"Yes, Uolli, all of it," Aelle said numbly, looking over their meager assortment of personal items. She was beyond tired. It was the kind of utter exhaustion beyond reason in which one could not sleep. Though Uolli had been bawling ceaselessly, Aelle had not the energy to feel annoyed with the girl. Earlier, Uolli had been weeping at the loss of Jisindritha. Now, Uolli was carrying on because of the prospect of leaving all of their belongings behind.
Aelle could not be mad at Uolli for the first of those two things, especially not after how poorly she had handled the news herself. After her initial outburst had passed, Aelle had grown to be ashamed of her actions. Grief and shock had driven her near to madness, but those emotions were no excuses. Aelle knew that she could have and should have handled her feelings in a less extreme manner. King Lmeintt had been the enemy then. Now, she was not sure what he was. She had not considered that. She had not considered him. He was nothing, not yet. Her sorrow at the loss of Jisindritha was too fresh for her to be contemplating much of anything else, though her body was still going through the motions of readying everything for their departure.
Urih-teliean, the embodiment of her dream. The fact that she had wanted Urih-teliean so badly was now nothing but a memory, and one that multiplied Aelle's present depression. She felt as though she had betrayed Jisindritha by having craved the lands of Urih-teliean, primarily because Jisindritha had paid for Aelle's entrance with her life, but also because Jisindritha had been so staunchly against the idea of Aelle's notions for her future. Those notions were not so foolish now, though of course, Jisindritha would never know that. Somehow, this made Aelle feel both angry at her adopted relative, and yet extremely miserable at her loss.
The anger, Aelle supposed, was for Jisindritha's presumptions, and the way that the woman had always made her feel so ridiculous for wanting more than the Wilds. Look now! Aelle thought in occasional bursts of undesired bitterness. Look how wrong you were, you who always thought that you knew everything, you who were supposed to be immortal, and unstoppable, you, who were older, and who had weathered the hardships of the Wilds. Look now.
The irrational bitterness at Jisindritha for having left them came and went. When it went, it left Aelle feeling even more hollow. She grew angry at herself for having held any kind of bitterness towards Jisindritha. It was not as though the woman had asked to die, yet Aelle knew Jisindritha well enough to suspect that she had not tried to avoid battle with Lmeintt. Why? Why? Aelle balled her hands into fists, digging into her palms with her fingernails. It hurt so much to lose someone so close again, to have so many emotions that she could never voice to her! She wanted to yell at Jisindritha, to sob to her, to be comforted and reassured by her voice and the quiet power that she had always held.
Aelle wanted to release her emotions somehow, but she had no outlet for doing so. More than anything, she wanted to talk to Jisindritha about the many things that she felt toward her, but Jisindritha's death had made that impossible, and as much as Aelle resented herself for feeling this way, she did blame Jisindritha, largely. She felt depressed, bitter, frustrated, guilty, and strangely detached all at the same time.
The depression was a constant feeling, one which brought forth the bitterness at Jisindritha for having fought Lmeintt. Whether she had instigated the fight or not, Aelle could not help but feel that Jisindritha would have been better to just ignore the man, but no! Not Jisindritha! Jisindritha could never ignore even the shadow of a threat! As soon as Aelle felt her face growing hot with anger at this line of thought, she always quickly recalled something else: Jisindritha was that way, yes, but only because she had loved Aelle and Uolli like sisters, or children. Remembering this, Aelle always felt tears within her eyes. Her rage then cooled. Numb guilt replaced it, as well as fond memories of Jisindritha. Following that, Aelle felt newly frustrated, and helpless. She did not blame herself in the sense that she could have done nothing to aid Jisindritha. She had not even known about her friend's doings. Yet, the fact that she had been so helpless to prevent this was itself a source of grief for Aelle.
After all of these thoughts had assailed her, then the numbness would come anew, and Aelle was grateful for it. Her many conflicting feelings would slowly cancel one another out, moving aside for a growing cloud of distant nothingness. It was when the numbness came that Aelle could breathe, and work. She shed no tears, not during that time, though she cried a little intermittently when the various other feelings arose within her.
Uolli had blubbered constantly, all through the burial and beyond, but Uolli had also been very helpful, and Aelle felt a kind of distant gratitude toward her "sister" for simply being there, as well as for assisting in digging the grave that they had made for Jisindritha. Uolli was physically stronger than she seemed to realize. Aelle had put all of her back into the digging of the grave, yet still, Uolli had done the most work. The sound of Uolli's loud sobs somehow made Aelle feel even greater numbness. Everything had become surreal. As if she was a spirit severed from her body, Aelle methodically dug into the soil, tearing it apart. The moist, earthy smell of the land was strangely refreshing and rejuvenating. It smelled like life, if life could be said to have a smell. Now, though, it was a place for death.
Time had been lost to them as they worked to prepare the grave, yet hours must have passed. Aelle knew this, because soon enough, both of them were beneath a canopy of summer starlight. Aelle was by then sweating, dirty, and tired. To alleviate some of her discomfort, she had fixed herself several glasses of well-water before continuing with her work. The relative coolness of night was refreshing, and there was enough light provided by the dual moons for them to see what they were doing. It was a pitiful grave, Aelle thought with some tuggings upon her heart. Although they had spent such time on it, the thing was still too shallow for Aelle's liking. Uolli lifted Jisindritha's corpse and placed it within the hollow space. Aelle fought a fresh wave of melancholy at the sight. Oddly, this time, her feelings easily grew detached, and a blanket of soothing numbness shrouded her heart.
King Lmeintt had offered to help them dig the grave. He had said that his friends would assist in the matter, as well. However, Aelle had refused his offer. Jisindritha would not have wanted King Lmeintt to have helped in her burial, Aelle knew. She would not have wanted him anywhere near her body. She would also not have wanted Aelle to go to Urih-teliean, except as a last resort, but sometimes, Jisindritha did not get everything that she wanted. This time, she would. The "ceremony" felt too much like it should be a personal affair, something exclusively shared between Aelle, Uolli, and Jisindritha. King Lmeintt and his friends were strangers. This was Aelle's and Uolli's sorrow, not theirs. They had no business attending Jisindritha's funeral, nor aiding in creating her final resting place.
At Aelle's back, the shadowed black peaks of the Quassandraxxain Mountains looked down upon her. Those mountains had always seemed to taunt her, insurmountable obstacles to happiness that they were. Now, they were obstacles no longer, and yet, Aelle was unhappy for a very different reason.
The night gave them coolness, and the summer stars were bright. Aelle knew most of those stars, not by their book names, but by their placement and her own memory. She had seen those same stars since her childhood, since she had lived in the village that angry deities had doomed. Thinking of that, fresh hurt arose within Aelle, as she could not stand the thought that Jisindritha--the woman who had saved her life--was now no more. The pain was so great that it became physical, throbbing within her sore lungs, and sometimes, she whimpered, being unable to catch herself. She whispered prayers to every deity that she knew of, something that she had not done regularly since her childhood home had been destroyed. Superstitions died hard, and though Aelle had, in her direst of times, prayed to assorted gods and goddesses for support, she typically held contempt for the spirits of the Above World. Some of them had ruined her way of life. She did not know which ones had done that, but to her, it barely mattered. She hated them all, yet when afraid, her childhood self sometimes returned to her, and she prayed anew. Later, she would curse herself for having done so. Not now, though. Now, it just hurt too much, and the gods could think of her what they would.
After the burial, Aelle and Uolli had returned to their cottage. Why, Aelle was uncertain. She had decided not to take anything with her. Uolli had protested that, but ultimately, after Aelle had explained why they could not bring any of their goods, she had complied with her friend's wishes. Aelle knew that Uolli was mostly acquiescing to avoid an argument. She was too passive to do otherwise. Yet, Aelle could tell by the look in Uolli's eyes that she hated the idea of leaving behind everything that they owned. Aelle was no more pleased by what they had to do. A part of her stubbornly wanted to think that she actually had more right than Uolli to be upset, given that Uolli was only losing a room, some clothing, and a few sparse other things, whereas Aelle was losing all of her books. However, as soon as these feelings flared upon within Aelle, she tried to remind herself that different things held different amounts of meaning for everyone. Perhaps Uolli valued her meager ownings, as well as their house, as much as Aelle valued her books.
King Lmeintt and his friend had arrived shortly after Aelle and Uolli had finished burying Jisindritha. Aelle had not said much to them. She could not have said much, even if she had wanted to. She was still too choked by grief, and by the thought of leaving her home behind her. While King Lmeintt and his companion waited outside, Aelle and Uolli stood within their former home. Uolli was still sobbing uncontrollably. Aelle was entirely silent. Through her lack of words, she said goodbye to all that had once been hers. She stood there, body unmoving beneath her as she tilted her head, looking this way and that.
In all her days of dreaming after Urih-teliean, Aelle had never suspected that leaving her cottage would hurt so badly. In her dreams, her departure had never hurt. In fact, she had paid her home no mind whatsoever.
Presently, standing within the threshold of the cottage, everything seemed so alive to Aelle. There was the fireplace, the way that the pots hung about within the kitchen, the faint smell of the meat that they had earlier partaken of, the stirring of a slight breeze through some hidden crack in the walls--Jisindritha had been talking about eventually finding and fixing that crack, though she had never done so. Now, she never would.
The house was filled with the sound of wind, with tattered and old goods, and with memories. The memories were what made the place into more than mortar, stone, and mud. Aelle walked through the rooms, closing the doors as she wordlessly said a goodbye to each of the rooms and all of her things. When all else was done, she suffocated the fire that had burned within the fireplace. A darkness fell, one broken only by fragments of starlight that streamed through the few windows. Aelle placed her hands upon Uolli's shoulders and ushered her out of the cottage, closing the door behind them forever.
"I wanted to look more," Uolli groaned. "I wasn't done," she protested angrily. There was not much light in the vicinity, but there was enough for Aelle to discern that Uolli was wearing a scowl. She was red-faced, too, with furrowed brows and a trembling lip.
"I want to look, too. I want to sit and read my books. I want to at least flip through the pages and feel the paper and remember the words. I want that, but I can't have it, and neither can you, Uolli. Think about it. It hurts now, doesn't it? Well, imagine how much it would hurt if we stayed here longer. It would hurt that much more. It would be unbearable, Uolli. Come on. We need to go."
"I don't care!" Uolli wailed. "You don't understand! This is your fault, anyway. You wanted this. You wanted it. You got it. You get everything that you want, Aelle! It's probably 'cause of your want that some god made Jisindritha die. You're a curse, Aelle! I hope you're happy now, havin' gotten everything, but you can just leave me alone."
Aelle balled her fists. She turned so that Uolli could not see her face, even as she winced so hard that tears were squeezed from her eyes. She wanted to strike Uolli, nevermind the little good that it would have availed her. The girl's words made her so enraged that Aelle wondered why she did not lash out. It certainly was not for a lack of desire. She supposed that it may have had something to do with how she had earlier attacked Lmeintt. That had been foolhardy, and perhaps some subconscious part of her remembered that and held her back now.
Also, somewhere, she understood what Uolli was going through, because she was going through the same thing. Anything that Uolli said now was invalid--a burst of senseless emotion. She would regret her words later, Aelle thought, even as she gritted her teeth. She would regret them, yes, but that was not very comforting to Aelle, presently. It did little to cool her temper, and it certainly did nothing to stifle her desires. Uolli's words kindled an immense fury within Aelle, primarily because they reflected her own anger at herself. A part of her--though not necessarily a rational part--believed what Uolli had said, and that was why it hurt so badly.
"Have it as you like it, Uolli," Aelle said finally, striving to push the emotion from her voice. Keeping her tone cold, she added, "Stay in the house, if it pleases you. Stay there and I'll go Urih-teliean, and you can make due in the Wilds by yourself."
So saying, Aelle walked away, proceeding to where King Lmeintt stood with the man he had called Shyayniah. Soon, Aelle heard Uolli shuffling behind her. She had known that Uolli would follow. Her earlier words to the girl had been taunts, as well as a form of resistence against arguing. Not once had she believed that Uolli would have chosen to remain in the Wilds, and she was right. Aelle had been wrong in expecting that Uolli would apologize immediately, however. Uolli said nothing further to Aelle, and Aelle said nothing to Uolli. They met with King Lmeintt and Shyayniah, and then they walked down the hills, taking great care to avoid tripping on any perilous areas.
King Lmeintt moved closer to Aelle than she liked, occasionally reaching out to either she or Uolli when it seemed that they might be losing their footing. Aelle assumed that he meant well, but she did not want his help. It seemed almost insulting, somehow, as though he was saying that he did not trust her to be capable of walking down the hills without his assistance. She did not think that he meant it that way; she knew better. Yet, it bothered her a little, nonetheless.
The only time that she had ever tripped when making her way down the incline had been when she had either been hunting, or, when she was younger, once when she had stupidly been playing in a rowdy manner. Those falls did not count as being careless, though, Aelle mused resentfully. The childhood accident had been provoked by the typical ignorance of youth, but, really, what child did not do such things? At any rate, Aelle's mishap had taught her how not to behave. As to the problems that she had encountered during hunting, well, Aelle certainly did not consider those to be products of carelessness. Anyone could have slipped when running down those hills. Uolli had certainly done so many times before, usually landing upon her belly in the process. Aelle had never seen Jisindritha fall, but Jisindritha was far more talented than most. She did not exactly count, not in Aelle's opinion. Any normal person could have easily plunged faceforward down those slopes.
Jisindritha had been normal in the end, a small voice murmured to Aelle. She could feel her sorrow welling up again. She resisted, looking at King Lmeintt and softly thanking him, as well as requesting that he not offer his hand unless she actually did tumble forth.
"I am fine," she said, hearing the sadness in her voice.
In the darkness, she saw King Lmeintt nod. She stared at him, attempting to gauge the expression upon his face. She wondered if he believed her.
To keep her mind away from thoughts of Jisindritha, Aelle looked past King Lmeintt, giving Shyayniah the first recognition of him that her consciousness had allowed. The man had dark hair, but in the starlight, Aelle could not discern its exact colour. His eyes were light, as Aelle could see even from standing aside him. As with the man's hair, Aelle could not determine the exact colour of Shyayniah's eyes, but they seemed to be a very light brown of sorts. They blinked often, filling with starlight. He was quite effete, with his cascading tumble of hair, his smooth lips, and his willowy form. Aelle marvelled at him, having never before seen such a man. She had heard of men like that.
Jisindritha had often mocked them, saying that Urih-teliean produced flimsy males. Even in the slim glow of many stars and the moons intermittently sliding out from the clouds, Aelle could deduce that Shyayniah was such a man, one that Jisindritha would have laughed at. Was he beautiful? Aelle wondered. The planes of his face were not altogether apparent, as some distance lay between them, and Shyayniah never stopped moving. Shadows criss-crossed his face. Unlike King Lmeintt, who was almost overly outgoing, Shyayniah seemed very aloof and reserved. Observing this, Aelle wondered if the man was simply shy, or if he looked down upon her and Uolli for their wild nature.
Aelle's more defensive qualities--the ones that Jisindritha had always encouraged her to live by--suggested to her that Shyayniah was ignoring her due to disdain. He had ever reason to think badly of her, as there was a natural enmity between Urih-teliean and the Wilds, despite some Wildsborn longing for Urih-teliean itself. Worse, perhaps Shyayniah pitied her. She had just lost a very dear friend, a woman who had been closer to her than any family she had ever known. Many would pity her current predicament, she knew. She did not want to think upon that. She did not consider herself a terribly proud girl, but like most in the Wild Lands, Aelle had a natural hatred of being pitied. In the presence of such obviously cultured men, Aelle felt ashamed, condescended to, and defensive. She tried to tell herself that this was irrational, but it was hard to look at King Lmeintt or Shyayniah without perceiving some invisible gulf between them and her.
Still, Aelle did understand and acknowledge the fact that maybe Shyayniah was merely a very shy man, or that maybe he he was one of those people who were typically lost within their own minds. Jisindritha had accused Aelle of being such a person, when she had become particularly enamoured with her novels. Aelle considered attempting to talk to Shyayniah, but ultimately, she decided against doing so. She could think of nothing to say to the man.
Although she no longer blamed King Lmeintt, not exactly, Aelle was nonetheless uncomfortable associating with him in any terribly personal manner. She gave curt answers to any inquiries that he asked her, whereas Uolli usually either nodded or shook her head frantically. Sometimes, King Lmeintt grunted a little, and that was how Aelle knew that he was probably frustrated with her for making no effort to close the gap between them. Aelle could not be bothered to care about that, however.
She was not altogether opposed to the concept of learning more about this man, as she no longer saw him as "the murderer of Jisindritha", yet, at the same time, knowing that King Lmeintt held such an important title made Aelle feel wary. He could say what he wanted about power structures in Urih-teliean; maybe he was right or maybe he was wrong, but either way, his prestigious title gave Aelle the distinct impression that she was unworthy of his time, and also that he would soon be out of reach forever. Oh, certainly he could be amiable enough in the Wilds, where they were all equals, but in Urih-teliean? King Lmeintt would have no reason to talk with her there, and even if by some chance he did associate with her, it would probably only be during brief intervals. He was a king, and Aelle was to be a servant. No matter what King Lmeintt said about how all in Urih-teliean were servants, the class differences between Aelle and King Lmeintt were wonderfully apparent. Aelle could not imagine that he was as humble as he acted, even if his heart desired to be so. He could strive for humility, yet his heart was that of a king's. Aelle did not think that she could stand to be within his presence once they entered Urih-teliean. His royal blood made her feel too separated from him.
They made their way down the hills and through the woodland until they came upon the camp that Shyayniah, King Lmeintt, and their companion had made. Aelle was numb. She had not looked back, though she had desperately desired to do so.
The woman sat in front of a campfire, leaning over as she stroked the ground with a stick. She did not seem to notice anyone until the group was almost upon her. Aelle could relate; she was much the same way, when lost in thought. When the woman arose to greet them, Aelle could see by the firelight that she had long straight hair that was either a dark shade of blonde or a light tint of brown. Her eyes were pale, even more so than Shyayniah's. To the best of Aelle's discernment, they looked to be an almost white shade of blue. Her complexion was medium, and her face was soft, though her aquiline nose lent a slightly rigid appearance to the otherwise smooth contour. The most notable aspect of her appearance was her clothing. Instead of a dress, or a shirt and pants, this woman was garbed in an outfit that was entirely one piece. It was dark, though like some stones that Aelle had seen in books, the darkness of the clothing gave it a bright, rich lustre. Aelle wondered at the single piece of attire, the way that it gently hugged the lady's body, and its high collar.
"Mriee de Leae," King Lmeintt said, as much to give Aelle and Uolli the name as to give the woman a greeting.
"Majesty," Mriee de Leae responded, producing the slightest of bows. Her eyes flicked across Aelle and Uolli, but like Shyayniah, she seemed to pay them very little mind. In an instant, her eyes were again focused upon her scion. "I take it that you are ready, then, Majesty?"
"As soon as you put the fire out, Mriee. Ah, light a lantern, though."
"Do you truly think that a lantern shall be necessary, Majesty? The night is a bright one."
"So it is, Mriee, yet there are drifting clouds which hide the moons, and the starlight shall not keep the beasts away. You and Shyayniah may carry the lanterns, and I shall hoist the rest over my shoulder."
Almost instantaneously, both Shyayniah and Mriee protested. "Majesty," they complained simultaneously. Mriee looked to Shyayniah, giving him an opportunity to speak his mind. Shyayniah did so, though the action was accompanied by a shuffling movement and the lowering of his head, as though he were speaking to a man lying upon the ground. Aelle watched, wondering at this display.
"Majesty," Shyayniah began anew, sounding almost apologetic as he did so. "I think I can speak for both myself and Mriee when I say that we do not wish to be omitted from such work. We are both capable individuals. Let us carry some of the burden."
"You may, but I shall carry the most."
"Why can we not divide our loads equally, Majesty?" contested Mriee.
"I want your focus to be solely upon the lantern. If you trip with, say, a sleeping bag and a lantern within your hands, then the lantern may well break and burn the sleeping bag to ashes. No, no. You look after the lanterns, and I shall look after most of our belongings."
"I can help," Uolli volunteered suddenly, meekly. Aelle looked at her, surprised by the oddly even-toned offer. "Jisindritha always said that I was strong," Uolli added uncertainly. At once, she was fidgeting with the edges of her clothing. Mriee, Shyayniah, and King Lmeintt were all staring at her, which seemed to be making her understandably uncomfortable.
"Would you?" King Lmeintt smiled. He walked over to where Uolli stood, and when her eyes softened, he lightly touched her shoulder. Aelle felt her own eyes go wide at that. She knew that he probably did not intend the physical contact to be anything more than a friendly gesture, a common courtesy of sorts, maybe, yet Aelle disliked the way that King Lmeintt seemed to be attempting to win Uolli's favourtism by speaking so kindly to her and by standing within her personal space and thereby breaking some invisible boundary. Aelle felt a wave of confusion, as well as a sense of frustration. Uolli had all but outright damned her to the gods earlier, and now King Lmeintt was gaining some sort of camaraderie with the girl? How dare he!
As soon as Aelle's indignance reached it's zenith, she reminded herself that King Lmeintt had no way of knowing about the way that she and Uolli had feuded. He had been standing within the general vicinity of their cottage, but he had been well out of earshot. Also, whether King Lmeintt was attempting to form a bond of friendship with Uolli or not, he almost certainly could not have meant his actions as an attempt to divide the girls. Aelle tried to think about this, but it was hard to do so, because she was angry, tremendously unhappy, and not at all feeling inclined to be rational.
After King Lmeintt had given Uolli his agreement, she ambled over and lifted some of the cases over her back. Cases, Aelle's mind called them, because they were not really like the bags that people had contained their goods within when Aelle had lived within the village, though neither were they like boxes. Smooth, rough fabric covered unseen objects. Aelle watched as Mriee, Shyayniah, King Lmeintt, and Uolli went about lifting their relatively sparse loads. There was some murmuring among them, and Aelle heard King Lmeintt thank Uolli many times over.
Aelle felt removed, useless, and kind of lazy. She would have helped them, had they asked her, but King Lmeintt seemed to think that Uolli and Aelle were guests and should be treated as such, despite his allowing Uolli to help him. Besides that, Aelle was not surprised that no one had requested her assistance. She was not a very strong girl. All the same, she considered herself to be capable after her own fashion, and despite them not having asked, she did want to help. She hesitated, considering doing so, but by the time that she finally came forward, everything had already been taken care of.
King Lmeintt abruptly told Aelle and Uolli that it was time to go, gave a quick glance around the camp, and then started forward, moving in some direction that looked like north to Aelle, though she really had never been good at gauging directions. The dead bonfire had left curls of smoke and black ashes in its wake. Meanwhile, the lanterns within Shyayniah's and Mriee's hands bobbed, dancing like living things and casting their light into the woodlands and the onto the dry summer grass beneath them. Aelle could not help but admire the beauty of the fields and woodlands, the vast expanse of the Wild Lands. She heard the cries of animals somewhere, yet she was not that afraid. Monsters in the Wilds were not magical. They feared fire, and most, unless very hungry, would be frightened by it. Some were drawn to the flames, as moths were, but Aelle had confidence that King Lmeintt could battle them. If he had killed Jisindritha, then surely he could handle a few brutish monsters. Their fangs might have been sharp, but none of them were as clever as any humanoid race.
Aelle walked in the back of the procession, and she was silent. Although she was still mournful, her silence had now transformed into a more contemplative thing. To avoid thinking of Jisindritha, Aelle wondered about Urih-teliean, and if Urih-teliean would be as wonderful as all of the books made it sound to be. The thought excited and frightened her. Soon enough, it also made her feel guilty for wanting Urih-teliean even after all that had happened. Gods did she want it. She wanted the sunlight in winter, and the endless green fields that were also bereft of monsters. She wanted the beautiful cities that the books had described. She wanted the technology that her mind could not quite picture perfectly, no matter how precisely the books had described it. She wanted Urih-teliean. She had been pushing this desire to the bottom of her mind, layering many other feelings upon it, most notably sorrow, yet the desire never quite fled from her. Her entire body was torn between sobbing in agony and crying in triumph. It was a strange feeling, and one that overwhelmed Aelle, making her a little physically ill.
Urih-teliean, she thought, shaking as a night breeze touched her flesh. Urih-teliean, truly. It was hers. She would be a part of it. Her dream had been realized. The cost had been great, too great, but she could not dwell upon the loss of Jisindritha forever. Jisindritha would not have wanted that. Her life had been full, whereas Aelle's was but a sliver of many years to come. Aelle would mourn Jisindritha, but, as her head was clearing, she realized that she also had to live for herself. She had life, and she could not spend it forever in misery. Urih-teliean was there, waiting for her. Utopia was there.