I only ride the forest path at night.
In the daylight, my steed is a bay mare, strong and spirited, but at night, I saddle the gray. I go out, crossing the heath to find my savage beauty—the fierce-eyed girl in the woods.
The gray is ill-built, but wiry. He carries me among the trees. Deep in shadow, I press my face to his neck, branches conspiring to unseat me. The woods are not my land nor my father’s. They belong to Lord Blackand over the hill, but their roots and mutterings call my name. I conquer them.
She runs like a fox, fleet and sure, bounding through brambles and over stones.
Her eyes are like comets and I chase her.
Her faerie gown is no gown but a jerkin. She wears boots and leather britches like a boy, lean and nearly invisible, my sly quarry, my fox.
On wild nights, I catch her, sweeping her into the saddle and she finds my mouth. On wild, windblown nights we tumble together in the hollows, whisper secrets in the forgotten weeds by the holy well. She finds me in the moss and the bracken.
“Glorious,” she says, with her arms twined ’round my neck.
“You are to be married,” my father said, “oh, most fortunate son. Lord Blackand is amenable and his daughter has come home from the city.”
He led her in then and presented her, moth-pale, hair fine and glittering as drawn gold. She offered a hand and I bowed, brushing her fingers with my lips, despairing at the softness of her skin.
Her face was white and lovely, lips colorless as seashells. She was unbearably delicate, the very embodiment of spring, and weak, wretched sunlight.
I took her out riding in the heather. Her steed was a giddy thing, trained to prance. It had never encountered hill and rock. Her garments chafed and her hair was torn from its net by the wind. I saw in her wavering smile that she only rode the moors to please me. Her hands were tiny, taut on the reigns, and she would not remove her gloves for fear of thorn and briar.
She was a good obedient daughter, determined that I should own her, her lord and her master. Husband. Father.
At night, I leave the safety of the walls again, ride out across the heath to find my secret heart. The land is vast, dividing my father’s scrubweed and gorse from the dense tangle of Lord Blackand’s forest. Dividing me from my wild woman, my one true life, nights spent racing to the holy well.
I ride like the devil and she taunts me. Her laughter is wicked in the shadow of the wood. She misleads me, doubling back, spying from behind until I hear her stealthy footstep and we clutch and scrabble, tumbling to the ground.
“I’ve heard it said that you are to be married in the spring.” Her hands on my face are raw and hot. She is not laughing now.
“I marry for title and for land, but not for love.”
Her voice comes quick and low, lips moving against my cheek “A man need not love his wife,” she says. “He simply becomes accustomed to her.”
We were wed in bonnie spring, my April bride and I. She shone in the church like an apple blossom, with petals at her feet and garlands strung over the pews. My wife, pleasing in her milk-white way, and lovely.
That night, she lay on our marriage bed, eyes filled with trepidation. She feared me. She feared my touch. I had no desire, no will to break her.
I drew the curtain and did not turn back when she called for me. My path took me down to the stables. I saddled the gray and rode out.
By the secret hollows and the holy well, this is where my heart aches. We lie like sinners in the weeds, now and forever, my fox in the moonlight.
Her own heart is a fierce drum beneath my hand. Even her voice is sly. “How distressing that you should trespass in my woods.”
“They are my woods now,” I tell her. “My woods and my heather, and all that was Lord Blackand’s will one day be mine.”
“Ours,” she says, hard and ferocious and hungry.
At home, my April bride is waiting, breakable as porcelain. She is not mistress of these trees and will never be.
That good lady is here, in the tangles and the shadows. Here, in my secret heart.
With her arms around me, I am master, lord, fox-hunter.
We are the woods and we own them.
As a common prompt this week, we’re using this beautiful illustration, “A Young Prince Went Riding out in the Moonlight” by John Bauer