He recalls moments, pictures and memories of times he doesn’t know, of people he has not met and places he has never been. Sometimes they are blurred, like an old lense of a camera, grainy, silent, and just out of reach. Others they are bright, filled with color and sound, smells and laughter and life. So vivid that it almost hurts to have it pour through his senses.
He is five when he dreams of a woman, laughing and dancing in the summer sunlight. Her eyes bright blue, the rest of her almost too faded to see.
It is a beautiful sight. She is beautiful. Familiar, but why? His brain can’t fathom the image, but for just a few moments he allows himself to relax into it. To bathe in the warmth of something he doesn’t quite understand.
Then he feels the heat.
He feels the way it licks up his spine, can smell burning of wood and something else that makes him want to gag and purge until it is pushed out of his mind. Something rotten. Something terrible and frightening.
And then he feels her scream.
He awakes covered in sweat, kicking and bawling and crying out for someone, anyone to make it stop. Of course, no one in the barn thinks he is strange; his brothers and sisters have him in their arms before he knows it, rocking him together, cooing and hushing his panicked cries. With their warmth to help guide him, he slowly comes back.
Siv sits him down the next morning, examining his face and pulse with caring, careful attention. Pelle has never been this close to her before. The hairs of her eyebrows are a ruddy crimson, and he wishes for some paper and his new wax pencils so he could document the color. Their leader must have been a pretty girl when she was his age. He would’ve liked to see her, what the color of her eyebrows looked like back then; he wonders if she would’ve liked to draw with him. He would’ve liked to have her as one of his sisters.
So involved in his own thoughts, the young boy merely blinks up at her when the red-haired woman takes his face in her hands. They are very warm hands. Calloused and strong, like the bark of a tree.
“You are very special,” She breathes, and through her eyes he can see the joy well up inside her. “Very special, indeed, Pelle. Do not be afraid.”
He blinks up at her, silent. The image of the beautiful woman with the blue eyes haunts him behind his eyes.
Pelle remembers, and wishes he didn’t.
Seasons pass. Spring, summer, fall, winter. Repeat.
Five years of age turn into thirteen. Thirteen into eighteen, and eventually Pelle is used to it. He keeps a sketchbook with him now. Has upgraded from his wax pencils onto graphite and ink — his talent will serve him well when he is on his journey to the outside world, people tell him. He doesn’t so much care about that. Drawing helps when the visions turn sour, like burning a wound so it doesn’t fester.
Though most times now they are not sour at all. Most times he just sees the blinding sunlight of his home, sees his limbs and skin become one with the earth. Like life is growing out of him.
Sometimes he sneaks away from his brothers and sisters, leaving them to go sit on a hilltop somewhere close. He sits and he feels. He can feel the energy coming up from below him. It is breathtaking. It is peace in its truest form. It feels warm, and special, and foreign.
It makes no sense. It makes no sense, but Pelle sees. He feels.
He remembers, and he is not afraid.
Pelle makes friends where he can.
“Just dump her already, dude. If she’s not putting out, you no longer have to give a fuck about her issues,” Mark exclaims, throwing his hands up for emphasis. “It’s equivalent fucking exchange, here. This is America.”
With people he does not necessarily respect.
Josh raises an eyebrow, “What America do you live in, Buddy?”
“Look, guys, can we just drop it?” Christian rakes a hand through his short hair, rubbing his face in stress for good measure, “I came out with you to get away from her.”
Pelle is not particularly attached to Christian. The blond man is handsome, with a face Pelle knew many women would fall under the spell of, but he is also selfish. He is nothing short of an aimless being. Riding on others while he wanders limply, uselessly in life, devoid of any purpose for himself. So different to all the strong, willful men from the Hårga. Being his friend is like observing an alien creature.
"Ah,” the blue-eyed, Swedish male interjects. There is a smile ready on his face, easy and light, as he always makes sure it is. Not too distant to turn people off, but not too kind as to scare them away. “Who is this we are speaking of?”
Mark rolls his eyes dramatically, and makes a show of his exasperation. “Christian’s bat-shit crazy chick. The frigid one with the depression. Won’t even give him any, she’s so concerned about her own drama.”
Pelle has to push down the disgust and anger he feels on this unknown woman’s behalf, only allowing his brow to furrow. The Hårga treasure their women, look after them and provide for them, for they are the reason for the continuation of life. A vital and beautiful part of the cycle of nature. The Swedish man has had many of these moments when conversing his companions, where he's had to let the rage simmer to something controlled.
The blond man turns his gaze onto his American friend who sits across from him in the booth, expecting him to defend his girlfriend. Christian merely looks irate, jaw clenched as he too rolls his eyes. Pelle can feel what little respect he had for the man to dwindle down even further. A shame, such a tragic excuse for a male in his prime.
“I see,” he speaks mildly. He doesn’t trust himself to say more.
He wonders what she is like, this woman who is such a source of irritation for his companions. He feels sorry for her, if she is to be connected to any of them.
He is sketching a sparrow in his university’s eastern courtyard when he catches a glimpse of her.
The young woman looks lost and a little nervous, wringing her hands as she cautiously looks around herself. She has honey-wheat hair and bright, big eyes. Green, the color of spring. The sparrow in his sketches is red and black, the paper stained with wax and ink.
Pelle feels a pull. Feels like his eyes refuse to leave her form. And so he rises, letting his feet take him to her in a brisk, friendly walk. He has always been one to follow his instincts, it has served him well in this strange world outside his community.
“Are you lost?” He asks kindly, when he comes to a stop in front of her. The girl startles slightly, big doe eyes latching onto his face.
They are green, yes, but now that he is closer, Pelle can see she has bursts of hazel coloring her iris. They change in the mid-afternoon light, and Pelle feels something new, but not entirely unwelcome warm in his chest.
“How can I be of help?” He says to her, watching the way the light glints on her hair.
“Oh,” the girl blinks up at him and gives him a timid smile. Pelle is surprised to find that it is genuine. “I’m just waiting for someone, thank you.”
He should take that answer as his cue to leave. He has never strayed far from his small group of friends, and for good reason. He has picked his offerings, and anything shared with more people was messy. Dangerous, for the unknowing. Still, the pull is stubborn in his mind, and he finds he cannot find the will in him to exit her space.
“I’ve never seen your face here before.” He smiles, tilts his head to the side as he regards her. “Are you a new student by chance?”
“Oh, no, um…” she says sheepishly, as she adjusts the messenger bag strapped to her torso. “I’m a third year.”
“Oh?” He asks, and leaves the rest of the question open. There is no pressure in his voice; if she wants him to leave her, he will be the gentleman and exit gracefully.
The young woman huffs a laugh, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear, “Psychology.” She’s looking up at his face again, pausing just slightly, seemingly debating on giving him more. She smiles again, shy, but real and bright and sunny. “I’m pretty certifiable, so that explains all you need to know about that. What about you?”
Pelle chuckles at the joke, “Anthropology. I grew up in a place with a very… strong culture, so it was only natural for me to explore more of them. Ah, here,” he doesn’t think twice as he opens the sketchbook already in his hand, flipping through the thin pages. He holds his sketch notes from today’s class up for her to see, and is pleased when she leans in with avid interest.
For a moment she just studies his notes, intrigue written clearly on her face. She is an open book for him, so vividly honest by just existing, something Pelle has never seen outside of his own family. Then her eyes flick to the next page, and the Swede watches as her lips slowly part in awe.
“I like this one. He looks so…” she reaches up timidly, the pad of her finger brushing just under the image of a sparrow in flight. Its wings are spread wide, breaks in the red and black portraying sunlight glinting off feathers. Pelle watches the girl’s face, observes every nuance as she gazes at the paper. She smiles a different smile then, soft and private. “Free.”
And in a split second, Pelle sees.
Midsommar sun shining on grass and earth. A girl, a beautiful, carefree girl, dancing with flowers in her hair, the petals moving and pulsing with the beat of her heart. Her eyes are emerald. Hazel. Soapstone green. So many colors changing in the light of morning.
Pelle blinks. University courtyard. A girl, dressed in jeans, peering at his sketchbook.
“Thank you,” he whispers, and he can’t bring himself to look away from her face.
Dani — Dani. Her name is Dani, he knows this in his heart. She is lonely, so very alone, but so strong. She has survived. — flicks her eyes back to him, and flushes slightly. “No problem,” she says.
“Dani!” A male voice breaks through the moment, brash and far too intrusive. The blond girl whips her head to look for the source of it.
Pelle straightens his spine, mourning the loss of connection. He turns his head over his shoulder, and sees Christian bumbling his way towards them, looking slightly annoyed.
“What the hell,” He grumbles, “We were supposed to meet on the other side of the building.”
The young woman looks embarrassed, and immediately seems to shrink back into herself. “I’m sorry. I never come to this part of campus, so…”
Pelle feels white-hot rage at the sight of her distress. He wants to say that there is no need for her to apologize, that she has done absolutely nothing wrong.
“Whatever, it’s fine.” Christian sighs, as if he is forgiving her for the non-existent offense. He drapes an arm around her shoulders.
Ah. Pelle plasters on a smile for his peer. Now, he understands. “I was helping her. She seemed lost.”
Christian regards him for a moment, before nodding dismissively. “Thanks, man. Sorry to trouble you.”
Dani’s face falls even more, and she lowers her gaze to the ground. Pelle shakes his head.
“Really, it was no trouble at all,” he says to the girl, and he doesn’t even spare Christian a glance when he does. She looks up at him, surprised. “It was good to meet you, Dani.”
She smiles again, and the pull grows.
Pelle dreams every night after. He dreams of ever changing, shifting memories of things that have not yet come to pass.
He dreams of home, of bright blue skies and the smell of dew on grass. He sees his brothers laughing and climbing up on tree branches, his sisters gathering flowers in their white linen dresses.
He sees Dani. Dani in a white dress, runes of his people embroidered on the fabric. Dani wearing a crown of flowers, vibrant and alive. Free. She looks so free that it makes his heart ache. She is where she belongs, finally, finally.
He can feel her small hand clutched within his. Her skin is warm, her fingers so tiny. He sees her smiling up at him, sees the way the leaves of the trees around them reach out to try and touch her, to gather her essence.
Dani with her lips on his as he gathers her in his arms, soft and pliant. She tastes of honey and mint, and life. He can feel her giggle into him, can feel her smile as she clutches at the curls at the base of his neck.
Dani with her head thrown back in ecstasy, hair spilling over the bed in a dimly lit room just for them, moaning his name as he moves inside her. Faster, Pelle, please, please… I need…
Dani, older now, one hand clutching his, the other resting on her swollen belly. She is vivid, and so beautiful it takes his breath away.
She is summer.
Pelle wakes with sweat beading on his forehead. He isn’t afraid, no, because he knows; he understands what must be done. What rewards await him as soon as his journey is complete.
Because Dani… sweet, kind, considerate Dani doesn’t have the slightest idea. How needed she is, how strong she will become. But that’s alright for now, because he can show her; he can make her see that the freedom, the support, the love she so desperately needs is waiting for her, and all she has to do is find it.
And when she has fulfilled her part, the gods will gift her to him. They will bind their flesh and souls, and he will be patiently waiting to guide her to the destiny she deserves.
For he is the Green Man and she is his May Queen.
He closes his eyes once more.
Pelle dreams, and he will have what was always meant to be his.
“Wow, it’s so pretty…” Dani says, leaning ever so slightly closer to the screen of his phone.
Pelle can catch her scent, and he fights his natural instinct to breathe her in. He laughs. “Thank you. We love our pageantry. Lots of flowers and leaves.”
Dani laughs back, a small breathy chuckle that makes his chest twinge.
He is glad he can make her laugh in this current period of emotional distress in her life. He had been there when Christian had gotten the call. He could hear her barely audible, tinny, pained cries from the small speaker.
His heart had lurched for her then, for her pain was his pain, even if he was sure it wasn’t nearly half of what she had been feeling. He had wanted to go to her. To cover her in warmth and love, to hold her and join her cries with ones of his own. But, he couldn’t.
It was not their time.
“Whoa, who’s that one?” She asks, when he scrolls to the next photo. Her eyes soften as she stares, seemingly entranced.
Pelle chuckles down at the image of his sister, crowned in summer flowers and glowing with pride. The fact that Dani had stopped him at this image is too amusing, he can't help it.
“That…” he turns his gaze to his companion, eyes resting on her expression. Memorizing Dani is easy, he finds. He finds it is his new favorite pastime. “Is last year’s May Queen.”
The Swedish man can feel her awe. It pleases him, to see her so excited over his home, to know that soon she’ll have a crown of her own. She’s so close to him, closer than he’s ever gotten, her scent flooding his senses.
He could kiss her right now. Lean in, slide his hand in her hair, and take his fill. He could do it — she was so close. And if he were a lesser version of himself, he would’ve.
He breaths in, patience pulling back his thoughts.
It is not their time. It is not the right time.
Instead, Pelle allows himself a smile. Slow and languid, like honey dripping from a spoon.
“You know, I am very, very glad you’re coming.”
Pelle remembers. He remembers everything.