He had met her here.
That day was blistering hot. The practice hall stifled them all. It made the taunting all the worse. The other initiates were merciless.
When practice ended he rode out into the countryside, blindly, just to get away. The trees by the stream promised cool shade. He rode down and dismounted below the bridge.
He let his horse drink from the stream, with trailing reins, before he noticed the girl. She sat on the bank, watching the water tumble over the rocks. Her hair was long and dark down her back.
She stood, startled, as he approached. Her face, open and lovely, shone in the sun. Her fright faded; perhaps she saw how young he was, and the uncertain look on his own face.
“I’m s-sorry to bother you,” he said, stammering. “My horse…my horse needed water.”
She smiled. It was a revelation. He felt as if he could live in that smile forever.
“People need shade and water, too,” she said. “Come and sit.”
The water still tumbled over the rocks. All else had changed. The scar marking his face ached. He turned his horse and rode away.