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Love Knows No Boundaries

by

Kevin B. Duxbury

To my daughter Anela: I hope that someday your knight will come, and
that he will love you and cherish you as much as I do.


An Early Spring Night



"Good night, Old Boy. Stay warm."

Neivecís horse disappeared into the darkness as he closed the doors to his small barn. The wind blew noisily through the branches of the tall oak trees overhead. Spring had just arrived, and the wind still carried a chill. Neivecís bad leg began to ache as the sun dropped below the trees. It never ceased to amaze him as to how quickly the air would cool as the sun set. He picked up the last of a few logs of firewood at his feet, then walked into his warm cabin.

Neivec was a mature man of thirty-two, with a strong build and still in good health. He was once a great knight and leader for the Members of the Star, until a lance pierced his thigh during the Last War. He was now living out his retirement in a small cabin about an hours ride from town.

He set the wood by a small stone fireplace, then straightened his back and stretched. He took an old kettle from a table and hung it by its handle over the already burning fire. He sat in a comfortable chair, propped his feet on a small foot stool, and opened an old book. These were simple times. In his days as a knight he had lived more than most do in a lifetime, and he was content with his now quiet life.

The water in his kettle had just begun to boil when he heard a knocking on his shutter. He rose from his chair and went to the window. The knight opened the window and pushed out the shutter, only to find himself face to face with the fairest maiden heíd ever seen.

"Pardon me, my lord," her voice was like and angels. "But Iíve lost my way. Can you show me the road to Tirane?"

Neivec was stunned by her beauty. Her long, full brown hair fell about a soft face and light skin. She wore only a thin silk blouse without sleeves, and was shivering from the cold.

"My lady," Neivec said with surprise. "Tirana is three hours ride from here, and the journey is not safe at night." He felt odd, but he knew there wasnít another alternative. The temperature was dropping rapidly. "If you like, I can give you shelter for the night."

The maiden rolled her eyes in despair. "If you would be so kind, my lord," she said. "And if you think your home can accommodate me."

He was puzzled by this. She stepped away from the window, bringing her body into full view. Neivecís face lit up with surprise. The maiden smiled innocently. In the dim light, he could see where her green silk blouse ended and met fine horse-like hair. From below her waist, her body formed into that of a small horse. Her fine body hair shined in the low light, her four legs were muscular and toned, and her long, elegant tail nearly touched the ground. She was the first Lady Centaur heíd ever seen up close, and he wasnít sure how to act. Neivec caught his breath.

"Come inside, my lady," he said with a smile. "We will find a way to accommodate you."

The fair centaur entered Neivecís home, taking care not to scratch the wooden floor with her hoofs. The warmth of the small cabin felt good on her bare arms.

"My," her soft voice spoke. "What a charming home you have."

"Thank you, my lady," Neivec responded, surprised that she was impressed with his humble shack. He began looking about his cabin, thinking how he would accommodate her. His bed would be too small, and he couldnít allow her to sleep in the barn. "Forgive me, my lady," he finally spoke. "But you are the first lady centaur I have ever met, and Iíve never seen the inside of a centaursí home. How should I accommodate you so that you will be comfortable?"

"Please, my lord," she said with a smile. "Do not go to any trouble for me. 'Tis my fault that I lost my way so late in the evening."

"Neivec," he said.

"Pardon me?"

"I am not a lord, my lady," he said with a grin. "My name is Neivec."

"Surely you have a title though," she prodded.

Neivec laughed subtly. "Sir Neivec," he said.

The fair maiden gasped. "You are a Knight of the Star?" She asked.

"I was," he responded humbly. "I was badly wounded during the Last War and I had to retire."

She gasped again. "You fought in the Last War?" She asked.

"I did, but that was many years ago," he said. "But please my lady, enough about myself. How can I accommodate you."

"Meiriam," she said, still a little shocked by the man in her presence.

"Pardon me?"

"Iím sorry," she smiled. "My name is Meiriam."

The two laughed together, both still feeling a little awkward by the other. Neivec went to a closet and pulled several thick blankets. He spread them about the floor as Meiriam described, forming a thick, round mattress. He then took the kettle from the fire and brewed some warm tea.

Nievec sat in his chair while Meiriam knelt comfortably on her makeshift bed. They talked casually for hours, delighted with each othersí company.

The night grew late, and they both grew tired. Neivec placed another log on the fire, then scooped up the blankets from his bed.

"Iíll bid you good-night now, my lady," Neivec said. "Sleep well."

"But where are you going?" she asked with awe.

"Iím going to sleep in the barn," he said as though it should have been obvious. "With my horse."

"That is not necessary," Meiriam said. "Why donít you sleep in your bed?"

"That would not be proper," Neivec responded. "I will be fine. I will see you in the morning."

With that, Neivec walked out of his cabin and closed the door. He stumbled through the darkness, feeling for the latch on the barn door. His horse grunted as his rider entered. Neivec spread his blankets over some clean straw, then laid down to rest. Within his mind, pleasant thoughts passed of the evening he had spent with Meiriam. He felt an odd feeling within his heart like heíd never known before. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

"Hello," an unfamiliar voice cried out. "Hello! Is there anyone here?"

Neivec sat up quickly, startled by the strangerís voice. He went to the barn door and peered through the cracks. In the yard before his home stood two male centaurs, dressed in light armor and bearing long spears. Neivec opened the barn door and stepped outside.

"I am here," Neivec said calmly.

The two centaurs turned and faced him. "Forgive our intrusion," one said boldly. "We seek one of our own."

"The lady Meiriam," Neivec said.

"You have seen her?" The other said.

"She rests peacefully within my cabin," Neivec said.

The two centaurs gave Neivec a stern glance, their fists clenched.

"Be at peace, soldiers," the old knight said authoritatively. "She is safe, and she spent the night alone in my cabin whilst I slept in the barn."

The first centaur stepped toward Neivec. "If you have so much as touched her I will..."

"Show some respect for my host, Corporal Adee," a soft voice said. "Such harsh words are not appropriate when speaking to a Knight."

All eyes turned to Meiriam. She stood beautifully in front of Neivecís cabin door, her long hair hanging about her shoulders. She walked gracefully toward Neivec and took him by his hands.

"I would like to thank you, Sir Neivec, Knight of the Members of the Star," she said loudly. She glanced sternly at her escorts. "Thank you for giving me shelter and protecting me from the dangers of these woods when I became lost."

"The pleasure was all mine, my lady," Neivec said, giving a slight bow. "I hope our paths will cross again."

Meiriam looked deeply into Neivecís eyes and smiled. "They will," she whispered.
With that, Meiriam joined her escort and followed the trail toward her home.




A Moment of Gratitude



The day passed slowly for Neivec. He worked about his stable, trying to keep himself busy while thoughts of Meiriam flashed through his mind. Darkness fell, and like the night before, Neivec prepared his horse for a long rest. He returned to his cabin, relieved to be away from the nights chill. He sat comfortably and read his book while sipping some tea. Neivec then laid in his bed, just as he always had. But on this night, he could not sleep. Instead, the knight stared at the underside of his roof with thoughts of Meiriam flooding his mind. He awoke the next morning, having
gotten only a couple of hours sleep, to a knocking at his cabin door. He staggered to the door and slowly pushed it open.

"Sir Neivec," a centaur guard spoke. He wore the same light armor and bore the same spear as the ones from the day prior. "Revilner, father of Meiriam would like to invite you to dinner this evening so that he might express his gratitude." The guard handed him a small, rolled parchment.

Neivec opened the parchment. On it was a finely drawn map and elegant lettering, inviting him to the centaursí village.

"I would be honored," Neivec responded. "I shall be there."

The centaur guard looked upon Neivec with disapproving eyes. He turned and left without saying a word.

Neivec was never one for formal occasions. He did not own any elegant attire, so he went through his trunk and pulled his newest, least worn clothes. He found a dark blue tunic with gold trim, a clean white shirt, and some plain gray trousers. "This should do," he said to himself. He then found a pair of black boots which were too small for his feet, but still in good condition. He placed the clothes on his bed, then went to his barn and tended to his horse. Neivec brushed the animalís fine hair and mien until he shined nicely, then saddled him with a finely engraved saddle. Beneath the saddle was a new blanket, dark blue and trimmed with gold.

Neivec returned to his cabin and prepared his midday meal, then washed and dressed himself in his finest. "I look like a sissy," he thought to himself. He picked up his weapons belt, which bore a sheathed sword and a finely crafted dagger, and fastened it to his waist. The old knight then walked to his barn and led his horse into the yard. "My, Boy," he said to his ride. "You look marvelous. Surely you will meet some nice lady tonight." Neivec mounted his horse and rode down the narrow trail, destined for Tirane.

The sun shined brightly that afternoon, its beams penetrating the thick foliage above and littering the forest floor with small white dots. Neivec rode casually, enjoying the lush aromas and sounds of the forest. As he rounded a bend, Neivec saw a smaller trail breaking off from the main trail. His horse spooked and threw back his head. Posted at the intersection were two centaur guards. Neivecís heart began to pound with anticipation as he thought of seeing Meiriam again.

"Greetings," Neivec said. "I am Sir Neivec, Knight of the..."

"This way," the guard said impatiently.

Neivec followed the guard down the narrow trail and into a large clearing. Surrounding him was the immaculate centaur village. The fine homes and buildings were made of bamboo, well crafted and strong. The entire village was neat and clean, with everything in its place. Those about the village stared at the human knight with untrusting eyes. It was obvious to Neivec that he was not well liked in Tirane. The guard led him to a humble cabin and knocked lightly on the wooden door. An older centaur, his hair and short beard graying, opened the door. He wore a fine red coat over an elegant white shirt.

"Sir," the guard said bowing slightly. "Your guest has arrived."

"Sir Neivec of the Star," the older centaur said. "It is a pleasure to meet you. Please, come into my humble home."

Though his words were kind, the centaurís tone was stern. Neivec dismounted his horse, his wounded leg sore from the long ride, and walked into the small home. Though the house was small, it was elegantly decorated with finely crafted furniture, exotic rugs, and rare paintings. The furniture looked odd to Neivec, as it was designed around centaurs and not humans.

"My name is Revilner," the centaur continued. "I am head Counsel Member of this village and father of Meiriam."

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Counseler," Neivec responded with a slight bow.

"Hmm, yes," Revilner mumbled. "Please, come this way."

The centaur led Neivec out of the small foyer and into a small social room. Around the room stood many centaurs, all properly dressed and drinking form small crystal glasses. All eyes turned to the old knight. He scanned the room and saw only stern faces, except for one. Meiriam stood at a far corner of the room, wearing a blue silk long-sleeved blouse and white shawl. Her face lit up with delight as Neivec entered.

"My friends," Revilner announced. "I present to you, Sir Neivec of the Star, the gentleman who was kind enough to provide shelter for my daughter whilst she was lost in the woods."

Those in the room raised their glasses slightly and looked upon him with fake smiles.

"Sir Neivec," he continued. "May I introduce you to my wife, Madrina..." An older female nodded to him. "My son, Alexton..." A young adult looked down his nose at the knight. "My daughter, Saberia..." A young teenager smiled. "And of course you know my oldest, Meiriam."

"It is a pleasure to meet you all," Neivec responded. "Iím delighted to see that you made it home safely, my lady," he said to Meiriam.

She smiled broadly.

The night for Neivec seemed to drag on forever. All he wanted was talk with Meiriam, but the etiquette of the centaurs would not allow it.

Everything was done 'properly' by their standards. Dinner was served in a formal manner, followed by drinks and casual conversation. Everything went as though it were a play, and the script strictly followed. A few kind words were said about Neivec, and that was all. Once the guests had finished their drinks, they bid Revilner and his family a formal farewell, then left. Revilner escorted Neivec outside, thanked him one last time for his service, then closed the door. His obligation to the knight had been fulfilled. Neivec left with sadness in his heart, knowing that he would never see the fair lady again.

"You fancy him, donít you," Saberia said.

"What?" Meiriam sat in front of her vanity mirror brushing her long hair. She too was truly sad.

The two sisters sat together in their dimly lit room, preparing to bed for the night.

"The knight. You fancy him," she said again.

"Youíre a silly girl," Meiriam said with a smile.

"I could tell by the way you looked at him," Saberia pestered. "Would you like to see him again?"

Meiriam put down her brushed and looked upon herself in the mirror.

"Oh, how I would love to," she said. "But Iíve no reason to meet him again."

"You could return this to him," Saberia said, holding up Neivecís finely crafted dagger.

"Saberia," Meiriam scolded. "Where did you get that?"

"It fell out of itsí sheath whilst we ate," she responded.

Meiriam cast her a piercing stare.

"Very well then," Saberia confessed. "I slipped it from itsí sheath whilst we dined. Either way, Ďtwas because of you that he was here, therefore it wouldst only be proper that you return it to him."

Meiriam took the dagger from her sister, then embraced her in a warm hug. "Thank you, Saberia." She said, smiling with delight.

 

A Day With Meiriam



The late morning sun warmed the earth below as Neivec moved about his yard. The knightís heart swelled with depression as he saddled his horse. It was a good day for riding, and he thought that perhaps a trip into town might help him forget about his sorrows.

"Hello, Sir Neivec," a soft voice said.

Neivec turned, and his face lit up with delight. Meiriam stood at the end of the trail, wearing a teal, sleeveless blouse and a delicate silver necklace with a small pearl pendant.

"Meiriam," he said with surprise. "What brings you here?"

"You left your dagger at my home," she said as she presented it to him. "So I am returning it to you."

Neivec looked to his belt, only to find an empty sheath. So distracted was he from the night before, that he hadnít even noticed his dagger was missing. Meiriam approached the knight and attempted to hand him his dagger, but his horse spooked and whinnied in protest.

"Easy boy," Neivec said holding firmly to the animalís bridal. "I do not know what is bothering him."

"ĎTis me," Meiriam said with a subtle smile. "Heís never been so close to a centaur before, has he?"

"Well, no," Neivec answered. "But the horses in your village did not seem disturbed."

"That is because they are accustomed to us," she said.

Meiriam gently placed her hand on the animals chin, then lightly blew into his nostril. The horse shook his head at first, but then calmed himself and began lovingly rubbing his face against Meiriamís.

"There," she said. "We are friends now."

"I am impressed," Neivec said with amazement. "How did you do that?"

"ĎTis how horses get to know each other," Meiriam said as she rubbed the horses cheek. "ĎTwas a trick I learned as a girl."

Neivec smiled broadly. "Iím heading into town. Would you like to accompany me?"

"I would love to," she answered without delay.

Neivec, feeling odd ridding his horse while Meiriam walked, led him by his reins and walked himself. The two strolled down the wide forest trail together, delighted with each otherís company.

"So what do you call your faithful ride?" Meiriam asked, making small talk.

"Hoara Wataro," Neivec answered. "It means Ďhorse of warí in the Dragonsí tongue."

"Why did you give him such a name," she asked in awe.

"I didnít, actually," Neivec answered. "He was issued to me by the Army of the Star and came with the name. Part of my retirement is that I receive a fresh horse every year in exchange for my old one."

Meiriam looked upon Neivec, shocked by his lack of sensitivity toward his animal, but the old knight just smiled back at her.

"This is the first horse I was issued," he said with a smile. "And that was six years ago."

Meiriam laughed to herself, feeling silly to have thought that the knight was even capable of being so cruel.

"I donít think I was very well liked at your village last night," Neivec said.

"Oh, donít let them trouble to you," Meiriam said rolling her eyes.

"Where my clan originally comes from, we were constantly at war with the humans. We found peace here, but many find it difficult to release their prejudices."

"One of my comrades during Last War was a centaur," he told her. "But he was not nearly as formal as those that I met last night."

"None are," she said with a smile. "Ours is one of the most formal clans you will ever cross paths with. They have a Ďproperí way of doing everything. Sometimes I think I will go mad."

Neivec laughed.

"Itís often very confusing as well," she continued. "We can decorate our homes with fine furniture and paintings, but wearing jewelry is forbidden because it is considered Ďboasting onesí richesí. There is no logic."

Neivec eyed the small pennant which hung on Meiriamís silver chain.

"Oh," she said. "Well, light jewelry is acceptable."

"Weíve arrived," Neivec suddenly said.

The winding trail led them out of the light woods and onto the open planes. Before them, the city of Duxbury flourished.

"Itís beautiful!" Meiriam exclaimed.

"ĎTis the greatest city in all the known world," Neivec said proudly.

"Come, weíre just in time for lunch."

The city moved about busily as Neivec and Meiriam walked its dusty streets. For Meiriam, the sights and sounds of the city were overwhelming. She looked about with absolute delight, taking in all the wonderful new things that sheíd never before seen. Duxbury was an incredible city.

Because it had been built by many different races all seeking peace, the city offered an abundance of cultures catering to all. The multi-cultural population consisted of not only human races, but also demihuman races as well. Humans, dwarves, elves, and even an occasional beast walked these street without prejudice for one another. But even in this city of tolerance, there were still those who stared. The sight of a male human and a lady centaur walking so close together seemed odd to many, and Neivec noticed their stairs almost immediately.

They stopped before a small inn, the aroma of beef stew emerging from it, and decided it would be a good place to eat. But as they approached the entrance, the innkeeper blocked their path.

"Stop right there," he said. He was a overweight man, bearing worn clothes and an untrimmed beard. "You canít bring that animal in here," he grumbled.

"Animal!" Meiriam shouted.

Neivec placed his hand on her shoulder and held her back.

"Sir," the knight said angrily. "Do you know the penalty for denying someone service because of their race? I could have your business terminated!"

"What is the problem here," a young voice said.

Neivec turned to see a young soldier, dressed in light armor and bearing the symbol of the Army of the Star on his breast plate. The retired knight pulled a platinum star medallion from under his shirt. Engraved in the center of the medallion were the words, "Sir Neivec, Last War Veteran."

"Sir," the soldier said, standing erect.

"Be at ease, Soldier," Neivec said. "I was just informing this innkeeper of the penalties invoked should he deny my companion entrance into his establishment because she is a centaur."

"Sir Neivec speaks the truth," the soldier said to the fat man. "Should you deny her service, I will have to report you to the Counsel."

The innkeeperís expression dropped. "Very well," he said in protest.

"She may enter."

"No, thank you," Neivec said. "I think I will not be doing business with you on this day."

Neivec gave the soldier a nod, then he and Meiriam turned and left the inn. Much to Neivecís surprise, Meiriam took his hand and rested her head on his shoulder.

"That was very noble," she said with a smile. "Thank you."

"ĎTwas also a little fun," Neivec said with a smirk.

The two continued their walk through the city streets until they came across a small outdoor cafe. They enjoyed a good meal together, then continued with their tour of Duxbury. They spent a wonderful afternoon together, enjoying each otherís company more than the city itself. The strange feeling which Neivec had felt in his heart when he first met Meiriam had returned. The sight of her beautiful green eyes, soft face, and wonderful smile brought a warmth to his soul like heíd never known. The afternoon was growing late, and the two decided that it was best to start heading home.

"My lady," a sweet elderly voice called.

Neivec and Meiriam turned to see an old woman standing in front of her jewelry shop.

"Iíve a lovely set of earrings that will match your necklace nicely," she said.

"Really," Meiriam said, a twinkle in her eye.

The couple went into the shop where the elderly woman pulled a set of two small matching pearls attached to tiny silver chains. So much were the earrings like her necklace, that Meiriam swore they could be a set.

"They are beautiful, my lady," Meiriam said. "But Iím afraid Iíve no money with me today."

"I will buy them for you," Neivec said quickly. "How much are they?"

"Neivec," Meiriam protested. "I cannot let you..."

"Nonsense," he interrupted with a smile. "They are obviously meant to be yours, or they would not look so much like your necklace. How much, my lady?"

"Three gold and a silver, my lord," she said through a wrinkled smile.

"A fair price indeed," Neivec responded.

Much to Meiriamís protest, Neivec reached into his pouch and paid the woman her money due. The woman then wrapped the earrings in a small cloth and handed them to Meiriam.

"Enjoy them, my lady," the loving woman said. "They will compliment your beauty nicely."

Meiriam blushed.

The afternoon sun passed over their heads as Neivec and Meiriam walked down the forest trail. They held hands and walked silently, enjoying the delightful sounds of the woods. All the while, Neivecís horse would stretch his neck and rub his lips on Meiriamís horse-like back. She giggled.

"I think he fancies you," Neivec said with a smile.

"And what of his rider?" Meiriam asked. "Does he fancy me as well?"

Neivec smiled broadly. "Oh yes, my lady," he said. "He fancies you very much."

They broke off the main trail and onto a smaller one which took them back to Neivecís cabin. He removed the saddle from his horse, then led him into his corral. The horse walked into the barn by his own will and began grazing on some hay. The old knight looked to the sky.

"The sun will be setting in a few hours, my lady," he said with regret. "You best be going."

"I know," Meiriam said sadly. "But I am so tired from our day. Would you mind if I rested my legs before I go?"

"Not at all," Neivec said, delighted that she would be staying even if just for a moment.

Neivec went to his closet and pulled his winter blankest, spreading them about the floor into a makeshift matters. The two laid on their sides facing one another.

"What do you think?" Meiriam said holding her new earrings up to her face.

"Beautiful," Neivec answered. "And the earrings are nice too."

Meiriam leaned forward and kissed the knight softly. She placed her hand around his neck and continued kissing him, not allowing their lips to separate. They laid quietly together, embraced within each othersí arms, the love of their hearts flowing freely with every passionate kiss.

Neivecís senses were overwhelmed by Meiriam, the smell of her hair, the feel of her soft skin, the warmth of her lips. He was truly happier than heíd ever been. Within their passion Meiriam gently took Neivecís hand and placed it on the side of her breast. The knightís heart beat strongly within his chest. His heart beat of love, of fear, and of anticipation. They held each other so tightly, lovingly kissing and caressing one another. They ran their hands down each othersí backs, then gasped. Where Neivec was expecting to find Meiriamís waist, he found her firm horse-like back. And where Meiriam was expecting to find a firm centaursí back, she found Neivecís soft buttocks. Neivec looked upon Meiriam with surprised eyes, not knowing what to do next. Meiriam just smiled and giggled, then kissed the
knight softly.

Neivec and Meiriam stood in his yard holding hands and looking into each othersí eyes.

"Are you sure you will not let me take you home?" Neivec asked.

"Yes," she said with sorrow. "I will be home before nightfall, and you cannot travel the dangers of these woods alone after dark. I will be fine."

They hugged each other warmly, then shared one last soft kiss. Meiriam smiled back at the knight as she rounded the bend in the trail, then disappeared into the woods.

 


Lifeís Unexpected Turns



The sun had set sooner than Meiriam had predicted, and she found herself nearing her village just after sunset. Before her, just after the next bend in the trail, she could see the dim lights of her village. She looked down the trail, assuring the guards had not seen her, then walked into the woods.

She walked down an unbeaten path to a hollowed tree where she reached into itsí trunk and pulled a small wooden box trimmed with brass. She opened the box and smiled with delight as she looked upon her collection of rings, necklaces, and bracelets. Some were simple and of little value, while others were much more elegant and of great worth. She removed her necklace and placed it into the box along with her new earrings. She felt guilty having lied to the knight about centaurs being allowed to wear humble jewelry, when in fact they were not allowed to wear any at all. Meiriamís ears werenít even pierced, and she was thankful that Neivec hadnít noticed.

She closed the small box and kissed itsí lid, then went to return it to itsí hiding place.
"Who goes there!" A centaurian guard demanded.

Meiriam gasped.

Meiriamís father glared angrily at her, his stare piercing her very soul. "What is the meaning of this, young lady?" He said through his teeth.

Spread before them on a small table was Meiriamís collection of jewelry. The precious metals and fine stones shined pleasantly from the dim light of an oil lamp.

"Iíve no words, Father," she said with a subtle smile. "I am weak when around things that shine."

"You find this amusing, do you?" her father shouted, slamming his hand on the table.

Meiriam jumped, startled by her fatherís anger.

"Where did you get the money for these?" He demanded.

Meiriam looked to the floor in shame. "I bought them with the money Grandmother left me," she said.

Revilnerís face twisted with anger. "That money was left to you so that you might have something to bring into your marriage!" He shouted. "It was to be invested, not spent on insignificant...trinkets!"

Meiriam continued to look to the floor in shame. Her father paced the small room in frustration.

"This season will be your twenty-eighth spring," he said calmly and quietly. "The time has come for you to be married. I have made arrangements with the Dansken family. You will marry their oldest son in the fall."

"What?" Meiriam said in shock.

"It is in your best interests that you marry him," Revilner said, raising his voice.

"The Dansken family is doing very well financially, and I will not see you cast your life away."

"But I cannot marry him," Meiriam said, struggling through her tears.

"I will not marry him!"

"And why not?" Her father demanded.

"Because I love Sir Neivec!" She shouted.

Revilnerís jaw dropped. "Have you lost your senses completely?" He growled. "He is human! You are centaur!"

"It matters not, Father," she said.

"It does matter!" He shouted back at her. "He is poor and cannot provide for you. You cannot bear his children! It is physically impossible!"

"But Father..." she cried.

"Not another word!" He yelled.

Revilner paced the room angrily. Meiriam looked to the floor, her face drenched with tears.

"Tomorrow you will go into town," he finally spoke. "You will sell these...trinkets to the highest bidder and deposit the money back into your account. I will look into some investments in the morning. Perhaps we can make up the loss. Good-night!"

The old centaur left the room, leaving Meiriam to herself with only her treasures and her sorrows.


 

Meiriamís Chosen Path



Meiriam awoke early the next morning, her eyes still burning from having cried herself to sleep the night before. She combed her long brown hair, then dressed herself in a light blue blouse and a thick, royal blue cloak.

Her home was still. She took the box containing her treasures and cradled it in her arms, then quietly slipped out the front door. All were still sleeping, and her village was silent. An early morning mist had settled about the forest, chilling the air and causing her to shiver. Far on the horizon, the red morning sun was just rising. She covered her head with her hood, then headed down the misty road toward Duxbury.

Neivec too, woke early. He peered his head from under his blanket and looked to his fireplace. The logs which Neivec was sure would burn through the night, had long since been reduced to ashes. He rolled from his bed, wearing only some old trousers and a thin shirt, and placed his bare feet on the cold floor. He scurried to his fireplace and arranged some kindling within the ashes. He then took some flint and a steel ring from his mantel and began striking them together, creating bight sparks. The kindling began to smolder, then brightly burn. The knight gently placed a small log on the burning kindling and awaited for his cabin to warm. He thought back to his days as a soldier in the Army of the Star and how heíd spent many a night on the frosty ground with only a thin blanket. He smiled to himself. Heíd
grown accustomed to the comforts of his retirement, and he did not like the cold any more. A light tapping at his door caught his attention. He opened his door and found Meiriam standing there, her hands still holding tightly to her small wooden box. She smiled subtly, but her face was flushed with sorrow.

"Meiriam," Neivec said with surprise.

"Iíve come to bid you farewell, my knight," she said, her voice trembling.

Neivec looked upon her with awe.

"My father has arranged for me to be married into another family within my village," she said. "I will not be able to see you again."

Hoplessness overcame the knight. He knew by the temperment of the centaurs that he would never be able to convince them that he was worthy of Meiriam. Neivec placed his hands over Meiriamís. Her hands felt like ice.

"If I must let you go, then so be it," he said sorrowfully. "But I will not allow you to leave my land until you have warmed yourself. Come, sit by the fire and I will make you some tea."

She walked past the knight, not looking into his eyes, and noticed that the mattress they had made the day before was still in its place. She again smiled subtly as memories of the day before returned to her. She knelt down on the mattress and allowed Neivec to cover her with a warm blanket. Neivec then hung and iron kettle over the fire and awaited the water to boil. He turned and looked upon Meiriam.

"Sit with me?" She asked.

"Iíve not yet washed," he warned her.

"It matters not," she said. "Please, sit with me."

He sat beside her on the large mattress and covered his legs with his blanket. "What is this?" He asked, lightly touching the small box in her arms. She opened the box, exposing the fine gems and precious metals.

Neivec was lost for words.

"They are beautiful, are they not?" She said. "My father is forcing me to sell them."

Neivec again looked upon her with confusion.

"I bore you false testament, my love," she said touching his hand. "My clan is not permitted to wear any kinds of jewelry. I cannot even wear the earrings that you bought me because my ears have no piercings. It was wrong of me to allow you to buy them for me. I must return them to you."

She removed the earrings from the box, but Neivec gently pushed her hand down.

"These were a gift," he said sadly. "Sell them if you must, but buy yourself something you can wear in their place."

Meiriam smiled, a tear running down her cheek. She placed her hand behind the knightís neck and pulled his face close to hers. They kissed slowly. They laid on the large mattress together, covered by Neivecís large blanket, and held each other tightly. They kissed deep, loving kisses, their heartís again becoming one. The kettle began to steam and boil, but went unnoticed as the two continued with their loving embrace. Again, Meiriamís hand found Neivecís waist, and she stopped. She laid silent for a moment.

"My father was right," she whispered.

"My lady?" Neivec said.

"My father was right," she sobbed as she rose to her feet.

She looked to Neivec, still lying on the mattress. "We could never be together. Not like this," she said gesturing to her horse-like body. "We could never be intiment. I could never give you children. Not like this!"

"Those things matter not to me," Neivec said. He looked to the floor.

"I only want to be with you."

Meiriam wrapped herself in her cloak and picked up her small box. She looked back to Neivec, tears flowing down her face. She smiled.

"Not like this," she said, then closed the door behind her as she left.



The Knight Trudges On

 

Neivec laid alone on the mattress for a long moment, feeling Meiriamís warmth slowly fade. Deep within his demolished soul, the heartbroken knight found the strength to move on with his day. He prepared some hot tea and washed and dressed himself, then went into his yard and tended to his various chores. He fed and brushed his horse, cleaned his stable, and collected some wood from the surrounding forest. The work took only a few hours, and Neivec found himself alone, with nothing more than his sorrows.

Neivec sat in his chair, his feet propped upon a foot stool, with an unopened book resting in his lap. His heart ached with sadness. He starred at the glowing coals within his fireplace as they burned and smoldered. A light tapping at his door broke his trance, and he slowly rose from his chair. He opened his door, only to find himself face to face with the fairest maiden he had ever seen.

"Pardon me, my lord," she said smiling broadly. "But Iíve lost my way. Can you show me the road to True Love?"

Meiriam stood before Neivec, wearing a dark green cloak and a simple, light green dress. Her beautiful face was complimented by a modest silver chain with a pearl pennant hanging from her neck, and matching pearl earrings dangling from her freshly pierced lobes. Upon her feet she wore open sandals which exposed all ten of her perfect little human toes.

"Meiriam," the knight gasped. "Youíre..."

"Human?" She said with a smile. "I traded my collection to a magic-user in exchange for his spell. Well, all that is except for my favorite pieces."

Neivec ran his fingers through his hair, still in shock of all that he was seeing.

"Iím afraid it is not complete though," she continued. "I did not have enough money for him to complete the spell, so my legs still have hair like a horses."

Neivec raised an eyebrow.

She lifted her dress above her knees, exposing her thin legs and fair white skin.

"Made you look," she said with a smile.

They embraced each other so tightly that they could barely breath, and wept tears of joy.

The knight and the fair lady were married that summer, and the next spring their daughter was born.

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