He found her trapped in his net at dawn. The forest was still asleep, the horizon softly brightening. He had caught many an animal before—some he sold to the highest bidders at the market, the rest he roasted over the fire or cured and saved for the dark winter months. A man needs meat to keep his body running. An empty stomach is a killer. A lonely heart, you make your peace with.
After freeing her from the tangled net, he scooped her up in his arms and carried her all the way up the jagged path to his house. She was feather-light. Her skin glowed like the moon, pale, chalk white. A slim green band was wrapped around her wrist. He couldn’t tell if this object was a piece of jewellery or a talisman.
She slept all day. Twelve hours later, when her eyelids fluttered open, a sigh escaped his lips, a weight lifted. Words flew out of her mouth like delicate-winged moths. Her language swirled in the air between them—a mist that left him unmoored.
He pointed at the wound on her forehead, bruised red, turning black. “Does it hurt?” he asked, applying a salve with his fingertips, keeping his voice to a whisper.
She blinked twice and he took it for a ‘no’. Blink once for ‘yes’, twice for ‘no’–he asked for nothing more elaborate than that from her.
Her wound healed in a few weeks. Her pale skin stayed the same, but her stride quickened, her smile bloomed. She sprinkled meats with herbs he had never tasted before. Brewed a dark, spicy broth that warmed his bones. He heard her humming a tune under her breath in the kitchen. Her song quickened his pulse. Her voice caressed him like summer rain.
Summer of joy, winter of warmth. Who needed words when their bodies could do the talking? Her lips were ripe berries, softer than snow. Her kisses left him begging for more. In the light of the moon, she shone like a vision, pale and luminous. The band on her wrist stayed on her wrist. He never saw her take it off.
Because she couldn’t speak his language, his questions bounced off her like water off a lotus leaf. Night after night, questions bubbled up inside him. Night after night, doubt gnawed at him. He groaned, buried his face in her hair, and breathed in the strange scent of her mysteries.
Slowly, answers stopped mattering. His questions faded away like autumn leaves. She planted a garden in the sunny patch behind the house. Flowers sprang up at her touch, buds bloomed. She never learnt his language, but she taught him a song whose meaning he couldn’t understand. The tune got stuck in his head. He hummed it when he was out in the forest setting traps and tracking prints. He hummed it when they held hands under the moon.