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“Of Daffodils and Turning Points"
The Tuckborough Free Faire
“That was quite the stunt you pulled, Paddy!” Togo Burrows laughed. “You want to have another go?”
Paladin looked up as the group of lads came around the corner of the tent where he sat huddled on the ground, and groaned.
“Aye, I’m sure the lasses will be talking about what a spectacle you made of yourself for a long time to come,” another of the lads said, continuing to taunt the red-faced youth. The others laughed and hooted their approval.
“Go away! Just leave off, will you?” Paladin Took wanted to run in the worst way, just run and put all the humiliation behind him.
His cousin Milo came running up to them then, making quick work of the taunting boys. “That’s enough. Leave him alone! You’d have done the same as he if you hadn’t been too frightened to try, after all.” The group broke up reluctantly. Milo looked down, laying a hand on Paladin’s shoulder.
“Are you all right?”
Paladin didn’t trust his voice. He nodded.
“Do you want me to leave too?” Milo wanted to know. Paladin nodded again.
When he was alone once more his thoughts returned to the prank he, Milo, and Togo had tried. He had been the only one to complete it successfully. Maybe I should rethink that, he thought. I was the only one to successfully make a fool of myself. Why, oh why did I think that walking across a rope twenty feet off the ground was a good idea?
He winced at the memory of what had happened, still hearing the shrieks of the frightened lasses and the calls for help. Then, worst of all, the sound of his father’s voice as Adalgrim made his way to the scene of the near disaster, and the cry of panic from his mother, nearby. His father had sounded gruff but Paladin knew he had frightened him badly.
A ladder had been brought and held against the high, slippery ropes, and although he had not wanted to let go of it at first, it was his father who finally pulled him to safety. Adalgrim had gripped his son in a fierce embrace after Paladin was on the ground, and whispered to him that he was safe now. Paladin remembered hearing the pounding of his father’s heart as he was held close to his chest, and the way they both trembled from the fright. Then, the sound of laughter when his father had hauled him off by the ear across the field and behind a tent in order to express to his son exactly what he thought of the spectacular deed.
Paladin felt his cheeks grow hot once more at the memory.
Certainly, his da had been frightened out of his wits, his mother too, and they had every right to be, he reasoned with himself. But did Da really have to embarrass him by yanking him away like a small child in front of everyone?
In front of her.
Paladin leaned his back against a crabapple tree and slid to the ground with a sob. He was never going to live this down. He drew his knees up to his chin, encircling them with his arms and wished the world away. He wasn’t sure how long he had stayed that way when he heard a soft, concerned voice speaking to him. Paladin looked up, surprised. His jaw dropped when he saw who had spoken to him. As if things couldn’t have got any worse!
“Paladin? Are you all right?”
Paladin felt his face go aflame. If only the ground would open up and swallow him whole right now. He knew he had to say something but his voice broke when he tried, compounding his shame. Mercy, how much more was going to happen to him today, he wondered?
Eglantine Banks watched him carefully, taking in his tear-stained cheeks and red-rimmed eyes. Paladin swallowed hard, trying to find something to say in response. No, he was most definitely not all right? No, honesty somehow did not seem to fit the bill at the moment so he croaked, “Yes, I’m fine.”
Eglantine studied his face with her lovely eyes. He knew what she was thinking, and when she did not say it he felt his heart almost burst with adoration and gratitude for her silence.
“May I sit with you?”
How could he have said no when it was what he had wanted more than anything else earlier that day? He nodded and she was suddenly seated very close to him. His cheeks grew warm again, but it was a pleasant feeling this time. She smiled at him. He tried to return it, but it felt more like a grimace.
“Those lads were mean.”
Paladin shrugged. “I don’t blame them. I made a fool of myself.”
Eglantine leaned back and looked into his eyes. “Then why did you do it?”
“Ah. . .” Paladin glanced around, looking everywhere but at the object of his affection. Finally he shrugged again. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Eglantine slid her hand into his, shocking and pleasing him. “You weren’t trying to impress any of those other lasses, were you?”
“Uh. . .no, why do you ask?”
“I was just wondering. It seemed like a dreadful amount of effort to go to, all to get someone’s attention.”
Her hand felt soft and smooth in his. He sat very still, noticing how good she smelled, like roses and strawberry tarts. A tendril of her crimson locks tickled his face when she leaned closer and he could not for the life of him think of anything else to say. Eglantine whispered something in his ear. A slow grin spread across his face and he was able to look her in the eye at last. “You think I have a heart of gold?” She nodded solemnly. “But why?” Paladin turned full around to face her this time.
“I can see it every time I look at you.”
“You’ve been looking at me?” Paladin was incredulous.
Eglantine nodded. “Every time I caught you looking at me you got all red in the face, and then you looked away. But I kept looking at you. I’ve come to the conclusion that I like you very much, Paladin Took.”
Once again, he did not know what to say. She placed a finger against his lips with a smile. “Please don’t walk across any more ropes like that, ever again. Promise me?”
Paladin half laughed, half groaned. “Never fear. Between the lads taunting me and my da’s scolding, not to mention very nearly breaking my neck, I will never have the desire to pull that prank again.”
“Good. And probably it’s a story you should keep to yourself later on.” His brow wrinkled in question. “I mean it’s not a good story to tell your son someday. He’ll probably be just like you.”
Paladin flushed as red as a tomato at her teasing. “Ah. . .certainly. I mean, if you say so.” He cleared his throat self-consciously.
“Eglantine! Where are you, lass?”
“Oh! That’s my mother. I have to go now.”
“Wait!” Paladin leaned over, placing a hand on her arm as she rose. “Will I see you again soon?”
“I’d like that very much. I live over in Pincup. Perhaps you might persuade your parents to visit.” Eglantine reached in the basket she carried and brought forth a bunch of daffodils. She pressed them into his hands. “This is to remember me by until we see each other again.”
His eyes widened as she turned to leave. He was reluctant to let the moment pass. “When will that be?”
“As soon as you want it to be,” she called over her shoulder.
Paladin watched her walk away, enjoying the swirl of her skirts and the way she flipped her hair. The day may have gone badly for a while but things appeared to be looking up. He clutched the flowers to his chest wearing a silly grin. He knew then he had found his one true love and promised himself he would make her his wife one day.
Author's Notes: This story and the prank young Paladin played refers back to a chapter in my WIP, “Turning Points”.
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