Sadja couldn’t save much from the ruins of Fortunato’s hut, but everything she managed to find was precious. He rummaged through the debris next to her, picking up a dirty bundle of sticky paper sheets that it must have once been a book.
Winter and three hordes of Eerie crushing it under their weight (and one must not forget the fire…) left it as little more than a muddy crater.
Still, together they had saved some.
“I don’t think I can read that anymore,” she mused pointing at the thing.
“Neither can I,” he replied tossing it back onto the pile of rubbish. “But it seems you are finding a use for a lot of stuff.”
“I just like them.” She put the small bronze bell on the table where they were sorting out whatever they could find that was still useful. “They are pretty.”
“We can’t bring with us too much stuff.”
“Don’t you want to have some memories? Throw everything into the fire?”
She had spoken in jest, but the way Fortunato’s shoulders slumped made her hesitate.
“To tell you the truth, I’d rather,” he said. “It’s nice being able to go about in town without feeling the need to cover up my face. And to wave back. I really thought townspeople had it in for me. Thanks to you, the Constable and Lenora, I don’t think so anymore.” He pulled her in a hug and her hands rose to embrace his wide back as she rested her head against his chest. “But I have tied myself to this place for far too long. I long for a fresh start.”
“I do too,” she muttered. “And yet, maybe we can bring something with us? Something that brings us joy?”
“Everything I used to own is stained with bad memories, Sadja. I have only my hands now.”
“But you want to go back for your sled?”
“That sled and I go way back. Plus, she’s a useful tool for my work.”
“That means you will return to Hunting?”
“Find me a better line of job and I might not. Maybe fishing? Do you think I could lazy about all day by the pier with a hook and a stray hat?”
“It might do wonders for your complexion, though.”
“I only know how to Hunt. I can’t just forget that and start over. At least for a while. Besides, there might be other places that need my help. Our help.” A pause. “Besides, I would want to go back from time to time, say hi to Cloria and Elissa. Even if I pack light. But there’s always another winter right behind the corner.”
“… it’s hard to imagine that.” She turned her head to behold the ground, finally free from the snow for the first time since she had left the house of her moth-kin friends. Tuft of pale grass sprouted here and there from the mud. The retreating Eerie had left a deep stain, but that also would pass.
And the pine trees were covered with golden flowers that spread a sweet smell all about. She had read that before the War pine trees did not have flowers and that at least seemed like a welcome change to her.
“Oh, it always is. Spring makes you feel like you have left it all behind forever. Then it starts over.”
“But this time we won’t be alone,” she said brushing her hand against his shoulder. “Will we?”
“You’re right. This time we will not be alone.” He passed his fingers through her hair and she closed her eyes. Another of those moments she prayed would never end.
Then, of course, it passed.
She let out a little whine.
“So why did you agree to come here and check through all your stuff? If you don’t want to bring back anything?”
“You might find something you find useful. Though you surely have to decide what to keep and what to throw away… that’s too much.”
Behind them, the table was already almost completely covered by fragments of cups, pieces of books, metal shards, and whatever Sadja salvaged that she thought could be useful or pretty or have some kind of value.
“Alright…” she grumbled. “I think I’ll keep you, if you don’t mind.” Her cheeks turned a deep shade of silver and Fortunato chuckled.
“I’ll do the same.” He slipped his hands into her own and together walked back to the table to sort it all out.
How much time has passed?
Why is nobody coming?
Should she call for help?
Like She said she would?
No, no no- she wouldn’t. Nevermore. She had pleaded to never give herself to the forest. No matter what.
Even if Sadja did not come for her.
In the end, nobody did.
By the afternoon, after they had decided to only keep the bronze bell out of every crushed thing she found at the hut’s corpse, Sadja was back in the forest. This time together with the other girls, picking up flower. Liene, the girl she had allowed to touch her tail a few weeks before at the wedding, kept giving her strange looks, but this time Sadja was quite protective of her tail, and she kept it wrapped around her waist.
Even with the girl’s gaze heavy on her back, she managed to do her work with diligence. And it did feel good to be included like that – picking up flowers for the Rite of Spring.
Fortunato had told her it was the most important tradition in Belacqua and usually even people from Trefiumi would come to celebrate with them the end of winter and the start of a new and better year. The mid-season feast had been full of hope, but this one would be full of joy.
Maybe by then Elissa would also be able to partecipate, Sadja thought.
Unlikely, though. The girl was unable to move. And Cloria’s prodding with her friend had brought no news. In fact, the High Seer seemed to be hesitant to provide them with a new Augur, for some reason.
But those were problems that wouldn’t involve her anymore. In just a few weeks, after the festival, they’d walk away from all this. They’d say goodbye to Cloria, and Arguta, and every one of them. They’d go to the Temple and say their last prayers at the bed of the comatose Augur.
And then, they’d leave.
Sadja looked at the forest, full of flowers, smells and light.
For the first time, it seemed so inviting.
Pic by hive workshop.com
Author’s Notes: more sad business hours. I hope I will be able to deliver next chapter tomorrow, but I might have to write a stand-alone piece. I don’t want the current situation to influence these last few chapters too much. At any rate, thanks for reading.