The Eagle and the Flame
by Author Karen Kay
Trailing a person was a simple task for a scout, yet, still, by the time he had caught up to her, she had wandered into an open clearing, where the silvery luminescence cast by the moon created such a misty and enchanting atmosphere, he would not have been surprised to see little people dancing merrily around her. But none were there.
He watched as she bent and picked up a long stick. Was she fashioning it into a weapon? If she were, why was she doing that? Would this be the time and the place where she would play her hand, demonstrating the reason behind her deception?
He wasn’t left long to speculate. She held that tree branch out in front of her, and, as he watched her curtsy to the thing, he heard her giggle.
“Me?” she whispered. “You wish to dance with silly me?” Again, she chuckled.
And then, she began to move to the three-quarter-timed beat of the music that wafted into this place. She even hummed to the melody.
“Me?” she asked again. “You consider that I am beautiful?” She gasped. “You wish to kiss me? Will I let you? Shame on you for trying to capture a young girl’s heart. But… Yes, please do kiss me.”
In less time than it takes to think it, he realized that this would not be the hour or the place where he would come to know her secrets; in truth, he grasped that she had come here not to misbehave, but to enjoy the merriment of the ball in her own way. Dared he play along with her and become her invisible partner?
No. There was danger in that direction. Until he discovered more about her intentions—
All at once, his attention was caught by another of her chuckles, as she whispered to the stick she was holding, “Oh, what a marvelous kiss that was. But then, I expect you have more experience than I do. What? You would like to do it again?”
Was it because he had become accustomed to play-acting with her in these shooting matches, or was it because of what had happened to them yesterday? Whatever was to account for it, he found himself wishing to reach out to her, to take the place of that ridiculous stick in her hand.
Resigning himself to enacting his desire to be a part of her fantasy, he found his voice and uttered softly, “I will.”
He let those simple words alert her to the fact that he was here, watching her. “It is I, your partner,” he told her unnecessarily as he stepped up behind her, and, tapping her on the shoulder, he quickly pressed a kiss to her cheek. Then he turned her toward him.
Her eyes had opened wide at his words, and, as she stared up at him, he realized that he had surprised her too greatly; shock was mirrored in the depths of her eyes. He smiled at her as he murmured, “I saw you leave the party, and decided to follow you—see what this deceiving woman was planning to do.”
“Deceiving woman?” she questioned. “You don’t like me very much, do you?”
“I like you well enough, but I don’t trust you, for you try to trick others into believing you are a person you are not.”
“But can you deny that you are attracted to me now because of our adventure yesterday?”
Quickly he burst that bubble, and he said, “I am not interested in the way you suggest, for I will never again hold in my heart a woman who pretends to be boy.”
He sighed. Had he truly shared that part of his early life with her? He would have to beware the words that fell too easily from his tongue when he was in the presence of this woman. “I do not speak of it,” was his answer to her.
He was about to turn away from her when she asked, “Will you dance with me?”
His answer was honestly blunt, as he said, “I do not make it a practice to dance with girls who look like boys.”
She glanced away from him. “Oh, I see,” she replied, with a note of melancholy in her voice. But then, her tone brightened as she suggested, “But if I were to stand before you as a woman, fully dressed as a woman, would you dance with me then?”
He sighed. He shouldn’t agree. He knew he shouldn’t, for already his body was more than aware of her feminine gender, and even now he wished to touch her. Still, when he gazed down into her eyes, he was aware that she was not simply asking him, she was pleading with him.
Knowing that he should ignore her, however, was not as easy as it might seem, and he found himself replying to her, even though it was against his inclination, “I will.”
“You promise? If I run home to gather a change in clothing, will you still be here when I return?”
He let out his breath in an acknowledgment of a temporary truce, and he vowed, “I promise.”
“Don’t leave. I will return here shortly.”
And, with this said, she was gone.
She returned, however, within what seemed to be only a few moments later, and she was holding a dress in her hands. “I didn’t dare change in my own quarters, for I might be seen there. So please turn around; I intend to get into this dress now, and there is little cover that I can retreat to where you cannot see me.”
“I will do as you ask, but you must realize that I have already beheld you in your most vulnerable state. Your body holds no secrets from me.”
“Sir, be that as it may, I still ask you to turn your back.”
He did so, but he chuckled, nonetheless.
It was only a short time later when she murmured, “You may turn around now.”
He did as she bid, and he congratulated himself for his wisdom in retreating into the shadows, for the darkness might surely hide his first reaction to her. She was, indeed, a vision of loveliness. Admittedly, the silvery light from the moon cast shadows over her figure, making her appear perhaps more beautiful than she might look under a bright sun. But he also recalled unwillingly how she had appeared in the light of day and how she had felt in his arms. Even then, with mud splattered on her face and figure, she had seemed comely.
At present, she had loosened her red hair, and it shimmered down her back. Her dress looked to be a light shade of green, and it accented every curve of her stunningly rounded woman’s body.
He swallowed. Hard. The realization that he was, indeed, attracted to her was not a pleasant insight for him, and he tried to harden his heart against her.
She grinned at him as she stepped closer to him, and he couldn’t help admitting the truth as he said, “You do yourself a disfavor when you clothe yourself as a boy, Wí?ya? Gnáya?, for, dressed as you are now, you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”
He heard her intake of breath before she whispered, “Did I hear you right? Did you actually mention me and the word, “beautiful,” together, in the same sentence?”
He chuckled a little. “That I did, Wí?ya? Gnáya?.”
“Wí?ya? Gnáya?? I forget. What does that mean?”
“It is the Nakoda way for saying Deceiving Woman.”
“Oh. You have called me that now too many times. I think I don’t like that name.”
“And so you shouldn’t. But do not despair. It is a custom of my people that a relative might select a negative trait to call a person, hoping that he or she will fight to change it, for among my people, what title a man or woman is known by may often change. Perhaps you might try to sway me to amend yours?”
Her response was merely to shake her head in the negative. She countered, “To do that, one would have to care about your good opinion, and I’m not certain that I should.”
He sighed as he took a step toward her. “Come, let us not argue about affairs that we cannot change, not tonight. You have told me that you wish to dance, and I have consented to be your partner.” He backed up slightly from her and offered his arms to her in the style and in the position of the waltz.
She questioned, “Do you know how to dance to this music?”
He grinned at her, then added, “Do birds sing gaily as they greet the sun?”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“I have returned from a tour of Europe, where there were many balls and welcoming parties. Do you honestly believe I would not take the time to learn the steps of a dance that allows a man to hold a woman in his arms, a woman who is not his wife?”
Her laugh was strained as she observed aloud, “You are a rogue, aren’t you?”
He shrugged. “I do not ask these girls to bring me presents. Do you know of a man who would turn away from that which is so sweetly offered?”
“A husband, perhaps,” she replied without hesitation. “I would hope a husband would be such a man.”
“Ah, you are right, for a man who promises a woman that she will be his in marriage should remain true to her, and to his word of honor, for all his life. But come, we continue to bicker when we might be dancing.” He smiled at her, and held his hand out to her. “May I have this dance?”
“Yes. Indeed, I would be honored,” she murmured as she took his proffered hand. Then he placed her left hand on his shoulder, and, still holding her right, he took possession of her around her waist. She sighed a little, then said, “We are lucky that the band is playing another waltz.”
He didn’t answer, for the feel of her in his arms was an exquisite pleasure, and he kept his body’s reaction to her, to her scent and to her beauty, under his firm control. And they danced, there in a wooded clearing, where the only light to be seen was that of a multitude of stars and glimmering beams of moonlight. They twirled around the little clearing, he watching her, and she staring up at him. It was a moment of magic, as though this instant were not happening within the agreed-upon stream of time.
They didn’t speak. There was no need to do so, for their bodies were perfectly attuned. And still the music played.
He desired to hold her closer. Yet, he retained his caution toward her, knowing well that he mustn’t bring the essence of her femininity in too closely to him. She was not for him. Indeed, in a world where he could easily have his choice in a woman, he told himself that he didn’t need her. He held onto this bit of information as though it were important and a truth, for, as he gazed down into her most lovely face, he panicked. She was that beautiful.
The music stopped, and so did they cease to dance, but he did not relinquish his hold upon her, and, when she tilted her face up toward his, he leaned down, ready to receive her kiss; wanting it, desiring it, even against his will. But the caress never came.
At that last moment, he reined in his sense of urgency, and, although he didn’t back away from her, he nevertheless did not kiss her. He dared not.
Her voice was soft as she asked, “Didn’t you say you would kiss me?”
“I already did,” he answered.
“No, you didn’t,” she contradicted. “That was a mere peck on my cheek.”
“It was a kiss.”
“When I asked my invisible friend to kiss me, I meant on the lips. And, since you are and have become that invisible partner, will you do it?”
“Why not?” It was more than her tone of voice that had laced her question with disappointment.
He sighed. “Because,” he said, “you are my ally in the show, and there must be no hint of your womanhood allowed into our relationship. Besides, although you stand before me in all your womanly beauty now, I know that on the morrow when we have our next performance, I will behold a woman pretending to be a boy. I do not kiss such women.”
She sighed. “Then I guess I will remain nineteen, and ne’er be kissed.” There was a twinkle in her eyes as she looked up toward him.
He stated a warning, saying, “Do not tease me, and do not dare me to do it.”
“I am not. I am stating a truth. I have never been kissed. Not by anybody.”
He blew out his breath in a hiss. “What is wrong with the men of your acquaintance?”
She laughed a little. “I think, Mr. Eagle, that they are afraid of me. But I don’t believe that you are.” She smiled up at him.
He bent toward her, and, despite himself, he was well aware of his body’s readiness for her. But this was all wrong. Terribly wrong, for he was still unaware of the reason for her deceit. And, in self-defense, he uttered, “I must go.”
“Will we have no more dances, then?”
“Not tonight.” He dropped his arms from around her. He needed to get away from her. In truth, he was in great need of a long, cold swim, followed by intense soul-searching. What was he going to do about this beautiful, deceiving woman?
And then she did it. Rising up to tiptoe, she brought her face up to his and urged her lips to his. It was nothing, really. Just her bare lips against his own; no lip pressure in the gesture.
Yet, it was as though a light flashed brightly within him. Indeed, the simple kiss provided him with such a perfect carnality, he felt himself ready to make love to her now, and to the devil with the consequences. But he mustn’t, he argued with himself. Despite the swirling world of sexual stimulation that enveloped him, he realized he must remain immune to her. All the same, he whispered, “You call that a kiss?”
“Well…yes, I believe that I do.”
“You are truly innocent, I fear.” And with nothing else said, he threw away all his reasonable arguments against her, and took control of the kiss, opening her mouth and tracing its inner recess with his tongue, kissing her as a lover might, discovering the taste of her, playing tag with her tongue. He felt her surrender to him, and, without thinking, he broke off the kiss on her lips to trail wet caresses over to her ear, down her neck; he even pulled at the bodice of her gown to expose her breasts, and he was quick to kiss the lusciousness of each one. It was with the barest of grips on himself that he drew back and brought his head up to a level with hers, placing his forehead against hers. Then he whispered, “That, Miss Deceiving Woman, is a kiss.”
She seemed to be speechless, and when he drew back to gaze at her, he realized he had again stunned her. He said, “And this is why we must never again kiss, for I feel it only fair to warn you that I can barely hold myself back from you and exploring more of your body, and that will never do. Know this: I might admire you, I might like you even against my will, but I shall never marry you. Never. And to do more than what I have already done is an act of dishonor to you. Do you understand?”
She nodded. “I do. Perhaps you should also know that I do not wish to marry you, either. Still, I thank you for that very real kiss. I am no longer nineteen and ne’er been kissed, nor fondled.”
Did she tease him? For he certainly felt baited. Yet, he had spoken wisely, and, although he longed to experience much more with her, he kept his desire firmly in check, adhering to his own code of morality. He forced himself to step back from her.
In truth, he had never intended kissing her in such a sexual way. He realized all at once the hypocrisy of his words and his deeds; he spoke of lofty intentions while he had, only moments ago, seduced her.
He needed to think. That’s what he needed to do, and so he turned away from her and trod swiftly toward a darkened corner of the clearing. He turned back to face her once he had settled himself within the shadows, and he said, “I will wait here while you change.”
“That’s not necessary.”
“I believe that it is. I will see you safely back to the party or to your own quarters.”
“Why? You know I can take care of myself.”
He sighed. Why, indeed? He knew the answer, of course. He was now more than aware of her femininity, and, because of this, he could not let her step out into the night unescorted. To do so would be as to humiliate her.
However, he couldn’t tell her this. In the end, he simply remained silent, as, beside himself, he watched her undress. He told himself that it was right that he peer at her in this way because she hadn’t asked him to look elsewhere, and he was, after all, a man….