Adaynis' story is not a love story, for all that some would say it is. It is not the story of a hero, but of a foolish boy who tried to throw away his own heart to protect it. It is a warning old men tell their sons and themselves when they find they are in need of it. It is a warning against throwing your heart and your feelings away for, one day, someone may take you seriously and the heart is a delicate, complicated thing.
Good looking and golden haired as spoiled boys tend to be, though dark haired boys can be just as troublesome, Adaynis did not come from a very wealthy family but they were well enough off indeed. They had sheep and pigs and chocolate at least twice a year. Adaynis had been, for all of his thirteen years, an only child with only the children of the village to play with. As he was eldest he, of course, knew all and was the king of their imagined play.
Now, thirteen years is just the age at which boys begin to notice young girls, about the same age and older but, of course, girls have always notice young lads first. So it was that Adaynis realised the girls of the village, who had seemed annoying and silly for so long as he could recall had, overnight, become more interesting creatures. Their hair was an eye-catching shiny, their lips pink and curved just right and their watching him did not seem to bother Adaynis so much anymore. In fact, he found himself flexing the muscles he had worked on the plow to gain when they watched. He found himself winning the scuffles in the dirt that had once been play with a ruthlessness the other boys did not possess.
As happens in small towns and villages, word spread that Adaynis had finally turned his attention to girls. Fathers ground their teeth and mothers hid smiles behind their hands as, as you see, it had been long thought that, with his looks, Adaynis would be the rogue of their village when the time came. They were not wrong.
Adaynis was a quick study and kissing came as easy to him as breathing, as did romancing and flattery of all sorts. Soon he was practicing his skills on the older village ladies, who managed to hide their blushes until he left their sight and the younger women stood little chance.
As he reached his fourteenth birthday, he discovered the nature of making babes with a travelling traders daughter beneath her father’s wagon one late autumn night. The air was chilly with the first bites of winter and the sky was stuffed with clouds but there was music in the tavern and a blanket beneath them. Her name was Ree-Ann and she was a foreign beauty and some years older but a patient teacher. Upon leaving, Adaynis felt a peice of his heart go with her and he became sullen and hurt and mean for a time.
To the river he went one day, when it became too much to bare and collected a wet stone about the size of his fist. On its’ surface, he carved with a knife his name and the old rune for ‘heart’, learned from an elder in a lesson Adaynis never thought he would have any use for. He made a shallow cut across his palm and allowed the blood to drip onto the rock, over the runes and the letters then tossed the stone into the river, where it settled on the bottom.
A little girl from the village, perhaps ten years old, had followed Adaynis to the river and stood on the path back to their home. She was sweet as a cherub but frowning fiercely.
“What did you do?” She demanded of him, crossing her tiny arms over her tiny chest. Thumbing a fist to his chest, Adaynis smiled, a nasty smile full of teeth.
“I gave my heart to the river for safe keeping.” He told her proudly and already a numbness was trickling over his body like rainwater.
“So that none could ever get a hold of it again. So that only the river can reach it and I will be safe from pain.” Adaynis told her and strode past and back to the village.
Time passed and here the stories differ some.
Some say that Adaynis became cold and cruel, some say that he did thoughtless things and said words one should never say to another. They say that his heart made him empty, not bitter because that is a feeling of the heart, rather unfeeling in all that he did.
Others say that he was always this way, only his handsome face and charming smile had covered such traits in him. Now that he felt he had thrown his heart away, he could behave however he wished. He feared no consequences and no person.
The third version is that which I hope is most true.
Through luck and the magic of the stone, Adaynis had managed to give his heart to the river and protect himself. Time passed and he took to bed play with travellers and with the girls of the village. He danced about fires and attended season feasts but a chilling numbness began to take hold until one day, even the thought of bed play could no longer make him smile. Instead, he wandered about with clouded eyes, trying to recall what it was he was supposed to feel. Was he supposed for feel something for the sunshine or for the crop that died in the field? Was he supposed to feel something for the people of his village? It was not long before he stopped feeling at all.
Perhaps, in this time, he said some cruel things, did some things that should not be done but I think that, without a heart, it would be difficult to measure what should and should not be done. Without a heart, there is no feeling toward right or wrong, there is just doing.
News reached the town one day that the travelling trader and his daughter, on their way back to Adaynis’ village, had been taken by bandits. The trader had died but it seemed that the bandits had kept Ree-Ann as a prize. Adaynis felt a stirring somewhere far back in his mind, though he felt nothing substantial and he decided, judging from those around him, Ree-Ann needed rescuing.
He found a sharp sword, strapped his knife to his boot, the same one he had used to carve his name into the stone many moons ago, and set out on the road that the traveller would have taken. Many tried to stop him, to warn him of the danger but Adaynis felt no fear and so brushed them aside. He felt no hunger and so worried nought for food. He felt no cold nor heat so did not take a cloak of any sort and it was only the cold knowledge that he may have to kill the bandits before rescuing Ree-Ann that had him taking his blades.
For three days and nights, Adaynis walked. He passed no one and saw no one. He spoke not a single word and ate nor drank not a single thing. He felt no sense of urgency but kept an even pace. He thought not of what bandits might do to a young woman, only of finding her and bringing her home. Perhaps then, he wondered absently, he might get at least a small piece of his heart back. Then he could go find the stone on the river bed and return the whole of his heart to his chest. Should he feel like it.
At dawn the on the fourth morning, a shape blocked Adaynis’ path. What looked like a man in a hooded cloak blocked his way, holding a thin, bony hand up, for all his size. Adaynis felt no fear but could find no way around him. Wherever he stepped, the hooded man would be there with his hand outstretched, beseeching Adaynis. For what? He did not care to ask.
Eventually Adaynis stopped and tipped his head at the man-creature. Something about the stillness of the trees and the quiet of the wind had him thinking of the Fae, as well he should. Yet, he remained unafraid for what can you fear when you have no heart? You worry not for yourself or for others.
“Adaynis, son of Ruu. Why have you come here today?” the figure demanded, his voice reed thin, as if his lungs did not work right.
“I have come to rescue a woman, Ree-Ann and bring her to my home.” Adaynis answered in his now-usual monotone. Even words had lost their colour for him.
“What a kind thing you will have done.” The figure wheezed, giving a dry chuckle.
“It is not kind but simply what must be done.” Adaynis answered again, his voice grating and dead.
“Ah, but it is a brave thing, a thing done for someone close to the heart, would you not agree?”
“No? That is a very definite answer and I cannot see how this would be true.” The figure coughed and its hood billowed some but not enough for Adaynis to catch its face. “You would risk these woods and the blades and blood of others for a body you care nothing for?”
“There is no one I care anything for any longer,” Adaynis admitted with a shake of his fair head. “You see, I have no heart. I put it away from me, somewhere safe where it cannot be harmed.”
“Ah,” the figure wheezed and reached inside its cloak, “but you are wrong.” In its bony fingers, it clutched a smooth, round stone and Adaynis leaned closer, something that once could have been horror flitting just out of his reach. “I have your heart. Do you want it back?”
Adaynis considered the question with a tilted head and wide eyes. He could have his heart back but what would that mean? Would he regret the things he had done without it? Would be overcome? Could he go through with his plan to rescue Ree-Ann. Adaynis was not completely a fool. He knew it was possible that, with feelings, he was a coward. He could have his heart returned only to run like a child from the idea of facing bandits. On the other hand, he could continue on without it, retrieve Ree-Ann and feel no fear at the idea.
“I would that you place it back in the river.” Adaynis requested finally and moved to step forward and past the figure.
“Are you certain that is what you want?” He asked and Adaynis nodded, “The whole of it or just part of it?”
“The whole of it.” Adaynis answered coolly and slipped by the figure.
“It is done then.” The cloak figure called, his voice ringing loudly in Adaynis’ ears. Something made him, in that moment, turn and look back. The figure had pushed back its hood to reveal the face of a man but without hair and the pale gills of a fish beneath its jaw. Its teeth were razor sharp and its eyes were wide and without colour.
“Your heart, the whole of it, rests at the bottom of my river, should you ever need it, you know where you might look.” He told Adaynis and something solid settled in the pit of the young boys’ stomach. Had he a heart, he might have been able to name it.
Adaynis soon arrived at the wreckage of the traders wagon and not far from the path was the bandits camp. It was mid day by now but no fire burned and, when Adaynis went to check on the men, he found them dead already. Their throats had been slit and they had bled out where they lie but there was no sign of Ree-Ann.
Confused, Adaynis searched the area for some sort of track, some sort of explanation but could find none. He began to make his way back to the village, that heaviness in his stomach only worse.
Once more, he met the figure on the path as he neared his destination and stopped rather than trying to walk on by.
“I have your heart.” The figure offered for the second time, displaying the stone from the river and Adaynis shook his head.
“I would have it back in the river where it is safe.” He told the creature.
“Are you certain that is what you want? The whole of it?”
Again, Adaynis agreed and was soon past the creature. This time he did not look back.
By the time he arrived back in his village, it had been seven days since he had left, three to reach the site of the bandits, three to return and one spent searching for Ree-Ann. No one awaited his return in the village but he could hear noise off by the river. He followed the well-walked path and paused as the river came into view.
On the bank and in the water, women and men sobbed, to their chests they held their daughters and sons. Still as death itself, the young ones could not respond for it was indeed death that gripped them and sorrow beat heavily on the water itself, turning it slow and murky. Adaynis recognised faces, those of his boyhood friends, of his neighbours, of the girls he had initiated in bed play and the little girl who had found him tossing his heart into this very river so many moons ago.
Far out in the very centre of the river, face down lie a final body. Adaynis would recognise her anywhere. Ree-Ann’s dark hair spread out like a blanket and her cinnamon arms and legs floated similarly so she looked like a discarded pinwheel. The hairs on the back of his neck rose and Adaynis turned his head to find the hooded figure standing beside him.
“What happened here?” Adaynis demanded. The figure chuckled dryly, its voice reed thin when it spoke.
“Twice I have asked if you would have your heart. Twice you have told me now to return it to my river, to my hands for I am nothing if not the river itself. What you have not understood, boy is this.” It coughed its dry cough and Adaynis flinched, though he could not say why. “Although you gave your heart away, kept yourself from giving it to others, there was nothing to stop your friends and lovers from giving you pieces of themselves. The heart is a delicate and complicated thing and as they gave to you, it came to your stone. Ordinarily, your heart would be no heavier than any others as you would have, in return, given pieces of yourself to them. You did not, so your stone grew heavy, heavier than any other on my river bottom and so I noticed it. It woke me for the first time in over a thousand years.”
“But why have they died?” Adaynis asked in his monotone over the sobs of the villagers. Not understanding.
“When they gave you part of their heart, their hearts became yours and you wished yours into the river. Mortal mouths and mortal breaths cannot survive my embrace and you wished them to my very bottom where they had no air to breath. Their lungs filled with my essence and it stopped their breath. You wished this upon them.”
Adaynis watched the people in the water as they sobbed and beat their chests. He watched Ree-Ann floating, alone and spread like a pin wheel and he knew what he must do.
“Tell me first, what happened to Ree-Ann.”
The figure gave his dry chuckle then laughed so hard he bent almost in half. Adaynis watched detachedly.
“Your Ree-Ann, the piece of your heart that started all this.” The figure coughed then straightened. “She killed those men, all on her own. She was coming back to you when you met me, taking the forest path and not the travellers path so you did not see her but you passed right by, two streams never to touch. She was returning to you.”
“What must I do to bring them all back? Is it my heart? Must I take it back? I will. So they may live, I will.”
Now this was all said in his monotone and with no expression at all and the figure, beneath his hood, stared hard at Adaynis to decided if he were earnest or not. How he could tell without the boy having a heart, of course, I do not know but decide, he did.
“Very well.” The figure stepped back and opened his arms, gesturing to the villagers, “I have your heart. Do you want it back?”
“But first tell me, and answer this right or you will have nothing. No life, no breath, no heart.” The figure demanded, reedy voice suddenly loud in Adaynis’ ears again. “Here.” He held Adaynis’ stone out to the young man, who hesitated. He had asked no question.
“What is your question?” Adaynis asked of him but the figure remained silent, offering the stone. He was silent for a long while, eyes steady on the figure until, eventually he turned away to look at the villagers, understanding the unspoken question of the Fae. “What would I want with a heart of stone? A real heart is flesh and blood, is warmth and family. A real heart is made up of the people closest to me, those most special to me. That is the heart I want.”
The creature laughed its dry, reedy laugh and was suddenly gone from Adaynis’ side. Instead, Adaynis found him in the water, without his cloak though no others seemed to heed him. He swam, no walked, no was suddenly there, closest to Ree-Ann, smiling with his sharp teeth and black eyes.
“It is such a pity. One with a heart of stone can withstand so much more,” he said, turning Ree-Ann onto her back. He brushed the hair from her face almost reverently and suddenly, painfully there was a sharp tearing in Adaynis’ chest, a horrible throbbing in his ears as something large and heavy filled the hole where his heart should have been. It felt slim and soft and swollen and stretched Adaynis’ insides until he screamed out in pain.
Anger. Hate. Pain. Love. Sorrow. Friendship. Lost friendship. Lust. Trust.
It all whirled together, returning to him at once with the force of all that he had missed. All those feelings made his heart throb, his pulse run and suddenly he was too hot, too cold, hungry, thirst, full but never empty like he had been.
He lay in a daze on the ground, panting his lungs full of air. His ribs creaked as faces whipped through his mind. Lovers. Friends. Villagers all and finally, slowly, Ree-Ann.
There was a shriek from down below, followed by more but Adaynis could not turn to see them. He could do nothing but stare up at the sun, mute and still, his heart too heavy in his chest. He had been selfish and foolish, he realised now as tears wetted his face. He had taken pieces of them, never giving any back and he had hoarded it, unknowingly like a miser and his trinkets. He paid the price now.
The creature bent over his prone form, blocking out the sun for one blessed moment until all Adaynis could see were razor sharp teeth and bottomless black eyes, bottomless like the river, like the water itself.
“Three times I asked you, three times, no more. Should you ever attempt such a thing again, there will be no four.” He hissed at Adaynis, baring his sharp teeth. “The way of changing hearts thus is not for man. Fae do not accept such magics so this is your warning, son of Ruu. Changing hearts by winning minds is the way, if you think you can. It will not be forgotten, in my many years to come, that the death of so many hearts within my embrace was almost done by you.”
Now here, again, the story does change depending who you hear tell.
It was on that path, some do say, that, while the villagers rejoiced at the sudden return of their sons and daughters to life that Adaynis, son of Ruu died. None discovered his body until many hours later when they tried to return to the village. They say his heart, that none knew he had, exploded in his chest, too full of his hoarded pieces and self-love that his body could not hold it. In this telling, a thousand butterflies took to the air as the villagers lifted him from the ground, representing the broken, hoarded pieces of his heart.
Others say that his body was found days later in the river, claimed by the Fae that had lived there, undisturbed for a thousand years. In this tale, the cherub girl would tell the others of the heart the boy had carelessly thrown away and there would be great mourning for all that had been lost and that he could not have been saved.
In the version which would mislead many into romanticising Aydanis, the traders daughter, Ree-Ann made her way back to the river bank and saw the young man collapsed on the ground. She gave him her breath with her mouth and her hands made his heart beat again until it could do so on its own. From there, she helped him back to his home and while the visitors rejoiced, their celebrations going on for seven days at least, she helped him heal, helped him grow strong again and put to rights his home, which had all but fallen to pieces in the time his heart had been of stone. In doing so, she gave him her heart and because there was no room for both in his chest, and because he had long ago begun to give it away, Adaynis found himself giving her the remainder of his, that which she did not already have. When he took her in his arms, finally, it was as the Fae creature had said, the whole of his heart was returned to him once more.
Which version is true? I suppose that would be up to you.