The Nature of the Beast - Page 3

“I know,” I said. “And you've known me long enough to know that I never say anything that I don't mean.” I flashed her a lopsided smile. “I've loved you from almost the first day I met you.”

She almost smiled in return at that, but didn't. “Then why did you never ask me to marry you?” she wanted to know. “It wasn't because of anything silly like . . .?” She trailed off, gesturing vaguely around the hut that served as both home and place of business to her.

Only the realization that the question was serious to her kept me from laughing out loud. Even so, my chuckle could be heard around my words. “Do you think I suddenly became a southern priest when you weren't looking?” I asked her with a wink. “You were one of the only reasons I ever had for coming down from my mountain and in from the cold, and I could happily share you with a thousand thousand others if for no other reason than I know the smile you had for me was always just for me.”

Now she smiled, but only a bit. “Business has never been that good,” she chuckled, then her eyes grew serious once more. “Now answer the rest of the question,” she commanded.

“Gladly,” I said with a full smile of my own. “I never asked you to marry me because I love you.” I gestured at myself with a “look at me” gesture.

In one glance she took in my gangly and grizzled frame, looking all the more ridiculous in just my dark wool tunic, and read my entire "solitary by necessity" history etched in every wrinkle of a face that was only barely visible behind a crimson beard as wild and unruly as old brambles. She laughed at what she saw in that and in my answer, but from understanding, not from unkindness, and I indulged in one last regret that she would never be interested in studying the runes with me and sharing my life.

“Fair enough,” she said with her most dazzling of smiles. “Now eat your breakfast before it gets cold.”

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