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Under the Greenwood Tree

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Of course no woman ever really falls in love, standing there beneath the trees and watching a man talk about how he once tried to kill his brother. It can only be a pleasing fiction, however appealing he might be, however earnest in his desire to start anew. Yet his smiles call for answering smiles and with half the world in love it seems inevitable that half the world should think the same of her. Many a marriage is made on worse.  

Love grows more slowly than infatuation. It does not come of spring marriages or woodland revelry. It grows in the spaces between: in how he seeks her out, in how he speaks, in how his words make her blush and smile and laugh.  

It takes a deeper root in how he tries so earnestly to make amends with his brother. A man does not change his character any more quickly than a man falls in love, but yet he tries. He learns to like Orlando, to mind his tongue and mends his ways. She admires him for it and thinks herself more fortunate than many brides, to know the worst of him and learn the better. 

He wears the scars of imprisonment visibly on his wrists and ankles, and scars of worse beneath his clothes. He says it changed him. Sometimes he is still and quiet, and she thinks he must be beset by memories, but when she asks him he says it is the memories of himself that trouble him. And though Celia’s own father put those scars upon him, he goes with her when she makes known her desire to visit him.  

Rosalind will not go. She says she cannot see the need, but a father is a father, and whatever he has done Celia is still his daughter. It feels wrong in her heart not to go and see him in his new life and Oliver appears to understand. They ride alone in quiet companionship, as they can now they are man and wife. It is more pleasant than she had thought, to be alone with a man like this. Not courting, only living. She finds him reassuring company.  

Later she asks him why he went and he says with a smile, ‘because it pleased you’. Then at night, when they are curled together and she is sheltered in the curve of his arms, he says against her neck that he wanted her father to have a second chance, such as he was given. She turns and kisses him then: touches his soft hair and the skin of his bare back, holds him, calls him husband. She finds it easier to be gentle with him than with her father.  

She trusts him. Trusts him to be kind, to be careful of her. Trusts him with her secrets: with her envy of Ganymede running free in his breeches and daring to play a man’s part, of the confused feelings of looking at her cousin and seeing both the secret and the truth. It was so easy a thing for Rosalind. A merry jest. It was not so for Celia. She thinks perhaps it was an unnatural thing to think, but Oliver accepts it with a nod.  

Somehow it’s easy to tell him, side by side in their marriage bed. She can lean against his warm shoulder and say whatever she chooses. Rosalind, in all her confidences about sharing a bed, never thought to mention the talking. Perhaps that isn’t something she and Orlando do, perhaps it is only the two of them, but it brings her joy. Oliver strokes her hair and tells her secrets of his own.  

Returning to court is a new chapter of their lives. Rosalind resumes her rightful place as the daughter of the Duke and it is Celia’s turn now to be the daughter of a traitor. As kind as Rosalind is, it sits uneasily on her shoulders. She had feared Oliver might return to his old character with his old duties, but she misjudged him in that. He is there, beside her, at dinner and dance. Ever smiling and ready to turn aside a curious comment or unkind jest. He is learning to be tender, learning to be a husband in company as well as in private. They dance well together.  

Lust is for weddings and marriage for the every day. It grows as they work and live and love together. He is not perfect, but neither is she. If she is ever jealous of Rosalind’s reversed state over hers, she has another who can understand. If he loses his temper at the world, she does not flinch from him. They are building a partnership between them. They can make a courtly couple and yet a loving one.  

When they have been married a year, they return to the shepherd’s cottage where they first met, leaving courtly cares behind them for a time. She dons again the simple dress she wore and he doffs his coat and goes about in linen shirt and breeches like any country lad. She finds him pleasing like this, softened by it, an altogether lighter man. He makes jests and sings, and chops wood for the fire with a skill she hadn’t expected of him, square shoulders beneath his coarse shirt. He calls her Aliena and brings her flowers, fresh plucked from by the river.  

When she kisses him beneath the spreading boughs, she knows that no woman really falls in love at first glance. It is a pleasing fiction to explain the leap from how she felt then when he first saw her, to how she feels now with him in her arms and the world brimming with promise of new life. Yet that day was a first step along a path so irrevocable that it could have no end but this. Looking back she can almost believe it herself: that they no sooner met but they looked, no sooner looked but they loved.