Soul of the Wild Wood
By Brenna Hanson
Date: September 12, 2021
Ch. 1212

Queen Mara had been loved by her people. Her ladies-in-waiting held much the same warm place in their hearts. Enough time had passed since their deaths that the grief had softened. Here, at last, those present chose to let their love shine through their sorrow. Flowers from the queen’s greenhouse burst forth everywhere. They were woven into garlands twined with netlike fabric and hoisted up to create archways and lofty open canopies that allowed the light of thousands of candles in the chandeliers to play over the guests like stars.

There were tears but there was also music and dancing. It was a feast that the queen and her ladies would have been delighted to attend. I felt my mother in every blossom, heard her in the ebb and flow of conversation, and was able to share my memories of her with Ember as the day’s light faded outside the big windows. When I laughed, he laughed with me. When my tears fell, he brushed them away with a soft touch. I felt his strength become my strength and was again surprised by the knowledge that I never wanted to be away from his side.

If there were murmurs and cold glances from some of the kingdom’s people through the night, we let them wash over us and float away. I hoped that in doing so we opened up a door for those filled with hurt and distrust to see that there was hope for a good future. Still, somewhere inside, those looks and murmurs combined with the reason for the feast left a hollow sadness inside me.

Harold, I noticed, spent considerable time leading Crocus around the dancefloor. Neither their lack of a common language nor their questionable skill stopped them from shining as brightly as the candles overhead.

The feast lasted into the night. For some, I knew, it was the first time they had full stomachs since the siege had started. That was always how Queen Mara had been. She took care of her people in life. Now, she healed them once again from the place beyond.

When I finally let the need for sleep pull me away from the party, Ember kissed me at the door to my rooms.

Can we go home tomorrow? I asked. I miss Nettle and Bright Eyes…and the quiet.

Yes, Ember signed back, but I must speak with High King Harold first. Will you help me?

Would you rather call River? She’s a far better translator than I am, I signed.

You are enough, he signed. Then he kissed my forehead. More than enough. Sleep well my Natalia.


Interpreting for my husband and half-brother was an interesting process. Loving them both as I did, I was especially careful to share their thoughts accurately. This led to more than one instance of my needing one or the other to reword what they had said into something I understood in both languages. I had a headache within the first fifteen minutes.

Will you marry Crocus as your attentions from the feast imply? Ember asked. We plan to leave today but will stay for the wedding if that is your wish. It is my greatest regret that Natalia did not have her family around her when we married.

“I…I…” Harold blushed to the tips of his ears as he stuttered. “I barely know the girl!”

I raised my eyebrow and Harold blushed deeper.

“Harold will follow the traditions of his people. He will court her first to be sure that they are well matched,” I said and signed so both understood. “Fate can have her say as she will in the matter.”

You must treat her very well, Ember signed. She is dear to my family.

Destiny or no destiny, everyone in the room understood that Crocus’ wellbeing meant the difference in how the future unfolded.

“I will treat her with the same care and respect you give to my sister,” Harold said. He softened the mild threat by adding, “From what I have seen that will be a great challenge.”

The men with the poison, Ember signed, were they the last or is there still a threat?

“I wish I could say they were the last but from what I have seen, there is always another rat waiting in the shadows,” Harold said. “Is Natalia’s safety assured among your people?”

We too have our rats to hunt, signed Ember. Perhaps one day we will both destroy the nests.

“What of the curse Georges the Red spoke of?” I asked.

“I would like to count his threats as the words of a madman afraid of change,” Harold said. “Still, madmen are dangerous and with Fate resting her hand so heavily upon this time, I hesitate to take the idea of his curse lightly. I will pull Marcus the Humble to the castle as mage. He may not like the new post but I believe he will work the hardest to find a remedy.”

I trust your decision on this as I would trust my own brother, Ember signed. I will speak with the wise ones of my people as well. We should attack this problem from both sides.

“I agree,” Harold said. Then to me, “Do you have to leave so soon?”
“I’m afraid so,” I answered. “I have so much to learn about my new people and what it means to be their queen. We need to get back before those that have some affection for me forget why.”

“I will miss you,” Harold said.

“And I will miss you,” I agreed. “It will be a colder winter without you to talk to.”

“I will think warm thoughts and you can catch them like snowflakes,” Harold said. Then he hugged me one last time.


We arrived late in the afternoon at the village. Harold had given us the wedding gift of horses. I rode my favorite mare, Maple, and Ember sat astride Rufus who had grown a fondness near to that of a pet dog for the man. Nettle ran to me at the edge of the village. When I dismounted, she threw her arms around me and declared that the village had been too quiet without me to speak with.

It’s funny, I signed, I thought the castle too loud with all of its voices. Come, I’ve brought gifts. Where is your mother?

A gift for you first, my queen,” Ember surprised me by sneaking up behind me and whispering in my ear.

Nettle giggled and ran off to the Great Hall.

You surprised me, I signed to Ember.

Good surprise? He asked.

Yes, I signed. You are a very good surprise.

He laughed and took my hand bringing the palm to his lips. We walked together to the rear wagon of our escort. I heard the sound of gentle cooing before I moved the blanket aside to see a cage of messenger pigeons.

To make it easier to talk to your family, Ember said. I do not want you to be lonely here. Flint will take care of them. It can be his penance for insulting his new king and queen. It can also be his pride as he will be building good communications between our two lands. Plus, he will hear from his daughter more often if he takes the time to learn to write.

I had no words. I simply threw my arms around his neck and found his lips with my own. In the background, I heard Bright Eyes laugh as another voice groaned. I knew that a bet had been won and lost depending on the perspective. Somehow, that made me feel even more at home. I leaned back in Embers arms and made the sign of thanks to the sky. I hoped Fate was watching.

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