“The terrain surely appears rougher…” I comment, looking out upon a large valley, and the deep green mountains in the distance.
“Indeed,” Hikaru replies softly. “Do you know where we are?”
“Unfortunately,” I reply. This is one landmark I do recognize—the Royal Gate Mountains, called so because they separate the Capital from the southern half of Soleia. Now this land I remember traversing well; it is certainly not forgiving terrain for a carriage. But this time, I travel on foot instead…I think I miss the carriage now.
“I know this way is unpleasant enough in a carriage, so I can only imagine how it is walking off the road—although I suppose I need not wonder for long,” I add with a chuckle, trying to cheer myself up.
“It’s not so bad, if you pace yourself,” Hikaru says. “And besides…maybe it’s only my opinion, but the mountains really do seem to be the best place to be on the Solstice.”
“…The Solstice?” I turn his way, puzzled, “It is already almost here?”
“Yes, in a couple of weeks.”
“I see…” I sigh, and turn again towards the scenery before us. “This will be my first time I am not celebrating it…”
Although the Summer Solstice does not hold the same significance for myself as it does for the more religiously inclined, it would be a terrible lie to say it is unimportant to me. The atmosphere the Solstice brings—feasting and dancing, music and fireworks—even in my darkest hours, at least a few days every year could quite literally be bright.
I cannot say I miss the past…for all the hardships that have come with this journey, I would not change it for anything else. So, it would be better to accept everything as it is…
“We can still celebrate,” Hikaru says reassuringly. “We can have a bonfire, and—well, I suppose you could say we do that many nights, but we could…” his voice trails off, before briefly pausing.
“Surely we can find something, Suzette,” he smiles weakly, although it seems rather clear he has no idea of what to do.
“There is always next year, when I am settled…” I reply, attempting to hide my disappointment. “You need not worry about it…I do not know what we could do anyway. I doubt there are many towns on our way now, until we reach the Capital.”
“Hmm…” I look over to see him with eye closed, twirling his necklace within his hand. After a few minutes of this, he still continues doing nothing…
“Hikaru—?” I say softly, nudging his shoulder. He looks at me startled, as though he had completely forgotten I was here.
“Sorry, just lost in thought,” he says. “We should probably be on our way.” I nod in agreement, and we soon enter the wide valley below.
For numerous days, the two of us continue upon our journey. In spite of my initial disappointment, it is hard not to feel as though we have traveled to paradise…
Nearly every tree a deep luscious green—those which are not shall soon be, as their few remaining petals scatter in the warm breeze. The songs of birds fills the morning air. As Hikaru and I walk, I gaze up towards him. In a moment, old images are painted within my mind, and I cannot help but smile.
Although once I found my dreams off-putting, admittedly now I have become rather fond of them. During our lives back then, everything so carefree and innocent…although in that sense, perhaps we have scarcely changed at all? Although it is doubtful we are terribly “innocent” now, this journey has been no less carefree—especially as of late. Whereas before I wished to reach our destination as soon as possible, steadily I am learning to enjoy the journey itself. The beauty of nature, and of one another’s presence even in silence, it is truly…
I wish to have a bakery more dearly than anything, certainly. But truthfully, I think I could become quite content with this lifestyle too.
After a time, Hikaru speaks, saying “This morning puts me in the mood…does it you?”
“It does,” I reply, by now knowing precisely what he is referring to.
“Then would you like a little music?”
The two of us walk a little further, finding a small clearing surrounded by trees. After seating, he then finds that strange little instrument which admittedly I have become rather fond of as well. It is not long before the buzzing of the hurdy gurdy resounds though the forest, enveloping both it and us.
After a few minutes, however, I notice something queer about the music…
“Hikaru, do you mind stopping for a moment?” He looks up to me, a clearly confused look upon his face.
“Is something wrong?”
“That song…” I begin, “I have heard it somewhere before, but I cannot now recall where…”
“Well, it is a rather famous song, I’m sure you’ve heard it before,” he replies.
Perhaps he is correct, and yet something about that assumption still feels off… Typically, the only music I once heard was a tad less “rustic,” one could say; aside from a few rare instances, I have not listened to music such as this aside from Hikaru playing it.
“Does this song have lyrics? I feel as though I have heard it sung before,” I say.
“It does, but you don’t want to hear me sing—and besides, the lyrics are rather sentimental,” he replies.
“What is the matter with that?” I ask. “Just the music itself is so lovely, I would not mind being able to sing it.” Admittedly, I myself do not know why I am so fascinated with this song…but I cannot help but inquire into it.
“But then you’d likely have to hear it sung, and like I said, I can’t sing—"
“Do you know the lyrics?”
“Have you tried to sing?”
“Then have you already forgotten?” For a moment he merely stares in confusion.
“When we first began this journey,” I say, “You had told me you were worried, because before you had only traveled alone. But I believe it is going quite well, is it not?”
“That’s different…” he mutters, before sighing. “No matter what protests I give you’re still going to press on, aren’t you?”
“Ah, is it so obvious?” I smile. “If it is poor I am sure I will still enjoy it, if you are sing—” Immediately I stop myself, realizing what I am saying…he, meanwhile, just looks down at his hurdy gurdy, face flushing red.
“I will probably be quiet,” he whispers, “So listen closely.”
Slowly he closes his eye and begins turning the crank, the low hum resounding once more. Although his voice is almost entirely enveloped by the music, just softly his voice shines through…
“Do you remember, my love?
So long you’ve lived in my memories,
So long the days I’ve awaited your return.
My love, do you remember?
“Do you remember that day, my love?
When the Sun bathed us in her gentle rays,
And yet, the only light I recall is yours.
When all around bright flowers bloomed beautifully,
And yet, the only color I can recall is yours.
My love, do you remember?
“I remember that evening, my love.
When the sun vanished into the frigid night,
And yet, I still recall warmth—yours.
When all around gray flowers wilted to dismal dust,
And yet, I still recall beauty—yours.
My love, I’ll always remember.
“So do remember, my love.
Though long the wait, we’ll meet again.
Though long the hours, twin stars can never stay separate.
My love, please always remember…”
His playing slows as his voice grows hoarser…
“…And I will remember too.”
The music ceases. For a moment, the two of us sit there in complete silence. I look over towards him, though not to his face…but I see his hand grasping tightly at the instrument, so much so his knuckles turn as white as snow.
“Suzette, are you all right? Was…I really that terrible?” he says with a slight laugh, although his tone seems rather melancholic.
“Why do you ask?” I reply, looking up towards him once more.
“Crying—?” Instantaneously I go to wipe the tears, seeing it is indeed true. Somehow, I had not noticed at all…
“It was just quite lovely,” I whisper, “You need not apologize for anything.”
“…Thank you,” he replies softly.
What I speak is wholly the truth, and yet also…as he sang, I at last recalled where I heard this tune.
It was long ago, before this lifetime—we were in my room, I was playing the violin as he sang. But he was too timid, so his voice never grew beyond mumbling…I only caught a few scattered lines, here and there.
Wait, these memories…they can appear during waking hours as well?
It is amusing, however; this song seems oddly fitting now. Although we are not so in love, as the lyrics would suggest, right?
Although the longer we journey, with everything, the more I cannot help but wonder—
“Suzette,” he says, bringing me back to reality, “Perhaps we should get going again.”
“Yes, we should,” I reply, “And…thank you, for teaching me the song.”
“It’s no problem,” he replies with a smile, although his eye seems to hold some sadness…is, is he tearing up too?
Either way, we begin our journey once more, thoughts swirling within my mind.
We are surely not in love, he only prefers men after. Yet as for myself…no, I am not, that would be…ridiculous…
That evening, the two of us find a small clearing in the increasingly dense forest. Now the hills steadily grow steeper as we reach the mountain, and I imagine soon this will become rather rough indeed. I sit down in a particularly soft spot, when Hikaru comes to me, and kneels by my side.
“Suzette, I’ve something to give you…at least for a little while.”
“Oh? What is it?”
He reaches into his bag, and pulls out…a dagger?!
“W-what is this for?!”
“I have to leave for a little while, so I want you to have something to protect yourself with.”
“But, what of you?”
“I’ll be fine,” he says quietly, “I just want you to be safe.”
“Why must you go?”
“…Maybe someday I can tell you,” he replies with a sad smile. “But not now. I just have to leave. I’m sorry. It should only be a few hours.”
“Then I hope it goes well, whatever it may be…”
“Thank you,” he says, smiling a bit wider. I wonder if he is happy because I have ceased prying into his life…well, at least in this manner.
“Good night, Suzette.”
“You too, Hikaru.”
And with that he stands up, and disappears into the night. For a time I lay there, keeping the knife close, eventually falling into slumber…
Hours later I awake, the newly waxing moon high up ahead. Immediately, I notice something off.
No more dreams…?
This is the first time since the night in the Forbidden Forest that I have slept without dreaming of anything… How odd it is. At the beginning, all I wished was to escape these visions as soon as possible. Now, however…their absence is surely felt.
Suddenly, I realize, there is another absence as well.
Is Hikaru not back yet? Did he not say it would only take a few hours? It was dusk when I fell asleep, so it indeed has been much longer than that.
I look around in the dim darkness, but there is no sign of him. Not a solitary trace.
Softly I stand up, and look around the surrounding area for him, or even a sign he was here recently…but there is none. He is merely gone…
My pulse grows ever quicker, as fears begin growing in my mind—did something happen? Is he all right? …Will I be all right?
In response, for now, I merely sit beside a tree…if I attempt to look for him, we may end up missing one another, making this truly disastrous. Although if he does not return by morning, I do not think I will have a choice…
For a time, I close my eyes and breathe deeply in a vain attempt to calm myself. After what seems an eternity, it almost begins to work.
“Hmm…this is entirely wrong,” a voice whispers. The voice sounds a tad masculine—but it is definitely not Hikaru’s!
Swiftly I jump up, swerve the dagger in front of me…before my limbs harden like stone, and the dagger falls from my hand with an unceremonious thud. I stare in silence. Waiting for the creature to strike. But instead, it merely glares down to me.
It is over eight or perhaps nine feet tall, and can only be described as a bizarre amalgamation of a deer and a man. Large antlers protrude out of its head alongside giant ears; even its skin is covered in deer-like fur. It gazes upon me with bright green eyes, not unlike mine…except the sclera, which would be white on any normal human, are as black as night.
After a moment the creature looks towards the ground, and squats down, grasping the dagger. As it brings it up to me, my heart stops—but rather than stab me with it, it merely holds the blade in its palm wide open.
“T-thank you,” I mutter as I grab the knife. It merely nods its head, and turns to go along its way.
“Wait!” I shout, and it stops. “What…what are you? Can you speak?”
It stops, and turns around.
“I am a tree,” it says. “But, my spirit…I suppose I am what your kind calls the fae.”
For a moment I look at them, speechless.
“B-but…I thought faeries looked like humans! Maybe with wings are some such other element—” The faerie lets out a low chuckle.
“I am human-like. I walk on two legs such as you, I have hands such as you. I even speak the tongue as you do.”
“But, you look so much like…”
“If I fully resembled a human,” they begin, “Then the animals of the forest would be too used to the sight, which your kind would take too much advantage. But if I fully resembled them, then they may think I am a predator or potential mate, which surely you can see why that may be problematic.”
“Have you any more questions?” it asks, face holding the same blank expression it has since they appeared to me.
“Why…did you appear to me? Fae normally do not show themselves to humans, yes?”
“I am looking for a certain one of your kind,” they say, “And from the distance you appeared to be the one. But now I see that I am mistaken. But, considering…” The faerie looks to their side, lost in thought.
“Madame,” the say, gazing upon me once more, “Do you happen to know of one called Hikaru?”
“I do!” I reply with a tad more excitement than I mean to. But, this means I do not have to search for him alone…
I should have known this creature was looking for him, considering all the oddities he concerns himself with. But—
“Wait a moment,” I say. “Did you…confuse me with Hikaru?”
“All of your kind looks alike, especially you two,” they reply nonchalantly.
“But, I do not think we could look any more different…?!” I retort, baffled; but, it appears by now they have already ceased paying mind to me.
“Ah, there he is,” they say, looking off to the right of us. I turn my head the same direction, but all I see is the forest…
“You can see him?”
“With those stars of yours, it is rather simple,” they reply.
“Our stars…you can see our souls?” They pause.
“…You surely enjoy asking many questions.” I look away, slightly embarrassed.
Is it not normal to ask questions, when faced with a creature such as this?
“Anyhow,” the faerie says, “I must be on my way.”
“Wait a moment,” I say, “Please take me with you… Hikaru and I were traveling together, but he had to leave, and I—”
“That is fine,” they answer. “Then I will go slowly for you.” For a moment I look upon them once again dumbfounded, surprised they acquiesced so easily. But soon, we descend deeper into the woods.
For at least an hour, the faerie and I silently walk through the woods. It is odd…it is not uncommon for Hikaru and I to go hours without talking and I still feel entirely comfortable in his presence. But this…it is surely rather different walking in silence with a stranger. Especially one that is not even human.
“What are you called?” I ask them, attempting to create some sort of conversation.
“You may call me Chêne,” they reply. “I assume I am to ask the same of you.”
“I am Suzette,” I answer quietly.
“Oh, I remember you. You’re the one who wishes to run a bakery.”
“You…know of me?”
“Hikaru has told me much about you.”
He speaks of me even when I am not around? Ah, I suppose that is not too strange. And yet, it surely feels a little…
“…What has he said of me?”
“He has always spoken about how kind you are, how admirable it is that you stay determined in spite of your situations,” Chêne says. “If you are worried he has spoken ill of you, I am not sure he could if he tried. He is rather fond of you.”
I look towards the ground, my face feeling as though it has been thrown is a furnace…
Quickly I glance ahead of us, attempting to act normal—although to be truthful, it does not seem that Chêne is even paying enough mind to notice me acting strangely. Even so, I still attempt to somewhat change the topic.
“Why are you looking for Hikaru? Is…is he well?”
“I assume so. I received a message that he wished to speak with me. Although,” they pause, “He has not moved the entire time we have walked. But, he may be asleep.”
My heart sinks.
Why would he fall asleep when we are separated? He was worried enough about me to give me his knife, but perhaps he needed it…
“Chêne, how close are we to him?”
“At this pace, perhaps twenty minutes away. We shall meet him soon.”
“…All right,” I reply quietly.
He is well, I repeat in my mind. Stop worrying so much, all is well…
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© 2019 by J.H. Rose