Chapter 1 - The Beginning
“Maria?” His deep voice startled her. He rapped his knuckles on the door of her caravan a few times before calling out again. “Maria, are you there?”
It took her a moment to calm her beating heart. She had decided. She was going to tell him today.
Plastering a wide smile on her pale face was easy enough, considering it was a reflection of the emotion churning within her. The butterflies in her stomach would not calm down. She shivered with excitement as she placed a dainty hand, covered in all manner of gem-encrusted rings, over the small bump forming underneath her dress. His child. She was carrying his child.
Carefully she stood up and made her way through the cramped caravan to the door. Her smile grew brighter still when she raised her eyes from the floor to find him clutching a single white rose. She watched him return the smile, albeit a little shaky.
Did he know?
“White,” she said, leaning against the doorframe as she gazed between him and the rose in his hands. “Interesting choice. You know it means purity? For some it signifies innocence. Quite the contradiction, in my opinion,” she smiled at him and he returned it. The wind whipped her yellow dress around her feet. “It also signifies secrecy. How innocent can a secret be, I wonder?”
He chuckled and reached out to brush her cheek. She leaned into his calm caress, closing her eyes as she inhaled his sweet scent.
“Maria, my darling.” He said. She opened her eyes to find his face inches from hers. She took the initiative, leaning in the rest of the way to capture his lips in a warm embrace.
“I’ve missed you, Jakob.” She whispered after they broke apart.
“As have I, my love.” He replied. “Now,” he stepped back. She could see that he had a picnic basket with him. “are we going to stand around all day? Or should we go have a little fun?” He gestured towards the basket and the blanket that lay on top of it.
Maria giggled and stepped back as well. She held her hand out toward him. “Give me the rose, let me put it in some water and then we can go.”
Jakob complied, handing over the delicate flower. Maria brushed her thumb over the delicate petals, and decided against confining it to a mundane glass of water. She muttered a few words under her breath, and the collection of rings on her fingers started to glow.
She looked up to find Jakob frowning at her. She winked at him before focusing on what she was doing.
He watched in wonderment as the snowy petals of the rose began to glow as well, creating a haze of heavenly light between his lover’s fingers. The light seemed to become tangible, almost like mist, and he watched as she lifted one hand to dance over the flower. She continued chanting.
She twirled and flicked her fingers, urging the light to dance with her. It swirled and twisted around the rose, reacting to a silent symphony conducted solely by her skillful fingers.
Soon, the light grew brighter and brighter, surrounding the entirety of the flower and some of her hand. Jakob watched as it surrounded the flower completely, hiding it from his view. All he could see was light.
Once the rose was firmly embraced within the light, all silent music seemed to stop. Maria stopped chanting, and her fingers hovered motionless above the cocoon of light. She sighed out a single, gentle word. The light pulsed once.
Jakob watched, amazed, as the light retracted back into the flower. It looked the same, except for the fact that it seemed to emit an ethereal glow. The light that had surrounded it a moment ago had now become a part of it, sustaining it eternally.
“What did you do?” He whispered, watching as she carried the rose inside. From outside he watched as she opened one of the many glass cases on her shelves and delicately placed the rose inside it. It stood upright, held up only by pure magic.
“I looped its soul,” Maria explained, pulling her cloak off one of the hooks in the caravan and covering her body with it. “Now, it will never die. Its soul will Glow eternally.”
She smiled as she walked past him, satisfied with his bemused expression.
“You never cease to surprise me,” he said, following after her and closing the door. She picked up the basket and sashayed towards the edge of the clearing her caravan resided in.
“I do what I can,” She smirked as he trotted up beside her and tried to snatch the basket from her grasp. She giggled and evaded his reach. He gave way to a sly smile as a plan formed in his mind.
He grabbed her wrist and yanked her towards him, she let out a small squeak as he pulled her into his chest, trapping her lithe form between his arms. He captured her lips in a passionate kiss so suddenly, she had no choice but to melt into him. With her eyes closed, he smirked and snatched the basket out of her grasp.
She yelled in outrage as he trotted away from her, basket irretrievable. He chuckled manically as he evaded her groping fingers, trying to get the basket back and failing miserably.
Eventually, she accepted her failure and resigned to quietly walking beside him. She was so happy, right then and there. She could see no better future than one with the man beside her. The man she loved with all her heart.
Suddenly giddy with excitement at the prospect of a life with him, a child with him, she began to dance. She danced the way her mother had taught her to, swaying to the hidden music of the forest, letting the birdsong flow within her veins and sway her body.
The forest came alive around her, spurring her limbs into more complex movements as it sang to her. Every rustle of every leaf, every twitch of every branch, every cry of every animal and every beat of her heart was her rhythm; the music that lived and breathed within her, the music that longed to be freed through her intricate dance.
She laughed and swayed, stepping left and right, twirling across Jakob’s path every so often. Her dark cloak billowed around her light steps, adding a certain flair to her song. Jakob watched in admiration as the woman before him – this strong, beautiful woman – danced shamelessly to a song only she could hear. He loved her even more in that one moment than he ever had.
And it broke his heart.
Soon they reached their special place, the place they always came to any time they found themselves alone.
Maria ended her intricate dance and stopped to take in the scene that never ceased to amaze her. It was a small pond, surrounded by trees and lush green grass. Sprites and other tiny creatures danced across the clear blue of the water, led by the same music she had been. They were all part of the forest, as was she. They were the forest.
“Do you remember the first time we were both here?” Jakob broke through her inner musings, stepping up to stand beside her. She looked to him with a small smile, raising her eyebrow.
“You mean when you ran here crying, begging me to save you from the Big Bad Wolf?” She chuckled as she saw his cheeks redden.
“It was really scary,” he whined, furrowing his brows as he watched her tread towards the water. “And you know I hate wolves. Horrid beasts, all of them must be hunted and put down.”
“It was a squirrel, Jakob.” Maria said, giving him a disappointed stare. She didn’t like it when he spoke like that about the animals of the forest. She saw them as her children. Almost. Jakob huffed and put the basket down, walking over to her. He hugged her from behind, bending his neck to bury his nose in her hair, starting to kiss down her neck.
“Jakob…” she breathed, leaning her head back onto his shoulder.
“Mhmm,” He said, still kissing.
“I – I need to tell you something…” She whispered.
“Can’t it wait, my love?” He asked, kissing her temple.
“Well… I suppose…” She smiled. He smiled back and spun her around, kissing her hard once more.
The sun was setting. Maria shivered as the cold air nipped at her uncovered skin, making her huddle closer into Jakob’s warmth.
“Cold?” He asked, rubbing her arm. They were lying on the picnic blanket Jakob had brought, silently watching the fast approaching darkness. Maria nodded and nuzzled her head into the crook of his neck. She frowned as she felt him moving away, lifting herself onto her elbows. She watched as he scooted off his side of the blanket, picking up the part that she wasn’t lying on and wrapping it around her.
He lay down again and she resumed her earlier position, just a bit warmer this time.
“Aren’t you cold?” She asked, craning her neck to look at him. He smiled and rubbed her back.
“Not yet,” he said. Maria nodded and lay her head down again. A few moments later, she remembered what she wanted to tell him.
“Jakob?” She said, tracing patterns on his chest.
“Hmm?” He hummed, rubbing slow circles on her back.
“I need to tell you something…” She muttered.
“What is it, love?” He asked, pausing his rubbing.
“Please don’t be angry with me…” she said softly, laying her hand on his chest, all movement ceased.
“I could never be, Maria.” He said. “You know that.”
She sighed, silent. He moved again, this time in such a way that it was impossible to escape his smoldering stare. Above them, the first stars began to twinkle.
“Maria?” He said, concerned. “What’s the matter?”
She sat up and crossed her legs, tugging the blanket closer around her shoulders as she avoided his gaze. He waited patiently for her to spill her secret, silently watching as she waged war within herself. Almost subconsciously, her hands began to drift towards her stomach. Though small, Jakob caught the movement.
“Maria?” He whispered, his gaze seemingly torn between her hands and her face. He sat up then, too. She timidly looked up to meet his gaze, allowing a small, hopeful smile to slip onto her face.
“Jakob…” She said softly. “I am with child.”
For a moment, the world seemed to freeze as Maria waited for his response. Then, it crashed down around her as he whispered, “Maria, I’m so sorry. I can’t.”
She frowned, tugging the blanket tighter around her – partly because she was cold, but mostly because she suddenly felt too exposed.
“What do you mean?” She asked, heartbeat stuttering in her chest. The rhythm that had guided her movements earlier like a mother’s hand now pelted against her chest like a hammer, trying to break through her flesh and bone.
“Maria… I –I…” Jakob started.
“What, Jakob?” She said sharply. “What is it? Spit it out.”
“I’m engaged,” he whispered. Now, it seemed her heart had resigned to simply pulling itself apart at the seams, as if it were a delicate garment gifted to a bear. Jakob was a bear. He knew nothing better than to tear it apart, to rip it into shreds so small it could no longer be recognized as a once life-giving, beating heart.
“W-what do you mean?” She said, blinking back tears.
“I mean I am to be married. To another woman.” He said, running his hands through his hair. Maria’s gaze turned steely as she narrowed her eyes.
“Do you love her?” Her question stopped his heart and froze his mind. What did he say to that? When he didn’t reply, she reiterated. “Jakob. I asked you a question.” She looked down on him. “Do you – or do you not – love her?”
He turned his apologetic gaze away from her harsh tone, giving her the answer she desired.
“I see.” She said, standing.
“What?” She hissed, glaring at him as she picked up her discarded dress and started pulling it on.
“I don’t love her,” He said meekly. She snorted, a dry laugh devoid of emotion.
“Is that so?” She said, her voice laced with poison.
“I swear to you, Maria.” He begged. “I do not love her, not as I do you.”
She whipped around to face him and met his defeated gaze. “Prove it,” she spat.
“W-what?” He stuttered, eyes wide. “How?”
“Call off the wedding. Tell her you don’t love her. Tell her that you love me.” Her stony façade cracked, and for just a moment, he could see how broken she was at his betrayal. But she covered it quickly, reminding him how strong she really was.
“Maria…” He tried. She heaved a dry laugh and shook her head, picking up her cloak and draping it around her shoulders.
“You are a rat, Jakob.” She said, and started walking away. “A stupid, stupid rat. And you messed with the wrong lioness.”
“Maria, wait!” He yelled after her. “Please, let me explain!”
She didn’t falter for a second, not even turning to face him as she said, “Good bye, Jakob. I hope I never see you again.”
The silence that permeated the air was almost tangible. Jakob sliced it with a knife as he stopped her with three words.
“I’ll do it,” he said, almost too quiet for her to hear. She paused, tilting her head just barely. Enough that he knew she was listening. “Just please, don’t rush me. She has a son, and he already loves me like a father. I’ll need to break it to them gently.”
She turned, deathly slow, to face him. The hood of her cloak, coupled with the inky blackness of night, hid her expression from him.
“Alright.” She said. “Do it, and I will forgive your betrayal.”
He still could not see her face, but he knew now which emotion was painted on it.
She still loved him. He didn’t know if that was a good thing.