Chapter 1: Encounters of the Strange Kind
He walked through the garden and made his way to the peach tree. It had been centuries since he had been to this spot. The place where he met her and she had changed his life. He imagined her, looking as she did with her long jet black hair and silvery blue eyes, so full of life. She had been long gone, buried somewhere on the grounds. He had always feared to look for her tombstone, to face the reality that he had left her behind and she had moved on with her life and into the next.
"Sieghart," he heard her voice as the wind whistled past his ear, "I never left you…."
He forced himself to move forward past the tree where he had shared those tender and intimate moments with her and into the graveyard. He moved to the back of the cemetery and found the statue of an angel; her face was etched into the white marble, to exist forever in the stone. He held in his hand a lone flower, a while calla lily, which was her favorite and laid it at her feet. He had nothing else he could offer her that she would love more. Truth was, he had nothing left but the sword in his hand. He ran his hands over the etching of her name as he felt the cool sting of tears on his slightly tanned cheeks. She was really gone forever; her only legacy was the statue depicting her as an angel. How realistic it looked, how true to form the features were. He wanted so much to touch her and have her be flesh and blood again. To feel the warmth of her skin against him, and see the blush of her cheeks when she would look at him.
"Lea…." he said softly, dropping to his knees in the grass, "How could I have lost you?"
He leaned back against the grave stone and took a deep breath. He had to remember her, and tell her the things he never was able to when she was alive. He wiped away his tears with the back of his leather glove and closed his eyes. He pictured the peach tree, which was right in front of him. She sat there studying the basics of swordplay. She had been no more than sixteen at the time and she had been a star pupil, wanting to a knight to the king and queen. In those days, students that were female were never taken that young, but an exception was made on account of her knowledge and ability. Sieghart was a pompous nineteen year old who had come to this lone peach tree in search of a random female companion he had found in town. The tree had always been his normal meeting place. To his surprise he found this child sitting in his favorite spot. "How annoying. I need to be rid of this brat." He thought.
The young knight approached her wearing his fine sleeveless leather suit, with his sword draped over his shoulders, jacket held up by the collar attached around his neck leaving his arms exposed. He stood before her tapping his foot impatiently. She ignored him at first and continued to read her chapters but after twenty minutes he became very bothersome and persistent.
"Excuse me?" she had said, "Do you mind keeping it down? I'm trying to study…"
"Actually," Sieghart laughed, "I want to request that you remove yourself from this spot."
"Remove myself?" she scoffed, "Who do you think you are?"
"I am Sieghart of the Kanavan Knights and you, young girl, are in my way."
"Well I don't particularly care about what you want…" She turned the page and continued to study.
"I have a lovely lady meeting me here in ten minutes and I'd like to be able to spend some alone time with her," he explained.
"You have a bedroom don't you?"
"Why you insolent little," he grabbed her book from her and she jumped up.
"Give that back!" she pulled her sword out of the scabbard that was on the ground beside her.
"Oh and what are you going to do with that thing?" he still held his sword behind him, "I am the best swordsman in this continent. Do you really think you could best me…"
"I'm most certain of this but we shall see Sir Sieghart. Draw," She held her stance balancing her weight on both legs.
"Such a stupid child," he sighed, "If I must," he tilted his head and brought the sword down to his side.
With a flash he attacked her and she blocked the first blow. He faked to the right and then to the left, then tried to slash her right side but she was as fast as he was, parrying his sword and taking the offensive from him. She jabbed at him twice and pushed forward, trying to get him away from the peach tree she loved so much. He backed away carefully, knowing his steps to ensure he wouldn't falter as she continued to attack him from all angles. He smiled, silently impressed with her abilities and her face turned into a scowl thinking he was mocking her.
"You think because I'm a woman I can't best you?" She yelled.
"No, I KNOW, that because you are a little girl you will never best me," he laughed aloud. With that she felt the world come from beneath her. She felt a sharp pain on the back of her skull and then all went black.
Sieghart roared at her misstep which he had seen coming. Her left foot had slid on a smooth rock which was embedded in the dirt. He was well aware of it being there and knew to avoid it. She obviously had not. He stood laughing at her until he realized, that it was a very quiet victory. Her lack of retort was due to the fact that she was no longer conscious. He ran to her side and saw the crimson blood on the grass and dirt. He sighed to himself and took off his cloak. He wrapped it around her and took her to the infirmary at the castle. He tried to slow the blood down with pressure but the wound was deep and blood continued to poor from her skull.
He entered the infirmary and the nurses surrounded him immediately. They led him to the bed where he lay her down at once. The ladies went to work on cleaning her up and bandaging her head to stop the blood flow. He went to his own room to change his clothes and wash her blood off her. It had been a victory but not one he had been proud of.
When he returned to her bedside she had still not regained consciousness. She looks so precious in the massive bed with big fluffy white pillows. Her long black hair had been plaited down her left shoulder and a large bandage had been put around her skull to ease the blood flow.
"Do you know who she is?" one of the nurses asked.
"I don't even know her name," he chuckled, "She's just Peach Tree girl…"
"Lea," she said suddenly, "Catalea of the house of Lioncourt…"
Sieghart looked at the girl who grinned from ear to ear. Was this the same girl who had scowled at him and fought him until her demise came at her own hands? He rubbed his eyes in disbelief as he saw her pretty face, her soft pale skin and bright silver blue eyes. There was a pang in his chest he pushed down the feeling.
"Miss Lea," he bowed his head, "My apologies for earlier. How are you feeling."
"As good as anyone with a head injury could feel," she replied.
"It was a nasty fall you took. You need to be aware of your surroundings when you fight."
"I'm still learning. I have only been allowed to study and practice for two months," she looked away.
"Two months?" his violet eyes grew wide, "You're so skilled with so little training."
"It is in my blood Sir Sieghart," she smiled again gleaming silver hues finding his gaze, "You are incredible as well. I hope one day we can fight side by side and maybe you can teach me what you know."
There was a brief moment of silence as they stared into each other's eyes, "I'm sorry about this. You were injured and it was my fault. I would like to make it up to you somehow…" his voice trailed.
Never had Sieghart been kind to a woman that he didn't want, but this girl, this young maiden was obviously no one night stand. For him to offer to repent for his obvious lack of judgment was very much out of his character. Yet he felt the need to do this for reasons he couldn't quite come to terms with at the moment.
"How will you make it up to me? Will you meet me under the peach tree as you have done with so many in the past?" he frowned realizing his reputation obviously had reached her ears, "Will you whisper sweet nothings to me as I fall graciously into your embrace…" She mimicked the actions, her breath gently in his ear. She really did know him well.
"No I will train you…." He had said it. He had no idea where the words had come from but he had said them, "You can be my apprentice and I will teach you everything I know."
She giggled, not believing a word of it, "Are you joking with me? Sieghart, Sir, I would never be allowed such a thing. You are a high ranking officer of noble blood. None would entertain me even coming near you…"
"Let me handle the formalities of this arrangement," he raised his gloved hand, "Where are you living currently?"
"Nowhere. I find my lodgings every night…."
"You will stay in my home. You will be pampered but you will train hard and fast, do you understand Miss Lea?" he looked at her from the corner of his eye. "AND!" he added, "You will learn to be a lady."
"Of course Sir Sieghart," she kept a straight face but the concept of being a lady was one of the reasons she had left home. He rose from his place beside her bed and bowed his head.
"I'll come and get you tomorrow; the nurses want to watch you over night in case of anything."
"Thank you," Forever grateful for such a chance she had grabbed his hand. He pulled away from her coldly and made his escape, not looking back should he change his mind.