Elseworld (inspired by The Princess Bride and the Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom books)
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
As the sun sank in the western sky, Clark waited for Chloe where the forest met the river, beneath the branches of an enormous old oak. They’d met there many times before, when they’d both finished their chores for the day. They were merely friends, yet they were generally cautious to meet out of sight of the townspeople, for they both knew people would gossip about an unwed maid and a young man meeting on a daily basis. Even if Chloe had no care for her own reputation, Clark did not want to be the cause of her ruin.
With his unusually acute hearing, he heard hooves approaching a long while before she appeared. At last he saw her riding through the gathering gloom, on the small red pony she’d whimsically named Beetle. His own horse, a big chestnut stallion that had been his father’s pride and joy, lifted his head and snorted a greeting.
He saw that she was riding astride, and as she pulled Beetle to a halt, he stared at her. He was aware that his mouth was hanging open, but he couldn’t help gaping at her costume.
She smiled down at him. “Well? What do you think?”
Instead of her normal homespun gowns, she wore a white linen shirt such as working men wore, along with nut-brown breeches. He was fairly certain she’d bound her breasts, because some of her rather abundant curves seemed to be mysteriously missing. But the rough fabric of the breeches clung to her thighs indecently, and the sweet curves of her leg and hip announced her sex quite clearly.
He swallowed and somehow managed to drag his gaze away from her leg. Looking up, he saw that she’d cut her waist-length golden hair to shoulder length and tied it back in a queue with a black ribbon, just as most men wore it. Her hair was topped with a plain straw hat, such as male laborers wore in the fields, and it shadowed her face somewhat. But beneath the hat, he could see her wide, brilliant smile and her big golden eyes in the very feminine planes of her face.
She didn’t look male, he thought. She only looked like a very indecently attired girl. And the shocking way she was dressed sent his mind down paths that were better left untraveled. He’d never seen a girl wear breeches before, and the way the fabric clung to her leg…
He became aware that his gaze had drifted back to her thigh again, and there was a throbbing ache low in his body. He looked away, blushing, grateful for the darkness that concealed his hot cheeks. “Well,” he said, and then had to pause to clear his throat, because his voice sounded strangely rough. “Well, perhaps if we travel by night, no one will notice you are a girl.”
She flashed her happy smile. “Then let us commence our journey.”
He swung up into the saddle and turned his stallion into the darkness of the woods, and she followed.
The path through the woods grew dark as the last remnants of sunset faded. The moonlight filtered through the canopy of leaves, dappling the ebony night, but Clark could scarcely see the way to go, despite his unusual vision. Fortunately, his horse knew the way, and it walked calmly and steadily into the darkness.
After an hour of travel, he heard her voice behind him. “So where are we headed?”
“Metropolis,” he answered. “It is the largest town in the kingdom. If I can make my fortune anywhere, it will be there.”
“And if anyone in the kingdom knows of a people who run faster than horses, it would be the bards of Metropolis.”
He didn’t bother with an answer, because he didn’t particularly wish to speak of his desire to know more about his real parents. He heard her cluck to her pony, and moments later the small, shaggy beast ranged up next to his stallion.
“Clark,” she said gently, her hand dropping onto his forearm. He’d rolled up his sleeves, and the touch of her hand against his skin made all the little hairs on his arm suddenly stand up. He tried to ignore the reaction. “I think you need to face the fact that there may be no one else like you in this world.”
“I don’t see how that is possible.” He thought of pulling his arm away, but decided not to, because he discovered he liked the feel of her hand against his skin. Her hands were roughened by hard work, yet her touch was gentle and strangely reassuring. “Despite the stories my mother told me, I cannot believe I truly came from the sky. My parents must have lived somewhere in this world. And if I have these abilities, then surely my parents must also have had them.”
“The people in Smallcroft who have developed strange abilities did not inherit them from their parents,” she said gently.
He frowned. Somehow he believed his abilities were innate, a basic part of him, rather than something foreign to his makeup that had developed later. But he could not argue the point, as he had nothing beyond a gut feeling to confirm that. “It matters not to me if I find my people,” he answered at last, less than truthfully. “You were right. I want only to make my fortune and win Lana’s regard.”
Her hand slipped away from his arm, leaving him with a curious feeling of loss. “Of course that’s all you want,” she said softly.
He wondered why she sounded so disappointed in him. Lana was beautiful, and far too good for a lowly farmboy, and she never failed to let him know of his inferiority, in a thousand subtle ways. And yet he adored her, and Chloe was well aware of that fact. So why was she disappointed at his words?
As he pondered the question, something niggled at the edges of his mind. He tilted his head and listened intently, sifting through the noises of the night—the gentle thud of hooves against dirt, the hooting of owls, the buzzing of insects—with practiced ease.
“Someone is coming through the woods,” he said at last. “We need to get off the path.”
She cocked her head. “I hear nothing.”
“Trust me, Chloe. There is a large group of men headed this way—and they are armed. I hear their arms rattling as they ride."
"Their blades cannot harm you."
"But you are not impervious to swords and knives, Chlo. I know not what their intentions are, but I will not risk your life. When I agreed to let you come along, I promised to protect you. Let us leave the path.”
He halted his stallion, swung off, and led the beast into the thick woods, picking his way carefully through the underbrush. Chloe and Beetle walked behind him. He heard her stumble over a log, heard a very unladylike curse, and he grinned in the darkness.
There was no one he would rather share his adventure with than Chloe.
Read Chapter 3 here.