Fasoj rubbed his hands together anxiously. They were rough and callused from years of working wood. His father had been a woodworker, and his grandfather before him. Fasoj loved the texture of shaped wood - you could feel the life that held it together even though the tree was no longer alive. He slid his rough hands back and forth on the solid wooden table in front of him, trying not to let the butterflies gain control of his stomach.
He sat in a small, brick home. This room was decorated with only a table and three chairs, and some shelves with jars on the far wall. Behind him, a wooden door led to the street, and to his left, a tapestry closed off the room where Amyra and her father slept.
On the other side of the table, his future father-in-law watched Fasoj with hazel eyes. His sandy hair fell to his shoulders, and, though he must be at least fifty, his beard still matched. The man stroked it nervously.
"Apologies, Fasoj, I don't know where she could be."
Fasoj braced himself to stand. "Do not worry yourself, Sir. It is past curfew. She must have found another place to spend the night."
"Give her a few more minutes, please." Amyra's father requested, softly. "She will return."
Fasoj nodded and settled back down, wondering why a seventeen-year-old girl was alone on the streets after curfew. If she were caught by Goran soldiers, she could be killed, or worse. Her father, though, seemed more frustrated than worried.
The older man got up to serve some nuts and dried fruit. Fasoj tried to eat a bit, but was not very hungry.
Unable to stand the awkward silence any longer, Fasoj stood, pushing his chair back with his legs. "I apologize, Sir, but I really must leave while there is light to guide me home. I will come back tomorrow."
Amyra's father nodded, then stood to say good-bye.
Fasoj was about to open the door to leave when it burst open. He stepped back in surprise, but he could see nothing enter. He could hear a woman panting steadily, but Fasoj and the old man were the only people there.
"What-" he began.
"Amyra, where have you been?!" The old man thundered, his eyes on the wooden door that shut itself, quietly.
Fasoj thought he was seeing things. Gradually, the silhouette of a young woman appeared in his vision where there had been only air before. The form was faded at first, then gained colour until a beautiful woman stood before him, her wide hazel eyes gazing back at him. Her shoulders heaved with laboured breaths, her blonde hair tangled and draped around them like a cloak.
Her beauty dazzled him, and for a moment, Fasoj forgot where he was. He could not move his eyes from her lovely face.
Amyra's father, however, was not afraid to break the silence. "Amyra, how many times must I threaten to lock you up in a Goran cell and have them feed you to the snakes? One of these days you will be caught. Do ever think about what that would do to your father?"
Amyra faced her father, finally able to breathe at a normal rate. "Forgive me, Papa," she said, bowing slightly. She continued to watch Fasoj out of the corner of her eye.
"Fasoj has been waiting here since the evening meal. You are lucky he is so patient."
She turned to glance directly at him. Her expression seemed frightened.
Fasoj took a step towards her. He wanted to comfort her, to touch her hair, to protect her. He realized his behaviour was wrong when she took a timid step back. He should speak, introduce himself. But what did one say to his future wife?
"I-" her small round mouth barely moved as she whispered, her eyes trained on the ground, "I apologize. I am late because I was visited by a messenger."
Her father's expression softened, and he came forward to put his hands on her shoulders. "What did Ayam say?"
Amyra met her father's eyes. She opened her mouth to speak, but then her beautiful face contorted, a sob rang out, and in one swift move, she ducked out of his grasp. She was completely invisible before she even reached the door.
Fasoj did not stop to think. He followed the sound of her footsteps into the street, whispering her name. Though he couldn't see any trace of her, he could hear her weep. The quiet sniffles led him behind an old barn. "Amyra?" He whispered.
"You shouldn't be here," came the soft reply. "They will see you."
Fasoj ran his hand through his cropped blond hair. "I don't care."
There was silence, and Fasoj wondered if she had run away. "Listen," he whispered, "I don't know anything about you, but I do know that I can provide a home for you. I'll build it with my own hands. You don't love me, you don't even know me. But you will have to marry someone sometime, and, chances are, someone as beautiful as you will end up in the hands of the highest bidder. Or perhaps on the street, stained by a Goran guard." He spat on the ground, horrified by the very idea.
He heard a shiver over to his left. He turned to face that direction, feeling like an idiot. "I could make you happy," he said, simply. "Give me a cha-"
"Show yourself!" a gruff voice called from the street. "The sun is down, and all citizens must be in their homes."
Amyra gasped and grabbed Fasoj's arm. Fasoj stood, frozen. They were trapped between the barn and another house. There was no escape.
"Don't move or breathe." Her lips brushed his ear as she whispered the instructions, which Fasoj could still just barely hear. He obeyed. His eyes flicked down to where his feet should be and saw only the muddy path. He jolted a bit in surprise, but Amyra's grip on his arm hardened until his fingers started to tingle.
The guard came right up to them - so close Fasoj could smell the garlic on his breath. He waved his torch around, searching for things hidden among the shadows. Fasoj felt a surprisingly strong urge to spit in the man's face and fight for his bride, but he thought better of it.
The guard, a bit spooked, but satisfied that there was nothing there, left them, whistling as he continued down the street.
Amyra let go of his arm and showed herself. Her face was barely visible in the darkness, but it made his heart thump embarassingly loud.
"I was visited by Ayam's messenger today. She told me that I should marry you."
Joy swelled in his chest and he felt like it might lift him off the ground. What was wrong with him? He had never fallen so hard for any other girl he had visited, and many of them had been just as beautiful.
"Is that a 'yes'?" he prodded, feeling a little giddy.
"There is something else she told me."
"Did she tell you I was a carpenter? Five generations. And I could build a house where you could watch the sunset from a window."
"Amyra, you have made me the happiest-"
"Fasoj I'm pregnant."
Hot anger thundered in his chest. His throat constricted and he breathed heavily.
"What." he said slowly. It didn't sound like a question.
"Let me explain."
"What is there to explain?" He struggled to keep his voice low. "How dare you try to marry me when you have been with another-"
"I haven't." Amyra's voice broke. Her wide eyes were pleading; they filled with tears.
Fasoj hated to see her cry, but his disgust went much deeper. "Oh, so Ayam sent this messenger to tell you to marry me so you can have this child that magically appeared inside you."
He waited for her defense, but none came.
He turned to go, but she gripped his sleeve.
Fasoj met her gaze, silently daring her to say something that could change his mind.
"Please don't tell my father." He could barely hear the words.
Fasoj sighed quietly and reached to brush a tear away from her cheek. "I won't tell anyone... your secret is safe... until your stomach starts to grow."
She sniffed quietly. "Thank you."
He wanted to help her. But even to be seen with her could be a crime. Ayam's law had very strict rules. Clearly she had broken several.
"I can make sure you get home without being seen," she whispered, wiping the rest of the tears on the hem of her dress.
"I think I'll be okay," Fasoj said slowly.
"Alright," she said, and turned to leave. "It was nice meeting you, Fasoj the Carpenter." Her shadowy face began to fade.
"May the light shine on your path," he replied. He thought she was already gone, but then he felt the soft touch of her lips against his cheek, followed by the quiet scuff of footsteps retreating to the street.
Fasoj could not get the feel of her kiss or the image of her wide hazel eyes out of his mind that night as he waited for sleep. He refused to believe that Amyra had committed such a crime, and yet she had admitted to it.
She admitted she was pregnant - not a crime in itself.
His thoughts battled inside his head, until he thought sleep would never come. When it did, he dreamed deeply:
He was in a forest. Strong, beautiful trees grew twenty lengths tall, all around him. They whispered his name.
These trees seemed to move - they danced. He could feel their roots sweeping and twirling beneath the soil. Their branches swayed and they produced magnificent blossoms. The petals flew on the wind like birds. It was the most beautiful thing Fasoj had ever seen. He laughed.
Then he saw a woman, dressed in white, with hair and skin to match. Her eyes were a brilliant violet, her dress pooled around her feet like the finest silk. She approached him, smiling.
Fasoj watched her, eyes glittering in trance. Her skin seemed to glow, lighting up the forest with moonbeams, though the sun was still over the trees.
"Fasoj," she said. Her voice made the trees shudder with power. "I have a message for you."
Fasoj cowered and dropped to his knees, touching his forehead to the ground in respect.
"Amyra spoke the truth to you. The child she carries is not yours, nor is it any other man's. Ayam has given a son to her. Because of her faith, he has chosen her to bring this child into the world. And Ayam has chosen you to protect them both. This child is the Chosen One to deliver Ayam's people. You must not fail."
The woman's powerful voice rang in his head as he woke, panting heavily. He was in his own house on his mattress. Through the window, he saw the night was still at its darkest. His brother slept soundly on the pallet next to him.
You must not fail.