He wanders along the footpath by the river, enjoying the sunshine and the views.
Being on his own in the countryside has always been one of his purest pleasures since childhood. The fells, the river and the woods with only nature as his companion were always sheer delight. The wind murmuring through the trees, the water gurgling between the rocks, the birds twittering – these are the only companions he requires.
The high fells and mountains talk to him of an aeon of strength, of resilience, of character. An age before man, his struggles, his wars, his successes, his progression. They exude a reassurance he can take comfort in. The sky, the wind, the clouds and their shadows are the actors that walk this gigantic stage, ensuring that no hours, days or years are ever the same.
Today, all is uncannily still, the wind does not murmur and there is an unearthly silence abroad. He sees neither birds, nor sheep upon the fells, nor cows in the fields. The air takes on a cloying, breathless intensity.
He rounds a bend and stops, staring, transfixed at the scene before him. A young woman is bathing in a shallow pool in the river. She is completely naked – as naked as nature intended. He takes in the sight of her beautiful thighs, full breasts and long, flowing, dark hair as she bends to cup water in her hands. He cannot take his eyes away and decides to hide and enjoy the scene as long as he can. And then she turns and sees him… and smiles! He feels his face colouring and manages in return what he imagines must be no more than a smirk.
She holds up a hand, as if to request him to wait, and proceeds to walk the few feet to the bank. She slips a long grey dress over her head; it looks…dated, old-fashioned. She shakes her hair free once more and holds out her hand to him. Has she mistaken him for someone else? She beckons once more, holding his gaze, the invitation clear.
He takes her offered hand and asks her name. In response, she lightly shakes her head and presses a slim, damp finger upon his lips. She holds his gaze once more and tugs gently, beckoning him to follow. Where the path is narrow and he has to fall behind, he gazes upon her swelling hips, remember her wet body and becomes aroused thinking, hoping what might lie ahead.
As they walk on, unspeaking, he begins to sense that he has not walked this way before. How can this be? He has walked every inch of these woods, fields and fells above, many, many times. He looks around as they break free of the wood and begin to walk uphill. There is nothing he recognises. Across the valley, he sees huts with mud covered walls and thatched roofs that he has never seen before.
They top a rise and there before them stands a fortified manor house. She squeezes his hand and as they approach, the light seems to change; it fades and he sees mist rolling rapidly down the mountainside towards them. As they draw near to the manor, he sees a heavy old door. It is ajar and she leads them through and into a dark, cold passageway. He glances back and sees the mist now swirling thickly past.
She presses her finger to his lips & squeezes his hand once more and leads him up a spiralling staircase in one of the towers. At the top, they enter a dark bedchamber, with a heavily draped four poster. His pulse quickens as she leads him to the bed and pushes him down until he is lying flat in the deep shadows.
He can faintly hear bells ringing as he lifts his head to see where she is. At that moment, a break in the mist must have occurred, permitting a shaft of sunlight to fall upon her as she stands over him. She drops the dress and is quite naked once more as she moves forward, smiling as she reaches for his belt…
There is a hammering at the door and then a powerful light blinds him..
‘Come on, father!’ His housekeep is shouting, ‘It’s nearly eight o’clock & you’ll be late for mass!’
Image from an original by A J Armstrong