Esmund was right after all – it was best not to think of the future and instead live in the present. For when responded to a joke she thought to be meaningless, the healer felt something she had not expected; disappointment. The defensiveness was anticipated and she knew his views on marriage – why would it matter to her? It should not, yet the corners of her red lips fell down in a fading smile, but it was quickly hidden with a cleverly timed laugh. Sophia had never considered marriage. It had never been an option; she was an independent woman with her own path to follow, with strong believes no one should dare cross, and she had never had a man to love. Was that what made the difference now? Foolish girl...
The conversation followed as if she had never felt it. She pushed it aside, knowing that pondering on it could only cause it to escalate. The pair teased each other as always, looking like a two teenagers with all the time in the world and not a thing to worry about. Sophia laughed gently when Esmund jokingly blamed her for their intimate encounters. She reached up and gave his head a light push, pretending to scold him for the inappropriate comment.
The journey was not long. The days went by quickly when there was pleasant company. They rode for four days, only hindered once by wind and rain so they had to take shelter. And with each day that passed, the more she realized how much she would actually miss him. She tried not to think of it, but it would be soon that they would go their separate ways. Thankfully, Esmund also managed to distract her from those thoughts. But he grew quiet the further they went into the Neck. The vastness of the landscape dimmed down; the mountains and forests replaced by milder pathways. Still the country did not cease to amaze. A fortress stood tall and proud amongst the trees, and immediately Sophia knew that it was from the dawn of their time. It looked ancient, with only a select part of it still intact. Sophia had never seen it before. She knew there was a ruined fortress not too far from White Harbour, but she no longer remembered its name. It was as beautiful as it was eerie, and she found herself slowing her horse to take a better look at it. Her blue eyes fixed on the highest tower, looming over her, she barely noticed Esmund riding off. Just briefly, her mind wandered back to the bandits that had attacked them and held them captive. The worst things had happened to them. It was in a similar region, only their fortress was a lot smaller and far less intimidating.
The healer turned her horse to find Esmund. She was about to talk to him, only to see that he had rode to the end of their trail and did not cast a single glance at the structure. Sophia didn’t think anything odd of it; perhaps he had simply not seen her stop. She spurred Ivezh into a trot and caught up to her companion. He seemed agitated. Why, she did not know. But she didn’t question it. Instead she casted a comforting smile, patted his shoulder, and rode ahead in a gallop – always finding some sort of bliss in a challenge. But her mind wandered back to the fortress. Perhaps on the way back she could get closer or even go inside.
It was the day after that they finally reached their destination. It truly was breathtaking. Even Sophia, who never seemed to stop talking about anything that came to mind, was silent. Her eyes never seemed to leave the island before them, not even when she demounted and cared for Ivezh after their days of riding. Esmund had told her stories about the place, and mentioned the Green Men as well as the island’s origin. Perhaps it was meant to warn her of possible danger, but it only ended up captivating her more. One day her curiosity might get her killed, but not today. After a short rest, Sophia approached the water cautiously. It did not seem very deep, but it was not clear and so she could not see what was in it. Either way, she did not fear it. But perhaps Esmund did. She turned around to look at him. There was an undeniable excitement in her eyes and a smile on her face. Yet she pushed aside her own desire to just jump in and swim across. She could not just leave him here, nor did she want to. They may not be together for much longer, but she would at least be with him now. Hesitantly, she untied her cloak and let it drop to the ground, then offered him her hand, “Will you come with me?”