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Starsong

By Lina Petcova

Copyright 2016 Lina Petcova

 


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*And the stars shall fall if he does not wake up…



The gossamer mantle of the falling dusk draped over the darkening horizon. When Queen Caitriona walked into the vast bedroom, she saw her husband's dark frame stand out against the fading light that spilled in through the large window doors. She approached him in small steps and gently placed her warm hand upon his shoulder. He trembled under the lightness of her touch and shifted his gaze to meet the light of her eyes. Fair and soft-spoken, Caitriona moved with a slow, willowy walk as if it was not her but the earth itself that moved beneath her feet. Her eyes were imprinted with the emerald green of the forests that entwined this land. A piece of the still transparent, paling moon peeked in through the window as the yet uninvited night moved aside her dense skirts and stood still next to the Queen.

“You are talking to the silence again”, she said in a hushed voice. A faint smile dawned on the king's full lips like a barely noticeable sway of air descending upon a lake.

“It is only in the silence that my heart can find answers,” he said. King Belun's eyes had grown heavy and his broad forehead carried the unforgiving marks of a grave concern. For a long time, the peaceful and prosperous land of King Belun was shadowed by one enemy, Salayan. Ruling over a desolate kingdom of his own, a realm of doom, darkness and fear, Salayan laid out his gaze of steel over nothing but barren, lifeless earth that seemed cursed and forsaken. The mind of man is what makes his world noble and there was not a trace of kindness and love in the dried out hearts of Salayan’s men. Cruel and ruthless like him, their hands were incapable of bringing about anything other than ruin and wretchedness. The sun never braved out of the dark sky to warm up the bruised face of that hopeless land and frowning clouds of thunder relentlessly hovered over its fierce men. Tormented by his insatiable heart, crippled to love and unable to bare the happiness of others, one day Salayan gathered his army and set out to destroy King Belun. It was the day he learned the King would have an heir that he decided his land would be no more.

For three days now, battle raged outside the walls of the kingdom. The sky was crowded with the fire-breathing missiles of both armies and the tormented earth shook and trembled with pain. The enemy was at his gates and the king Belun was soon to rejoin his men in battle. Caitriona looked towards his sword which rested expectantly against the side of the large wooden bed frame. The moment he unsheathes his sword, darkness will fall. She shuddered with fear when that sudden thought crashed into her like a wave of steel. Her hand instinctively slid down towards her belly. On the backdrop of so many lives that were being lost out on the battle field, she was soon to give life to their first child. She untied a white, silk ribbon from her loosely-knitted braid and tied it on the king's breast plate. Belun turned towards her, reassuringly placed one palm over hers and caressed her pale face with the other. The sparkling blue sea of his eyes spilled over her frightened soul and she felt her breath growing faint.

“Belun…”, she started.

Hush now”, he said gently. “I know what you will say. But this sword and armor were forged by the men of the mountains and blessed by the gods. They pledge their faith in them. And I pledge my faith in you – it is your love that creates an armor around me,” he whispered and leaned forward to kiss her. “I will be back, standing right here with you, before you know it.” It would be hard to part with her no matter what and slowly withdrawing his lips away from the sweet nectar of hers, he swiftly moved away picking up his sword and disappeared in the unlit, empty space.

Her weary eyes lingered for some time into the dark room that had swallowed him. When she finally looked away, the last pieces of the red, setting sun spilled over her dress like merciless drops of blood and she fiercely started to dust them off.

That night king Belun rode out on to the battlefield. Standing tall and resolute at the head of his army, his armor glowed with the power of a thousand suns. As the cries of his warriors filled the heavy air and the missiles collided above their heads, Belun rushed forward and sank into the ranks of the enemy.

Caitriona stood solitary in the midst of the hushed, somber palace and it seemed to her she could hear the sinister voices of beasts that lurked in its shadows. Under the torching glow of the not so distant horizon, where the sky was on fire, her sinking heart burst ablaze and drowned into the depth of the night as her lips ceaselessly wove into a desperate prayer. All night the queen prayed and finally, in the small hours of the day, exhausted and spent, she fell into an uneasy sleep.

When the morning dawned upon the weary land, the sun rose over the eastern horizon as if eager to witness the final phase of the battle. Man and gods had grown tired of violence. Both armies’ missiles and arrows had different shapes and sizes and some of them, though they were single-headed when they left the ground, multiplied into a thousand in the air and rained mercilessly on their targets. When king Belun clashed arms with Salayan, the earth shuddered beneath their feet. The king's strength was inborn but Salayan's had doubled in the grip of hatred and resentment. When Belun finally brought his enemy down to the hard ground and put his sword to his throat, a cry descended upon him from above and he lifted up his eyes to see a strange, dark, wide-winged bird hovering in the sky over his head. Suddenly, the next moment came over him too quickly, draped in pain as the knife of Salayan pierced his chest. The sharp edge of the weapon sliced off the white ribbon that Caitriona had tied to his battle dress. As if it cut the thread of life, the reddened ribbon sank into the yellow dust and the entire world went dark.

In the weary half-light of her chambers, Caitriona suddenly opened her eyes. A sigh of pain escaped her lips as she brought her hand to her chest. She felt like a pair of invisible hands, cold and menacing, lifted her up from the bed and the minute her feet touched the stone floor, she rushed out of the room. She hurried down the hall way as fast as her condition allowed her and headed for the king's chambers. As she approached, a tall, well-built figure emerged before her and feeling a warm, familiar hand stretching out at her, she grasped it desperately. It was Rean Brem, one of the king's most loyal men. Son of a nobleman, Rean had grown up side to side with Belun, a true brother with unshakable loyalty and a great love for the king. Always by his side, no matter what came upon them, he put his love for the king before all else. Even when a time came when the two friends, two brothers stood up against each other as rivals for the love of a woman, he humbly bowed his head before her choice of his king and his bond with Belun never waned with the rust of jealousy and envy. Seeing Caitriona now, so fragile and a helpless captive of her fears, he wrapped his hand around her and supporting her with the other, led her towards the ante-chamber.

“Rean?” she uttered, her voice giving away her exhaustion.

She could read the pain in his warm, brown eyes and she could feel his hands tremble. She knew him well. She felt his palms wet and as she looked down she saw them streaked in blood. Taking a piece that draped her dress, she started wiping them off. He stopped her gently but firmly and looked at her. Then she remembered that moment when she felt the red sun spill on her dress the day before and she suddenly dropped the reddened piece of cloth.

“The king's been wounded”, he said and his words hung out heavy in the air. Then took her by the hand and lead her forward. She knew not how she walked for her feet did not obey her.

When Rean and Caitriona entered in the chambers, she saw the king's body that had been laid upon his bed. It seemed as if its large wooden frame had been built to shield him from all that could harm him in this world. Rean let her approach the king's side and his pensive, unfathomable eyes stayed with her as she knelt down beside him. She took the king’s cold, bruised hand in hers and when leaned over to touch him with her lips, a tear soaked into his muddy, pale skin.

Caitriona”, Rean’s voice flowed out furtively towards her but stopped before her shivering frame as if afraid that it would drown her. What words would suffice to convey the tempest raging in his heart?

Clutching the king's hand between hers, she rested her head on them while her heart started talking to the gods. Hushed and broken, Rean took a step back into the endless shadows of the bedroom, his every heart beat ringing out with humility and raising up towards the heavens in a deep prayer.

“The sun will not rise and the stars will not see the night if you leave me,” Caitriona’s wet lips whispered as the blue sands of sorrowful rivers flowed through the temple of her deserted heart.

Her love for him was so strong and the bond between their souls so solid that her words carried a great weight. She did not remember how much time had gone by when she lifted her head up and, there, in the indigo veil of the night that lingered in the room, she saw a great, imposing figure, clad in armor that cut through the dark. His long hair fell majestically on his broad shoulders and light sprinkled off the edges of his sceptre.

“I’ve come for him, queen Caitriona”, the shining figure uttered with a deep, warm voice. “Your love knows no measure, no bounds but the tides of Fate you cannot hold captive”.

Caitriona stood up and approached the figure. Bowing down her head before his grace, she said:

“My Lord, you are the space in which everything comes and in which everything dissolves, the space that can never be destroyed. Your wisdom is boundless and your mighty hand is just when it comes to governing the fates of men but will you not allow wisdom to bow before love? My heart implores you, let him stay! His path here has not come to an end yet.”

The Lord of Death shivered with a wave of her love that ran through him. Was it possible for a human to have such devotion? She was looking at him with soft, humble eyes yet the strength of her spirit was standing equal to his divine presence.

“My dear queen, you will soon have your child to guide and care for your people. I fear cannot grant your wish.”

“And who will guide and care for my child, my Lord? Without his father's love, my child will fall prey to darkness and despair.”

The Lord of Death looked at her with curious eyes. In his gaze transpired seas and wonders, stars and suns. The love that burned in her heart gave her strength but the quick sands in his eyes told her that she was threading on a dangerous path.

His eyes sank deeper into hers, he could read her mind.

“And yet your heart rushes forward like a wave of wild horses, diving for air. Your heart was a temple that sheltered him like a pilgrim but now he is leaving for a place worlds away from you, a place where you cannot come. What you ask of me will come at a price, for a life has to be taken. Such is the order of things and even I cannot undo it”, he said. She nodded her head in agreement without fully comprehending the depth of what he was telling her. Belun would live, that is all that mattered. A life for a life; any of his subjects would be happy to sacrifice himself for their king. Even her. Especially her.

He hit the ground with his sceptre and it trembled under its might.

“Now kneel, daughter of this earth, push open the heavy gates of your temple and silence your prayers. They have lain hidden in the corners for too long!”

Lowering his head towards her, he whispered:

“He will soon wake - for death is nothing but waking from a dream.”

When he spoke these words, he faded away like the sun quits the sky and darkness reigned again.

Caitriona rushed back to the king's side and knelt down by the bed, resting her head on the covers. She did not see when his face started slowly gaining back its color and his cracked lips blossomed in red. It was as if her heart captured the sound of his rustling eyelashes and when she lifted her face towards him, she gazed amazed right into the sea of his eyes.

Catriona!” exclaimed Belun as her tired eyes swelled up with tears and she nestled her head on his chest when suddenly, such indescribable pain cut through her body that she twisted in his arms like a broken bird.



The king paced anxiously in front of the queen's bedroom, his pale face bathed in sweat. Inside the chambers, Caitriona had gone into labor. Worn out by worries and the lack of sleep, she was going through the labor with unbearable effort, filling up the vast room with her cries of pain. Suddenly her eyes grew wide with despair and she grabbed one of her midwives by the hand. The blood-chilling howls of beasts echoed in her head and her pale lips trembled.

“Can you hear them?” she asked with a faint voice.

The midwives looked at each other, they did not hear anything.

“Hush, now, milady. It's going to be alright!” one said gently and stroked her forehead. “It's almost over now. Almost over.”

In the small hours of the night, Belun was finally allowed in her chambers. When he saw her gentle face lost among the breadth of the pillows, whiter than the whiteness of the sheets, his heart sank in his chest like a heavy anchor in a deep, indigo sea. Kneeling at her side, the king drew his lips close to hers. Her faint leaps of breath crashed into his face like broken waves. Life was leaving her. He closed his eyes so that she would not see the pain that had taken them captive. The midwives stood by the queen's bed with weathered faces.

Caitriona”, he whispered.

His words sailed away unanswered.

He held his newborn son in his arms for the first and last time that night. When the new day dawned upon his world, the king stood against it battered, broken and stripped of all he held dear. Death, like love, changes everything. He cursed all the gods and destroyed all their places of dwelling he could find in his kingdom for they had taken away the most precious thing in his life. He threw away the gift of life they had bestowed upon him and stomped it in the dirt of his despair. His heart grew darker and colder by the day and so did his golden crown until it was as black as the beginning of time, when there was no sun, no stars, and no souls. There was no measure to the wrath of gods that he had inflicted upon himself with these deeds of his. Walled behind the elusive protection of his impenetrable castle, he did not have the slightest wish to look upon his god-forsaken land. Little by little, tormented and worn out by neglect, pain and hunger, its people turned into dark, airless shadows, wandering the streets like wretched prisoners of time. The only warm thing they were not stripped off yet was their hearts. They shone through the transparent bodies, their bright redness slowly fading withered by the cruel winds of despair. This curse soaked into the trees, the birds and everything that was alive, burning them into ashes. One day, the gray mantle of dense mists settled in over the kingdom. They turned days into nights. Lost in the oblivion of the endless mist, sealed in the deafening silence of their solitary houses, everyone crouched in their beds, their chairs and their corners. Their fading hearts awaited the seal of fate, until one morning or noon or evening, no one could really tell, the sun itself perished. It cracked and it burst into a million pieces that spilled over the frozen land like drops of liquid mercury. The battered hearts took one last beat and stopped like the hands of an old rusty clock, tired of catching up to time. The dying light swallowed the wretched king, his crown blacker and his heart colder than ever. The vanishing sun drops ran down the face of the land like burning tears of pain, sinking into the snow one after the other. All but two solitary streaks, the last tears of the king, flew on the wings of the wind and out of this wretched, wounded world.



The wind of early summer whistled through the grass, feathering it like the waves of a deep blue sea. He sneaked undisturbed between the flowers ruffling their petals like a mischievous boy. Emerging from the rebellious green waves, he spread havoc among flocks of little sparrows hovering around, showing off his lordship over the blooming nature. When he reached the grand oak tree that had stood there for centuries unknown, the wind rubbed on it like a purring cat. He humbly enveloped the trunk with his transparent arms and glided up towards the majestic crown where he nestled lovingly. Awaken from their sweet slumber, the leaves flickered playfully as the rays of the afternoon sun filtered softly through the little crevices between them. Sheltered underneath its thick shadow Lily yawned lazily, stretching out on the soft grass and folded her arms beneath her head. She loved spending time with the tree; it attracted her in a peculiar way and when it spoke to her, she listened; a privilege which a twelve-year-old does not grant to many beings, especially human.

During autumn when the passing winds would take all its leaves and lay them on the ground like a soft carpet, destined to welcome the majesty of winter, it seemed to Lily that the oak was upside down; the branches were its roots, stretching out to the infinite blue skies and its roots were the branches, firmly planted in the ground. It might well have been because she looked at it from upside down but this just might be the right way to look at it. When she felt stirred up by something, the tree restored calm and quite back to her mind.

“Emotions are like leaves,” she thought, “surely they cannot stay permanently, they wither away. Come to think of it, I’ve never been angry at someone or sad about something for more than two days,” she reckoned. “Even at Edward. And he can be very naughty.” Then the wind would blow and she would almost hear the speaking tree, that would say: ”If you only think about the leaves and forget the roots, the tree will wither away. Like my roots,” it would say, ”you come from somewhere up.” And she would stare at the sky for a long time until the crickets would start playing and there was beginning to be a nip in the late afternoon air.

The wind dove down, ruffled her brown hair and tickled her nose. She wrinkled it absentmindedly without bothering to open her eyes. Not willing to give up, he spotted a group of dandelions nearby who looked like they did not want to be disturbed at all. He went right through one of them and blew all of his petals up in the air, aiming at her face. Lily wiggled her nose, opened her eyes and sneezed. The wind ducked down hushed in the grass. Suddenly, she heard the noise of a car engine drifting towards her from the nearby road that cut across the meadows. She jumped sprightly to her feet and ran down through the grass. The car passed by her just as she was nearing the edge of the field and when it slowed down to take the turn, Lily saw the boy on the back seat. His vague look strayed through the window. The green blue of his eyes was still like the waters of a sea right after a storm. Suddenly, he saw a blurry red spot appear in the greenness ahead of him, swaying like a poppy flower; a wave splashed through the calm waters of his eyes and they focused. The red spot turned into a dress adorning a girl that was looking at him with big brown eyes. He had not seen those eyes in a long time. He sank in them for a moment that passed way too quickly before the car took the turn and continued down the road. The boy turned and looked back through the rear window as the red spot faded out of sight. The still of his eyes sank in the leather upholstery and died down in the roar of the engine below it.

The car pulled into the gravel-paved driveway of the Silverwood home and came to a stop. The two tall, slender trees standing guard in front of the house lingered lazily in the sunlight. The man behind the wheel was Lily’s father, Edmond. A pleasant-looking and soft-spoken man, his eyes sheltered all of Lily’s worlds; the one she was born in, the one she lived in now and all the worlds she would eventually venture through during her lifetime.

We are here”, said Edmond as he opened the back door.

As Aidan Knightley stepped out of the car and into his new world, it seemed to him that his footsteps were as heavy as those of a thousand-pound elephant. They sank quietly in the small grey stones of the pavement and so did his heart.

A year ago, on a day very much like this, he stood on the side of the street, rolling his soles impatiently back and forth on the edge of the pavement, his mother smiling at him from the other side. She motioned for him to stay there, that she was coming to him. She stepped out on the street and wind blew up against her, breaking open her coat. If only the wind had the strength to embrace her, to pull her back safely to the sidewalk, she would now be alive. She lowered her gaze to pull back her sprawling coat and she did not see the car that pounced against her. The tires of a madly-steered mad car screeched away eerily on the cold road, disappearing down the street as the red ribbon from her hair rose up in the air and landed softly in a puddle.

After that day, it all lost sense for many days at a time. The blurred people’s faces on that street at that time, the flashing lights, the whiteness of the hospital room, the blues of his heart ran before his eyes like a film reel pieced together by a madman. And the ribbon, that red ribbon that haunted his mind, invading it at his own desire. Getting ready to go out, she would stand before the mirror in the hallway, her slim fingers tying the red ribbon in her auburn hair as his father would help her put on her shoes. “Darling, you don’t have to do that,” she would say, smiling. “That is what they do in fairy tales,” he would say to make her laugh and they would kiss like they kissed the very first time. Then his father hid away all her shoes, hid her away, too, deep in his heart and would not share her with anyone, not even Aidan. He could not talk about his pain, because he was so terribly afraid that if he uttered one word it would break him into pieces and then he would be neither a man, nor a father. And he wanted to be a good man and a good father, so one day he decided to go away, to learn how to be better. He could make these complicated drawings and calculations that helped find water and how to take it out of the ground, so he bought a ticket to a faraway place where he could help people make water. He wanted his hands to be of service to someone, he believed he needed to be in a place where others needed him more than he needed things. He wanted to take Aidan with him, but the boy refused to go. He saw this as an escape and he did not want to escape, he did not want to go to a place that would be so far away from his mother, not knowing that she was always in him, wherever he went, that she was not just the body, but she was an essence, expanded all over, it was her here and it was her there and she was soaked in everything that surrounded him.


Lily and Aidan were born in the same hospital, at almost the same time. I could tell you the hour and the minute but it would not mean a thing. I had better tell you they were born in the moment when the last rays of the sun touch the earth before disappearing beyond the red horizon. There is an ancient word for that moment because it is very special but that word is long forgotten now. The lucid moon rays snuck in through the window and softly caressed the babies as if they were welcoming them into this world with a blessing. The stars were dancing and the flowers inside the room reached out their stems and peeked curiously into the two little beds, gently sprinkling the babies with magic dust. When Aidan was being born, just at the moment when he came out, his mother saw a tiny pearlescent light suddenly shine on top of his head, crowning him with a glow that lingered there for a few seconds and sank inside his little body. Tears rolled down the corners of her shining eyes and she felt something extraordinary happen in her heart. Birth is one of the greatest secrets. How a soul takes a body, how it selects the place of birth, time of birth, type of body and parents are all a secret. The soul chooses where to be born, the place to come and according to its wish it would just come there. Aidan’s mother called it “the Blue Pearl”. She would tell him a tale; “When the moon grows full, when it bathes the whole ocean in silver, the pearl oysters swim up to the surface and capture the moon rays. Each one of them swallows a drop of moonlight and it dances for a long time. Then it goes back to the bottom of the sea and it nourishes the blue pearl in its womb. And out of it all worlds and all souls are born.”

On the day they were born, the air was heavy with fragrant, bittersweet scent. There was something unusual about the weather, it had flown in on the wings of a hot, dry wind, whose origins were probably lost somewhere in the timeless golden sands of faraway lands, or much further than that. Every time the outlandish wind danced impatiently underneath the hospital light posts, its little golden particles sparkled in the air. Like a curious traveler, it hovered over the stone-walled building until the moon showed its kind face in the night sky and peeked through the windows until it found an open one. It snuck inside and caressed gently the head and the face of the two babies that were closest to the window. Their cries suddenly wound down and they smiled, as if comforted by a mother’s touch. The drift of light had found a warm, fuzzy place to settle-the heart of a human. Both babies spread out their hands to it, wiggling their little fingers and beckoning it to approach. The light could not choose where to head so it decided it would split between their hearts, and poured over them like a rain of little golden butterflies. The lamp posts outside flickered. The pink muslin of the flower beds in the garden whispered excitedly, ruffled by an invisible touch, as if they alone knew that something unusual had just happened.

Growing up, Aidan and Lily looked as ordinary as any other child but they were born with rather unusual condition; they both had a heart with a golden glow. The doctors concluded that theirs looked and functioned like any other healthy heart and there was nothing really to treat. They pondered for a few days over his case and then dismissed it with that strange nod in their faces with which they dismiss everything that could not be reckoned with by logic. It seemed important for everyone to find a reasonable, medically sound explanation for this peculiarity, as if that alone would prove its existence. But children know better; miracles do not need an explanation. They are simply born out of that sparky, warm, fragrant inner lining of our life that is the essence of it all. They were prescribed some tablets that were to help reduce the glow, they became the main topic of a few medical conferences in some distant countries across the ocean and that was that.

One day, when Lily was about six years old, a most extraordinary show troupe came to her town. The colorful caravans trailed in and settled like a quilt of bright patchwork over the nearest plain. Everything about this show troupe was just as it ought to be; except that there were no humans and the animals were all of different colors, none of them like nature intended: red elephants, yellow monkeys, green tigers, purple bears, orange hippos and the like. Their eyes shone with bright, vivid hues as if they were fashioned out of precious stones. No grownup in town believed they were real animals; they speculated it must be some kind of a projection, a hologram, an illusion. Their act was all about illusion after all! The troupe trailed in with ribbons of happy thoughts that were dingling and dangling off it like lucky charms. The big tent of thick red velvet rose over the green meadows and all the children were drawn to it like moths to a flame. Everywhere inside this velvet kingdom were sweets, cookies, lollipops, pink and blue cotton candy and all kinds of unimaginable sweets. They were hanging merrily in the air on their own and were free for the taking. Must be a newly-invented projection, the adults thought, but when they touched it, it was quite a surprise to see it left stickiness on their fingers. The children were most impressed with what was called the Christmas lights candy. They hung around like Christmas lights and were the most delicious ones because they did indeed taste like Christmas. The children jumped up, picked them like juicy, ripened cherries from a summer tree and giggled as the candy melted in their mouths, tickling their tongues with an explosion of unknown sensations. Aside from a few incidents where a couple of fireflies were mistaken for the candy and were almost eaten, this new invention was a success! When Lily bought a ticket for the first show and entered the big red tent, indeed she stepped into a world of the most wondrous illusions. It was such a relief to discover a proof there was something not so ordinary about the life we live, that she felt like she waltzed on air. The beats of her heart echoed in her chest like sonorous bouts of festive bells and she heard none of the crowd’s words that hovered in the air like bothersome mosquitoes.

That was the evening of her fateful encounter with the red elephant. She saw him after the show, peacefully picking on the grass outside and occasionally showering himself with dust he gathered from the ground. Lily approached him with small, quiet steps and kept a solemn silence for a few moments of marvel. She circled him slowly as her wide-open eyes swam up and down his body, marveling at his beauty, before stopping right before his head, which was painted with flowers and curling shapes that moved on his thick skin like a living picture. After staring back at her for what seemed like a rather long moment, he moved regally towards her and reached out his trunk in greeting. As her fingers touched the smooth, warm skin, her heart smiled tickled by a happy emotion and little sparks of gold burst in her brown eyes like fireworks.

There you are!” said the elephant.

Lily was very puzzled by his words.

Do you know me?” she asked.

I know your heart,” answered the elephant.

She looked to her chest as if to check if there wasn’t a gaping hole right in the middle of it. The red elephant picked up another bite of grass and chewed on it slowly.

I suppose we might have met in another world”, said Lily.

The elephant slowed down his chewing.


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