A full day’s ride by horse led me toward a clearing I recognized. The small woodcutter’s cabin stood exactly as I left it. It appeared as small as a shack against the surrounding towering cedars. I dismounted and led my horse down the dirt path toward it. My stomach flipped over and I wondered what my reception would be like.
At a distance I could see the front door open and two young men running toward me. The first to reach me was Eiver, strong and handsome.
“My lady,” he panted and bowed in half. “Are you in need of assistance?”
Escher stopped right behind him. “We would be delighted to afford you shelter and feed for your horse.”
I looked past them to the cabin, but Eshrun never appeared at the door. Glancing back at the two young men, I put on my best mask: a disarming smile. Down the path and inside the cabin they led me.
I immediately saw Eshrun sweeping and cleaning. He glanced at me once and then looked away back toward his duty. My confused heart sank into the sea of my own disappointment. I had come back for him and he would not even look at me.
Eiver and Escher seated me in the lone armed chair by the fire. I accepted.
Escher then kneeled beside my chair and asked: “My lady, may I ask your name?”
“A…” I stopped before finishing, realizing that they did not recognize me at all. My appearance had changed so drastically that I was a new person to them. “My name is Araina,” I said.
I looked over at Eshrun. No light of dawn upon him illuminated me as his betrothed. I was a mystery to them all.
“I’ve heard there’s an old woodcutter who lives here with his sons. May I speak to your father?” I said.
All of the young men looked at each other, none speaking.
“He passed away,” Eshrun spoke from the corner. “His grave is amongst the trees, if you are seeking his attention.”
Eiver and Escher chided their youngest brother, but he shrugged them away. I asked for a refreshment and they brought out a flagon of wine. Upon my insistence, there were four cups laid out and I offered to pour.
“I must confess,” I said, “I am alone in the world and seeking the other half of my heart. I’m looking for a husband to join me.”
Eiver and Escher lit up with puffed chests and shoulders stretched out like wings. Eshrun remained back in the corner.
I poured each cup of wine, handing the first two to the eldest sons. None of them saw the thing I dropped into the last cup, offering it to Eshrun.
Eshrun refused the cup. “I cannot partake, my lady.”
“Why not?” I asked.
His eyes traveled out through the window to the trees beyond. “I made a promise…to my father.”
Escher snickered. “Eshrun’s betrothed.”
“And what good is a commitment to a dead man?” I asked Eshrun.
His eyes looked at me, filled with tears. “It’s as good as to one living. I await my betrothed’s return.”
Eiver waved him off. “You’re waiting to marry a bear. Your promise was foolish.”
Eshrun glared at his brothers and looked away.
I nodded and handed Eshrun the cup once again. “You have already been chosen. Please drink to our good health before any more choices are determined.”
He received the cup. We all drained our wine. My eyes traveled over the faces of the young men and halted upon Eshrun. His face changed, confused. Holding out his hand, he spit out a small, golden half-circle. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the other half of the ring and he placed the two halves together perfectly.
“You’ve come for me,” he said. “I should have seen it in your eyes. The eyes never change.”
“But how could this be?” Eiver said.
“But you’re beautiful,” said Escher.
“She was always beautiful,” Eshrun said, taking my hands, kissing them and lacing them around his neck. The strength of his embrace around my frame felt safe. For the first time in seven years I sensed what it meant to be home.
Without a word but not without much puffing, Eiver and Escher arose and left. We never saw them again.