Should I run Would it work if I exit from the other side
The water was frigid, but she shivered from more than just the temperature.
Indecision gnawed at her as she tried to decide.
This wasn’t the first time she had run away, but each time grew more difficult.
If I run now, he will doubt me, his disappointment turning to anger.
But she also couldn’t willingly swim together with him.
Lia met the young duke’s eyes, as he looked down on her from the water’s edge.
The first button of his vest was already undone, and with strong fingers he deftly opened the rest of the buttons before taking his vest off and placing it in the basket.
Still looking into her eyes, he started to unbutton his shirt.
“Isn’t the water too cold” Claude asked, a glint in his eye.
“I’m used to it, but you might find it cold,” she said, suppressing a shiver caused more by the look in his eye than by the water.
Lia moved deeper into the water, making sure that everything from her shoulders down remained hidden, indecision still riding her.
He watched her knowingly, as though he could read her doubts by her face alone.
He smiled, but his expression was tense.
“It’s too deep there.”
“Don’t be foolish,” he reprimanded, pointing at the waters.
“The rocky bottom is dangerous.
No matter how well you swim, one misstep and your foot could be easily wedged.”
Lia brushed the bottom with the tip of her foot, feeling the smooth stones beneath her.
She knew he was right.
If her foot became wedged, then it wouldn’t matter how well she swam, she would be stuck, or worse.
As if on cue, her foot slipped briefly, widening her eyes in fear and dipping her deep enough to wet her chin.
Worry creased his brow, but he laughed once she regained her footing, and shaking his head he kneeled on the moss-covered bank.
“Afraid Finally seeing sense”
“Of course,” she huffed, straining her neck to keep her face above the waters.
“Even I value my life.”
“Really I’m glad to hear that.
I thought you lived as though you had lives to spare.”
are you coming in, or not” she provoked, wanting their stalemate to end one way or another.
Then immediately regretting her bravado, she looked away.
She shouldn’t want him to come one step closer.
Claude hesitated, still kneeling on the ground, still with his shirt on.
“I want to,” he muttered, shaking his head, “Gods know, I want to.
But I don’t know what the prince would do.
I can’t leave him on the hunting ground alone.”
Rather than undressing further, he bent over the waters and scooped up a handful to wash over his face.
Then he wiped the water off his strong jaw and combed his wet fingers through his hair.
“Why did you come here, if it wasn’t to swim”
She felt foolish.
Had he only wanted to mock her, again
I didn’t come here to swim”
She turned around to face the other bank, her face burning with embarrassment.
Claude continued, “Canillian.
The prince’s hunting dogs could scent you here, so don’t come out of the water until after I’m gone.”
He stood up after he spoke, looking at her intently.
Lia nodded slightly, and then dove deep beneath the surface.
She cut through the clear waters, the calm surface rippling behind her, and when she finally surfaced again, she expected to be alone.
Surprised, she turned to see that Claude still watched her from the far bank.
Wasn’t he running out of time
She thought she could hear the distant braying of the hounds, echoing through the trees and over the water.
Lia took a deep breath and dove again.
A group of trout swam just in front of her, their iridescent bodies skimming over the surface of the rocks as they moved together almost as one, a graceful water dance that she followed for as long as her breath allowed.
After a little while, she resurfaced, breaching just enough to check the banks.
If the hunting dogs arrive, then the prince and his attendees would be close behind.
If Claude hadn’t warned her, she might have been in a dire situation.
Despite her irritation and embarrassment, she was grateful.
Lia brushed back her wet hair and then looked again at the bank of the lake, but Claude was gone.
Far away, the sound of a hunting rifle echoed, and then the barking of the dogs grew more distant.
She came out of the water, stood where Claude was standing minutes ago, and quickly dried off with the towel from her basket before dressing in the cool shadow of a large willow.
From a distance, a flock of birds left the canopy of the trees in unison, their dance more frenzied than the lake trout, but no less graceful as their wings beat upwards into the pale sky.
The birds knew what the sound of gunfire and braying dogs meant just as well as she did.
Leaning against the trunk of the willow, Lia observed her reflection on the mirror-like lake.
In some ways she was as unfamiliar with her own image as she would be with a stranger, and she wondered what Claude saw when he looked at her.
A cross between a girl and a lady, as much as a boy and a man
Lia stared at the green eyes reflected back at her, the image of an elegant silk gown, and long hair that came down to her waist shimmering in her mind.
The gems embroidered into the neck and sleeves of the gown gleaming, matched by the jewels dangling from her ears, her arms encased in elbow length lace gloves.
She pulled on the last of her garments, and stretched her hand toward the water, her reflection seemingly asking for a dance.
The image of the lady shimmered, before dispersing with the ripples of a breeze over the water.
The truth tasted sweet to her, but to others it would be a bitter lie at best, and deadly at worst.
The soft breeze dried her hair, while sweeping over her arms as though consoling her.
The lake and the forest held no judgement of her, at least.
Lia smoothed the short locks of hair that covered her forehead, pulling them down and obscuring her eyes, and then left the lake.