You may recall that a week ago I rose to the challenge of fellow tweeter Katherine Mahon and wrote a short piece of Flash Fiction featuring a hermit as the unlikely hero of a historical romance. And there it would lie, but for the nagging of my older sister Helen.
For her viewing pleasure, I have written another random scene drawn from the as yet unplotted, unplanned and unwritten hermit story. Unedited, unproofed and with apologies for it's crapness. This is for Helen AKA Nin:
The Hermit Part Deux
“Mr... er.. Francis,” Anne said, quite unable to meet the hermit’s darkly intense gaze. “I do not wish to be inhospitable but generally speaking hermits, you know... well they live in the wilderness. Fed by birds and wild berries and so on.” Realising she was twisting her hands together in a rather desperate fashion, she tucked them behind her back. This unfortunately, had the detrimental effect of making her feel like a naughty school girl. I am a Duchess, she reminded herself. For once she was glad of the stiff busk within her corset that kept her from melting in a puddle of supine apprehension at the man’s feet.
“Wilderness,” he repeated, carefully annunciating each syllable as though the word were quite ridiculous. His voice had a hint of foreignness in its rich dark tones. It reminded her of aromatic coffee and exotic spices, of warmth and liquid pleasure. She shivered and pressed her soft lips together in a prim line of disapproval.
“Wilderness,” she said. Squaring her shoulders, she forced herself to look him in the eye. It was a mistake. His eyes were as black and unfathomable as a cobra. He looked with the watchful poise of a lethal beast, ready to strike. Anne swallowed. “Hermits live in the wilderness,” she said firmly. “Not in ducal residences. Not in gardens landscaped by Mr Lancelot Brown. People are... they are talking, Mr... Francis.”
“Just Francis,” he supplied. A faint smile curled his lip and she fought the sudden urge to take a step back, to remove herself from his dizzying presence.
“I think not.”
He shrugged and she wondered how an unkempt man clad in nothing but a homespun shirt and breeches should manage to look quite so effortlessly elegant. “Why should I care if people talk?”
“You sir, need not. I must. It is not that I wish to be inhospitable you understand, but all ladies must safeguard their reputations. Particularly widows and particularly widows who are duchesses.” Looking up at him she suddenly felt ridiculous parroting her mother’s words. The hermit’s shirt was open at the neck, showing the strong tanned line of his neck. His hair was almost to his shoulders, in wild black curls and dark stubble shadowed his lean cheeks. She thought of her late husband with his pale paunch and stubbled head. His ornate brocades and velvet breeches, the diamond buckles on his shoes and long curling wig. The epitomy of middle-aged civilised manhood.
For a moment it seemed that seeking true wilderness outside of these walls was an impossibility, for wilderness was bound up within this shabby, dark-eyed man of prayer. It burned inside him, lighting his eyes and dancing in the graceful impatience of his fingers. It was as though a whirling typhoon was spinning within the manicured disarray she had planned, designed and boxed within the walls of her estate, hedged by dainty trees and pretty follies.
A grin lit his face, transforming his onyx eyes to smiling crescents of liquid bronze. “So you wish to force me to the wild, to prey upon wild berries and commune with the wind? And this will relieve the suspicions of... your mother?”
“Oh!” Her hand flew to her throat. “How could you –“
“- I am told what I need to know.” His gesture swept the sky and the landscape in one eloquent movement. Meeting her eyes, his smile faded. “And I know that you are needlessly afraid of censure. This is your little kingdom, my lady and you will grant your favour as you please. It is willed that I am here.” Abruptly, he turned away from her and started walking up the hill in long strides. She watched him, open mouthed. Glancing back over his shoulder he called to her. “You have nothing to fear in me, Duchess. I am a man of God.”
She thought she heard a laugh borne on the light breeze which ruffled the stiffly waxed curls of her elaborate coiffure like a caress. Watching his broad-shoulders leaning forward against the wind, it occurred to her that she had never seen a man less godly in her life.