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You put a fire to a world so cold

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The first time you see her she’s nothing but a pretty girl sitting by the river with a white cloak on and a dusty old book in her hand.

***

The second time you see her your hunters are talking about the hunting season and making jokes that make you throw your head back in laugher while stroking your horse’s neck. You almost miss her, for the carriage she is in is as vulgar as any other. But then you catch a glimpse of her dark brown hair and she turns to you, as the carriage driver leads the simple carriage to the side of the road so you and your men can pass.

Her eyes sparkle as they see you, certainly recognizing you as the girl from the riverside of last autumn. You smile at her, wanting to know why her lips curl into a more than polite smile as her eyes scan your face, like she’s searching for something.

The moment is over too soon, for your hunting horse gallops with passion through the road, heading towards the City. You wonder if you’ll see the girl again.

***

The third time you see her is in the woods. You wonder how she can be dressed in such a stained brown dress and also be wearing the nicest cloak you have ever seen. You ask her about it and her answer is defensive. Since you spent most of your time with her learning every detail of her face and memorizing the way she walks and talks, you never pay much attention to the fact she’s probably a low-born, while you’re the famous King’s Huntress.

You apologize immediately, not wanting to ruin the nicest walk you’ve had in a while.

When you finally learn her name, it doesn’t surprise you that it isn’t common or that you’ve never heard it before. You play with it in your mind, liking the way it sounds when it comes out of your lips. Ash.

 There’s something about her that you’ve never seen in anyone before, something that pulls you closer and makes you want to stay with her forever, so when she bites her lip and says she doesn’t know how to return home, you instantly offer to lead her there, not dwelling on the fact that she knows how to handle herself through the trees and probably knows how to find the path to her house as well.

You tell her about your love for the woods, smiling as you realize she seems to share your passion for the forest. The time you spend with her is the longest you’ve ever been with your lips curled upwards. You feel your chest heaving pleasantly and your head spinning slightly when you get to the girl’s destination, but you doubt that is  due to your fast pace.

When the hunting horn is blown in the distance, your time with her is, once again, cut too short.

***

The fourth time you see her, you have left camp with the intention to pick up some firewood for that night’s fire, but got distracted when you saw a beautiful stag roaming through the trees. As you pursued it, getting further and further away from your camp, you suddenly lost it, for it understood it was being followed and run faster, away from you.

Without warning, a voice comes from somewhere on your right, telling you the deer has gone towards the river. A heartbeat after the voice speaks, Ash appears from the trees, the moonlight shining on her hair and turning her smile into something far too beautiful not to be seen.

You learn, then, that she lives in a house nearby and wonder what she’s doing in the woods that night, all by herself. As a thought about caring for Ash being safe crosses your mind, you know that nothing will ever be able to make you forget about her now, for she has earned a special place in your heart, even though this is only the second time you’ve talked to her.

You hear someone’s footsteps coming closer and as your eyes leave Ash’s face to turn to who’s invading your moment with the girl you notice it’s only Lore, wanting to bring you back to camp. Once again, your time with Ash ends too quickly.

***

The fifth time you see her is in the next day; you just couldn’t hold back your curiosity and decide to visit her. Your horse’s pace is slow and deliberately soundless, so when you get close to the house and find Ash weeding on the garden, she has not yet noticed you. As you keep leading your horse to the garden’s gate you notice her hands are covered in dirt and her forehead shines with sweat from working under the hot midmorning sun.

After providing water for your horse, she asks you if you were out there hunting and when you shake your head, saying the hunting season has not yet began, her cheeks turn pink with embarrassment, making you want to reach out and tell her it’s okay to be mistaken.

Later, you learn Ash believes in fairytales as much as you do and that makes you smile internally, causes you to wonder how fate brought this girl to you. You decide to tell her about your favorite tale then and she listens to you closely as you reveal the story of the huntress who ended up falling for the Fairy Queen.

When you ask her about her favorite tale she seems uncertain and frowns slightly, as if the stories you’re told as children are something that’s too intimate to share.

When you thank her for the food she gave you earlier and get ready to leave, she follows you outside and you turn your eyes to her, to watch the weak wind blow on her face some strands of her hair that she quickly locks behind her ear.

As you’re about to leave she says she maybe will tell you about her favorite tale, one day, and you feel as if you’re finally taking down her walls and getting closer to her; hope begins to find its way into your heart.

When you ride past the gate, you feel, for the first time, that your time with Ash has been long enough.

***

Due to your increasing desire to get to know the mysterious housekeeper, before the hunting season begins, you decide to stay in West Ridding for the summer. After all, it’s not every day you find a girl as pretty as Ash, who loves and respects the forest as much as you do or smiles like you put the stars in the sky for her to watch at night.

The sixth time you see her is in the next market day, when you’re looking to buy fresh carrots as a treat for your horse and find her petting it when you turn around, her fingers interlaced with the horse’s dark mane.

She is wearing a different, less dirty dress today and her hair is tied up in a bun at the nape of her neck messily, causing you to want to feel it between your fingertips. You come quietly behind her, using the noise of the market so that she doesn’t hear you approaching and look at her peaceful expression one last time before asking if she had ever ridden a hunting horse before.

You watch her tense up immediately, whether it is because you startled her or because she couldn’t possibly give you an affirmative answer, you don’t know. However, as soon as you invite her to ride with you the next day, her shoulders relax and tension gives up its place to excitement.

Your lips are about to turn up into a smile when you see something cross her eyes that makes you feel momentarily disappointed. She says she cannot go the next day. You hide your disappointment by merely shrugging your shoulders, telling yourself it doesn’t mean anything, and inviting her to ride with you the day after tomorrow.

When you leave Ash that day, it’s like a promise has been made between you two and your heart aches with happiness you had not felt in a long time.

***

The seventh time you see her is when you’re picking her up as you promised you would. Her eyes sparkled with excitement and she spoke a bit more than usual, making you notice the fact that your presence made her happier than anyone else’s.

After quickly changing into the old riding clothes you brought her, you perceived for the first time how beautiful her body was now that it wasn’t hidden under a stained dress. Seeing your old riding clothes hugging Ash’s body comfortably makes you think of how she would look with no clothes at all, but you push that thought away, for you’re a gentlewoman and the task at hand now was teaching the girl how to ride.

As you rode through the forest that day, with you telling Ash calmly what she should do to control the horse better, you both felt the summer wind blow on your face, the strength of the horses beneath you and the special way you made each other feel.

When you finally stop by the riverbank to water the horses, a couple of hours have already gone by and you look at Ash, whose face is covered by a thin layer of sweat, and motion for her to sit down on a fallen log next to you.

As you two make small talk, you finally get to understand why the other girl feels so insecure around you sometimes: she does not understand why such a high statute huntress would be kind to her, for she is no one special. Your green eyes soften as you watch Ash explain her uncertainty to you, but you push the part of you who wants to hold her close and tell her she’s the most special person you’ve ever met away. You end up shrugging lightly, telling her about your wonders of why it was that you kept crossing paths with her from time to time.

When the sun shines high in sky, telling you it is midday, you and Ash depart and this time, you feel like although your time with the other girl was more than sufficient, you wish to stay with her longer.

***

The eighth, ninth and tenth time you see her come by quickly, for you often ride together in the mornings, under the warm summer sun. From day to day, not only does Ash grow more comfortable on horseback, as you go on more difficult trails through the woods, but so does she grow more comfortable around you. Each day she smiles more around you and each day you two talk more and more about your personal lives. As she tells you about her mean stepmother, you reveal parts of your childhood you haven’t even told the King and soon you start to feel as if frequently seeing Ash is a part of who you are now.

Spending time with her starts being what you patiently wait for and soon you lose count of the number of times you’ve been with the girl you’re now thinking of as a friend.

***

One of the times you see her, you take her to one of the hardest trail there is in the forest and you watch her closely, feeling proud of her for getting so far in just a couple of weeks.

When you decide to stop that day, Ash’s back is drenched with sweat and she finally asks you about how you became the King’s Huntress. Being reminded of your important position within the kingdom makes you slightly uncomfortable, for you know you won’t be able to see the girl so often when hunting season begins, but you push that thought away.

You tell about the previous King Huntress and about how she gave up her place so she could be with her lover. Ash seems surprised by what you tell her and that makes you wonder if she would ask you to step down from you place if you two were together. You smile at the mere thought of getting to hold her hand and, before you can stop yourself, you get up and extend your hand to Ash, who is caught off guard. Although you act confidently and your grip is sure, the fact that this is the first time you are touching her makes you blush and you look away from the girl’s intense gaze just in time to see her smile at you.

***

After days of not being able to see Ash due to your duties, you immediately go into the woods when you get a free day, hoping to see her there. The morning sun isn’t as gentle as it was a couple of weeks earlier and you wonder how Ash is doing in her dark, stained, warm dresses. You walk towards the river, thinking that’s where Ash would go to if she wanted to be with you; she’d go to the place you first saw each other.

After a couple of minutes waiting in the shade of a big oak tree go by, you see her for the first time in days. Her work dress is stained as expected, although not from dirt but sweat, you notice. You watch her as she unties her hair and splashes cold water on her face, a small smile playing on your lips as you realize you had missed her.

When she notices you she seems startled, for her brows shoot up and her cheeks turn pink, as they always do when she’s with you. She comes closer as you invite her into the shade of the big tree and you allow your eyes to run over her desperately.

By now you know all of Ash’s subtle changes in expression and you can tell she’s a bit nervous for being so close to you. You watch her curiously, following the drops of water that fall from her hair to her neck with your eyes. Suddenly, she meets your gaze and you feel yourself colour slightly, for you can’t help it but feel embarrassed for watching her so closely.

You try to look away from her, but your green eyes seem to be fixated in her dark ones and you find you can’t – or don’t want to – move away. After a while of staring into each other’s eyes, she confesses she had been waiting for you and you can’t help but smile softly at the desire present in her tone. When you ask why she wasn’t in Seatown with her stepsisters she shrugs and smiles back at you, saying she’s happy she stayed. You tell her you’re glad too, although you keep to yourself the thoughts about not knowing how well you would have handled not seeing Ash through the whole summer. The smile she gives you makes the one you already have on your lips grows, for you’ve always wanted to make her happy.

As you two talk about the next hunting season, it occurs to you that you could actually be with the other girl if she chose to join you. It is easy for you to invite her to come along and even easier to watch her as her eyes shine brighter than any precious stone you possess and her lips curl upwards, being quickly covered by her hand in a mix of surprise and joy.

In that moment you swear to yourself that you’ve never seen anything more beautiful than Ash’s smile and you laugh, for you’ve never felt so pleased with someone else’s happiness.

***

The next time you see her it’s the day of the beginning of the hunting season. Even though you’re in the presence of your men, you allow yourself to smile at her as surprise quickly washes over you before it turns into a warm feeling in your chest. You weren’t sure she’d come and for now you were happy to let your eyes run over Ash’s face.

She is standing in the middle of your tent awkwardly and you notice she doesn’t know what to do, so you quickly introduce her to Lore, your apprentice, and motion for her to come closer in order for you show her where you’ll be hunting today.

Now that you stand close to her, you notice she’s dressed in fine hunting clothes made of shiny new leather and you wonder where she got them, for she could not possibly own them. The peculiar shining of her hunting gloves calls your attention and if you didn’t know better you’d say all of Ash’s clothes seem to be soaked in magic.

However, you do not get to dwell too much on your thoughts, as you gaze gets hold of Ash’s face once again and is only pulled away when one of your men returns from tracking the stag you’d be hunting that day. You quickly go back to being the King’s Huntress and not Kaisa, even though Ash’s presence makes you want to be able to behave like the later.

You take her through what would happen that day and explain her you cannot wait for her when the time comes to hunt down the stag. You think she notices then, that you’re different from the previous times you were with her, for her smile falls a bit. Your concern for her grows, since you don’t want her to be hurt by what you have to be during the time you’re by the prince’s side. You look quickly into her eyes, searching for any signs of pain, but as Ash nods curtly, you know she understands you have to honor your place as King’s Huntress tonight.

You leave her before the hunting horn is blown and as soon as you hear it, echoing in the trees, you shout orders to your men and quickly mount your dark horse. From your position leading the hunting party you can’t see Ash, but you’re sure she’s galloping as fast as you are; riding her horse like you taught her to.

You force yourself to push all your thoughts about the other girl away and focus on the thrill of the hunt, as you feel your horse move beneath you, eager to catch up to the stag you just spotted between the trees. As your dogs run ahead of you, your heartbeat syncs with the rhythm of all the horses’ hooves hitting the tender ground and when the time comes to take your sword from your belt and move it across the stag’s leg so it stops running, you’re ready.

As soon as the metal from your sword cuts the deer’s flesh you get off your horse and push away the sounds of victory coming from your hunters, focusing only in the animal’s cries, which subside when you drive your sword through its heart. You kneel down and close the stag’s eyes, thanking it for its life.

When the usual hunting rituals are over and your hands are warm with the stag’s blood, you allow tears to fall from your eyes, telling yourself this is how life works. Trapped in the middle of your emotions, you fail to hear Ash approach and when she puts her hand on your shoulder you notice the concern that fogs her eyes as she realizes you’re crying.

Not wanting to get her worried, you assure her everything is okay and let a smile come to your lips as you tell her about the great celebration that will take place later on that night.

After the King’s announcement and the most important part of the feast was over, you finally find yourself free to go near Ash. Even thought you had been looking at her all night, it feels good to finally be able to be this close to her.

It doesn’t last for long though, as your duties as King’s Huntress have yet to be completed; you get up from the table, taking one last glance at Ash’s brown hair and overjoyed eyes, before leaving towards the edge of the pavilion, where you’re met by a woman who has been wooing you for a long time. Pushing Ash out of your mind for the second time that night, you lead the woman to some benches and let her work her ways around you, even though your heart is far away from the conversation.

When you manage to get away from the woman, the first thing you do is search for Ash on the dance floor. You quickly find her so memorable bun of dark brown hair and reach out to her, as she leaves the pavilion. As you walk towards her, you notice her expression is blank and the happiness you felt when you saw her before leads to disappointment and uncertainty, for you had wanted Ash to enjoy herself tonight, even though you could not be there with her for all of it.

As the gentlewoman you are, you lead her to her horse, pushing back the soreness you feel on your muscles from the day’s hunt and walking side by side with the girl, who looks eager to get away from the feast and, at the same time, sad, as if she is being forced to leave.

While you walk with Ash towards the horses, you’re relieved to find her relaxing as you get further and further away from the pavilion. You two start talking and you’re glad to see she’s back to her old self as she shoots you with questions about previous hunts and shares a hunting tale with you while your arms brush slightly from how close you’re walking.

When you bow before her and wish her a safe journey home, you try not to show Ash how much you wished she’d stay. As her horse gallops into the darkness you find yourself feeling, for the first time in a while, that your time together with the other girl had not been quite enough.

***

When you finally see her again, a week had already gone by with you wondering every day if you’d ever see Ash again. You’re reading some papers as she walks into your tent. Your eyes leave the documents immediately and you have to tell yourself to calm down, as surprise hits you hard and your heart beats faster than it ever has since you have met her.

For a while, you’re too stunned to talk and when you finally take your eyes off Ash’s face you start contemplating on that to do. She fills the silence with questions about the hunting season before you have a chance to ask her how she has been and soon all the awkwardness caused by Ash’s unexpected visit disappears.

As you two laugh into the night, you finally get to hear about her favorite tale. You pay as much attention as possible to the way her lips move and her eyes shine as she tells you the sad story of the girl who entered a fairy ring and you wonder, not for the first time, what is really going on in Ash’s mind.

After a while of watching her face and the way it looks under the torch that illuminates your tent, Ash suddenly gets up, like you’re getting used to her doing, and says she has to leave. As you feel your evening with the girl being cut short once again, courage blossoms within yourself and you take her hand, stroking it softly before kissing her on both cheeks. You smile at the way she colors slightly and tell yourself fate will bring you two together again.

***

You only get to see her again on the Souls Night ball and you’re ashamed of yourself for not recognizing her, at first. She’s dressed in the prettiest gown you’ve ever seen and her hair is tied so perfectly in her customary bun, that you’re forced to look at her twice before even allowing yourself to notice how wonderful she looks.

As you untie her shining blue mask, you’re forced to swallow in amusement, for seeing the girl you feel so much for in such magnificent clothes burns a fire inside you that you don’t want to put out.

After getting your breathing under control, you allow yourself to get closer to Ash, and when you look up to her eyes once again, you find them running through your body heatedly, doing just what you had just been doing to her.

You walk her down the corridor and sync your heartbeat with the sound of Ash’s shoes hitting the marble tiles beneath your feet, smiling happily at the flirty tone of her voice. You two laugh together as she tells you about how she fled after dancing with the prince and you lead her towards your favorite balcony that overlooks the dancers in the ball, where you’ve never brought anyone as special as her.

When you find that you can’t contain your questions about the origin of her clothes and you finally get them out, Ash looks at you severely, silently asking you to stop. You can see fear in her eyes and you finally understand that you were right that night when she rode with you during the first hunt of the season.

Not needing to hide your feelings for the girl any longer, for you know that she likes you just as much as you like her, you take her hands in yours and squeeze them reassuringly, telling her she doesn’t have to face whatever it is alone. However, instead of telling you what’s wrong, Ash insists that you cannot help her with this matter and you feel your heart sinking.

When you two depart that night, you feel a new wave of sadness washing over you and if it wasn’t for the soft kisses Ash plants on your cheeks, you’re sure you wouldn’t be strong enough to let her go.

***

Months pass by before you get to see Ash again, and the pain of her leaving before you get a chance to help her grows into concern. You go through your days thinking about whether something happened to the girl you were starting to love. When Yule comes, you’re not as happy as you use to be at this time of the year, for you have to attend a ball at the palace in which you doubt Ash will appear.

However, just as you were boringly watching the dancers on your balcony overlooking the salon, a girl dressed in a white cloak and in a servant’s dress enters the room and walks towards you. You immediately recognize it is Ash and your concern for the girl disappears, only to return when you notice her flushed cheeks and emotional expression.

You order your guards to let her through and as soon as she’s close you hear her unexpectedly inviting you to dance. As you allow yourself to smile, for this is the first time the other girl as demonstrated something more intense than affection for you, you take the hand she offers and lead her to dance floor.

Everyone’s watching you when she quietly says she doesn’t know how to dance and you break into laugher, for you’re so relieved to know Ash is still herself. You lead the dance then, moving surely through the floor and feeling the slow music as you run your thumb over Ash’s hand when she seems unsure of whether she should continue or not.

As soon as the song is over, you take Ash’s hand once again and lead her through several corridors, before getting to a lonely antechamber. You laugh together at the scene she had made to get to you and suddenly, the warm feeling that had settled on your chest as soon as you saw Ash that night, feels like it is about to explode unless you get closer to the other girl.

You do so, not wanting to hold yourself back any longer, and you allow your fingers to stroke her hair softly. When you notice how close you are, there’s only one thing you wish to do and so you do it. You look at Ash’s sparkling eyes one last time before shutting your eyelids and pressing your lips against hers softly, enjoying the way she tastes and how her hands come to tug gently on your shirt.

Even though it all seems to happen in slow motion, when Ash puts her hands on your shoulders and pushes you back, you feel like it happened away too fast. The happiness you felt is replaced by concern once again, when fat tears start falling from the girl’s eyes and all you can do is ask yourself what you did wrong. Ash explains then, as she holds your hands tightly between hers, that she has to settle her debt before she can be with you and although you ask her what it is, everything seems to fall into place.

This time, before she leaves, you get to cup her cheek softly and brush loose strands of her hair behind her ear. When Ash finally looks into your eyes and finds that you have tears running down your cheeks, you’ve never wanted her to stay with you so desperately.

***

The next time you see her is sooner than you expected. After last night’s events you couldn’t bring yourself to go back to the ball so, instead, you took your horse and rode under the moonlight, only stopping when the sun began to rise.

When you hear Ash’s footsteps you’re back at the palace’s stables, brushing your horse while mentally sharing with it your thoughts about your relationship with the other girl. As you look up to see who is approaching you and you realize it is the person you’ve been thinking about for hours, you freeze, not being sure what you’re seeing is real or the result of spending a night without sleeping.

You let your brush fall from your hands and when you finally manage to speak your voice reflects your fatigue and you notice Ash’s eyes softening as she understands what happened to you after she left. She takes your cold hands in her warm ones and you feel your heart beating faster than ever before, because Ash is real and she’s here with you.

Her words run over you, for you’re too stunned to listen to anything she says, but when she confesses she’s now free to love you, your eyes water and your heart threatens to get out of your chest. You realize then, that this is what you’ve wanted ever since you met her and when she brings her lips to yours you feel like not magic could ever give you something like the feeling of being hers.