Arlwyn did not know what to do. For all his life, someone else had made his decisions. Someone else had chosen his clothing, told him what to eat, what to read, and what to believe. He had always accepted everything without question. Everything.
But Flora Goode had shaken up his perfectly ordered world. He could not get enough of her. Whenever he could manage to sneak away, he met with her in secret, in quiet forest glades and hidden meadows, away from the curious eyes and wagging tongues of other people. It was indecent, he knew, as did Flora. But her soft voice, her delicate hands in his, her soft mouth kissing his – she was like a jug of sweet, cold water on a scorching day of summer.
There was no doubt that he loved her. He loved her so deeply that he wanted to climb onto the roof of Roble Manor and shout it to the entire kingdom. He wanted to show up at the door of the crumbling, ramshackle cottage where Flora lived with her family, sweep her away, and make her his wife. He wanted to grow old with Flora Goode at his side.
But it was impossible. His future was locked in place, like prison gates. He was to marry Lady Priscilla, and spend the remainder of his life listening to her superficial prattle.
“Please father,” Arlwyn begged at last, desperate to change his fate. “Can’t the betrothal be broken? Can’t I marry a girl of my own choosing?”
“Unthinkable.” His father’s voice was firm. “The Roble family does not break its commitments. Lady Priscilla is a fine, upstanding young lady from a prestigious family. I will hear no more of this.” He dismissed Arlwyn’s pleas.
There was only one thing to do. It was something he knew must be done, though the very idea made his throat close with grief. He had to part with Flora so that they could both face the futures that awaited them. He did not know how to do it or what to say. But then, one day, Flora arrived at Roble Manor, unannounced.
“What are you doing here?” Arlwyn’s face drained with shock.
Flora smiled. “I haven’t seen you in more than a week. Are you well?” Her gaze grew soft with concern as she studied him. Arlwyn pulled himself together. With a stiff, formal bow, he invited her inside his home. He felt as though a ball of lead sat within his heart, growing larger and heavier as he watched Flora walk around his home, marveling at the beautiful furnishings, the grand library, and the piano.
“Will you play?” she asked eagerly. Arlwyn closed his eyes. He wanted nothing more than to slide onto the piano bench and play the song that he had written just for Flora, to love her through music.
“I cannot,” I answered, opening his eyes at last.
“You cannot play?”
“I cannot – love you,” he said. “I can no longer be with you. I am betrothed to another. I – we must not see each other again.”
There was a silence that filled the room for a long, long time. He could not look at Flora. He could not bear to see her heart breaking as his was at that moment. He stood in place, looking away, until the girl he loved rushed past him and out the door.