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Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Time
Isabel walked along a cliff’s edge near her home with a piece of parchment that had been freshly written, in-hand. The day was piercingly cold and the gray sky sent needles of icy water at her face. She heard the sea thrash and beat against the rocky shore below, coordinating with the wicked wind. An ache persisted in her heart, making her thoughts not unlike the raging weather.
With the strike of lighting in the distance, her mind flashed back to a night exactly three years ago. The outlandish folk, the elfin kind, had come to the local Scarborough Fair as they did every year. The outlandish folk were dangerous; lore circulated that the men would take women in the dead of night from their homes, never to be seen again. Of course, it had been years since anything like that had happened, so the threat had ebbed somewhat.
Whether it was fate, unluckiness, or pure chance, Isabel had found herself to a victim of the nightmarish stories. She didn’t remember how she had physically gotten to the clearing somewhere in the woods that night, only that she had awaken to leaves and branches instead of blankets and cushions. She recalled the man that leered over her, watching as the realization overtook her once calm features and painted them with fear. Not knowing whether she was in the midst of a dream or reality, she bolted up and screamed. The outlander man scowled and slapped her back down, but it was too late: she had been heard. It had happened so fast from this point, but her memory saw everything in clarity. She remembered hearing horses’ hooves pounding the deciduous forest and the distinctive sound of armor and weapons clanging together. The oncoming group must be some sort of military regiment. Hope flashed though her body and mind. Isabel tried to inch away from her captor, but the horses and their riders were upon them.
She surveyed the riders and quickly made note that everyone was an outlander. Her newfound salvation disintegrated before her eyes.
“What goes on here?” A senior member of the party spoke from atop his black steed. Beside him, mounted on a white horse, a young elf with silver hair shifted uncomfortably in his saddle.
Isabel’s captor stood and dragged her up with him. “I caught this wench in the act of thievery. I am only paying her the dues of such an act.”
The senior knight narrowed his eyes. “Ill-done, Maurus. I know your nature and your intent. This girl did nothing of the sort.” Isabel’s eyes shifted to the silver haired outlander, who silently looked to the ground; his face expressionless. “You have brought a great evil on us. You know what they say and think of us! And when the humans find that one of their daughters has vanished, they will only suspect us.”
Maurus was growing angrier and angrier, which gave a frightening look to his face in the dim moonlight. “Then send her back!”
“You know perfectly well that cannot be done. She will only confirm her whereabouts to the villagers. She must be killed and her body hidden. We will leave, and after enough time has passed for this to be forgotten, return and hope that the trade and the reputation we have built over these decades has not suffered because of your thoughtlessness. The dishonor you have brought upon yourself, your family, and,” The outlander gestured to the silver haired elf. “your son, will not be forgiven.”
Faced with such a fate, Isabel found her voice. “I will not utter a word of this if you let me live!” Her mouth went dry and she felt like she would explode with desperation.
The senior member turned to her for a moment. “You are not to be trusted.”
Before he looked away she began again, this time with a frantic proposal. “To recover any honor for yourselves in my people’s eyes, allow me to marry my captor’s son.” After the words had left her mouth, she regretted the chains she had just bound herself with. She may never be with her family after this, nor go on living in the way she had. Knowing only her prejudice against the outlanders, she wondered if she should have let them kill her instead of being the wife of one. At least, if the plan was accepted, she would have a little more time to formulate another attempt at an escape. She did her best to hold back the tears that were building up in her eyes at her weak prospects. She had to keep her countenance.
The silver haired elf had lifted his gaze from the ground and was now staring her down with burning sapphire eyes. Annoyance boiled beneath his struggle at a serene face, though he said nothing. Isabel wondered for a moment, if all else failed, and she was destined to be bound to him, if the hatred she now saw in his eyes would ever fade. She didn’t know him, and she didn’t wish to cause a seemingly innocent player in this scheme unnecessary pain. Still, she had no other choice.
A slow smirk grew on the senior elf’s face as he processed her proposal. “Very well. Perhaps the disgrace of having a human wife for you son will not let you soon forget the error of your ways.”
Her captor clenched his teeth before he spoke. “But, you cannot deny him the right of asking her for the cambric shirt, without seams or needle work? It is a courtship tradition. And if she cannot provide it, she will be killed.”
“For the sake of your son, I will agree.”
Isabel felt her heart quicken at the impossibility of such a task. She had to come up with yet another idea to preserve herself. She swallowed in an effort to steady her voice. “We too have a courtship requirement. And if it is not appeased, your honor will mean nothing.”
The senior knight looked irritated at her condition, but allowed her to go on. “I must be brought parsley, sage, rosemary, and time from my suitor. And if he cannot provide these; I go free.”
Some of the outlanders, including her captor and the senior member sneered and laughed at such a simple request.
For the first time, the silver haired son spoke. “Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme? That is a feeble endeavor at your freedom.” His voice was wary and suspecting, but he agreed.
She only looked stonily at him, not showing any emotion. What she had asked for truly was an old marriage custom in her village. A bridegroom would bring these items, save for the last to the wedding. The parsley was so that the couple would be garnished with wealth, the sage was for unwavering wisdom, the rosemary, because it is a sturdy plant, was for strength in love. Thyme was never actually brought. The bridegroom would present himself in the place of it, as he was giving his lifetime to his bride. Isabel could only hope none of the outlanders knew of the practice.
A particularly arctic gust of wind brought her back to the cliff-side. Looking back at her ordeal, she smiled bitterly at the luck she had come by regarding the outlander’s request of a seamless cambric shirt. An old outlandish woman, who was a maid to Isabel’s suitor’s family, had harbored a secret hate for the clan. She wished to see them publically mortified. Although a seamless cambric shirt would have been beyond human knowledge, it was a practiced art for the elves. The servant discreetly taught Isabel how to weave the highest quality cambric with a special kind of thread that would melt together with water and heat. After the material was finished, it was only a matter of applying pressure and steam to meld the fabric instead of binding it by a seam. The task was rather lengthy, and took three months of living amongst the outlanders to complete.
Isabel stopped and looked out over the tormented sea. It swirled and tossed against itself like the emotions inside her. After the three months had passed, she was no stranger with the silver haired elf. He wasn’t like his father, and he wasn’t like the rest of the outlanders. She could go no further in her thought of him without unbearable pain. At the end of the three months, on the eve before the day that the two should meet to exchange courtship gifts, she had surreptitiously written a note to him that unraveled the riddle of her request. A burning sensation stung her eyes, and a deep coldness gripped her heart, though it was not the wind and rain. He had still brought the thyme.
A voice through the wind startled her. She turned behind her to see one of her own servants. “Milady, you must come back down! You’ll catch your death.”
Isabel paid no mind his words. She glanced down at the letter she held in her hands; the last hope of her happiness. “Are you going to Scarborough Fair tonight? Pray, if you are, remember me to one who goes there; for he was once a true love of mine.” With a sober tranquility, she handed him the parchment. “Give this to no one but the outlander with silver hair.”
The silver haired outlander sealed closed a letter written by his own hand. He could not go to Scarborough Fair to deliver it himself; he had separated himself from his kin to freely pursue Isabel. Three years before he had not the courage to forsake his honor or his parents. He now knew he was a fool to bring the thyme.
Upon giving the letter to the only one of his kind he still spoke with, a trusted brother, he instructed him fervently. “When you go to Scarborough Fair, remember me to one who lives there. She was once a true love of mine. Be sure not to let this be in the hands of anyone but the Lady Isabel.”
The young servant pulled his cloak tighter around his body. He was weary and cold as he sat down to rest; watching the evening festivities of Scarborough Faire. He fingered the rough parchment of his mistress’ letter, disappointed that he could not leave and tell her he had delivered her message to the correct person. There was no silver-haired outlander, and from his explorations, the outlander seemed never to have existed.
Exhausted and given up, the servant stood to his feet and began to weave his way through the crowd and towards the great house to report his unsuccessfulness. He had taken no more than two steps before he was shoved against a tall outlander. This one did not have truly silver hair; it was a darker, tarnished color. The look the outlander gave the servant reproached any attempt at an inquiry and he quickly turned heal.
The outlander was growing more strained with the task of speaking with so many humans. Not one was his brother’s intended, and he could not help but surmise that she no longer wished to be found. The insult dealt to her was too great a wound, and the outlander was not beyond sympathy for her, even though he hardly understood the draw she held over his brother. Second chances are never to be relied on. There was nothing left for him to do than relay to his brother what he had learned.
A startling impact to his left drew his attention to a human boy. Annoyance welled up with the outlander and he wondered how his brother sacrificed his standing and connection with their kin to be with one of a lesser existence. Perhaps his failure at Scarborough Faire would call sense back to his brother.
Leaving that which you must control to another’s flawed judgment, even with the best of intentions or under the most influential of circumstances, can subdue the strongest love.