Stars Over Llorleya- Chapter Eight
Chapter the Eighth
Four years later, springtime
A girl of eighteen knelt on the ground, her long, silky dark hair, woven with flowers, aswirl in the light breeze. The hills below her were a fair, rich green, their long grasses swayed and bent with the wind; the sky a bright, clear blue. Her grey eyes were like two bright stars of the night sky caught under her long lashes- you wouldn’t have guessed she couldn’t see. No, that’s all wrong. They saw what seeing eyes could not.
"Arianna? Have you seen Aiden?" a woman called over the rolling hills from the door of a small but welcoming cottage.
"Oh, he’s with me, Abby," the girl called back, and her voice sounds vaguely familiar to us. It is Aria. And she is changed.
She is beautiful and vivid; not a raving beauty, but somehow more lovely than any mortal girl; she is taller, but still not tall; her eyes are still faded, but somehow have a brilliant luster touching them, and the lashes veiling them are longer; her hair is almost to her feet, spilling, tripping, and tumbling over her shoulders and cascading down her back; the sun shines on it with a fair reddish gleam. Her voice is more musical, her skin more tanned (though still fair), and her smile sadder than at the beginning of our story. Her bare feet are stained a faint green from dancing barefoot in the grass. She carries herself and her head like a queen, even as her mother once did, and the proud curve of her neck has remained, unsubdued by years of peasantry. She had once been described as a moonbeam; now she is fair and starlike. Perhaps she could be described as a stardrop.
Though we cannot see it right now, for it is hidden underneath her collar-line, she still wears her medallion around her slender white throat, as beautiful as ever. Next to it, there tinkles a thin silver leaf, the delicate, thread-slim veins of silver as shapely and thin as a strand of hair, the work of a master smith. Also, a key of black iron that had once opened (or perhaps locked) something or other hangs on the black cord, perhaps not as fair as the others, but with simple charm. Aria, finding it buried and forgotten under a floorboard Peter had been replacing, thought it a wonderful, mysterious, handsome sort of key, though it was really rather plain, lacking fancy curlicues or any other useless curves and designs.
But to our story.
"Do you want him to come in?" Aria called.
"Yes, please. Would you bring him?’
"Of course." She scooped up a laughing three-year old at her feet that she had been bending over, and stood, lifting her face to the sky.
She knew the place well, for she walked sure-footed, each confident step well-placed and unfaltering. Once she began to stumble over a stone she did not know; Aiden squealed as she lurched. Then she righted herself and straightened, and hitched the boy higher at her hip. She sang a silly, cheerful little ditty by way of apology, and he added his small, high-pitched voice to hers, laughing, happy again. And now we notice that Aria’s voice has grown as beautiful as she has grown.
Peter and Abby were in the house. (Goodwife was at an old friend’s house.) Peter seemed to notice her for the first time in years as he watched her walking- more like dancing, he thought- over the hill to the cottage, and presently hopping a stile skillfully into the lush garden, which was more like a meadow of roses that Aria had lovingly planted and tended. He gazed at her intently. "She has bloomed and blossomed as gorgeously as her roses," he said at last, fondly, talking to Abigail. "She is beautiful. But that’s the very least of the reasons she’ll make a fine wife for Dominic. She’s kind, caring, gentle, graceful, sweet, interesting, even mysterious at times." (We are entering while they are in the middle of a sort of debate about this topic.)
"Oh, don’t speak of it," said Abby, distressed. "He’s a fine young man, or at least he was last time we saw him, but… what if she doesn’t… well… take to him as we hope?"
"You mean, what if she doesn’t fall in love?" Peter asked.
Abby nodded. "Yes. I know he will- half the village boys are driving themselves mad over her- but if they’re any pattern to follow, she won’t care two copper coins about him. She’s friendly and attentive, but she’s never really gotten on with anyone… Please, stop playing matchmaker now or you’ll get burned, and Dominic and Aria, too."
"Don’t worry, Abby," Peter said, laying a hand on her shoulder. He tipped her chin upward. "It’ll be fine. This will work."
Abigail’s enormous eyes displayed some doubt, but she only nodded.
That’s when Aria came in. "Hello, Abby, Peter," she said brightly, shutting the door and setting Aiden down. "We’re here!"
Abby smiled. "Come along, Aiden. I’ve got your lunch ready," she said, standing and moving to pull a chair back from the table.
Aiden hopped into it cheerfully. "Momma, Arianna’s been tickling me!" he announced.
"Good for her," Peter said. "You needed it."
Aria grinned. "It’s the least I could do."
"Oh, just eat," Abby said, laughing. "And drink your milk," she said, setting a tin cup on the table in front of Aiden.
"What about me?" Aria said in mock-annoyance.
"You just wait, little one, I’m coming," Abby laughed.
Just then the door swung open and a good-looking young man with hot-chocolate colored hair stuck his head in. He bore a faint resemblance to Peter. "May I come in?" he asked.
Abby smiled. "Come in, Dominic! Spontaneous as always. You said you weren’t coming till tomorrow, so we’re not quite ready for you yet."
Dominic smiled broadly. "My horse is fast."
Peter motioned to Aria, and she stood up.
"Dominic, this is-"
Aria interrupted, smiling. Laughingly, she said, "I am quite capable to introduce myself." She turned to the young man. "I am called Arianna, adopted into this family. And you?"
"Dominic," he said, sticking out his hand awkwardly to the graceful slip of a thing before him, hoping he didn’t seem like too much of a bumpkin. He was already charmed by the beautiful, winsome creature with the sparkling silver eyes. There was something drawing about their unfathomable starry depths. "And I am born into the family, for I am Peter’s second-cousin."
"That would make us cousins of a sort, as well," she said, smiling, "though not blood-related, and I don’t call Abigail and Peter ‘mother’ and ‘father’, as a true daughter would." She took the proffered hand and held it for a moment. Her touch was cool, like summer rain, but Dominic flushed.
"I have heard you are studying to be a teacher and healer."
"More Singer than teacher or healer," Peter chimed in.
"Some say so," Aria said quietly.
"Will you sing something for me?" Dominic asked.
To Aria’s relief, they were all distracted by Aiden, who knocked his cup off the table before Aria had spoken.
Dominic laughed slightly as a spot of milk flew onto his boot. "And you must be Aiden. Hello, cousin."
"Sorry, Momma," said Aiden.
Milk spread over the floor like ink over wet paper. Aria bent to pick up the cup, and Abby began wiping the milk up with a cloth. As Aria leant over, her necklace fell from underneath her dress, and when she stood again, Dominic noticed it.
"You must be wealthy, to have such a necklace." There was no envy in Dominic’s voice; only idle, polite curiosity.
"The medallion is from my old life, before I came here." She put a hand fondly at the round disc. "I was wealthy, then. The key I found."
"And the leaf?"
Abigail smiled and filled in the blanks Aria’s words left. "She sang at a rich man’s daughter’s wedding, and he gave her a silver coin. When she gave it to us, we felt guilty that she should give what she rightfully earned to people who didn’t really need it, not keeping a copper for herself. So we took it to the blacksmith, who melted it down and molded the necklace. It was a birthday present."
"I still say you shouldn’t have."
"That’s why we did it, Arianna."
Aria blushed with embarrassed pleasure. "They are very kind," she said, throwing her head over her shoulder so she could address Dominic.
He smiled, but said nothing. He was thinking, Who would be unkind to you?
A few minutes later Abigail appeared from a side room. "Dominic, you’ll be staying in here," she said. (The extra room had been built the first year, after they had completed Aria’s room and "the baby’s".)
Then Aria knew that Dominic was to stay, and something implied to her it would be a long visit.
That evening around the fireplace Dominic talked a great deal to Peter and Abby and Aria (Aiden was asleep) about himself. (In his defense, they had asked.) Aria learned a great deal about him, most of which she neither wondered nor wanted to know about him. For instance: He learned to talk at seven months old, could hold his breath for five minutes, and could jump a good distance. (Goodness knows how these things were brought up.) Aria wouldn’t have minded that he said these things, pointless though they were, but she had a sneaking suspicion that he was trying to impress her, which he wasn’t. There was a bit she was interested in, though: He had grown up around this part of the country, playing with Peter (who, though maybe twelve years older than him, had always taken the time to tumble around), but had moved to a bigger town about five years ago or so. She also learned about his family: He had a little sister of twelve named Ruth, his mother was a courtier (making his family fairly well-off), and Peter was his father’s uncle. He was nineteen years old, one year older than Aria, as Gilligan had been.
Aria found herself wondering what Gill would have been like at nineteen.
The next time Aria saw Dominic was the next morning. She had slipped out very early, and now it was perhaps nine o’clock. She was perched lightly on the branch of a maple tree, her bare feet dangling beneath her. On a slightly wider limb sat a boy of Aria’s age (or maybe a little younger) named Farrin, who had a wild thatch of bright red hair and a heavy sprinkling of freckles. The two were talking about things in general, though Farrin was doing most of the conversation.
Dominic walked beneath the tree, and Aria was immediately aware of him. Frantically she began to climb higher. "Hide me!" she cried down to Farrin in a harsh whisper.
"Why?" he asked.
"Sshhh!! It’s him!" She crouched very still against the trunk. "And don’t tell him I’m here, please, Farrin!"
Before I go on there is something you must know. It wasn’t because Aria disliked Dominic that she avoided him. But she had had a vision, an outside-of-time vision, only this time forward in time, and it had frightened her. Dominic had been in it. He had proposed to her, and she knew she did not love him, and doubted she ever could. Yet she hated the thought of hurting him, so she evaded him, and tried to keep out of his way.
Though puzzled, Farrin said nothing. She had escaped that time, but it wouldn’t last long.
About four weeks passed. Dominic had advanced so far as to court her, very delicately, as though trying to tame a skittish colt who kept shying away. Aria had discovered that she found Dominic only pleasant to talk to for a few minutes; after that he became very dull, for though he was kind and good, he had no imagination to speak of, and saw no point in fairytales, stories, and mystical, magical creatures and things. It would have been hard for them to even be good friends, much less husband and wife. Aria saw this, but Dominic did not, or did not seem to.
Sometimes he asked questions about her, and Aria tried her best to answer truthfully: She was an orphan; Abby and Peter had taken her in; they were very kind to her; she had been left blind by a fever. She didn’t tell him about vision-seeing. She didn’t tell anyone about that.
What made Dominic’s courtship even worse was that she knew Abby and Peter (mostly Peter) wanted her to marry him. They sort of expected her to. He was a "fine young man"; he would be good to her; she would truly be a part of their family; she would be nearby, et cetera. Didn’t they understand love? Aria thought, exasperated. She had never been in love, but she was sure it did not feel like boredom.
Then it was summer, and a very pretty summer at that. Not too hot, but very recognizably summer, for it was warm enough.
Dominic had begun courting her in earnest. Peter seemed pleased, but Abigail seemed concerned, as though she sensed Aria wasn’t quite acting as a girl in love should. But she couldn’t get too involved, because Aiden, of course, was completely unaffected and unaware, as a child of three should be, so he just went on getting into mischief and left no unnecessary time on Abby’s hands for observation.
One afternoon, out of a desire to escape Dominic, Aria fled to the woods, walking idly and singing along the shafts of sunlight filtered through the canopy of the towering pine trees overhead (sturdy, thick trees that were too wide around for three people to hug the trunks and touch fingers, though why anyone would hug a sap-dripping, needle-poking pine tree I don’t know), gracing the forest floor below. She walked at a leisurely pace, feeling joyful and twirling under the boughs thickly laden with needles. Boughs spread over her, and tiny brown needles lay under her (giving occasional sharp, painful pricks to her bare feet), and the smell of pine hung heavily in the air.
Then the idea hit her, with an almost painful pang in her chest.
The first the thing to do would be to find the road, she thought. She knew the road well- a long, well-trodden, much used road, wide and pleasant, cutting across the land like a ribbon draped straight over a dresser, traveling over hills and valleys and plateaus. Even so, she avoided using it, for the most part, for unpleasant memories it gave her, as we will see.
Please, give me a vision, she prayed. A vision that lets me move while seeing. A vision that lasts. Please, she pleaded, her hand on the necklace she had suspected for four years to be the star-circle. She had had many visions since then, when she really desired to see a thing. She had gradually learned not to hold her breath, and to be more than a fixture. None of the visions had been outside of time, in the past or future, as her first or most recent, which perhaps helped.
She followed the dusty road for a little while, until she came to the place where the forest crowded up to the side, which was perhaps the place she needed to be.
And then the vision came, as she had requested. There it is, she thought with a gulp.
A pretty, cool brook gurgled by, flowing out of an icy spring farther up the countryside. Near it, a lonesome, obscure ring of slender white birch trees made a light, sunny clearing in the forest, round and fair.
It was the ring of birch trees in which she believed Rayne and Josh had been killed.
The ring of birches seemed to bear no witness of the battle that had taken place beneath its wide-spread boughs. All was calm and fair and still; sunlight danced on the blades of grass and the brightly smiling daisies, swaying in the light breeze. They hid the scars the place bore, scars of sadness and hurt and pain and death. Aria knelt in the grass- only it was more like falling, how she sank down with a half-sob that never quite developed into crying. She had cried all too often in the last four years. That was over. Done. They were gone. She ran her hand over the grass, as though searching for something, anything that might be left- a broken arrow or sword, perhaps Rayne’s fairy ring. But all traces that might have once been there were erased from living memory.
Then the vision finally faded, and the horrible burning was left to her eyes. She had never rid herself of that.
Suddenly Aria heard footsteps, and she looked up. Before the burning of the old vision had worn off, a new one came.
It was a fairy.