Chapter 2 - Raines
“One of the dancers. I promised to meet him here,” I say to Persie. She winks. I laugh. “Have off! You know they’re required to abstain from partnerships.”
Her shoulder bumps mine and she giggles. “I’ll be up near the front.”
“Okay. We’ll join you as soon as he gets here.” I practically float by the tree. Jitters of excitement run through my veins. I’m going to spend time with a dancer! No one really sees them offstage. They have a secluded community hut near the Fields. Dancing for your tribe is demanding work.
He is behind me, moving through the air as if he’s a part of it. His clothes are loose and silky. “Hei.”
“Hei.” Calix is smiling warmly. He doesn’t say, but he looks relieved to be in the heart of Caerini again after months of, essentially, confinement to the rehearsal chambers.
“My friend, Persie, is waiting for us near the stage.”
His eyes glitter. “I can’t wait a moment longer.” Calix almost skips to the stage, pausing for a moment to look at me.”
“Here,” I say and gesture to Persie sitting in the grass, skirts spread out around her. We sit.
“I am Calix,” he says. The two touch shoulders.
She twists her long dark braid between thin fingers. “Persephone.” Then they smile. Then they smile at me.
I end up in the middle, Persie on my right and Calix on my left. Woody notes from the panpipes saunter and leap through the air. A few dozen elves turned out, scattered across the grass before the stage. We laugh and the pipers breathe life into music and the torches glow eagles’-crest gold.
Persie tugs me back and we lie on the grass. She entwines her fingers with mine. The pipe music lifts my heart, light, and airy as a butterfly. Calix flops back to join us. I sense his gaze and turn my head to find him looking at me. His eyes simultaneously smile and fill with sad gratitude.
“This is wonderful,” he sighs.
“I’m glad you came,” I say, but I think he’s lost to the music again. Minutes pass in sublime peace. A few elves have fallen asleep on the Lawn, others have wandered home. The pipers onstage trickle behind curtains between songs until there is only one left on stage. He looks as if he’s stepped from a legend born in the stars. His very aura seems almost magical.
Is this what the druids speak of? This energetic sense of others?
A final, lush note meanders off through the air. There are a few scattered claps. Persie, exhausted, sits up. She kisses me on the forehead, smiles, and says goodnight to Calix, and sways off to her hut. And then it’s just us.
Then it’s just us.
Calix stands and offers me a hand, pulling me to my feet. The torches cast wavy shadows over his muscled dancer's arms.
“Why don’t you come with me? To the dancers’ chambers? It’s beautiful.”
We are walking through the trees. Calix leads, but he moves almost uncertainly in the forest.
“What is your work?” he asks nervously. My stomach quivers.
“I read the stars,” I say. “I study them, interpret their patterns… The druids need to know, you see. When are the celebrations? The harvests? When does the moon call for spiritual gatherings?” Crickets hum. “I don’t really believe in what the druids say.” Calix laughs softly.
“Neither do the dancers. Here -” I look up. Before us, the Dancer’s Hall rises boldly into the trees. It’s several stories high and covered in intricate rock carvings. Several windows sparkle with light.
“Do you like it here?” I ask.
He hesitates. “Yes. I love dancing. I love being on the team…. Sometimes it’s lonely. We’re isolated in this building almost always. But I love it.” His face glitters with memory in the moonlight. He is gorgeous.
“Goodnight,” I tell him, and I hand him a smile. A few steps away towards my hut and I’m already wishing I could stay.
“Raines…. Could I come and visit you tomorrow?”
My heart flips in delight. “Absolutely.” He tosses me that impish grin as we part.
I meander through the trees. He’s got two more days of rest. Two days is enough to make a friend, isn’t it? I cross the lawn. The audience from the panpipes performance is gone, replaced by several aged elves hastily making for the council building.
I shiver in a sudden cool breeze. The pit of my stomach tingles. Something’s just happened.
I shake off my concern and settle on the moss edging the Fields. I take comfort in the twilight sky above. The sweet scent of grass wafts about. I send my anxiety away with the wind.
“Raines. Raines,” Persie says, brushing the hair out of my face. I blink dreams away from my eyes and focus on her face.
“All of Caerini is to meet at the lawn. The council members are coming. Something happened.” She bites her lip. I tingling trips through my body as I get up. I am suddenly aware of everything. Every sound, every movement, every feeling.
Persie and I trot gently through the trees. Raised voices are cutting between bushes to reach us. We step out onto the lawn. It’s packed, young and old, hundreds of us. Tense murmurs sweep across the gathering as the three Caerinian council members mount the stage. They appear somber and exhausted.
“Caerinians.” The woman who speaks is aging, crumpled paper skin, and hair turning silver. Her pointed ears droop down at the tips of their own volition. “We have only just received news - mere hours ago - that the Eraviscian Isles have been attacked. Physically attacked. By Trinova.” Murmurs sweep through us as we watch her steel herself for the next words. The elves on either side of her are pale and stoic, but straining to remain emotionless. “It was not civilized. They did not announce their dancers for competition nor was their presence known at all until they began the...the fight. In fact, they brought no dance warriors. The Trinovantes arrived on ships and attacked with swords and arrows and fists.”
A woman begins to cry. More are stunned to silence. I sweep my gaze around, past Persie’s wide eyes. Are the dancers here? Will they be informed?
For the first time in over two hundred years, our peaceful resolutions of performance have failed.
The councilman next to her speaks. “The druids are here for us. They will be at the altars day and night. We encourage you to join them in vigil when you can. Our collective thoughts of peace will carry much weight with the gods.” A few nods and muttered prayers.
My attention wavers. The gods will not help us. We are not yet even in peril. We must help ourselves. Amidst the clamorous ring of voices, I tread silently away. A silent body slipping through panic like leaves on the wind. Persie does not notice and is lost to the crowd.
I won’t be able to sleep much for some time - the druids will expect extensive interpretation of the stars over the next fortnight.
And indeed, it comes to pass. I stand at the edge of the darkened, moon-licked Fields for only a serene moment before there are hands on my shoulder. “Raines, the stars must be read.” Why am I not crying? Or yelling? Why don’t I feel anything? Around me, a terrified, deadened community rushes past. My eyes only take in some of it. Vague colors and lights. Any noise is a blur in my ears. I am led to the telescopes. Charcoal thrust into my hand for mapping my findings. Priests stand aside holding their breath.
The following few days were spun of fine, blurred predictability. In light hours, my friendship with the young dancer solidified. He kept me sane. Lunch on the edge of the forest, or by a lake. We spoke of many things. Of his dance. Of my sky. Thoughts of his - Cal’s - mischievous laugh pushed me through the long nights of stargazing and recording and interpreting with the druids. When dawn arrived, I’d stagger to the Fields’ edge and collapse limply onto my bed of moss. Sometimes I would not make it this far.
It was on a particularly long night, time slicked-slow, that I fell into dreams by the alters under a half-moon. And so it was like this that Cal found me as he took his sleepless brain for a star-lit walk.
I awoke very early in the dawn, looking up at a sky just barely brushed with twilight. Crickets hummed. A few wood nymphs sang quietly. And I found Cal’s hand in mine. I smiled with surprise.
We lay there in the dawn - my eyes wide open, his closed in sleep. The nymphs finish their song and quiet. I count stars as they disappear into the day. My hand twitches in Cal’s. His eyes flutter open. “Good morning,” he murmurs. His eyes flick down to our entwined hands and then back up at me. I sense his nervousness. “How long have you been awake?”
“Since first light.”
A light flush tinges his cheeks. I am silent, afraid a single word could shatter this moment. I hold very still.
“Raines….” He begins. “Last night, I had to get away. From the Dancer's Hall, the camp, my teammates, everything…. I love dance. I - I live for it. But now, sometimes.... it seems like it’s the one thing I can’t wait to get away from.” He props up on an elbow. I listen. My stomach quivers.
Softly, I speak, “They turned art into a weapon. Your art is too beautiful to be demonized as such.” I hesitate, wondering if I’ve said the wrong thing. Trees glitter brightly with dawn-lit dew. Cal’s face shifts over mine. His breath tickles my eyelashes. He is so close. I think I want him closer.
I push my lips up to his suddenly, swiftly. His eyes widen in surprise. We part. He is smiling shyly and I know this is okay. I know it is good.I pull his face gently back to mine and this time he returns my kiss. I feel his tender smile and my own lips turn up as well. He tastes of prince’s honey.
I don’t breathe anymore, I just kiss.
The Fields whisper.