Charlotte stood in the middle of the sprawling garden of her family’s country home, looking over the small fountain’s flowing water. The smell of jasmine, lavender, and roses filled the air. Charlotte tugged at her bodice; its boning digging in to her waist. Her flowing skirt of silk brocade floated out over her bloomers. She never enjoyed wearing formal dresses and didn’t understand why it was so necessary, especially when they were not entertaining.
She spied a small orange butterfly and walked towards it, around some rose bushes and other shrubs. Why couldn’t she be free like her little visitor? She twirled the neck tie of her blouse. Oh, how she longed to be free of all her family’s expectations. Currently they were trying to match her, and she was tired of meeting suitors who didn’t suit her at all.
The butterfly floated towards an arched pathway. Two cement swan planters sat at the entrance, full of blooming flowers. Charlotte followed the butterfly down the path. She had never been this way, and looked forward to a new discovery and a distraction for herself.
As she walked the trail, a light mist started to fill the floor. An owl cried out in the distance. The noises from the forest frightened Charlotte. She reached through a pocket of her outer skirt and felt for her dagger strapped to her left leg. She learned to protect herself growing up, there were too many rogues willing to kidnap and harm members of her family. She felt the cold steel hilt; it calmed her.
She continued down the path. Fallen branches tugged at her heavy skirt. One snagged it, ripping a small patch of the deep red fabric. Her boots peeked out from the hem of her skirt. A cobbler made them to her specifications, brown with crossing straps, and tall enough to cover her calves, to just below her knees. They protected her legs from the scratching undergrowth of the trail.
As she continued to walk, she lost her footing and slid down an embankment. The only thing stopping her from falling into the ravine below was her skirt which had become entangled on twigs and branches. She dangled briefly, reaching for a nearby tree trunk and struggling to get her footing. Finally, she found a hold to pull herself up, but her snagged skirt would not let her move further. At least she could now firmly stand without slipping.
Luckily, her left hand was free. She reached for her dagger, pulled it out, and began slicing away at the silk. Her mother would be furious, but which was more important — her dress or her life? Finally, she freed herself and climbed up onto the tree trunk.
The trunk spanned the ravine, but Charlotte had lost her sense of direction during the fall. She saw two trails, one on each end as she sat on the trunk. She decided to take the closer one as that seemed to be the correct one. Carefully she traversed the trunk and stepped back on the trail.
With her skirt in tatters, and the bodice still digging in, she took her dagger and slid it under the strapping in the bodice. Her maid had tied the strapping in such a way she could not get out otherwise. Finally, as the straps loosened, she took in a deep breath and her blouse floated away from her skin, allowing her to relax, and the bodice fell to the forest floor.
She turned in the direction she believed to be back home. The trail continued to turn, but did not seem familiar. Finally, in the distance, she noticed an arched opening. She picked up her pace, ready to be home. But, when she reached the opening, home was not what she saw.
Her jaw dropped. Before her was a lake, covered with mist. Swans floated nearby. By the lake was a small bench. She sat down to take in the view and to rest up before heading back up the trail. As she watched the swans, her eyes grew heavy and she succumbed to slumber.
Two shadows in the form of a woman and a man approached the bench. The woman checked Charlotte’s pulse and alertness. She was completely out, but alive. The woman nodded her head at the man. The man slipped his hands under Charlotte’s back and knees, picking her up, and holding her close to his chest. The shadows then disappeared back into the mist with Charlotte in tow.