Peter, of course, was always very gracious when he took the fish, and yes, he had kept his promise not to tell anyone of her abilities, but that was it. Would she really be putting in all of this work for the foreseeable future for nothing more than his silence? While his silence kept her from the stake, was it truly worth it?
When Peter asked to come with her that morning, though, Isabel knew that, finally, they would be able to talk freely without the worry of anyone overhearing. She had questions she needed answering, and he always seemed to have something he wanted to say to her.
Their foraging took them through back trails Isabel had never been through before, very deep into the forest where, according to her uncle, witches dwelled. Peter, armed with a bow, was constantly on the lookout for game as well as danger.
Isabel did her best to keep her eyes on the ground to look for wild plants the apothecary would eagerly trade for. Jacob had come down with a stomach illness and they needed to be able to purchase some medicine for him. Their father, unfortunately, had been reminded of the anniversary of their mother’s death, and had spent every coin he could find in the house on a three-day ale binge. If it was not for Edmund and Isabel, the children would be starving as well as sick.
Keeping her eyes on the ground, though, was difficult. Isabel had never noticed before how handsome and well-built Peter was. His brown hair and eyes and his quick and playful smile made it hard for Isabel to concentrate on anything else. She wasn’t the only one, she was happy to discover. More often than not, when she looked up at him, he was already looking at her.
The dark forest gave them no indication of the time until they came to a small meadow. A break in the trees told Isabel that it was close to mid-day. A small brook ran through the meadow.
“I will build a fire if you want to catch us some fish,” Peter said.
Isabel pursed her lips. What did he know about her? Had Edmund been talking about her abilities?
“I did not bring my fishing gear,” she said. She did not bother to mention that her fishing gear only consisted of a bag to carry the fish.
“I am sure you will figure something out,” Peter said with a smile. “You’re resourceful.” He looked away before adding, rather nervously. “As am I.”
Now what did he mean by that? Isabel thought to herself as she walked to the brook. Was he like her? No, he could not have been like her, otherwise he would not have stayed on the bank when Mary fell in the river. He would have simply gone in after her. Perhaps he was similar, but with a different ability. Did God grant different abilities, or was Peter touched by the Devil same way she had been touched by God?
She quickly found and coaxed a few chub into her hands and pulled them out of the water, thanking them in the process. When she first realized she could control, or at least persuade, aquatic life to do what she wanted, she felt guilty for coaxing them into her bag just so they would be eaten. Her mother, however, had been extremely helpful in helping her realize that her method was much easier on the fish than catching them unwillingly with a hook or a net.
Peter had the fire burning hot when she brought him the fish, which he spitted and began cooking immediately.
“Will you not sit down so we can speak?” he asked. It was only then that she noticed she had been standing apart, ready to run at a moment’s notice.
“Of course,” she said, sitting down hesitantly.
“Are you finding everything you need?” he asked, starting the conversation light.
“I believe so,” Isabel told him. “I will look around the meadow after we eat to see if there is something else that may be of use, but I think we have everything that the apothecary asked for.” In fact, she was surprised that she had been able to find everything so quickly. It was as if Peter knew exactly which path to take that would allow them to collect everything they needed in a timely fashion.
Peter nodded. “Isabel, shall we talk about that day? We have been avoiding it for too long, do you not agree?”
“What day?” she asked innocently.
“There is no one here to overhear our conversation, we can speak freely,” he assured her. “If you are too frightened to say anything, I will go first.”
Peter, looking into the fire, sighed. “As I said before, I am … resourceful as well. My gifting is slightly different than yours, however. God has seen fit to give you the ability to swim with—and like—the fishes. I have been given the gift of insight. I hear the Most High’s voice in my head telling me where to go, what to do, who will be the best person to work for,” he looked at her, “and who I should spend my life with.”
Isabel was taken aback. “What?”
“We are to be married,” Peter said with conviction. “I have seen it. God has spoken. Not yet, not now, but some day, when you are ready. We both have brothers and sisters who need us, and we cannot leave them yet, but one day we will and we will be together all of my life.”
“How…” Isabel started, but then stopped.
“I have heard the voice of God,” Peter said with a shrug of his shoulders.
“If Father Gerard heard you speaking that way, he would have you burned as a witch.”
“If he knew you could speak to fishes and swim a raging torrent as if it was the duck pond behind your house he would have you burned as well,” Peter pointed out. He removed the fish from the fire and handed the skewer to Isabel. “In another time, I may have been called a prophet.” He sighed. “But not now. Now, we must hide who we are if we are to use the gifts the Lord has seen fit to give us.”
“I do not know what to say,” Isabel told him, taking the skewer and pulling off bits of flesh and burnt skin.
“There is nothing to say yet,” he said, pulling his legs up to his body. “I simply needed to tell you that you are not alone, and you will not be alone as long as I am alive. I ask, though, that if I should ever come to you and ask you to run with me, that you do so.”
Isabel thought back to the prayer she had repeated the whole month—that she would have foreknowledge of any evil her superstitious uncle had in mind for her. Was this the answer the Holy One had sent her? Peter? The badger’s boy?
“Our families will not approve of this union,” she said with the slightest hint of a grin.
Peter grinned. “There is talk of a play performed in London about just such a couple.”
“You would compare us to Romeo and Juliet?” Isabel asked with raised eyebrows. She looked at Peter’s playful, mischievous brown eyes and knew then that she could easily look at them for the rest of her life. “Are you suggesting we marry now, in secret, as they did in the play?”
“No, no,” Peter said. “With as much scrutiny as is on our two families at this time, I think waiting would be best. And we do not have the money as yet to set up our own household. Honestly, Isabel, I do not yet know that we will live here. We may need to fly from the village in the dark hours of night in order to save ourselves. No, we must wait to marry. But we can use this time of uncertainty to learn more about each other and our abilities.”