Forest of Light
“But, Ober,” Story lamented as she trailed her small fingers in the river, the tugging ripples reminding her that she could be carried away by the undertow were she to accidentally tumble over the side of the bank. “Papa is making me go stay with Ninian while I’m here and I don’t think it’s fair.” She choked back tears, squeezing her eyes tight so they couldn’t escape. “I won’t be able to come see you and Ophelia,” she continued, lifting her hand from the water and stroking Ophelia’s soft, yellow wings as Ober’s daughter lulled lazily in Pegasus form, her head in Story’s lap.
Since that amazing day when Story had met the Pegasus, she had often snuck away during many lazy summer afternoons to see them as they had instructed her. Many hours had been spent frolicking with Ophelia and listening to Ober’s resonant and vibrant voice harmonize with the bubbling of the water as he instructed her in some of the lesser known Tresslan histories. She had also spent countless hours on Ophelia’s back, tumbling from the sky, but Ober always caught her.
Ober shook his head. “Story, there will be plenty of time for you to come here in the coming years. You have almost perfected your flying and Ninian will show you things as a Daughter of the Will that I cannot. We, as you know, are Maya’s children. You must be schooled by disciples of each god,” he continued for what seemed like the hundredth time. Story expected at any moment he was going drone on about future responsibilities and being a model student, but it was a warning she’d heard many times and one she hadn’t heeded as of yet. “Now, I want you to practice your landings; let’s give it a try.” Ober was a gentle being, and Story adored him. But he was a tireless bore when he took on the role of teacher. She sighed. At least it was the fun part.
Ophelia kneeled for Story to climb on and unfurled her wings, which seemed to catch millions of fragments of light. As always, Story admired her wings before dutifully climbing on the Pegasus’ back with an air of expertise. She wasn’t sure why she had to learn from the gods or how to fly. It was enough for her that she got to hurtle through the wind on Ophelia’s back. Story often watched birds with her mother from their back porch, and she’d often considered that flying on a Pegasus must feel something like when a robin or blue jay took flight, in her other world anyway. Tresslan birds didn’t fly, she reminded herself, picturing the foul looking creatures that sang in beautiful, haunting melodies.
At seven years old, Story was more than willing to sit and listen to Ober talk if she would always be able to fly with Ophelia. Clenching her knees around the small Pegasus’ girth, she looked up to Ober. His silver eyes caught the light like stars, and for a moment the world seemed to slip away and she was transported somewhere else, to a place where it was all darkness except for an expanse of silver twinkling lights that dotted her vision and clouded her perception until she felt as one with the entire world. Story blinked and her reality slipped back into place. Shaking her head to rid her brain of the confusion from the slip, she looked up at Ober, who studied her with a measured look for a moment before nodding. She had been experiencing a shift more and more, but it was so brief she was unable to grasp what was happening before it was over. All she knew was that at times it felt like she was living in three places, not just two.
“Ready?” he asked, arms crossed over his strong hairless chest. She gave a quick tilt of her chin and grinned, her hands holding tightly to Ophelia’s golden mane. Wings whooshed through the air, catching more wind with each flap. Story’s dark curls swirled around her as Ophelia built momentum. Closing her eyes, she smiled to herself as she felt them lift off the ground.
The freedom of the sky cradled her on a breeze, and the warm scent of summer felt like she was inhaling sunshine with each breath. Story opened her eyes, blinking as she always did as the trees grew smaller and smaller behind her. They could never go too far from the safety of the wood because they might be spotted. But for a moment, she imagined they could fly anywhere in the world, even to her mother.
Story didn’t often think of her mother when she was here; the two worlds were so different, her two lives so separate. But she did now, imagining her mother’s large, haunted eyes widening with joy to see Story flying through the air on a mythical beast.
Would you like to say hi to Kestrel? Story heard Ophelia’s bubbly voice whisper in her head.
Oh, yes, she thought hard at Ophelia, hoping she heard the thought. Story knew that although Kessie didn’t mention it often, she longed to see the Pegasus again.
Swooping lower to the ground, Story caught a glimpse of Kestrel’s pale head, the Greenman’s Bow slung on her shoulder as she headed into the woods to a secret spot. There, Kestrel had spent the last two years practicing how to shoot, learning the song of the arrow.
Kestrel glanced up, shielding her eyes with her hand as a grin brightened her features, and she raised her other hand in a wave of greeting. They circled, once, twice, and three times and hovered like a looming shadow above her sister. Even from a distance, Story saw her nod and then Ophelia was carrying her back toward the falls.
Bracing herself for the landing, she let out a triumphant cry as they touched down gently. Story slid off Ophelia easily, her smile wide as excitement bubbled through her veins. Ober nodded.
“Very good, Story. I would say you have now perfected the art of landing, as has Ophelia with a passenger on her back.” The first time she had landed she had been hurled head over heels into the water and would have drowned had not Ober rushed into save her.
“Now for stories?” Story asked eagerly. Although some of the historical accounts Ober went on about could be quite boring, she loved hearing about the Fairytales who lived in Tressla as real, breathing people, almost as much as she loved to fly. Almost. But Ober shook his head, glancing over as Ophelia dipped her muzzle into the steady stream for a drink.
“That’s all for today. I believe you must be getting back.” Disappointment blossomed in Story’s chest and she glanced at the sun. The bright afternoon dimmed and shadows began their nightly dance as the onset of dusk took hold. She hadn’t even spent any time with her papa today. She had wandered off into the woods on one of her last days with him before she went to live with Ninian. And she couldn’t even tell him where she had been. Her papa would have fit in well with the Pegasus; he too seemed ancient while looking fairly young. Plus, he was big like Ober.
“Tomorrow you will come,” Ober said. Story frowned slightly and shook her head.
“Ober, I have to see Papa and Jemma and Jess tomorrow. The day after, Papa says I have to go stay with Ninian.” Normally, she would never have told Ober that she couldn’t come, she relished the rare moments when she could spend an afternoon with them, but this was important. She was going to miss her Tresslan family so much.
“It will only be for a little while, Story. But tomorrow Kestrel will come with you,” he said.Story’s golden eyes, warm like sunshine, widened. “Kestrel? But you said—”
Ober cut her off before she could finish. “You’ll find out why tomorrow, Story. Now be good and go, your mother will worry.” Story nodded sullenly but turned to Ophelia and kissed her pearly pink muzzle that glistened with drops of water.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she whispered. Then she waved and ran toward home as fast as she could so that she could say goodbye to her papa for the day before returning to her mother, who would worry if she didn’t make it down for breakfast in time. The entire way back to the cottage she thought about Ober’s request and why it upset her. It wasn’t until she reached the Gardenia that it hit her. Kessie wasn’t to see the Pegasus until the day she would fly, the day she was meant to go away.
As she approached the cottage door, she saw Kestrel had returned and was absent of her bow. She had taken to hiding it in treasure chest shrubs that her papa grew along the property edge. When asked politely, the shrubs would hide secrets until the proper owner returned for them.
Kestrel’s aqua gaze met Story’s, a sadness lurking in their depths as she offered her younger sister a tired smile. Story flung herself around the taller girl’s waist and buried herself in the scent of the wild that clung to her sister. For the first time ever, she wondered why she lived between two worlds and what it meant for Kestrel … and herself.