Soul of the Wild Wood
By Brenna Hanson
Date: August 29, 2021
Ch. 1010

As I spoke, I signed the words. A moment of clarity fell upon me. True understanding created an aching love for my new people. I felt the wind in the leaves flowing through my gestures. I felt the water from the ground drawn through roots to make the tree stand strong. I felt the birdsong and the skittering of squirrels. I felt all of that embraced in the bodies of my new people. Then, with a feeling like coming home, I felt myself become an inseparable part of the whole. The soul of the forest settled in beside my own and we became one.

“Oh Harold, they are a beautiful people. Savage? Yes, but savage in the way of a bear or cougar. They kill only what they must. Fate demanded more death than any of us could have wished for with this war. Many think she demanded too much. We have to make that loss worthwhile, Harold. We have to!”

“I agree, my wild sister,” Harold said reminding me of my appearance.

“Ah, the sign of a successful hunt,” I said. “It earned me my first real kiss and I almost hate to wash it away. Still, let me see if my bath is ready.”

Harold laughed. He said, “Trust me. Leaving it won’t earn you more from any sane man. Does he care for you too then?”

“Yes,” I said. The immediate answer felt right even as it surprised me.

“Yet, separate rooms,” Harold said. “Why? From what I’ve seen of your new people, I would have guessed you might already carry his child.”

“You’ve only seen the worst they have to offer,” I said. “They have some lovely traditions. Courtship is one of them. That lasts a year and a day from our wedding. It’s nearly opposite from how we grew up. The goal is to ensure a strong marriage before children come along. At the moment, I’m not sure I’ll survive it. How can my heart go so long away from his when it feels like he is the reason it beats? River calls it the First Love and laughs at me.”

Harold had stayed in the sitting room when I went to find the bath. When I looked up from my thoughts, he was leaning against the doorframe watching something through the window behind my head.

“He’s found the horses,” Harold said.

“Horses are one of the things he hopes to trade for in the future. There are none among The People of the Trees.”

“Rufus seems to like him even more than you do judging by how he keeps lipping the man’s shoulder. That’s two votes for your king.”

“You’ll add yours as well, Harold,” I said. “Give him a chance.”

“I’ll give him one as High King because I have to,” Harold said. “But I’ll also give him one on my own - for Rufus, of course.”

I threw the wet sponge at his retreating back and laughed along with him as he went back to the duties of the crown.

A maid showed River and Crocus to my room once I was dressed.

“Have you been teaching Ember the language here?” I asked River.

“Only a little,” River’s eyes twinkled when she said it leading me to wonder what more he knew. “He wanted to surprise you so I helped him. You will need to teach him more. A king should be able to speak for himself as his words belong only to him.”

I will enjoy talking with him more, I signed. I find myself wanting more time with him. It’s as if the day moves too fast when we are together and too slowly when we are apart.

First Love is always that way, River signed. Crocus agreed.

Speaking of kings, I signed. It is time for you to meet my brother. I want to introduce you before events need his attention this evening.

In the throne room’s informal parlor Harold’s eyes kept finding Crocus. When I called his attention back to our conversation for the third time, I realized exactly where the fate of the pretty daughter of King Fern’s best friend lay. Judging by her shy blushes and no-so-secret glances at Harold, I could tell that she understood, too. It made my heart happy. She would be my sister after all.

“Ah, to be young,” River said. “If you will excuse me, Your Majesties, I believe I’ll have a rest before I’m needed later.”

“Before you go, Lady River,” Harold said. “Might I ask if you would do me the service of teaching me your language? I find that interpreters can remove some of the intimacy of the conversation. I would like to speak for myself with King Ember sometime in the near future.”

“Would you find having Crocus in our lessons agreeable?” River asked. I admired her for keeping a straight face as the question brought a knowing laugh to my heart. “This old woman has enough trouble keeping up with one class in a day.”

“That would be lovely,” Harold answered a little too quickly. “That is if Lady Crocus would be agreeable.”

“I would like that,” Crocus said slowly.

“Good!” Harold said. Color rose slightly in his cheeks.

“Then it is decided,” River said. “We can begin after the dark moon. That should give time for everyone to settle a bit.”

When neither Harold nor Crocus answered because they were too busy smiling at each other, River looked at me.

First Love, I signed. What can a person do?

Watch, and wish them well, River signed back. And bet on their courting gifts, of course.

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