© Charles Vess 2019
As the bike glided past the bright lights of oncoming cars and the cold, fresh wind rushed over her newly exposed scalp. Janet felt her old life fade away. At that moment she was certain that everything would be all right.
But that’s crazy? I don’t know who this man is or even where he’s taking me!
Arms clutched tightly around her rescuer’s waist she studied the young man. From that awkward viewpoint she saw that his bright dark eyes and high cheekbones were handsome enough. Laced cuffs fluttered from the sleeves of his long leather cloak that flapped around her in the wind like raven’s wings. His long dark brown hair tied back with a red silk ribbon flew out from under the back of his leather helmet. Unexpectantly her heart fluttered and Janet had to stop herself from wondering what his hair would look like loosened from that ribbon.
Bloody hell, I could have fallen into his gaze and stayed right there…
Finally, leaving the city far behind, he brought them to a stop on the edge of the heather covered moor and cut the engine. To her right Janet could just make out the dim curve of an ancient stone structure. All around them, the landscape rolled and swelled into darkness, lit only by a starswept sky.
She smiled when she recognized where they were. “Hey, I know this place. That’s the old bridge that’s the start of Ye Ol’ Jacobite Trail. Plenty of tartan clad ghosts or snoggin teens if you go that way.”
Trying, unsuccessfully to suppress a shiver from the cool night air Janet leaned in close to her rescuer, “Listen, the least I can do is introduce myself to my gallant savior.” The man turned back to her, and on his shadowed face she saw the smile that curled across his lips, “If it pleases you.”
“Well, yes. Yes, it does please me.
“My name is Janet Ravenscroft. Thanks for saving my butt back there.”
The young man stepped off his bike and facing her, presented a courtly bow, “A Knight must always stay alert to the dangers on the road he travels.”
“Really?” Janet smiled and continued, “Just like in a fairy tale then, you’re going to be my knight in shining armor.”
“Perhaps. Now, it pleases me to give you my name as well. I am Thomas Lynn, and I am at your service.”
Janet shifted uncomfortably, “Thomas. That sounds so damned formal. Can I just call you Tom?”
“I have been known by that name as well.”
“So Tom, what’s with you sounding like you’ve stepped out of a production of The Princess Bride?”
“My Lady, I …”
“See! Just like that. Nobody talks like that. Nobody.”
Tom’s face twisted into an impatient grimace, “Where I call home, all speak in like manner.”
“Okay, I get it, you’re playing a game… Want to maybe tell me what it is?”
“I can assure you, this is no game.”
They stared at each other awkwardly for a moment until Janet grasped Tom’s ungloved hand to climb off the bike. Her eyes widened then, as the world around her twisted and shimmered. Suddenly the blackness of the night gave way to a softer twilight and the stars above began to pulse in time with her rapidly beating heart. She was overcome by the intense, saturated color that infused every spray of heather and every rock and small tree around them and most particularly, the person standing so close to her.
There, in that strange new world, Thomas’ eyes seemed to actually glow.
That intense flood of sensation as well as the lingering effects of the malt whiskies she’d so carelessly knocked back earlier that evening caused Janet to sag helplessly against Tom. Gracefully, he lowered the now unconscious mortal girl to the heather at his feet, unwilling and unable to pull his attention away from her beautiful, soft features. Most of all Janet’s rich brown skin surprised and delighted him.
Behind them both, in a wild tangle of heather and an occasional stunted tree, strange twisty creatures with tiny folded wings began to chatter amongst themselves, leaping from branch to limb and back again. Finally, two, bolder than the rest, dropped to the ground and crept slowly toward the Knight and the sleeping mortal. Tom, although he was aware of their presence, ignored them, whispering to himself, “In her own way she is as beautiful as the Queen herself…”
“Alright matey, we heard that!”
Tom impatiently turned his head, acknowledging their presencebefore hissing, “Come! See for yourselves if you think I lie.” Curious the two fae creatures crept closer and peered down at Janet. A look of perplexed wonder filled both sets of slanted yellow eyes.
“Thomas, what you speak is true!”
“But is she the one the witch woman sent you looking for so far from home?”
The man continued to gaze raptly down at the soft features of the unconscious girl. “I am almost certain that this mortal woman is why I am here this night. But first I must test this mortal to be certain.”
Tom hunched his shoulders. “In truth, I like it not. But my duty to The Queen is my only purpose here until I restore Herself to Her land and Her court.”
Scratching his head, one of the small fae creatures glanced curiously up at Tom, “Is that what’s been keepin’ ya busy out here then?”
Blustering, Tom continued, “Yes, that for a certainty…”
“Now, Tommy boy, nae more of your malarkey we’ll be hearin’.”
“We seen ya out here ‘n the mortal lands fer th’ last few days larkin’ ‘bout. As ye say, on the Queen’s business o’ more likely on orders from the ol’ witch woman, who’s to tell which?”
Both small creatures glanced sideways up at Thomas. Then the first one slyly added, “It’s a dreary place and that is fer sure.”
Sudden enthusiasm lit Tom’s eyes, “Indeed, it is not. My memories of it have done this land no justice at all. I was born close by, and my love for this moorland is deep inside my bones.”
Nodding to each other, as if his words only confirmed what they already knew, the tallest of the spindly creatures suddenly grinned, “Ah, well then, Thomas, we’ll nae try to dissuade ye of any false notions ye might have an that’s a fact.”
His companion looked back down at the human girl and grimaced, “Don’t think much o’ tha hair though?”
“Awful ain’t tha half o’ that.”
“We could fix that up quick, though…”
Thomas ignored the nattering creatures as he gracefully gathered the unconscious mortal girl in his arms and carried her to the crest of the arched bridge. There the Knight gently lay Janet down. Quickly shrugging off his long leather coat he folded it several times before using it to pillow the young woman’s head from the hard granite that paved the ancient structure. Then, while the stars continued to wheel across the sky overhead, he stared raptly down at the mortal woman.
“There is such innocence in you. Later I will beg your forgiveness for what will happen now, but I must be certain that you are the one I was sent to find.”