The village of Coty lay nestled in a small valley in the hill country of Edessa. It was one of those places where everyone knew everyone and no one had secrets. As with most small villages, its leadership was comprised of a headman and a small council of elders. The villagers were poor, honest folk who worked the fields, raised their animals, and saw each other through times of feast and famine. It was a peaceful existence, and Coty remained largely unaffected by matters in the world outside of their valley.
The children of Coty, when they weren't doing chores at home, could often be found near the home of Arick, a scholar fresh from the university, who had moved to the village just a few years earlier with his wife and their young daughter. Arick's home doubled as a schoolhouse and he taught children ranging in age from five to sixteen. Most children were expected to help at home full time after the age of fifteen, but a few held on for another year or so before their duties outweighed their desire for education. Thanks to Arick's efforts, most of the younger generation was now literate and had a basic understanding of mathematics and the sciences.
Among Arick's students was a girl named Faryn, the daughter of the headman. Due to her status in the village, Faryn had been allowed to study with Arick longer than her peers. She was seventeen, a polite and well-spoken young woman who proved to have a sharp intellect and devoured the books that Arick loaned her. She could often be found after instruction hours were over, sitting in Arick's modest library with her nose in a book. Lately, Arick had taken to going for nature walks in the forest with Faryn and two of the other older students, where they discussed anything and everything under the sun. These walks soon became a favorite pasttime of Faryn's and she looked forward to them greatly.
It wasn't just the conversation and exercise that Faryn looked forward to; it was Arick himself. She was, after all, a girl on the cusp of womanhood, and Arick was a brilliant, handsome man not all that much older than she. Yes, he was married and had a family, she knew that all too well. She'd passed many evenings in Arick's home with his young daughter, teaching her sewing and her favorite songs. It was an innocent, girlish infatuation that she harbored for the schoolmaster and nothing more. Luckily, Arick didn't seem to mind having Faryn around so often, and his wife Cella appreciated the extra help.
One day during harvest time, Faryn and Arick were out for a nature walk alone together. The other students were helping with the harvest and therefore couldn't attend. Faryn's heart raced at the thought of being alone with Arick for the first time. It was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. She packed a basket with her usual snack of cheese and an apple and met Arick at the trailhead as they started on their way. After a quarter of an hour, they came upon a small clearing in the wood. Faryn removed her shawl and sat on it and began to take out her snack when Arick cleared his throat.
"Master Arick?" she asked. "Is there something wrong? Would you like some of my apple?" Maybe he was hungry from their walk.
Arick looked at her nervously and knelt beside her. "Faryn," he stammered, "I...need to tell you something. It's something I've been meaning to say for awhile, but I wanted us to be alone."
Faryn set her food back in the basket. Something in his face made her uneasy, and suddenly she wasn't hungry anymore. She turned her full attention to him and tried to smile. "Is something wrong?" she asked hesitantly.
"No," he started, then shook his head. "Well, yes? Maybe. Faryn, we've known each other for a few years now, right?"
"Yes," she answered. Arick and his family had come to town when she was fourteen. Her father had helped set them up in their home, and Faryn was enrolled in school soon after that. She quickly became one of his top pupils and sometimes helped tutor the younger children. She hoped that one day she too could run a small village school and help others learn.
"Yes," Arick repeated after her. "You've been an invaluable help to me and to my family. Cella appreciates everything you do for her and for Maryan. And I - I..." He looked away and took a deep breath, then took Faryn's hand gently and looked into her eyes.
"Master Arick?" Faryn thought her heart would beat out of her chest. She was thoroughly lost.
"I'm falling for you, Faryn," he said. "Gods help me, but it's true."
Faryn lunged to her feet. Arick still held her hand. "Master Arick!" she exclaimed.
Arick dropped his head and breathed deeply, as though he'd just unloaded a weight from himself. "I'm sorry," he said. "I know I shouldn't have said it. Forgive me."
"How can this be?" Faryn cried, trying to come to her senses. "You're married. You have a family. You're my teacher."
"I know," he said, ashamed. "I'm not proud of this. But you...you're so vibrant and beautiful, and brilliant."
"That doesn't matter," Faryn stated bluntly. This was a nightmare. On one hand, part of her was thrilled that her crush was being requited. She felt stupid even thinking it. The other part of her was completely horrified that this was happening, especially in a place where no one had secrets. Surely others had noticed that she gave Arick special attention. Teenage girls were usually rather indelicate in such matters. But what would happen if it came out that Arick returned her feelings? She, being the headman's daughter...it would create a scandal the likes of which the village had never seen.
Faryn jerked her hand away from Arick. He stayed kneeling on the ground as she ran back to the trail to the village. She couldn't bring herself to look back at him. She stopped running just before she reached the village, trying not to bring attention to herself, but a couple of housewives noticed her return alone. By morning, the gossip chain was afire with rumors.
The next day, Faryn's father sat down with her after she announced she would not be going to school. He'd heard some of the rumors going around, and while he knew better, he was still concerned about what had happened in the forest. Faryn begged him not to do anything rash; Arick had not harmed her and he was a good man and teacher. He'd done wonderful things for the families of the village through his school. Her father couldn't disagree, but he was still uneasy.
"What if I were to go to the capital for awhile?" Faryn offered. "Master Arick has often said that I would make a good candidate for the teacher training school at the university. I could put my talents to use there."
Athan looked at his daughter doubtfully. She was a young, naïve girl who knew nothing of the world outside of their tiny village. Yet still, she was becoming a woman faster than he was willing to admit.
"I have a cousin in Weston," he started. "I'm sure that she would take you in for a time while you get settled at the university. I have business in the capital as well. If you're ready by dawn tomorrow, you may come with me."
Faryn wasted no time packing her few meager possessions and readying for the long trip to Weston, the capital of Edessa. Two dresses, besides the one she was wearing, a comb for her hair, and the small mirror her mother had gifted her for her thirteenth birthday. The last thing she packed was a small notebook and writing set that Arick had given her after her first year in school. It felt strange to remember those days. Everything felt so different now, like she and Arick had been other people back then.
Faryn had never left the valley before. This would surely be a great adventure.