The Last Embrace
Sunlight spilled through the treetops, illuminating the verdant green leaves as they danced in the calm breeze, before cascading down into the clear stream that ran through the forest; the water sparkled like gold. The maiden stared into the crystal surface, her reflection a distortion in the running waters, an outward reflection of her inward feelings. So lost in thought she became that she didn’t even hear him approach.
“I knew you’d be here.”
His words were so unexpected that she almost jumped before turning around to face him. Firmly she stood, staring at him with her dazzlingly fierce blue eyes; her look was angry, but he could see the soft sadness buried beneath.
“Why are you doing this?” she demanded, clenching her hand in a fist.
“Because I love you!” he pleaded. He was trying to make her understand, but she couldn’t hear him.
“You don’t love me,” she spat, but he could hear the untruth in her words. “You’re just doing this for yourself, for your own glory!” She began pacing back and forth, like an upset lioness; she was trying to stay angry at him, but he could see that she was beginning to break down. He knew she loved him – he could see it in her troubled face – she just had to figure that out for herself.
Now she was standing on the edge of the stream, staring off, past the trees, into the distance, her long brown hair waving in the wind. Silently he approached her, the fallen leaves and twigs crunching beneath his armored boots, until he walked up right behind her. As he wrapped his arms around hers, he felt her jump with surprise; he smiled at that thought and squeezed her gently.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of, Love,” he whispered in her ear. His words finally melted through her hard defenses, for he felt her relax in his arms. He loosened his hold and she turned around, still surrounded by his embrace.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked again, though this time her voice was the whisper of a whisper. She reached up and touched his face; her hand felt soft against his rough cheek. At that moment, a shaft of light cut through the treetops, illuminating her beautiful golden brown hair. He felt a lump form in his throat. He brushed her long hair out of her face, wrapping it behind her ear, and gently wiped away her tears.
“Because I love you,” he repeated, struggling to keep his voice in check. “I love you so much.”
Once again her hard stare bore into him. “If you loved me you wouldn’t leave me,” she stabbed, trying to wound him, but her words were dulled with sorrow. “You don’t really love me…”
“I have always loved you,” he replied, his words filled with pain. “Ever since I first laid eyes on you, all those years ago, I have loved you. And I always will love you.” He embraced her again, resting his head on her shoulder. “That’s why I must go.”
His overgrown hair tickled her face, and she couldn’t help but smile.
“If I don’t go,” he continued, “they’ll hang me as a traitor to the crown.” He held her out at arm’s length and his piercing blue eyes stared longingly into hers. “Yours is too beautiful a face to never see again.”
At that she blushed, and a faint smile played at her lips.
“There’re my dimples,” he smiled and leaned forward, kissing both of her cheeks.
Overwhelmed by it all, she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him, for the first time, trying to will him to stay. He pulled her closer and kissed her back, but after a moment – though it seemed a lifetime – he pulled away.
“I have to go,” he said, his blue eyes twinkling with tears.
“I know,” she whispered. Her arms were still around his neck, and he was still holding her, but she could feel him stepping away.
Stepping away from her.
“Please be safe!” she pleaded, the tears now falling freely down her face. “Come back to me safe.”
He lifted her arms off his neck and gingerly squeezed before touching his lips to hers for what may be the very last time. “I will always be here with you, my Love.”
And with the breath of his words still lingering on her lips, he turned at walked away. She watched in sadness as he climbed onto his horse and rode away, off to war, and suddenly the feeling hit her. “I might never see him again…”
But there, in the back of her mind, his final words echoed, “I will always be here with you…”
And she had hope.