Diamonds For Tears
Note: The actual location of the town/forest/castle aren't actually stated in any documents or sources I could find. In my head, this whole story takes place in Aquitaine, a region of France with very dense forests - which is perfect!
The journey from the airport was pleasant enough, giving Diana and her father a chance to catch up. As they talked, the wide motorway gave way to small twisting lanes edged with hedges and small stone walls. They had to slow down in several spots to let cattle or sheep pass from one side of the road to the other. All around them, Diana spotted dark forests and huge mountains shrouded in mist.
"Those are the some of the mountains in the Pyrenees range," Thomas said as they sped through a sleepy village tucked into a fold of the mountains. Beyond the woodland, a huge mountain loomed, dotted with heather and gorse. "Amazing, isn't it? It's like being on the edge of the world."
"Yeah," Diana breathed, her fingers itching to draw the view out of the window. "And can we see these from your house?"
"Oh yes," Thomas agreed, "The cottage isn't actually in the village of Laruns, we're about three miles out, near the National Park, nothing but woods and fields and mountains. It's very peaceful."
Diana grinned. She was going to love it here.
"Is there an art shop in the village?" she asked suddenly. "I might need supplies."
"Don't worry, there is," her dad laughed. "Still scribbling away."
"Oh yes," Diana said eagerly, "I can't wait to go out and start drawing. Is there any wildlife in the forest?"
"Well, there is, but I'd prefer you not go in there," her dad said in a serious tone. "There are a few bears dotted around the place, and though I doubt you'd run into any, I'd prefer not to take a chance. You'll have to look from a distance, I'm afraid."
"Oh." Diana was disappointed. Her dad patted her hand reassuringly.
"Nearly there, pet."
They turned off into a lane that would barely qualify as a footpath in London, with grass growing up in the middle of the road. They pulled to a stop in front of a large two-story whitewashed cottage with green shutters on the window and roses climbing around the door. It looked like something from a postcard. Strewn across the lawn were several bikes, a set of goals and a tennis racket.
"Well, this is it," Thomas said a little nervously as they got out of the car. He grabbed Diana's suitcase from the back of the car and smiled at her. "Don't be nervous, they don't bite."
"I hope not," she teased, taking his offered hand and walking with him up to the large front door.
Diana lay in her bed, staring up at the beams of the ceiling. Last night, she'd been welcomed warmly by her dad's new family, and while she was nervous around them, she had her fingers crossed that by the end of the summer they'd be more comfortable and familiar with each other. With the youngest Lynnette clinging to her like a leech and asking a million questions, she didn't have time to be shy.
Thank God for small kids.
Scarlett had dished up a goulash from a huge cauldron while her eldest, Charlotte had sliced bread and grated some cheese and before long, they all dug in. Then a bottle of wine had appeared and they had all had a drink, even little Lynnette, though her cup was very watered down. Tristan, the middle child, had produced a violin and started playing, and the air was thick with songs and laughter. It was gone midnight before any of them went to bed.
Diana checked her phone. 5 am. Daylight was trying to peek through the shutters on her window. Quietly, she slithered out of bed and dressed as swiftly as possible, reaching out for her rucksack when she was done. Her sketchbook fell to the ground with a thump. Diana stilled, waiting for a noise that signalled she'd woken anyone. After a few moments of silence, she relaxed, picked up her book and made her way downstairs, stopping by the kitchen to pick up a few things.
With her rucksack loaded with apples, bread and cheese, she unlocked the back door and went outside, blinking in the thin green light that the trees allowed to pass their branches as she made a beeline for the forest. The air smelt sharp and fresh. A few birds crashed through the treetops, their song echoing around Diana as she made her way deeper into the trees. The tale of Hansel and Gretel floated through her mind, and she giggled to herself.
Wonder if there's a gingerbread house.
She found a stream instead, a tiny, ice-white cut of water, forcing its path through the trees. Diana carefully picked her way over, kneeling down beside the rushing water and plunged her fingers into the icy flow, splashing her face with handfuls of silvery water. The cold made her gasp for breath and her skin tingle as the water dripped down her neck.
"I suppose that woke you up!"
Diana blinked, wiping stray droplets of water out of her eyes. On her left was a huge oak tree, its lowest branches hanging over the stream. A girl about her own age sat astride one branch, bare legs swinging. She grinned, then glanced over her shoulder, her face dappled with sunlight. She looked ethereal, otherworldly. She turned back and she was just a girl again.
"It's cold," Diana managed, mentally kicking herself for her stupid answer. As if a stream would be warm. The girl rolled onto her stomach and eased herself down from the branch, hanging for a moment above the rushing water before dropping and turning to look at Diana. Her skin was golden and her eyes were a warm chocolate brown. Diana especially liked her hair, dark brown curls that fell down her back in a wild mess.
"You're new around here?" she asked.
"Yes, I've visiting my dad for the summer," Diana explained, feeling at ease with the strange girl. A first for her. "Your English is very good."
"Thanks," she laughed, holding her skirt up a little as she picked her way through the water. "My name's Aiyana."
"That's unusual," Diana noted, "But gorgeous. I'm Diana."
"Nice to meet you, Diana." Aiyana nodded solemnly, gesturing to the stream. "You coming in?"
"No way," she said, shaking her head. "I've already tried the water - way too cold."
A grin was her only warning as Aiyana kicked an arc of water towards her. Diana squealed, patting at her splattered cords before taking a step towards the stream, dipping the toe of her shoe into the water to get her revenge. The movement threw off her balance and she slipped into the water, laughing and screaming. Icy water flooded her trainers, soaking her socks.
"I changed my mind," she said, trying for a serious face as she followed Aiyana towards the bank.
"I'm sure you did, Diana," she laughed, "But next time, remember to take off your shoes!"
"I will, promise!" Diana replied, laughing along with her as they both collapsed onto the soft moss and bracken, shoes squelching.
"It's strange to see someone else here," Aiyana commented as they munched apples a while later. "I'm usually the only one here, except maybe for one of my sisters. None of the locals come here at all."
"Oh?" Diana asked, tossing her apple core away. "Why?"
Her friend shrugged.
"They think that there are bears here, though I've yet to see one," she said, waving a hand. "And they're afraid, of course."
Diana's ears pricked.
"Afraid? Of what?"
"It's mostly local lore," Aiyana said casually, leaning back. "Why? Are you interested?"
"I like a good story," Diana shrugged, breaking off a bit of cheese.
"Oh, all right then," her friend allowed. "Basically, there was a family that came to live here over two hundred years ago. They'd moved from the town because the father had lost all of his money and they were ashamed of the ridicule they now faced. The six children were mostly content here, and the youngest daughter loved it - she disliked the confines of the town. When the father heard that all his money wasn't lost, he asked his children if they wanted him to bring back anything. The older siblings asked for material goods, like clothes, jewels and the like, but the youngest asked her father to bring her back her favourite flower, as there were none of them growing in the area."
"What was her favourite flower?" Diana asked, spellbound. The storyteller smiled.
"Roses. She adored them." She glanced at Diana who'd paled a bit. "Anyway, the father went and was able to get all the goods that his children wanted - except for the rose. He was put out, as he didn't want to disappoint his favourite daughter, but there was little he could do. Roses don't bloom in winter. On his way back, the father was chased by wolves and he managed to lose them, but realised that he had lost his way in the progress. He found himself in a strange valley that was blooming with flowers, as if it was summer. He wandered around and found what he was looking for: the most beautiful rose to take back to his youngest daughter. But as he picked it, a terrible monster found him, and threatened to kill him for plucking one of his roses. He granted the father, however, one day to say goodbye to his family, and said that if he did not come back, then he would find them and kill them all."
"How terrible," Diana murmured, white-faced. "The poor guy."
"Yes," Aiyana agreed sagely, "But the father isn't the victim of this story. When he went home to his children, he explained all that had happened and was prepared to ride back to the strange valley and meet his death. His daughter, however, his favourite one, locked him into her room and fled the house, taking the horse back to the valley and taking her father's place. They were never able to find her."
"The monster killed her?" she gasped.
"That's what's assumed," Aiyana said with a shrug. "For a while, everyone thought the father was mad. But when the girl didn't return, everyone started to look, but they always came back with fewer and fewer numbers. It eventually became a rule in the valley to never go into the woods, in case you were snatched up by the monster." She glanced at her friend. "But that's just a legend. Nothing more."
"Yeah," Diana agreed, "Nothing more. It's an interesting story though."
"Isn't it?" Aiyana laughed, standing up. "Well, I'm glad to meet you, Diana. I've got to go now though - I'll be missed at home. You will be too, I'd say. It's nearly nine."
"What?" Diana checked her mobile. "Oh God, it is." She threw her things into her back and picked up her still damp shoes. "I'll see you around?"
"Probably," Aiyana agreed, "I don't go into the village much though. I'm mostly here."
"Okay. I'll see you when I see you, I suppose!" Diana waved goodbye to her friend before heading back towards the house. Aiyana smiled.
"Indeed you will, Diana."