She rushed out the door, not sure about what would be outside. After all, it wasn’t her in command in this dream. Or was she?
“ Use your imagination…:” was ringing in her head and she thought of a large, open meadow of poppies, gently sloping towards a patch of forest in the distance. In her mind, she opted for daylight, hoping that she would more easily trace Tyler running wild. Tyler was the one who embodied mindless fear and she was determined to slow him down and try to talk some sense with him.
Her feet delved into the carpet of grass and the blazing red flowers swayed aside gently, leaving her to run freely. The girl was following the hidden trail of footsteps left by the bulky man. Her mind’s eyes were constantly detecting the imprint of angry touch in the ground. Soon , she saw his dark frame with its glowing outline moving forward in short, heavy jumps. He noticed her presence after a while and stopped, turning back.
-What?!-he shouted at her. What do you want?! Why are you following me?!! You said you don’t want to remember me! Go back then and leave me alone! Aarrrgh!!!
His feral growl sent a shiver through Kai’s spine. Tyler raised his hands in despair and flames erupted from the tip of his fingers. He smashed his fist on the ground, setting the summer grass on fire, then he resumed his run. A wall of flames and choking smoke rose in the air, startling the girl. The wave of scorching heat pushed her back and she staggered and fell on her back. She summoned a rain cloud and the pouring rain extinguished the fire. Kai stood up, assessing the situation: a large , black, smoldering trail cut in the colorful meadow showed the way of Tyler. Swallowing her tears, the girl rushed to catch him from behind.
“No, I don’t remember you…The one who echoes inside me has a light that I feel so close to me…But if Joren speaks the truth, I must embrace you too, Tyler because you are part of the whole of the same person!”
I was running breathless, my heart threatening to break out of my chest and my own anger was gone. Tyler’s frightening violence wasn’t scaring anymore. I knew that I have to win his trust, no matter how crazy that might sound. That boiling rage was in fact his vulnerability. I could see him a few steps ahead, banging and smashing trees and bushes, bringing havoc in this imaginary world. He knew I was there, close to him. If only I could read his mind….
-Tyler!-I’ve heard myself calling. Please, stop and talk to me! Help me to remember….-I pleaded, hoping to reach him.
He turned abruptly, ready to fight me but I wouldn’t budge. I stared silently at him , holding his gaze. As the fire of madness was slowly subsiding, I recognized the dark brown eyes I knew already well. Tyler tilted his head incredulously.
-You want to remember….me?-he asked in a husky voice. His eyes narrowed in distrust. -Why would you do that?-he continued, watching me closely.
I breathed out with a sigh. “ Don’t screw it, girl!” I thought. “ Listen to your heart!” I did.
-Because one cannot love the whole until it learns about the parts. It would be a lie and That would only lead to more pain and deception. Please, let’s stop for a moment and talk. I want to understand. I want to remember you.
He scrutinized me for a while, fighting with his long worn mistrust, shadows running wild over his face. But his eyes were gradually clearing and his gaze was softening, pushing back the flaming madness. His whole body was convulsing, torn apart by his inner conflict, his fist clenching, his chest heavily rising….then subsiding with painful sighs. Locked inside the fragile human frame, a wild ocean was rising with thundering noise, pummeling the shores of the tormented soul. It was an epic battle I was witnessing and all I could do was to embrace him in my mind, holding him close with all my might, hoping to make that tempest subside. It did, eventually. Tyler slumped on a heap of grass, muttering:
-The constant fights brought the marriage to an end and fragilized Jordan’s inner balance.Heshe was very much attached to her father but she was left with her mom. Over the years, the crack between child and mother deepened, growing into a dizzying depth. On the tip of that accusing finger, still haunting our host’s day and night, there’s evil determination for control, triggering each time the deep seated conflict between the two of them. I was born out of that: I am Jordan’s shield and revenge-he concluded, his voice now only faint whisper.
Kai watched as Tyler’s contours were fading with each word. In the end, as the echoes of the man’s voice were fading into the wind, all that was left on the heap of grass was a small, peacefully sleeping child. The girl picked him up gently and carefully moving through the sea of poppies spotted grass, she returned into the house. Joren was waiting for her in the door. She led Kai in the hind room and they both tucked the little boy in bed. Kai placed à kiss on his forehead before leaving.
-Sleep well, Jordie….-she murmured. You’re safe.
Early in the morning, she pensively ran her fingers through the strand of hair with burned tips.Ignited by Tyler’s anger, the flames have left a clear mark, reminding Kai that Jordan’s dream and her reality were merging into a new one.
The approaching winter sped up the preparations inside and outside the walls of the Citadel. Some of the ex-Invisibles moved back with their families, while people of the city took a bold step outside the walls, moved into the forest camp and started a new and exciting life in the open. This mutual exchange between the city and the forest smoothed the healing process and helped build a new spirit among the nation of the Silver Tree. After her return from the hilltop where she had planted the seed of the new Tree, Cora joined the process of rebuilding and she became a full time mother for Avik.
With the support of the Elders, the former Invisibles raised a monument inside the Sanctuary in the memory of all who lost their lives foughting against the injustice imposed upon them by Asterius. It was there, that the life and the name of both Leanna, Avik’s mother and Satoru, leader of the Invisibles was inscripted for remembrance for the future generations. As for Commander Rolf Asterius, he was appointed Chief Guardian of the Citadel and, to his own surprise, he became close friend with Ogren, leader of the Foresters. Liberated under the shadow of his uncle, the young commander discovered the value of trust and true friendship.
Winter descended upon the land. Buried deep inside the hill, the Silver Seed was sleeping peacefully, dreaming about the moment of sprouting. On the other side of the world, the Tree of Arberia was watching upon it, guarding the balance of life on both sides of the line separating the two lands. For eons, the Trees had kept protecting life, communicating between each-other, supporting each-other. Under their benevolent surveillance, the colorful nations of humans struggled and thrived, built complex and creative cultures, pushed forward and expanded their horizons. Winter was a season of deep thinking and moments of melancholy. It was the season of storytelling and a time when new myths were born to be told and retold, over and over again, in friendly gatherings and families, near the fireplace, while chilling winds were swirling around the chimneys.
Cora and Avik were living in Satoru’s house, near Petunia and Ogren,the two families spending most of their time together. Even if they were not saying, they were all missing Satoru.
-I can’t be thankful enough for having you here, Ogren-murmured Petunia, leaning against her husband.
-Cora is a brave girl-he replied, kissing the top of her head. She keeps a brave face and I’m happy that she has found solace in Avik. But I saw her lost in thoughts, with shadows crossing her face and I know she’s badly missing Satoru.Their love was just starting to blossom…
-They were made for each other-said Petunia. It was unmistakable. I’ve never seen Satoru so happy and radiant…
-True- murmured Ogren. I wish he was here with us. Now, soon as winter ends, she’s due to fly back to Arberia. I wonder if she’ll ever come back….
A small knock on the door brought them back to reality. Cora was standing there, holding Avik’s hand. She was smiling.
-I apologize for intruding but I made a load of my well known cookies and it’s no fun to eat them alone! Besides, we have a lot to talk before winter ends. And of course, Avik was nagging me to bring him to play with his friends.
The evening brightened up in laughter and cookie-eating and Cora shared her plans for the future with her close friends.
-I’m not sure how my home coming will end up. When I left a year ago, I wasn’t giving much thought to the perspective of becoming Queen. My mind was filled with dreams of exploring the world beyond the horizon. But now….My heart is buried here but I feel responsible for my people at home to. I’m sure that Mom had already exhausted my dear Dad with her worries and I miss my little sister, Amita too.
-Are you travelling with Avik, Cora? He could live with us until you sort out your life at home…
Cora shook her head.
-No, my dear Petunia. I already told him that we would travel together. Thank you both for your kindness but I want him to meet his other family too. Satoru and I, we made him a promise and the untimely death of my beloved left me in charge. I won’t fail any of them. And we’ll be back, both of us, as soon as possible.
-So be it! -said Ogren with a nod. Now, there’s only one cookie left on the plate. Can I have it, or we’ll fight for it?
They all laughed and the evening went on in good mood.Outside, the nightwind swirled, scattering icy star-flakes upon the world….
Cora and Avik departed as soon as the snow melted and the the first signs of Nature’s renewal were showing on land and skies. The grey of the winter dome changed into bright azure and fluffy white clouds were chasing each other in the skies, pushed by the playful breeze of Spring.
Cora was flying by the side of her child who was riding his father’s faithful Shadowcat ,so she needed more time to reach the Arberian Tree. On their way, they stopped at the site where the Silver Seed was planted. To Cora’s great surprise, the crust of the land had cracked, making way to the graceful young Tree emerging from below. They both embraced the Tree, connecting with him. For a fraction of a moment, the young woman felt the echoes of a familiar heartbeat coming from the tree….They took farewell from the Silver Tree and soon, they crossed the line and took up the path leading to the Arberians.
Perched on the windowsill of Cora’s room Amita was scrutinizing the horizon, waiting for her sister’s return. Ever since the Queenies started to come back one by one, she hoped that Cora will be among them. She was missing her sister and she knew that her return will put an end to their parents’ distress.
Having no signs of Cora’s whereabouts proved to be too much for them. Though Galaor was trying to keep his wife calm and optimistic, lately, that has become almost impossible. Bella had asked some of the returning Queenies about their daughter and when she heard that they have lost her sight after a terrible storm, she broke down in tears.
-She won’t come back, you’ll see!-she cried, while her husband was trying to comfort her.
-She will come back, my dear, believe me! I know her and I know that she’s the best Queenie of all!
But when they reached the final day and Cora was still nowhere to see, his own confidence disappeared. They joined the homecoming of the rest of the Queenies with heavy heart. Galaor and Bella watched the girls; they have changed a lot during the year that has passed. The complexity and even the hardship of their task has helped each of them to develop in a unique, personal way. Right now, it was hard to say which of them would be the chosen one as future Queen. They both sighed, thinking of how their daughter might have looked if she was there….
Emerging from her chambers, the Queen greeted her people, eyeing the line of Queenies waiting before her.
-Is everyone here today, my children?-she asked.
-No, My Lady- said the leader of the Queenies. We seem to have lost Cora, daughter of Galaor and Bella.
At that moment, there was a small commotion at the doors of the Ceremony Hall.
-Everyone is here, My Lady!- said the newcomer loud and clear.
All eyes turned and a tall, slender young woman, with fiery hair cut short above her neck, entered the room, walking confidently to the center of the Ceremony Hall. She was holding a brown bunny rabbit in her arms. Making her way through the people gathered in the room, her strong aura brushed over them. A yelp and a relieved sigh followed her and Cora smiled, knowing that her parents were finally at ease. She joined the ranks of the Queenies and the Queen acknowledged her arrival with contentment.
-My children, it’s wonderful to see all of you coming home!-she said, stepping forward to greet them. It’s been a long year for all of us and looking at you, I can see it was a fruitful one. A year ago, ten teenage girls left our Tree and now ten beautifully matured young ladies returned to it.
Slowly passing by each of them, the Queen embraced every Queenie, touching foreheads,while Madam First Lady was collecting the Recommendation letters. When she finally stopped before Cora, she asked her, pointing at the small bunny:
– Who is he?
-He is my son, My Lady but he’s got a bit overwhelmed by so many strangers. Come, Avik-she said softly to the bunny- you’re safe now. Remember that I’ve told you about our Queen? She wants to meet you.
There was a rumor of amazement when, with a small tremor, the rabbit changed back to his shape of a little boy with hazelnut eyes and curly, black hair. He looked up to the woman smiling him and said:
-Hi! My name is Avik. Are you the Queen?
-Yes, I am the Queen- she said gently.
-You have beautiful wings!- said the little boy. Just like my Mommy.
-Thank you, Avik! That’s very nice of you to say- replied the Queen. Glad to meet you! Cora, I look forward to hear your story!
-Thank you, My Lady!-said Cora with a bow.
The Queen returned to her throne, followed by the First Lady.
-My dear people! I want you to greet and celebrate our Queenies while I will spend my time reading the Recommendation letters. We’ll meet here again when I’ve reached my conclusions!
She left the room while Bella and Galaor rushed to embrace their daughter. Cora picked up Avik and made her way through the swarm of jolly people. When they finally saw each other, she literally flew in their arms.
-I’ve told you she’s the best and that she won’t get lost!-said Galaor to his wife, swallowing the lump in his throat.
-Oh, shut up, Galaor. You’re an awful liar. Do you think I am blind? I have seen your face these latter days…-she teased him between tears. Oh, Cora, this was such a hard year!
Bella embraced her daughter while Galaor, waiting for his turn, tried to make friends with Avik. It proved easier than anyone would’ve expected but for Cora it didn’t came as a surprise. She knew her father was a gentle giant with a natural gift for tending children. But the most excited about Avik proved to be Amita. After covering her sister’s face with the sweetest kisses of all, she took the little boy by the hand and they quickly disappeared in her room. Hours later, when Cora and her parents peeked through the door, the two children were playing together happily.
-You have to tell us all that happened-pleaded Bella. We were so upset, hearing that you got lost in that heavy storm. Only the strong trust of your father kept us afloat these days.
-I’m sorry, Mom and Dad but I had to follow my guts. I know that I have promised not to get in trouble…-she said with a wink. But the dream I had the night before the flight and the words of encouragement from the Queen pushed me forward…and I did it! My quest was worth all the efforts…but I’ve missed your cooking, Mom!
They all laughed and Cora took a mouthful of her favorite dish.
-So, what’s beyond our boundaries, my dear?-asked Galaor. I assume you have reached that place. Avik doesn’t look like an Arberian child…
-You’re right, Dad. He’s not an Arberian. His land is that of the Silver Tree and the White Citadel. Let me finish this wonderful meal and tuck the children in bed and I will tell you the story of my journey.
That night, after rocking Amita and Avik to sleep with a funny story and lots of kisses, Cora sat with Bella and Galaor, opening the book of memories, telling the story of the love and fight for a new dawn in the land of the Silver Tree.
The Queen was in her chambers, reading the letters brought back by the Queenies. They were extensive recounts of the deeds and decisions taken by each girl in the community they had joined during a year of time. Each story had its own value and flavor and on the whole, the Queen couldn’t be more satisfied. But of all stories, Cora’s journey stood out by far. The letter had been written by both the Council of Elders and the Leaders of the Foresters and they were speaking of her selflessness and bravery. The tragic story of Leanna and Avik was part of the recount and the Queen was deeply saddened, reading it. What Cora had achieved was very impressive. Still, the Queen needed a private talk with each outstanding Queenie, before making her choice.
She sent for them, one by one, listened to them, talked with them and carefully assessed her impressions. Most of them were determined to step up the throne and take the lead of Arberia. Cora was her final guest. She came on her own; Avik was in her parents care and he was enjoying Amita’s company. The two kids were getting along so well that you would’ve thought they were siblings. Life in Arberia was joyful and the Tree was an excellent playground for the inquisitive little ones.
When she entered the Queen’s chamber, Cora looked preoccupied. She had spent a lot on thinking what to do. She didn’t want to get stuck here and lose her personal freedom. She couldn’t bear the thought of being far from the Silver Tree. Her heart was there and she would’ve died missing her connection with it. She said nothing about this to Galor and Bella but she felt she owe the Queen the truth. So when the Queen asked her about the decision she made, she poured out her heart.
-My Lady, just like my little Avik, I belong to both lands. I cannot make a choice that would leave out any of these two nations and Trees. I don’t want to disappoint you or anyone of my fellow Arberians but I want to keep my freedom , I want to travel from one land to the other, to keep alive my connection with each Tree. If that means that I cannot be Queen of Arberia, I beg to step aside and I apologize for letting you down!
-You don’t have to apologize for anything, my child-said the Queen. I’m happy to see that you have used wisely my piece of advice and you have followed your fire. Go, join your family and say hello to your son from me. Soon, I will make public my choice!
Cora bowed respectfully and left the chamber. The Queen walked slowly to the window and leaned against the wall.
-I’m ready for a long vacation, my friend….-she whispered and the Tree understood.
Three more days passed and the excitement of the Arberians was on the rise. The day the Soul Bell rang, summoning them at the Ceremony Hall found them buzzing like a bee hive. Queenies, families, friends, Court people, adults and children, old and young, they all joined to witness the coronation of a new Queen.
The hind wall opened and the Queen stepped in. She looked radiant and this time she was wearing the crown of blue leaves and golden sticks that she would give to her successor. She sat on the throne, looked around, benevolently smiling and she spoke to her audience:
-My dear people! As all of you know, my time as Queen is over and today. A new Queen will step up the throne of Arberia.These days I have examined carefully each candidate and I must say that all of them could become a good Queen. This was not an easy choice. I have spent the last year thinking a lot about our world and the future it might hold for us. My choice reflects the conclusions I’ve reached during this lonely year.
Times are changing and we need a Queen that would be both thoughtful and bold, opened to new challenges, ready to face them and to make the most difficult choices. This year, the boundaries of our world have been extended and we’ve learned that we are not alone. There is more to come in the future, so from our wonderful winged daughters I have chosen the one that has already proven that she’s able to deal with such challenges.
Come forward, Cora and take this crown! It belongs to you, as new Queen of Arberia!.
In the deep silence that followed her words, the Queen stepped down the throne, took off her crown and held it out to the young woman.
-Mommy?! This means you are the Queen now?-asked Avik.
The clear voice of the child reverberated around the room and broke the tension. People burst into happy laughter, in cheering and applauses.
-See? -said one of the Queenies, kicking her neighbor with the elbow. I’ve told you that she could become the Queen. She was flying higher than any of us!
Cora bowed before the Queen and let her place the crown on her head. The old Queen took the new one by the hand and guided her to the throne, then she stepped aside, sitting in a chair placed next to it. For a moment, Cora was overwhelmed by emotions but then she spoke in a loud and clear voice:
-My dear Arberians! One year ago, we left our home as a group of girls caught between childhood and adult life. Little we knew about the world and our horizon was stretching to the limits of land encompassed by the roots of our Tree. From all the girls in the squadron, I was the one lucky enough to be pushed beyond that line. For me, it was a life changing experience. I have discovered another land, inhabited by beautiful people like us, caught in a sad,sad situation. It was their tragedy that opened my eyes upon the fragility of our peaceful, joyous life. It was their struggle that has shown me the power of goodness, courage and selflessness . I have returned home determined to protect the things we all value in our life. I have returned determined to connect our worlds and to restore the balance of the lands living under the benevolent protection of the Trees.
I’ve buried my heart at the feet of the new Silver Tree, so I belong to the people there. But my heart was born here so I came home to put myself in the service of my people as well. I am a person of my words and I will live my life to fulfil the promises I made in both lands. Your love, your kindness and support will help me become the Queen you all expect me to be!
The room filled with cheers as the echoes of Cora’s words faded. People rushed to greet her, while the new Queen walked through the hall and stepped out in the large balcony, to salute the Arberians who gathered outside. Bella and Galaor found themselves showered with attention, while Amita and Avik ran after Cora and joined her in the balcony.
So here comes to an end a chapter of history and a new one begins. Its story is still to be written. Right now, everyone is celebrating. Grab your cup of wine, my friends and cheers!
The new Queen was leaning against the trunk of the Silver Tree. Still a young tree , it was already soaring high and holding a magnificent crown of branches and leaves. Its bark was smooth and felt like skin under her touch. Cora embraced the Tree and closed her eyes, her thoughts drifting away. The light touch of two hands, lovingly holding hers, reached from the other side of the Tree and brought the young woman back from the reverie.
“I’m here…..-whispered the well-known voice. And I am here to stay….”
In the history of the Tree people, Cora remained under the name of Travelling Queen. She spent her entire life reviving the long forgotten connections of the Trees of outer lands and bringing together their nations. Under her loving protection, Avik and Amita grew into beautiful young people, becoming ambassadors of the Tree connections. They eventually became a couple, strengthening even more the connection of Arberians and Silverians.
When her time came and a new Queen took the reign of the lands, Cora said farewell to everyone and visited for the last time the Silver Tree. She stopped before it, placing her palms on the large, leathery trunk. The Silver Tree opened and Cora stepped into the arms of her beloved Satoru. The Tree closed behind her…..
If you’re passing by in a misty summer morning, turn your eyes to the hilltop. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of Cora and Satoru, sitting in the grass, talking quietly about the times that had passed and those that are about to come…Or maybe it’s just the wind whispering in the meadow…..
PS. I dedicate this story to everyone who dares to dream and who has not lost the hope that goodness, courage, love, acquiescence, thoughtfulness prevail in Humanity.
I dedicate this story to those who dare to be themselves, to be different, to embrace their own beauty and uniqueness when odds are against them.
I dedicate this story to my wonderful LGBTQI+ friends around the world, the ones who constantly refuse to become Invisibles.
Up in the Citadel, Asterius was rabid with rage.
-I want every inch of the wall searched and I want you to find the tiniest crack that can serve as escape route for these monsters!-he shouted at his nephew, Rolf Asterianus who was serving as his aid. I cannot believe that they keep getting off , avoiding our surveillance!
-It’s been increasingly difficult to stop them, even to uncover them lately.-grumbled the young man in response. I’m not sure anymore who’s surveilling who. Since Sa…
-Don’t speak his name!!!!
Asterius slammed his fist on the table, cracking its top. His son’s departure to join the Changers outside the Citadel had been a hard blow to his pride. There was no love lost between them but the foolish boy was still bearing his name. And to make things even worse, others followed him, supporting the escapees. Even the Silver Tree seemed to mock him, withering and losing vitality despite the best efforts to keep it alive.
-Leave me alone! -he growled, sending Rolf away. I have to make a plan to crush these vermins once and for all!
He turned his back on the young man and stood before the high window, scrutinizing the dark expanse of the forest.
“ I’ll find you! I’ll find you!” he thought, gritting his teeth.
They’ve reached the tree house late in the afternoon after crossing much of the forest, passing by the various small communities of Citadelians and Changers living there. People greeted Satoru with much sympathy and followed the winged girl with unhidden curiosity. Savian’s house appeared before them in a small clearing. It well adjusted to the shape of the tree and it was cleverly camouflaged by the crown of branches and leaves. Memories of her own home surfaced in the mind of the Queenie and she muffled a sigh. The Shadowcat stopped and Satoru signaled their presence with a whistle. Opening the tree-crown above, a special ladder unfolded till it reached the ground. It was built to accommodate the feline and its rider. Cora followed them closely.
Behind the curtain of leaves, the door opened to a room lit by glowing yellow globes, pending from the ceiling. The walls were full of books and colorful pieces of arts and crafts. There was a thick , soft carpet on the floor and low chairs to sit.
-Good afternoon, Master Savian!-said Satoru. I came with a guest, if you don’t mind.
-Good afternoon, Satoru! Good afternoon, young lady!-replied a deep, velvety voice.
Savian entered the room to greet them, leaving the Arberian girl speechless. A man in his early fifties, he was tall and majestic, wearing an ink-blue robe embroidered with silver feathers. His kin was dark brown with a copper gloss and his long, black hair was braided in numerous thin tails. His eyes were incredibly blue and their gaze was piercingly clear. He bowed courteously before Cora, but he assessed her in a blink of an eye.
-Your coming was signaled already, Satoru along with the presence of your graceful companion. Welcome to my humble home, Miss Cora! What a pair of beautiful wings! It brings back happy memories of my youth. I used to fly a lot but now, I am more an earthling….
Cora blushed but to replied quickly:
– Thank you for receiving us, Master Savian! I am on a personal quest here and I think I could be of help in your effort to bring back the balance of this land.
-Hmmm…You seem to be a very determined young lady. How much do you know about us?
-Not much, Master Savian ; but Satoru told me that you’re the beholder of knowledge.
-Then let me share with the two of you my modest place and while having dinner, I’ll try to shed some light on our recent history.
Sipping the warm, fragrant tea poured in colorful cups, Cora and Satoru were listening to Savian’s recount of memories. His voice was full of emotion as he was telling about the tragic days twenty some years before….
-My most powerful memory of all is that of a young woman, facing the “disappearance “ of her beloved husband. They were recently married and madly in love. This Curse of invisibility was a harsh and long forgotten penalty, used hundreds of years before only in the worst cases like vicious murder or treason. Those days were largely forgotten so the impact of the revival of the curse was even more powerful. This woman had watched the entire act, eyes in eyes with her husband and the moment his last visible piece vanished, she broke the line and rushed to embrace him. She held him close and she didn’t want to let go, no matter how hard others tried to drag her away! This image stayed fresh in my mind and gave me the strength to continue the fight.
-So…are you a Changer?
Cora and Satoru were sitting on the steps of the house, days after visiting Savian. The encounter made a great impression on the Queenie and she grew even more determined to be by the side of the outcasts. As for Satoru, he came back strengthened in his trust towards her; he could see Savian opening before the girl like never before. Maybe this was the sign he had been waiting for…Satoru turned his attention to Cora:
-No, I am not-he said. One doesn’t have to suffer to become aware of others’ pain and to step in to help those who are suffering. One simply has to act upon its true self. By the way,you’re not a Changer either and here you are, ready to get involved in our fight.
She shook her head with a smile.
-Hmmm, yes….You’re right. So…what if I fly over the walls and rescue people like I did with Avik?
-Avik is a small child. Hauling an adult would be hard and dangerous. The White Guards are all over the place. We’ve got messages from inside that Asterius has sent them to check every corner of the wall. He is a madman, Cora. I wouldn’t put you in his way!
It was a passionate outburst from this calm and balanced young man, bringing back a small detail Cora recalled hearing in that previous discussion between Satoru and Petunia, Ogren’s wife.
-You seem to know well Asterius….-she said quietly.
There was a moment of silence then Satoru murmured in a low voice:
-He is my father. Growing up separated from him helped me see clearly who he really is.
The pain was clearly audible in the restraint of Satoru’s voice and Cora decided to go further tactfully.
-What happened?-she asked softly.
-He couldn’t accept that I was born crippled-sighed the young man. I never thought that I would be scorned for something that wasn’t my fault. No matter how hard I would’ve tried, I couldn’t change the fact that I was born impaired. But for my father this was the ultimate humiliation. Not only that the woman he sought refused him, but his son was crippled, a failure, good for nothing. The moment he realised that I will never be able to follow his footsteps, he moved out from home and left my gentle mother in shame and despair. He was sending her money to live and to raise me, but forbid her to get in touch with him. When my cousin was born, he took him under his protection and raised him with all the attention he should’ve given to me…
– That must’ve been awful…-sighed Cora, remembering her joyful connection with her father.
– No. Not so much….I was a child, I had friends of my age who weren’t disturbed by my limitations and I always loved to read, to learn and to dream. But I saw my Mom slowly fading like a withering flower and many times I caught her wiping her tears or muffling her sobbs. She loved me dearly and the pain my father inflicted on us, shortened her life. This is something I can neither forget, nor forgive.
-I can understand that, Satoru….-whispered Cora.Something dark and very dangerous must inhabit your father’s heart.
-It’s cold ambition and vanity, nothing more. His heart is devoid of love and warmth-said Satoru bitterly. Oh, well! Enough sadness ! Come with me, Cora! I want to show you something.
The Silver Tree was dozing in the dim light filtering through the ceiling. For the first time in countless years, it was sleeping peacefully. Deep inside its core, a seed of hope was growing. The flash of message it received recently, brought the Tree back to life. In these rare moments of comfort, the Tree was dreaming of happy times, of love, of joy, of freedom. Cuddling inside its silver shell, the Spirit of the Tree was dreaming too. Somewhere close, a girl with fiery hair was coming to save them.
Riding his shadowcat, Satoru lead Cora to Goren and Petunia’s home. A safe enclosure provided playing ground to the orphans. The children were playing in the warm sun, watched by two women. One of them was Petunia, holding her baby who seemed to enjoy the happy noises and the fresh air. Cora’s eyes were searching for Avik inside the group of children.
-Did you spot him?-asked Satoru, guessing her preoccupation.
-I cannot find him- she answered. I can’t believe that I’ve already forgotten how he looks…
The girl was visibly upset.
-You cannot recognize him because he is hiding. He’s a Changer. Look under the tree in the corner. What do you see on the ground ?
Cora looked carefully and saw a small brown rabbit hiding in the shade. She turned questioningly to Satoru. He nodded affirmatively.
-He’s changing because he’s upset. He’s a sensitive little boy; he needs time to adjust, even if he’s well taken care. Petunia is a great mother to all of them but she’s not his mother.
Cora felt a lump in her throat. She turned to Petunia who was coming to greet them.
-Good morning, Petunia! Satoru brought me to see the children. Could you introduce me to them? I don’t want to frighten them with my strange appearance but I would love to see Avik!
-Good morning, my friends-said Petunia warmly. I’m glad you came; this might ease the boy’s anxiety. Come, Cora! I’ll introduce you to the kids.
She handed her baby to the other woman and took Cora to the playground, presenting her to the children. They surrounded the Queenie, they asked her lots of things about her wings and she allowed them to touch. The kids giggled and after a while, they returned to their games. Cora headed to the tree and carefully sat down next to the bunny rabbit. She felt awkward for a moment; it was hard to believe that this little animal was in fact a human child. What if they are making fool of her? She quickly dismissed the thought. Trust is a two way street; one has to trust in order to be trusted. She gently caressed the bunny.
-Hello, Avik….It’s me, the lady with the cookies. Do you remember me? Look, I’ve brought you another one.
She took a cookie from her pocket and placed it in the grass,right under the nose of the bunny. It worked. The little rabbit shook and reversed appearance. The little boy hopped in her lap, cuddling in Cora’s arms, holding her strong. She embraced him lovingly and kissed the top of his head, rocking him gently.
-Don’t worry, Avik. I will always be here for you.
-I must admit she’s working miracles-said Petunia, watching the bonding outside the playground.
-She does -said Satoru.
He was feeling it to. The following days and weeks, Cora spent as much time as possible with Avik. The little boy has grown to her heart and she was determined to help him leave his cocoon. Having a little sister at home and missing her, helped Cora to build the love and trust Avik needed to regain his innocent joy. Cora was often spending the evening reading stories from the book Avik had from his mother or simply improvising funny stories about her own land, Arberia. The children loved the stories and Petunia was grateful for the help. She could rest more and spend time with her baby and her family. So from the rough beginning, Cora and Petunia ended up as good friends and the Queenie won a well deserved respect inside the community of the outcasts.
Ever since the group of Queenies left the Tree, Cora’s mind was set on her own goal: to reach that unknown horizon she had scrutinized so many times from the highest branches. She was also pushed forward by the inner feeling left by the strange dream before the departure. That plea, that spirit lost inside the reddish fog couldn’t be a random appearance. Nor were the Queen’s words said to her: “Follow your fire!”….All these things were giving her an extra boost to follow her quest.
She decided to take a sharp turn upward, leaving the group to fly far below. From here, she could see the larger picture of her homeland. It was a magnificent patchwork of colors and textures, features, sounds and scents. She inhaled the message of blossoming orchards and sun bathed meadows, the fresh taste of clear springs filled her mouth. She opened her senses to the world surrounding her and let all the beauty fill her up. A gentle breeze caught her in its flow and carried her forward.
-Coraaa! Where are you going?!-shouted one of the Queenies..
-Oh, let her go, she’s always been a nuisance!-mumbled another girl. She has a head full of stupid dreams.
-She’ll never be a Queen! But you cannot have much expectations from a Rooter – sneered another Queenie.
-I wouldn’t be so sure…-murmured the firts girl, glancing above. She seems to be able to reach higher than any of us…..
The group continued its flight in silence, each girl scrutinizing the land below to find a place to land. They were flying already for several days and the communities were becoming scarce and isolated. The girls were sleeping on the ground at night, refilling energies for the next day. As the days passed by, the number of Queenies was diminishing with each location they’ve discovered. Though none of them admitted, the girls were seeking locations as close as possible to their home. The weather had been gentle and calm, posing no threat to the flight.
But that changed one day by noon. The unusually warm morning was followed by an abrupt change in the air. Rushed by the strong winds, the clouds built up into a huge,menacing wall inside the steel-grey waters of the sky. The few remaining Queenies changed direction, looking for shelter. Luckily, they’ve spotted the opening of à cave and hurried to hide inside. Cora was lagging behind, fascinated by the unfolding of the storm and the dramatic changes in the skies. As she was watching the thick, grey wall descending, a dark vortex opened inside, touching ground. A cacophony of crazed voices and screams erupted around her, mixing with the furious swirl of leaves, sticks, dirt caught up by the powerful winds. Before she could move and retract to safety, the storm engulfed her. Cora closed her eyes and delved into the current, trying to reach the core of the storm. In the deafening noise she heard a painful veiling, one that she already knew:
-Help meeee……Don’t leave me aloooone….
With a strong push, Cora punctured the swirling wall and landed inside the eye of the storm. It was a huge column of light and silence, eerie and otherworldly. The bold girl flew upwards, trying to find a safe exit. The higher she got, the stronger the presence of someone watching her became. It was an unseen entity, scrutinizing her from inside the misty glow. Cora turned around, tense and determined. Nothing. She looked up and saw two spots opening in the white fog: they were resembling to a pair of cold blue eyes fixing her. She gazed back defiantly.
“ I’m not afraid!-she thought. You don’t scare me!”
That moment, the storm stopped and vanished, leaving her standing at the border of an unknown land. She could feel under her feet the faint touch of the roots of the Tree of Arberia. Her spirit was intimately connected to it. But one step further there was a different land with a different feel. Small, yellow-grey grass was covering the earth and the land was gently sloping towards a large, dark expanse of dense forest. Somewhere in the distance there was a white brilliance , standing out in the middle of the place. Conflicting sensations washed over the bold Queenie; was she meant to go further or she simply should stay on her land? The call of the unknown was too powerful to be denied, so taking a deep breath, she stepped forward.
The earth felt hard and reluctant under her feet, leaving a sense of unease. Cora bent and ran her fingers over the tips of the grass….Strange: it felt…sad, hollow, disconnected. The simple joy of life seemed to have vanished from this land. Cora sprang in the air and took flight towards the white glow in the distance. Below her, the forest was unfolding its stern, deep green canopy with occasional clearings disrupting the monotony.
It took her a great deal of effort and days of flight to get close to that place. At first the white light was like a shimmering star, then grew into a globe of light, like the full Moon and at last, she arrived to a huge clearing. Right in its center, the Citadel was boldly soaring towards the skies. Even in the scarce light of the moonless night, the smooth, white walls were glowing with an eerie light. You could see inside the gathering of graceful towers, arcades with laces of Moon-stone adorning each column, dozens of airy buildings seemingly topping on each-other….And higher than any other was an electric-blue building, resembling to a rising swan, hiding its face in the wings. Cora was awestruck by the beauty of the Citadel. She has never seen such a magnificent place; she simply couldn’t take her eyes of it. Only when she heard a scream, she turned her attention to what was happening below. The contrast between the light pouring from the city and the darkness surrounding its perimeter was not allowing a clear sight of the events unfolding. But she heard the sobs after the echoes of the screams died and took a sharp flight to where the sound was coming from. Something small was moving in the darkness and it was crying.
A child. A small and frightened child, lost in the night. Cora’s heart sank, remembering Amita. She landed in front of the child and took him up, holding him close.
-Shhhht, don’t cry, little one! You’re safe with me….
She flew up in the light and hurried to put as much distance as possible between the two of them and the dangerously beautiful place. She was hoping to find a small clearing where they could sleep safely at night.
“What other dangers might lurk in this strange place?” -Cora wondered. One thing was sure; the child in her arms was not a monster; it was a human being just like her. Against all appearances, the monsters might be inhabiting the bright city and not the dark forest. Otherwise why would such a small child be on his own, outside in the night?
The night wind cleared the skies and the stars were shining now without any disturbance, their sparkling highlighting a grassy spot in the forest. Cora descended carefully and put down the child next to a tall tree.
-Sit here and I will make a bed of leaves and grass. Are you hungry?- she asked.
-Uhum…-came the answer after a little nod.
Cora put down her backpack and fished for a moment inside it; she took out a handful of cookies and filled the outreached palms of the child.
-Here, eat these. They are cookies with milk and berries. I made them. Don’t move from here because you might get lost in the darkness. I won’t be far. I just want to bring a few branches with leaves. I’ll be right back.
She grabbed a small axe from her pack and walked towards the nearby bushes. She bumped into a tall shape barring her way and before she could react, something hit her from behind and the world turned black before her eyes.
-Ogren, I’ll take her. Go pick up the child and hurry! We don’t know who else might be around here-said one of the dark shapes. He bent over Cora and lifted her on the back of the animal he was riding. Be gentle!-he added turning to his companion. Don’t frighten the child! He’s been through enough….
-Don’t worry, Satoru!-said the other. My skills have greatly improved since I became a father. We’ll follow you in a moment!
This time the scenery was one of a solid family house, with flowerbeds in the front yard and a playground guarded by a magnificent cherry tree in the back. In deep contrast with the serenity of the place, the noises coming from inside were disturbing. The high pitched voice of the woman and the low baritone of the man were fighting furiously over something. After a few steps made in the direction of the house, the girl could see them well, standing in the room, facing each other. A silent and frightened child was standing between them, covering his ears with his hands.
-She’s my daughter, I want her to wear this ribbon in her hair! -shouted the mother. I want her to look pretty!
She dragged the child closer to her and she was about the tie the ribbon around the soft, hazelnut strands when the father intervened.
-She’s not more of a girl than he is a boy! Leave him alone! Come, Jordie, let’s go out. Here, I have a nice beret for you! I know these are your favorite colors!
He took the child by the hand and put the blue and green striped beret on his head. The mother watched him, shaking her head in disbelief.
-She’s my daughter….
-And he is my son- said dryly the father.
The child said nothing. He stood there, frozen in the wind of parental ambition, in the clash of wishes and wants, alone and scared. His tears were falling inwardly, in a world where he was safe and where he used to hide each time the tempest erupted around him. In that world, sounds were soft and people were friendly and no one pushed or dragged him, no one shouted at him for reasons he couldn’t comprehend. And while his parents continued to sneer and hiss at each-other, the child grew into the rebellious, wild teenager that was taking harder and harder the fights around him.
In the incessant rumble of angry voices, the scenery changed like a fragment of an old movie on celluloid melting under the hot touch of passing Time. The room was that of a teenager, with posters, music, a guitar…other things scattered in a very personal chaotic order. The inhabitant of the room was standing in front of a tall mirror, dark brown eyes fixing their dark brown reflection in a mix of anger and despair.
As much as I could see by now, it became clear that whoever that person in the mirror was, it wasn’t an average one. The changes in the outside, with their everyday challenges were matched by the complexity and elusiveness of its inner world. And the conflicts inside the house were just getting worse. The Jordie I’ve met was almost imperceptible inside the young person grabbing the frame of the mirror and with him, gone were the carefree laughters and joys of the age of innocence. A sense of loss engulfed me as I was standing outside the room and I wished I could find a soothing word for the troubled young before me.
A wave of angry shouts surged from somewhere and I saw the one in the mirror cringing in pain.
-Stop!! Stop it!!-shouted to the quarreling adults. Stop arguing over me! Leave me out of this! I am who I say that I am!!!
With an angry movement of the fist it hit its own the reflection, shattering the mirror. The powerful blow brought Time to a halt, resulting in an awkward, slow motion dance of the glittering shards of glass…To my deep astonishment, each splinter of mirror was carrying à different face. There were faces of men, women, children of various ages and features, dancing in the light, reflecting bits and pieces of a soul that has been broken gradually in time….These were the faces of the ones inhabiting that hidden inner world and now, they were released into the daylight and scattered into a world that wasn’t their home.
Just as quick, the motion reversed and the surface of the mirror wobbled, then quieted down, unharmed. The youth staggered, holding its pained fist. The mirror was intact. But it was empty. The pieces of the shattered child were gone. Heshe turned to me and I could read the question in the deep brown eyes:
-Do you remember me?
I woke up crying.
She woke up gasping for air, her face wet with tears. Leaving the embrace of this dream was becoming increasingly difficult. Each time she was stepping outside the gates, the call of the powerful emotions left behind was tearing into her heart.
She wiped off her tears with a sigh and jumped from the bed. It was getting late. She went to the bathroom and washed her face, then confronted the image in the mirror. Dark eyes, chestnut hair. The average face of an ordinary girl, living and happy, comfortable life. She had no reasons to complain. She had all the reasons to be cheerful and content about her life during the day. But her nights….
Well, that was an entirely different thing. Her nights were opening into another world and another life. It hadn’t been always like that. Her sleep used to be just as quiet and peaceful as were her days. Then everything changed. It happened one night, one particular night when the Moon knocked on her eyelids and she woke up, slightly confused and with an eerie feeling…
She was sitting on her bed, in full moonlight, shivering at the touch of a faint breeze. The walls of her room were gone and she has awaken in an unfamiliar milieu. Wrapping the blanket around her shoulders, she stepped down and walked into the surrounding light. This place was shrouded in a silence so deep that she could count her own heartbeats. She walked cautiously, trying to decipher some contours inside that glow. Emerging under the reign of the Moon, the space unfolding before her wasn’t entirely dark.
Only a few steps further, the night ended abruptly before the pair of round gates opening in an old wall of bricks. The landscape visible behind the intricate pattern of bars was in full daylight and she could see a grassy pathway curving into the patch of summer forest. The girl stopped at the gates and gingerly touched them. A strange current seeped through her fingers, running down her spine and shaking her confidence. It was a kind of warning and for a moment she felt like she was intruding in someone’s intimacy. She suddenly realised that this wasn’t her dream anymore. Somehow she has awaken in someone else’s one and the gates she was facing were guarding the entrance of another person’s soul.
The weight of the discovery was overwhelming and the girl turned back sharply, running to her bed left in the moonlight. She curled up under the sheets and closed her eyes. The wave of dreams washed over her, sending her back to the swirling river of fantasy. Hours later she woke up at home, carrying only a faint memory of her awkward trip.
But when her eyes popped up the following night, she knew exactly where she was. The gates were there, slightly cracked, inviting her. This time, she took the challenge and entered the realms of the opening land. The grass was soft under her feet and the air was warm and fragrant. The sound of the excited giggling of a small child reached her ears:
-Kittyyyy! Kitty-kit!! Wait for me!Kitty!! Where are you?!
A little boy, four or five years old perhaps, came running, chasing a small white cat that was escaping towards the forest. With a playful spring, the ball of fur disappeared in the greenery ahead, leaving the child baffled but determined to pursue his goal.
-I’ll catch you, kitty! I’ll catch you!
He ran into the woods with arms open, eyes shining in expectation. The girl looked around for a parent but she saw no one. Oh well, this was a dream and logic was the last thing you would expect….Still, she felt responsible for the child so she hurried to catch up with him. Under the canopy of the forest it was pleasantly warm and the light was playing in dots and shimmering patches around her. She caught a glimpse of the child’s white shirt and she sped in that direction. The kitten was nowhere to see…
-Kitty! Kitty?! Come back! Kitty…..
The small voice was turning upset and tearful.
-Hey!-shouted the girl. Hey, little one! Wait! Don’t go further! It might be dangerous!
But the child didn’t seem to hear her. His whole world was focused on his quest for the runaway kitten. Eyes glued on a moving spot of light, he jumped back to action shouting joyfully:
-Here you are! I saw you! I saw you, kitty! I’m coming!
The girl ran after him but despite her best efforts, the distance between her and the child wasn’t shortening. The pathway under her feet was propelling further the little boy, while somehow it was slowing her down. She fought the strange feeling and gathered all her strength to run faster. The contours of world washed into a blur and her vision tunneled towards a shadow-filled perspective, with its only bright spot the small, running silhouette of the boy. The fragments of giggling and laughter were bouncing in the air, disorienting the girl. But she kept running and finally she saw both the child and the kitten.
The cat was sitting in the middle of the path, teasingly moving its tail. There was a mischievous glint in the yellow eyes. With a victorious cry the boy jumped forward to catch him. All of a sudden,Time slowed down while the shape of the white cat broke up into a fistful of butterflies and a pit of darkness opened under the feet of the boy. The girl launched forward quickly to catch him before falling…The child vanished and she bumped into…someone. She almost fell but two strong hands held her up and she heard a voice questioning her:
-Do you always smash into people when you run?