The next morning the village was a buzz with all the things the stranger named Bryon had told them. Even the ones that were doing most of the grumbling the night before, seemed to be enchanted with the words of his lands to the south. As Katelynn and her mother Christine was preparing the morning meal, Richard and Bryon came in from a morning walk. Bryon asked if there was a stream nearby so he could wash before the meal was served. Richard showed him the direction in which to go and off he went.
Katelynn trying not to sound too interested said, “ Do you think he will be all right? He does not know the forest in this area.”
Richard let out a little chuckle and said, “My daughter if you are afraid he will get lost maybe you had better show him the way.”
Christine could not help but notice how her daughter's eyes lit up. And this worried her.
She knew her daughter was infatuated with the stranger amongst them and was not sure what to say. Christine also knew her daughter was about to get her heart broke for this could never be.
Eric had already talked to Katelynn's mother about his plans to ask for Katelynn's hand. She knew that nothing good would come from Richard tempting his daughter in such a way.
Katelynn asked if she could go make sure he had found the stream all right and her father had told her that she could go.
As she walked to the stream someone else noticed she was going the same way as Bryon had. Eric followed Katelynn far enough behind so she would not know he was there. When she reached the stream she saw Bryon bent over the stream scooping handfuls of water over his face.
His shirt was off and she could see his tanned muscular arms and back. As she stood there and looked at him she felt she would never see another man as handsome as this. As she started to speak to him he turned and saw her standing there.
When she tried to speak she was unable too. Then she gained her composure and said,
“My mother has a root we use for washing with. She would have gave you some if you would have asked.”
That was a stupid thing to say she thought to herself.
He was having just as hard of a time talking as well. The way the morning sun shone on her hair made it look even redder than the night before with the firelight making it look as if it was dancing. He felt the stir in his loins again. He wanted to grab her and kiss her and rub his hands over her smooth skin. But he knew if he were to do that he would not be able to stop himself from going further. She was not just a scullery maid or some whore from the brothel she was different.
He turned away and asked angrily," What are you doing here?"
Katelynn was confused she had saw the way he looked at her. Why was he angry with her for being here? Was she not good enough for him? Then she remembered the way he had spoken of the women of his lands and how beautiful they must be in their fine clothes and such. She turned and ran back towards the village with tears stinging her eyes. Eric was far enough back that they had not seen him but he heard their exchange of words and smiled he knew the stranger was not interested in Katelynn for any thing other than to look upon as she was a very beautiful woman. But Eric wanted to be sure that it was nothing more.
As Katelynn walked into the hut she tried to hide what was left of the tears, she could still fill the sting in her eyes. But why should this stranger upset her so. She knew nothing about him and how could she think he would be interested in someone below his station. But she was the daughter of the village chief. Her hurt now began to swell into anger. She walked towards the hearth where her mother was finishing up the morning meal. Christine knew her daughter well.
She could tell she had been crying and by the look on Katelynn‟s face she knew her daughter was hurt and confused. But what could have happened at the stream to cause this? Had Bryon said something or done something to cause such a change in her daughter and if so what could it have been?
Christine asked, “Did Bryon find the stream okay? The morning meal is ready. Is he going to be along soon?”
Katelynn answered, “ He will be here, he was finishing up when I got there.” Katelynn did not want to be there when he returned. She did not know if she could sit across the table from him and look upon his face. She hurried and finished her meal and told her mother and father she was going to the other side of the forest to gather some of the early berries. Her father had not taken notice of Katelynn‟s change of mood. But the change in her daughter deeply concerned Christine.
After Katelynn left, Bryon sat beside the stream and thought about how he had spoken to her. He knew he had sounded very angry and now felt sorry for it. There was no reason for him to have reacted that way but he was afraid she would see in his eyes what he felt. He had never been good at concealing the way he felt, his father had told him many times it would be his downfall if he should ever be on a battlefield and his mother told him it was a blessing because then the woman he falls in love with would know that it truely loved her. He sat there for along time just looking into the water as if the reflection of himself would give him an answer. He would not go back to the hut right now. He would sit here and wait awhile. Maybe Katelynn had chores to do and by the time he got there she would be gone.
Eric sat and watched him for a while and wondered why he was not going back to the village. Maybe he had not heard all of their conversation. Maybe they had made an arrangement to meet back here after Katelynn had finished her morning chores. Eric decided to wait in hiding for a while. As he sat there he thought about the journey ahead of them. He could make sure Bryon never returned from the Highlands. After all the lands were in unrest and there were bandits along the road as well. And no one would ever suspect any different, but then again Bryon would not be able to return with the thistle mint root to help his people and Eric was not sure he could face the fact he would be the one responsible for their deaths Soon Eric grew very hungry he had not had his morning meal yet and decided that Katelynn would not be returning.
As he turned to leave he took one last look. Bryon was still sitting beside the stream looking into the water.
After awhile Bryon lay back and stared at the sky. He wanted to take it all back but he knew he could not. As he lay there he began to dose and dream. He dreamed of his homeland and all that was happening there. His dreams were filled with the sight of his people being ravaged by the sickness. The villages were plundered and burned to the ground. He saw Lord Drasken‟s army marching thru his homeland as if in triumph. Bryon woke with a start for his dreams had disturbed him deeply. Bryon knew he must hurry if he was to save Dunkeld from Lord Drasken and this cursed sickness.
He rose to his feet and decided to talk a walk through the forest. He heard movement and began to walk very slowly towards where he thought the noise had come from as not to alert who or what it was. Could Lord Drasken know of his father‟s plan to send him to the highlands to try and find the rare thistle mint? He crouched down behind the ferns that grew in the forest and watched. It was not long until he saw what he had heard. It was Katelynn she was picking berries that looked like they were just ripening. He rose from his hiding place and she was startled when she saw him she believed he had already went back and was having his morning meal.
He walked over to her “ Katelynn,” he said “ I hope you can forgive me for my rudeness, when you came to the stream.”
He still could not be honest with her and tell her why. “I was just surprised to see you there.” He began “ I should have thanked you for your kindness. Would it be alright if I walked with you?”
Katelynn was so surprised by his words she could find no words to say. Bryon turned to walk away knowing he had lost his chance to get to know this beautiful woman standing in front of him.
Then she said, “ Please do not go away. Yes, I would like the company. I am gathering berries. The ones that are first of the season are so very sweet.” As he turned she saw he was smiling. His smile made her forget all the anger she had felt that morning by the stream. They continued through the forest and came to the edge of the forest were the berries grew abundantly. Soon the basket Katelynn had brought was filled with the sweet berries and they started back to the village. They had talked of many things, the journey, his homeland, his family and the all the dangers that being on the road could bring.
Then she asked him, “Why is it that you have not gotten this sickness that is in your homeland?”
He looked at her and replied, “I can not answer that for I do not know. It is a mystery even to our court physician. I have been in the villages where it is the worst, trying to help my people and it has not yet come upon me.”
They came to the stream where he had spent his morning. They were both very thirsty from their walk and all the talking they had been doing. They sat down and both drank of the water. As they cupped their hands to drink the cool water, their shoulders brushed together. They turned and looked into each other‟s eyes. He could not let another chance escape him. He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her. Katelynn was so surprised she pulled away.
“I am sorry,” he told her, “But I have wanted to kiss you from the first moment I saw you.
I will never do it again please forgive me.”
Katelynn reached out and touched his check and answered “ I did not jump because I did not want you to kiss me I was just surprised.”
He then put his arms around her and kissed her again. They lay there beside the stream for a long while. Embraced in each other‟s arms Katelynn wanted this moment to never end. But it was getting late and she knew if they did not return soon her father and mother would be getting worried.
“We should be getting back.” Bryon said as he turned and kissed her one last time. “ I have a lot to do before Eric and I leave.”
Oh how she hated to hear him say he would be leaving but she knew this was what must be and she could not stand in his way.
As they walked back to the village she asked him more questions. Did he have any brothers, what was his mother‟s name, was her eyes blue like his? And he answered her willingly He felt he could talk to her about everything. He had never been around a woman he could talk so freely to. He asked her questions also mostly about her people their customs and the surrounding lands. Were the highlanders friendly to strangers when traveling through their lands? How far into the highlands would he have to travel to find this plant? Most of his questions she could answer, but some she could not. If he wanted the answer to these questions she told him, he would have to ask her father he would know she was sure.
Eric saw them walk out of the forest and into the clearing. He seen them holding hands and the way she looked at Bryon would never be the way she would look at him. Not as long as Bryon was alive. So he began to plot a plan to get this stranger out his way. He would be the one there to comfort her. And then he would do everything he could to make her fall in love with him and look at him the same way
As they walked into the hut Christine saw the look in her daughter‟s eyes and knew that all her fears where real. What ever had happened that morning was now part of their past. And what had happened while Katelynn had been out picking berries was now their future.