The One Who Got Away
The entire town was gathered in that small, enclosed square. The raised wooden platform held two tall posts that supported a long, thick pole, from which the ropes hung. As I watched from a shaded porch leading into the parliamentary buildings, I searched for one face in the seven condemned; the one face who had changed everything...
It was seven months ago when I first met Daniél. He had been a swordsmith, locksmith, and an attractive outlaw, secretly having won unwilling hearts of many ladies in the Court with his piercing blue eyes and shoulder-length flaxen hair. Some say it was ill luck that we met, but being the adventurous daughter of the Governor Uriel could only mean that a meeting of interest would eventually occur. I had been riding my white gelding palfrey, Starfire, along the wooded path from the Lady Akasha Azrael's estate, returning home after a visit to her daughter and my close friend, Antoinette. With movements as lithe and swift as those of Elven lineage, a handsome, young man clad in forest shades of grey, green and black with fair hair and armed with a long knife, a quiver and a bow leapt off a branch a few strides ahead of me and my palfrey. He grasped my reins, gave a charming smile and said, "My lady, might I have that beautiful, white-gold ruby ring?" I glanced down at the ring on my right hand. It had been my late mother's ring. I hesitated, then reluctantly pulled it off and handed it to him. Daniél smiled again, while pulling out a chain and slipped the ring onto it, after which he hung it around his neck. He looked into my eyes with his piercing, ice-blue ones, turned on heel and raced into the forest. I didn't even pause for a moment to think it through; I just turned Starfire after his trail and urged my gelding after Daniél. Shortly after I began the chase, I had lost sight of him. I slowed to a trot, looked warily around me and continued as straight on as I could. The forest was darkening fast, and I could feel adrenaline seeping into my veins. My breath shortened, my heart pounded. Starfire blew loudly at the slightest sound. I pulled him to a stiff, high-stepping walk.
Eventually I saw slight flames ahead, and as I approached, I noticed the small, disguised tree-houses and the rope bridges connecting them all together. A lone figure, silhouetted by the fires behind him, walked towards me. "Who goes, friend or foe?" a crystalline voice called, one I recognised as Daniél's.
"It truly depends on whom you call 'friend' and 'foe'," I replied. Daniél raised a hand, and heard bowstrings relaxed slowly. He sighed, and cocked his head to one side in thought. With a sudden, agile movement he was at Starfire's reins and was leading me into the full firelight and tree-house circle.
I awoke with dawn the following morning. A plate of food and fresh clothes had been laid next to the bed. I thought back on last night, or rather that which I could remember, which was dismounting, having a meal with the people of this 'village' and being lead to this room. I picked up the clothes and eyed the breeches, tunic and boots dubiously, but put them on anyway. I had just considered going out when I heard a knock on the trap-door. "Yes?" I said cautiously. It opened, revealing Daniél's exquisite features. "Ah, you're awake. Come, we've much to do," he opened the trap-door fully and disappeared down the ladder. I followed suit, and as he lead me around this place, we spoke. He told me of his people, the village, and some of his goals and ideals. I told him more about myself and my interests, leaving out that I was wealthy and Governor Uriel's daughter. After a meandering path, he lead me to the 'training grounds', as I had let slip that I had wanted to learn and excel at marksmanship.
Training had begun that day, and for four months on, as I had lost myself in this timeless glade. Daniél and I grew to be friends in that time, and my blissful state ended the day a breathless beggar I recognised from town raced into the glade, clutching a scroll in one of his old hands. "They lookin' for 'er, they lookin' for 'er!" he cried, pointing a knarled finger at me. Daniél ran over, reaching for the scroll. He read it, his face falling with every word.
He let go of it with one hand and lowered the scroll. I watched as Daniél drew a deep breath. "Governor's daughter?" he said softly, and through me with a closed expression.
"Yes," I replied, somewhat ashamed at myself. Daniél turned away and called that my palfrey be saddled and ready as soon as possible. The red and gold dress I had worn on the day I arrived here had been given to me and I put it on. After mounting, I noticed Daniél astride a stunning chestnut mare. "I'll be leading you to the road," he explained.
We travelled in silence, and just as we approached the road, Daniél halted. I turned Starfire to face him. He started to pull out the chain with my ring on, when I stopped him. "Keep it," I said. I looked towards the road, which lead to formality and lady-like pomposity, then back at Daniél, freedom, equality and adventure. "Thank you," I breathed, then turned and walked towards the road. "What for?" he called from behind me. "Showing me a freer, more exciting, happier form of life," I replied, wishing I wasn't a well-known person, so that I could just disappear and stay within that glade. I urged Starfire to a trot so I couldn't think about changing my mind, and left an awestruck outlaw behind me.
"Oh, thank goodness you are all right, Aurora!" my father, Governor Uriel, exclaimed when he saw me ride into town. After much commotion I had finally made my way to my private chambers, seeking solitude from the oppressing crowds...
The next three months passed without event, and not even the gypsies could get me excited enough to fake a smile. The night I went to watch the gypsies with Antoinette, however, would bring a thrill I hadn't felt in several months. We were seated on the far right side in the front row in the semi-circle that surrounded the 'stage', lit by several torches burning with a warm glow. Almost opposite me, a flash of light caught my eye. As I looked to see whom or what, I only just recognised Daniél, playing with my ring on the chain. He had dressed up, looking more like a nobleman than an outlaw. He smiled charmingly, and I couldn't help but blush and giggle. I watched the show without much attention, and when it was over, Antoinette and I parted. I slowly made my way home, taking a long, winding route. "Hello," a soft, masculine voice said from behind me.
"Daniél," I whispered, then turned to face him. He had let down his hair, and it cascaded onto his shoulders. We stood close, he gently nuzzled my jaw. "Over there!" a sharp voice called, breaking our peace. A group of five soldiers stood blocking the alley in front of me. I looked at Daniél, into his piercing eyes. He quickly kissed my cheek then took off down the passage.
The soldiers tried to follow, but my four months in the forest with Daniél allowed me to buy him more time as I tripped several before gathering my skirts and running after him. In a side alley I heard a commotion, and saw Daniél restrained by four other soldiers, and hauled off. I had never felt so defeated.
A week later it had been announced that Daniél, along with six others believed to be his 'spies' would be publically hung. As the governor's daughter, I had to attend. As I stood on the shaded porch leading into the parliamentary buildings, I searched for his face among the condemned. As they stood on the platform, their crimes were read out. Eventually, the executioner asked if any had last words to say. "I do!" I cried, gathering my skirts and running towards the platform. I climbed the stairs to the platform, and walked straight to Daniél. He shook his head, his expression pained. I stood in front of him, and spoke of the four months I had spent with him, and proclaimed that, should these condemned still be found guilty, that I hang with them for treason, and, if not, be exiled with them. I turned to face my father, to receive his judgement. His expression was unreadable. "Exile!" he proclaimed, then turned and left. He had let the most well-known and, though not publically, loved outlaw go, the first and last in a long line of outlaws. A truly historical event in the entire world.