The young woman halted at the 'Y' crossroad within the darkest section of the Starlight forest and lightly bit her lower lip. Dark violet eyes examined the left path and then the right as she adjusted her hold on her basket of flowers. She absently raised her right hand to give her long blonde braid a gentle succession of tugs.
She took in and released a long breath. "Well, I suppose either way will lead me home eventually," she reasoned in a soft alto voice.
Her expression brightened with her delicate smile, and she struck out toward the right path. Her handsewn leather slippers made little noise on the pressed earth, and her dark green skirt tickled the ankles of her feet. The pale yellow of her blouse heightened the natural rose of her cheeks and the innocent twinkle in her dark eyes. Youth not yet defined by age danced on her features, as did a perpetual laugh on her lips. The young woman seemed to fit within the wild beauty of the forest, as a nymph of legends. A sprite. A dryad.
The young woman heard a rustle within the brush to her right and smiled as she moved her gaze there. "Don't mind me," she told the creatures hiding within. "I'm on my way home, though it might take longer if I've chosen the wrong path." She focused again on the path ahead of her. "I do wish I could remember more clearly which route I take. I never seem to travel the same path twice." She giggled, and a collection of birds answered the soft melody with their own natural song. "I'm so silly, losing my way each time I come to collect flowers or berries. What ever will I do with myself?"
The rustling moved a little way ahead of her and grew in intensity.
Fear didn't tighten her features. There was only a continuation of her smile. "Yes, I know, and I hadn't expected to be here quite so long. I do apologize."
A slight, warning growl accompanied the next rustle.
The young woman halted and faced the brush, delicate expression suddenly very serious. "I really am sorry. Would you rather I not take the flowers this time?" She offered forward the basket. "I'll leave them if you'd rather I just go on my way." She smiled, and the brightness lightened the path. "Spending so much time in your lovely forest is enough to make the trip worthwhile."
The growl intensified and a chiro mongrel leaped from the brush to the path ahead of her. Fear still didn't darken her eyes. The beast hissed and snarled.
The young woman's expression became unhappy. "Oh. I had no idea today would be such a bother for you." She brought a hand to her chest, eyes wide. "I wouldn't have come if I had. I would have waited until tomorrow." Her smile returned as her hand lowered to her side. "It was just that today was so lovely... I had to come."
The beast hissed again, hunkering down as it's back legs tensed.
"Oh dear. Now I've upset you--"
"Stand aside, dear lady!" came a voice from the tree tops. "This evil fiend shall not mar your loveliness!"
The young woman blinked and looked up, her eyes examining the branches of the trees that surrounded her. She couldn't locate the dramatic baritone voice. "It's quite alright," she told him. "I'm not in danger."
"Dear lady, you have no idea of your peril. Stand back, I say, and I shall deter this travesty!"
The young woman raised her basket. "I only need to return--"
There was a dramatic shout and war cry as a quick succession of rustles and creaks were heard. Suddenly, a tall and lithe man with bluish-silver hair, a small horn on his forehead, a mask and a bright smile, and a cape whipping in the slight breeze leaped down to the path in front of her brandishing a sword toward the beast.
"Oh dear," the young woman said. She stepped forward and placed a hand on the man's arm. "Sir, please don't--"
He kept her back with an outstretched arm. "Stand back, dear lady. Allow me to dispatch this fiend without fear of striking you instead."
The mongrel sat back on its haunches and blinked at the young woman as if asking, 'Do you know this gentleman?' Then it turned its gaze to the man and tilted its head.
The man lowered his sword. "Eh? What is this? Does the fiend not desire a battle this day?"
The young woman tried again. "Sir?"
The man finally turned his face, brown eyes meeting her violet ones.
She smiled. "Sir, I'm not in danger." Her smile melted to an expression of assurance. "Though I do so appreciate your time and effort."
The man's eyes registered surprise. "You have no need of rescuing?" He motioned to the dark forest and the beast ahead of them. "What of your surroundings? And this man-eating beast?"
The smile returned, this time twinkling in the violet eyes. "They only hunt when they're hungry, sir," she said in a laughing tone. She motioned to the mongrel but didn't look over at it. "She was upset that I had spent so much time here, I'm almost certain, and picked so many lovely flowers. Normally I bring something for the forest creatures, it's never nice to take without giving something in return, but I left it at home." This time she focused on the beast and offered forward the basket of flowers. "I really am sorry for being selfish. Might I come back for the basket if I go home and get those things?"
The beast stood and grumbled, regarding the young woman with a somewhat reluctant expression. Then it stepped off to the side and disappeared again into the growth of the brush.
The man watched with an unhidden expression of amazement. "By the goddess! The beast understands you!"
The young woman refocused on the man with another bright smile. She offered a hand. "My name is Violette. I'm so pleased to meet you."
The man's smile lightened his expression. He accepted her hand and bowed over it with a dramatic flare of his cape. "My lady," he greeted in his robust baritone voice. When he straightened, he released her hand and gestured to the forest with a wide sweep of his left arm. "Do you have need of an escort from this greenery?"
Violette's eyes widened as she slightly shook her head. "Oh no, sir. I wouldn't want to trouble you. I can find my way."
"It will be no trouble, Miss Violette. Please. Allow me." The gentleman urged her forward with a hand at her back and an arm pointing forward. "I would be lax in my duty to the innocent if I did not guarantee your safety."
The smile returned as she began forward. "I do appreciate the thought to my safety, sir..." Wide-eyed expression. "Should I only call you 'sir'?"
The man with the mask and the flashing smile met her gaze. "You may call me Mystere, Miss Violette."
"Mystere? Oh my. What a perfectly lovely dramatic name," she said in a hushed tone.
Mystere's tall frame straightened, shoulders drawn back in an even more perfect example of form and posture. "Thank you, my lady. I am fond of it as well."
Violette's eyes held a clear and pure light of curiosity and interest. "Do you have a different name when you take off your mask?"
Her expression brightened. "Oh how exciting," she intoned while clasping her hands. "I've always wondered what it must be like to have two names, one for such wonderful adventures and one for peaceful times of laughter with friends and family." Her eyes widened yet again. "I know you can't tell me what your other name is, but are we very far from your home?"
Mystere responded with a very serious, "No, Miss Violette. I reside in no one place. My home is the land of Lunar," still with a very dramatic expression.
Violette's dark eyes grew wistful as she moved her focus to the path ahead. "How very romantic. I so wish I could wander as you do. To see so many different wonders and beauties our goddess created..."
"On the contrary, Miss Violette. It is a serious decision to lead a nomadic life. You must always be content with the limitations of your surroundings, and always without complaint or comment."
Wide violet eyes focused on brown. "Is it very hard traveling alone? You must so often miss the company of your family."
"The people of Lunar are become my family. I never want for company due to this fact. It is very satisfying to be alone yet forever together."
The pair emerged from the muted sounds of the forest.
Violette halted and fully faced her would-be rescuer, gracing him with a lovely smile. "Thank you again for your offered help and company. It was so nice to meet you, and I hope to meet you again some day."
Mystere returned the smile with an elegant bow and another dramatic flare of his cape. "My pleasure, Miss Violette." He straightened. "Mind you arrive home before twilight is upon you."
With that, he twirled his cape and hurried away, traveling a ways down the path before disappearing.
Violette's bright loveliness was mirrored in her eyes. "Oh how nice to have met such a nice man."
But the memory of her adventure and his warning was forgotten as she cheerfully walked down the path toward home, humming a nameless tune.
Violette sat heavily upon the lush grass on the side of the path, carefully raising the hem of her favorite dark green skirt to rub her right ankle. "Oh... dear...," she sighed.
Violette was currently on her way to a merchant outpost in order to buy more seeds and starter plants for her garden. She had declined several offers from wagons and caravans on their way because she enjoyed the walk and the sun and wind. She always felt the most alive when experiencing the land.
"But I always forget how long a walk it is," she told a passing butterfly. "And my feet do complain so. If only I could persuade them to see the joy of the adventure..." Violette giggled, dipping her head a little into her shoulders with the sound. "Instead, they moan and groan and give me pain." She gave her foot a playful throttle. "You little dickens. We haven't even traveled--"
"Fear not, my lady!" came a familiar dramatic baritone from behind. "I shall ease your wounds!"
Violette turned toward the voice, smiling as her wide eyes glowed with welcome. "Sir Mystere!" she greeted.
Mystere halted his approach with an expression of surprise. "My lady Violette!" He stepped forward again and knelt beside her. "Have you injured yourself?"
"Oh no," she giggled, waving her hands with a graceful motion. "I've been enjoying my walk and seem to have forgotten how long a ways it is. My feet began complaining, and so I decided to rest by the wayside." Her eyes widened as she regarded him. "Did my tired feet bring you all the way here again?"
Mystere's surprise melted to a smile. "Dear me, Miss Violette. This is the first time a rescue has been refused by a repeat offender."
Violette giggled again. "I am so sorry to trouble you. I don't intend to cause you difficulty."
Mystere's serious expression of drama and romance returned as he raised a hand. "Fear not, my lady Violette, there is no offense and no difficulty." He motioned toward her. "It is no bother to carry you a way toward your destination."
"Oh no, sir Mystere," she refused with wide eyes and a slight shake of her head. "I couldn't."
"Nonsense." Mystere scooped her up into his arms and straightened, proceeding down the path. "Any way I might be of service, Miss Violette."
"But this is too much," she protested, arms wrapping around his neck. "I only need to rest a little while."
"And so you shall rest, as I continue." He stepped clear of a pothole. "It would be extremely remiss of me to leave you to the beasts and ruffians of the road when I am perfectly capable of shortening the distance toward your destination."
"Oh dear," Violette whispered.
Mystere sent her a quick sidelong glance, examining her expression as she watched the path ahead. "What has brought you such a distance from the safety of your home, Miss Violette?"
Visions of gardens and flowers danced within her gaze as she met his, any discomfort forgotten. "While strolling through my garden I had the most lovely of ideas," she confessed, facial expression alight with excitement. "In the farthest corner I have an adorable patch of green where I intend to build a small little bench, I do so love to read in my garden at twilight."
"An extremely enjoyable happenstance, I must say," Mystere agreed.
Violette delicately nodded. "While I planned the most lovely place to build it, I noticed that the patch of green had no border!" Her eyes widened. "A bench in a lovely garden with no border just seems so terribly melancholy, so," she instantly smiled again, "I've decided to plant some of the most beautiful flowers all around the bench. White ones, and yellow ones, and of course blue and lavender. Only the softest hues and scents will do. Doesn't that sound divine?"
Violette didn't wait for an answer before adjusting her arms around his neck and again looking down the path. "I do so hope the market has the flowers I need. I will be so disappointed if I've caused all this trouble for nothing." She focused on Mystere's profile with wide eyes. "Sir Mystere, could you come for tea when I finish the bench?" Violette smiled. "I would love for you to see it."
Mystere's dramatic expression turned solemn. "I shall do my best to attend, my lady Violette. I have no wish to cause affront."
Her eyes crinkled at the corners. "Oh I do hope you can make it. I have so few visitors."
Mystere adjusted his hold. "Have you no family residing with you, Miss Violette?" he asked, momentarily meeting her gaze.
"Oh no," Violette told him, wide-eyed as if she couldn't understand why he thought otherwise.
Mystere met and held her gaze with an expression of surprise. "But you are so young," he reasoned. "Young ladies should never reside alone. What of the perils of daily living? Who protects you?"
Violette giggled, her head performing the same gentle dip into her shoulders. "I'm just a simple girl, sir Mystere. I don't need protection."
Mystere's expression of surprise melted to a soft smile. He refocused his attention to the path ahead, side-stepping a collection of tumbled logs from a cart that must have previously passed. "My mistake, Miss Violette."
"Do you see many horrible things in your travels, sir Mystere?" Violette asked with her usual expression of complete interest.
"The daily perils I curtail are not so horrible as you might believe," he answered vaguely.
Violette released a deep breath. "Oh I am glad. I hate to think that you might be in danger."
Mystere blinked and halted as he looked down at her. "But, my lady Violette, how else might I prevent harm to innocents without placing myself in harm's way?"
She held his gaze, violet eyes a dark purple. "I know that you must risk life and limb to help, but I don't want anyone to be in danger," she told him, matter-of-fact. "I would much rather everyone be safe, sound, and without any worries."
"As do I, my lady," he agreed as he carefully set her on her feet. Violette looked to the tasks of straightening her skirt and cuffs as Mystere continued, "and such is why I must continue in my endeavors to rid this world of hardships."
Violette finally looked up, eyes wide. "Do be careful, sir Mystere. We haven't enough heroes, and I would be quite sad if you were to leave us along with the others."
Mystere bowed with a dramatic flare of cape as he said, "I shall tread most careful, my lady Violette." He straightened. "And I thank you for your concern."
Violette's countenance lightened with her smile. "Please don't forget to visit me. I do so want you to see my garden and the little bench."
"You have my word. I shall not forget."
"Oh how wonderful," she exclaimed as she clasped her hands. Then she giggled and turned to move down the road with a near skip in her step, occasionally looking back to wave and giggle yet again.
Mystere stood in the middle of the road with arms crossed and watched her, cape fluttering in the breeze.
"Oh..." Violette sat back on her heels with a slow exhalation of breath. She brushed some stray hairs from her forehead with the back of her hand, which held a small trowel. "Dear me," she breathed.
The weeds of her garden refused to leave without extreme persuasion. Violette took the difficulty in hand, doing her best to coax them out of the rich soil using both words and strength. The activity left her emerald skirt and pale green blouse dirt-stained, as well as dirtying her graceful hands and smudging her face. Unbeknownst to Violette, she looked as lovely and delicate covered with grime.
A caterpillar paused its journey along a leaf, and Violette smiled at it. "They don't cooperate much at all, do they? I want so much to have the garden perfect for sir Mystere's visit." She leaned toward the caterpillar as it stood up on its back portion. "Do you suppose he might come today," she asked, wide-eyed. "A hero must be quite busy rescuing damsels and fighting evil plots."
Violette giggled and sat back. "I know weeds aren't very evil, but it would be nice if he could come and rescue me from them."
She glanced over her shoulder with a hopeful expression, and then her lower lip protruded slightly. She sighed.
Violette focused her attention back on the caterpillar. "It seems I will need to pull them out myself."
And so she went back to work, humming and chatting with the caterpillar and a passing ladybug about her garden plans, the soon-to-be crafted bench, and the flowers that would be planted along the walkway within her garden.
All the while she conversed, she didn't notice the shadowy figure watching her from the corner of her garden nearest the house. Didn't notice the leering smirk as they adjusted their crossed arms. Didn't notice the wicked intent glistening within a darkened expression.
Violette had always been insulated from the horrors of the world, so the thought of someone deliberately causing harm to her because of her innocence... There was no thought. No fear. No hesitancy. Only encouragement of life. Of people. Of nature.
The shadow wanted that innocence for himself.
The shadow straightened, his arms lowering to his sides as the smirk slightly widened. He stepped forward, halting when a caped figure leaped from the house roof to block his path with grim and steady determination, sword drawn.
The shadowy figure scoffed, holding the fierce gaze without issue.
The caped figure lifted the sword tip and pressed it slightly against the man's throat.
The shadow's gaze examined the resolve within the caped figure's eyes before looking again to the lovely blonde woman kneeling so very few steps away, chatting and humming without a care-- The blade-tip bit into his skin, drawing the shadow's attention. He glowered.
Then the sword blade began to glow afire, scalding the shadowy figure's skin, and he backed off a step. He finally turned and disappeared into the darker shadows. The caped figure watched his escape with narrowed eyes before turning his focus to the nymph of the forest. A damsel never in distress.
The caped figure slightly smiled and then again disappeared into his surroundings; again taking his post as unknown Sentinel. Knight. Protector of the Innocent.
Violette rested back on the flat of her feet, her lower lip protruding slightly as she put backs of hands on hips.
"What ever will I do?" she asked a busy bee. Violette motioned to her large basket of berries. "I haven't enough for my preserves and my pies." She looked again to the berries just out of reach. "If only I were but a few inches taller..."
Violette sighed and slightly shrugged her shoulders. Then she picked up her basket and turned back down the path leading home. The sun shone bright in the sky, with clouds a mere whisper against the blue. The breeze tickled the wisps of blonde about her face as well as the lush greenery on each side of her homeward path. She swung the woven basket back and forth, humming and whistling as she skipped and walked along.
Once Violette arrived at the back gate of her garden, she felt a hint of surprise at the sight of an unexpected visitor wandering within. He had bluish hair, a fine-tailored suit of beige with blue trim, a scabbard of gold and etched hardened leather at his hip, and proper posture that told of his station. He turned when Violette clicked the gate shut, and she saw he had kind brown eyes and a horn in the middle of his forehead.
She smiled and stepped forward. "Hello. Have you lost your way?"
He bowed in greeting. "No, my lady." He straightened. "My name is Leo, white knight and protector of Goddess Althena--"
"A real knight?" Violette's eyes brightened. She set down her basket of berries and said "Oh how romantic!" as she clasped her hands.
The knight's serious expression relaxed somewhat. "I do apologize for the intrusion, but my horse has gone lame. I stopped here to rest. I do hope I haven't troubled you."
Eyes widened. "Oh no, sir knight. I'm honored to be of help." Smile. "Would you care for some tea?" Violette picked up the basket as she motioned for the house. "I'm about to make preserves, there's a lovely berry patch just down that path," she told him while gesturing behind, "and I've just... come..." Violette's smile slowly disappeared as she clasped her hands to the basket.
The knight's expression registered concern as he leaned slightly forward and reached out a hand. "My lady? Are you well?"
"Oh could you come and pick berries for me?" she pleaded as she took hold of his reaching hand. "You're so much taller than myself, and it's such a waste to not use them."
Sir Leo smiled. "Of course, my lady. Anything in recompense for your hospitality."
Violette released his hand to lightly clap. "Oh thank you so. I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't come by." She giggled as they turned back down the path. "I had thought a different gentleman would arrive - he's so clever about arriving when I need help - but I'm so glad you've come, sir knight. I've never met a knight of Althena before. Is it very exciting?"
Sir Leo's expression was serious. "A knight of Althena has many responsibilities, both spoken and silent. This makes for a... constancy of... adventure."
"Oh how thrilling. I've only read stories of adventure and rescues or escapes and chases and am so very glad I haven't been in such danger myself, but it is so romantic to read and dream." Eyes widened as her expression grew serious. "Have you had many adventures, sir knight?"
Sir Leo sent her a sidelong glance as he helped her over a fallen branch in the trail. "Enough."
"Oh could you tell the tales over tea? It's been ages since I heard one."
"I would not want to abuse my welcome."
Violette giggled. "You won't, sir knight, and I would so love to hear your stories. Please stay."
He inclined his head. "It would be an honor, my lady."
"Oh dear," she giggled. "Please call me Violette, sir knight."
"As you wish, Miss Violette." Sir Leo reached a hand for the basket. "Allow me."
"Oh thank you." Violette released the basket to his care and then accepted a hand-hold over a slight crevice in the path. "Do you come this way often, sir knight?"
"Upon occasion," he said vaguely. He released her hand. "My home is but a few days' journey beyond. Raculi."
"How exciting to have a knight of Althena so close," Violette commented, and her expression was bright. Then seriousness returned. "Have you been separated from your family long?"
"It has been a time, yet my sister recently married. She has been busily beginning her own life to worry on mine."
"Oh, but you're her brother. Certainly she must be concerned for you."
Sir Leo handed her up and over a collection of rocks. "I have left word that I am well on frequent occasions, my lady Violette."
Violette stopped, examining his face with a sincere expression before slowly releasing his hand.
Sir Leo held her gaze before inquiring, "My lady Violette?"
Violette smiled, and then she looked toward the north with a motion of her hand. "Those are the berries, and they're always my favorite, but I wasn't able to reach the ones up higher." She changed her gaze back to Sir Leo. "And of course those are always the most juicy, and the best for making pie."
Sir Leo's expression showed soft seriousness. "Undoubtedly," he said simply. He raised the basket. "Will we require another?"
Violette slightly shook her head as the pair again walked toward the collection of greenery. "I have two others waiting by the bushes, I had hoped to pick enough berries for my preserves and a pie or two."
"Were you expecting company, my lady Violette?"
"Always. And I do so love having wonderful things to offer travelers..." She motioned to Sir Leo. "Such as yourself."
"Do you have many travelers visit?"
Seriousness returned. "Oh no." Smile. "But it is so much fun to plan."
Sir Leo slightly smiled. "Then perhaps Fate felt compassion for you and lamed my horse."
Wide-eyed horror, but an extremely softer version. "Oh I do so hope not. It isn't fair to you or your horse to be put off your return home. To think of all your friends and family eagerly waiting..." Violette shook her head, and a type of serious determination replaced the horror. "No, that isn't fair at all, sir knight."
"But what of your--"
"Oh don't worry about me," she interrupted with a smile. They stopped by the berry bushes. "I've my garden, and my butterflies and birds. I don't mind the few visitors."
Violette faced the berry bushes and stood on tiptoes to point at the topmost vines, not noticing her escort's continued scrutiny of her expressions. "There. Those are the ones that are simply too high for me to reach." She stood back on flat feet, examining the berries and the bushes with a thoughtful gaze. "I had thought to make a ladder of sorts with a third leg to keep it steady."
Violette faced Sir Leo and met his gaze. She smiled. "But now you've rescued me from having to do that." Serious, wide-eyed expression. "I plan on using that beautiful wood to fashion a bench for a green patch in my garden." Smile. "Would you like to see it?" Violette giggled. "The green patch and not the bench. You see, I haven't made it yet."
Sir Leo chuckled. "It would be an honor to see, my lady Violette. Perhaps I could lend a hand in the making of the bench?"
Her eyes brightened as she clasped her hands. "Oh would you?"
"Why, of course."
"Oh thank you so much, sir knight."
Sir Leo bowed low. "It would be my pleasure."
Berries were picked accompanied by the rhythm and soft melody of Violette's voice as she told of her childhood there at the cottage with her aged grandparents. Under their tuteledge she had learned of herbs and nature and many other things that Sir Leo commented as "Simply amazing, my lady Violette."
Then baskets overflowed and the duo walked back along the path to the cottage and the garden, Violette explaining how exactly one made preserves that tasted as perfectly wonderful as nature intended.
"And there is where I plan on putting the bench once we've built it," Violette informed him as they stood on the outskirts of the green patch. She focused on his profile as he continued to regard the patch, smiled, and then looked back to the small area. "I can hardly wait," she whispered. "I have so long dreamed of having a bench within my garden."
"You should plant a tree."
Violette looked to Sir Leo and met his gaze, eyes wide. "A tree, sir knight?"
"Yes, directly behind the bench." He looked to and motioned to the area behind the proposed portion for the bench. "There, so that during the day you will have shade and company."
Violette clasped her hands, still watching the Knight of Althena's profile. "Oh, sir Leo," he looked toward her, "that is a lovely notion. I wonder that I haven't thought of it before. My garden so does need a tree to give it shade on those warmer days."
Sir Leo's lips twitched. "I shall see to it personally, my lady Violette."
Her eyes widened. "Oh no, sir. Please. I couldn't have you trouble yourself so. I can travel to town to purchase the tree. I would be glad to do it."
"This I know, but I insist." Sir Leo opened the cottage door for her. Violette passed after offering him a smile and a softly spoken "Thank you."
"Do excuse the mess," Violette pleaded as the two entered.
Sir Leo closed the door behind him with a slight rise of eyebrow. There was no mess to be seen except for a drawing of a bench diagram on the table within the small dining/living room. "Of course."
Violette went to stand by the diagram and offered him an eager smile as she motioned him forward. "Here is what I have planned for the bench. See? A simple thing."
Sir Leo looked over the plans with accompanying nods of encouragement. "Very well done, my lady Violette. We should have it built in hardly a moment."
"I have all the pieces cut and ready, too. I had to, for I could hardly wait to start on it." Violette giggled as she turned and made her way to the stove to set the tea on. "I would have started on it today but for the berries and bees calling my name."
Sir Leo sat at the chair at the far end of the table, placing his sword and scabbard on the table in front of him as he watched her prepare the tea. "Your commune with nature is... refreshing to see, my lady Violette. So often the youth of this generation do not appreciate its loveliness."
"I know," she said sadly. "The youth are afraid of nature. They don't realize that its power is designed to protect them if they respect and cherish it." Violette slowly lowered the teapot onto the stove, her lower lip slightly protruding. "I do so wish I could find a way to show them its beauty." She sighed. "But they believe I'm a witch."
Sir Leo blinked. "Certainly that isn't so, my lady!"
Violette sadly nodded as she focused her deep purple eyes to his brown ones. "Granmamma was said to be an evil hag and Granpapa a sorcerer. I was their witch-child birthed from the cave behind the berry bushes, brought to life using the blood--"
"It is preposterous," Sir Leo roared, and he stood to his feet. "You're a delicate creature of the forest, my lady Violette. You are no witch!"
Violette lowered her gaze to the floor as she slowly made her way to the table and chairs. She rested her hands on the back of the other head chair. "I know I'm not, and I know they don't really mean any harm. I only wish..." She sighed and raised her gaze again. "Do you fear the forest, sir Leo?" she asked softly.
Sir Leo shook his head. "No, my lady Violette, I do not. Evil is to be feared so that we stray from the action of it, but the forest is to be enjoyed and cherished."
Violette's face brightened with her smile as she leaned against her hands, which clasped the chair back. "Oh I am glad. I knew that you would understand--" The teapot began to sing, and Violette giggled. "Oh! The tea!"
She turned away as Sir Leo slowly lowered himself back into the chair, watching and listening as she set to work fixing the tea and chatting about her different adventures within the forest gathering herbs and flowers.
The two enjoyed tea and sugar biscuits, with Violette sharing tidbits of her life within the cottage and how she learned to cook, make tea, sew, and work with wood. Sir Leo chuckled along with her telling of failed attempts in all, even admitting his own failing with his first attempt at swinging a sword during practice - he had nearly put out his tutor's eye - and riding a horse while in full armor.
The fabrication of the bench was forgotten, tea grew cold, and sugar biscuits were held uneaten while each listened to the tales of the other.
Sir Leo was finally roused by the anxious and restless nickering of his horse. "I am afraid I must away, my lady Violette. I am sincerely sorry I allowed myself to be distracted. Now you are likely to build the bench yourself."
Violette smiled and stood as he did, escorting him to the front door as he strapped the scabbard on his hip. "I will save you the honor of first sitting upon it if you promise to bring a tree." She opened the door and stood by it as he passed through and turned. "A blossoming tree would be divine, sir Leo."
Sir Leo bowed. "Then a blossoming tree I shall bring. This I swear." He straightened and produced a hand. Violette slipped hers into it. "Thank you for your kindness and your hospitality, my lady. It has been an honor to speak with you."
"And thank you so for stopping by, sir Leo," she said, and her voice held the hint of tears. "I do hope it shan't be long before your next visit."
Sir Leo continued to hold her hand and her deepening violet gaze. "I shall do my best, my lady Violette. I have no wish to cause affront."
He touched her knuckles briefly with his lips before releasing her hand and turning to stride to and mount his waiting white horse. It pranced to the side, and Sir Leo easily handled and soothed it as he brought his attention back to the solitary figure waiting within the doorframe.
Violette took a slight step forward, hands clasped. "Do be careful, sir Leo. I hate to think you might be in danger."
Sir Leo smiled. "I shall be well, my lady Violette. See, also, that you take care."
And he urged his mount onto the road and away, Violette watching him as her blonde tresses blew in the slight breeze.
Violette closed her eyes with a wistful smile as she walked within the forest, face kissed by the breeze. In her hand she held her usual basket of flowers swung back and forth to the melody on her lips.
"Such a lovely day," she whispered to the forest and its creatures that hid within. Violette opened her eyes to view the canopy of trees above. "I always feel better when I come, thank you so."
A rustling sounded to her right, and she looked over with a smile. "Oh, it's my pleasure. I truly don't mind bringing those things, and I know you need them. I only wish I could persuade more people to visit." Sadness darkened her eyes. "You must be so lonely without the laughter and games of the children, as you once had."
Birds called from the canopy above, followed closely by the singing of a family of crickets. "You're right, sir Leo will help; as will sir Mystere. I'm sure of it. They don't believe those horrible stories told of you; they've seen real evil."
There was a sudden fluttering of wings, causing Violette to look to her left with a concerned expression. "What is it? Do you not like sir Leo or sir Mystere?" Eyes widened. "Oh, but they're such gentlemen." Another flutter followed by the upset calling of several birds. "Oh dear."
Violette dropped her basket of flowers and hurried off the path and into the brush to a hidden clearing on the other side. There in the middle of the clearing stood a collection of rough and angry men standing over the fallen body of a man with a cape--
"No!" Violette cried.
The men looked up as Violette rushed forward. All but one backed off from her as she knelt before the man and gathered him onto her lap. "It's the forest witch," the men whispered amongst themselves. And the one smirked as he crossed his arms.
Violette looked up, eyes wide as she showed a bloody hand. "What have you done? Why do you bring evil here?"
The man's eyes smoldered. "To bring you out, wench."
Violette slightly shook her head as she looked back down into the man's face, expression twisted with pain. She lowered her hand to pull aside the cape and shirt, revealing the bruising of fists and the jagged wounds of dagger. She choked back a sob as her hand traveled downward, barely hovering over the man's body. Broken ribs. Bleeding within...
Her hand lowered. "Go. Leave this forest." Violette smoothed the hair from the man's face, expression saddened and pained. "Do not come again."
"Not until I get what I come for," the man hissed. He leaned forward and grabbed for her arm. She looked up. "Come along, forest witch."
Violette struggled to remove her arm. "Do not touch me!"
A rumbling growl sounded from behind, and the men turned. "Forest beast!"
The man straightened and turned, releasing his hold on Violette's arm. Violette immediately enfolded the man within her arms. "Do not fear," she whispered as she closed her eyes.
Snarling and snapping. Cries of men and beast. Shouts. Growls. Running footsteps. An animal snort of disdain... Rustling... Silence.
Violette slowly opened her eyes as she straightened and looked about her. The men were gone. Violette released a relieved sigh as she focused again on her charge. Pain darkened her eyes. She reached out and removed the mask, showing no hint of surprise at the face beneath as she smoothed the blood from his skin.
Violette looked to her right, an expression of extreme concentration sparking within the depths of her violet eyes-- His white horse emerged from the brush. It looked shaken and bruised but well enough to travel.
"Your master needs help," Violette told it as it came up to the pair. "Might I make a bed for you to carry him behind you?"
The horse violently nodded its head as it pawed the ground.
Violette smiled. "Thank you so." She looked back down to Sir Leo/Mystere and lightly touched his face. "Please be still. It shan't take but a moment," she whispered.
She carefully laid him back against the ground, arranging his cape over him before standing and setting to work.
Violette and the white horse, whom she dubbed Cloud, stepped carefully toward home; her charge carefully positioned upon the 'bed' fashioned of saplings entwined together with strips of bark. Cloud would occasionally inquire after his master with a soft nicker and a glance over his shoulder. Violette soothed the horse the best she could, keeping a watchful eye on Sir Leo's condition as she walked along behind.
They arrived at the cottage very few minutes later, Violette leading Cloud nearly into the front door. Then she led him parallel so that the stretcher stopped directly in front. Violette then carefully guided Sir Leo to a sitting position. She soothed his protests away and placed his arm around her shoulders, easing him to stand and then steadying him as they slowly progressed into the cottage and to the bedroom portion of the three-room house.
Violette eased him onto the down mattress, hushing further protests with a smile and a firm hand at his back to lower him the remaining way. She removed his cape and boots with gentle movements and then pulled the quilted blankets close about him.
"Keep still, sir knight, while I set about preparing he herbs." She lightly kissed his forehead before turning for the kitchen.
Sir Leo slipped in and out of consciousness as Violette set to the task of gathering the herbs necessary. Dried. Fresh. Boiled. Ground. She combined them with patience and care, finally letting the mixture set. Then she found a roll of material and made her way back to Sir Leo's side.
Violette turned down the blankets and sat on the edge of the bed. She set down the roll of material and reached out to carefully unfasten his top coat. Then she pulled his undershirt free, eyes glimmering at the deep bruising of both the internal bleeding and the broken ribs.
"Oh dear," she voiced brokenly.
Violette bit back the tears and reached for the roll. Then she carefully wrapped his chest, securing the ribs in place so that they could heal more quickly. Sir Leo winced, clenching his jaw as Violette did her best to gently tighten the wrap.
"This will help," she whispered. "Try and breathe shallow and slow," Violette instructed. "That will relieve the pain of it."
She carefully and tenderly removed his topcoat and undershirt entirely. A jagged dagger wound met her gaze. Violette unfurled a large portion of the material roll and ripped it off. Then she folded it up and lightly dabbed at the blood oozing from the wound.
"I need to get warm water and herbs," she told him as she stood. "Keep still."
Violette gathered the herbs prepared before and then poured water from the teapot into the basin beside the bed. Then she sprinkled the herbs within it. The remaining herbs were then poured into the teapot, and it was again set to heating.
Violette soaked the bloody material into the medicated water before again dabbing at the wound with a tender pressure. "This will help the pain and stop the bleeding..." Violette lightly bit her lip, eyes glimmering.
Sir Leo reached over to cover her hand. "All will be well, my lady Violette," he assured calmly, no hint of pain evident in his voice.
Violette met his gaze and smiled. "I know, sir knight. Now please, keep still."
She guided his hand back to his side and then finished the task of washing, treating, and wrapping the wound. Then the teapot sang and Violette left Sir Leo's side to set about preparing another herbal tonic to heal the bleeding within.
Sir Leo drank the tonic with no complaint.
Violette set the cup aside and took his hand in hers, leaning forward to smooth hair from his cheeks and forehead. Sir Leo's focus never wavered from her face.
"The herbs will help you sleep," she told him softly. Her eyes focused on his. "Rest now. Rest and be well."
Sir Leo's hand slightly tightened on hers. "The lady has rescued the knight."
"Shh," Violette urged, and she placed a finger on his lips. "Sleep, sir knight. Please." And she began to softly hum, moving her finger to stroke the hair along his forehead.
Sir Leo closed his eyes, and the tension and strain slowly flowed from his body. Violette continued to hum as she watched him, expression concerned but not fearful.
Finally, his hold relaxed on hers, freeing her hand to do the other portion of his remedy. Violette drew the quilts down away from the discoloration that signified the internal bleeding. Then she softly placed her hands against his skin and closed her eyes as she released a deep breath.
Focusing the will. Sharing the power. Summoning the warmth and healing. Drawing out the evil and replacing the good. Focusing the will. Sharing the power. Summoning the warmth and healing...
Violette continued throughout the rest of the afternoon and night, not pausing to rest even when fatigue fogged the corner of her mind. She kept on, sharing her strength so that he could be made whole.
Only when dizziness and exhaustion robbed her focus did she remove her hands and pull the quilts up around him. Then she carefully stood, leaning down to smooth more hair from his face and kiss his forehead before the world dimmed and she collapsed to the floor...
Violette moaned softly, struggling through the fog to the baritone voice beyond.
"Violette?" ... "My lady Violette?"
Stronger now, Violette pulled her self toward the voice and opened her eyes. "Sir Leo?" she called as she pushed herself upright.
There was a release of breath. "My lady Violette. I thought you ill and could not move to investigate."
Violette smiled and sat on the edge of the bed. She checked his temperature with the back of her hand. "Are you feeling better this morning?"
"Stiff. Unable to move without great effort, but yes. The pain is noticeably diminished."
"Oh, I am glad." Violette reached out for the quilt. "I need to check your wrap," she told him as she pulled it down. "I also need to see if you're still bruised or just tender."
Violette tucked the quilts around his hips and lightly gauged the tautness of this chest wrap. "I might need to tighten this later today," she informed him with a soft smile.
Then her eyes focused on the area just below. Her expression brightened. "Oh my," she breathed. She tenderly pushed and touched the area that had been nearly black before. "Does this hurt?" she asked as she watched his expression.
Sir Leo clenched his jaw. "There is discomfort," he said tightly.
"Sir Leo," she chastised softly. "I need to know if there is pain." Violette carefully pushed. "Here?"
He winced. "Pain, yes, but not blinding as before."
She moved her hand. "Here?"
Again Violette's hand moved. "And here?"
Sir Leo shook his head. "Tender, but no pain."
"Good." Violette pulled the quilt up to his upper chest again and met his gaze. "Tea for breakfast, an herbal lotion, bed rest, and then you'll be well again." She motioned to his shoulder. "But first I had best check there."
Violette unwrapped the bandage and carefully removed the medicated material. "You are a fast healer, Sir Leo," she intoned softly. "But I believe another application is wise." Violette stood and lightly touched his arm. "Keep still while I ready the herbs and water. Alright?"
"Of course, my lady."
Sir Leo listened as she performed the same careful routine as the previous day. This time she hummed.
"Did you learn the herb-lore from your granmamma, my lady Violette?"
"I did. Before her and granpapa moved out here they were healers who traveled throughout Lunar." She sighed deeply. "I so loved their tales of adventure, and that was how they taught me."
"They used the tales? As examples?"
"Yes, and what a lovely and exciting way to learn for a young child! I could never get enough of their stories. I always craved more and another and still another." Violette giggled. "They told me I had to earn the stories after a time."
Sir Leo softly smiled.
"Here we are." Violette set a basin onto the side-table and soaked another rag. Then she sat on the edge of the bed and gently cleansed the wound. "Mostly I've healed birds and bullfrogs." She smiled. "And the occasional horse or cow. Not very exciting. Nor very romantic."
Violette bandaged the shoulder and then sat back. "There." Seriousness returned. "And please tell me if it begins to feel warm, or sting and throb."
"Yes, my lady."
The smile lightened her eyes. "Now, let me fix you a slice of bread and butter to have with your tea."
Violette stood and returned to the kitchen. Humming. The clink of china. Footsteps. The swish of skirt against skin...
"Breakfast is served. Ah ah. Don't move," she urged when Sir Leo seemed to move to push himself upward.
"My apologies. I had forgotten."
Violette smiled and sat again on the edge of the bed. "I even put some preserves on it." She pulled apart a piece of the buttered and jellied bread and offered it forward. "Ahhhh."
Sir Leo's lips twitched as he opened his mouth and accepted the piece. "Mmm. Quite exceptional, my lady Violette."
Violette giggled. "Thank you. One more piece and then I need you to drink your tea."
Another portion of the bread slice was offered and accepted, and then Violette balanced the small plate on her lap as she brought forth the tea. Again, he drank it all with no complaint. Then the bread was finished and Violette retrieved a small bottle from a shelf within the side-table. Violette pulled down the quilts and then carefully measured out a small portion of the pale blue lotion into her palm. She set the bottle aside and dipped her fingers into the portion before tenderly massaging it into the skin of the tender sections of his chest.
"There is a tingle and warmth," Sir Leo observed.
Violette nodded. "The herbs. They work quickly." She finished the application and wiped her hands on a nearby cloth. "I didn't put as much of the sleeper in your tea as before, but you will become tired. Your body still needs time to heal." She pulled the quilts up and then brushed the hair from his face with a slight smile and a soft touch.
Sir Leo took her hand in his and held her gaze. "My lady, how shall I ever repay this kindness shown?"
Violette covered his hand with hers. "There's nothing to repay, sir knight."
Sir Leo watched her face. Then he brought their clasped hands to his lips and kissed her knuckles, eyes closed.
Violette's expression softened. "Rest now."
Sir Leo lowered her hand from his lips and released a slow breath. Then tension flowed and his breathing deepened. Violette carefully pulled her hand from his and focused on the condition of his wounds, performing a less intense and draining ritual as before to help the knitting process. Once completed, she tucked the quilts about him and stood, making her way to the door and taking up her basket and shawl. She turned at the door and watched him sleep with a soft smile... and then she softly closed the door.
Violette returned from her trip to gather herbs from the forest and found Sir Leo staring at his mask held within his hands. He turned it over and over within his grasp, examining each wrinkle and curve of the fabric.
Violette clicked the door shut and set aside her shawl and basket on the table as she made her way toward the bed. "Sir Leo?" she asked softly while slowly sitting on the edge.
"When did you know the truth?"
"The truth? What do you mean?" she asked, wide-eyed. "When did you lie?"
Sir Leo focused on her face and eyes with a touch of surprise coloring his expression.
Violette smiled and enfolded the mask and his hands within hers. "You are these men. Where is the lie?"
Sir Leo's expression relaxed. "And so you are correct. Thank you, my lady Violette, for revealing this truth."
Violette took the mask from his hands and carefully folded it before setting it aside on the side-table. Then she refocused on sir Leo's face. "How do you feel? Stiff and sore?"
Sir Leo opened his mouth to reply.
"Truthfully," Violette prompted.
Sir Leo smiled. "Yes, but not as before."
"Oh I am glad. I'll check your wrap this evening." She stood and retrieved the herbs from the table. "How are the tender spots? Better?" Violette asked as she entered the kitchen.
"Yes. What was that concoction?"
"Herbs, flower petals, oil... Things of that sort." She peeked around the partition of kitchen and main room. "Did you want some lunch?"
"Only should you have been planning such for yourself."
Violette giggled and slightly shook her head. "Sir Leo, you're my charge. You don't need to wait for me to eat. If you're hungry or thirsty, you should tell me. Your body is trying to heal. It needs food to do that."
"My apologies, Violette."
"Oh, it's all right, Sir Leo," she assured, wide-eyed. She immediately smiled. "You're a true gentleman. You can't help but be chivalrous." Violette disappeared back into the kitchen. "Granpapa told stories of the Knights of Althena, and the Dragonmasters, and Vane," Violette continued. "I loved hearing the tales of Dragonmaster Alex and Dyne. Of Luna and Ghaleon. Of the white dragons Quark and Nall." She sighed deeply. "I miss him and his stories," she confessed softly.
Sir Leo wordlessly stared at the ceiling.
"I heard a tale the other day in town about an evil wizard and five heroes from around Lunar," she offered, and the brightness had returned to her voice. "Do you know anything about it?"
"I had heard something similar," he admitted vaguely.
"They said that the five heroes escorted a lady from the Blue Star." Wonder colored her voice. "Is that true?"
"That is what is said."
"Oh I do so hope it's true. Granmamma said we get to return to the Blue Star once it's healed from a horrible sickness, it's sleeping right now, and when we return it will be like we never left. Granmamma said we came from there. Won't it be lovley to return home? I wonder if the forests are as lovely. Do you know anything of the Blue Star?"
"Very little, I am afriad." Sir Leo positioned his hands behind his head and closed his eyes as he listened to her bright voice.
"I heard also that two rays of light were seen to go to the Blue Star. One very early before the other. The people in town said the first was the lady returning to the Blue Star to help it heal, but they didn't know of the second. Have you heard anything, Sir Leo?"
Sir Leo's lips twitched upward as he slowly opened his eyes. "I have heard the second light was that of her hero and protector."
The noise of the kitchen stopped.
"He had fallen in love with her along their journeys together. Once she left to the Blue star, he strove to find a way to return to her side. He battled fiends and beasts in search of his friends and the clues needed to find the key. He explored ruins and towers and finally battled the great Star Dragon to prove the depth of his love and devotion. Then he returned to her side and has not returned."
A movement to the side drew his attention, and Sir Leo turned his head. Violette knelt in wide-eyed wonder at the side of his bed, hands tightly clasped in her lap.
"The great Star Dragon?" she whispered. "Did the hero battle alongside his friends?"
"No. This one battle had to be fought alone; as a true test to his courage and dedication. Only those of the truest heart and spirit could journey to the recovering Blue Star. Only those of the purest love could be with the Lady of Eternal Blue."
"Oh the bittersweet decision of being separated from his friends to meet his love," Violette intoned, clasped hands rising to her chest. "You must have been very sad to see him go," she observed.
Sir Leo's lips twitched higher, and he looked again to the ceiling. "Yes, we four were disheartened at his leaving, but a friendship such as ours is felt across space and time. We were comrades standing against a common foe to protect the land of our heart. That is a bond not easily severed."
Violette remained silent.
Sir Leo focused back on her face. She wore a soft smile as she watched him. That smile brought one to his own lips.
"Thank you," she said softly.
Sir Leo examined her face for a silent moment before reaching out and caressing a collection of wisps from her cheek. then he pulled his hand away and again met her eyes. "A pleasure, my lady Violette."
Violette suddenly sighed and lowered her gaze; a surprisingly troubled expression darkened her face. "Sir Leo..." She raised her eyes to meet his. "In the forest... You knew they were there, didn't you?"
"Yes. I did."
"Why didn't you stay away?" She leaned forward. "If the forest hadn't brought me..."
"My lady Violette," Sir Leo began carefully, "they were and are dangerous men wanted by the White Knights to serve their punishment. I could not turn a blind eye to my duty."
Eyes glimmered as she reached out to clasp his hand. "But you shouldn't have done it alone. You... You could have died!"
Sir Leo smiled softly. "Death is expected within the duty of a knight." His grip tightened on her hand. "I could not allow them close enough to harm you, my lady Violette."
Violette lowered her gaze to their hands. "Please, sir knight... Please don't risk your life for mine," she whispered.
"My lady Violette." She raised her gaze to meet his. "A knight of Althena must protect the innocent even at the cost of his own life. It is my duty. A duty I follow blindly. A duty I shall continue to follow, gladly."
"But the forest protects me. It always has."
Sir Leo lightly squeezed her hand. "I shall accept its assistance, but my duty stands."
Violette removed the wrap the next morning after breakfast. She carefully tested each area without a question to Sir Leo. She simply lightly felt with closed eyes and an air of quiet concentration as Sir Leo watched her. The tender spots were checked in much the same way. Then she tucked the quilts back around him and smiled.
Violette looked away to gather the medicated bandage removed from his shoulder. "You're well enough to travel, though I will miss you and Cloud terribly." Violette absently bit her lower lip as she turned the bandage over within her hands. "I had forgotten what fun it is to have company," she confessed softly.
Then she stood and moved to turn away.
Sir Leo gently caught her hand. "Violette..."
Violette faced him again, a type of sadness darkening her eyes. "Yes, sir Leo?"
Sir Leo held her gaze... and then he briefly smiled and gave her hand a squeeze. "I have yet to fulfill my promise of a tree, dear lady," he reminded as he released it.
Her smile brightened her expression and erradicated the darkness. "Oh! And you haven't yet seen the bench. I will show you once you bring the tree, I haven't yet finished the border, and then we can plant it together."
Violette brought his clothes from where they hung on the back of the chair and set them across the foot of the bed. "I stitched the holes and removed the stains," she told him as she stepped back to the curtain that separated one room from the other. "You may want to take them to a tailor, though. I didn't have the right thread."
"I am certain it shall do admirably, my lady Violette."
Violette bequeathed upon him a bright smile moments before drawing the curtain.
Sir Leo looked to his clothes and took up the topcoat, holding it tightly between his hands as he stared down at her stitching. He stroked it with a thumb-- Sir Leo cleared his throat and set the clothes aside to throw back the quilts.
Sir Leo dressed in silence beyond the curtain. Likewise did Violette prepare him a lunch, packing it tenderly into a small parcel easily carried within a saddle bag. Then she stared down at it with an odd feeling of... Violette sniffed and picked up the parcel, retrieving a bright smile from the relief at his recovery as she turned from the kitchen and met him at the front door.
Violette presented him the parcel. "Here is lunch, sir Leo, and I've put in a small bit of the herbal lotion for your shoulder. Be sure to put it on before bed. It works better when you're resting."
Sir Leo accepted the items with an oddly serious expression. "Many thanks, my lady," he said softly.
Violette followed beside him to Cloud, momentarily holding the parcel until he had mounted. He tucked the parcel away and then looked down. Sir Leo watched her face in silence.
Violette reached a hand to his leg. "Tread carefully, sir knight," she whispered.
Sir Leo wordlessly covered her hand with his... He urged Cloud back and then away down the path. Violette stepped a little ways after him, following a pull deep within. Then she halted and clasped her hands together as his form vanished from sight.
Violette smiled at the mask held within her hands as she sat upon the bench within her little garden. The border of the patch of green was colored by blues, lavenders, yellows, and others of the palest hues and softest scents; with the exception of a section behind the bench.
A butterfly alight upon the mask and gently pulsed its wings.
"I miss his face," Violette told the slight creature. "I've never missed any but my grans before."
The butterfly slightly adjusted its position on the mask.
Violette released a slight breath, aggravating the butterfly and sending it away. She watched it. "Oh, I am sorry." It flitted away, leaving Violette alone once more. She returned her focus to the mask and sighed.
"Fear not, dear lady," came a gentle baritone. Violette's expression brightened and she looked up. "I shall slay this wretched loneliness."
Violette stood to her feet, dropping the mask as she hurried forward with a cry of "Leo!" She threw herself into his arms, laughing and giggling as he enfolded her within them.
"Good day, my lady Violette."
Violette pulled back, setting her feet back onto the ground as she smiled up into his face. "I am so glad you've come." She turned and motioned to the patch of green and the colorful border. "Do you see? Isn't it lovely? All I need is our tree. There. Right where you suggested."
Violette focused back to Sir Leo, smiling brightly. He watched her with a softer smile. "Have you brought the tree? Might I see it? I am excited to see what you've brought!" Wide-eyed seriousness. "And I hadn't planned at all for visitors today." Smile and giggle. "I was moping in my garden because I missed your face, and here you are!"
Sir Leo gathered her hands in his. She still smiled as she held his gaze. "As I have missed yours."
"Can you stay for dinner? It shan't take but a moment-- Oh! But I so want to see the tree you've brought." Violette giggled and released his hands to throw her arms around him again. She embraced him tightly. "I am glad you've come, sir knight."
Sir Leo chuckled and pulled back. Then he took her hand. "Come, my lady Violette. We've a tree in need of rescue, and Cloud would care to say 'hello'."
Wide eyes. "Did you get a blossoming tree of pink? I so dearly wanted one but forgot to tell you."
Sir Leo motioned her forward and released her hands. Then he led her through the garden to the front gate. "I do not recall a specific color being associated with this particular tree, my lady," he admitted.
"No? How odd. They're usually so good at telling me the colors of the blossoms."
"Indeed. The shopkeeper confessed this same duty; however, such was impossible due to the uniqueness of the tree."
Violette's expression brightened. "A 'unique' tree? Truly?" She clasped his hand. "How perfectly exciting!"
"Such had been my hope, my lady Violette."
Violette opened the gate and rushed forward, bidding Cloud 'hello' and receiving an earnest reply as well as a soft push with his velvety nose. Violette giggled and stroked it, chatting to the horse about the ride, the weather, and the special dinner waiting for him as Sir Leo approached. Then she lightly kissed his nose and looked expectantly to Sir Leo.
Sir Leo gestured to his saddle bag and stepped over to begin unfastening the straps.
Violette came to stand beside him, eyes wide. "In here, sir knight?" she inquired.
"Yes, much to my surprise, but soon you shall see."
Sir Leo opened the flap and reached inside to pull out a metal tin approximately 10 inches tall and four inches in diameter. He faced Violette and offered it forward.
Violette accepted and opened it, breath bated. When she looked within, she gasped and quickly yet carefully reached in to withdraw a small sapling approximately six inches tall with bright green foliage and stem and a tightly closed bloom. The color of the blossom within couldn't be determined.
"You're lovely," she breathed. "Do you have a name, little one? Or should I wait until you've grown tall and strong?" Violette lightly touched a nearly translucent green leaf. "I'll wait, and then you can name yourself."
Violette raised wide eyes to meet those of Sir Leo. Hers glimmered. "Thank you so. I will cherish it."
Sir Leo softly smiled. "I am relieved it pleases you, my lady Violette. I had never before been assigned the duty of choosing a tree for a garden."
Violette's expression brightened with her giggle. "You did wonderfully, sir knight."
Sir Leo wordlessly watched her.
Violette motioned back to Cloud, seriousness returning. "He's fine to wander, if you don't mind."
"Not at all. Allow me to remove my supplies."
"Supplies?" Violette inquired. "Are you going far?"
"No. they are simple necessities I have found helpful. As well as an item I thought you might enjoy."
Violette's eyes widened with wonder. "For me?" She giggled. "Oh how lovely!"
Sir Leo retrieved the bags, gave Cloud permission to wander, and then followed Violette to the cottage. She held the door for him and then closed it securely behind. Then she made her way around to the different lamps and brightened the room as Sir Leo set the bags by the front door, retrieved something from one, and then moved to sit at the table. He hooked his scabbard on the chair-back to his left.
Violette travelled to the kitchen to begin the task of dinner, humming all the while. Sir Leo watched her for awhile, and then the slight package on the table in front of him drew his gaze.
"Have there been further sightings of the outlaws within the forest?" Sir Leo inquired, gaze not leaving the package.
"Oh no," Violette assured him. "I would have gone straight to town if there had been, sir knight."
Sir Leo looked up. "This inactivity for such a time is odd; as is the fact we are unable to locate them. We of the White Knights begin to wonder if they have a hidden rendezvous point."
"You don't suppose it might be close to the forest, do you?" Violette asked, hesitant.
"Unfortunately, my lady Violette, I do not know."
"I'll do my best to be more careful when I have to leave the cottage," she assured him. "I wouldn't want you to worry for me."
Sir Leo's expression relaxed into a smile. "I thank you, my lady. Please do so." He fingered the small package before pushing it aside. "I have given thought to establishing an additional post of White Knights here; near the forest in case the outlaws do indeed use it for their benefit."
Violette rushed from the kitchen, eyes wide and hands clasped against her chest. "Oh please do, sir knight," she plead passionately. "If the White Knights of Althena were so close to the forest, the children and families would know it's not evil as they've thought. They would cherish it again. Oh please do!"
"I will speak again to the others, my lady Violette. I thank you for your permission and urgence."
Violette smiled brightly and returned to the kitchen. "Would you be the Knight in charge of the post, Sir Leo? It would be so wonderful to see a familiar face, and then you could watch our tree grow. I would love to have you here when it blossoms the first time, it's said to be a very special time you see, and then you could help me choose a name. And I know your family and friends would love having you so close to home, wouldn't it be wonderful to know you were protecting them, and you could visit whenever your schedule permitted."
Sir Leo's lips twitched upward. "I had given the notion some thought."
Violette emerged with two bowls, silverware within, and two cups. She set a place for each with several smiles to Sir Leo. Then she disappeared back into the kitchen and arrived a few moments later with a small pitcher in one hand and a cast iron pot in the other. Sir Leo stood and relieved her of both, setting them on the table between and then holding Violette's chair for her while she sat. Her smile brightened the room.
Then Sir Leo sat again at the table. Violette thanked the forest for the provisions used in the stew, and then she served them. She had prepared a meal consisting of vegetable chunks, steamy and creamy broth, and soft chunks of varying meats.
"Delicious, my lady Violette," Sir Leo complimented. "Superb."
Violette giggled. "Oh I am glad you like it. I was a little worried it wouldn't have simmered long enough."
"I have had nothing to match," he assured.
"Nothing?" Violette asked in wide-eyed amazement. "In all your travels? Everywhere?"
"I speak true, my lady Violette."
Violette giggled again. "Oh how wonderful!"
Sir Leo chuckled.
Violette watched him eat, her expression soft and her violet eyes glowing with her gentle smile as she absently dipped her spoon in and out of her stew.
"Sir Leo?" she asked quietly, drawing his attention. "Do you have a portrait I might keep? I did so miss your face, and if I had that..." Wide-eyed curiosity. "You wouldn't mind my having a portrait, would you?"
"Of course not," he assured softly.
Violette smiled. "It wouldn't need to be very large. Just something I can hold in my garden as I sit on the bench under our tree..." She giggled. "Though the sapling won't be big enough to plant outside for a time yet."
Sir Leo watched her expression before covering her hand with his. "I shall bring a portrait from home for you, my lady Violette."
Wide-eyed wonder. "From home? Truly?" Smile and hand covering his. "Oh thank you so! I'm certain I'll love it!"
Sir Leo's lips twitched.
"Oh!" Violette pulled her hands from his and stood from the table to rush to her bedroom.
"My lady? Is something amiss?"
"No," came a muffled voice. "I only... Here!" She rushed back and sat again in the chair to offer something forward.
Sir Leo took it and... he stared into the brightly smiling face of Violette.
"I painted that for you the other day. Do you like it?"
Sir Leo slowly adjusted the miniature within his hands. "I do, my lady Violette," he said, soft and slow. He lifted his eyes to meet hers. "I thank you."
She smiled as brightly as in the picture. "You're welcome to it, sir knight. I'm only glad I finally could give it to you." Her smile faded. "After so many days of waiting, I thought you had forgotten me."
Sir Leo again covered her hand with his. "You hold my life in your delicate hands, my lady Violette. How am I to forget she who saved me?"
Violette's smile returned, soft. "I am glad. A White Knight's life must be much more exciting than mine here by the forest."
Sir Leo retrieved his hand as he looked to setting aside the miniature and focusing again to his stew. "Yes."
"But even amidst that you remembered me and our tree," she said happily.
A brief smile tickled his lips as he met her gaze. "A pleasure always to serve, my lady."
They finished their dinner to the sounds of pleasant conversation about life outside the cottage. Sir Leo described to her the most elaborate of temples dedicated to Althena; He described the White Knight's main headquarters and their ship the Destiny; And he described to her the shrine where the Lady of Eternal Blue had returned to the Blue Star.
Violette listened to all in enraptured silence, forgetting her stew until Sir Leo would make a wordless gesture as he continued a telling.
Then the stories were finished and Violette gathered the dishes, refusing Sir Leo's help with a wide-eyed "Oh no, sir knight. You're my guest." She then organized the dishes in the sink as sir Leo returned to the table and gathered his scabbard from the chair-back. He strapped it on his hip as he stared down at the package still on the table.
Violette returned to the main room, halting when she saw Sir Leo placing the miniature of her away into an inner pocket. "Oh dear," she voiced glumly. "Is it time for you to go so soon?"
Sir Leo looked up. "Very nearly, my lady Violette. I have but to offer you this in recompense for your great help." He motioned to the small parcel.
Violette came to stand by his left and reached out for it. She fingered the brown wrapping a moment before raising her eyes to meet his. "Should I open it now, or when you've gone?"
Sir Leo looked down to the task of adjusting his scabbard. "Whichever you prefer, my lady Violette."
Violette sighed and lowered her gaze again to the parcel. Then she slowly began to unwrap it, Sir Leo intensely watching her face. Violette took in a slight gasp. "Oh sir knight," she whispered as she took it from the wrapping, "they're lovely."
Two mother-of-pearl and ivory combs now laid in the palm of her hands.
Violette lifted a misted gaze of dark purple to meet his brown ones. She stepped forward and embraced him, eyes closed. "Thank you so," she whispered. "I will wear them always."
Sir Leo's arms surrounded her slight frame.
But amid the happiness, an odd tightness gathered in Violette's throat and wetness escaped her eyes. "Sir knight, why do I feel so much better when you're here with me? Why do I miss your face so?"
Sir Leo's only answer was a softly stated, "Dear Violette..."
Violette pulled back, holding his gaze with a wide-eyed expression of puzzlement. "Sir knight, why does your going make me so sad?"
Sir Leo stared down into her face a moment before lightly caressing her cheek. Then he stepped back and turned away to step toward the door, gathering his things on his way out. Violette stepped after him, hands clasped to her chest. Sir Leo whistled for Cloud, who promptly came.
Violette wrung her hands as she watched him arrange his things, puzzlement battling sadness and melancholy despair. "Sir Leo," she began in a choked voice, "why do I not want you to go?"
Sir Leo paused his actions before finally facing her, deep brown eyes meeting her glimmering ones of deep purple. "For the same reason I do not want to go, my lady Violette," he said quietly.
"But tell me why. I don't understand why I feel this way. I know you will return, you've said so, but why do I feel as if I die each time you go..." Her voice cracked on the last word.
Sir Leo stepped close and gathered her hands in his. He brought each to his lips. "Do not suffer so, dear Violette. I beg of thee."
Violette lowered her eyes to their clasped hands, searching through all she had ever known to find the reasoning for her sadness.
Sir Leo released a slow breath and lightly kissed her hand. "Little did I realize the rescues attempted for you would instead lead to mine own..." He touched his lips lightly to her forehead, causing Violette to look up and meet his gaze. "I would gladly be your knight, my lady Violette. Until death."
Violette's eyes widened as she gazed up into his somber and handsome face, and the expression in his dark brown eyes... She blinked. "I love you," she whispered in awed realization.
Sir Leo's hands tightened slightly on hers, and his gaze didn't lift from them. "As I have come to love you," he said softly, "but I have not the freedom to stay." Sir Leo finally met her gaze. "My duty as a White Knight demands my presence."
Violette stared up into his face with an expression of awed wonder. Then, like a whisper of a morning breeze, it softened and brightened into a beautiful collection of the purest love and devotion and happiness Sir Leo had ever seen. It stole his breath.
"All right," she told him in a warm and gentle tone. Her violet eyes danced like stars. "Do be careful on your journey back, dear knight. And if you still have that lotion I gave you before, you can use that on any wounds you might get."
Sir Leo watched her expression, and the tones of her voice soothed his own expression. "My lady Violette--"
Violette lightly touched his lips with a finger. "Shh. It's all right. I will wait here for you." She stood on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. "Fare thee well, and do remember the portrait." She stood again on flat feet to brightly smile up at him.
Sir Leo's face relaxed into a slight smile as he again kissed each hand. "Fare thee well, dearest Violette. I shall return straight away."
He briefly squeezed her hands and then turned to mount his waiting steed. Cloud nickered his farewell, eagerly accepted Violette's strokes, and then noticeably straightened his posture.
Sir Leo and Violette's gazes met. She lifted a hand and he accepted it.
"Will you be my bride, my lady Violette?" he asked solemnly.
Violette softly smiled. "Forever, dear knight. Forever."
Sir Leo held her hand a moment longer... he released it to give her an extravagent bow. "I shall return, dear lady, never to part again. You have my word."
Violette wordlessly smiled up at him.
Cloud whinnied and pranced, front feet lifting from the ground. Then Sir Leo had gone, but Violette's smile didn't waver and the sadness didn't return. Her rescue had come.
(See 'Letters of Import' to read their correspondence spanning the time before he is able to return to the cottage)