"As the rider drew closer she saw
he wore a mask that covered every
inch of his skin apart from his eyes."
My Dearest Natalia, May 28th, 1919
One year later and it already seems as though it has been many more. I can see you right now, your straight, brown hair, and deep chocolate eyes. Your smile wrinkles your eyes at the corners, and your nose crinkles a bit. Soft, smooth, flawless skin.
I wish that I could tell you of the crime I have committed, but I wish it ro remain as much of a private sin as it can be. It is not something I am fond of, this sin, but I do not regret it.
Now, more about August. When you were born, he was seventeen. I realized that I needed someone to confide in about the family secret, someone I could trust, someone who could explain it all to you when you were of age. I chose him because he was sensible and true to his word. I had known his father in my youth and found that the two were much alike. I know you might find him dull, he is a country lad, through and through, but he can shoot well and throw a good punch, and that is all that matters.
Happy Birthday, and stay safe,
She had woken much later in the night than she had intended, in fact, dawn was only hours away. Destrier was grazing again, his ears twitching back and forth. Looking up at the sky she found it just as heavy as the day before, threatening rain. Quickly shr stood and folded the letter back into place, then the blanket. There was an apple, an orange, and half a loaf of bread still left. Eagerly she bit into the apple and devoured it almost completely, giving Destrier the core.
She took time to carefully plait her hair and pin it to her head, then cover it with the cap to better keep her identity a secret. Then she saddled the retired racehorse and attached her pack to her back.
Destrier was even more excited to get out. He pranced about, unwilling to let Natalia to get her foot in the stirrup, but finally she managed to get one foot in the iron. It was then that the gelding reminded her that he had a mind of his own. He'd apparently decided that it would be a marvelous time for a race and took off at a lope before Natalia had even gotten her other leg over his back.
She stayed on the main roads to evade any risks of robbers, though it was a rare occurrence if one might have appeared. Staying on the main roads would be far less suspicious anyway, than traveling alone on deserted forest paths. She passed few people as it were, most were either on bikes or on foot, horses were becoming a thing of the past as far as most were concerned. Natalia hadn't had any other choice. She didn't own a bike, couldn't drive, and it simply wasn't feasible to walk all the way to the ferry. That would have attracted attention for sure.
At midday it began to rain, but Natalia kept riding, ignoring the soreness of her thighs. As the rain fell the road muddied and she had to slow Destrier to be cautious. She didn't need him getting hurt when they weren't even halfway to London. She let him hang his head and bite at the vegetation they passed. She ate the orange as they walked and took a chance to stretch her legs out. It was just when she had gotten back on and was readying Destrier for a trot that she caught the sounds of another horse and rider behind her. Before she had time to react and shot rang through the air and Destrier reared in his scramble to flee.
Natalia landed painfully on her side, the wind knocked out of her. Luckily the rider had been a bad shot, else she might have been lying there dead instead of trying to catch her breath. A snort from up ahead gather her notice and she saw Destrier, his reins in the hands of the other rider, prancing and snorting uncertainly. As the rider drew closer she saw that he wore a mask that covered every inch of his skin except for his eyes. They were a strange, green color, bright and energetic. His hair was honey colored and damp, sticking to his head like a second skin. But the thing that caught her attention the most was the pistol he held in his hand, pointed straight at her chest.
As he grew nearer. She made out a muffled crackling noise coming from under his mask. Laughing! He was laughing! "It seems that you aren't what I expected. What are you doing out here all alone, dressed as a man?" His voice was thick with a mainland accent, soft, sweet and irresistible.
Natalia allowed a snort to escape her mouth. "What do you think I'm doing?"
His eyebrows quirked and Natalia felt anger towards him. First he had her thrown from her horse, then he had laughed at her, and now he was mocking her words! "Do you wish for me to answer that, Miss? Very well. I think you've run away from home, away from your new husband, perhaps."
"And what should give you that idea?" she demanded, standing and reaching around to check that the rosewood box was unharmed. The gun followed her.
"Your hair. It's still long, meaning that you didn't really care if you were discovered, you just wanted to get away. And your horse. Purebred. Nearly killed you trying to get away from my gun."
"So, there cannot be any other explanation for my excursion?" she asked, brushing strands of wet hair out of her face. It had begun to poor again and she really wanted to get out of the rain and near a fire to dry out.
He chuckled, letting the gun rest in his lap. "What is your name, Miss?"
"What is your name?" she fired back.
"August Wayne, Miss." he tipped his hat to her. "But most just call me Wayne."
Natalia stared at him in shock and recognition. "August Wayne?"
"Yes." his eyes narrowed. "Am I that famous already?"
Natalia pursed her lips. "Hardly. I believe, however, that you may know me. I am Natalia Middleton, or you may know me better as Natalia Haven."
His eyes narrowed for only a fraction of a second. "Do you have any proof?"
Natalia scoffed and lifted her chin. "I would think that I would know my own identity, but if it is proof you wish for, I do have some. But you won't get to see it until you put that gun away and let me have my horse's reins back."
He chuckled again and dropped Destrier's reins. The gelding pricked his ears forward at her call and walked back to his mistress. Natalia took out the rosewood box and handed it over to him, watching in disappointment as the fragile box left her hands. He looked at it carefully and, in acknowledgment, ripped the mask away from his face. "I recognize it." he muttered. "But its been nearly sixteen years since I last saw it." He lifted the lid and peered inside.