She seemed to relax slightly as she saw only friendly and concerned faces. Someone handed her a cup of mulled wine, and she sipped it gratefully.
"My name is Kharissa and I come from the other side of the forest," she began when she could get her breath back.
"I was supposed to be married today to Aslan, the lord of the dark lands." She gave a shiver. "My parents are dead, and my cousin, who is my guardian, promised the marriage would be in name only, to stop the feuding. That was the only reason I agreed." She paused and looked embarrassed.
"I've never been with a man before and I would never...with a stranger. I'm saving myself for true love."
Reassured by the sympathetic glances, she continued. "Last night the wedding guests arrived. I hadn't met my bridegroom, I still haven't. I don't know much about him apart from the fact he has long dark hair, golden eyes like a tiger, and is supposed to be very good looking. He hasn't been here has he?"
The bartender shook his head, and the young woman began to relax more.
"I was just preparing for bed when a woman knocked on the door to my bedchamber. She said she was making sure I was aware of what she called my 'wifely duties'. I told her she must be making a mistake, that the marriage was in name only and that all he wanted was my dowry. She said that I was the one who was mistaken, that he had seen me from a distance and had talked of nothing else, and that my cousin wanted me married off so her own children could inherit my parents castle and lands. I asked her to explain to Aslan, to tell him he was welcome to my dowry but to please not dishonour me."
She paused again. "This morning the she said he she had spoken to him and he had laughed and said that once we were married I was his to do as he wanted with." With shaking hands, she took a long sip of the mulled wine.
"So I pretended to agree. I asked if I could be alone in the wedding carriage, to come to terms with everything. I waited until it had slowed down for some cattle, then I jumped out and ran through the forest. And here I am. I don't want to get anyone into trouble, I'll leave first thing in the morning, but if I could just have a room for the night and some fresh clothes. I can pay for everything."
Exhausted by her ordeal, she leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes.