Sometimes love comes, and you try to hang on to it, but the harder you do the more it just slips through your fingers...
Rhianne was so expressive with her hands, so wonderful to watch. You didn’t have to look at her face, just her hands, pulling you into her, wrapping you up in her charm, her grace. He felt so good with her he wanted to stay with her forever. One moment they were laughing and enjoying each other’s company, the next they were on the floor, a little awkward at first, then relaxing feeling each other near. Closer and closer they drew, until he could stand it no longer and pulled her into his arms and kissed her. He could feel her trembling slightly against him; her softness, the smell of her long golden hair, the way she was resting her head on his chest was making him feel gentle and protective. He touched his cheek to her hair and closed his eyes.
He remembered back seven days. He wanted to explore the island, forget about business and money, just feel the sun on his face, the wind in his hair, simplify his life. So he gave the chauffeur three weeks off, instructed the servants to take care of the house and caught the next boat for the south of the island. He could have taken one of the many cars but he wanted to meet ordinary people without the stigma of wealth influencing their reactions to him. So he bought a bike and some old clothes and set off.
Three days later cycling through the countryside, the day was beautiful and sunny, he was flying around a bend on a little twisty road and there she was, right in his path, almost under the wheels. He turned the handlebars too quick and fell off the bike tumbling head over heels. She ran away, then stopped and looked back at him for a few moments, then seemed to make up her mind about something and came back. She stood close to him and said, “Sorry.”
She was young, perhaps nineteen. He, ten years older than that was feeling like a small child with his mother standing over him.
He stood up and found himself gazing into the most gorgeous brown eyes. It was then he found himself falling, and everything was forgotten and his tongue was tied in knots, but he felt more alive then than he could remember feeling in a very long time.
She smiled, putting him at his ease for a moment in which he said, “It’s quite alright.”
He picked up his bike and caught up with her as she walked away along the little road. He couldn’t think of anything to say, then they both said something together and laughed. She asked him to come and have some tea, and, “I’ll bandage your knee,” she said.
Up until then he hadn’t noticed that his knee was bleeding and the trousers torn.
They came to a woods and she took him through it to a clearing where three brightly painted caravans were drawn up around a smoking fire. All was quiet except for a bird singing in the trees and somewhere in the distance the sound of an axe rhythmically thudding.
He leaned the bike up against the wheel of one of the caravans and sat on the step as she went inside to get a bandage. He could hear her rummaging around as he looked at the camp-site. It was very peaceful there and had a magical quality about it, almost a timeless feel to the place, like being in another century. His eyes wandered back along the path they had come along and he saw a rabbit standing perfectly still, its ears pointed straight up, big black eyes looking right at him. They both stared at each other for a while, then it hopped off into the brush. It was so quiet. The axe had stopped chopping.
“What be your name?” she called from inside the caravan.
“Kelek,” he answered, “and yours?”
“Rhianne,” she replied, coming out of the caravan with a white shirt in her hand.
“This should do,” she said, then she stooped down by his leg. He pulled his trousers above the knee to let her bind it.
“You be English?” she asked.
“No, I’m Welsh and I live near a big city.”
“Went to a city once, didn’t like it,” she said.
“I don’t like them either,” he said.
“What you do here?” she asked.
“Just riding my bike trying to get away from it all.”
“You’ll have to look where you’re going in future,” she said. Then she tore the shirt into strips and wound them around his knee. She did it as if she had had lots of practice.
“But if I had I would probably have ridden right on by you and we would never have met,” he said as she leaned back to survey her handy-work.
“That be true,” she said, splashing something on his knee that stung like crazy and made him draw his breath in quickly.
“Sorry, I forget to tell you it be stingy stuff.”
They both looked up suddenly as three men came pushing through the bushes. Kelek started to rise but Rhianne stopped him and said: “It’s alright, sit you still, it just by my father and two brothers back from the wood gathering.
They were big men, and by the looks on their faces Kelek thought he could be in trouble. The oldest of the three spoke.
“What do you here?” He looked at Kelek closely as he said it, but it was Rhianne who answered him.
“Father he has hurt himself and I am binding up his leg.”
“How come he here?” he asked.
“I was walking the road father, and he came riding along and fell over me. It was my fault, so I fetched him back to make him right again.”
“Griff,” he said to one of his sons who was standing by his shoulder listening to all they said. “You take her away for a bit, me and this stranger will talk now.”
“Aye,” said the one called Griff and gathered Rhianne by her arm and pulled her up and marched her away. She looked as if she was going to argue then changed her mind and walked off with the son called Griff. The other son hunkered down by the fire as the father came and sat on the step by Kelek.
“What do you with her,” he asked in a tone that would have an answer.
“Like Rhianna said,” Kelek replied. ”I came around the bend in the road too fast and there she was, right in front of me, and in trying to avoid her I fell off my bike.”
“There be more to it than that,” he growled, looking at Kelek closely.
Kelek felt he had to tell him everything, so he shared with him how he felt about his daughter. The father listened to Kelek without saying a word and Kelek thought he could be digging his own grave, but he felt he had to tell him, even if it meant the father would not let him see her again.
When Kelek had finished, the father sat quiet, seemingly pondering on what he had heard, then as if making up his mind about it he looked Kelek straight in the eyes again.
“You can’t have her, she is promised, though I like it not who she is promised to, still, it cannot be changed. I’ve my word taken and the bride price given.”
“You would sell your own daughter?” Kelek burst out angrily.
The son who had been sitting by the fire walked over to them as if thinking Kelek would start fighting or something, but the father waved him back.
“I be sorry,” he said, looking at the ground. “It is our way.”
“I will buy her,” said Kelek. “I will give double the bride price.”
The father looked up with a troubled expression on his face. “It cannot be.”
“Can I see her again?” asked Kelek.
“It is best not.”
“But I must,” said Kelek with a stricken look on his face.
“She is promised,” said the father with a finality even Kelek heard.
Kelek found himself offering a lot of money for her, just to see her once more and said they would be in a public place and his daughter would be quite safe with him. The father agreed to Kelek’s offer after much talking and bargaining. Kelek was to meet her in the old Inn a few miles down the road. They agreed a time and place to hand over the money; then Kelek left.
Kelek’s plan was to slip out the back way under cover of dark and then to run away with Rhianne, but when he came for the money he extracted a promise from Kelek, a promise wrenched from his heart like a mussel torn from its shell. Kelek felt helpless and angry but what was he to do? He would not let him see her otherwise.
So Kelek told her how much he loved her, how much she meant to him. They looked into each other’s eyes and knew they were meant for each other. The time went too fast.
They came for her, as Kelek knew they must, but he had hoped that something, someone would give them a reprieve. That perhaps some miracle from out of the blue, or maybe the night could go on forever with both of them lost in it. But it was not to be.
He watched them drag her from him and cursed himself and them for having extracted a promise that was tearing his heart in two. But to hell with the promise, to hell with everything he said and rushed to the door and threw it open expecting to find them just outside struggling, but they were nowhere to be seen. He had left it too late. He ran up the street to the corner, it was empty, then he ran back past the Inn searching every doorway and side-street, but she was gone. They had taken her from him and sped off to god knows where.
What had he done? For the sake of a promise he had let her slip out of his life, she who had done something no other had even got close to doing: opened his heart.
He couldn’t stand himself then and a loathing came upon him to have let them take her from him and not even trying to stop them, for staying too long at the table as they took her away, but most of all for the look on her face when they were dragging her away, the horror there, the betrayal, the plea, and finally the look of resignation when she knew Kelek would not come for her.
He had lost her. The only one he had ever loved and she probably hated him now for what he did, for being so small.
He took to wandering from village to village asking if three caravans had been seen. He went in every Inn he came to. He saw her face in every crowd, yet he did not find her anywhere. “My Rhianne, where are you? I must find you again. I will find you again if it takes my entire fortune.”
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