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An Arranged Marriage - 14




    Ilona slowly blinked her eyes open.  A canopy of trees towered over her.  Birds were singing, water trickled in a brook nearby, and the air smelled damp and earthy.  She was lying on the ground; she could feel the cool moss under her arms.  Ilona reached up and rubbed her eyes.  What happened?  Her last memory was of sending Cordula to fetch her peridot jewels.

    Ilona rolled to one side and pushed herself to one elbow.  Suddenly she caught sight of a man with tea-stained skin.  He was dressed in greens, and his brown hair hung shaggily to his shoulders.  He squatted easily by a tree stump, watching her.

    Ilona screamed and scrambled to her feet.  “Who are you?”

    A grin spread across his face.  “What do you know?  It works!”  He turned a tiny silver tin in his hands, admiring it.  “You can call me Knut.  And this…” he held up the silver tin “…is the oil that awakened you.”  He opened its lid.  “I spread the tiniest bit over your lips and –may the cock crow – here you are standing before me.”

    “You touched my lips with that?!?”

    “Aye…and I pricked your finger with this.” He fished in his other pocket and pulled out a golden tin.  The shape of a spindle was engraved on the lid.  “You fell deep asleep with the word ‘peridot’ still lingering on your lips.”

    “How did you get in my room?” Ilona demanded.

    He shrugged.  “I’m a Derwald.”

    Ilona took two steps backwards and leaned against a tree for support.  She had been kidnapped?  By a non-existent, mythical clan?  She didn’t know which idea was more preposterous.

    Knut rocked to his feet.  “Well, let’s get going while we still have daylight.”

    “You are entirely mistaken if you think I am going to follow you!”  Ilona lifted her chin.  “I’m going straight home.  I have a ball to attend tonight.”

    “That’s where I am taking you – home.”  He padded his way to the brook and then started following it upstream.  “But suit yourself,” he called back to her.  “If you want to wander alone in circles in the heart of the forest, with wild beasts who will tear your flesh, be my guest!”  His chuckle echoed against the trees.

     Ilona crossed her arms and watched Knut’s retreating figure.  An owl hooted overhead, and something rustled in the bushes.  Ilona shivered and looked up.  The sunlight flickered through the trees from low on the horizon.  It would be dark soon.  “Ohhhh,” she growled, exasperated.  Then she raised her voice, trotting after the green-garbed man.  “Wait for me!”
(by Esther Brooksmith)

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