Her hair caught his attention first. It bloomed from her head like a cloud of smoke, gleaming even in the poor lighting of the bar. He had never seen anything like it. Bright white, yet in a way that glimmered as it caught the light, as though stars hid somewhere within its curls. When she laughed, it rippled around her head, swaying in the breeze of her easy joy.
His interest drew him across the room, his beverage held in a tighter grip than its weight required. He knew the men with whom she spoke. He wondered how they knew her.
The woman’s clothes stood out, in this space. Like her hair, they were new to him. Trousers covered her legs, which women had begun to wear with more frequency in the last five years, making them the most familiar part of her wardrobe. The material, coarse and dyed a deep, rich blue, contrasted heavily with the cotton and leather worn by those around her. Her shirt, unlike the more conservative dress of the other women in the bar, flowed around her body, revealing the skin of her chest and upper arms.
That very skin convinced him to continue forward, determined to learn more about this woman. He had only heard stories of skin like hers: dark, smooth, and rich, as though she had been carved from dark wood and polished to perfection. It explained the oddities about the rest of her, and the reason she stood out like a dark jewel among the pale regulars. She had come from far away.
Trev knew himself to be a handsome man. His success here in this very bar brought him confidence in that fact. If he didn’t leave with a woman, having set out with the intention of enjoying her presence for the evening, he considered that night an exception to the rule. He stood tallest among all of the other men in the bar, with a thick, well-kept brown beard and hair to match. He was graced with broad shoulders and thick arms from his days spent building homes.
In short, he believed, no woman should be able to resist him.
Thus it was that he swaggered up to the group surrounding the entrancing specimen at the bar, confident that he would be well-received. He thrust his free hand at her, throwing out a broad smile to accompany it. “Hello,” he said. “I’ve never seen you here before. I’m Trev.”
With a jerk of his head and a subtle furrowing of his brow, Trev dispersed the men who had been talking to the woman. There might be grumbles from them later, but they knew better than to stand between Trev and a woman who had taken his interest.
She did not reach for his hand. “Interesting,” she said. She took a sip of her drink. “You’ve scared them away. It makes one wonder what they have to be afraid of.” She turned her head to look after them. Trev frowned, watching her eyes. They shone out like crystals from her face. Their bright white somehow made even her hair seem dim.
More importantly, Trev watched them skip as she avoided including him in her intentional perusal of the room. He frowned, withdrawing his hand. He took the seat next to her, quickly downing the rest of his drink as he did so. “Trust me, you’ve got nothing to fear from me. What brings you to these parts?
“I was enjoying talking to those fellows,” she said, turning her eyes forward, toward the display of bottles set up behind the bar. It gave Trev the chance to observe her profile, an outline at once delicate and well-defined. She drank calmly from her mug. “They seemed kind.”
With a gesture to the barkeeper, Trev ordered another drink for both of them. “Yeah, they’re alright,” Trev said. “Most of them have wives, though.”
“You say that as though its an insult,” said the woman. “Or as though it’s a reason I should not enjoy their company.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say all that,” Trev said, laughing. He intentionally deepened the laugh. Women loved his deep voice and found his laughter infectious. “But you might want to watch out. If some of those women found out their men had been talking to such a beautiful lady, they might like to do something about it.”
For the first time, she turned to look him in the eye. “If those women have such fear for their relationship that they can’t trust their partners to hold a simple conversation with me, the problem is with them. Not me.”
Trev blinked. Not at her words — or not just at her words — but at the way she said them. Her appearance led him to expect an accent, but he heard none. In fact, he struggled to hear her words at all, though he understood her perfectly. He had a strange, itching sense that the words he thought he heard differed from the ones she actually spoke.
“I guess you’re right,” he said belatedly. He tried to ignore the odd sensation now plaguing him. Perhaps the noise of the establishment just made hearing her difficult. He had half a mind to tip the nattering lute player to be quiet for half an hour. “I’m not sure most ladies think of it that way, though. Women like to say that a man can’t be trusted around beauty.”
“That’s a societal issue,” the woman said. “One that I feel disappointed to find almost every place I visit.”
The bartender passed them the drinks. The woman looked at hers in disdain, but Trev took his gratefully and quaffed it all at once. The further this conversation progressed, the stranger and more difficult it became. He decided to try a different tactic. “Look, I’ll be honest. I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
“You wouldn’t,” she said with a sigh. “What about you, then? Do you have a wife?”
Trev smiled. Finally, a response from her that showed some interest on her part. “I don’t,” he said. “So you don’t have anything to worry about from me.”
“Somehow I doubt that to be true,” she said. She tilted her head. “Why do you sound so proud to be without a wife? I would think a woman’s love would be something to be desired.”
“I guess,” Trev said. “It’s nice to have someone at home to wash your clothes and make the meals.” The woman rolled her eyes, but Trev pressed forward. “It just sounds so boring to me, you know? I like to keep myself busy.” He winked at her. “I find plenty of women to love, anyway. You could say I’m a bit too busy to find just one woman, if you catch my drift.”
“I think I do,” she said. He watched her eyes rake over him from head to toe. He smiled. “You know, you’re nice to look at, but somehow every single word that comes out of your mouth makes you less attractive. Maybe if I had lower standards, you would have a chance. But as it stands… You just can’t provide what I’m looking for.” She shook her head, then gestured to catch the barkeep’s attention. “These drinks are on him.”
She stood, and, with a dismissive wave, left. Trev sat stunned, watching her walk away, unable to register what had happened. He had never been so rudely dismissed. The shock wore off quickly. He three and handful of coins at the barkeep and set out after her.
Trev shouldered his way quickly through the crowded room, setting a quick pace. The door shut behind her seconds before he reached it. He slammed it open, making patrons on either side of it jump. He stepped out into the moonlit street. The stone facades of buildings lined the street on either side. At this hour, only a few people walked along it. With her hair and attire, she should have stood out easily among them. She should, in fact, have been only a few steps away.
Trev’s anger dissipated, replaced by confusion. She was gone.