“Hail, good woman! Might I trouble you for directions?”
I jerked up in shock at the sound of the unexpected voice, and my pruning shears closed a centimeter from taking off the tip of my thumb. Cursing, I hauled myself up to my feet, dusting some of the dirt off of the knees of my old jeans.
I turned around to see who had spoken to me – and felt my mouth drop open as I stared up at him.
Them, perhaps I should say.
He was on a horse. That was the first thing that struck me, even more than the gleaming armor, than the sword hanging at his belt, than the full-face helmet with a blue plume rising from its top. He rode astride a white stallion, very obviously a stallion, which huffed and puffed and tugged at his reins.
The stallion was also, I couldn’t help noticing, trampling all over my chrysanthemums.
“Hail!” the knight called out again, tugging on his reins and making the horse rear up. I winced as another row of plants fell beneath its hooves when it landed. “I require your help, good woman! I seek the nearest maiden in trouble?”
“Stop it!” came an answering shout. I realized after a second that it had come from my own mouth, and crossed my eyes looking down at that orifice in surprise. “You’re hurting all of my flowers!”
“Your flowers?” The knight sounded confused. “Oh, the garden? My sincere apologies. My horse, Fairfax, has a tendency to step heavily, haha!”
“Well, don’t let him keep doing it!” I snapped. “Come on, look at him! He’s eating my tulips!”
And indeed, Fairfax the strong white stallion had stepped off of the chrysanthemum patch, now that he’d sufficiently demolished it, and had moved on to my tulips. I’d worked hard to hunt down a large variety of different bulbs – and now I watched in shock as his big, ugly, horsey lips closed on yet another delicate flower.
The knight kicked his armored feet out of the stirrups and, with a bit of difficulty, slid off of his horse. “Again, my apologies,” he boomed out from inside his full-face helmet that obscured his features. “I’m just looking for a fair maiden to aid, and I thought I’d ask for… Come, now, Fairfax, that’s enough!”
This last comment was directed towards the horse which, despite the knight tugging on his reins, refused to move away from the apparently delicious tulips. Only after he’d chomped down on the last of my Darwin Hybrids did he finally allow himself to be led off – where he promptly began eyeing my rosebushes.
“And you!” I snarled, my anger bubbling over as I turned back to the knight. “What are you, crazy? Why do you think there’d be a maiden around here? This is England! I ought to call the bobbies on you-”
The knight, as I spoke, reached up and wrapped both hands around his helmet. He lifted it – and my words caught in my mouth as I saw his features come out into the sun.
Strong cheeks, with high cheekbones that glinted in the light. Golden hair, thick and lustrous and just curly enough for me to imagine running my fingers through it, feeling it tangle around me. Piercing blue eyes that sent a shiver running down my spine, making various parts of my anatomy tremble. Some of those parts had been dormant for quite a while, but they suddenly sprang back into full, ardent life.
“I’m so sorry,” said this amazing, beautiful man contritely to me. He nodded his head. “I didn’t mean to cause you any distress, good woman. I merely seek-”
I glanced around my garden wildly. “Actually, now that you mention it, you could help me out!” I exclaimed wildly. “I’ve got some tasks for you!”
“Oh?” The knight blinked at me, shifting his helmet under one arm. Even though the armor hid the details of his body, he had to be fit if he could lug it all around, I considered wildly. Probably rippling with muscles underneath it. “But my quest-”
“I’m a maiden!” I blurted out. Blush stained my cheeks, and I hastily clarified my statement. “I mean, not a virgin or anything. But it’s been a while, and I’m definitely single. And I’ve got fair skin, so I need to wear this hat and baggy clothing, so that kind of fits.” Good lord, I was babbling.
But on the knight’s face, a smile slowly grew. “I think I can accept your offer, fair maiden,” he murmured, reaching out and taking my hand in his. I felt so touched that I didn’t even notice how the steel of the gauntlet pinched a little bit. “Tell me, how might I help you?”
Smiling so widely that I felt as though the top of my head might fall off, I looked about. “Ah, I see your first task,” I said.
“Anything, my lady. I am yours to command.”
Those words sent another wonderful little tingle through me, but I didn’t let myself get swept away just yet. “First,” I said, “you can take your horse out of my garden. He’s currently urinating all over my daffodils.”