~Suzette ✧ Chapter XII~
“The terrain certainly appears rougher…” I comment as I gaze upon a large valley dotted with meadows and trees, yet with scarcely a home in sight. Further in the distance, they can be seen clearly: an endless cluster of verdant mountains, not horrendously tall or jagged like what one hears about elsewhere—yet still far harsher than the rolling hills one typically comes across.
“Indeed,” Hikaru replies softly. “Do you know where we are?”
“Unfortunately,” I reply. This is one landmark I recognize—Hory de Kazjdi Krâiyus, the Royal Gate Mountains, called so because they separate Solzédniê from the southern half of Soléiâ. This land I remember traversing quite well; it is certainly not forgiving terrain for a carriage. Yet now I travel upon foot instead. Ah, I believe I miss the carriage…
“I know this path is unpleasant enough in a carriage, so I may only imagine how it is walking within the wilderness—although I suppose I need not wonder for long,” I add with a chuckle, attempting to cheer myself.
“It’s not so bad if you pace yourself; it looks much worse than it is,” 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 has already almost arrived?”
“Yes, in a couple of weeks.”
“I see…” I sigh and turn again towards the scenery before us. “This shall be the first time I am not celebrating it…”
No, it is not quite as important to me as for the more religiously inclined; some celebrate the Solstice for perhaps a week or more, rejoicing at the day the Sun lingers longest in the Sky, grateful for Lady Sun’s apparent blessings. Yet, even so, I cannot say it is not an important time for myself as well…
Even in my darkest hours, when the world was harsh and it seemed I was quite alone, the joviality in the air was quite infectious. Large banquets overflowing with the finest foods, lovely concerts and delightful firework displays alighting the night: yes, at least once a year the day could quite genuinely be bright.
I certainly do not miss the past; of course, it is far preferable for most days to be good, as they are now, rather than simply a handful a year. Even so, especially considering how sentimental I have grown of this time, it is a little disappointing that this shall be perhaps the first year I have ever missed the festivities of the Solstice…but it is better to accept these circumstances as they are.
“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, his face appearing a tad confounded.
“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 such things; I do not know what we could do regardless. I doubt there are many settlements between here and Solzédniê.”
“Hmm…” I gaze over to see him with his eye closed, twirling his necklace about within his hand. After a few minutes of this, he still continues to do nothing, lost within his mind.
“Hikaru—?” I say softly, nudging his shoulder. He appears quite startled, as though he had forgotten I am here.
“Sorry, just lost in thought. We should probably be on our way,” he says swiftly standing straight, and giving his hand out to me. And so I too arise, and we enter the large valley below.
For numerous days we continue our journey, the most progress we have made in some time now. At this moment, we are well within the mountains; although the persistent cycle of uphill and downhill is a little taxing, with Hikaru by my side, it is not as difficult as I had feared. And, even with the difficulties, the terrain is so beautiful that I feel as though we have ascended into paradise…
Nearly every tree is a deep, luscious green—those which are not shall soon be as their few remaining petals daintily scatter in the warm, fragrant breeze. A chorus of birdsongs fill the air, sweeter than any symphony… As Hikaru and I walk, I gaze towards him. Even with his wide-brimmed hat protecting his fragile skin, the ambient sunlight still gives his skin a soft, pleasant glow. 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, little by little, I am growing incredibly fond of them. During our lives back then, everything was so carefree and innocent…although in that sense, perhaps we have scarcely changed at all? While it is doubtful we may be called “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 coming to appreciate the journey itself. The beauty of nature, and of one another’s presence even in silence, it is truly marvelous…
I still wish to have a bakery more dearly than anything, certainly. Yet truthfully, I believe I could become quite content with this lifestyle as well.
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 continue on a little further, finding a small clearing surrounded by trees. After seating, he then finds that strange instrument which 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 ourselves.
After a few minutes, however, I notice something queer about the music…
“Hikaru, do you mind ceasing 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, yet I cannot now recall where…”
“Well, it’s a rather famous song. I’m sure you’ve heard it before.”
Perhaps he is correct, and yet something about that assumption still feels incomplete… 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 very sentimental…” he replies.
“What is the matter with that?” I ask. “Just the music itself is so lovely, it seems quite appropriate the lyrics would be as well.”
Admittedly, I myself do not know why I am so fascinated with this song…yet 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 ever sung before?”
“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. Yet I believe it is going quite well, is it not?”
“That’s different—” he mutters, before sighing. “No matter what I say, you’re still going to press on, aren’t you?”
“Ah, is it so obvious?” I smile. “Even 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 it shines through…
Now, now, do you remember me, my love?
For years living as but a memory,
No longer am I who you had once known;
As the long days have grown weary on me,
I know I am but a lonely old crone—
Do you remember now, my love?
Perhaps you remember that day, my love?
The Sun had bathed us in her gentle beams,
Yet her warmth was little in light of yours;
Flowers bright blossomed in a field of dreams,
Yet their colors were dull compared to yours—
Do you remember now, my love?
Please try to remember that night, my love,
The Sun vanquished into the sea below,
Yet your glow still led me in the darkness;
When the flowers withered beneath the snow,
Visions of your beauty I was still blessed—
Do you remember now, my love?
If you do not, remember this, my love.
In another time, we will meet again,
Our twin Stars stay connected even now,
And until you remember me, my love…
…I will remember us for you.”
Slowly, the music ceases. For a moment the two of us sit there in absolute silence, the only sound the faint chirping of birds somewhere in the distance. I gaze over towards him, though not to his face…I see his hand grasping tightly at the instrument, so much so his knuckles turn even whiter than they already are.
“Suzette, are you all right? Was I really that terrible?”
“Why do you ask?” I reply, looking up towards him once more.
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.”
“…Mâzjêr né,” he replies quietly.
It is true that the song was lovely, that his voice was lovelier still—I know not at all why he seems to believe it is such an embarrassment; it is so deep and warm, like a beautiful bonfire…yet, neither the words nor his voice are what moved me to tears. Rather, it was the memory…
It was long ago, before this lifetime—we were in “my” room, “I” was playing this tune on the violin as he sang alongside. But he was too timid, and as such his voice never grew beyond mumbling…I only caught a few scattered lines, here and there.
Wait, these memories…they may appear during waking hours as well?
It is amusing, however; this song seems oddly fitting now, lovers meeting one another across lifetimes…yet, while he and Alex were lovers, we are not so now, yes?
Yet the longer we journey, with all that transpires—
“Suzette,” he says, interrupting my reverie, “Maybe 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 sorrow…is he tearing up too?
Either way, we begin our journey once more as thoughts swirl within my mind.
We are surely not in love…how could we be? He only prefers men, and I am so young besides…and regardless, how could he ever love someone like me?
Yet as for myself…no, of course I am not, that would be…absurd…
That evening, the two of us find a small clearing within the increasingly dense, wild forest, far away from civilization. Up above, the Sky fades to a gentle, pink hue. I softly sit within the long grass 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. I doubt you’ll need it, but just in case.”
“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 at most.”
I sit in silence for a moment, simultaneously a tad concerned and perplexed. Occasionally we part ways, just a little, to wash ourselves, or when he wishes to exercise further while I rest; yet, these queerer meetings, at strange and unfortunate times…
Knowing how he is, that his secrets are more than I can imagine, it is likely for the best he does not tell me. Yet, even still…
“Then I hope it goes well, whatever it may be…”
“Mâzjêr,” 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.
“Nykhte bon, Suzette.”
“Tsiâ mo, Hikaru.”
And with that he straightens himself and disappears into the night. For a time I lay there, keeping the knife close as dusk turns to night, eventually falling into an uneasy slumber…
Hours later I awake, the newly waxing Moon high up above. Immediately, I notice something unusual.
No more dreams…?
This is the first time since the evening in Florêt Folwêkhdin that I have slept a substantial amount 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, that those saccharine memories have become a frequent, comforting companion…their absence is surely felt.
Suddenly, I realize there is another absence as well.
Has Hikaru not yet returned? Did he not say he would merely be gone a few hours? Evening had not even fully set when I fell asleep; so indeed, quite some time has passed.
I gaze about myself in the dim darkness, but there is no sign of him. Not a solitary trace.
Uneasily I arise and gaze about for him, walking along the perimeter to see if he is here, or even a sign he was around recently…but there is none. All seems thoroughly undisturbed. He is merely gone…
My pulse grows ever quicker, as fears begin festering in my mind—did something happen? Is he well? …Will I be well?
In response, for now, I merely sit beside a tree…if I attempt to search for him, we may miss one another, making this situation truly disastrous. Although if he does not return by morning, I do not believe 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 nearly succeeds.
“Hmm…this is entirely wrong,” a voice mutters. The voice sounds soft and masculine—but it is most certainly not Hikaru’s!
As swiftly as I can manage, I jump and 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 paralyzing fear, awaiting for the creature to strike…yet instead, it merely glares down to me.
The creature is over eight, or perhaps nine feet tall, and may only be described as a bizarre amalgamation of a deer and a man. Large antlers covered in dozens of leaves protrude out of its head alongside giant cervine ears; even its skin is covered in deer-like fur, its face almost resembles that of a human…yet, even so, it takes on an unmistakably animalistic character. It gazes upon me with bright green eyes, not unlike my own…except the sclera, which while white on any normal human, are as black as charred wood.
After a moment, the creature gazes toward the ground and squats, grasping the dagger within its large hand. As it carries the dagger upwards, my heart ceases beating for but a moment—but rather than stab me with it, it merely holds the blade in its palm wide open.
“M-Mâzjêr…” I mutter as I grab the knife. It merely nods its head, rises, and turns to go along its way.
“Wait!” I shout, and it stops. “What…what are you? Can you speak?”
It stops and turns to face me.
“I am a tree,” it says. “But, my spirit… I am what your kind calls the fae.”
For a moment I stare at them, speechless.
This, this monster—a faerie?!
“B-But…I thought faeries looked like humans! Perhaps with wings are some such other element—”
The “faerie” gives a low chuckle.
“But I am human-like. I walk on two legs such as you do, I have hands such as you do. I even speak the same tongue as you do. I have more in common with you than the deer that frolic the forest, despite all appearances.”
“Yet, 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, so I did not think of hiding. But now I see that I am mistaken. However, considering…”
The faerie looks to their side, lost in thought.
“My Lady,” they 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, unable to keep from clasping my hands together.
I should have known this creature was looking for him, considering all the oddities he concerns himself with! But—
“Wait a moment,” I say. “You had…confused me with Hikaru?”
“All of your kind looks alike, especially you two,” they reply nonchalantly.
“Erm, surely we could not look any more different…?” I retort, baffled; yet, it appears by now they have already ceased paying mind to me.
“Ah, there he is,” they say, looking to the right of us. I turn my head the same direction, yet all I see is the vast, dark expanse of trees…
“You can see him?”
“With those Stars of yours, it is rather simple,” they reply.
“Our Stars…you can see our souls?”
“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. Yet slowly I follow by their side, deeper into the dark forest.
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 conversing, and I still feel entirely comfortable in his presence. But this…it is surely a rather different experience, going along in silence with a stranger. Especially one that is very far from 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 timidly.
“Oh, I remember you. You’re the one who wishes to run a bakery, yes?”
“You…know of me?”
“Hikaru has told me much about you.”
He speaks of me even when I am not with him? 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. “You seem a little concerned, yet do not worry; I am not sure he could speak ill of you even if he tried. He is rather fond of you.”
I gaze towards the ground, my face feeling as though it has been thrown in a furnace.
Quickly I glance ahead of us, attempting to appear normal—although to be truthful, it does not seem that Chêne is paying enough mind to notice me acting strangely. Even so, I still attempt to somewhat shift 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, I’m sure he is simply asleep.”
My heart nearly shatters.
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…
☽O☾Lovingly created by [James Margaret Rose].