The girl stared at the young man before her. Before, she would have noticed his strength, good looks, and impressive build.
She would have been thrilled that he had once declared his love for her, and had hoped she would soon wed him.
Now, the handsome charm of the young Saxon warrior was the farthest thing from her mind.
"You ran," her voice cut like knives through the serenity of the open field. Her fine, long skirts billowed around her and mingled with the long grass.
His eyes fled her face, looking instead at the distant castle upon the hilltop. "You knew I wasn't strong enough."
She marched up to him and grabbed his chin, forcing him to look at her. "That wasn't what I asked you to do. I asked you to be Ellen's champion - to fight for her life. Yet you ran."
He yanked free of her hand, his jaw pulsing. "He was as big as a mountain. I couldn't defeat him. Did you want both of us to die that day?"
Tears caught in her eyes. "I wanted you to act like the man you boast you are. I wanted to believe you were a brave, noble knight.
But Ellen's trial and execution only proved that you were a coward!"
He grabbed her arm when she spun to leave. "I lost the joust. He would surely beat me in the sword fight. I would have died, and Ellen would have died anyway."
A sob racked her body. He moved toward her, but stopped himself. Letting go of her arm, he stepped backward.
Her voice trembled as she spoke. "I don't need your excuses. Face what you did. Beg God for mercy, and only then I will consider forgiving you for your cowardice."
She ran from him. The sobs coursed through her body, sending streams of warm tears down her cold face. Then she heard his voice behind her, speaking to the sky, "Dear God, what have I done?"
Her eyes rested on the figure, now far away, as he crumpled to his knees, holding the back of his neck with his hands.
Her heart ached with the weight of Ellen's sweet memory and the love she still held for him - despite what he'd done. She closed her eyes as the memories washed over her.
She felt a raindrop. She looked up at the cloudy sky, and then decided she didn't care if she got wet. Wandering through the wild, open fields as she wept harder.
"How can I show grace to him? How can I..." Her voice lowered to a whisper. "How can I ever forgive him?"
She began walking back toward the castle.
Suddenly, she stopped. She glanced at the figure still prostrate in the field. Ellen is gone, she told herself. But he is still alive. I cannot use the past to destroy the living.
Ellen no longer needs me, but...
Her heart whispered the words her lips could not.
With an inexplicable sense of peace, she slowly turned toward him and took a step.