The Light of Spring
by The Crazy Cat Lady
The setting takes place in a fantasy world I created called Artemisia. Nobles and peasants are used as terms to refer to the "rich/poor" in the patriarchal Jovian society and are not used to refer to the historical Middle Ages; all Jovians are nobles and all Artemisians are peasants. The story is femslash, but there are also m/m characters in the later chapters. This story has been going through a revision, so if you had read the original version before, the chapters went through several changes. The plot summary also changed, but it still follows the previous storyline. I've been taking advantage of the Mercury Retrograde yay!
"Miss Borealis! Where are you rushing to?" Anastasia's grandmother asked by the bottom of the stairs whose granddaughter was running down the marble steps. Her pale hazel eyes scanned the young woman's apparel with disgust. The dark-haired ponytail girl was dressed in an oversized white tunic with billowy long sleeves and plain dark pants. A black satin sash was tied around her waist which made her lean figure appear androgynous. As usual, she was wearing a typical nobleman outfit. Anastasia also had her breasts bounded for the day, but it didn't make much of a difference because of her baggy tunic.
When she was a little girl, she refused to wear any gowns or dresses. Her grandfather spoiled and allowed her to wear boys clothing even though her grandmother absolutely abhorred it. He hoped that once Anastasia reached womanhood, she would grow out of the stage. He ended up being wrong, but he didn't complain about it as long his granddaughter was happy. However, according to his wife, Anastasia Borealis was supposed to conform to the "lady-like activities" as a seventeen year old: attend parties and balls, have tea with other young noblewomen, wear the finest dresses, and search for the ideal future husband. Instead, she preferred horseback riding, reading, and learning.
Anastasia sighed. Her handsome angular face was sharpened by features that depicted her seriousness and lack of patience. "Grandma, you should know by now. I have always gone horseback riding in the afternoon," she replied while slipping into knee-length leather boots.
"I know that," the grandmother stated as she touched the sapphire-coated barrette in her silver bun of hair. "Be careful and remember to be back before–"
"I know," the young woman interrupted, "before sunset."
Before her grandmother could scold her for interrupting, Anastasia exited the mansion.
Anastasia treaded the grassy lawn towards the small stables. There was no stables boy waiting for her by the entrance because she refused one to be hired. She believed a true horseman or horsewoman took care of his or her own horse. Occasionally she would get one of the maids to feed her horse or clean out the manure when she was ill, but otherwise Anastasia took care of her horse independently.
A large, sturdy black mare with a glossy coat nickered softly to her approaching human. She was in the first stall out of the three empty others which smelled like fresh hay. The young noblewoman made sure the stables smelled free of horse manure, so every time Obsidian did her business, Anastasia shoveled the "leftovers" out.
"Good afternoon, Obsidian," Anastasia said softly as she patted the horse's smooth neck. "Are you ready?" She had rode Obsidian for eleven years. The mare was the only one Anastasia considered as her friend. She didn't care to make friends with any of her grandparents's acquaintances whenever they visited their mansion. Besides, she didn't have much in common with them which made her grandmother constantly worry about her social life.
Anastasia opened the wooden gate and led Obsidian outside to the usual spot in the field. She let the mare roll around for a few minutes while she stretched her legs before riding. She never stopped chuckling each time when Obsidian behaved like a gigantic kitty on catnip. After the horse had her share, Anastasia mounted up in a swift graceful manner.
Obsidian trotted toward the Hamayad Forest road, and soon her speed quickened into a canter. They were heading toward Goldenrise, the peasant village, which took approximately thirty minutes to get there on horseback. She accidently discovered the village months ago when she had to go to a town. She had never been to a village before, and it shocked her to see the poverty compared to the life she had been brought up on.
Unlike the other nobles or wealthy folks who viewed the peasants as dirty people or drunken louts, Anastasia was not shallow to believe everything they had said. Sure some of the men had drinking problems, but not all of them were like that. Some of the children, women, and men were decent people. In fact, some of the peasants were more "civilized" and "human" than the nobles she had met. Out of sympathy, Anastasia had anonymously donated coins several times. However, she had to disguise herself in peasant clothing to walk freely in the village. If an acquainted noble recognized her presence and reported it to her grandparents, she would be forbidden to ride alone ever again.
When the rising smokes from the village chimneys grew near, Anastasia directed Obsidian off the road into the forest of oak trees. They soon came across a secluded quiet stream. She had safely left Obsidian there many times before without anyone's discovery. It was too risky for her to leave the mare in Goldrenrise's stables anyway.
With rope, Anastasia tied the horse to the trunk of a pin oak. While she unbuckled the leather saddle bag, she withdrew a crinkled, old, brown tunic. Anastasia untied the sash by her waist and changed into the old tunic. She stuffed the sash and white tunic inside the saddle bag and was ready to go.
Goldenrise was busier than usual. Little did Anastasia know that the villagers were preparing for the yearly summer festival next week. She blended well in the crowd as she wandered around to find the main market. Other than fruit, poultry, and vegetables, the market also sold fine handcrafted and woven goods that fascinated her. While Anastasia was staring at a merchant whom was arguing with a customer about eggs, someone bumped into her.
The dark-haired ponytail girl faced a young woman with irritated green eyes whom was a few inches shorter than her. Her light brown hair was braided into pigtails that fell onto her brown cloaked shoulders. Her long average-looking face was etched with a scowl but was soon replaced by a gasp when she realized she bumped into a stranger.
"Oops! I'm sorry, sir," the young woman apologized as she glanced up at the young man. His hazel eyes gazed at her with a certain amusement which made the peasant wondered what he found so funny.
Anastasia was grinning at the address. "It's okay," she replied with an air of casualness.
Wait. Did he just sound like a female? Verna examined the young man again. A deep blush ran across her high cheeks as she realized that the face was too soft and hairless and a bit feminine to be a male's. "I'm so sorry, miss! I thought you were a boy—a handsome boy I mean," she stammered embarrassingly. "I hope I didn't mean to offend you."
Anastasia chuckled. "Don't worry about it," she replied as she waved off a hand. "I do kind of look like a boy anyway." She couldn't count how many times she had been mistaken for the opposite gender by the villagers if she had not spoken.
"There are some girls I've seen like you. I would like to fool the people around here someday, but then I would have to rob the clothes from the men," the peasant joked as she laughed with Anastasia. "I enjoy being a female though. It was nice meeting you. I have to go now to search for that thief."
"Yeah," the peasant answered with a bitter taste in her tongue. "He stole my fish while I was shopping for vegetables." She sighed at the unpleasant loss and didn't feel bothered to mention all the petty details to the stranger. Stealing occurred quite often in the village if the owner appeared careless and vulnerable enough. However, this was the first time she experienced something being stolen from her.
Anastasia felt sorry for the peasant. "Do you want me to help you look for him?" she asked. She could just give her the coins to buy another fish since it didn't cost so much, but then it would make her look suspicious.
The peasant shook her head. "Thanks, but I like to take care of things by myself." Wait till I get my hands on him! I'll tear him apart one by one, she thought while clenching her fists. She waved goodbye to Anastasia and hurried away.
A tan drawstring pouch on the grass caught Anastasia's attention, and she picked it up. It was exactly on the spot the peasant was standing on. Is that hers? Before she could call after the young woman, she was already gone.
"Oh great," Anastasia muttered. She studied the drawstring pouch in her palm and decided to take a look inside. As she loosened the string, there were only a few coins that were enough to buy half a loaf of bread. Or vegetables, Anastasia thought as she recalled the conversation. Is this all she has? She fetched a couple of coins from her pants pocket and dropped them inside the pouch. I have to look for her now.
Anastasia looked all over for the young woman in the village. She gave up after fifteen minutes and headed back to Obsidian. She hoped she would bump into the peasant again tomorrow.
"I can't believe I lost my pouch!" Verna cried as she kicked a fallen pin oak branch across the forest floor. "First it was that fish, and now it was my pouch!" But most of all, she was angry because the pouch contained all her savings. She promised her older sister, Jasna, that she would buy the food today. And I still didn't find that filthy thief yet.
Verna grew thirsty and heard the rushing water in the distance. At least my thirst will be taken care of, she thought trying to replace her mood with optimism. She followed the sound that quieted all the mental thinking in her head and gasped as she arrived at her discovery.
A full-grown, lithe, black horse was tied to a pin oak trunk. The horse was surprised by the stranger's arrival and arched its long neck at the human.
"You are beautiful," Verna cooed as she gazed at the horse. The horse relaxed its muscles to the soft voice and nickered softly to the human whom was perceived as a non-threat. Its black eyes stared at Verna curiously as she stepped closer cautiously. She had never seen a horse close-up before, except when the Jovians, usually traders and messengers, appeared in the village. However, a few "peasants" as what the nobles called her people were able to afford horses if they were the horse breeders of course.
The horse did not flinch while Verna approached. She extended her palm to the beautiful animal allowing it to be familiar with her scent. She wasn't sure how to pet horses because they were furless and had little hair, so she let it be. She didn't want to make the horse annoyed, and annoyed horses had quite a reputation.
Verna cupped her hands into the cool water and brought it to her lips. The cold water replenished her body, and the horse watched her throughout the time. Verna wondered if the horse was thirsty, so she cupped her hands into the stream once more and brought the water over to the horse.
The horse moved its muzzle between her palms and sucked the water. Verna giggled as her palms tickled and felt the horse's warm breath. Meanwhile, she examined the horse's leather saddle bag. It appeared new or was kept nicely in good condition. She wondered what kind of fool would leave the horse in such a place. Sure the spot was hidden, but Verna knew the Hamayad Forest very well. She could easily just kidnap the gentle sweet horse and bring it home with her.
The horse snapped its head up and neighed excitedly. Verna followed its gaze and froze. She gawked at the dark-haired ponytail girl from earlier. "What is she doing here?" was all she could think at the moment.
"I—I was looking for you before," the dark-haired girl stammered while she anxiously glanced at Verna whom was standing by her horse. She couldn't believe the peasant had discovered her "secret place" which was not so secretive anymore.
Verna arched her thick eyebrows at the girl. "Why?"
"Does this belong to you?" the young woman asked as she fetched out the drawstring pouch from her pocket.
It was her pouch! Verna almost burst into tears that her pouch was found and returned by the kind stranger. Jasna isn't going to kill me after all, she thought with relief and took it from her hand. She gazed at her bright hazel eyes. "Thank you! Thank you, Miss…" Verna stopped and expected for the stranger's name.
"Anastasia," the ponytail girl hesitated. "Anastasia Borealis." Should I tell her the truth? Anastasia didn't feel like lying to peasant for some reason. There was something different about the peasant that she could trust. Even the round green eyes had it written all over.
Verna kept note of the name curiously. "I've heard that surname somewhere before, but I can't remember where. Anyway, I'm Verna Aurora. How can I ever repay you, Anastasia?" She knew that Anastasia could had kept the coins to herself. She wouldn't even be surprised if the girl ever had second thoughts of searching for her, but Verna guessed Anastasia was a good person at heart.
Anastasia's lips broke into a smile which made her serious face relax. "Verna, it's all right. I'm just glad that I returned it back to its rightful owner."
"Are you sure?" Verna asked. She doubled checked the hazel eyes for any signs of a lie. Anastasia nodded, and her eyes remained intact and still which ended Verna's skepticism. "Very well then. Do you know who owns this beautiful horse?" she asked as she pointed to the black creature. The horse sniffed the hairless finger.
Anastasia's darted her eyes to her horse whom was watching her intently. "Oh. You mean… Obsidian?" she asked innocently. There was no way she could pretend to disown the horse. Obsidian would kick her into the air if she understood the human, so she added before the peasant could respond, "The horse is mine."
So she's the fool? Verna stared hard at Anastasia and barely blinked. "You don't look like you come from a family that breed horses," she remarked with suspicion. It wasn't that it was impossible for Anastasia to come from a horse breeder's family; it was just that Verna couldn't feel it thanks to her intuition.
Anastasia sighed. I can trust her. "I guess I have to tell you who I really am now," she replied while touching her black ponytail which reflected a reddish-dark brown texture in the sunlight. "I'm actually a noble disguised into these clothes. I have to hide my identity because if a Jovian were to recognize me here, my grandparents would get really upset."
Verna's green eyes fluttered with surprise. A noble? What in the world is she doing here then? Most of the "nobles" viewed Verna's people with disgust. Verna was Artemisian, the native of the land, and the so-called "civilized" Jovians viewed them as barbarians because the Artemisians practiced different customs. "Why do you come here then?"
"Why?" the dark-haired girl asked as she had been accused. "Do you know what's like to be a female noble? It's tedious and horrible, especially when my grandma keeps nagging me to act like 'a proper young lady.'" Anastasia cringed as her grandmother's voice screeched in her ears. "I'm just glad that my grandpa protects me from her. So I come to Goldenrise to escape; I can do anything I want and not get shunned for being me."
Verna nodded understandingly. She heard Jovian women had less freedom than the males and accepted it. That was why she assumed the women had never rebelled against the palace if they had ever attempted it. Even though Verna was a "peasant," she would rather live in a "poor" society where women were respected than in a wealthy, male-dominated society.
"I'm sorry if I've been ranting," the young noblewoman apologized with embarrassment. "I'm just glad that I got it off my chest."
Verna laughed. "It's okay. It's a good thing that you're not like the other Jovian females," she replied. "By the way, what is it like to ride a horse?" she asked curiously.
"It feels I can fly." Anastasia started to flap her arms like a bird as a demonstration. Verna couldn't stop giggling, and the young noblewoman flashed a grin. A sudden idea emerged out of her mind and she said, "You know what? I can teach you how to ride if you want."
An excited glow emanated from the light brown-haired girl's high cheeks. "Really? Can you?"
"Yes. Since I'm an orphan, I live with my grandparents. My grandpa doesn't care what I do anyway, except for my grandma. She makes a big deal out of everything, but I can always help you disguise yourself if I bring you to the stables."
"I'm an orphan too, but it sounds too risky. What if we get caught?" How Anastasia spoke of her grandmother worried Verna the most.
"We won't," Anastasia replied with confidence in her hazel eyes. "It looks like you can pass for a young noblewoman, and my grandma never comes out to the stables. She won't even see you in the first place."
"All right then."
The dark-haired girl untied Obsidian and mounted the mare. "I'll be here tomorrow in the afternoon." Anastasia tapped the horse's side with her boot's heel to get her moving.
Verna remained cheery after the two disappeared in the trees. She suddenly remembered the drawstring pouch in her palm and realized it strangely weighed more. When she loosened the bag, it exposed abundant glittering coins.
I referred "whom" to Obsidian several times although it's considered grammatically wrong. I'm breaking the grammar rule because I find it disgusting to refer a non-human animal as a "thing."