Hikaru and I spent almost the entire first day walking through the seemingly endless, rolling forest, with only few rests in between. Luckily, in the late afternoon we found wild asparagus to eat, and were able to refill our flasks…but even so, my stomach still feels knotted. Even if Marc would scarcely allow me to eat, it was more than this…I can only wonder if the situation shall become better or, a dreadful thought, worse.
“It’s starting to get dark,” he says at dusk, “Do you want to rest for the night?”
“Yes!” I heave. Though I tried not to focus on it, now the prospect of rest makes me fully realize how much pain I am in. My legs, my lungs, my arms from constantly holding my bag…
Once we at last find a clear spot, I practically collapse upon the ground. In this moment, it feels so soft and heavenly, much more so than where we had slept previously; but, perhaps it is not actually better at all, and it is just my exhaustion that makes it feel so…
Meanwhile, Hikaru gently sits upon the ground, looking as though he has merely taken a leisurely stroll.
“Are you okay?” he asks me, as I roll over onto my back.
“Y-Yes, yes! Just…exhausted.”
“I’m impressed, though,” he says. “You made it much farther today than I thought you would."
“Roughly how far are we now, from my…previous home?”
“Hmm…” for a minute, he scans our surroundings.
“About seven miles, I think. Give or take one.”
“Seven miles?!?” I shout, flabbergasted. But then, I close my eyes and merely moan. “Only seven miles, in a day and a half’s worth of travel…”
“But you’ve never had to walk so much, have you?”
“Not particularly; my servants always went out for shopping and such, and after a while I was hardly even allowed to leave,” I reply. “Occasionally I left, but…”
“Then seven miles is pretty good,” he says.
“How much do you typically walk in a day?”
“Uh, well,” he stumbles, “I normally don’t have any sort of destination in mind, so it varies wildly—"
“That is not what I asked.”
“…About twenty miles, if I walk the entire day. A bit more on a good day, less so on a bad one.”
“Twenty miles average?” I put my arm over my face, and sigh heavily. “Perhaps they were correct after all…”
As I groan, Hikaru lays down to my right, and gazes to me.
“What do you mean?”
“My family has long commented how inelegant and slow my stride is, what an embarrassing sight it is; ah, perhaps I was foolish for believing I may do this after all…”
“No, don’t say that,” he replies with a comforting smile, “If you could carry me all the way from the forest to your home before, is this really so bad?”
“That was merely one occurrence…”
“It’ll get easier,” he says while looking back towards the Sky, and sighing. “When I first began wandering, I wasn’t particularly fast either.”
“I do not know if I can continue in this manner,” I whisper, so quietly I cannot tell if he even heard at all. “My legs are buzzing like bees; the idea of ever standing again sounds wretched…” I say with a laugh, realizing how pathetic I must truly sound.
“We’re far enough away now that they shouldn’t find us,” Hikaru says, “So we can go at whatever pace you like. And besides, it’s Šovy-Viosne, we’re not so far into spring—we don’t have to rush.”
“Are you certain?”
“…I’m not certain of much of anything, Suzette,” he whispers, somehow even more softly than I had. “I hope you can find patience for me too…this is also a bit new for me. But, I’m going to believe just the same.
“I thought you practically spend your life traveling?”
“I do. Alone…”
“Do you truly think I am so incapable?”
“Not at all,” he says. “But it doesn’t matter how capable you are, if fate wills something ill…”
“You speak of fate, yet…I do not quite believe in it,” I say while gazing at the ever-darkening Sky. “It is terrifying in its own way, never knowing if you shall succeed or fail…but, at least we do not have some greater force working against us, yes?”
“Heh, maybe so.”
“So please…” I look towards him, “Let us both try to put our concerns behind us. Even if it is difficult or painful, perhaps…” I add, noticing my very sore limbs.
“Yeah, I’d like that,” he grins before exhaling deeply. For a moment I merely look on as he closes his eye, and seemingly drifts off to sleep, appearing perfectly content.
For a time after, I stare straight to the Sky, nearly devoid of all thought. Yet, while I am incredibly tired, sleep still will not wash over me. So instead I focus my attention upon the thin waxing Moon, slowly rising over the horizon. Yet after a while, as it seems I am wont to do, I become curious concerning something.
“Hikaru,” I whisper, “Are you still awake?”
“I am,” he says clearly, as though he is not drowsy at all.
“May I ask you a question?”
“Why are you so fond of the Moon? With that necklace, and even your clothing being covered in violets and blues, like the night…”
For a few minutes, he stays entirely silent.
“That’s…personal,” he says at last.
“Ah, please forgive me, I did not realize…”
Is all too personal, with him?
“It is just,” I begin, attempting to explain myself, “I have always noticed everyone adores Lady Sun, and yet Maiden Moon is so condemned…although I do not know what for. It is as though her very existence is…
“A-At least, I am assuming this is related to her,” I add, “As you certainly have always seemed a more religious sort…” I say thinking to his “faerie conversation.”
“I guess, you could say that; but…” he trails off, “You truly don’t know? You don’t know why people condemn the Moon?”
“No?” I say a tad confused, “I am not terribly knowledgeable on the gods other than that many believe they exist…nearly everyone I have known is rather ambivalent to such matters.”
“I suppose that explains a lot,” he says to himself, so quietly I can barely hear it.
“Why do you say so?” I ask.
“Well, do you want to know why nobody praises Maiden Moon?”
“If you would like to share it,” I reply.
Even if I do not literally believe in those stories, they can still be interesting nonetheless. And perhaps I can come to understand him slightly better…I thought we had known each other decently well before; yet, even though our journey has just begun, I now question all of that.
“Hmm…” he thinks, “Would you like the long version, or short?”
“I think we have plenty of time to spare,” I answer with a chuckle.
“In that case,” he begins, “It began back in the Old World—do you know that much about it?”
For a moment I ponder, recollecting hazy memories of dull lessons, which I believed would never be useful.
“They say that is where humanity began before migrating to Asàshí and Soléiâ, right? Although no one has yet to rediscover that land…”
“Yes,” he answers. “Back then, the gods were much closer to us—not just Lady Sun, but Mère Terre, Père Ciel, and Maiden Moon too…for a time, she was even the most praised of them all.”
“Then what had changed?”
“She had fallen in love with a member of her priesthood. But her beloved refused, because a human and a goddess aren’t exactly equals…so Maiden Moon created a human body to inhabit and pretend to be an average human, and left the Moon itself without a soul.”
“Did she ever return, then?”
“You would know if she didn’t,” he says. “The reason the Moon now has so many craters is because she left it as a corpse—and like all corpses, it began to rot away. Her family discovered this, and made sure she would never be able to so much as visit humans again.”
“So…is she hated for abandoning her duty as a goddess, then?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
It seems a tad ironic…I myself was so determined to not abandon my duty to my family and society, and yet now I am here. Am I no better than she? Then again, surely a goddess would do much for her worshippers, one would think. My own family merely wanted me for status, to propel upwards their own egos…right? Or perhaps I am terrible as well…
Ah, I am surely overthinking it, as this is a mere tale…
“Then why are you so fond of her, Hikaru?”
“That’s…” he pauses, and I deeply hope he does not add “personal” to this sentence. “It may sound strange to you, but I see much of myself within her.”
“Doing all that she could to be with her love—if I was in her situation, maybe I wouldn’t be better. And, I know what it’s like to be condemned by the world…”
“But, is white hair not so looked down upon because of her?” I inquire softly, a tad confused at his reasoning.
At this, he laughs quietly.
“If white hair was my only worry, my life wouldn’t necessarily be easy; but, maybe there would be a bit less heartbreak. But…” I notice that by now, his voice is becoming rather hoarse. “There is nothing to be done about it now.”
“Is that so…” my voice drifts off, as my thoughts do as well. I wonder what he means by that; but the fact that he has shared this much seems a minor miracle. I may have already pushed him too much, so I will not continue to do so.
The next morning, I awake in precisely as much pain as I had feared—that is to say very, very much. Just lifting myself from upon the ground seems a struggle, but it is so hard I can hardly stand to lay on it a moment longer. The thought of moving at all is wretched, never mind walking the whole day. Yet even so, I will never get anywhere if I merely lay about…
Even if it is horrid, I must do this.
When I arise I find, to my surprise, that Hikaru is still sound asleep. I decide to take advantage and return to rest myself; yet, unfortunately it seems he does not sleep very deeply, as even the meager sound of my movement awakens him.
“Sâ…lêzj, Suzette…” he greets me in a gravelly, exhausted voice. Even though he must always sleep this way, I cannot help but wonder if he is even used to it.
“Ašon bon!” I chime back to him. “When will you be ready to continue?
“Nnn…” he groans while sitting up, and stays there for a few moments, before speaking again. “Maybe in an hour?”
“That is fine,” I reply, stifling back laughter. Yesterday he was well awake and prepared by the time I had awoken, so I merely assumed he was more collected when he awoke. It is quite amusing, seeing him so disheveled, hair an absolute mess; for the first time, I am truly glad to have shorn my own hair so short.
For a time, the two of us sit in silence, as he brushes his hair and I merely breathe in the scenery around me. Aside from a few short instances, normally I am too preoccupied within my own thoughts to truly appreciate what it around me…but in this instance, I notice just how wonderful it truly is out here.
One can feel the moisture in the air from all the dew, as the singing of dozens of birds resonate through the newly green trees. Now that I have grown more comfortable being away from that place, I can fully appreciate the loveliness to be found. After a while I close my eyes, and become lost within the birds’ chorus.
“Are you ready?” Hikaru asks, and I open my eyes to see he is fully composed now.
“Of course!” I reply excitedly, and go to get up quickly…before realizing my body will not allow for that. After my time spent relaxing I had entirely forgotten about the pain, and assumed it had gone away…but unfortunately, it is very much still here. So instead of cheerily hopping up, instead I lift myself slowly, with a groan. And even after I stand, I still stumble a little.
“Suzette…are you feeling okay?”
“Oh, I am fine!” I attempt to brush it off, but it is rather clear I am not fine. “I feel better now, then I had last night…I think I am already growing used to this.”
It is a lie, but I do not want to always appear so weak…
“Well…” he says, looking about us, “Maybe we should still go a tad more slowly today, just to be sure.”
I sigh…although I do not want to admit it, that is absolutely what I desire.
“At least it is lovely out today,” I reassure myself, aloud. “Surely that should make our journey more pleasant, yes?”
“That’s the spirit!” he exclaims eagerly, and I find myself stunned at the change in his usually rather monotonous voice. But in an instant, I feel myself overcome with ease, even in spite of the arduous journey ahead.
And with that the two of us resume our journey once more, deeper into the wilderness than even before.
For a few hours he and I walk at a rather leisurely pace, enjoying the spring scenery. Eventually we come across more wild asparagus to eat, and I cannot help but wonder if that is all we shall eat on this journey; however, at least we are finding food, and he did not even have to “ask” this time.
“Do you want to rest for a little while?” Hikaru asks around midday.
“If you would like, although I am feeling well,” I reply, genuinely this time. Although I remain slightly fatigued, the pain is not so horrid at the moment.
“There’s something I need to look over,” he says. “We may need to adjust our route…”
“Well, I can show you,” he says, pulling a worn, folded paper from within his bag. He soon unfolds it, revealing an entire map of Soléiâ. On closer inspection, I notice something about it…
“Did you create this yourself?”
“I’ve had some help—but mostly, yes.”
For a minute I merely look upon it in awe, at all the details. Towns, as well as forests, mountains, and rivers all extensively recorded…it is no wonder he is able to navigate so easily. He must have spent quite a long time creating this…
“It is beautiful,” I say under my breath. “I had not any idea you could draw so well.”
“You say that as though you don’t sketch all the time.”
“Only to plan what I bake,” I say.
“And I do this to know where everything is. And…sometimes other things, but nothing special.”
“Perhaps we have something in common…” I reply absentmindedly, looking over the map.
I notice that high in one of the northern provinces, at the base of Hory Norsh—the northern mountains—there is a rather large circle, compared to the other landmarks upon the map…and suddenly, I grow terribly concerned.
“Hikaru, that dot…” I say, pointing to it, “Is that where your home lies?”
My heart sinks. It is so incredibly far away; at least two-thousand miles or more…how long will this journey be?
“Hmm…” he mumbles to himself, “This may be an issue.”
“What is wrong?”
“Do you see that small strip of forest north of here?” I squint, trying to find what he is referencing. Eventually I do, yet it appears that it can scarcely be called a “forest,” for it is long, yet so very narrow, represented by a mere line. Once I see its name, however, I am given a hint as to why he is worried: Florêt Folwêkhdin. The Forbidden Forest.
“Why must it have such an ominous name? I do not believe I have even heard of such a place…”
“It’s partially called that because it’s illegal to enter,” he says.
“…Illegal to enter?”
“Yes, most of it is fenced off, and normally it can only be traveled through by the river that runs through it.”
As he says this, suddenly an old forgotten memory makes itself known within my mind once more.
When I was young and traveled north, at a certain point we transferred to a ferry to traverse through a particularly wild wood. Never did I question this, as I was merely a child, but now that he brings this up…
“I believe I have been on the ferry there before, now that you mention it,” I say to him.
“If you’ve been to Solzédniê before, then you definitely have,” he replies.
“So, shall we be taking the ferry, then?”
“…That’s the issue,” he says with a sigh. “It’s very expensive. Exorbitantly so. Only aristocrats and business men can ride upon it easily.”
“I see…” I say, pondering. “Then we can merely go around?”
“We can, but…it will set us back. A lot.”
“A few weeks, at least…”
I inspect the map more closely, and to my horror see he is correct. It is so long and winding, reaching almost to the eastern edge of Soléiâ…we would have to travel all around, just to merely travel to the west to reach the isthmus that connects to the north.
In more simplistic terms, it is a mess.
“Then—” I pause, questioning if I truly want to say what is on my mind. Never before would I say something like this, but perhaps this journey is already beginning to change me…
“Why can we not merely traverse through it?” I suggest. “Unless it is always fully guarded, perhaps we could sneak in—and, surely the penalty for would not be too harsh.”
The thought of going against the law sounds terrifying, and yet already I have begun so many terrifying things, it almost sounds exciting…and it is not as though it would harm anyone.
“I don’t know what the punishments for entering are,” he says. “But sadly, it is shut off for a good reason.”
“Is it the king’s private land?”
“It’s probably amongst the only strips of land in all of Soléiâ that he doesn’t own.”
What is that meant to mean…?
“Why is this?” I ask softly.
“It will surely sound ridiculous to you…” he says, voice trailing off.
Surely, this is not about—
“The fae,” he continues, “Are particularly active there.”
Ah, so this is about that…
“Like in the old tales?” I ask, “Where faeries play tricks on humans?”
“Something like that,” he replies. “In that forest, they have a peculiar manner of doing it, however…usually they lull you to sleep, and play tricks on you in your dreams.”
“For what reason does that warrant the entire forest to be barred? That does not sound particularly dangerous.”
“They say the worst events that have happened is—supposedly, at least—some people had such horrific nightmares that it drove them to suicide, or worse…”
…Or worse? Worse than suicide?!
While I am certainly still skeptical in regard to this faerie business, the fact that the crown feels it a threat enough to make it off-limits… Then again, the royal family is still particularly superstitious, even now still considering themselves the clergy of Lady Sun; although admittedly, I have always assumed it is to placate the masses. But perhaps, there truly is genuine belief on their part…
“It’s not always so bad,” Hikaru says. “Sometimes it’s said they give you wonderful dreams you never wish to wake up from. Of course, in turn this causes some to really never wake up and stay within their dreams forever, but…”
“That does not sound any better,” I mumble.
“Yes, but,” he says, “In my experience they are not always cruel. Sometimes they give one the ability to see the fae, or visions of previous lives, or—”
“In your experience—seeing the fae? Is that where you…gained that ability?”
“…Yes, it is.”
“So then…” I pause. “Do you truly believe all those tales about the forest? Of suicide, or sleeping for eternity…?”
“I’m inclined to,” he says, “But of course I can only know from my own experience. It appears as though they do not merely play tricks randomly, but unfortunately I don’t really know what their logic is…”
“But, I thought you said you could communicate with faeries…”
“Well,” he says, “Just because you can speak to one another doesn’t mean they’ll reveal all their intentions to you. Just like humans.”
I suppose that is logical enough…
“I don’t know,” he continues, “If we should cut through the woods, or go around it.”
“How long would it take to go through the forest?”
“Perhaps a day at most,” he answers. “It’s extraordinarily narrow, but sadly extraordinarily long as well…”
I scrutinize the map, thinking over the predicament.
One day, against numerous weeks—should not the answer be obvious? And yet those stories, and the fact that it is illegal to traverse through…
Still, I should not let myself be deterred by silly superstitions. And even if all of this truly is real, apparently Hikaru lived to tell the tale. So, in spite of whatever rumors there may be—
“I wish to go through it,” I state.
“Are you sure?”
“It would seem you survived well enough,” I say. “I am sure we shall be fine!”
“Yes, you’re right,” he says, voice shaking ever so slightly, “I’m sure we will be.”
His clear concern, in turn, concerns me; but, I can hardly fathom why. They are just stories, yes? He believes in such things, and perhaps he is right. Yet even so, I will not let a few trees halt my dream any longer than it must be—I was already foolish enough to do that as it is. I shall not let myself be deterred again.
Regardless of what he says, what that man says, what society says, what the king himself may say—I will follow my heart no matter what.
Nothing will shift that.
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