He was the Stable Boy.
He had no right to be looking at her in that way. A way that spoke of feelings and desires beyond words. Feelings and desires that he had no right to be thinking about her, never mind speaking to her.
She was a lady. The youngest born to a great lord. She was refined, poised, delicate. Her hands were swathed in the sweetest silk. Like her soft, pale face. One of these gloves alone was far more than the likes of the Stable Boy would make in a year.
She was drowning in lux, heavy fabrics layered her body, burying her slight frame. She favored yellow, but often wore purple. A reminder to herself and everyone who surrounded her, from the highest lord to the lowest servant, of her status.
The Stable Boy wore browns, all browns; brown cap, brown shoes, brown trousers, waist coat and shirt. Brown dirt on freckled face and freckled arms. Brown hair under his cap. Dark eyes looked up from under his cap, stealing glances at her when he wasn’t supposed to. Hidden looks that were not his.
He hadn’t the right.
Only once she looked back.
That look wasn’t his to have.
He never should have had it.
The Stable Boy spent much of his time in the stables with the earthy smell of horses and the spring smell of hay. He brushed their flanks, shilled their shoes and fed them the finest oats. All the horses were those of the lords and ladies, and needed the finest care and treatment. The Stable Boy provided just that, without complaint.
The stable was his home as much as his small lodgings on the lord’s lands he was permitted to keep there. More so when his parents fought.
Their horses company was the company that the Stable Boy preferred to keep. It didn’t take much to know them and learn what they liked. And they didn’t seem to mind him all that much either. There was only one’s company that he would prefer more…
She didn’t see him.
She didn’t see him wherever she went. It was a conscious effort on her part. She did not wish to see him and chose not to. But somehow the Stable Boy kept appearing to her, in her mind’s eye, when she caught herself day dreaming, and when she lay in her chambers at night, heavy fabric curtains drawn, blocking out everything but his face. It swam before her each night. Forever out of reach to her. She who had the kind of father who could bless her with anything her heart desired.
She didn’t see him wherever she went. But she carried him with her. Just as he carried her with him.
Once a week the lords and ladies would come out to ride in the mid-day sun.
The Stable Boy silently worked, helping the lords and ladies, he saddled their horses and helped them into their riding boots.
He never sought her out first. He always waited until the lords and ladies were speaking among themselves.
She always stood to one side. It wasn’t announced and she wasn’t missed. She always seemed to disappear from them without notice, to stand to one side.
To wait for him.
The Stable Boy would work efficiently and silently. He would saddle her horse with care and kneel down to help her into her riding shoes. His tanned, calloused hands treating her so gently, so preciously. All the time he kept his gaze averted, eyes firmly down at the ground. His cap covering his eyes from hers.
In these moments before she rode, she would look at him openly. Her eyes scanned him, searching.
She took in the strands of dark hair poking out from under his cap, his tanned skin and scatterings of freckles. The hard line his lips formed into when he focused on his work. The way he hesitated before laying hands on her shoe. The care that he placed her riding boots onto her foot. The way his fingers longed to linger, but didn’t. The tension in his broad shoulders. He was threadbare and common, but he was honest and his touch sincere.
Once the Stable Boy had stood again to help her onto her horse, she refused herself to look at him anymore.
Once she was seated on her horse he would stroke her mounts mane and leave his hand there, lingering. She could feel his eyes on her now and refused to give him hers, looking straight ahead, fixed. They would stay like this, locked in a moment that they both refused to share with one another. Too frightened of what may happen if their eyes found each other. Yet they both longed anyway.
This ritual was repeated each week. Each taking the turn to look at the other. Drinking them in, devouring them with their eyes.
It was late autumn, the last ride out before the horses would winter in the stables, when the Stable Boy had his hand on her horses mane, gazing at her.
She didn’t look at him.
She never looked at him when he looked.
She reached her hand out to his.
Their hands trembled.
It was winter and The Stable Boy hadn’t seen her since the last day in the autumn. The Stable Boy had housed himself with the horses for the winter. He was out there so often feeding them and it was far warmer in here besides with the animals making good company.
He thought of her often. Her creamy skin. Her rosy cheeks and lips. Her flowing lock. Fire in the sun and rose in the shade. The look of discomfort in that world of lords and ladies that none of those refined folks seemed to notice.
Her eyes piercing him.
Her eyes not lighting up when she politely laughed at a nobles jest.
Her eyes fading when she was presented with another suitor.
Her eyes shining when she looked at him (the Stable Boy saw more from under his cap than she realised).
He lay in the top of the barn with the hay bales above the horses, dreaming of her and dreaming of her, both awake and asleep.
It was a cold night when the Stable Doors flew open. Icy winds blowing in and a loud clatter (gave the horses a start).
Assuming he hadn’t locked it properly, the Stable Boy quickly climbed down the ladder, calmed the horses and turned towards the stable door.
She was standing there.
They both looked at one another.
They shared their first embrace that very night.
She came to see the Stable Boy as she could after that first night sneaking out into the darkness, with nothing but a cloak and a lantern to protect her from winters bite. She would shuffle into the stables, shivering, and he would warm her and tell her in soft tones not to come again; she’d catch her death. But again the next night she would come and again he would tell her not to.
The Stable Boy knew their time was short and sought to make each moment count. She wanted more and oft fretted about her marriage proposals and desires to be with him instead. The Stable Boy would hold her and say nothing. His heart heavy with knowledge and sorrow.
No one knows how the barn came to be on fire. Some think it was a jealous suitor, insulted that the finest lady in all the lands was choosing to spend her time with common servant.
Some think that it was her father, mortified that his daughter had sullied herself with a lowly peasant. Others say that a lantern had been knocked over and had been the cause of the fire.
There was a lot of talk after that night, when the barn lit up in a great bonfire.
All agreed though, that she had been okay. The lords daughter was well, pulled from the barn by the Stable Boy.
But the Stable Boy went back for the horses.
The lord was ultimately most angry that his prized stallions and fillies had died in the flames. He gave no thought to the Stable Boy and even less to why his daughter had been stood in the snow, staring at the flames as tears rolled down her cheeks, freezing in place.
She continued her ladies duties. She walked with poise, wore fine garments, tittered politely at her suitors remarks and kept fine ladies in her company. She later married a suitor and moved away to his lands. But her eyes were dulled. They didn’t shine anymore.
I am a scullery maid. My hands are calloused and I scrub and wash all day. My mothers a maid like me and my father keeps the grounds presentable. No grand lord is trying his best to win my hand, only to get in my knickers. I sleep in the servants quarters and I would love to get a tan from working in the sun. I usually work in the dark and the quiet. Remaining unseen so as not to disturb the great lords and ladies with my presence. I loved a boy from afar whose entire being was the warmest chocolate brown. His lips pressed together in a hard line when he focused and he never saw me. He only saw her.
And she took him away.