The next day, a fog hung low over the ground. The air felt cool against my back as I sat, once again, at the roots of the Heart-Blossom tree. The moisture filled my lungs as I inhaled through my nose and down into my belly. My hair, tied back into my usual ponytail, frizzed from the humidity and tickled my forehead.
As usual, I let my thoughts roam. This time, all I could see was the woman in the runestone from the day before. Willow’s suggestion that she was my soulmate played again in my mind. I couldn’t explain why, but it made a strange kind of sense to me. I knew that her future twisted together with mine in a way that I couldn’t yet see, and “soulmate” was the best word I could find to describe that feeling. She was tied to me somehow — whether that tie was one of love or… something else, I couldn’t tell.
I kept the woman centered in my imagination. Though it wasn’t something I often did, I let myself picture a future with her. I tried to see us together in my home — our home, sharing dinner, running through the woods together. But something about it felt wrong, cosmically. I could visualize her clearly enough; that long pink gown flowing behind her, a sparkle in her eye and flowers in her hair. But I couldn’t actually picture myself with her. My mind only let me see her, alone.
It wasn’t uncommon for my thoughts to go to confusing places while I meditated, but this was way farther outside of my comprehension than the usual. The strangeness of it was distracting. My father had always encouraged me, when meditating, to take thoughts and feelings as they were; not everything needed an explanation. Maybe I should just stop trying to understand.
Keeping the mystery woman static in my mind’s eye, I opened my eyes slowly to peek at the Heart-Blossom again. I felt a sting of disappointment when I saw my own reflection on the surface and not hers. My hair looked terrible. The turquoise shawl was sticking to my moist skin, revealing all my awkward, bony edges. Stop it. Focus. Think about her.
Leaning forward, keeping my vision resolutely on the runestone, I reached out to touch it. I desperately longed for that shock of warmth again, that slow heat traveling up through my nerves — but no, not this time. The smooth crystal of the Heart-Blossom was cool to the touch, with a thin layer of mist that wet my fingertips. There was no magical incandescence, no woman in the reflection. Just Chrys.
I furrowed my brow and dropped my arm back to my lap. This isn’t fair. It’s teasing me, the stupid rock.
I pushed upright with a huff, giving the runestone one last pout before turning and stomping back to the yurt. My father would be home later. If I told him about my experiences in the past couple days, he might know what to do, or at least have some kind of guidance. Or he could just give me more useless platitudes about ‘intention’ or whatever. Better to keep my spirits and visions to myself.
I sulked for the rest of the day. It was a perfect day for sulking, after all — gray sky and thick fog limiting my sight to only what lay just ahead. I sat in bed eating sweet rolls and feeling sorry for myself. I leaned back in one of the tall chairs at the court table and stared at the ceiling. I perched on the kitchen counter and gazed out the window into the woods. At that age, I was particularly good at being brooding.
Hours passed, and day turned to night without so much as a hint of golden late light. I would have spent time with Willow usually, on days like that, but I didn’t think she would understand if I tried to tell her what I was feeling. And I didn’t want her to expend the effort to try, either. I wasn’t worth it.
The later it became, though, the less I thought about myself and the more I began to worry about my father. The journey to Bright Moon was a seven hours’ hike north through the perilous Whispering Woods. The landscape and foliage are always changing and filled with strange magic and creatures. The Woods can only be navigated by someone with a detailed knowledge of their patterns, or a modest bit of magical skill.
I used to go with my father to Bright Moon, in the early days of the Rebellion, before my mother passed. I would watch intently as he kindly persuaded the forest to part for him and show him the way. “As long as you focus on your destination, the Woods will abide,” he had once explained.
I walked through his journey in my mind. Seven hours to Bright Moon the day before yesterday. He left in the morning, so he must have gotten there in the late afternoon before supper. He probably settled in and had a late dinner with Angella, Micah, and the others.
My thoughts snagged on Queen Angella: graceful, radiant, fierce, eternal — a bittersweet complement to my mother. I wondered what kind of mother she would be to her little Glimmer, just a toddler at the time. I had not yet met the young princess. She was born right around the time my mother left us.
I brushed off the images of Bright Moon’s royals and went back to my father. There was probably a full day of planning and negotiations yesterday, so he must have been tired. Probably slept in a little late. The beds there are far too comfortable. So that means…
I ran the numbers in my head. I imagined him saying his long goodbyes to all the representatives of the several kingdoms, packing up his light belongings, organizing his party. He must have left at noon. He should have been back around twilight.
The thought of his journey being delayed terrified me, but I managed to convince myself that they probably just got a little lost, or ran into some bad weather. Nothing the King of Plumeria couldn’t handle. He’s fine. He has to be.
It was dark, and I was tired. I lay curled up in bed, clutching Lily’s pendant. I’ll just stay up until he gets back. I couldn’t risk falling asleep. I had to be there… in case…
I couldn’t entertain the thought without my throat tightening. So I pushed it away with a shaky breath, like a maple seed pod spinning on the wind. But it was less like a seed pod and more like a persistent little moth that fluttered back into my face every time I tried to move on.
I felt exhaustion pulling at my eyelids. I had to give in. So I soothed myself the best I could, with a nice soft lie. If I just close my eyes, the next thing I know, he’ll be here, sitting on my bed.
Sleep swept me away.