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LOOK BEYOND

They had been riding for days. Ten days to be precise.
With only breaks to eat and sleep. The road was long and
their burdens heavy. A lord and lady, headed to see the king.
His horse was jet-black, a mighty warhorse, hers a chestnut
mare. They travelled alone although the forests were filled with
outlaws; in the land there was famine. The crop failures effected
them also, not allowing them the expense of an escort. And so they
rode long and hard, not stopping long enough to make themselves
easy targets for the outlaws and also allowing them to get
to where they were going at a faster pace.

The country-side around them was green, for the cause of the crop
failures was too much water, rather than too little, and the rivers
that they passed were all in flood.

She was tired, not used to riding such long distances, and she
was sore but she knew that they could not allow themselves to
be targets for the murderously hungry forest-dwellers who would
slit a throat for a piece of dried bread. She shuddered at the
thought.

He was also tired, but more of a world-weary kind of tired. He was
sick of carrying the world's problems on his shoulders and he could
could take it no longer. That was their reason for needing to see the
king. He needed to seek advice and assistance in this time of civil war
and starvation. He knew his family would starve if he failed in
his mission. He knew also that if his family starved then the people
his land and money supported would also starve. This thought
frightened him immensely and kept his nights restless with
fear and worry. With these thoughts in mind they travelled from
town to town, through village and country-side.

The patch through which they were now riding was beautiful.
There were many trees and even an orange grove in full blossom.
The people looked more prosperous and they assumed that this area
was one of the lucky areas that had had less rain. As they were
crossing a stone bridge over a small river, they were stopped and
greeted by a farmer. This not being unusual they introduced
themselves and began to converse. They soon found the
real reason behind the man's kind chatter: a warning.
"Wolves," he said.
The young lord shook his head for they'd seen no wolves on their
journey north. The farmer nodded but gave a strong warning. He said
that the starvation was not only present among the humans, but
also among the animals. Their lack of food was causing them to attack
humans for food. Having had quite enough of this foolish peasant
gossip, the young lord thanked the farmer for his warning and took his
leave of the "irritating"peasant.

They rode on for another few miles when their horses became skittish.
He wondered why, they had not come across anything to make them
nervous. Then he heard it. I was soft, but it was there. Running
and growling. It could mean only one thing.
Wolves.

He shook his head.
"You're going mad," he said quietly to himself.
But the noise became steadily louder, and the horses became more
and more afraid, sensing imminent attack or even death.The fact
that they were being pursued could no longer be denied and he pushed
his horse harder and faster. He turned to make sure she was still
with him; she was right behind him with a frightened look on her face.
The danger had not gone unnoticed to her either. She was terrified.

All of a sudden the wolves sprang out of the underbrush that lined
the narrow road , attacking from all sides. They had the element of
surprise and so the advantage was theirs, but not for long. The couple
had the energy created by extreme fright, which made them more
difficult to attack. He pushed his big horse to its capacity,
striking at the wolves with desperation and his sword.

She had no sword and her horse was not as big as his but she didn't
have only one person to protect, she also had to worry about the
unborn child within her. She would fight to the death if need be,
but she would not give up.

They pushed the horses hard, both man and beast fighting for survival;
but their strength could not last forever and the wolves had
hunger to fuel their raid on the helpless couple. The horses
began to faulter and the hairy, viscious beasts of terror started
to gain ground. The air was thick with the scent of fear and
anticipation. It was her horse that collapsed first, bringing her
down on top of its heaving body.

She scrambled to her feet and ran towards the forest and the safety
of the trees. The horse ahd already been attacked and the scent of
newly shed blood kept the wolves near the carcass and away from her
hurried flight. When she reached the darkness of the forest she
scrambled up a tree so as to assure her safety.

He, however, had carried on riding until he noticed that there was
only the sound of one horse's hoofs. He reigned in his horse,
sending a few errant wolves into the woods, and turned to see the
rest of the pack attacking what was left of her horse. Fear over-rode
all other emotions, not fear for his own life, rather fear for
hers. He could not see her hiding place atop the tree and she
could not make her cries heard over the din created by the feasting
wolves. He was overcome by indecision: should he stay, face the wrath
of the wolves and bury what was left of her body, or should he ride
in the opposite direction and save himself. It was one of the
most painful decisions he had ever had to make. He sat atop his
mighty steed, looking every bit as lordly as his birth proclaimed
him to be, his dark hair tussled by the wind, his austere features
like a sculpture carved in granite. The pain that shadowed his gaze
growing more intense by the minute. His decision was made.

He would retreat to the forest, find a safe place to keep his horse
and then return to what was left of his love. He could not help the
tears that streamed down his face in rivulets. He didn't want to
stop them from falling. She was everything to him, his life was in her
hands and now she was no more. By no fault of her own had she been
brutally attacked; the blame could rest on his shoulders only, for it
was he who did not heed the warning of the kindly farmer, and it was
he who did not put himself between her and the danger. The pain of her
death would haunt him forever.

She watched him, tears burning her cheeks. She called to him, but her
throat was raw from screaming and the breeze was strong so her pleas
were lost in the wind. She saw him turn and head towards the
forest and her heart was filled with joy. He did not abandon
her although he knew that he could no longer save her if she was
actually being attacked. She breathed a sigh of relief and saw him
trot into the forest. He went into a cave in the side of a nearby
thickly forested hill. She watched his actions in silence,
contemplating the reasons for them.

He sighed and and felt his heart fill with anguish. Once his
horse was secured he slumped to the ground and waited, impatiently,
for the sounds of the animal feast to peter out. He built a small
fire, for it was becoming dark and he could go no further that night.
He set out quietly towards the scene of the massacre.

There was a dull throb throughout his body, the effect of the emotional
pain that he had been dealt that afternoon, but he ignored it.
He walked on, towards the sight of his grief and torment.

She was tired, her body aching from her fall from the horse and the
scraped she had created while climbing the tree. She was weary
and her mind began to wonder...
Was he going to come back or did he carry on through the forest
without his horse? She desperately hoped her worries were unfounded
and that he would turn up sooner rather than later for she did not
fancy spending the night in a tree. Then she heard the rustling in
the trees below. Her eyes popped open and her sleepy brain woke
itself. The wolves had been gone for some time now, but she had been
frightened that they might return while she was sleeping, which was
her reasoning for staying aloft in her leafy hideaway.

The sounds got closer and she looked down quietly. There he stood,
hunched over, ready to attack if need be.

She loved him.

He was beautiful. She whispered his name softly and he stopped,
a questioning expression on his face. He looked cautiously around
for the origin of the sound. She said it again, a little louder this
time around along with the instruction to look up. He did as he was
told and she saw him looking up into the twilight sky, nearly concealed
by branches and leaves. Then he saw her and the earth stopped moving
just for that second when their eyes met, and her heart leaped with
joy and love.

He never realised how much she had meant to him, and how
wonderful it would be to see her again, it was an indescribable
feeling, having her there before his eyes when he thought he
would never again set eyes on the beauty she seemed to radiate.
Love welled up inside him and seemed to overflow from his heart.

He helped her scramble down from the tree in which she had found
solace and held her next to his beating heart even before her feet
had reached the ground. He did not want to let her go, lest something
was to happen to her and he had to face the prospect of losing her
once more. Words failed them both as they stood there, embraced by
by each other's love.
"I thought I'd lost you," he whispered into her hair.
"You could never lose me," she smiled in reply.

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