Snowflakes tumble like stolen gems in the moonlight, twinkling down through the angry tangle of tree limbs arching overhead. Constance tightens her scarf around her neck and runs, blue clouds of breath pouring out of her like a locomotive. A velvet pouch jostles in her coat pocket, feeling heavier with each stride. She can no longer hear Geoffrey’s dogs but still she runs.
A branch snaps and Constance whirls around. She hears another snap–closer, louder–and her sky tilts luridly, bewilderingly, the moon slurring white against gray as she falls hard in the snow. For a moment she hears only the silent burst of each falling snowflake as it dissolves upon her hot cheek and then the distant wary footsteps of a deer. Another branch snaps as the deer bolts and the muffled drumbeat of its hooves fade deep into the forest. Her leg is stretched out in the snow, her right boot caught in the notch of an upturned root, her leg is at a peculiar angle. She sees crisp white of bone jutting through the glossy black of her boot. Crimson blood colors the snow. Constance screams and falls unconscious.
When she wakes, the moon has long since hidden itself behind the black of the forest. The velvet pouch lies spilled beside her, a spray of tiny burrows in the snow the only trace of the diamonds. She stares up at the accusing canopy of branches and wonders what the servants will say, what stories will spread like fire through the village.
Some will say, she is certain, that it was Lust that drove her, others that she saw in Geoffrey’s Love simply a means to an end. Both will be true, but neither the Truth. She wonders if anyone will speak with empathy for a peasant girl who watched in helpless horror as crushing poverty drove the light from her father’s eyes. Will they speak of forgiveness for a young woman who discovered in her beguiling hazel eyes and voracious sexual appetite the path to the better life she sought? Will they condemn her because she could not control those appetites?
She wonders if anyone will understand why, as Geoffrey burst through the barn door in a rage, his suspicions plainly confirmed, she couldn’t dismount the stable hand until the last thundering wave shook through her even as the frightened young man flushed with shame and fear and scrambled to free himself from the silk prison between her legs.
No one will understand the purity of her rationale, as the two men struggled in the room, to run first to Geoffrey’s bedroom, to the mahogany box hiding the velvet pouch he had shown her the first night they made love whispering, “For you, my love. When we marry.” This she knows they will never understand.
In those fleeing moments, she expected Geoffrey to be overcome, distraught, giving her time to escape and slip away into the woods. But the instincts of her body had always been her only sure judge of men and she’d waited too long. Also, she had not counted on the dogs. And she ran and ran until their howling faded into the distance and the forest enshrouded her in silence.
And now, feeling nothing but the wooden numbness of her slowly freezing limbs, she yearns for the baying of the dogs but hears only the falling snow.