One unremarkable night, a gentleman of the city was travelling to a neighbouring town on business. Worn from his journey and finding the hour late, Nicolas came upon a field in which to rest. He unsaddled his horse and looked around at the serene night.
He’d rarely seen the stars so bright.
He thought about how people believed the stars held prophecies and wondered why they couldn’t simply appreciate their beauty. Why must we believe in fate? Why can’t we be happy with the world around us rather than always seeking an imaginary one?
He paused in his thoughts.
The darkness had revealed a light flickering within the darkness of the trees which lined the field. He remained still, listening for approaching footsteps. He heard the trickle of a stream and the leaves rustling in the breeze, but nothing more.
Burning with curiosity, Nicolas sought out the source of the light.
He entered the darkness where the forest began and carefully made his way over banks and fallen trees. Three times he was forced to retrace his steps. The light seemed to bounce and cut illusory paths through the trees. As the night wore on he grew tired and considered abandoning his search, but after each twist and turn his spirits were renewed by a sudden glimpse of the light.
His pace grew reckless.
His breathing became laboured.
Under the cover of the trees, the stars no longer shed their light. The air grew thick with fog as condensation settled on the world in a fine gauze. There seemed to be a tree blocking every direction. With his hands running over the coarse bark, he turned until he grew dizzy, desperately feeling for an escape.
At last his hand landed on the soft wall of a rotting tree trunk. His heart leapt as it gave way under his palms, and he lurched forwards into a stream. The light was blinding. As he picked himself up, his fine clothes streaming with water, he saw a young woman seated inside the crumbling ruins of an abandoned temple.
Her strange golden eyes were wide with fear.
The light blazed from her lantern and jumped off the water which had carved its way through the centre of this forgotten place. Hesitantly, he stepped towards her. She looked like a wild creature, if not for the book spread open across her lap.
Even her eyes glowed like a cat’s.
He cautiously lifted a hand in greeting, afraid she would flee like a deer if he made any sudden movements.
‘I’m sorry to have startled you. It wasn’t my intention.’ He gestured to the lantern. ‘Your light caught my eye. I didn’t expect anyone to be out so late, let alone a…uh.’
She stirred to life and her rosy lips arched into a smile. ‘A woman?’
He nodded dumbly.
‘You must come from a very dull place if the women are confined indoors. Especially at night, when the world comes alive.’
‘Where I come from, women always have an escort.’
‘Women are not children, you know.’
‘Yes,’ he took another step forward and entered the circle of light. ‘But they are not men either. The night is not their time or their place.’
She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes.
They thought that marriage would be their daughter’s salvation. With a husband to love, and children to raise, she would settle down and gain satisfaction from a home of her own.
They truly believed it would calm her restless soul.
When Nicolas, a fine young man and the son of a wealthy Duke, had escorted their daughter home they had silently rejoiced. He called upon her every day for a fortnight. And each evening she would sit in her chair, back as straight as a rod and her eyes fixed modestly upon the ground.
So, with the zealous confidence of a wealthy youth, he decided to request her hand in marriage – an offer which her parents gratefully accepted.
She didn’t want to marry.
While her parents meant well, they had unknowingly sentenced her to a life which so repulsed her, she had spent years fleeing social events and scorning friendships in case they led to a proposal.
To be shackled down with a household and a husband felt like a prison.
There was no bliss or romance in the idea. And while other girls in the village dreamed of someday carrying a child, she secretly hoped that she would never have one of her own. Every bone in her body revolted against the idea.
She yearned for freedom.
And it was all the more tragic when she discovered that life isn’t actually free.
There’s always a price to pay.
On the evening before her wedding, she sat in her bedroom reading tales from a book so old the pages were crumbling. She turned over the final page and the words disintegrated in her hand. Brushing the dust aside, she looked down into the fictional world she could never have.
She wanted to dive from reality into her own imagination.
There was nothing reality could offer which could ever compare. The glorious battles and passionate loves of a thousand heroes poisoned her mind. She loved the mountains for the mysteries they concealed and castles for when they lay in ruins. The soliloquies of tragic idols replaced the prayers she learned in church.
Picking up the tatters of her book, she pressed it against her heart.
The bitter disappointment in her upcoming marriage swept over her like a wave. Something flickered to life inside her. Something which burned as fiercely as a forest fire, and as dark as the coals it leaves in its wake.
Suddenly she knew. She understood.
It was better to have never been born.
Rising from her bed, she walked over to the looking glass and pulled her bridal veil down over her face. Only her golden eyes flashed through the delicate white lace.