In ‘Dawn of the Dance‘, Karen continues to relive the experiences of the young Lady Emerald. The Lady Emerald, then known as Dawn, was enjoying the attentions of a village lad, Shaun, at the Harvest Festival. We continue after she returned home…
Dawn opened her bedroom window and sat upon its wide ledge. She lifted her legs, and swiveled around to face toward the night. Dressed ready for bed, she casually arranged the skirt of her gown, before returning to brushing her long blonde hair. It calmed Dawn to feel the stillness of the valley when the village was asleep, though tonight was different, as the sound of the festival still drifted to the outlying houses. She hummed to herself, along with the music. Sometimes it was hard to go to sleep. The lulling rhythm of the brush strokes helped, and her mind had already taken flight, first gliding across the valley basin and now soaring higher, ready to dive to places that lay within imagination, and not long outside of a day’s coach ride. Soon she would leave, she told herself. Her teachers were sure of it. She was clever and hardworking; they would help her secure a place at a university, in one of the cities. Once there, Dawn would study science, like her mother had before. There her mind would really be free.
Something rustled behind the hedgerow. In the city, animals acted like people, but in the countryside they still ran wild. But nocturnal animals did not concern Dawn, and this sounded like no animal. Wary of being watched, Dawn climbed back inside, and ducked beneath the window ledge. Then she popped her head back up again, to discretely peek at who was outside. As she looked out from her hiding place, another looked up from his. Realizing the futility of the situation, Shaun stood up, waved, and seeing no reply, he steadily made his way around the hedge, over the fence, and across the meadow until he was beneath Dawn’s window. “I know you’re up there. I didn’t mean any harm. You left so early; I was hoping to talk some more,” said Shaun, in that peculiar kind of whisper that people use when wanting to be heard at a distance. Dawn raised her head a little higher, asking “is that you, Shaun?” though she knew it was. She was fully leaning out of the window before she received a reply. “It is,” he said simply. “What are you doing here?” Dawn was wary that her father might catch them, though usually he was a sound sleeper.
“You left so early. We’d only just started to talk, and I wanted to continue. I was going to call for you at your window, but then I saw you were already sitting there.”
“Yes, here I am, at my bedroom window,” said Dawn, feeling the conversation was stuck on the obvious.
“I came to talk, but when I saw you, I didn’t want to disturb you. The moon silver, your hair golden, I was…”
Dawn giggled. “Did you think of that whilst crouching behind the hedge?”
“Seeing you at your window,” Shaun continued, unruffled, “was like seeing the sun rise…” but then he had to chuckle at himself, and Dawn laughed along.
“How long were you behind that hedge, composing your poetry?”
“About ten minutes.”
“Maybe you needed another hour or two back there.”
Dawn’s barbed words did not wound Shaun, because they were sweetly spoken. He responded with equal jest: “I could go back to the hall. There’s still plenty in there.”
Dawn felt saddened at the thought of being excluded from the festivities. Other young men and women danced on, whilst she prepared for bed. “Maybe you should go back. You don’t want to miss the fun.”
“It’s better here.”
“Is it? Why is that? Were you hoping to catch me confiding my secrets to whatever creature was listening; perhaps a barn owl, or a field mouse? And maybe they’d school me on…” She had meant to say ‘the mysteries of young men’ but she realized how that would sound, and stopped herself. “Anyway, you’ll not find it better here if my father catches you, so don’t speak so loud.”
“If he found me here, would he try to kill me?”
“No, but he’d certainly shout at you, and then he’d talk to your father tomorrow. Though maybe he wouldn’t bother with your father, and he’d just punish me instead.”
“That would be unfair. You’re the innocent party.”
“I agree. I’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Nobody’s in the wrong here. I just came to talk. Does your father have objections to my family? We’re not the richest, but we’re honest enough.”
“I’m sure your family is no worse than others. He’d be the same with any lad that dared talk to me this way.”
“And you? Do you object?”
“It’s never happened before. They say you should try everything once.”
“That’s not an objection.”
“No. It’s provisional acceptance,” and Dawn climbed back up on to the ledge, reassuming her seated position. “I’ve not finished brushing my hair, so we might as well chat whilst I do.”
Though Dawn’s house had just two stories, it had been built tall, and she sat at least eight feet above the level of Shaun’s head. This physical divide was comforting, and encouraged them both to talk more freely than they otherwise would. As the gap was too great to traverse bodily, unless Dawn got a notion to risk leaping to the ground, their minds compensated by coming closer together. They both felt inclined to say things that they would otherwise have censored.
“Your hair’s beautiful…” said Shaun.
“… like golden rays of sun?” rejoined Dawn.
“Like the beauty of words that I can’t summon. The beauty’s in you, not in my description of you.”
“So the beauty’s the same, no matter how it’s described?”
“But, Shaun, my hair is on the top of my head, not inside it. How do you know if I’m beautiful inside?”
“From your manner.”
“From my manner when dancing?”
“From your manner whenever I’ve seen you.”
Dawn was ill-prepared for the battery of flattery that Shaun had mercilessly aimed at her. She felt her defences collapsing. She toyed with the sensation, but it left her anxious too. Momentarily unsure of what to say, she looked away. On the other hand, she desperately wanted to hear more. Dawn sat on a pivot. At one moment she imagined herself diving under her covers. At the next moment, she saw herself dropping from the ledge to the ground, to be closer to Shaun. She vacillated within, but sat perfectly still, apart from the motion of each hairbrush stroke. The pause in conversation had become excruciating, so she looked back to Shaun, as if willing him to speak more. He did.
“Dawn, I’d like it if you came out more often, came to join us when we’re doing things.”
“Like what, fishing?”
“Fishing, yes, or just eating in company, or when there’s games to be played. We don’t see much of you. I’d like to see more of you.”
“That would be nice. But you know I plan to leave the village in the coming months?” It was true, and she said it without hesitation, but once said she felt it was a miserably discouraging thing to say to Shaun.
“I heard that you would leave. You’re smart enough to go to better places. But your father’s smart too; you could learn with him.”
“There’s nothing I want to learn from him,” said Dawn, coldly.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re going soon. I’d just like to know you more, before you do.”
“Do you walk?”
“Of course. I walked here.”
“Then walk from here, with me, tomorrow. No, let’s not meet here. I’ll meet you on the lane that leads West of here and heads up the hill. Father encourages my walks, saying they’re good exercise. We’ll meet at the junction, just out of sight of here.”
“Three o’clock. But now go.” She told him to go, though she did not really want him to leave.
“Okay, until tomorrow.” Shaun walked away, a little reluctantly, but happy he would see Dawn tomorrow. She hesitantly waved, her brush in her hand, as he crossed the fence and walked back beyond the hedgerow. And as she did, she bit her lip, knowing what danger she had manufactured for them both.