Chapter XLII

The sunlight was weak on the day she met Gideon. It trailed through the leaves of the trees with a somewhat reluctant air, only just reaching the leafmould on the forest floor. A light mist hung in the air, thin as a virgin’s dress and white as the magpie’s breast.

The women making the thick mushroom porridge round the fire all hailed her with ‘good morning’s and ‘sleep well’s that made Beatrix smile. It was nice to be acknowledged. Even if it wasn’t the done thing back home.

Wrapping her cloak (now inches in mud - but what did that matter?) tightly around her, she went to sit on one of the tree stumps round the fire, beside Moll. The two girls had grown close since their shared cooking experience, and now could laugh about it, even if Moll’s laugh was more unrestrained than Beatrix’s slightly awkward, embarrassed one.

Now, Moll turned to her friend with glowing cheeks and eyes, and said, breathily: ‘Gideon’s back!’

Beatrix blinked. She didn’t pretend to know all the outlaws that lived in this village, but she remembered Keiran saying something about someone named Gideon a while back, on that day when he showed her around. She hadn’t really seen him since then, although he’d been one of the politer ones on the night of her disastrous cooking attempt.

‘Who’s Gideon?’

Moll blushed. ‘Oh, he’s... We...’

Beatrix smiled, biting her lip. ‘Let me guess: you like him?’

The two girls giggled as Moll nodded. ‘Actually, we’re engaged.’

For a moment, the word hung in the air, and Beatrix’s smile froze.

‘I love you so much, Beatrix. You could make me so happy... My dearest Cousin,’ he murmurs into her ear, his lips brushing her throat, his hands caressing her face. ‘Will you be my wife?’

The End

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