Justin moved through the dark woods as quietly as he was able on his armoured steed. He avoided most of the sticks, choosing instead to walk on the soft carpet of pine needles. It was a very quiet night, populated only by the sounds of the night creatures and his and his horse’s breathing. And, of course, the occasional jingle of his tack and the clanking of armour. Okay, so it wasn’t that quiet, but it was quiet in the metaphorical sense. Not much seemed to be happening.
Of course, just as he thought that, Justin heard a scream.
“A damsel in distress,” Justin whispered, and spurred his horse into a gallop. Fortunately, his horse knew these woods as well as he knew his rider, so Justin was able to easily get out of the woods and into the open. There, Justin pulled his horse to a stop and drew his sword.
“Get away from me, you foul beasts!” a young maiden was shouting, brandishing a stick at the wolves circling around her while she clutched at her torn and dirty skirts. The wolves only growled and approached closer, snapping at her stick. One of them caught the stick and wrenched it out of her hand, snapping it in half in powerful jaws. The maiden screamed again, in both pain and terror now, and clutched her bleeding palm.
“You heard the maiden! Back!” Justin shouted, riding his horse into their midst. His horse reared and stomped his front hooves down on the ground, perilously close to a wolf. The animal yelped and scampered away, the rest of the pack following.
“Oh, you saved me. Thank you, brave sir knight,” said the maiden, dipping her head in a respectful bow in place of a curtsey. Clearly, her hand was too injured to curtsey. Justin didn’t hold it against her.
“It is the duty of knights to rescue fair maidens,” said Justin. “But tell me, fair maiden, what were you doing out here so late? Were you, perhaps, running away from home?” He had seen many a squire join the knights because they were running away from home.
“Oh! No, not at all,” said the maiden. “Oh, and I have been terribly rude. My name is Zelda. Lady Zelda Dusknight.”
“And I am Sir Justin Moorland,” said Justin. “If I may say so, your name is as pretty as your face.” Zelda blushed so prettily.
“You are too kind, Sir Justin,” said Zelda.
“You still have not told me why you were out so late,” said Justin. “If you are running from someone or something, I can rescue you from it.”
“Ah, it is nothing like that,” said Zelda. “It is actually rather silly.” She played with her hair with her uninjured hand. “I simply came out here to enjoy the warm sunset, and I fell asleep. My horse has also disappeared, so I was walking around looking for him when I stumbled upon some wolves. I thought for sure that they were going to eat me.”
“Well then, allow me to escort you home,” said Justin.
“Oh, I cannot possibly leave without my horse,” said Zelda. “Perhaps I could ride behind you on your horse while we search for mine?”
“But your hand,” said Justin.
“It is fine,” said Zelda. “’Tis but a scratch.”
“Allow me to look at it,” said Justin, offering a hand. Zelda placed her injured hand into it, palm-up, and blushed while Justin touched her hand so gently with an ungloved hand. Then, he turned it over and kissed the back of her hand. Zelda had to grin at his gentlemanly nature.
“It is not even bleeding,” said Zelda. “I will have it checked by the healer when I return, do not fear.”
“I shall personally escort you there,” said Justin.
“Oh, you are too kind,” said Zelda.
“Come, I shall help you onto my horse,” said Justin.
They rode around for a while, Zelda wrapping her arms around Justin’s waist despite the chilliness of his armour, and searched for the lost horse. Zelda didn’t mind how long it was taking, her heart racing at simply being so close to the kind and gentle, yet brave knight.
“Is that your horse?” asked Justin, pointing to a Friesian stallion grazing in the distance.
“Yes, that is him,” said Zelda. “Phantom, boy!” At once, the horse lifted his head and pricked his ears up, neighing in greeting and trotting over to the pair. Zelda slid off the back of Justin’s horse and walked over to greet her horse, rubbing his nose and hugging him around the neck.
“Are you able to ride with your injured hand?” asked Justin. Honestly, he just wanted her to be back behind him with her arms wrapped around him. Though such a thought was surely scandalous, she was a fair maiden and he was a knight. They would need to begin their courtship immediately, so as to not start up any gossip.
“Oh, I trust Phantom,” said Zelda. “He can trot alongside us. Can’t you, boy?” She rubbed her horse’s neck, and Phantom nickered in agreement.
Slowly, they rode back to Firgrove, both of them enjoying the stars and the night noises. And each other’s company, of course. They returned Phantom to the Duknight family stable first, and Justin put him away so that Zelda would not further injure her hand.
“Lady Zelda,” said Justin as soon as they’d dismounted in front of her family home.
“Yes, Sir Justin?” asked Zelda, looking up at him. She looked so beautiful in the moonlight.
“I… may I see you again tomorrow?” asked Justin.
“Of course,” said Zelda. “I very much look forward to seeing you again, Sir Justin.” And then, surprising him, Zelda stood on her toes and pressed a quick kiss to his lips. Justin’s heart raced, and he returned the kiss despite the scandal that it could surely cause.
“Goodnight, Lady Zelda,” said Justin, watching her as she made her way into her house.
“Goodnight, Sir Justin,” said Zelda, smiling at him from the doorway. Her lips were still tingling from the kiss, and her heart was still racing from how bold she’d been. But, as the healer tended to her wounded hand, all Zelda could think about was the brave knight who had rescued her and stolen her heart.