The darkness fell around her like a blanket of coal black ink, muddied only by the flurries which steadily increased in intensity. She glanced about her but could see nothing. No landmarks of note.
In her despair Anastasia had wandered haphazardly, not sure which direction she had taken from the house. Not a single star lit the darkness, the clouds where black and thick, concealing the moon and all the stars.
Fear gripped her chest, stealing her breath. She twirled wildly, eyes widened in search for something…some indication of where she might be.
Her foot caught on an unmoving obstruction in the path, sending her flailing to the cold, hard ground. She landed with a crunch on her hands and knees. Her hand caught a sharp rock, and she felt the tear of flesh through her glove. A cry wrenched from her throat, piercing the silence of the dark.
On hands and knees, Anastasia felt the ground all around her until her gloved hand found the rough solid root of an oak tree. Her oak tree. Tracing the root to the trunk, she eased herself into the crook at its base.
She had been there a thousand times. More times than she could count. Huddling tightly against the trunk, she was able to block the cold wind somewhat. Her thin evening shawl offered little protection, and though she hadn’t felt it when she fled the manor house, the ice was beginning to settle in her veins now, cutting right through the fabric of her bodice and undergarments.
Perhaps not such a blind stumble after all. Something deep inside her guided her to the one place she had always felt free and safe.
The throbbing pain in her left hand drew her attention. Her glove was drenched with warm moisture out of place in the dead of winter. She lifted her hand to the space right in front of her eyes, but the darkness made it impossible to make out any more than a silhouette.
She peeled off her glove and wrapped it tightly around the cut, then clutched the wounded hand to her chest. Anastasia could find her way back to the house blindfolded, but she wasn’t ready. Not ready to face him yet.
Closing her eyes, she recalled the memory of that afternoon so many years ago. Perhaps she had been far too absorbed in her fantasy. Perhaps she had looked at the man through rose-colored glasses for too long. He might never be to her everything she imagined him to be.
But she simply wasn’t ready to give up on him.
Anastasia huddled closer to the ground and shivered. She should be heading back.
~ Two Turtledoves (work in progress)