Woodland Walk

The wall dividing the room from the terrace was largely made up of floor-to-ceiling windows, Mr Green nodded to them. “Had that done a few years ago, once the fittings got good enough to not let the cold in. Had to to leave the old nook at the end though, else the cats would never speak to me again.”

Calypso looked to where he was pointing and smiled. A large marmalade tabby was stretched out on the deep stone ledge of an older-style window, snoozing blissfully in the little sun-trap.

She looked again, the cat, a plump, orange puddle of fur, utterly relaxed yet somehow still dignified, and then the view over the garden and beyond in the window behind him.

“May I photograph him?”

Mr Green blinked. “If you wish. New hobby?”

“Yes, something I took up after moving to Z Corp.”

“Well feel free to snap away while you’re here and make sure to share the good ones with me once you’re done.”

“I will, thank you.”

She heard nails on stone behind her as she headed to the window, hoping the cat stayed asleep. She looked around, Ivy was following her, a glance at Herne saw him shrug. “I think you’ve been adopted, for the afternoon at least.”

Looking at Ivy she said. “It’s lovely to have your company but please don’t upset the cat, I want to take his picture.”

Ivy sat, looking slightly aggrieved.

Calypso, now feeling irrationally guilty, focused on finding the best angle for cat and view, then returned to the other two, collecting Ivy on the way with pats and words of praise.

Mr Green paused in his grilling of Herne to give them a tour of the house. It was solidly build, well maintained and clearly loved, but lacked the intimidating showroom chill of the other houses they’d seen. They finished in the study, where Mr Green pulled out survey maps of the land, quickly getting into deep discussions with Herne on directions and orientations and prevailing winds and other such things.

Calypso waited for a pause, then said. “If you don’t mind, I’d love to visit the ruins again. Could I leave you two to chat and go and take some pictures?”

Mr Green clicked his fingers at the mastiff snoozing by the window. “Caval, rouse your lazy bones and accompany Miss Calypso to the ruins.”

The dog, rose, yawned, trotted over to the door and looked expectantly at her. Ivy moved to her side.

Herne looked down at his feet, where Holly lay. “Do you want to go as well?”

The hound stayed where she was and Mr Green waved them off with a laugh. “Go on then, have fun and I’ll send these two out after you later.”

Calypso smiled her thanks and followed Caval out of the door, Ivy at her heels.

They passed Owlbert’s cage on their way, it was now uncovered, and the door open but the occupant was still asleep.

Caval led them through the winding paths of the garden, then down the stairs to the wildflower meadow and across to the woods beyond.

She managed to get some lovely shots of the two dogs racing each other to the tree line and back. Ivy won, but was gracious in victory and happy to tuck back in behind Caval once they entered the wildwood and local knowledge became necessary.

She wasn’t sure what the old ruins had originally been, and if Mr Green knew, he’d never let on. It was too small to be a church, but the stone walls were too high, and the window openings too ornate, to be a cottage. It seemed too old to be a folly, even of the deliberately aged and tumbled-down kind, but it somehow belonged amongst the wild green, and the trees and creepers treated it kindly.

Unlike the folly, this place hadn’t diminished. It was every bit as magical as her memories and she spent a blissful half hour or so exploring the hidden corners and playing with the angles of the sun for photos. She was pulled from her play by the sound of someone approaching. She swung her camera towards the entrance and caught Holly as she crossed the threshold.

Herne appeared a moment later and seemed about to pause and smile for the camera when his attention whipped upwards. He pulled his leather gauntlet from the back pocket of his jeans and held his now-covered hand to the sky.

Calypso put her camera on rapid-fire and captured Owlbert’s back-winging arrival. She flicked it back to normal and took one more picture, this time of Herne, with all three of his animals, looking straight at her, the sun catching the glow in his flame-coloured eyes.

He grinned and raised a brow, breaking a spell she didn’t realise had been cast. “A successful picture session?”

“Yes, very.”

She shut off the camera and hurried across to them, suddenly feeling like an intruder in an ancient, silent world. He foot caught on an uneven flagstone and Herne moved fast. She’d forgotten about that.

This time she was falling forward and, instead of landing flat on the ground, she found herself safely caught to his chest, one arm around her waist, the other still holding Owlbert aloft. Those eyes. She found herself as caught in them as the sun had been. The world drew in until it was just the two of them and her gaze dropped to his lips.

Then Owlbert decided to protest his manhandling by spreading his wings, and bringing them forward to smack both of them on the back of the head. Calypso’s forehead thudded into Herne’s shoulder as he just managed to miss a direct hit of their foreheads.

Laughing awkwardly, Calypso disentangled herself and took a step back.

Herne eased the moment by taking a proper look around the space they were standing in. “I can see why you wanted to come out here, this is magic.”

“It is. I have no idea what it was originally built for, but it was an enchanted castle when I was little and even now, there’s still some of that lurking.”

He nodded. “There is. I’d like to see more, but we should be getting back while there’s enough light to see under the trees.”

They made their way back down the path, Caval reappearing as they left the ruins to make sure they found the correct path home.

Calypso asked. “How did it go with Mr Green?”

“Well. Very well in fact. He’s thinking about accepting my offer. Although I’m sure there will be conditions.”

“You made an offer already? What kind of conditions.”

“Nothing onerous, just keeping the Midsummer Party tradition going, that sort of thing.”

She had a feeling there was a bit more to it but if Herne wasn’t about to share, she wasn’t about to push it.

“Conditions or no, I’m so glad you like it and it’s nice to be able to think of you and the animals comfortably settled here.”

“You won’t visit?”

Calypso spluttered and turned red. Herne smiled down at her. “You’d always be welcome you know, if I do end up getting the place.”

He laughed. “Besides, how else am I going to keep Cynthia off my case?”

“That is certainly a consideration.”

Mr Green met them at the edge of the trees and they walked back to the house, discussing nothing in particular.

As they loaded the car with two happy dogs and a thoroughly indignant owl, Mr Green nodded towards Calypso’s camera. “Be sure to send me through any pictures you think turned out well.”

“Oh, of course, what’s the best way to get them to you?”

The old man grinned. “Just send them by way of your lad here, he and I will be having a number of conversations in the coming weeks after all.”

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