Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Sneak (05/12/16)
TITLE: Softly, Softly
By Jan Ackerson
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So she stayed still and quiet under the quilts until Edward’s breaths deepened, then inched her slender body to the edge of the four-poster. Softly, softly she tiptoed over to the chair where she had draped her dressing gown before retiring, and softly she wrapped it around her shoulders. With a glance toward Edward—he was snoring gently now, his back to her—she slipped her feet into satin slippers and walked out to the balcony.
The castle stood high on a hill. When Bronwyn looked to the north, she could see the river that flowed down into the vineyards and orchards of her father’s land. The moon was bright tonight, and Bronwyn almost thought she could see the road that went past the market, the church, the town square.
She stood in the chilly night air for a good long time, until the thought that the quilts on Edward’s bed were stuffed with down drew her back into the room. Torn between longing for the warmth of the coverings and the desire not to wake Edward, she lingered beside the bed for another several moments before finally lifting a corner of the nearest quilt and sliding underneath, with an economy of movement.
Edward stirred, made a small noise in his throat, and then was silent.
Having discovered that stealing away was not difficult, Bronwyn developed a nightly habit of leaving the bed in the same quiet manner. Edward apparently slept deeply and dreamed much; like a puppy, he sometimes twitched or sniffed, but he never woke when she crept away nor when she finally returned to their bed to sleep, fitfully, at the very edge of the feather mattress.
One clear night, Bronwyn stole as usual out of the bedchamber and onto the balcony, hoping to spot the lanterns in the windows of the village below. She was diverted, though, by an unfamiliar sight on the balcony railing, far from the doorway, invisible from the bedchamber. There was a white china saucer there, barely visible under the night sky, and on the saucer were three plump strawberries.
Bronwyn loved strawberries.
She ate each one, sighing at their deliciousness, but mildly troubled. Returning to the room, she studied Edward’s silent back.
A few nights later, the little white saucer returned. Bronwyn approached it cautiously and reached out a hand, almost as if she expected something to rise up out of the saucer and nip her fingers. This time, it wasn’t strawberries but a little yellow flower. She didn’t know its name, but she held the flower to her nose—it smelled of lemons and cinnamon and sunshine.
Yellow was Bronwyn’s favorite color.
She padded back to the bed, still holding the flower. Edward rolled over—did he open one eye?—and was still again. Bronwyn perched on the edge of the bed, thinking, not overly concerned that her tapping toe was causing the floor to creak.
There were no surprises on the balcony railing for three nights. Bronwyn was interested, though, in the wild goings-on of her heart—it pounded so loudly as she searched the railing that even after leaving the bed ever so stealthily, she was sure Edward must hear it. Her eyes, too, seemed to be operating without her consent; when there was no gift, they leaked unbidden tears.
On the fourth night, there was still no saucer—but far at the end of the balcony sat a small white cage, holding a tiny gray kitten. The kitten was asleep, but when Bronwyn opened the cage, it crawled onto her neck and purred in her ear.
She walked back into the bedchamber, not caring that the cage door was swinging, making small metallic sounds. Not caring that the castle was stuffy, not caring that sometimes decisions are made that are best for two kingdoms. She plopped onto the bed, still holding the kitten, who kneaded her thigh with tiny paws. Edward rolled over then, both eyes definitely open, and took the kitten from Bronwyn’s leg. “Well, hello, Smoky,” he said, and nuzzled his little friend. Bronwyn took his other hand, and kissed the fingers of the man who had sneaked into her heart.
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