Eara found her mother knelt over her bed, sewing the hem of one of Eara's dresses. When the young woman stepped a little closer, she saw that the dress had been newly cleaned.

"What are you doing, Mom?" Eara asked, stepping closer.

Her mother looked up as if startled, then shook her head and returned her attention back to her mending. "Eara, you startled me," she declared, pushing a dirty strand of hair out of her face.

"Mom! What are you doing?" Eara asked once more.

"I'm just fixing one of your dresses," Eara's mother answered, but her actions betrayed her words as she hunched over her work as if to hide it.

Eara crossed the room in a few short steps and snatched the dress from her mother's lap. She looked over it, trying to discern what was so special about her dress. All she could determine was that it was unusually clean.

After a moment, Eara's mother confessed. "It's your wedding dress," she said softly. "I'd hoped to surprise you once it was mended and perfect, but now, I guess you know."

"Oh, Mom," Eara sighed, lurching forward to give her mother a hug. Guilt filled her, for she'd never told her mother of her plans to run away.

They embraced for a moment, and when her mother pulled away, tears glistened in her eye. "I love you, Eara," she declared.

Eara smiled and cringed to think of how her mother would react when she ran away. She said nothing to indicate her plans, however. Instead, she said, "Please, you shouldn't trouble yourself with my dress. Let me hem it."

Indecision stayed her mother for a moment, then she wiped away her tears and said, "All right. Make me proud."

Eara smiled and nodded once, then carried her dress, the needle, and the thread outside, so that she could sit and sew in the cool evening breeze. Any time she had the chance to do work, Eara took it outside, and her mother knew.

For a few minutes, Eara lost herself in the dance of the needle as she deftly fixed the hem of her skirt. She only returned to the world around her when Gad's shadow fell across her work, and a few minutes later the boy took a seat beside her.

Eara only paid half her attention to the boy at her side, but she listened in case he spoke. Her eyes and her hands never left their work until Gad was upon her, kissing her mouth passionately.

Only once Eara gathered her wits about her once more did she have the presence of mind to push the boy away. "Get off!" she cried once her mouth was free. "There's nobody about, there's no need for your show!"

Gad obeyed Eara's request, and pulled away, but he spoke soon after they had parted. "Eara, I love you," he said.

"What?"

"I love you," Gad said once more. "I never realized it before now, because I'd convinced myself that I felt for Hypatia. I never even considered you as a lover, because I knew Fabian felt for you. Now that we're together, though, everything has become clear, and I realize that you and I were meant to be together."

"If this is a joke, I don't think it's very funny," Eara announced.

"It's not a joke," Gad answered. "I realized everything last night when we kissed. I love you."

"No, you don't," Eara argued. "You just think you do, because you're upset about Hypatia. You're fooling yourself."

"I think not," Gad replied. "Do you think you know me better than I know myself? I know what love is, and I know what I feel."

"You need time," Eara protested. "Take a few weeks to think over everything that has happened, and then you'll realize how you really feel."

Gad laughed, but the sound was more bitter than humorous. "A few weeks?" he asked. "No, I'm not going to make that mistake. Fabian thought to wait, and you eluded his grasp. I'm going to marry you as soon as I can- tomorrow, if we can manage."

"Gad, you don't know what you're doing," Eara announced.

"This probably all seems terrible to you," Gad conceded. "I'm sure you feel like you're losing everything. I know how difficult it can be to let go of old dreams, but trust me, you'll be the better for it in the long run."

Gad's declarations were too much, and Eara couldn't bring herself to listen to them a moment longer. In a flash, she was on her feet. She pushed past him and ran away. She feared Gad would chase after her, and she didn't look back to see that he remained, simply waiting for her return.

After a few minutes, Eara's mother emerged from her house. She brightened when she saw her daughter's fiancée, but asked, "Gad, where is Eara?"

"She had to run off for a moment, but I think she'll be back soon," Gad answered truthfully.

After the first few words, however, Eara's mother seemed to have stopped listening. With a troubled look upon her face, she bent forward and lifted Eara's dress, which her daughter had abandoned to the dirt when she had fled Gad's embrace.

Gad noted the troubled look on the older woman's face, but didn't realize what it meant.

-----

By nightfall, most everyone in the village had spent some time in the woods searching for the girl. Eara seemed to have disappeared.

Her mother grieved loudly, crying out as if her mother had died. "Why would she run away?" the mother asked anyone willing to listen. "She was going to be married!"

Gad and Fabian traded theories as well. In the sudden absence of the woman each had professed to love, they forgot their differences in order to bond over their pain and loss.

"She couldn't have run away," Fabian declared despite the evidence to the contrary. "She's not old enough yet to join her Trav'shi, and she has nowhere to stay while she waits for her birthday."

"It's all my fault," Gad answered. "I drove her away. She's probably shivering in the cold somewhere, fending off wolves, and all because of me. I'm such a fool!"

"We're both fools for thinking we could make a woman fall in love with us," Fabian answered. "We should have realized long ago that Eara was never going to give up her old dreams for our sake."

Gad smiling sadly, taking some comfort in the fact that he was not the only man to be deserted by Eara. He and Fabian strode through the village with no real aim, listening to the gossip that swirled around them but never seemed to penetrate their silent friendship.

A chance glance at his friend's face told Gad that Fabian had a touch of color in his cheeks that Gad hadn't seen for years. As a matter of fact, over the course of the past few hours, Fabian seemed to have been transformed.

Gad had feared that in the sudden absence of his obsession, Fabian would have broken down to tears and desolation, and that the ruin of the past day or two would become all the more apparent.

The exact opposite seemed to have occurred, however. Without Eara's constant presence to enchant and mock Fabian, the young man seemed a little stouter, a little happier, and a little more dignified. He walked with his head held high, as he hadn't for years.

After a moment, Fabian turned to Gad and asked, "What are you looking at?"

"Nothing," Gad said, and he smiled as he realized that he felt strangely liberated as well, although he didn't quite understand how.

-----

Morning's chill, damp winds woke Eara from her slumber beneath a sheltering oak tree. She blinked in the morning's pale sunlight and remembered the events of the day before that had led to her escape.

She shivered as she rose to her feet and examined the woods around her. The harvest approached closer than ever, and each day had a little more chill to it. Soon, white frost would coat everything upon the ground.

Needless to say, Eara couldn't spend every night under the stars. In fact, one more might be the most she could stand.

She thought of the home she'd left, and wondered if Gad would still insist upon marriage should she return. He might, and it would surely be a mistake, but Eara wondered if her point was worth dying for. Clearly, she couldn't spend another night alone in the woods, and maybe a forced marriage would be better than a cold and lonely death.

Eara sighed as she debated with herself whether or not she should head back the way she had come. With great feelings of uncertainty, Eara turned around, then tried to imagine which way she had been facing before she had gone to sleep.

In a few minutes, she realized that any attempts to trudge back home would be pointless. She had never been so far from the village before, and didn't know where she was, let alone which direction she had come from.

Picking a random direction, Eara set off at a brisk walk. She might return home, she might freeze to death in the forest, or she might find some sort of help that would lead her on to her goals. Eara really had no bearing on what would happen- she relied only on fate now.

-----

Hypatia bent over to pick a blue flower that had sprung up in what was otherwise a bland brown field of dead grass. She lifted the flower to her nose and breathed deeply of its delicate scent.

She couldn't help but recall her actions a few nights ago. Hypatia had done no more than kiss Fabian a little, but her actions had been enough that they still haunted her days later. Hypatia felt like some sort of grand traitor, particularly now that Gad's claims had proved true.

"Hypatia?" asked a familiarly welcome voice behind her and Hypatia spun around to face the very same young man she had lovingly remembered only a few short seconds ago.

"Gad," she replied, and her voice shook a little in demonstration of how nervous she felt. "What are you doing out here? Why aren't you looking for Eara?"

"Eara's been gone for nearly a full day now," Gad replied. "She's long gone by now. Besides, after I helped her to escape, it would be sort of hypocritical of me to go look for her now, don't you think?"

Hypatia smiled a little, then answered, "I guess."

Gad looked down and shuffled his feet for a moment, then spoke up again. "Listen, I've treated you really badly of late," he announced. "I've made some bad decisions, and if you hate me now, I really don't blame you."

"I don't hate you," Hypatia said softly. "You've never been anything but honest with me. I believed you loved Eara when you claimed her, and even after you explained everything to me, I treated you terribly. I feel like such a fool now for not believing you when you said it was nothing."

Gad inhaled sharply as if he intended to reply, but although Hypatia waited, he didn't speak. Hypatia, suddenly overcome with shyness once more, twirled her flower around with her fingers. Some of its petals had already turned brown.

"Hypatia, will you marry me?" Gad blurted finally.

In surprise, Hypatia turned to face him. "You're asking?"

"I wouldn't want to force you to do anything you don't want to do," Gad declared. "I've seen Fabian and Eara, and I know how badly love can go, even when one person is convinced his love is true. I don't want us to end up the same way."

"I would be honored to become your wife," Hypatia announced, touched by Gad's clearly heartfelt words.

Gad brightened, as if he had honestly believed Hypatia might refuse his proposal. Slipping his hand into hers, he said, "Come on. Let's go back and tell everyone."

-----

The End.