Crossroads of Frozen Eternity – Chapter 1

Crossroads of Frozen Eternity – Chapter 1

When he saw his wife bundle the flowers, he gave her space, knowing what she needed to do. It had taken him years to understand her regular pilgrimage to the top of the hill, to the tombstone he thought she’d rather avoid. But her visits had grown less frequent as the years marched past, until they almost became a formality.

He came to rest at the base of that hill, gazing over the high rise like a lost dog seeking its owner. He never completed the journey himself. After living here so long, it was strange to think of a place he would not go. Sunlight filtered through the sparse trees, glinting off the last vestiges of morning dew. Beautiful days were plentiful on his island paradise, yet this one held a somber tint.

Warm wind stirred his hair and rustled his long robes while he strained his ears for footsteps. The cool morning had given way to a bright afternoon, and he hoped his wife would return in time to share it.

He sensed her first. He could locate her anywhere on the island, of course, but out of respect for her privacy he didn’t keep track of her. She tended to walk barefoot these days, springy grass and hard-packed trails passing soundlessly beneath her feet. Laughter cut through the silent grove, causing birds to rustle in their nests. He smiled, knowing no sweeter song than his daughter’s mirth.

She appeared from the bush-shrouded path, skipping forward three steps and backward two, a large gold and purple blossom clutched in one hand. Her eyes grew wide when she saw him. A childish grin split her features. It was impossible to witness the pure, unadulterated joy on her face and not grin like a fool in return.

“Father,” she cried, wheeling in his direction, “look, what I found! Will you braid it into my hair?”

He took the fragile blossom she thrust in his direction and motioned for her to turn around. Her black hair already bore varied blossoms braided in a line, likely her mother’s work. With a soft, thoughtful sound, he waved the flower over her head.

“Good luck finding space for it.” He glanced up to see Catilen smiling at the two of them, arms crossed over her chest as if she were about to chastise him for his failed efforts.

“I’m quite up to the challenge, thank you,” he scoffed with mock severity. He wove the long stem into the braid between two smaller blossoms, though each overlapped the new one. “But where did you get all these?” he asked, lifting his daughter’s chin with his thumb and forefinger.

“I found them, of course.” Laughing, she skipped away to examine another flower bush.

He took the opportunity to focus on his wife. He held out his arms and she walked into them, pressing her cheek to his chest. The sun had gone to work on her dark hair, leaving light brown streaks which only enhanced her beauty.

“How was your visit, my love?” he murmured, hoping to keep their daughter from overhearing.

“Same as usual.” A light sniffle accompanied her answer. “I took him a bouquet. And Morulin wove him a flower wreath, but I don’t think she really understands yet.”

As if on cue, their daughter bounded back from the bushes. She grabbed a handful of silk and tugged her father’s robes until he looked down.

“What is it, sweetling?”

Morulin pursed her lips. “Why does Mommy cry every time she goes to the glade at the top of this hill?”

Seven-year-olds, he had learned, didn’t know not to ask such delicate questions when the subject was present. Catilen looked expectant, clearly unwilling to save him from his daughter’s query.

“Well…” he struggled to provide an answer the child would understand. “Someone she loved is buried at the top of that hill. I suppose she’s sad that he died.”

Mourlin tilted her head and furrowed her brow in a thoughtful way that reminded him of her mother. She was an inquisitive child. He sensed many questions about death in his future.

“If it makes Mommy sad, why’d he have to die?”

Even eight years later, the question cut like a knife. Perhaps because Catilen had never demanded he answer for his actions. And while she would hold no grudge if he avoided the question, she wouldn’t spare him from telling the truth. One day, he would have to face his daughter’s judgment, the same way he’d faced her mother’s.

He cleared his throat. “You see, Moru, sometimes even good people do bad things. And the man buried at the top of the hill, he was trying to do bad things that would have hurt your mother. That’s why he’s dead.”

His daughter’s dark eyes bored into his. He expected a flood of questions about bad people, and if it was okay to kill someone if they were bad. Instead she said, “Will you tell me the story?”

Weariness weighted his smile. “Someday,” he promised, patting her flower-covered head. “But not today.”

“Today, tell me how Mother came to the island!” Morulin demanded as they turned toward the bathhouse. Without a word, she slipped one hand into her father’s and the other into her mother’s as they began the trek.

He chuckled. “Haven’t you gotten sick of that story yet? You’ve heard it hundreds of times.”

“It’s my favorite story,” Morulin declared, beaming. He’d never been so relieved to escape her interrogation.

He glanced over his daughter’s head at his grinning wife. “She’s waiting for me to tell it wrong,” he said in a conspiratorial tone.

“Maybe I should tell you the story,” Morulin beamed.

“You should tell me a story. But if you’re the storyteller, then I get to pick. And I don’t want that story. I want a different one.” A touch of revenge felt sweet after all the times, amidst a fit of tears, she’d demanded extra stories in the wee hours of the morning.

Morulin pouted and sighed as if her father’s antics troubled her greatly. “Which one?” she demanded.

“One of the ones you made up,” he teased, tickling the inside of her palm. “Isn’t that what you do all day in the forest?”

Instead of acting sheepish, Morulin seemed pleased that her play hadn’t gone unnoticed. “I’ll tell you about the time a prince rescued me from a dragon’s tower.”

“Don’t forget to mention almost falling out of a tree,” her mother teased with a light chuckle.

Morulin’s lips twisted in a grimace and, for a moment, he was certain she would unleash a tirade. But they hadn’t capitulated to many of her tantrums and that had largely broken her of the habit. Instead, she turned up her nose like one of their more pampered guests and harrumphed.

“That was the prince’s fault. He climbed my hair all wrong.”

Catilen tried not to laugh but couldn’t restrain her giggles. Her good humor was contagious and he grinned down at his daughter again.

“It’s tricky. The first few times I climbed your mother’s hair, I nearly killed us both.”

Mystified, Morulin glanced at her mother a moment before shaking her head. “But Mommy’s hair is much too short to climb.”

“And thank goodness!” he exclaimed, not sure how he managed to keep a straight face. “I don’t think I could have survived another attempt.”

“Maybe we should cut yours, dearheart.” Catilen allowed the tail end of Morulin’s braid to slide through her fingers. “So that pesky prince can’t pull you out of the tree next time.”

Morulin snatched both hands free of her parents and used them to cover her head. She crushed some delicate petals beneath her fingers, but not so violently they wouldn’t survive the rest of the day. “No, no! I promise I won’t let him climb it again!”

Catilen finally unleashed her laughter, a sound like bells chiming. “I was only teasing,” she reassured her daughter, poking the tip of her nose.

Morulin lowered her hands slowly, her eyes still narrowed with suspicion.

“Well I think you’d better be careful,” he took his turn teasing, “If it grows too much longer, there’ll be so many flowers in your braids, we won’t be able to tell the difference between you and an errant flowerbed. I wouldn’t be surprised if the gardener planted a tree in your hair.”

His daughter’s eyes grew wide, her mouth forming a delicate ‘o’ as she contemplated his words. “Do you really think it’d grow?” she murmured, star struck.

“Run along you,” Catilen chuckled, tousling their daughter’s flower-studded hair. “Even dryads don’t have trees growing out of their heads.”

Giggling, Morulin dashed into the nearby orchard, perhaps to speak to the gardener about making an attempt. Her parents watched her go, hands pressed together in the wake of her absence, each marveling that the other shone so brightly in this little marvel they’d made together.

Almost as one they resumed their pace, their tone subdued now their daughter was absent.

“I hope I didn’t intrude,” he said, squeezing his wife’s hand. “I know you prefer privacy when y-“

“Don’t let it worry you,” she interrupted, returning the pressure of his hand. “I know I’ve gone more often lately it’s just… I’m not sure I can put it to words, Midnight Star. I feel ill at ease.”

He thrilled to hear the special name she’d chosen for him at their wedding. The name only she knew, spoken only when they were alone. The special part of him that belonged solely to her.

“And you think it has something to do with him, Moon Flower?” he asked, responding with the special name he’d chosen for her.

“How could it?” she replied, her tone dismissive.

They walked in silence for a few moments while he considered his wife’s recent mood. She was an Empath, sensitive to the feelings of those around her. She may have endured a particularly unpleasant guest. Or perhaps the island was unhappy; she was uniquely attuned to it, after all.

“Perhaps it’s time for a dimensional shift,” he suggested. They had lingered longer than usual and they were unlikely to receive any new guests.

“Perhaps you’re right,” Catilen agreed after a thoughtful silence. “In any case, I doubt it portends anything. I’ve never been prone to premonitions.”

“When the universe is your backyard, a world grows stale after a few weeks. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally feel the same.”

His wife made no attempt to answer and he was content to walk at her side. He often wondered what she contemplated when she stared into the distance. Her eyes bore a sadness that never completely faded. Did she worry about her mother? Her health had been ill and, though Catilen never spoke of it, he imagined she felt guilty leaving her behind to travel with the island. Perhaps her visit to the grave would ease her ill mood.

“You did well with Morulin,” Catilen said suddenly, returning her focus to him.

Though he wouldn’t have guessed the subject of her ruminations, her statement summoned a distinct sense of relief. Children were more difficult to wrangle than guests. Morulin was the jewel of his life, but he worried he didn’t handle serious situations properly. If Catilen approved, he could relax.

“I worried,” he admitted sheepishly. “She’s more intelligent than I give her credit for. But if I tell her the whole story…”

“She’ll understand when it’s time for her to understand,” Catilen reassured. She paused, laying a hand on each of his shoulders. “I did, didn’t I?”

The tension in his gut eased further. “I couldn’t dream of losing someone so precious, Moon Flower.”

She smiled the radiant smile that made him fall in love with her. “She is a gem, isn’t she? She makes me want more.”

He wrapped his arms around her waist, barely daring to hope. She hadn’t said anything about children since the day their daughter was born and he’d been careful not to mention it. Morulin was an unexpected gift, but Catilen hadn’t been ready and he hadn’t wanted to press.

“I could do with more,” he murmured, letting her hear the hope in his voice.

She chuckled, a playful look on her face. “How many do you want, Midnight Star?”

“I’ll tell you when we’ve had enough,” he countered, flashing her a broad grin.

She threw back her head and laughed, dissipating his anxiety over her mood. “We’re going to need another island, aren’t we?”

He answered with a kiss, on fire with eager passion. If she wanted an island to fill with laughing, running, screaming children, he’d find her one.

When they parted, he pressed his forehead to hers. She ran her fingers down his cheek, sending tiny thrills across his spine. “Will you be busy tonight?” she whispered.

“Oh yes,” he murmured, raising one of her hands to his lips. “With you, I mean.” He grinned.

She snorted and shoved his shoulders as if to push him away. He play-stumbled two feet to the left before resuming his position beside her.

“Come on, Kenjiro,” she laughed. “We’d better get back before your daughter finds another flower she wants in her hair.”

Read Chapter 2
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