Steadily I open my eyes, letting the soft morning sunlight shine through. It is so early, the Sky is still tinted rosy colors from the dawn, and a dewy smell still lingers in the air. Perhaps I should have slept longer, yet I am already entirely awake…
The Solstice is here!
I look over to see if Hikaru has awoken as well, but he is soundly asleep. In my excitement I almost shake him awake, before suddenly stopping myself. Knowing him, he probably stayed awake much later than I…so for now, I decide to let him be.
I look around for the faerie, hoping perhaps to have someone to converse with for a little while; however, it seems they have left—that is, before they materialize right in front of my eyes.
“Uh…” I utter, “Do you always disappear like this when nobody is awake?”
“Why would I not?”
Well, I suppose there is no reason they need to be seen, then…
“So,” I begin, “When does the celebration begin?”
“I’m sure it has already begun—but, your kind does not typically celebrate the entire day, do they?”
“No, usually after some hours everyone is too tired to continue, or they have business elsewhere…” I pause. “For a woodland faerie, you seem to know quite a bit about humans…”
“I would hope so,” they reply, and for a moment it almost seems as though they smile. “I’ve studied your kind for a very, very long time.”
“I see,” I reply faintly, gazing away from them and out into the forest instead.
“No inquiries?” they chuckle, “That seems unlike you.”
“You…no, it appears most are bothered by it,” I sigh.
“Curiosity is not an ill trait to have; at least, of course I would not think so. And besides,” they continue with a wave, “I don’t have any secrets other than those others entrust to me. So ask whatever you please.”
Swiftly I turn back towards them, perhaps a tad too eagerly.
“How did you become interested in humans?”
“Before they came to this land, I discovered an artifact from far away. I had no idea where it had come from, but I kept it safe, always hoping one day I may discover its secrets.
“At last, when your kind did arrive, I could tell these creatures were the creators of that strange object. They were quite like the fae, like the animals; and yet simultaneously, entirely different from us. Though one might think after so long studying them would grow boring, your kind proves to be endlessly fascinating.”
I glare at Chêne with a look that I quite imagine mirrors my first vision of them: utter bewilderment mixed with fear. Perhaps a bit less so than before, yet a shadow is still there…
“…Soléiâ is over three thousand years old.”
“Chêne…how old are you? Even the most elder of trees do not live that long, do they?”
Now, they unmistakably smirk.
“I cannot definitively answer either question,” they reply. “But if I say I am older than death, would you believe?”
Once more, I look away.
“I hear your kind is fond of tricks…so I cannot answer definitively either.”
They laugh quietly.
“Most humans upon meeting me seem to believe every word I say in spite of the tales, just because my mere presence seems fantastical enough they are willing to believe all; yet, you’re one of the few who keeps your skepticism. It is nice.”
Involuntarily, I begin to tense up.
So far, they have been surprisingly kind, even reasonable…yet in this moment, they carry an alien aura which in spite of myself unnerves me.
As though they had read my thoughts, they speak again.
“No need to be alarmed, I am just speaking without much thought. Perhaps someday your logic will find out the answer to that question for certain. Although I know that is not the one you particularly care about.”
My eye slowly focuses back upon them.
“What is that to mean?”
“Just remember,” they declare, “Fae are perceptive on a level you can hardly comprehend. It’s simple for us to detect the feelings of humans which you supposedly keep hidden. This is why, amongst our own, we are so carefree—there is hardly such a thing as a secret. And this too is why we appear so mischievous to your kind—you are so easy to fool. And, if we allow you just an inkling of the perception we naturally possess, the results can be quite amusing to see. Do you understand?”
I pause, considering their words.
“Chêne…could you truly know my secrets?”
The idea is ridiculous; and yet, everything about this affair, perhaps everything about my life at this point, is ridiculous…
They lean closer to me, and it feels as though their tall, slender shadow engulfs me in darkness.
“Of course I do,” they whisper. “Even the ones you attempt to hide from yourself. That is why I tell you this. It seems useful for you to know.”
“How am I to know you are not lying?”
Chêne glances to the side, before their tree green eyes lock together with my own.
“I do not know the specifics of everything, and besides, it would be rude to just state it outright,” they whisper, “But I know it involves your thoughts upon a certain someone lying right beside us. Am I correct?”
My heart stops. I glare at them. I move my mouth in an attempt to form a sentence, to say anything; yet, instead I remain speechless.
They move away from me once more.
“Tonight, at the celebration,” Chêne says, “Be careful. Hopefully the other participants shall all be too drunk to care one way or the other. But if you give them a reason to, your secrets may not remain secrets for much longer.”
“How am I to avoid that?”
“Go along with the festivities. Don’t be too prudish, lest they find it more enjoyable to watch you flounder as all is revealed about you. Do not act so surprised by everything either, or they may try to exaggerate your reactions. Just be as inconspicuous as possible, and do what everyone else does. Understood?”
“Yes,” I mumble. “Mâzjêr né…thank you for warning me.”
They go silent, and so do I. All I can do is merely close my eyes and sigh.
It is quite amusing, I am always so amazed at how many secrets Hikaru holds. Yet we truly are not so different, are we…?
“Ah,” Chêne says after a moment, “Ašon bon.”
The long day continues on just as any other. Eating, drinking, attempting to amuse ourselves to bid the time. It feels quite strange; normally by this time on the Solstice, I would have already returned home to rest from the festivities—even if faeries supposedly begin earlier than us. This is a celebration of the day after all, it would be a tad nonsensical to celebrate in the evening instead. Yet, I suppose faeries are notorious for all other than making sense.
“Hikaru,” I say after a while, “Should we prepare to leave?”
He looks at me almost as though I am speaking another language.
“Well…” I sigh, coming to the realization, “I suppose we have nothing in particular to prepare with, do we?”
“Like changing into nicer clothes?”
At this, he laughs.
“Even if we did, you wouldn’t want to do that anyways,” he replies. “This isn’t exactly that kind of celebration.”
“I suppose it would be different amongst faeries…”
“Not just them; but, I guess with your position you wouldn’t go to a festival like that.”
“Oh, you mean amongst…” my voice trails off, as I never quite know how to say this in a way that feels proper…
“Yeah,” he mutters. “It’s fine, you’re not missing much in particular. Usually there’s just hordes of people in various states of drunkenness, dissonant noise all around…clearly others enjoy it, but it’s not for me.”
“Will today’s festival be that way?”
“Probably a little, but there shouldn’t be hordes of fae, at least.”
For a moment I sit quietly, thinking.
“Hikaru…are you sure you wish to do this? You do not seem particularly enthusiastic…”
“Don’t worry,” he replies. “It’s good to be a bit uncomfortable sometimes—well, that only makes it sound worse, but—” he sighs.
“If you’re there, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it,” he says softly. “And if not, it is only for a short time. Really, don’t worry about it, okay?”
I grin slightly.
“Mâzjêr né…you truly do not have to do all this.”
“It’s no problem,” he replies, breaking our eye contact. “Maybe it’d be best to head off soon; the Sun has already come fairly low in the Sky.”
Chêne leads Hikaru and I through the now far too familiar forest, although it is not long before we come upon unfamiliar scenery. As we walk the forest floor grows increasingly dense with grasses and brush, even the trees seem somehow more wild than those we have encountered thus far. While there is still much daylight about, the forest itself is surprisingly dark and cool, only thin beams of light shining through the cracks of the canopy. In a lot of ways, it quite resembles Florêt Folwêkhdin…and it is difficult not to grow uneasy at the thought. Even if it turned out well, I suppose…I would prefer not to relive that again.
After some time, just as during that night, the sound of music slowly but surely grows louder; however, it is doubtful this could be any more different from the music of that night. Unlike the divine, operatic voices of the ancient wood, here the sound of voices is instead replaced by a shrill instrument, the chaotic beating of drums. Eventually we reach the source of the festivities…a small clearing within the forest, and an alarmingly large bonfire within.
In spite of Chêne’s warning, I stay by Hikaru like a burr caught on one’s clothing.
“Shall they burn the whole forest down?” I ask him frantically.
“They can contain it fine, there’s no need to worry.”
I take his word, yet it is still difficult not to become concerned at the intense flames.
The three of us enter the clearing—though I attempt to act normal, it is difficult not to rigidly grip Hikaru’s hand in spite of myself.
With our presence, everything ceases. The music, any dancing or conversation, the entire gathering becomes silent and still. For what seems an eternity, the faeries stare at us with their darkened eyes…and beyond Chêne, I at last have an image of the creatures Hikaru so often speaks to.
Similar to Chêne, all the faeries bear a vaguely humanoid shape, bent and accentuated with beastly features. They all resemble different creatures—rabbits, mice, possums, owls; there are even many which resemble insects, and while they are not quite as tiny as their counterparts, they are certainly quite smaller than even a newborn child. I am surprised at just how small all the faeries truly are; with Chêne being so large, I simply assumed most faeries were a substantial size. And yet, almost every creature here is smaller than even myself. Most of them wear simple clothing draped around themselves, yet a few are covered in nothing but fur, feathers, or the hard skin of insects.
At last, a faerie resembling a fox is the first to speak.
“Chêne, you really did come!”
Nearly all of the faeries in the glade swarm around their larger kin—it appears they scarcely notice Hikaru and I at all!
“Why would I say I’d come if I would not?”
“You’re late!” the fox exclaims.
“And,” adds a small faerie with the wings of a robin, “Why would you come here of all places?”
Chêne chuckles, and for perhaps the first time ever I see them smile in quite a genuine way.
“I’m not like the gods, or those human kings and nobles—I’m not too good for anyone.”
“Hikaru,” I whisper, “Is Chêne like a king, or their equivalent, of the faeries?”
“They don’t have government, but…” he trails off, thinking. “Chêne is one of the few beings at all that nearly every faerie respects, so I guess you could say they’re something like that.”
“Hey,” the fox says, looking in our direction, “Why are those here?”
“You idiot,” a rabbit faerie reprimands, “Chêne said they were bringing humans along, remember?”
Before I realize it, a small faerie with butterfly wings lands on my shoulder—!
“I have never seen one up close…” they say in a soft voice, caressing my hair with four tiny hands…
“I…” I begin, shifting my eyes to look at them better, “I cannot say I have seen a faerie this close either.”
At this, the small creature laughs innocently. I cannot help but smile, as admittedly it is quite cute…
“…Hmph,” the fox mumbles, crossing their arms. “But why?”
Their rude tone clearly signals this “question” is more so a dissatisfied statement, yet Chêne answers regardless.
“Because,” Chêne says with a commanding tone, “They are my friends. Their travels have brought them far away from their own kind, yet they still wished to celebrate this blessed day; therefore, I brought them here. Understood?”
The fox droops their ears, looking away from both Chêne and ourselves.
“Can we…go back to the music?” chimes in a different rabbit faerie, sitting by a drum. Now, a new voice begins speaking.
“You never had to stop,” says Hikaru.
Scarcely a second passes, before the music and festivities begin once more.
“So what shall we do—?” I ask Hikaru.
“I can’t remember the last time I’ve been to a party, so perhaps you’d know better than me.”
“Where are you going?” asked the small faerie sitting upon my shoulder, who for a moment I had forgotten was there. “Chêne said you are traveling?”
“Oh, just to the northern provinces, although—”
“Do you want something to drink?” I return my gaze down, seeing the rabbit faerie looking up towards us. “Humans don’t mind alcohol, do they?”
“Not at all,” I say with a slight laugh; to say humans “don’t mind” is surely an understatement.
“What do you have?” Hikaru asks, and I look over to him, slightly shocked.
“You like alcohol?”
“Suzette, surely you don’t think that’s strange.”
“No, I just suppose…you never appeared to me the kind of person who would enjoy alcohol.”
He laughs loudly.
“Well, I’ve not had it in who knows how long, but I’m not against it. And,” he adds, looking back to the faerie, “What do you have?”
“We’ve wine, mead—”
“Can we have mead? Would you like that, Suzette?”
“I have never tried it, yet perhaps I shall like it.”
“Then I’ll be back!” the rabbit hops away into the forest, and returns back with two simple pots.
“Mâzjêr né,” Hikaru and I both reply simultaneously.
“What is your name? And yours as well—” I add towards the small faerie still perched upon my shoulder.
“A name? For us…?” the small faerie mumbles.
“Fae don’t usually have names,” Hikaru chimes in. “Chêne is an exception.”
“Chêne’s actually important,” the rabbit says.
“And we’re not so dumb we can’t keep track of each other,” says the fox from before, sitting nearby with a devious smile.
“Ugh, why are you being like this?” the rabbit turns towards them angrily.
“These two almost trampled me in the forest, over running around like madmen!”
Trampled? Yet I do not recall…
Yet soon I realize it: this is not who they truly are. They may easily be some small plant, scarcely noticeable… So then, shall they attempt to make this entire night miserable? Or do as Chêne warned—no, that cannot happen—perhaps this truly was a mistake…
“Pšyku vrémond…we didn’t realize,” Hikaru replies softly with a frown, seemingly taken a little of guard.
“Don’t you say sorry, this idiot needs to learn to respect those above them!” the rabbit exclaims, punching the fox’s arm.
Soon the two begin bickering with increasing intensity. Hikaru gently clasps my hand, and both of us sink away, hiding amongst the others here.
“Hopefully the others are not upset at us…”
“If it’s any encouragement,” Hikaru says quietly, “Most fae don’t consider deeply, or mind if they happen to be walked over. They’re plants after all…”
“Then why is that faerie upset?”
“Well, they all have their own personality—not unlike you or me.”
“Ah, I see…” I reply, attempting to focus, yet admittedly not listening terribly deeply. Instead, I cannot help but focus upon the strange music; while one faerie has grown ire for us, I must remain calm, act as though everything is normal. It appears this is becoming just as tense as I had feared…
From the side Hikaru and I drink our mead—and I find it more enjoyable than anticipated, though it is not as sweet as I would have preferred or expected. And so he and I stay, gazing amongst the rest of the guests. To be truthful, it is enjoyable in its own way, watching the strange myriad of creatures in the clearing…at least, certainly more peaceful than arguing with them. Some can be seen prancing around the fire, others chase one another, and others still have clearly drank far too much so that they can scarcely move. Studying them, in spite of their appearance, they truly do not appear so different from ourselves. And yet, even so…
I cannot bring myself to converse with anyone, or even go amongst them. Perhaps we are quite different, or perhaps not; yet regardless, I feel foreign, entirely displaced. The thought of speaking to anyone gives me a strange anxiety. With this, I look upon Hikaru…
“Do you tend to feel this way?” I whisper to him.
“What do you mean?”
“The feeling of lingering upon the outskirts, never quite able to belong in society such as everyone else…”
“So it seems this was a bad idea after all,” he utters, eye drooping down towards his drink. “If you would like to leave, we can go, and maybe try to make your Solstice a little better.”
“N-No, I know how much trouble you went through—”
“You’re sad…” Once more, it is the rabbit from before who speaks. “We can’t have Chêne’s friends being sad…”
“Ah, well…” I stumble, “I suppose I just have never attended a celebration such as this, nor have I ever met so many faeries before today, so all of this is a bit…”
“Hmm—” the rabbit puts their—hand?—to their chin, and lightly thumps their large foot on the ground. As they do so, I ponder upon why they are being so kind to us…yet perhaps it is just as Hikaru said, that this too is a part of their personality.
“Why not dance with us?” they suggest at last, “Do humans know how to dance?”
Although I try to stifle my laughter, it is becoming increasingly difficult.
“My, you seem to think humans scarcely do anything!”
“How am I supposed to know?”
At this I cannot help but smile, and for the first time since arriving I believe I have at last discovered a little comfort.
“So then, you want to dance with us?”
“Oh, well…I do not know how to dance as this.”
“Then how on Earth do humans dance?”
“The music tends to be more…slow and melodic as we dance. And one tends to dance with a partner…”
“But, there are two of you?” the rabbit looks up to us with puzzled eyes.
“It is—well, I suppose it is a tad hard to explain…” I reply. In truth, it is not difficult at all to explain that one typically only dances with a romantic partner; yet, I would prefer not to linger upon that.
“Is that not so, Hikaru?” I nudge his arm, but it is a moment before he responds. It appears he has dazed out entirely…!
“R-Right,” he says with uncertainty, clearly proving my suspicion.
“Why don’t you two dance together, and show us how humans do it!” the rabbit clasps together their hands excitedly.
“Oh, we cannot, I am entirely too unsuitable…” I say softly. “I am not quite tall enough or slender enough, it would merely be strange…”
“I think you’re fine…” Hikaru says even more quietly. “Not that you have to dance with me, just—there’s nothing wrong with you, at least.”
My heart begins beating wildly; I am sure it shall be an embarrassing sight, and yet—
“Hikaru…would you like to show them how humans dance, perhaps?
Whether I hope he shall agree or decline—ah, truly, I do not know…!
Momentarily he pauses; yet soon, the warmth of his palm envelops my own.
“Well…I don’t see why not,” he says quietly, with a soft smile like the moonlight…
“Oh, I’ll go get the lyre—!” the rabbit exclaims, hopping off.
It is not long before the music from before quiets, and the faeries surrounding us cease their dancing. Some sit in preparation for what is to come, and others still begin conversing with one another quietly.
“Hikaru,” I whisper, “Do you believe this is bothering the others here?”
“Not at all—if it was, you would know.”
“Then I shall trust you,” I reply quietly, facing him.
I inhale deeply. It is merely a tad awkward, with our incredibly varying heights, which becomes quite noticeable as we face one another. Still, his free hand clasps my shoulder; and mine, likewise, reaches for his hips—
“Ah, please forgive me…” I say quietly, “I know I am a tad awkward…”
“Not at all,” he says, “That will probably be me; it’s been quite a long time since I danced,” he adds with a nervous chuckle.
“I do not mind, as long as you enjoy yourself,” I say.
His subtle smile becomes a large grin.
“The same for you.”
And with this, the clear, tender notes of the lyre begin to resound in the clearing, much more beautifully than I imagined possible based upon the music from before.
One step, then two—steadily at first, for we move rather ungracefully as we gain balance on this quite uneven ground. Yet it is not long before every twirl becomes fluid, our gowns whirling around us in the air—
With each step we draw nearer to one another, until my stomach and breasts rub up against his body, and I lean my head against his navel, hugged by the scent of lavender as our warmth melds into one.
I close my eyes and soon, before I realize…everything slips away.
No longer are we in the forest, but rather a large, barren ballroom. The music is merely an apparition in our minds, with the quiet clacking of our steps and the warmth between us being all that exists. I gaze down, into his ruby eye, and smile softly—
Slowly I open my eyes, the ballroom returning to its true form as a forest. The music appears to become louder again, more than just a fantasy. I gaze up into his eye, and smile softly—
Has…everything truly changed so much? Or is it much the same as before?
The lyre continues on.
From that moment, the night becomes much more enjoyable, as Hikaru and I continue to drink, and so too grow more comfortable. A part of me wonders if perhaps someday, Hikaru can grow more comfortable with human society as well…
As the evening continues on, the faeries steadily begin dispersing, as the day of the Solstice grows to be no more. The fire becomes little more than embers, and eventually the only light illuminating us are fireflies…more than I have ever imagined possible, alighting the grove such as a glittering stone. It is intensely beautiful…
I sit against a fallen tree and close my eyes, enjoying the newfound silence. After the celebration, it is so peaceful. That is, until I am jarred by a body thumping into my side.
“Are you well?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he mumbles, slightly slurred.
“…When previously have you consumed so much alcohol?”
“It was…it was…” he pauses for a moment, attempting to hold himself steadily upwards. “I think it was…3053! That’s when it was! It was…gods, it was shit…”
“That was over a decade ago!”
“Damn straight it was! Luckily…you don’t even want to know…”
Now, I cannot help but burst loudly into laughter.
“What’s so funny?”
“N-Nothing,” I reply. “Yet I…believe it would be best if you rested.”
“Yes, you’re right,” he says, leaning into me. However, soon he shoots himself up, clearly disorienting himself.
“Is something the matter—?”
“Pšyku,” he whispers hardly coherently, placing his hand to his face. “Obviously I’m a bit…a bit…out of it.”
“No, you need not apologize,” I reply, lightly placing my arm around him. With this, he sinks into my side one more, further, further, my pulse growing wild all the while, until at last his head is firmly in my lap.
“Suzette…” he whispers almost imperceptibly, clearly falling in slumber, “Is this…”
“Yes, you are well. Do not worry.”
He adjusts himself into a more agreeable position. As he does so his flowing hair falls to the side, revealing the fullness of his face…the crude scar where an eye should be, every line worn by time and sorrow.
Without thought, I begin stroking his hair—
“Yes, it’s all right,” he replies with a grin.
“Suzette…” he whispers, “I’m so grateful you’re here…mâzjêr vrémond né…”
My face begins growing warm…
“You are the one that is helping me…I should be thanking you.”
“Hmm, I guess,” he says, “But I’m…still grateful it’s you.”
“What for? I have not done anything…”
“You made me come here. Okay, not—not literally, but…surely you know…I wasn’t the best, but I tried.”
“You were not the best…?”
“You know,” he mumbles, “At talking to everyone, interacting with the rest of the party…I’m sure you noticed sometimes, sometimes I dissociated from everyone, but…
“Being an outsider…” he trails off, even longer than before, “It’s…maybe I make it seem easy, or not, but it’s really not easy. Never blending in wherever you go, never being ‘normal’…even though I feel better with the fae, something like this is…is still a bit…
“Even if you’re an outsider, it’s easier to go out in the world when you’re not alone…so, Suzette, I…”
“I still do not feel I have done much,” I whisper, still caressing his hair. “It is not as though I am not enjoying myself; it is not a sacrifice…”
He smiles and closes his eye, although says nothing further. After a short while, another voice greets me.
“I believe it is my time to go,” Chêne says, appearing out of the shadows.
“Shall you first say farewell to Hikaru? I believe he has fallen asleep…”
“He’ll understand. And I am sure we will meet again before your journey is over.”
“I hope the celebration was enjoyable for you, Chêne…although we scarcely saw you at all.”
“I had hoped you two could manage yourselves. Luckily it appears I was right.”
“Yes…and it seems your warnings were not needed. In spite of that one faerie that wished to quarrel with us…”
“Indeed; although it appears your secrets were still revealed.”
“H-How so?” I gaze up towards them, panicked. “I do not recall anyone saying—”
“I do not mean the secrets you keep from others. In this instance, it appears to be yourself. I noticed something in you was repressed, but now it’s not.”
I become completely still.
“He is one of my good friends, of your kind,” Chêne says uncharacteristically tenderly. “Be kind to him.”
I remain silent.
“Vwârdnie,” they continue, “I am sure we’ll be meeting again.”
I nod ever so slightly, as Chêne disperses within the forest.
I merely look down upon the man sleeping in my lap, and cup my hand around his sleeping face. I gaze upon him mesmerized, enraptured, mind overflowing with thoughts.
We are so very different, he and I. A strange, lonely wanderer from a faraway land who spends his days preoccupying his time studying plants and their spirits, the people of old and the stories they told. One who struggles to speak to others, who finds companionship so difficult; and yet, who still harbors so much kindness within his heart, love that manages to coexist with decades of accumulated pain, misery, and sorrow.
To others I am sure we would appear rather farcical. He who prefers his hair so long, even I had once mistaken him for a woman. He who is hated for so many things, for that brilliant white hair, for his fondness for a mistrusted goddess, for his passionate love for a man. Even if I have been disparaged for many things, nothing at all compares to the dreadfulness he has endured…
And yet, my mind continues to return to a singular thought: I do not believe I desire this journey to end. Yes, of course I must begin my bakery, such a dream shall forever endure; and yet, is that truly the goal of this journey? Or merely another facet of it?
I know these are quite ridiculous thoughts…why would anyone desire one as unsightly and plain as myself? And besides, he seems to prefer men; I am sure a woman who is like the wildflowers that grow along the path, so meek and common, shall not sway him. I cannot compare to who I once was…
Yet even so, Chêne was correct, although I may only quite admit it to myself.
Lêm sâ tsiâ né…I love you, Hikaru.
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