And that autumn, my father, our chieftain, owing them tribute for keeping our hunters safe through the summer, invited the folk from the forest to a feast in our hill fort and we ate the lean fresh game hunted that day and we drank deep of mead and barley beer.
And then my father challenged their chief to a game and put up a prize of a box of fine pots and silver and jewels from the eastern traders as a prize and their chief who was by far the better player, put as his prize, the hand of his dryad daughter to be my bride, safe in the knowledge that he could not lose.
And yet he lost.
And in Spring, he brought her to me as a bride and she was beautiful. Her skin was the silver of birch and her hair the brown of oak and her lips the red of berries and her eyes the green gold of beech and he placed her hand in mine and she looked at me.
But oh, then I saw her look out into the hills and meadows open to the sky, without refuge or sanctity of trees and I saw the lips quiver and the eyes fill and I could not take her as my bride. With a kiss to her lovely hand I bowed to her father and said that I could not take his sapling and plant it in the hills for I loved her too much to see her thrown and spun by storms and gales. And she kissed my cheek and smiled and her father smiled too and promised us safety from wolves through the winter and took her away.
Often, when I hunt, I wonder if she watches me from the undergrowth. I wonder if she could have loved me too one day.
But I am not sad, not really, for it is no prize if the prize did not wish to be won.
Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission