By Anesley Middlekauff

It was the first clear day since spring began. The sun shined bright on my face, and nature’s warmth surrounded me. I had risen early that day, immediately leaving my room for a walk through the garden. Its tenders wished me “good day” along with the other maids and butlers I passed on my way. Seeing as I was reluctant to leave the beauty of that day, I decided to go into the town nearest the castle. Even in simple garb, everyone knew my face and made sure to wish me “good day” and “how do you do.” This morning belonged to a Saturday, and so, the market was open. It is a favorite pastime of mine to walk through the streets on one such day as this and see the town’s folk going about their chores. It takes me away from being waited on and into a “go with the wind” kind of place.

As I passed by a stand selling a variety of fruits, I was offered an apple which was not odd, and I accepted, thanking the man for the fruit and his hard work; he thanked me in turn and wish me “good day.” The apple into which I bit had been freshly picked before the market, and its smooth red was pleasing to the eye. Its taste was bright and crisp, and I licked my lips to catch the juice that had escaped my mouth. I continued walking as I ate and took a turn foreign to me; I had been so captivated by the sparkling leaves that I did not notice my turn until I was well away from the town. I was already halfway up a hill covered with flowers that I thought it a waste to turn back now. At the top I looked all around me and saw prairie flowers of the rainbow and colors in between. Then my eye caught a cottage that stood alone in the midst of the flowers looking as if not real but a painted canvas. I approached this cottage made of wood and stone embraced by luscious ivy and went to the side so as not to be seen through the door facing the front. There was a small cobblestone wall enclosing a garden surrounding the house just tall enough to keep out deer and other wildlife. I was just tall enough to look into the garden whilst standing on the tips of my toes.

As I looked a voice called out to me. It was fresh like a welcome breeze on a hot summer’s day. It brushed past my ears and called my attention amidst the spell of the prairie.

“You, boy,” it called out to me. “What is your name, and why do you stand vexed by the garden?”

“Charles is my christened name,” I replied. “As to your second question, the only answer I can give is that this cottage looked like a painting too beautiful to belong to this world.”

“I did not think to find someone with such gentle speech this far out in the country, and yet, here you are,” she said to me. “My name is Rosalind.”

“Well met, Rosalind. Where shall I look to see your face?”

“The window above you.”

“Rosalind, your brunette locks match the beauty of your eyes. The softness in your voice rivals that of the dancing brook. I cannot understand why a flower such as you has not passed my eyes before this day.”

“I thank you for your kind words; they are the sincerest I have heard since I came to this place. I have taken a liking to your face as well. Your white hair rivals that of a lily of the valley, and your eyes shine like the deepest rose. Your voice is gentle and kind and only true words from it break free.”

“How long will you be here?”

“I am to remain until the end of the month.”

“Then I shall see you again, yes?”

“If you come by my house again, I shall surely come down to greet you.”

“Fare you well until I see your face once more!”

“Indeed, to you as well.”

I skipped back the way I came thanking whoever would listen for this day that brought me to her gate. When I again reached the castle gates, my mother ran out to me, and scolded me for not telling her where I had gone. I apologized for having been out so late, but in turn I too scolded her for leaving my sickly brother to his own devices; no doubt he was looking for that strange girl again. My mother left me and told me to make sure I was not late for my studies. I assured her that I would not keep my teacher waiting and left for the kitchen for a bite to eat before the appointed time. Upon seeing me, the milk maid rushed to bring me a cup of warm milk and bread with jam before I reached the door, telling me that it was not a princely thing to do to come down to the kitchen. I thanked her for my meal and ate as I walked up to the library.

There sat Mr. Elderberry in his regular chair with everything for the morning laid out neat and proper as per usual.

“There you are, my boy,” he said looking over his glasses. “Are you ready to mold your mind?”

“I am, Sir,” I replied.

Mr. Elderberry is the only person I can be myself around; everyone else treats me like a glass sculpture. Mr. Elderberry is a very respectable and learned person having taught my father, but he was more of a father than my father was. My father always has something else on his mind, something about conquest and war, things of which I want nothing of.

“My boy,” Mr. Elderberry said in the middle of the lesson. “Let us resume the lesson at a later time. There is something else distracting you from your studies. I have a feeling I know what. Go, find the one your heart has chosen.”

His kind, gentle smile was all the reassurance I needed to run out of the castle, past the gates, through the town, and across the prairie. I picked up a stone and threw it at the window which held my flower. I waited with bated breath as the window opened, and I beheld Rosalind’s face. I climbed the wall and stood below the window. Her hands grasped the panes, and she leapt from the window to my arms. I caught her as if catching a ray of sun, and we pranced across the prairie to the nearest forest. We walked together until the fireflies told us the day was done, but for us, it was just beginning. We laid down on the side of the hill and looked at the stars. I reached for her hand as she reached for mine, and I closed my eyes and wished that the day would never end.

I led her back to the cottage and helped her up the wall; she kissed my cheek and said, “I look forward to seeing what tomorrow will bring,” before gracefully leaping out of sight.

We continued this day after day, sneaking out and spending the day together in the forest. Then misfortune befell me. My father told me that at my coming of age party I was to choose my betrothed. I burst from the castle and ran with tears in my eyes to the cottage that had brought me so much joy. She saw me coming and was ready to leap when she saw my red eyes.

“Whatever is the matter, Charles?”

“I am to choose my betrothed at the party. My heart can choose none but you, but I shall be forced into an unhappy marriage until the day I die.”

“Fret not, Charles. We still have time before the moment of which you speak. Let us not soil the days we have left.”

She leapt to my arms, and together we walked in silence through the forest path. We sat beneath a lilac tree, Rosalind resting her head on my shoulder, mine gently resting on her smooth hair. We sat and listened to the breathing of the trees and the beats of our hearts. The birds tried to comfort us with their songs, but the forest had lost its magic. Soon the fireflies told us our time was done, and I brought her home for the last time. She kissed me farewell, her tears falling on my face and she disappeared behind the wall.

The day on which I turned thirteen had come; that night was the party in which I was to be proclaimed of age. My heart turned hard as I was dressed in the chosen attire; I could think of nothing but Rosalind and how I would never see her again. I was told that my father had sent for me, so I made my way to him. He gave me a wooden box set with precious stones and told me that I was to give its contents to the one I would choose. I thanked him, and we went to the ballroom. Everyone stood at attention when I entered.

“Thank you all for coming,” my father said. “Today, my son becomes a man; today, he gives us hope of the king he shall be; and today, he chooses his bride!”

Everyone applauded; I bowed as was customary and went to drown my sorrows next to the bowl of sparkling punch. My way was blocked by many young ladies who tried to one-up each other, telling me how great and handsome I was. I said nothing and let them tire themselves out. I took a glass of punch and reached for a cucumber sandwich. My hand touched another whose softness indicated it belonged to a young lady. I apologized and reached for a different one when she grabbed my hand. I looked up ready to see the face of another girl trying to flatter me when my eyes locked with hazel eyes I knew so well.


“Charles! It is you!”

“What are you doing here?”

“This event is the sole purpose of my coming here. My father is Duke Richard Forest, making me Rosalind Forest, a noble’s daughter.”

I pulled her to me and embraced her in my arms while trying not to let tears fall onto her white dress laced with gold. I again took her hand and ran up the steps to where the box sat on a pedestal. I took the box and opened it; inside was a choker with a ruby pendant attached. I took it as she turned around and lifted her hair. I clasped it around her velvet neck, and she turned and looked at me. The choker’s ribbon perfectly matched her dress, and the ruby hung from its golden chain resting between her collar bones. I took her hand as the lights dimmed; music began to play, and we danced late into the night, everyone else disappearing into the forest that had regained its magic.

©2019 Anesley Middlekauff