It was a fine night to celebrate. The wine was flowing, the fire crackling, the people dancing. Cedwyn and his comrades had just been named as Knights of the Council, considered by some to be the highest honor one could earn. And he, Cedwyn Murray, was going to be known as the bravest, most daring, most fearless, and most handsome one of them all. He had already had to turn away several advances by beautiful men and women. On any other day he would gladly have provided them all with companionship, but tonight was about what he and his friends had accomplished, and they would celebrate together.
One of his companions raised a glass and shouted, “To Cedwyn, our fearless leader, and the best of us all!”
A loud cry of “Hear, hear!” rang out among his compatriots, all of them raising their glasses. Somewhere in the back someone shouted for him to make a speech, and soon all of them were chanting in unison.
Cedwyn relented, grabbing a fresh glass of wine and jumping up onto the table. He waved his hands, motioning for silence, spilling wine on a few heads in the process.
“My friends! Long have we waited for this day, for the day that we can call ourselves Knights! The naysayers tried to take us down, but we would not fall. We have risen to greater heights than they will ever know, and we will rise to greater heights still! Tonight, we celebrate the start of our journey as legends, as heroes.”
Another shout rose from the crowd around him, which was growing larger by the second.
“Let this be a warning to all those who would oppress us, who would rob us, who would kill us. Let this be a warning to the demons of the Deep Darkness, with their claws and their venom. We are coming for you!”
As he was about to continue, Cedwyn heart jumped up into his throat, stifling his words. In the back of the crowd was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on. In the back of the crowd was Meilani. Composing himself, he led one final cheer, then downed his drink and hopped off the table. He made his way across the crowd, his bright green eyes never leaving her dark brown ones. When he finally closed the distance, he said nothing, grabbed her hand, and began to dance.
They danced for hours, music and merriment erupting all around them, but it was just noise compared to her laugh. The fire roared high, but its heat was a cold chill compared to her warm breath on his cheek. The moon shone brilliantly across the top of the water in the bay, but it was a dull glow compared to the sparkle of the jewels in the long, silky, black waves of her hair. His breath caught in his throat as she leaned in, stroking his pale cheek with her light brown hand and whispered in his ear.
He was unprepared for the intensity and tone of her voice, it was nothing like what he expected. Cedwyn drew back and looked at her quizzically as she spoke again.
“Hey, Ced, you in there?”
He could clearly see her lips mouthing the words, but it was as if another’s voice was escaping her mouth.
“All right, stink brain, time to come back to the land of the living!”
His stomach lurched as the world around him was thrown into chaos, becoming a swirling mass of color. His vision solidified into cold, packed earth and warm, steaming dung rushing up to meet him, then exploded into color again as his face connected with the ground. Cedwyn groaned as he rolled over, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Ouch! Did you have to wake me up so harshly?” Cedwyn said as he checked his nostrils for blood. He looked up at his sister, Alys, as he put on an air of moral superiority. “You should be nicer to your kid brother you know.”
“You should be nicer to your kid brother you know” echoed Alys, holding her nose to imitate Cedwyn’s pitiful, nasally tone. “Well, you shouldn’t be sleeping when you’re supposed to be mucking the stables. You’re lucky I didn’t smack you over the head with that shovel you were leaning on. I don’t even know how you managed to stay upright after falling asleep. I swear, you’re even lazier than Prince Fluffy here.” She leaned down, scratching the belly of the soot black cat lounging in the corner. “You’d better finish up, Dad will be finished with dinner soon, and you’ll need to wash before you come in the house, you stink worse than these stables!” Laughing at her own joke, Alys walked out of the room, leaving Cedwyn alone to finish his work.
Half an hour later, Cedwyn emerged from the stables and headed toward home under the darkening sky. His stomach growled with hunger, but halfway between the stables and the small cluster of houses he realized, begrudgingly, that his sister was right. He loved horses, but didn’t particularly love smelling like one, and he smelled like that and more. He altered his course, heading to the small bath house next to the stream. At this time of night there would likely not be any warm water left, so he would have to heat it himself. Oh well, at least he would have his privacy. He took a few trips back and forth from the stream, slowly filling the kettle on the fire pit in the center of the bath house.
As he stoked the fire, he grabbed the wooden wolf's head pendant around his neck and thought about his mother. She had made it for him when he was a young boy, maybe 5 years old. He was going through a phase where he was obsessed with wolves and was constantly requesting wolf toys to play with. When his mother made the pendant, it was the first time he had ever seen her woodsing. He remembered his mother running her hand over the wooden disk, slowly coaxing it into shape, willing it to move at her command. After that day Cedwyn would spend hours sitting in her shop, just listening to her sing as she shaped pieces of wood both large and small with the magic passed down in her family for generations. After the death of his grandmother she had been the last one with the gift, and now that she was gone, so too was the woodsinging.
It had been 10 months since the accident that had claimed her life, but he couldn’t decide whether they had been short or long. Cedwyn decided it had been both. Long, because every day he yearned to hear her voice, to see her smile, to feel the warmth of her hug. And short, because he couldn’t remember how he had gotten from then to now. The last ten months were a swirling fog, with only brief flashes of clarity. Seeing his father lying in an infirmary bed, the doctor telling Cedwyn and Alys their mother was dead and their father would never walk again, and seeing the door slam shut on his childhood home, these were things he could remember. But the memory that stuck with him the most was seeing her for the last time. As their wagon pulled away from their home and it sank into the background, Cedwyn had strained and struggled to keep it in sight. Not because he would miss his home, but because of the girl standing on the balcony next door. Meilani. He began to feel a stinging sensation in his eyes, tears threatening to break forth at the thought of her. It was not that he missed Meilani more than his mother, quite the opposite, but the deep ache he felt over his mother was tempered with the knowledge that he would never see her again. The pang he felt when thinking about Meilani was closer to the surface, and heightened by the fact that she was still out there somewhere, but not with him.
In the weeks between the accident and the move, Meilani was a constant source of comfort for Cedwyn. They had known each other their whole lives, but they grew closer during that time than they had ever been, than he had ever thought they would be. When he and his sister held vigil at their father's bedside, waiting to see if he would pull through, she was there. When the pain of losing his mother was too great for him to stand and he collapsed in a pool of tears, she was there. When he learned that they would be moving hundreds of miles away to live on his Uncle’s homestead in the northern mountains, she was there. On that last night, high up on the rooftop under the light of the full moon, she was there. And she had kissed him. It was short and shallow at first, her first kiss as well as his own. But each kiss grew with time, deepening like the ocean tides that had brought her parents across the seas from the Infinite Isles to Jaresh. He had never known it was possible to be as happy and sad at the same time as he was on that night. He was facing so much loss, his heart wounded by a thousand blades, but there was joy too, a single candle shining brilliantly in the dark of night.
The hiss of steam broke his trance, and he moved the bubbling pot off the flames. He had let it go too long, and now it was boiling, too hot to bathe with. He took the ladle and poured some water over the fire, releasing an angry burst of steam, before setting it back in its holder. With time to spare and no desire to fall back into thinking about his past, he wandered towards the corner of the room, inspecting the embellishments ingrained in the trim. His grandparents, the original settlers of this area, had built the bath house, but his mother had made it beautiful. He ran his hand over a plethora of different woodland animals engraved into the grayish white wood that reminded him of polished bone. He could tell that he was in one of the earlier sections, still impressive work but nothing compared to that of her later years. As he walked around the room, he began to see more life in the woodwork, small details here and there that elevated the work to something truly spectacular, even to his untrained eye.
He had taken his mother’s talent for woodworking for granted, as he had grown up while she was reaching the peak of her craft. It had allowed her to move from this dreary backwoods lumber yard to the city of Harkport, where she had met his father and where he and his sister had grown up. They had made their living off of her creations, with his father taking care of most of the selling and his mother focusing on her artwork. It was a good life that they had given him and his sister, he knew, and while the life in Caerwyn’s Mill left much to be desired in nearly every way, he knew that he was still well provided for. He reached the end of his circle around the room and decided that the water would have to do, no matter the temperature. As he scooped the slightly too warm water over himself, the hole in his heart burst open anew, and the memories of his mother flooded his vision. With each fresh scoop of water the dirt and grime disappeared, and with each tear that fell he shed a small part of the pain in his chest, until it was all washed away. With his body clean and his heart still sore, Cedwyn walked home, ate in solitude, and drifted off to sleep.