You Never Saw Me

She had spent a particularly long morning in the forest. Too long. She knew the risks, but they were hard to remember on that idyllic morning, the rays of sunlight stroking her into submission to the comforts of the forest, the chirping of the birds pleading with her to stay, the overgrown grass of the meadow, not yet trodden creating the perfect bedding, welcoming, like a soft, warm bed after a long day. All the while, the forest convincing her that nothing could go wrong as long as she stayed. With this new sense of undauntedness, she ventured farther into the forest than she had before. It wasn't long before she reached a small stream. The mid-morning sun had been unrelenting as she hiked through the unknown path in the forest and the sparkle of the hopefully cool water was welcome.
As she splashed the cold water on her face and scooped up more water in her hands to take a drink. As the water ran down her parched throat, she became more aware of how hot and itchy her tunic was, and the sweat on the back of her neck. She decided to take just a little wash of her neck and feet. She slipped off her boots and stockings, and then undid the buttons of her leather hunting vest. She sat on a rock and let her feet swing in the water, while scooping handfuls onto the back of her neck. She let her cool hand rest there for a moment as she closed her eyes and tipped her chin up to the sky. She was in an even more isolated part of the woods than the meadow, it was silly to feel the need to regard propriety really. She untucked her tunic and splashed more water down her front. In a moment of daring she ducked her whole head under the water. She gasped as she pulled her head up from under, the water freezing. She undid the long braid and her wet hair cascaded over her shoulder. The gold in each strand glinted in the sunlight, the shimmer in the water reflecting into her eyes and onto her face, as she sat under the protection of a willow tree beside the stream. Just then she heard a twig snap and she whipped around just in time to see a head of auburn hair duck behind a tree just behind her left shoulder.
Ellyna weighed her options and deemed seizing her weapon a higher priority than being decent at the moment. Ellyna reached for her bow and quiver as quietly as possible, convinced that her rapid heartbeat could be heard over the sound of the stream. She loaded an arrow in her bow, poised to shoot. Just as she was about to demand his identity and inquire as to why he had been watching her, he suddenly leapt out from behind the tree, with his hands up. Ellyna, startled, accidentally loosed the arrow. It whizzed just by the young man's ear and landed miraculously right in the center of the knot in a tree just off of his right shoulder. He turned slightly to see where the arrow had hit its mark. Thinking quickly, Ellyna mustered as cool of a tone as she could before saying,
"I don't have to miss, you know," hoping he would buy her bluff. He raised an eyebrow, glancing to her quiver full of arrows.
"I believe you," he said calmly, his hands still raised in surrender. Thinking it wise to leave her bow unloaded for the moment, she lowered her weapon, the young man watching her carefully and lowering his hands in unison.
"Who are you? And what right have you to spy on me?" Suddenly very self-conscious of her untucked tunic and bare feet, she reached for her stockings and boots while keeping a steady eye on her counterpart.
"Well, this isn't your stream, now is it?" he scoffed, "Who do you think you are anyway, royalty or something?" Ellyna stood indignantly, glaring, before she bent down again to lace up
her boots. "Ooo, pardon me for the offense, your royal highness," he gave a very deep, extravagant bow, with a flourish of his hand as he looked up and grinned with relish. Rolling her eyes, Ellyna went to tuck in her tunic. Wishing for some privacy, she cleared her throat and gestured for him to turn around. He straightened and laughed slightly in disbelief. "You expect me to turn around and trust that you won't shoot me full of arrows? I'm not foolish," Ellyna sighed,
"First of all, using more than one arrow on you would be a waste, I'd only need one. As for you being foolish, that seems to be in trial as we speak, so I suggest you turn around and prove you're not as big of a fool as you're making yourself out to be." Ellyna did not know where this cheek was coming from, but it seemed to be working, because the mysterious forest stalker turned around, but not before he sighed and shook his head.
Ellyna placed her bow within arm's reach and placed an arrow in between her teeth. As she tucked back in her tunic and reached for her hunting vest, her face burned at the thought that had that twig not snapped, she might have found herself in a far more compromising position than this. How could she have been so thoughtless! Thinking that these woods were completely isolated so that gave her leave to do every stupid thing and not face the consequences. Ugh! Rowan had been right, she was becoming far too careless. It was already mid-morning, she had to hurry back to the castle. Her mind began racing, thinking of every and any excuse she could give for being late to her lessons. Oh she hoped Rowan would not wait for her, otherwise how would he explain himself, as his post was not anywhere near the hallway of her bedchamber, where the entrance to the secret passageway was. A slight cough was given by the irksome young man.
"Am I in the clear yet?" he called over his shoulder.
"I suppose," Ellyna muttered back before taking the arrow out of her mouth. She swung her quiver over her shoulder, grabbed her pack and began heading back in the direction of the meadow.
"Well now, hold on there, miss!" She halted and he sauntered over to her at a maddeningly slow pace. Ellyna used this time to notice his slender yet athletic build. She reached back for another arrow menacingly as he neared. As he got closer, she could see his deep blue eyes and then he was so close she could see the slight dust of freckles across the top of his cheeks. "What's your hurry?"
"None of your business," she didn't have time for fraternizing.
"I don't even have your name! I'd like to know the name of the fair maiden who made an impressive shot like that," his tone was suggestive and when she suddenly glanced back at him, he gave her a meaningful look. He knew that was a trick shot. He had been messing with her the whole time! Her pride injured, she avoided the subject.
"You're right. You don't have my name. You have a nice name of your own, I'm sure," she huffed and turned again to leave. He snorted, then said,
"You're right! I do have a nice name, and it's Keenan. There, that wasn't so hard, now was it?" She turned her head slightly to see him looking pointedly and expectantly back at her. Fuming, she advanced back to his patronizing figure,
"Look, I have no clue of who you are and all I know about you is that you spy on women in streams and-" She was interrupted by hoofbeats, coming from the meadow. "Oh no," she whispered. Grabbing Keenan's arm, which was obnoxiously firm and well-shaped, she pleaded, "Do not let them know I'm here. You are in the Forest on your own, as usual, I presume," at this he scoffed and shook her hand off of his arm, which she had been gripping more firmly than necessary.
"Please!" Ellyna's voice cracked. She cleared her throat, taking on a slightly calmer tone. "Please. You never saw me."