Cass came down from the mountain. For only a moment, she stood still and stared across the wide field of foxtails and tall grass at the tiny huts speckled across the horizon.
It was a village--her village. She was home. Well--almost.
She stepped down from the base of the mountain and smiled softly when feeling her toes in the cool, rich dirt. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath; after which, she took one blind step out into the swaying foxtails.
She tip-toed through them, slowly raising her arms so that her hands could graze their soft tufts as she floated by.
The autumn sun couldn't pierce through the grey sky overhead. So, she felt no heat--but, she imagined it... and many other things.
She thought briefly of her father and how he turned his back to her, shielding her crying mother's face and pulling her away.
No one did anything to help her... They all watched as she was taken, pulled from the arms of the young man she loved so dearly. Adam--
"Adam--" she gasped, eyes quickly fluttering open.
She was closer now. She could see and smell the faint scent of wood-smoke wafting through the cool air.
She closed her eyes again and took another deep breath. Then upon opening her eyes, Cass began to run.
She tore through the foxtails, biting her bottom lip and grinning to herself--drunk with anticipation. How happy she would be once she gets home!
She longed to feel the arms of Adam around her tired body, squeezing the weariness out of her fragile bones.
For now, though, she couldn't feel her weak knees trembling or her frail ankles fighting to hold up her tired body. She was much too close to think of all that now.
The foxtail field soon dispersed, quickly turning into a field of thick, tall grass--She slowed to a jog.
Soon, the tall grass disappeared. And, she once more felt the cool earth underneath her bare feet. Finally, she was home.
She dropped to the ground and gripped the dark soil in her wan hands. Her long hair tumbled forth in rivuletsof dark brown o'er her shoulders.
"I made it--" she whispered to herself. "I..."
She looked to her left and quickly glanced to her right--people had begun to gather around her.
Cass let the soil fall through her fingers and stood to look back at those who stared at her.
This is not how she expected things to happen. She thought that they'd be happy to see her. After all, she was stolen--swept up from the village in broad daylight.
The eyes that looked upon her were hard to look into--the faces wore looks of confusion.
"Wh--where's my father?" she said in a whisper.
Still, everyone stared. No one moved an inch. No one said a word.
"Please," she said louder.
Still, no one answered.
Cass turned to her left and ambled in the direction of where she vaguely recalled her little hut once sat.
She stumbled up to the door and leaned against it, letting her weight--however little that was--shift to push it open. Successful, she fell inside.
She had made it. Her father took her up into his arms and looked down into her dirty face.
"How did you--?"
"I'm home now," she said smiling.
She blinked violently and soon, her eyes closed.
Cass woke up, half dazed and utterly confused. She was now in bed, and she had a warm cloth spayed across her forehead.
She was warm--the warmest that she had been all day--and, she was clean.
She got out of bed and headed towards the door; she needed to tell her father all that had transpired--why she was back and how she escaped. She needed to--She needed to see--Adam...
"Adam..." she whispered softly, then pulled back the curtain to exit her room.
She found her father quite rapidly. He was sitting in front of the fireplace. His fist was 'gainst his forehead and his hand was resting upon his chin. He always stroked his chin when he was nervous.
"What's the matter?" she asked, moving out of the shadow and into the light.
Her father looked at her intently and then returned to his previous task of staring into the fire. Then very calmly, he spoke.
"How did you get out--"
Taken aback by his nonchalance, Cass momentarily winced. Then after taking his interest in her escape as a sign of good faith, she told him.
She explained to him how she had charmed her way into being trusted and once their guards were let down, she ran as fast and as far as she could in one direction--until she was sure that they were far, far behind. She didn't look back.
"You escaped and you led them back here?"
Cass was befuddled. Her father should have been proud, but--he wasn't proud of her at all. He was angry.
"I--I didn't lead them here--"
"They will look for you. And, where do you think they will search first?"
"I just thought that-- I thought that maybe we could--everyone could--"
"Could what? Fight for you? Get killed? We must give you back."
"We made the decision to give you away precisely for this reason. We didn't want this... We didn't want any of this--"
"All of you agreed...?"
"Everyone agreed it would be you... You were the best choice--We never thought--"
"Never thought what? That I'd try to get away?"
"I need you to cooperate with us--I need you to let them take you back."
Cass backed away slowly.
"Please--" her father called, but it was too late.
Cass had turned and run out of the open door. She felt the earth underneath her feet again. It was nighttime, and the ground was cold. But, she wasn't discouraged.
She ran through the village with one last option in mind. Adam. She ran up to his childhood home and entered unannounced.
"Adam!" she called desperately, hoping he would answer.
And sure enough, out of the darkness, he emerged.
His expression was a difficult one to read. He looked as though he wanted to be excited but couldn't--he looked as though he was pained.
"You came back..."
Overcome with emotion, Cass leapt forward and fell into Adam's arms, pressing the side of her face into his robust chest, taking his sturdy frame into her arms and squeezing as tightly as she could.
She breathed in his scent and sighed a yearnful sigh into his chest.
"I escaped," she said dreamily.
"They told me... They told me you'd never come back--"
"No one could keep me away from you," she replied, eyes still closed and arms still clutching.
"Cass--" he said, placing both hands on her shoulders and pushing her away. "You don't know how sorry I am..."
"I thought you weren't coming back... I should've gone after you--but, my family..."
"All of that doesn't matter anymore... I'm back now. We can start all over again..."
Adam took a step backward. The pained expression shone through clearly now. Cass reached out to him. But, he shook his head and took another backwards step.
"I can't," he said. "We can't..."
"But--I came back for you... I need you--"
"I... I found someone..."
Cass looked up at him. Tears welled up in her large, doe eyes. But no matter how much Adam wanted to hold her--to console her--to promise her that everything would be fine in the morning, he couldn't. He resolved to keep his distance.
She bit her quivering bottom lip and nodded her head.
"I understand," she said, backing away.
"You don't know how deeply I wish that things were different--"
She nodded once more, quickly turned on her heel, and hurried out.
Cass hugged her arms to her chest and walked out towards the dark sea of brownish-teal, tall grass that she had run through earlier. The overcast had cleared, and a stark-white, crescent moon was visible in the blue-black sky. She was defeated and decided to return from whence she had run.
She began the grueling task of crossing through the razor sharp grass, powdered with mist and frozen by the evening wind. She tread lightly, taking slow and careful steps.
Once she reached the vast field of waving foxtails, she peered into the distance and could vaguely make out the dancing, orange flames of torches at the base of the mountain in the distance.