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Chapter Two: Curiouser

The sounds of the forest suddenly seemed very far away, as if the mist had left behind the birds and the squirrels. Picking her way through the gray night, she listened to the muffled chirps and the growing silence. It mesmerized her in the same way that a babbling brook lulls somebody to sleep. It wrapped around her cozily whilst a drowsy haze seeped into her mind. In other words, she simply got complacent. Then a nearby noise took her by surprise.

Jolted out of her trance-like state, she strained to see through the enveloping fog. Only perceiving stillness in the gray, she wondered if she had actually dozed off and dreamt it as she continued to sleepwalk. She proceeded on her journey. Then she heard it for sure – twigs snapping – behind her this time. She twisted around and peered into the fog. She stared hard until a large, dark shape seemed to form within – or out of – the mist.

Yet unable to discern what manner of creature approached, she silently watched with guarded anticipation until it fully materialized. Her lifelong experience on this bizarre island had developed within her a kind of cautious curiosity rather than terror when dealing with the unknown. Intrigued, therefore, she stood her ground but wisely rested her hand by the knife holstered on her thigh. Her attention absorbed, it actually startled her to hear more twigs snapping in the opposite direction.

She whirled around toward the fresh sound, dagger in hand but still lowered. Another dark shape loomed. It took on the outline and stride of a man before emerging from the fog. At first, she could not see his face. He had it lowered and cloaked in shadow by the brim of his hat. She did note the polished leather shoes and the elegant, mid-length trench. When the man stopped but two itty bitty paces before her, he finally lifted his head. For one rare instant, she felt shock and dismay.

It must have shown in her face. That, or he saw the blade still lowered but at the ready. Either way, he promptly retreated a step and bowed with a tip of his hat. When he looked into her eyes again, he saw confusion there.  After all, the young lady expected her brother or maybe her father to come out and find her. Instead, she encountered a stranger for the first time in her life.

“I beg your pardon,” the finely attired stranger began in a stately voice. “Lady Elizabeth Seymour, I take it? Andrew Churchill at your service.” He had an odd way of speaking. Her expression remained bemused and distrustful, so Andrew continued in an uncomfortable fashion. “Perhaps your parents never told you about us – ”

“Us?” she interrupted sharply. So, more than one unwelcome guest has intruded my world, Elizabeth thought grimly. Her brows had furrowed deeper as her body increasingly tensed. The man before her could plainly discern the suspicion that she wore upon her sleeve. It vexed him a little to find himself in such an awkward position. Normally, people either knew him or at least knew of him. If they didn’t like him personally, then they liked his noble blood. The men treated him with deference, and the women simpered in his direction. The unruly creature before him did neither. Instead, she glared and wielded a knife.

“My family I mean,” Andrew clarified. “The Churchills have been connected with the Seymours for many generations.” Elizabeth did not respond in any way – did not budge a hairsbreadth. Trying to maintain his equanimity, he continued. “In fact, it is my understanding that we are actually related – distant cousins, I believe.” Here, he haughtily looked her up and down before muttering, “Very distant, I assure you.”

“Why do you speak in that funny way?” she asked abruptly. Unprepared for this question, Andrew found himself taken aback momentarily. He certainly could not mistake her rude tone for simpering. Fortunately, his excellent breeding would eventually get him through this embarrassing interview; therefore, he quickly regained composure.

“I suppose you are referring to the fact that I hale from the great country of England,” Andrew replied, his expression stony. “Bedford, England, to be exact.” This man apparently took great pride in his origins. After such an abrasive introduction between the two of them, many women would have resisted revealing any sort of eager curiosity or favorable impression. Not so with Elizabeth. Her eyes – previously storm clouds – lit up at the mention of his home country.

“England?!” she exclaimed after a sharp intake of breath. Then she really startled him: She smiled. First, she smiled to herself and said quietly, “Yes, that seems right.” Then she smiled upon him. “I’ve always longed to see England. Will you tell me all about it, sir?” Andrew could only stare at first. This creature indeed took on a womanly form, but the naiveté and excitement were that of a child’s. To his shame, he could not but succumb to this charm.

“Why, of course,” Andrew managed to say with a brief smile in return. Then her face could barely contain her grin. She thanked him as profusely as a young girl who just received a pony for her birthday. Her eyes positively glowed with gratitude. It took him a good half-minute to recollect himself. “Yes, well…it must wait until we find our way home.”

“Oh no, we shall never find our way home,” Elizabeth replied contentedly. At his look of consternation, she further explained, “The island will lead us home…when it will.” His concern only increased at this crazy statement. After their strange interaction, it should not have surprised him to potentially find himself in the company of a madwoman.

Regardless, Andrew offered his arm in a gentlemanly fashion. Elizabeth accepted it shyly. He noticed that, somewhere along the way, she had discretely sheathed her blade. Feeling a little more secure, he proceeded to lead his intriguing new acquaintance in the direction from which he came. She allowed herself to be led. As she did, she briefly peeked back over her shoulder. “Is anything wrong?” he asked as he looked in the same direction.

“I just remembered that I saw something earlier,” Elizabeth replied. They both stopped then to watch and listen. A short time passed when they saw nothing and heard nothing, so she shrugged and cued Andrew to proceed. That night, they would both dream about the thing in the fog…