By Jesse Harlin
He’d fallen for her instantly. When his family toiled in the fields just outside the castle walls, they were an extension of the land with dirty calluses and the smell of sheep forever living in their skin. She rode past each Sunday morning on the back of an extravagant ox cart, smiling and waving at his father and brothers, the handsome fair-haired daughter of well-to-do merchants. It was weeks before he mustered the nerve to wave back.
When war came to the duchy and conscription beat their ploughshares into swords, he waited for her to ride past each Sunday as he sparred in the fields just outside the castle walls. She would wave. He would wave back. His sparring partners always took advantage of the distraction as a means to clobber him, savage him, or knock him to the ground. Regardless, by the time he could struggle to his feet and peel back the armored visor from his face, she was always giggling and smiling. Always waving at him one last time as her cart rode through the castle gates.
When the hostilities had raged for a year and the Duke’s forces were thinning, soldiers were needed in all areas of the front. He was kind, too kind for a soldier and a year’s bruises hadn’t hardened his farmer’s heart. Nor had it dampened his thoughts of her. He’d always find her watching from the battlements, smiling and waving at the soldiers as they came home for rest and retreat. He waved back and each time her smile blossomed and her waving quickened, but they never met. Or spoke. Still, it was an honor to be one of the newest recruits to the mounted gryphon brigade and as he trained in the fields just outside the castle walls, she would often watch from the battlements and offer him smiles of encouragement whenever he fell from his saddle.
When the day came at last to rejoin the forces at the front, she stood at the fore of the crowd that had gathered just outside the castle walls and clapped louder than anyone else as his name was called among the new Gryphon Knights. It would have been improper for a knight to wave during an official ceremony, but he risked a small nod of his head her way and hoped that she had seen it. As the new knights gathered their armaments and readied their winged beasts, she ran from the edge of the crowd and hugged him goodbye. Before he could appreciate the moment, she peeled back the armored visor from his face, kissed him for luck, and then disappeared back through the castle gates. He mounted his gryphon in a daze of warm joy, only dimly aware of the tears she had smeared onto his cheek.
When the saddle’s buckles came undone above the canyons and he slipped from the back of his gryphon, he shut his eyes tight, remembered the battlement walls, and watched her waving. Always waving.
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Jesse Harlin is an author and composer living in San Francisco, CA. When he isn't writing words or music, he can either be found playing video games with his wife or feeding food to his cats that they probably shouldn't be eating.
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