The Black Rose Trilogy, Book One: The Curse

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Chapter Fourteen

Aless was working in Sofea's shop when she heard the news. It had been a few days since Seph and Sera summarized the stories of Halifeld's Storytellers. She was interested in them now more than ever. She wanted to hear the full story of the Witch, to understand things she could never find in Krystel's library.

She was dusting when the boy came running in. "Hey, slow down!" she yelled at him. "There's a lot of things that can break in here. Be careful!"

He stopped in front of her panting. "The Storytellers," he gasped. "They are comin'!" Aless looked at him with wide eyes. "They will be 'ere t'morrow!"

"You're sure?" Aless asked him. She wanted to know without any doubt.

He nodded. "Messenger just brought the news. T'morrow, and they say that they are stayin' all week 'fore headin' up to Celemore. I am out makin' sure ev'ryone knows." He ran out, just as fast as he ran in. Aless stared at the door. Inside her thoughts were tumbling about.

They're here, she thought. Or, they're coming. I can get my answers. She ran up the stairs to Sofea's room, knocked on the door twice before opening it. "Sofea, I'm going to go now."

The Seer was sitting on her chair, making yet another blanket. She looked up at the girl. "Alright, dear. One last thing, before you go."

Aless sighed. She was tiring of this little game the two of them played. Aless was never going to give in. "Who are you running away from, Aless?"

Aless shook her head, annoyed. "I'm afraid I can't tell you that." She gave a small shrug, unapologetic. "I'm sorry." She closed the door, bounded back down the stairs, and out the door. She didn't stop running until she was home.

"Seph!" she called, not wanting to look for him today. "Seph!" He came out of his bedroom, buttoning his shirt.

"What is it? Is something wrong?" he looked Aless over with concern.

She forced a cheery smile on her face. "Haven't you heard?" He shook his head slowly, a confused look on his face. "They're coming! Halifeld's Storytellers, they're on their way here!"

Seph breathed out a sigh of relief. "Oh, I thought it was something important." Aless smacked his shoulder. He flinched, but smiled.

"This is important! They're going to arrive tomorrow, and then they'll be here all week telling their stories, before heading to Celemore."

"Again, Aless, someone is going to look at you and think, 'wow, she must not be excited for anything about to happen'." Aless hit his shoulder again, then calmed down a bit.

"Will you be going up?" she asked. "For the Trade?"

Seph nodded. "I was of amazing use last time, and I was just thirteen. Think of how much I can help now that I am older?" Aless nodded. It made sense. "And what about you? Have you decided on anything yet?"

Aless shook her head. "I still don't know. I mean, it sounds great, but I don't think I have anything to offer." Seph looked a bit disappointed. "But, I might still come with Sofea," she offered. "She hasn't actually asked me yet, but chances are, it'll most likely be me."

Seph brightened at that. "Well, as long as you come, one way or another," he teased.

Aless moved around him to go to her bedroom. "I'm actually going to go to bed now," she said.

"What?" Seph asked. "It is just barely evening. We have not even had supper yet."

"I know, but they're arriving tomorrow, and the sooner I fall asleep the sooner I'll wake up, and the sooner I wake up, the sooner tomorrow will be here."

Seph rolled his eyes and grabbed her hand, pulling her out of her room back into the hallway. "Okay, at least wait until after supper. Then you can absolutely fall asleep as fast as you can."

Aless sighed. "Alright," she groaned slightly. She didn't know what she was going to do with all her time. She looked around, trying to find something. Seph seemed to know what she was looking for.

"Here, come with me." He held onto her hand and led her into his bedroom.

It was the first time she had ever been inside of it. It looked almost like a mirrored image of hers. The bed, the closet, the desk; only his room looked more like someone actually lived there, where Aless's simply looked like a spare room occasionally used. Covering the desk and certain parts of the floor were piles of little knick–knacks. Seph released her hand and went to the desk, looking closely for something specific.

Aless looked around, then sat on the bed near his pillow, the exact spot she generally sits on her bed. "There it is," she heard him mumble. He walked over and sat down opposite of her, holding a little bag in his hands. "This is something I got from the last Trade." He pulled it open, then emptied the contents onto the bed.

Aless looked at the gems in amazement. She had lived in an emerald castle before this, but these tiny things were so much prettier than that. She gently picked up a triangle–shaped purple one and held it in her palm. "What is it?" she asked quietly, as if breathing on the stone the wrong way would break it.

Seph smiled. "It is called Katalia. These are stones that are mined out of the mountains near Sendecia." He picked up a round black one, with flecks of brown on it. "This one is called Earth, because it looks like dirt and mud. And, this one," he held a slightly larger red–orange stone, "is called Pathara. This one is special because it has this brown spot right there," he pointed to it.

Aless looked at all the colorful gems. She pointed to a flat, pink one. "What's that one?"

"Pink Jamuna," Seph answered, picking it up. "This one breaks easily. I have three pieces, but only started with one." He picked up a large, clear one. "This is normal Jamuna. It is a lot sturdier than its pink counterpart."

They spent the next hour, sitting on his bed as he showed her different things he had collected from his last Trade. Aless was amazed by all of them. "You got a handmade and hand–painted black dragon just for helping someone move their furniture around?"

Seph nodded. "It is really that easy. You give, and by giving, you receive."

Aless wanted to go. She wanted to go so badly. Supper came, and Seph teased, "So are you going to go to bed, or do you want to look at some more things?" She considered hitting him again, but didn't. After they had cleared and washed the dishes, Aless hurried back to his room, ready to look at something new.

Seph looked around for a little bit before finding something to show her. "I sat and watched him make it," he explained, handing her a snake carved out of candle wax. "It took him almost the entire week, but he told me I was worth it." Aless shook her head.

"There has to be something I can do, something I can help with," she thought out loud.

"Again, it is not like you have not spent the past few months cooking and cleaning to earn yourself a place to stay," Seph pointed out. "I am sure someone would be more than happy to help you out in return."

Aless sighed, considering it. "I will talk to Sofea tomorrow, and see if I can come along with her."

"That is also an option." Seph took the candle and placed it back on the desk. "We should both get some sleep. I have the feeling you and I will be very busy tomorrow."

Aless chuckled. "You would be correct in that." She stood up, and walked towards the door, stopping just outside. "Good night Seph," she said quietly.

He nodded once, and sweet smile on his face. "Good night Aless." Aless closed his door for him. She took the few steps across the hallway into her own room, and climbed into bed.

Sleep did not come quickly. She tossed and turned for most of the night. Aless couldn't understand it. She wanted sleep. She wanted to wake up and have the sun already shining, not be awake as the sun rose. Aless finally sat up, huffing in annoyance. There had been a few times where she couldn't get to sleep before, at Krystel's castle. Aless would always go and talk to Krystel, generally falling asleep in her bed.

"But Krystel isn't here," she whispered. "You're on your own for this one." She sighed, then went to her desk. There was a little square of moonlight shining through her window. Aless used it as a light, and read through her journal of poems, hoping to write one. It was on her desk she fell asleep, her head against the pages that held part of her soul.

She woke the next morning, feeling tired and annoyed. Her head and neck hurt, and she was terribly cold. Aless rubbed her eyes and stretched and yawned. She stood up, and stretched some more. The chair she fell asleep in was not comfortable. She changed slowly, then left her room, walking towards the kitchen.

Seph was helping his mother prepare breakfast. "Morning," he said, smiling cheerfully. "Are you ready for our day of fun?" Aless didn't quite understand what he was talking about. Instead of voicing this, she just stared at him. "Hello?" he asked, waving a hand in front of her face. "Anyone there?" She batted his hand away.

"I'm fine," she said quietly. "I just didn't sleep very well last night."

Seph nodded. "Too excited, huh?" Aless closed her eyes and leaned against the wall. "I thought you might be. That is why I got up early to help Mother prepare for us a breakfast that is sure to fill you up with energy." Aless cracked one eye open and looked at him.

"How are you so happy?"

"Unlike some people, I got plenty of sleep last night."

"Seph," Sera scolded, "do not mock her." She looked at Aless kindly. "Lucky for you, the first performance is not until this evening, so you will have plenty of time to be happily awake and alert."

Aless smiled at Sera. "Thank you."

The rest of the day went by in a blur for Aless. She could remember Seph dragging her all around the city, doing odd little jobs, but she couldn't remember exactly what those odd little jobs were. She did remember the time she spent in Sofea's shop, helping the visitors find the things they needed. It was rather busy, and Aless figured it would be that way until after the Trade ended. If people were passing through Tredon to get to Celemore, they would be passing through on their journeys home.

The sun had started setting. The shop had closed for the day. Aless cleaned up after the last few customers left. She heard the top stair creak with Sofea's weight. "I will worry about cleaning, dear," she called down.

"Are you sure?" Aless asked. "I can stay and help for a bit longer."

Sofea waved her off. "No. You have another event you need to prepare for." Aless smiled. Sera had been right. After working all these hours, she was ready to watch whatever story would unfold before her tonight. She hoped it would be the one she needed. "One last thing before you go."

Aless sighed, and shook her head, looking down. It was never going to end. There was no way Aless could ask to come along with her to Celemore and back if this was going to be a constant thing the entire time. She looked up at Sofea. "Who are you running away from, Aless?"

"I'm afraid I can't tell you. I'm sorry." Aless walked to the door. "Goodbye!"

Aless debated between going back home to find Seph, or to follow the crowd of people she guessed were heading toward the performing area. The latter option won out, as she heard someone say they would start their performance soon. She blended in easily enough, but felt like she was sticking out. The crowd led her to a large open field. There was a makeshift stage set up, and cut up tree stumps and logs scattered around for sitting on. The field had a bit of a slant to it, so those behind others could see the stage. She wondered if this was the natural way the field was set, or if some magick had its hand in it. Aless looked for a good seat, and saved the one next to her for Seph.

She sat and waited for a long time. Many people came and filled in the seat around her. Little children sat on the ground up front or stood next to their parents. The sun went down, and the top of the sky started turning that blue color she adored. A fresh night wind blew through, and she shivered. "Cold?" a voice said behind her. Aless turned, and smiled as Seph took his place next to her. He handed her her cloak, folded neatly. "I grabbed this for you before I left. I did not know if I would meet you here or at Sofea's shop, or at home, or somewhere along the way, so I just thought you would want it in case you got cold."

Aless smiled. "Thank you," she said as she put it on. "That was very thoughtful of you." She snuggled herself into the thick, warm cloak. "When will the show start?" she asked.

Seph looked up. "When it gets a bit darker," he answered. "They perform at night because--" he looked at her, then smiled. "Well, you will see."

Aless was not a big fan of surprises, but this one she accepted. If it made the story more magickal, she would just have to make do without knowing. The sky darkened at little bit more. Aless tried her best to control her excitement. She was ready to know everything.

The crowd around quieted down. Seph leaned over and whispered in her ear, "It is starting." Aless smiled.

There was a loud noise, and then another. Everyone in the audience jumped. At the corners of the stage, there were two balls of light, lighting up the area around the stage. She looked at them, wondering how they did it. Next came a loud voice.

"Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to yet another performance from Halifeld's Storytellers!" Everyone started clapping and cheering; Aless sat and watched intently. "Tonight, we have for you, the beloved classic: Star-crossed..." his voice faded away, and the lights grew dim.

"Why can the sun not be cold?" a different voice asked quietly. "Why can the moon not be warm?" On the stage, little flecks of light started dancing around, creating the circular shapes of the sun and moon, followed by scattered specks. Aless was mesmerized. "Why must the stars blink in and out of existence? And where is it they go?" Each question intrigued Aless. She couldn't answer them, even with all the study she did. They seemed perfect and the way they were created to be: the sun warm and the moon cold. In the back of her mind, she was curious as to what the storyteller was actually telling.

Seph looked over at her and smiled. He bent down to whisper in her ear. "This is the story of why things are the way they are," he explained. "It is fascinating, but it is not the best one they tell."

The stage erupted in a burst of light. People were caught off guard, many of them yelling out, Aless included. Seph laughed beside her. The falling pieces of light outlined the person now standing there. She had dark skin, and long black hair akin to Krystel's. She gracefully moved her hands around in waves and circles, the lights moving around as she did so, creating a scene behind and around her.

"Once, long ago, Sun and Moon could be what they want. Some days, perhaps, the moon felt like being warm. She wanted to fill others with comfort the way Sun did." The lights moved to create a red moon, in comparison to the large orange-yellow sun across the stage. "Other days, Sun was sad, and his heat decreased, causing the world to be cold. These two were content with what they did. Along the way of their lives, they fell in love."

Aless's eyes grew wide as she watched the magick being performed. The circles representing the two morphed and transformed into the shapes of people, walking around the stage talking with each other silently. Moon had pale-looking skin, with light hair and light clothing. Sun was the exact opposite. Aless smiled at the imaginary love story. Could Seph and I become that? she thought, risking a quick peek at him. He was fully entwined in the story.

"Sun had too much warmth for Moon to handle all at once, as Moon was too cold for Sun. They could only meet with each other when they were the same. Sun would become colder, and Moon warmer. They would meet happily and run off together, prepared for any adventures thrown at them."

Aless felt her smile growing. A love like that sounded fantastic, much better than whatever had happened with Krystel. She resisted the urge to look at Seph again, instead forcing her attention to the storyteller ahead. "One day, one of the stars came up to them. 'You must stop,' it said. 'This is not good, not for you or for us.' Neither Sun nor Moon could understand why. Their love was beautiful, and was something that was to be celebrated, not stopped. The little star said again, 'It is not good for anyone here.'

"'But why?' Moon asked. 'We are so happy together. Why would you want to break us apart?'

"Other stars had gathered around as they talked. 'When you are apart,' the stars explained, 'we are happy. We can be fully warm during the day while we sleep. We can be cooled down at night while we visit the world.'

"'When you are together,' another star peeped up, 'we are not happy. We cannot sleep because it is too dark, and we feel tired at night because it is so light.'

"'We cannot feel the warm or cold when you two are together, as you both take that away when you meet each other.'

"'And Moon,' the littlest star spoke up, 'we miss you when you are gone.'" Aless looked down. She thought of Krystel again. Does she miss me? Or did she find someone else to use?

"But Moon's heart had been too heated by Sun. She did not want to bother with what the stars said or thought. She gave the stars a small smile as an apology. 'I am sorry, little ones, but I love Sun, and want to stay with him.' Moon turned her back on them, stopping for a moment for Sun to follow her.

"But Sun's heart had been too chilled my Moon. He heard what the stars were trying to tell them: being together was wrong and was hurting everyone, included them. He looked at Moon with a blank face. 'I am sorry, Moon, but the stars are right. We must return balance to Cosmos.' He walked towards the stars. 'Little friends, I am ready to help.'

"Moon turned to look at Sun. She was shocked. 'But Sun,' she said, 'I thought you loved me.' A tear rolled down her face.

"Sun nodded. 'I do, Moon. But this is more important. It is not our place to cross the stars.' With that, Sun walked away from Moon, the stars following him complaining that they were sleepy. "

Aless thought her expression must have looked like Moon's did. Never mind. Seph and I are just fine the way we are. Did all love just end in heartbreak?

"Moon stood and watched her love and her friends walk away from her. She could not believe what had just happened. The littlest star stopped and looked over at her. For a second she wanted to call out to it, ask it to come back. Instead, it yelled back to her 'Goodbye Moon.'

"Moon's heart was alight in flames. She had never experienced a pain like this before. She slowly began walking back her home in Cosmos, each step feeling heavy. She tried to sleep while Sun filled the sky with his warmth, but found herself missing it too much. She tried to see him while he was at his brightest, but could only remain a faint glimmer in his bright sky. She was up for much of the night. When Sun left, Moon was all alone. The stars that were shining were some of the few that hadn't spoken up against her and Sun's love, but they were few in number.

"One of them blinked at her. 'It is never good to try and cross the stars. Your love might have been true, but the little ones spoke truth. You have chilled Sun too much, as he has burnt you. Staying with each other any further would ultimately destroy you both.’ Moon looked away. She did not want to hear anymore, but the ancient star continued. ‘Even then, there are too many stars for you to fight against. This was a battle you were destined to lose. Truly, Moon, I am sorry.’"

The stage slowly darkened as the lights reformed the original orbs of Sun and Moon, with extra flecks as stars blinking. "Moon still watches Sun during his time, waiting for him to come back to her. Some of the stars have left Moon altogether. Others will hold out as long as they can, until they too leave her and her cold sadness in favor of Sun’s happy warmth.

"So remember, friends, no matter how badly you might want something, some things in Cosmos just are not meant to be, and that is exactly how they are meant to be. It is never wise to try and cross the stars."

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