She lay nestled in the long grass beside one of her friends who she called a sister, their heads crowned by wildflowers closing with the day – dandelions, crocuses, daisies. The sun had left wispy clouds tinged with heather and rose. The first stars emerged from the soft blue.
“I’d give my whole heart to whoever could give me the whole midnight sky,” Aphelion murmured.
“No-one can though,” said Lilac. Aphelion looked at her sister with a serene smile, and ran her fingers through Lilac’s nutmeg hair that spilled, tangled, from her head into the grass.
They’d spent so many nights out here in the hills. Aphelion thought back to the day she’d met Lilac, so many years ago. She – still tenderfooted and innocent, then – had been meandering through the forest, away down at the foot of the hill, singing like the creek that intermittently followed her. The trees thinned out, and Aphelion saw a girl dancing on the crest. Both stopped, startled to find another in their quiet – but not silent – solitude, and called out to the other. They laughed. Then Aphelion ran up the hill, and the girls introduced themselves. Lilac offered to share lunch, and the pair shared their lives as they ate. Lilac lived in a homestead with some friends, owned by one of the guys’ parents. Few there had parents, having lost them to disease, injury, or disownment on either’s part, and any parent there took on a role like a hen with her chicks. Aphelion was a wanderer, having left her home after one too many arguments. She took up Lilac’s offer to join the family who’d chosen each other at the homestead – it would be nice to have a place to return to, people to turn to.
The colour finally drained from the sky, reminding Aphelion of blood running from open wounds. Little over a year ago, she’d been drawn into the war, a precious asset for the magic kept in her sinister side. A magic that toiled in the hearts of anyone she deemed an enemy like bitter winds bite at goose-bumped skin. A magic she hated for understanding (and wanting to understand) it. A magic she’d never wanted but somehow received that eerie night at the glowing stone where the wind had sung with words rather than its usual ghastly keening – a place she’d encountered on one of her wanderings. Aphelion always felt lost. She closed her eyes in a grimace. Scars and memories always left iceburn in her heart.
“You alright?” Lilac’s ever-gentle voice broke her reverie, drawing her attention.
“Everything’s ok now, it’s over, you’re safe.” Aphelion’s clouded ocean eyes slid away from her sister’s back to the further-darkening sky – away from memories conjured in her mind. She could make out a few scattered constellations now. The longer she stared, the brighter they became.
The longer she stayed, the closer they became.
But their warmth wasn’t always quite enough to keep the iceburn away.
“Is it really over though? Am I really safe?” Lilac sighed wearily at this. Aphelion could remember perfectly the shape of her sword’s hilt in her hands.
“Hey!, hey… I’m your sister, remember, not an enemy,” said Lilac, unconsciously recoiling. Aphelion started, then inhaled.
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Shh. I know, it’s ok.”
“But see, this is what I mean. How can it be over if I still use it? I just can’t seem to believe I’m safe.” Aphelion turned her head to face Lilac, who brushed aside her hair to better see her clouded ocean eyes. Neither had any answers, though Lilac said I am here!, and their siblings were too, through it all.
Time stretched on like the horizon on the ocean, like a lantern-bearer waiting on the shore. The moon seemed to smile down upon the sisters, its silver light an imperceptible song on the chill, pleasant breeze that carried the distant sounds of chirruping and rustling, and still the smell of last night’s misty rain. The moon’s choral berceuse was more delicate than Lilac’s soft humming, a quilted strain of notes that rose and fell with the cadence of her breath. In the most silent moments, if she held her breath and ignored her heartbeat, Aphelion could hear the creek. A cloud like cotton rolled over the moon, and its dull shadow fell on Aphelion’s face. There in the empty space shone more and more pinpricks, made more discernible in the shadow. Both a curse and a blessing. To be guided by light, or lose one’s way; to be blinded and overwhelmed or find clarity and peace. On some nights, the darkness filled Aphelion with anxiety, and on others – like this one – the darkness wrapped itself around her like a heavy, comforting blanket, reminding her she was safe. She knew the light again, saw and knew the stars again, knew the way again. On the ever-rarer times she chose to go wandering, she looked to stars and maps to lead her home instead of further into the world.
“You mean the stars to me, Lilac,” Aphelion breathed. “Everyone at the homestead does.”