Flora knew that their season must soon come to an end. She had always known, though a foolish part of her had held onto the impossible hope that Arlwyn would choose love over duty. He loved her – she knew this by the way he gazed at her with a mixture of amazement and wonder. She wanted to swim in his love as though in a river, and be swept away. But it was not right. For he would not love her so if she had not performed the enchantment that Hazel Thornbush had taught her five years ago. Because of the spell, he knew that she held a power over Arlwyn, and that with a single word, he would forget about duty, renounce his title, and run away with her. With all her heart, she wanted to do it – to make him leave it all behind and be with her alone.
But she would not do that.
They savored every last moment of their time together during the days leading up to the wedding. They met nearly every day in a quiet meadow, far from people in the village. They lay beneath the sky, watching the drifting clouds, talking, and laughing together until the hour grew late and they both had to return to responsibilities.
The day of the wedding arrived like an unwelcome visitor, bringing with it a gloomy, heavy mist that filled the valley. Flora trudged her way through each chore. She did not want to believe that today meant the end of her and Arlwyn. Surely he would be waiting for her in their meadow, like always. That afternoon, she raced through the muddy fields until she reached their secret spot.
But he was not there. There was only her, and a fierce, raw wind that whipped her skirts about and bit at her skin.
She had planned to stay away from the wedding. She was not sure that she could resist the temptation to lure him away, to keep him from marrying Lady Priscilla. But in the end, she mounted her horse and rode at full speed toward the church. By the time she arrived, breathless and red-faced from the cold, the other guests were already seated. She saw Arlwyn walking toward the wedding arch and hurried toward him, though trying her best not to call attention to herself.
Arlwyn’s eyes widened. “What are you doing here?” he asked. “You shouldn’t—”
Flora took a breath. She wanted to touch his arm, to say, “Come with me. Let’s go away together.” But the words stuck in her throat. What she said instead was, “I wish you every happiness, Arlwyn.” Then she turned and rushed for the door, choking back her sobs until she was on her horse, far from the church, far from the man she loved and his bride-to-be. She did not stay to watch as Arlwyn exchanged vows with a woman he did not love.
She did not see the couple after the ceremony – Priscilla gleaming and radiant, and Arlwyn, morose and defeated by her side.
She did not see how the groom, normally a temperate man, helped himself to one drink after another, and had to be helped into the bridal carriage, as he was far too drunk to stand on his own.