They are saying it will be the day of eternity. They are saying it will be a day to remember. They are all saying that, at long last, the great Winds of Wind Tower have done it, that they have achieved what rumour had only teased would be possible. They are saying that the Winds will cause the Sun to hang suspended throughout the ages with brilliance that will never falter.
“The sun in my eyes rises now from the voice of this here Crier, sweet Pebble,” Papa said to me, his kind eyes resting on me for only a moment, before looking forward again towards that same Crier and his yellow scroll.
Papa’s exhilaration was as apparent as the dirt beneath my fingernails and I wanted so desperately to share in his boundless exuberance with all my heart. But I couldn’t, for the sun in my eyes rose behind me, closer to home and not here in the glade’s chilly and damp square.
I tried to allow my thoughts to guide my gaze to where my heart longed, but while my hand was held by Papa’s, he had control over me. It was in that same moment that he desired to have his daughter join him in listening to what last bit of news the Crier had come to proclaim.
“Long live the Son of the Father, for to him comes the first taste of immortality.”
A cry went up from those standing in the square, seemingly ignorant of the dainty rain that was spitting down from the gloomy grey sky. Somewhere in the world, thunder rumbled and the winds were stirring.
Leaving the square, Papa let go of my hand, sensing that it was safe. For a lady of any means to enter a public setting without being claimed by father or spouse, was to invite calamity upon her virtue. It was a sad arrangement of the island if I had to think about it, but, at the same time, it was something that had always been how things were done here, and so I never really allowed it to bother me.
Presently, I listened with strained effort as Papa’s joy spilled from his lips, my mind dwelling on that elf whom I would see soon, once Papa and I returned home. He would be waiting for me in the woods. His face was all I thought of these days. Being with him was all I looked forward to.
“The Father has, at long last, used his spells to grant us all immortality,” Papa celebrated. “Death, my sweet Pebble, as of now, will become a fading memory; a dream one eventually forgets as the days pass. Blessed be the Winds! Blessed are they who will cause the Sun to outshine all!”
The Sun, as Papa said, was our civilization. We were the Sun Elves, and according to ancient prophecy, our people were destined to one day rise high amidst moon and star, whatever that meant. It was a prophecy that our people have held fast to for so many years that it was no wonder the majority of our people resented the Winds so much.
The Winds were the ruling family on this rugged island of ours, and for years it was to them that the Sun Elves looked to fulfill the prophecy. But for years it appeared as if the Winds had failed… until now.
“Wait until your mother hears,” Papa exclaimed. “Wait until she finally comes to realize why patience was required from all of us who remain subject to our blessed Father and the rest of the Wind family.”
Mother. I loved her so much. She saw the ruling family in a similar light to most of our people, and would constantly argue with Papa over their rectitude.
“He is a false Father,” mother had once called the ruler of the Sun. Father of the Sun was the title that the head of the island carried. His heir: the Son of the Father.
“Hush, beloved,” Papa had rebuked. “Give him time. The Father seeks to rid our island of death. What ruler in this entire world can say that? He is greater than what you or our people give him credit for.”
“While he seeks to rid death from the island, death takes those on the island. The Sun is a race of poverty. The people are hungry and uneducated. The Winds have made us a disgrace and a blight upon the earth.”
“The Winds are trying to make us great!”
“The Winds are trying to make themselves great!”
I hated it when my parents fought. It was hardly ever, to be fair. In fact, only when discussing the Winds did that happen, and so a part of me was pleased to hear that the Father of the Sun had at long last succeeded. Now he would make the Sun rise. Now, Mother would see that Papa was right. Now, they would not fight.
“Can I tell Mother once we arrive home?” I asked.
“Of course, sweet Pebble,” Papa said, fondly.
I smiled but when the path passed beneath the archway of the square, quickly did that smile fade away. Two coarse-looking elves were making their way towards us; one lanky and tall, the other short and stocky. Both looked miserable and dirty. Both had long, matted hair.
I saw that I had caught their attention and so I quickly took Papa’s hand again and, almost instantly, the interest I so inspired in those two diminished and they passed us without a second glance.
Our hut rose upon the banks of the great gushing river, surrounded by palisades of rocks that I had always seen as our protective wall, even though they only shielded our home from the riverside instead of from the trees which Papa and I had momentarily passed through.
My mother stepped from the threshold of the front door, wearing her apron and carrying some dish she had just cleaned and was now drying. Her honey-colored hair was tied up in a thick knot above her head and her smile was like the dawn upon the horizon: full of radiant color and warmth.
I embraced her with all my devotion and though it was reciprocated, she was in a hurry, desiring me and Papa to get inside, seeing as the winds were picking up and the rain would pour fiercely down from the clouds at any time now.
“Wait till you hear what news we have, Mother,” I told her.
She glanced at Papa but then smiled at me, giving me her full attention. “Tell me, sweet Rose.”
“The Father of the Sun has discovered immortality!”
I could see that my mother had not expected that. Her expression changed immediately to one of sheer surprise and feigned joy. Unlike Papa, she would not get her hopes up until rumor was proven true. For my sake, however, she would don her façade.
“How do you know this, sweet Rose?”
“There was a Crier in the glade’s square today,” answered Papa.
Mother looked up at him and I saw the distrust in her dark eyes. “And your business there?” she asked. “How did that go?”
“Do you see any of my catch with me?” he asked, a smile riding his tone.
I couldn’t help but reveal all. “Papa sold all of it! And the Winds have done what they have set out to do!”
The latter bit of news was what I really wished my mother to respond to. If she rejoiced, Papa’s joy would be complete. But alas, Mother regarded me fondly whilst her reservations remained implacable.
“Has the Father drunk from the waters?” she asked.
“Apparently the Son of the Father is to be the first to taste the Eternal Pool.”
My mother shook her head in disapproval. “Of course,” she scoffed. “If the Father conjured the wrong spell, then nature forbid he risk his own person.” Her scorn and disdain were clear and Papa sought to bring her hope.
“Beloved, be still,” he said tenderly. “Let us see what becomes of these new developments.” He moved to embrace her and when their lips collided, my mother’s smile beamed from ear to ear.
Afterwards, Papa turned towards the front door to remove his hood whilst my mother turned her sights on me again. “You have a visitor, sweet Rose,” she told me.
At the announcement, a tangible silence griped our hut. Nothing but the churning waters, wind chimes and then vaguely brooding thunder in some faraway place could be heard.
“Who is it?” I asked, unable to keep the smile from my face, for I knew who it was. I saw it in my mother’s eyes: she was not pleased, was almost sad, and concerned.
“Let us talk awhile first before you set off to meet him.”
“Why does he not meet her here?” asked Papa, his tone hard and distrustful.
I looked at him. “He likes the trees.”
I was trying to offer a suitable explanation, knowing full well it was futile. Papa and Mother, and perhaps I as well, were under no illusions that my visitor liked entering an establishment such as ours, for it was small and of modest means.
“He likes the trees, ay? Even when there is a storm coming?”
Papa waved his hand at the entire affair while my mother led me to our only couch, positioned at the far corner of the hut. We sat down together and my mother’s eyes were downcast as she tried to think of what her opening line would be.
“He is an impressive elf, sweet Rose,” she began.
My smile widened. My heart fluttered. He was more than impressive. He was as fascinating as he was beautiful.
“Your father sees it as I do. Yet…” she struggled to find her sequel. “Being impressive, perhaps, isn’t all that impressive.”
I frowned at that. “What in nature do you mean, Mother?” She smiled and shifted closer to me.
“Consider the Winds. Would you say they are impressive?”
“Very,” I answered, though I had never once seen them. I had only heard how finely they dressed, how powerful they were.
“And yet. What do the people say about them? How does such an impressive family treat those beneath them?”
I knew the answer that was expected. “Not very well,” I said, becoming despondent. I saw what my mother was implying.
“Sometimes, being impressive doesn’t mean one becomes good.”
“Asharal is good. He brings me gifts.”
“Ah. Yes. I have seen those gifts. Do they make you feel better about yourself, or do they shame you?”
My eyes were now cast down. “I love him, Mother,” I whispered.
She embraced me. “Then make sure he loves you back. Make sure he loves you and not someone he wishes to change you into.” She held me at arm’s length and looked at me sternly. Her eyes were hard. “Promise me!”
“I promise, Mother.”
My mother helped me don a second coat. It was her coat, and it smelled of her. But before I could leave the house, Papa called for me and when I turned, I saw how wary he was of me leaving.
“We love you, sweet Pebble. Our love is more real than what you will find amidst those trees.”
It was hard to hear those words, for they held a warning and I so desperately wanted to discard it, but when following the stone path that led from my home to the woods, I decided to heed them nonetheless. I began strengthening my resolve. I would inquire of Asharal as to why he wished to meet me out there under the canopies of the trees. I would inquire as to why he would not visit me beneath the roof of my parents.
The denseness of the trees limited how wet I got when I crossed mine and Papa’s favorite stream. I climbed a path that Papa had paved long ago and while ascending and following its serpentine twists, the river’s flow dwindled from hearing, though never completely disappearing. It was only after passing a quiet grove and reaching the top of the slope that my feet strayed from the path.
My toes felt frozen from the cold rain when I eventually saw Asharal standing there beneath a wide tree, looking out across the woods. But as I drew closer to him, my woes were forgotten, for he sent a rush of warmth through my body, causing my heart to race wildly.
Asharal stood tall. One leg rested on a root that protruded from the ground beneath him, whilst the other was straight, supporting his hero-like stance. The dark pelt he wore was sodden from the droplets of rain, but he seemed not at all to be at odds by it; rather, he appeared at peace.
When he turned to regard me, it was as if he had known I would appear there at that precise time all along, for his motion was as calm and serene as a summer breeze.
Asharal remained still, waiting, willing me to approach, watching me like some predator savoring the meal to come. By now my heart was going mad. My throat dried up and my senses were dazed.
His allure had me floating unconsciously through the air and the closer I got, the more heat started rising to my cheeks. When I stood before him, his piercingly pale eyes seemed as if they were boring straight into my soul, unmasking all my hidden frailties and weaknesses; for, in his strangely luminous stare, I was confronted by my own sense of inadequacy.
“Your eyes come alive in the rain, Dawn,” he said, his voice causing ripples of sensuality to course through my inner being.
“Thank you, Asharal,” I replied meekly, my voice soft and unsure.
I couldn’t keep my eyes from his. They had such a hold on me. If that hold broke suddenly, I would still keep my eyes on other parts of his facial features, for he was dangerously beautiful: his long golden hair falling straight down the length of his narrow face, passing his shoulders, his skin fair, without blemish.
“And you are wearing your mother’s cloak again,” he observed.
I couldn’t discern whether he was displeased or not. “She likes to make sure I am warm,” I told him.
He smiled at that. The same smile as always: faint, as if amused, making me feel as if I were a naive child.
“How did your father’s sale go?” he asked me.
My smile revealed the answer to him before my words could.
“Very well, thank you, Asharal. He sold all of his stock.”
“Then you applied my initial suggestion at last?” he asked.
Without thinking, I nodded. “Yes,” I lied, not wanting to displease him.
I had totally forgotten the advice he had offered me upon first disclosing to him how Papa struggled in competing against the other fishers at the glade’s markets. But now, thinking about it, perhaps I had intentionally disregarded it altogether out of sheer fear that approaching Papa with what Asharal had deemed “the solution” would be to shame him.
I had known, when first Asharal had pointed out his opinion regarding Papa’s struggle, that to tell Papa would be to insult him, and perhaps discourage him; for what Asharal had suggested was for Papa to alter his appearance and to invest in better clothing, which, according to Asharal, would make his stock seem more inviting.
“We are drawn in by people, not merchandise, Dawn. If only your father would see that. I would broach it to him myself, yet I fear he lacks the temperament to receive the knowledge I wish to impart to him.”
I had admittedly struggled during that discussion. I didn’t like Papa being spoken of in such a manner, even if it was the truth. But even if I had wanted to speak up defensively, which part of me indeed wanted, I lacked eloquence, whilst Asharal remained as fluent as a rushing stream.
At present, Asharal looked pleased, and so I stopped regretting the lie entirely.
“I was right to think my advice was better to come from you than me,” he said now.
Asharal took a step back so as to signal the end of this current interchange. He held his hand out to guide me up towards the face of the tree trunk and waited for me to speak.
I couldn’t think of what to say at that moment and started to panic. I much preferred him to direct the course of our conversations so that I might just stand and listen. However, Asharal, I had come to learn, didn’t appreciate the silence. He was an elf who enjoyed stimulating conversation with which he could be challenged. It seemed I lacked the wit to oblige him.
“I trust you have become aware of the recent news?” he asked me finally and quite formally, adding with a slight glance, “The news concerning the Winds and their claim to have discovered the source of immortality?”
“I did,” I said. “Blessed be the Win----” I stopped myself immediately, suddenly coming to grips with myself and remembering that to praise the Winds in Asharal’s company was to ensure his displeasure.
I broke eye contact, unable to bear his gaze any longer. I felt ashamed and disappointed in myself. I tried to calm my breathing but it was impossible. I always made a fool of myself in front of him. I always displeased him.
That was when he cupped my face and returned my gaze to his. It was the source of his power over me. I felt my knees weaken.
“Breath, Dawn,” he instructed. “Breath. Why are you so anxious?”
“It is nothing. I… I just…”
It was impossible. While staring into those alluring eyes of his, words escaped me. Breath escaped me. Everything faded away.
He released me and emitted a sigh as if the Wind topic exhausted him.
“Do you think that they would give you and all of us a taste of the Eternal Pool?” he asked, extending a sideways glance as if to see if I would answer correctly.
Deep down I hoped that the Winds would let all the Sun Elves drink from the Eternal Pool, but I knew Asharal believed that they wouldn’t. I capitulated and said, “No,” not meaning to sound petulant.
Asharal hated the Winds more than anyone I could think of on this island. His rancor for the Father was laid deep within him, and perhaps with good reason. Not only did Asharal not believe that the Winds would fulfill the prophecy that spoke of the Sun’s rise amidst moon and stars, but on a more personal level, I had come to learn that many years ago, the Winds had stolen from Asharal.
Asharal had been a warrior in the Wind army. His wages were undesirable, to hear him say it. Despite that, Asharal’s ability to discern the odds in a gamble allowed him to win coin enough to invest in land somewhere in the far regions of the island.
Over time, the Winds took notice of Asharal’s growing prestige, and soon initiated a scandal that had swindled Asharal of a large portion of the land that he had strived to purchase for himself and his family. Asharal had never forgiven the Father.
I came closer to him and rested my cheek against the side of his shoulder, hoping he would soften towards me and maybe, just maybe, whisk me into his arms. Instead, he remained firm and rigid.
“It is important, Dawn,” he said, “to see the Father for what he is. If you and the rest of our people are determined to remain ignorant, how can we ever hope to rise amidst the moon and the stars?”
“I am sorry,” I whispered, enjoying the smell of him.
He turned around to face me and guided my eyes back up to his. “I forgive you,” he said. I saw the gleam form in his eyes.
Then I saw the slight curve of his mouth. “I have something that will change our fates. I have, at last, acquired an imperative tool.”
His happiness made me happy. As I watched, Asharal brought forth a long object: the shaft black, preceded by what appeared to be a lengthy grip, like the grip of a blade, though much longer than the blade I had seen Asharal carry.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I call it a longblade,” Asharal told me.
He took a step back and turned the object full circle before gripping the handle with his right hand and the other maintained a firm grip on the other end of the shaft. He pulled the handle away from the sheath and suddenly the long object grew longer, but this time emerging something bright, something that gleamed like water, so clear that I imagined I could see my reflection. It was a blade after all, and a very sharp one by the looks of it.
“It is magnificent,” I gasped, leaning closer to make a more intimate inspection of it.
“I have named it, Sunrise.”
There was such pride in his voice that I couldn’t help but join him in marveling at such a tool. But when I considered those eyes of his, I saw something queer and I realized then that this longblade had a purpose. Suddenly, I felt afraid.
I peered down at it and with a voice of reverence, I whispered, “How could you have acquired such a tool?” I was impressed with the word I used in reference to the longblade. When one spent frequent time with Asharal, one learnt many fancy words, and I hoped he had taken notice of the one I just used.
“I will not trouble you with such details, Dawn,” he said. “For there are numbers involved. Numbers too high for you to count.”
“Please tell me, Asharal!”
I regretted my plea immediately when I saw his expression harden. Asharal never appreciated being nagged. In response, he sheathed the gleaming weapon and returned it beneath his pelt. He turned around and gazed out into the woods again, leaving me feeling foolish and desperate.
“I bought you something,” he said, solemnly and at great length.
Asharal twisted his head to look at me, twisting his body to bring something small into the open air. What he presented to me was covered by a strikingly white cloth which I almost felt ashamed to touch with my dirty fingers.
“What is it?” I asked, excited to be given another gift from him.
I quickly unwrapped it. It looked to me like a large pin and after a quick assessment, having no clue of what it was, I glanced up at Asharal. I noticed a slight glint of pride gleaming in his eyes. He enjoyed giving me gifts. That was why I enjoyed receiving them, even though the gifts themselves, most of the time, never really made me feel all that nice inside.
“What does this do?”
“You use it to clean the dirt from your fingernails,” he said.
He turned away from me and considered the forest once more while I looked down at my fingers and, for the first time in my entire life, suddenly felt utterly ashamed by them.
“Oh,” I said, not knowing what else to say.
“I purchased it from an inventor outside of the Wind Plain.” He looked at me now, his eyes set with conviction.
“It is important to keep ourselves clean, Dawn,” he said, adding with preciseness, “We are Sun Elves after all.” He took up my free hand and pressed his lips to my knuckles. “It is getting late,” he said. “I have important matters to attend to this evening. Some of which, I believe, will spark great changes for our nation.”
I couldn’t keep my gaze from his. When he turned to leave, I watched him until he disappeared. Then I looked down at his gift to me and after a brief examination, I quickly began putting it to use.
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