Soul of the Wild Wood
By Brenna Hanson
Date: August 15, 2021
Ch. 88

It is a blessing, Ember signed to me. The dancers remind us to feed our joy so that it will grow.

I felt especially blessed when more than one of them whirled past me leaving my plate nearly empty.

Instead of a formal time of introduction, The People of the Trees came to our table throughout the feast. The first to arrive showed surprise that I was able to keep up with easier conversations. I whispered quiet thanks for River and her teachings. My ability to communicate earned me a small measure of respect if not actual affection from the majority. In the end, only one man showed ill will toward me. He was last to pay his respects to us. When he came, King Ember had his guards move closer to me. I guessed that this was the hand that had thrown the rock and killed the raven. I did not understand the sign the man made at me but the crowd did. The air grew thick with tension. I noticed a girl at the man’s table crying into her hands.

The man and King Ember exchanged a heated conversation in quick signs. The only ones I understood were king, daughter, and fate. The man spat on the ground in front of our table and tried to leave without granting loyalty to his new king. The guards grabbed his arms and with some struggle took him away. When I looked at Ember I saw deep sadness behind his stoic expression.

Moments after the man was taken away, the girl came forward. She was blushing a deep red when she made her curtsey to us. She met Ember’s eyes and signed slowly enough that I could follow her words.

My king and queen, she signed, please have mercy on my father. His heart is broken and he has no way of mending it. Not only did he lose his best friend when King Fern fell, he has also been forced to face a reality he denied in favor of a daydream. In his heart, he knows the future he saw was never the one that could be. Still, now he faces the loss of his only child as well. That fear and pain are what is speaking now. I beg you. Give him time for them to quiet so that he may come to his senses.

Don’t worry, Crocus, King Ember signed. I know Flint’s heart even if he has lost sight of its goodness. No harm will come to him tonight. Tomorrow, after he has slept and sobered, we will find our way forward. For now, please meet my wife, Queen Natalia.

The girl curtseyed again in my direction.

Natalia, Crocus is the daughter of my father’s best friend. Had Fate not stroked her hand over both of us in our cradles, we might have been married. As it is, she is my dear friend. I hope that you will consider her your friend as well, Ember signed.

I gave Crocus the sign of greeting and she returned it with another blush.

I have been told that I am to join you on your journey to your brother’s kingdom– with your permission, of course, Crocus signed. It is written that my destiny lies within the walls of Stonewood Castle.

Was Fate any clearer with her instructions for you than she was for me? I signed back hoping to take some of the nerves out of the introduction.

No, she signed. I have only been told that I am to leave my people… my father…

Ah, I signed. Then it is understandable that he should be having such a difficult time. You as well. The future is hard enough to face on familiar ground. Will you stay with me until we leave? I can help you prepare for some of the differences between the people there and those you have always known. Perhaps there is even time to teach you the meaning of a few important words that can help you.

You would do that? she asked.

Of course, I signed back. Perhaps we are to work together to heal these lands. And, it is always good to make a new friend. I will do everything in my power to make sure you are well received at the castle and that you will have help to ease your challenges just as I have help here to ease my own. Two days will not be nearly enough time, but I will do what I can.

Crocus let out a relieved breath. Then she curtseyed low. When she rose, she signed, Many blessings to you, Queen Natalia. You have taken a heavy stone from my shoulders. I believed Fate to be cruel in sending me away from all I have known. Perhaps, I will find it to be otherwise.

Let us both hope, I signed. Go find River. She will make sure you get settled for the night. Then come back to the feast so that we can celebrate the new king.

And his queen, Crocus signed back.

Ember remained silent during my exchange with Crocus. When she left, he picked up my hand and brought it to his lips, kissing my palm in a way that implied that he was giving me his heart.

Thank you, he signed.

I understand love, I signed back feeling there was much more under his words than gratitude for my offer of help. And I understand destiny. No one should have to give up the one in order to face the other.

You are not upset that I care for her? Ember asked.

Upset? I signed back and gave a small laugh. Not that you love her nor that she loves you. In my land, she and I would have become like sisters and shared the families we created with you. It is strange to me to think that will not happen here. I believe she would have been a good sister to me and that we would have been happy. Since that is not your custom and Fate has already claimed her, I can only help her find happiness where she has been lead.

Ember took my hand beneath the table. Judging by the way he held it so comfortably through the rest of the feast, I believed we might find happiness as well.

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