They sat next to each other, on the place that the driver would have had, when they quietly began their journey home. As they got further and further down the road, a vague silence spread between them. Even though the birds sang their farewells, and the horse’s rhythmic steps never ended, it was too quiet.
“Alice”, began Annabelle, who wanted the silence to escape, for it made her feel uneasy, “you mentioned last night that you were hunted, and for something you weren’t guilty of.” Alice swallowed, and without turning her face towards Annabelle, she replied.
“We were hunted, that’s right. Why are you asking?” Annabelle turned, somewhat shyly, her head down. She didn’t know if she dared to ask; it felt as if she were invading on Alice as a person, on her background and history.
“Why? I mean, why were you hunted? What was it that they thought you had done?” Her voice was quiet, but loud enough for Alice to hear.
“They were fallen angels, Annabelle, just like you. But they had embraced their darkness, and they were after us. The Irish-”
”Killian,” Annabelle interrupted quickly, somewhat uncomfortable with Alice bringing up his name, “his name was Killian.” Alice took a deep breath.
“Killian - his father was one of them. They had created a secret army of their own kind, of fallen angels, and they hunted us. They hunted me.” Suddenly Alice turned her gaze towards Annabelle, and her pitch-black hair made the green eyes sparkle. “Actually, they were after you; somehow they had gotten the idea that you were me, and spent several years even before I was born searching for my family. They were waiting for me, just as they waited for the war. They knew it was coming, and had prepared for it in God knows how many years. The war would come to harvest enough innocent souls for them to be able to open the gate.”
Annabelle furrowed her eyebrows.
“What gate?” Alice kept her eyes straight ahead, and her voice was monotone.
“The gate that would lead them back to heaven, where they said they belonged. But there was a reason they fell, Annabelle. Heaven wasn’t their home anymore; they didn’t belong there. They searched for you because you were the only one who could stop them; one of their own, a fallen angel whose destiny was to end the war. Some of them wanted to kill you, while others wanted you to be protected and alive. If you died, you see, you as their only threat, they would easily have been able to open the gate and walk right into heaven."
"However, if you remained alive, they would have a chance to become real angels again, something that some of them valued higher than a way back into heaven. These two parts then turned against each other, and a silent war raged in their army. That was what gave us the chance to hide and remain hidden.” Annabelle opened her mouth, confused, her eyebrows still furrowed. Her heart was grieving in silence; a hard, stifling grief that refused to let go. A certain name had caught her attention.
“Wait. Killian, was he-” Alice interrupted her.
“Yes, Annabelle, he was a fallen angel.” Then suddenly Alice burst into laughter. “We were so sure that he would grow up to be the darkest of them all, given his background, but I understand now that he became one of the good ones. He fought bitterly against the darkness within him, and he won. He was like you, Annabelle.” Annabelle tried to smile at Alice’s words, but instead felt tears rise; shimmering silver tears full of sorrow and loss. Even though he never said anything about this, she had felt it all the time.
“He had no darkness in his heart,” she whispered faintly, and Alice looked again at her.
“He was waiting for you,” she said then, quiet and strange. “John told me about it. Do you remember the day when you and your older sister went to the dining at Richard’s?” Annabelle nodded, without really understanding what Alice would say.
“He was there, Annabelle. He searched for you; he was there, at the party. We thought then that he was filled with darkness, so we never let him get close to you. He even made Mr. Richards search for you too, but John was with you then.”
Annabelle swallowed. She remembered suddenly all the memories she thought she had forgotten; how John suddenly stood in front of her, and how Mr. Richard’s voice echoed across the backyard. And then suddenly such a huge anxiety came over her, that she for a second didn’t know what to do.
“He was so close,” she whispered, on the verge of tears. Sorrow burned within her. Alice looked at her, her eyes filled with compassion and love.
“Forgive me, Annabelle, because I thought badly of him. I should have known better.” Annabelle nodded vaguely and took a deep breath. The fresh, cold air made her calm.
“It’s in the past. It’s over,” she said, and smiled slightly. “He would have forgiven you, Alice,” she added, because she knew it was what Killian would have done.
Oh, Killian, she thought then, how I wish you were here.
They stopped to take a break at the edge of the road that they had traveled on, when the night with its darkness had crept upon them. Annabelle came to think of their first journey together; the journey that would lead them to Mrs. Ericsson and Killian.
She wondered suddenly how her life would look like if she had never left home in the first place. If she had defied her mother’s command, and instead fled north. She had never met Killian, that she knew. It would just have been her; alone and on the run. Would she have joined the army? Would she have been injured, or worse: killed? Would she ever have returned home, or had she continued to flee until her last days had come to an end?
She would never had learned of her true self, at least. She would have continued to live her life just like anyone else, and when the war was over - if it ever would go over - she would certainly marry someone she barely knew, someone she would never love, and then she would probably be a mother herself and raise children until life began to wither away. She frowned her eyebrows thoughtfully, when the life she could have gotten revealed itself in front of her.
Then, but that was afterwards, when the girls bravely huddled together on the grass and together awaited sleep, that she understood.
I don’t regret anything, she realized. I would have lived the life I live now a thousand times rather than the life I would otherwise have had. I’m happy with what I have done, for if I hadn’t done all of those things, I would still be the same lost girl I once was, unsure of herself and with her life planned out to the smallest detail. I know who I am now, and I’m happy I do. I would do it again, all of it, although I would have to sacrifice everything again.
The following day was cold, too cold to be in September, and the rustling, withering leaves spread a dark mood in the eternal forest that the girls found themselves in. So dark, Annabelle thought, so sad.
Autumn was coming, something that was getting clearer as the days passed by. The summer took a slow farewell, dressed dying flowers and dark evenings. Annabelle quietly whistled an old childhood melody, one of those her mother often rocked her to sleep with. Nostalgic and dark, the melody echoed between the trees, only to fade into obscurity after.
“Alice,” she said, when her melody had been silenced for good, “how are you able to deal with your grief so well? How do you handle it, so that it doesn’t take over?” Annabelle didn’t know if she dared to look her friend in the eye, because the question she asked had come too hastily and without thinking.
“It’s hard,” replied Alice, her voice quiet and almost too weak for Annabelle to hear. Annabelle felt the pain behind her words, and never doubted for a second if what the girl said was true. “They are with me, my family, even if only in my mind, and with them comes the grief.” Alice looked at Annabelle, who quietly waited for her words to once again begin to flow.
“I have tried to let go of it, of my grief, but I can’t bring myself to it. If I let my sadness go - if I let myself move on - it feels as if I’m losing a part of myself. I want to feel grief. I want to feel something, that reminds me of what I have and what I have lost. Without the sorrow, I’m left alone, for without it, it’s as if I let my family go too. I don’t want to do that, Annabelle, even if it means I have to carry my darkness with me forever, with my heart empty and broken.” Annabelle gave the girl a faint smile, and Alice reciprocated it. “I’ve learned to live with it, I guess,” she continued, and shook gently on her shoulders. Then her voice became more serious, as if the words in her mouth were too dark.
“My mother always told me that those whose heart was broken were the strongest, for they knew they could survive. She was right, Annabelle, but the moments when it’s the darkest, it feels like all my strength is lost, even though I know I carry it in me.” Annabelle looked into the deep, dark woods that surrounded them, and her gaze was lost in colors.
She felt it too. The grief had taken root deep within her a long time ago, when her father left them for the war. She had fought against it for a long time - God knows she still did it yet - but now she realized the truth behind Alice’s words. She needed to feel her sadness, and know that it was still there. For no matter how much it hurt her, it reminded her that she still was alive.