Alecto was nervous and excited as she slipped into the dress she would be wearing that night. It was white with green trim and fell to just above her knee where it hung loose and comfortable. The boots she pulled on were sturdy, made to keep her from slipping. “You look so beautiful sweetie.” Her mother said, her eyes wet with tears. “Let me do your hair then I can get the mask.”
Alecto sat down and her mother got to work curling her hair. She didn’t really see the point since she would be running soon. When her mother was satisfied, she called for her father who came in with the intricately carved fox mask. Her brother followed, looking unhappy about the situation.
“Does she have to do this?” Her brother asked, arms crossed.
“It’s fine Felix, I want too.”
“You haven’t even met him or seen him.”
“We’ve been doing this for a long time and until they find the cause for the high rate in male births this is how it has to be.” She slipped on the mask. She had volunteered to be the next arranged marriage and wasn’t afraid of her chosen husband. “Besides, he has to catch me first and mom and dad have both met him.”
“He’ll be in a wolf mask dear, it’s a beautiful piece of work.”
“It’s still stupid. Why can’t she just pick who she is with? This is ridiculous.”
“Brother please, I really don’t mind”
“but you don’t have to be scared to be single just because a man might try to force himself with you because there are so few women. I’ll skin any man alive who dares hurt you” Alecto sighed and he said “fine, I’m sorry, but you do remember you can leave this man if you aren’t happy right?”
“I know and believe me, you’ll be the first person I tell if he isn’t good to me”
“good, you better. I’m already ready to punch him” Their mother gave him a look and he left the room, knowing he needed to calm down. His ranting wasn’t going to change things, women would be doing this until the imbalance was fixed and as unfair as he thought it was the world was often unfair. He just couldn’t stand the thought of his sister being unhappy, not able to just fall in love with someone like she deserved. He felt she was too good for this, too sweet and giving. He didn’t trust her to actually leave if he wasn’t good to her.
“Your brother didn’t upset you did he?” Her mother asked and Alecto said “No, of course not. I’m not being forced into this and he’s just being him. I know he’s just upset because of how much he loves me. I don’t like any of the men I know anyways so I may aswell do this”
“We can still tell the young man no, sweetie.”
She smiled. “I’ll give us a chance, he at least deserves that. I bet he’s going through the same thing as me, he probably thinks he has it easier since he’s a guy and I want him to know I’m not worried or scared and like I told Felix, he still has to catch me.”
Her father chuckled. “You’re going to give him a run for his money.”
“I can already outrun all the men in this village, except for you daddy.”
He bent down and kissed her cheek. “Just stay safe honey, you know the woods and you know the animals and if he gets injured, help him, he’s not a bad man as far as we’ve seen.”
Icarus was surprised when she finally exited her parent’s house. He had been waiting near the edge of the woods, his mask resting on top of his head and he quickly pulled it down to cover his face. She wasn’t supposed to see him yet, though he didn’t think it would matter. She had been just a child when he had seen her last. He reached up, rubbing his chest where the bear had tried ripping him open. The scars had been a constant reminder of her. She approached where he waited and he stood up straight. Their eyes met for a moment and he could see hers were the most stunning shade of green. There was a hint of mischief dancing in them, the sign of a free spirit.
“As you both know, the woman gets a head start.” The clan leader of her village said. “Though this is a hunt, you must also watch out for each other. Should one of you get hurt or become ill I hope you will stop the chase and help. Both of you stay safe and alert and rest when it’s needed.” They both nodded their understanding. “Do either of you wish to back out?” They shook their heads. “Wonderful, you may start then young lady.”
He felt a tingling in his heart, an excitement and nervousness as she took off, her beautiful brown hair dancing in the wind. She had been an adorable little girl and she was now a stunning woman. He felt honored he was getting this chance with her and he was happy her parents liked him. They had even encouraged him the very last time they talked, telling him they felt she’d be happy with him if he caught her. It gave him hope. He didn’t really know her, this now gorgeous woman he saved as a child but a part of him already feared loseing her. “You may go young man, good luck” those words brought him out of his head and he took off, hoping he caught her and hoping she would like him once they started to get to know eachother.
Judging by what her parents had said about her he knew she wasn’t going to be easy to catch and she wouldn’t have just run straight and made this easy either. He’d not only have to catch her he’d have to find her. He began following his gut as he ran, letting it guide him to her. He knew it was weird but he trusted his instinct to take him to her because ever since that day, long ago, he felt a strong connection with her.
Alecto loved the woods and did her best not to get lost in the beauty of it as she ran. She kept her footfalls light, not wanting to make too much noise as she weaved through the trees. She wondered what kind of man her husband was, if he knew anything about tracking and wildlife or if he had lived a life never exploring the woods. She slowed her pace when the ground began to slope upward, not wanting to tire herself out before she even really had a chance. She scooped up a couple of stones as she came to the top, knowing she could use them as a distraction if he got too close or as a weapon if a wild animal thought she looked like food. She wanted to play with this man, to gauge his personality. If he became easily frustrated then she would go back and call off the hunt. The hill began to slope down and she allowed herself to pick up speed, easily jumping over fallen trees and over stones protruding from the ground. She thought of what he must look like beneath his mask. She could see he had bright red hair and beautiful grey eyes, that he was well built and probably strong. She wondered if he had a good heart and if he would want children should they marry.
When she came to a stream, she dropped down, lifted her mask and took a quick drink. When she stood, she listened to the world around her. She wondered how close he was to her. She didn’t hear anything, but she had a sudden sense that she was indeed being pursued. He must be right on her trail. She started up stream, wanting to get to a thicker part of the woods where she could use the trees to her advantage.
When Icarus managed to make his way to the stream he did the same as Alecto, stooped down to get a quick drink while he had the opportunity for water. He knew it would be foolish not to take advantage of this chance though his heart urged him to just keep running after her. He hoped his gut was leading him the right way and he wasn’t pointlessly running in the opposite direction of his elusive love, the girl who had stayed on his mind every day since they were children. He took off in a full sprint now that there wasn’t a hill. He had gotten a chance with her and he wouldn’t squander it.
His heart might have leaped out of his chest when he finally caught a glimpse of her. It felt like he had been running after her forever, each moment concerning him more and more he wouldn’t find her but there she was. She noticed right away when she caught his eye. She was ready though, ready to start getting to know him. It was time to play with this mysterious suitor.
She threw the first stone at him, aiming to the side, but it had the desired effect of him ducking and she crouched down low in the underbrush, moving quickly until she found a suitable tree. She grabbed onto the lowest branch and swung herself up as he pushed through the ferns. She dropped the second rock in front of him and he looked up in confusion. “Hello wolfy.” She said as she climbed higher. He started up after her until she jumped to the next tree.
“Be careful up there.” He said and she smiled at the sound of his voice.
She laughed as she climbed around and jumped to another tree and then another, keeping her momentum and glancing down to see that he was still following. The last tree she dove onto had thick leaves, giving her cover as she slowly and quietly made her way down. She peeked out, watching him. He was staring up at where she had landed so she moved to the other side of the tree and dropped down. She was silent as she moved up behind him and jumped on his back. “Looks like I caught you.” She said, startling him. She jumped off when he went for her and sprinted away, giggling.
“Come on now little fox, try that again, I’m ready this time.”
“That wouldn’t be fair, you’re supposed to catch me.”
“I will, I swear it.”
“Then come for me.”
She laughed and he couldn’t help but smile. They were both elated to find eachother was fun. Neither was tired in the slightest. She was so used to hiking with her father and he was so used to hunting with his father and brother this was nothing to them. Icarus pushed himself harder, he needed to catch her, to get the beautiful woman in front of him in his arms. She nearly tripped, making his heart sink for just a moment but she caught and steadied herself. Since she obviously wasn’t hurt it made him glad she tripped, the stumble had allowed him to catch up just a little bit.
There was a moment he felt he was close enough and reached out, trying to nab her but he missed and she laughed “Oh, so close wolfy!” He chuckled, the game was fun, regardless of how badly he wanted to catch her. The next time he attempted grabbing her he succeeded. He lifted her off her feet and swung her into a cradling position. He tried not to breathe as heavy as his body wanted him to, not wanting first impressions to be him panting.
“I got you, for a moment there I thought you’d slip away again.”
“Did you at least have fun?”
“Yes, yes I did.” He lowered her to her feet, but kept one arm wrapped around her waist. “May I see you or will you stay a fox forever?”
He could see the smile in her eyes and she reached up and pulled her mask off. His heart stuttered at how beautiful she was and he admired her, memorized each line. “Are you pleased?”
“Huh? Sorry, you’re just so beautiful.”
“What if I had had a wart on my nose or I was missing an eye?”
“I wouldn’t care, you’d still be beautiful to me.”
She smiled, feeling butterflies brush her insides. “May I take your mask off?”
“Of course, whatever you want.”
She dropped her mask on the ground then let her fingers slide over the intricately carved wolf covering his face. She gently lifted it off and let it drop to rest next to hers. Something stirred in her as she studied his features. He was handsome, but that wasn’t it. There was something about him. “Could I know your name?”
“Icarus.” She repeated the name, let it roll over her tongue as she pondered it. There was something familiar about it. She would think about it later, she didn’t want to be rude. “We should get some water and then start back. I’m sure everyone is waiting to see how things went.”
“Does that mean you’re mine?”
“Do you want me to be yours?” She asked in a teasing tone.
“Yes, more than you know, even if I have to chase you again.”
“You seem sweet and really fun so far so I’m yours but, I’d like to take things slow. Sort of like we’re just dating though we’ll be getting married”
“I understand that. We’ll be slow, if I mess up and you feel rushed let me know and I’ll stop whatever I’m doing okay”
“Thank you” He smiled again, happiness overflowing in him and making his heart pound. He kept her close all the way back, glad she seemed to be comfortable with him. A part of Icarus had hoped she’d know him, remember him from when she was younger but she was five years younger, so she hadn’t had as good of a memory as him when the bear had attacked her. It was fine though and he didn’t plan to bring it up unless she pried about his scars. Originally if she asked he just planned to say they were from a bear. He might not tell her at all but he wasn’t a liar and that was no way to keep a relationship. If she asked what precisely happened he’d tell her.
When they got back her parents and her brother were all standing there, her parents looking nervous and her brother still looking pissed. “He caught you?” The clan leader asked “yes he did”
“so you two will be married?” She nodded and the clan leader beamed with happiness. Her parents ran over to hug her and his came over aswell “It’s nice to meet you Alecto” they said then introduced themselves. Her brother also came over, checking his sister for wounds “he didn’t hurt me”
“I’m fine, calm down.”
“I have to make sure.” Felix said.
“Felix, please, I’m really fine. We just ran.” She pulled away from him. “Just trust me, I wouldn’t lie.”
“Are you happy? Is he really what you want?”
“Yes, he’s proven himself so calm down. I’m perfectly happy.”
Felix sighed. “I just worry.”
“I know, but he’s been so kind, so please.”
“I really love her.” Icarus said and Alecto felt her heart skip. “She’s my everything.”
She looked over at him and he said “I mean it Alecto”
“I hope you mean it, she’s special and not only because she’s one of the few women. Alecto is an amazing and sweet woman and I have no problem coming and kicking your ass if you hurt her in any way” With that Felix walked away again to hangout with some of his friends and give his sister some time with her soon to be husband. “I’m..I’m sorry about him” him telling her he loved her made her nervous but she felt something too, something stiring in her. “It’s understandable. I’m not mad at him. Your his sister and lots of women have gotten hurt or forced into things because some guys are ass’s. I swear, I would never do anything to hurt or even upset you if I can help it Alecto”
She hugged him and he smiled, almost overwhelmed by what it felt like for her to embrace him. When she let go she said “Lets go over to the celebration Icarus”
“Okay” he offered his arm and she took it as they walked over.
“Have you decided what day we’ll be getting married?” Icarus asked as they sat and ate.
“Well I already have my dress, my mom had it made after they got back from talking to you. We could do it in a week.”
“She must have been incredibly optimistic about us.”
She smiled. “My parents know me and they knew you’d be compatible with my personality.”
“I’m glad they chose me. So, tell me more about yourself. How did you get so good at navigating the forest?”
“My dad wanted to make sure I knew my way around. He took me hiking and climbing, he taught me how to fish and what plants were safe to eat. It was a lot of fun. How about you? You caught up with me so fast, I was pleasantly surprised.”
“From an early age I was hunting with my father and brother. Most of my memories are in the woods. Tracking and archery are what I’m best at”
“Your skill at tracking showed today. You found me, you were right on my trail the whole time”
“have you ever shot a bow?”
“Not enough to be very good at it. Would you teach me?”
“Of course, it would be a lot of fun. Maybe after everything with our wedding is done. I know you’ve seen one or two and how it consumes everything until the couple from the great hunt are wed”
“yeah, I really hope soon whatever went wrong is fixed and births are more balanced again”
“Yeah, I hate things are so hard for you women now because of it. The pressure to wed and have babies to try and have more girls so this world doesn’t end. That women have to be scared. I’m sorry”
“You’re a good man, there’s no need for you to be sorry. I’m particularly lucky anyway, I have my older brother. If I never wanted to get married he’d help me see that through but I do, you seem nice and hopefully I can have more girls.”
They enjoyed the rest of the celebration, even dancing together. Icarus hung on to Alecto’s every word, loving hearing about her life. He was disappointed when things began to die down. He could spend all night listening to and admiring her. “Who are you staying with here in the village?” Alecto asked as they strolled back to her parents house.
“Your neighbors offered me their extra room.”
“So you’ll come over for breakfast in the morning then?”
“Sure, we can do some wedding planning and then I can borrow a bow and teach you how to shoot.” They stopped in front of her house and he let out a sigh as he took her hands. “Would it be inappropriate if I kissed you goodnight?”
She grinned and moved closer, pressing their lips together. She was smiling when she pulled back, her cheeks warm. “Good night.”
“Sweet dreams, Alecto.”
He watched her go inside, already hating being away from her. He was still happy though. He had caught her and she wanted to be with him, even had interest in learning how to shoot a bow. He truly couldn’t wait to teach her, to bring her on hunting trips with his family once she became good at it. Thoughts of their future and training her filled his head as he walked to her neighbors door and knocked “welcome back” Nadeen said as she opened the door for him. “I’ll be having breakfast with Alecto tomorrow so you don’t have to worry about feeding me again”
“Oh good, she seemed happy with you. Things are going well?”
“good, we have a lot of hope in your two…currently theres been a longer stretch than ever since a girl was born.” Icarus nodded and went to his room. Even he felt the pressure a little bit but he wanted to wait and have sex with her until the time was right, until she wanted to. He wanted it to be special no matter how badly anybody else wanted them going at it.Alecto was a person and she was amazing. He smiled as his mind filled with pleasant thoughts of her again. He immediately started trying to go to sleep, anxious to spend more time with her.
The next morning when he woke, he quickly bathed and dressed, wanting to see her as soon as possible. He was happy it was only a few short feet to her front door. He knocked and her father answered, giving him a smile. “You’re early, she’s still asleep.”
“Could I go an wake her?”
“Of course, her room’s the second on the right.”
“Thank you.” He headed to her room, his heart thumping quickly in his chest when he pushed her door open. He smiled when he saw her, how adorable she looked with her messy hair and partly open mouth. He could hear soft snoring sounds coming from her and he almost didn’t want to wake her. He dropped down on the edge of the bed and let his fingers move over her cheek. “Alecto.” He said softly and she moved a little then settled back down. “Alecto, it’s time to wake up my love.” He brushed the hair away from her face, letting his fingers gently stroke her forehead. She let out a little moan and opened her eyes, blinking them a few times as she came fully awake.
“Icarus?” She felt her cheeks warm at the sight of him and she sat up, rubbing her eyes.
“You’re father said I could wake you.”
She smiled. “Well I’m glad he did. Let me get dressed and I’ll be right out.”
before I go could I get a good morning hug Alecto?” She felt that growingly familiar tingle in her heart and embraced him, admiring again how sweet he was. Her brother had worried himself into a fit for no reason. This was a good man and she knew she was going to be happy. When he pulled back she paused. He could see the confused expression “what’s wrong? Did I do something?”
“No, I’m sorry. Go on out and I’ll get ready for the day”
“Okay” he stood up straight and walked out, hoping he really hadn’t done anything wrong. She couldn’t shake the feeling of knowing Icarus. His face was far too familiar for someone she had only just met yesterday. When she came out they walked to her kitchen where her mom was starting breakfast “good morning you two. My daughter tells me you’re going to help her improve her skill with the bow and arrow”
“Yeah, as you know I hunt frequently and she expressed an interest.”
“That sounds so fun”
“I can’t wait.” Alecto said with a bright smile.
“While we’re here, do you know what color’s you want for the wedding, what flowers?” Icarus asked.
“It’s your wedding too.”
“Whatever you want, I’ll be happy with it. I’ve never been a picky person.”
“Are you saying any woman would have done then?” She teased.
Icarus felt himself blush. “Never in a million years. You’re perfect, Alecto. I couldn’t see myself with any other.”
Alecto felt butterflies again. “Why are you so sweet to me?”
“Because you deserve sweetness, you deserve everything I can give you.”
They talked about the wedding over breakfast and everything she wanted so her parents could get started on it while he was out teaching her today. “You two have fun and be safe”
“we will mom” Her mother kissed Alecto’s head “I love you”
“I love you too” Alecto decided she just wanted to have her own bow instead of borrowing it from someone so they went to the merchant in town that sold them. “good morning Alecto”
“Good morning Quasi”
“How does it feel to be engaged?”
“amazing, he wants to teach me to use a bow so I’d like to buy one please”
How about I give you one as a wedding present”
“Oh I couldn’t, you should let me buy it”
“I won’t hear it, I’ll be right back. I just finished one a few days ago I think is perfect for you” When he came back her eyes got a bit wider, it was gorgeous. “Quasi, wow, you really do the best work. Are you sure I can’t give you anything. This looks like one of the more expensive ones you sell”
“I am sure, you’ll be sorely missed once you leave with your husband Alecto. Just remember crazy old Quasi when you go” She hugged him “I’ll treasure it always Quasi. Thank you so much” When they walked out Icarus asked “May I look at it?” she handed it over and he began to admire the hard work that obviously went into this. “isn’t he amazing? Can you believe his son refuses to learn his trade?”
“are you serious? I’d love to have someone wanting to teach me to do this”
“Breaks Quasi’s heart. He’s never taken an apprentice in hopes his son will come around. I don’t know if there’s any truth to it but I hear he’s even still left the shop to his son in his will”
“what a shame, what does his son do instead?”
“There’s no way I would pass up such an amazing opportunity. My father would have dragged me in by my hair.”
She laughed. “You have the hands for it.”
“How can you tell?”
“The way you touch the bow, like you’re learning each groove. I bet you’d make an excellent craftsman.”
He smiled. “Perhaps I’ll take up the profession after we’re married.”
“As long as you let me test the bows.”
“Anything you wish.”
She showed him where the archery range was and he lined her up in front of it. He adjusted her stance, his hands shifting her hips and shoulders. She grabbed an arrow then pulled back on the bow. “Good?” She asked.
“A bit more.” He tilted her head a bit. “You look like a real archer.” He said with a warm smile. “Now, take your time, breathe slow and when you’re ready let loose.”
She did as he told her, she took a slow, steady breath, aimed, pulled back a little more than she had before and let loose. She was surprised how close she was already getting to hitting it right on target “amazing, you’re a good student” They stayed out there practicing until lunch when she took him to her favorite place to eat. “what do you get here?”
“anything with lamb is really good. They are raised nearby”
“Okay” they ordered and he was surprised just how good it was. “we take good care of our animals and they taste better for it” When they were done they practiced a little more and the next day he decided that he could already take her out to hunt.
“You know how to move through the woods already, but I’d like you to follow my lead when hunting, at least this time.” Icarus said as he made sure her quiver was sitting comfortably.
“Alright, I will.” She smiled brightly, making his heart skip a beat. “What are we hunting?”
She was excited as they left the village and entered the woods. She stayed close to him, following his direction as they tracked their prey. She wasn’t sure how long they were out there before he motioned for her to get down and pointed ahead. She focused her eyes where he directed and could see the antlers of the large male as it moved through the underbrush. “Remember what I told you, take your time.” She readied her bow, knowing the minute she stood she would have to fire. “Aim for the side just behind the front leg.” She nodded and breathed slowly as she waited. When she finally stood, the deer looked at her and she pulled back, releasing the arrow.
She gasped when it actually hit. Icarus was surprised too “your first time. You really are amazing Alecto”
“I have a good teacher” She smiled at him and just that simple action stopped Icarus in his tracks. She was so beautiful, so amazing and it was hard to believe she was actually his. She being one of very few women didn’t even contribute to how amazing she was to him. His soul knew that even if there wasn’t a gender imbalance she would be all he ever wanted. A few days later Alecto wanted to go swimming with him and while that meant she’d see his scars she’d see them one day and she’d ask.
When they got to the lake and he pulled his shirt off she looked sad “what happened to you?”
“I look that bad?” she blushed “no, not at all. I mean those scars. How did you get them Icarus?”
He cleared his throat. “Well, when I was ten, I had to fight off this big grizzly bear. It was massive, I’d never seen such a beast. I remember my fingers clenching around this tree branch, how white my knuckles were, how fast my heart was beating. I remember the sting of my wounds and the blood soaking into my shirt.”
Alecto swallowed as an image of sharp teeth and brown fur flashed through her head, a memory or a large beast cornering her. “That sounds terrifying.”
“It was, but I was protecting someone.” His eyes met hers and her heart jumped. Green eyes like emeralds, yet instead of love and adoration, she remembered determination and fury. Her father had scooped her up that day, but she remembered others being there, remembered the arrows coming out of nowhere and killing the bear.
He didn’t know if he wanted her to remember or not but all the same he stood there quietly as she stared and the wheels worked in her head. The only real reason he wasn’t just telling her is because he didn’t want her to feel any obligation because of it. He wanted her to love him and stay by his side because she honestly liked him, not because he saved her life as a child. He was a little more comfortable telling her that much since they had already exchanged I love yous and she really seemed to mean it as much as he did. “You” she finally said and he was pulled out of his thoughts “you, you saved me didn’t you. You got those scars protecting..me” He smiled softly at her “yes”
She seemed a little shocked that he confirmed what she thought. “why didn’t you tell me that? I know there’s still much for us to learn about one another but I’m surprised you didn’t say anything”
“To be honest with you I worried it would effect your choice after I caught you. I wanted you to agree to marry me and follow through with it because you wanted to, not because I saved your life. I was worried about you feeling like you owed me” She hugged him ‘Thank you”
“You never have to thank me, beautiful.” Alecto pulled back to look at his scars. She traced them with her fingers, knowing they must have been more painful than he had described. He caught her hand and brought it to his lips, making her heart jump and her face flush. “Sorry, you touching me like that feels way too good and I promised I would be good.”
She smiled. “Am I really that much of a temptation?”
“Of course you are. I’ve never been so consumed by another person before. You’re all I could think about for years. How is she? Is she safe? I wonder what she looks like now, her personality? You have no idea how happy I was when your parents approached me, when you father remembered me. They said anyone who would stand between a bear and their child deserved to be her husband. I was scared that you would reject me, but I knew I had to try. I didn’t want anyone else.”
“I’m glad you succeeded.”
“As am I, I really do love you more than anything.”
“I love you too and not just because of the bear, but because you’re you.” She gave him a quick kiss. “Now, let’s swim. I’ll race you.”
“In your dreams.”
Life felt perfect even before their wedding came. On their big day not only did Alectos village celebrate with them but people came from neighboring villages as well. Weddings were an incredibly big deal considering the scary situation their world was in. It was amazing and everything she wanted her wedding to be. She could tell how hard everyone had worked on their part after she and Icarus had decided how they wanted it to be. Though it was customary for the bride to move where her husband was from they wound up staying in her village so Icarus could take up lessons from Quasi.
Alecto was happy and surprised he wanted to take Icarus on since everyone knew how badly he had always wanted his son to work with him. She wondered if maybe he was coming to accept his son might never have an interest. It was sad but Quasi still lit up when teaching Icarus. He seemed to be happy to at least be handing down his trade to somebody. Icarus’s home village wasn’t far away either so they still went on hunting trips with his family and saw them frequently. Everything had fallen so seamlessly into place and it was astounding to Alecto that it all had started with a bear attack when she was a child.
~ The End