Willowy, wise and woody Wilden.
Tall, dark and handsome.
Duty and honor. That’s what he said. You are marrying the human girl out of duty and for the honor of our people. A pact made hundreds of generations ago to bring an end to the conflict and I was the one chosen. I wanted to run away. As far and as fast as I could run I wouldn’t look back. I didn’t care where I ended up but it wouldn’t be to waste 60 or 70 years with a human. They’re born and they die in a blink of our eye.
It was cold on that morning. Snow was in the air and that surely heralded the arrival of the long winter. I liked to sit and listen to the soft gurgle of the stream as the morning light dances off the ice lining its edge. Humans call it peaceful. On that we can certainly agree.
My reverie was shattered by the cacophony of cracking branches under boots and the bark of orders. I peered around the rock and saw her. And only her. A young human girl. How old? I couldn’t tell. Not as tall as a wagon wheel. She was carrying a stick twice her size and issuing orders to invisible companions. Before I realized it she was upon me.
At first she was startled. “Who are you?” she asked. “I am Coverdale. To whom are you speaking?” I asked. “I have an army and I’m leading them out of the valley!” she exclaimed.
I invited her to join me for a spell and told her of the treacherous evils to avoid on her route. She was different from the other humans I’ve met. Her manner was confident and fearless. She was just a child. Her innocence was intriguing and there was a glint in her eye. I remember a time when I was young, playing games and pretending to venture on grand journeys. She spoke fondly of her parents and her elder sister. It was evident she loved Nyx very much. “I don’t think Nyx likes playing these kinds of games though. She likes to get all dressed up and pretend boys are trying to marry her.” she lamented. “I know Mother doesn’t like my coming home all messy but all day in the castle really stinks! There’s nothing fun to do like sneaking out and playing here. One day, I’ll leave the valley. I’ll be on a grand adventure and when I come home, I’ll be greeted like a hero just like the ones in the stories I read in Papa’s study!” She’s the princess! This child was the girl I was to marry. This was Mira.
Oh, I didn’t suddenly change my mind about the marriage. But hearing her talk of leaving the valley had a profound impact on me. My very thoughts spoken from the lips of this precocious child made me suddenly feel small and foolish. I knew then there was no way I could flee from my duty. That wasn’t how I was raised. I am Wilden. I will bring honor to my people.
The winter did begin that day. Snows fell and the forest died in the ritual that is as old as the world itself. A strange thing happened though. With spring so far away, I began to think of the girl. I enjoyed the chance meeting that happened on that cold morning. As spring approached I was ill. I didn’t know what was wrong. In fact, no one could seem to help. I couldn’t seem to focus on my studies and my appetite all but vanished.
As a dying beast releases its final desperate throe against the tightening grip of death, so the darkest and coldest of winter often comes just before the arrival of spring.
I think I knew what was wrong with me. I prayed I was wrong but as I heard her approach, I realized it without question. I missed her very much. Her little sing song voice and the mischief in her eyes. I felt a happiness I hadn’t known before. We played often. We talked and told stories of what awaited those who left the valley. Time passed. I think she was ten. We were the best of friends. By then she knew of the marriage. Looking back though, I don’t think she understood the ramifications of our commitment. As fall came we hugged as we said our tearful goodbyes. Spring will come again. I kissed her cheek.
Over the years we spent much time together. We still spoke of leaving the valley but I truly thought this was a game. To be sure, nobody leaves the valley. I don’t even think anyone really can leave. It was just a game. Just a game.
Until this morning…