"
"We could, but then I'd have to make up a name for you myself." Gwaine paused, trying to think of one. "I could call you…Antlers because I almost mistook you for a deer…or Cloth-girl – though that sounds a bit cheeky, doesn't it? Oh, how about Guppy?"
"Because you looked like a small fish at one point."
"Now you think I look like a fish?"
"No, not now. Just at one point."
"Oh, just at one point, that's okay then."
"No need to get snippy with me; these are just suggestions. I wouldn't have to give them if you'd just tell me your name."
She said nothing, but a corner of her mouth twitched.
After another pause, Gwaine snapped his fingers. "I've got it! Funny Little Tree Root!"
"My new name for you: Funny Little Tree Root! Maybe just Root for short…or Funny Root—"
"For the love of– It's Victoria! My name is Victoria."
Gwaine grinned, triumphant. "Aha! Victoria! Vicky, for short?"
"No," Tori contested, so strongly that Gwaine blinked at her in surprise. "Sorry. Just…no. No one calls me that."
"Because I'd stab them with a million needles, that's why not." Gwaine chuckled nervously, looking at her sideways. She noticed. "I'm kidding! God."
"Right. Of course. Knew that."
They'd reached the village at last. Tori wanted them to say their farewells at the edge of the forest – not wanting her parents to see Gwaine – but he insisted on walking her to her front door, and there was little she could say or do to dissuade him. Besides, he still had the basket.
He gave it back to her when they reached her house. Finally they had some relief from the rain as they both squeezed into the narrow doorway. Having never been this close to a boy before, Tori felt a tad uneasy with the proximity. She was about to say something when Gwaine beat her to it.
"So what should I call you?"
"If I can't call you Vicky or Guppy or Funny Little Tree Root, then what should I call you?"
"Oh," she suddenly felt like laughing. "Everyone calls me Tori."
"All right then, Tori," Gwaine grinned, stepping back out into the rain. He took her right hand in his and pressed it to his lips. "I'll see you soon."
Tori felt her face redden; it was her turn to laugh nervously. "Not if I can help it."
With a little wave Gwaine turned and ran back to his home, on the other side of the village. Tori watched him go, smiling slightly. She felt that feeling, deep inside of her, that all people feel when they know they've just met someone special.
Even so, Tori wiped the back of her right hand against her dress. Gwaine was special, yes, but his saliva was not.
Not that she would be admitting to that anytime soon.
That Gwaine was special, that is.
You have just witnessed my first ever attempt at a TV show fanfic! How'd I do? I didn't completely butcher Gwaine's character, did I?