The forest opens before him, parting around the near-invisible track his mother once walked, and his grandfather before that. But the boy doesn't think of them, knows only the beat of his bare feet against the first fall of leaves as he races through the afternoon. His mind is full of his destination, brimming with her face, her eyes. He laughs out loud and keeps running.
He bursts out into the open fields of Ealdor like a yearling, all legs and the energy of youth.
Twelve years from now, he will ride a horse for the first time and realize why nobles refuse to walk. This - this is flight.
Still later, he will realize it is also speed, power, force. The things that give a man the right to rule. The right to take what he wants.
He's still out of breath when he stops in front of her and holds out the fistful of daisies he's been carrying. They're slightly crushed, wilted and green-smelling, and her grin is like a crescent moon.
Her mother weaves the stems into her hair with deft fingers and puts them both to work, picking up the stray kernels that fell loose from the sheaves.
Six years from now, he will tuck a blossom behind her ear and lead her away from the festival, their sweaty fingers tangled together. He will press her against a tree and breathe the scent of her soft, brown hair. She will laugh in that carefree way she has, and he will feel the future open up and rush forward as she whispers something he can't quite hear, ending on a soft cry as he pushes closer, wishing he could crawl inside her.
They flash smiles at each other across the rows as they work. She sings with the others, and he listens, mouthing along, learning the words. Learning her, her village, so close to his but separated by a border he doesn't understand. All he knows is that his mother came from here, and Hunith is here now.
Three years from now, they will celebrate the coming of age of Prince Cenred. The elders will all toast the peace and hope he maintains it.
The boy will kiss her on the lips for the first time, right after his first cup of ale. She will look at him with wide eyes, then dart forward to do the same.
They come together again at sunset, dusty, with bits of hay sticking out everywhere. The flowers on her head are drooping, but the ache in their arms and legs is tinged with satisfaction. The wagons are piled high with grain, moving slowly into the barns under human and oxen power, and the fields they leave behind are autumn-empty, waiting.
Eight years from now, he will travel to Cenred's bustling city. He will hope to learn a trade or join the guard until he has enough money to settle down and support her. The night before he leaves, he will feel her chin on his shoulder, her strong back under his hands, and he will try to memorize this.
"I'll wait for you," she will whisper, meaning it.
"I'll come back," he will promise, and in that moment, it will be true.
That night, they will lie together on the damp grass as husband and wife, and in his mind that is what they will be.
He sits beside her on the bench, nodding off against her shoulder to the tune of pipe and taber and the shuffle of dancing feet. She puts one arm around him and holds him up, stroking his hair.
Eleven years from now, he will come home to find she's gone to Camelot, to serve. Her mother will say, "She did it for you. Wait for her."
Pride-wounded and lonely, he will sleep in the barn and leave at first light, not to return for many years.
He sleeps on the floor that night, curled against her, with a dog on his other side. Around midnight he wakes to find her leaning over him. Her hair curls around his face as she looks down, a question on her lips.
Fifteen years from now, her hair will curl around her face as her mouth crumples with distress.
"You didn't wait," he will say, world emptying, future tilting unexpectedly.
One hand curled protectively around her belly, she will whisper, "You never came."
It won't quite be an accusation. She won't have learned to hate him yet.
"Will we marry when we grow up?" Hunith asks.
He looks up at her face, wreathed in starlight. Certain of their destiny, Kanen nods. "Yes."