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Thursday 4 March 2021

Ardeyn's Shine

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
     Ardeyn cocked his head while a frown flickered over his brow.
     The tiny light glowed back at him.
     A curious hum lilted in his throat. Carefully, he raised the sheet of bark to eye-level, watching the silver speck hover and pulse just above the map like a firefly, and ever so slowly crept his hand in above it. But it didn't shrink away. He teased his fingers through it as it flickered, and his teal eyes narrowed with the purse of his lips.
     He tipped the map sharply. It still didn't move. Then he shook it, but aside from loosening a few flakes of lichen, nothing else happened. The light hung devotedly over the bark, just above the long, winding etching of the river.
     A curious smile wandered over Ardeyn's face.
     With a satisfied twitch of his ears, the faun rose to his hooves, held the map open in front of him, and meandered off through the black of the night's trees, soft earth squelching beneath his steps and the damp, green, pattering smell of the forest tickling his nose. He wove among the dense tangle of trunks, past the foxfire and fireflies, beneath the ancient arcing roots, between the moss-covered rocks and through the draping curtains of ivy and tanglers, until the forest suddenly broke open and the thick air eased. Only feet from the edge did the sound of trundling water lace through the night.
     But he didn't sigh and throw himself down on the soft, grassy banks like he usually would. Instead, he crept closer to the edge of the black, tranquil water, his doe eyes widening at the spot that was simply impossible to miss: a single silver glow hanging below the jet-black surface, right where the light said it would be.
     His long, red braid trailed through the lazy current as he knelt over the edge, his orcein-painted reflection peering back at him, and he watched it glimmer and shine. Slowly, his fingers slipped through the water, but this light didn't flee, either. Then, they closed around it.
     His heart sang with the sudden pulse, hum and flicker of its warmth, and he pulled it out and cradled it against his chest.
     "What a marvellous thing," he murmured, "but you are not mine to keep. You wanted rescuing, and I have rescued you." He turned, then, and carried it a safe ways back from the bank, where he scooped a hole in the soil and planted it. "Be one with the earth again."
     Then he wandered off with a smile on his face, following the smell of rain.

     The glow Ardeyn buried soon sprouted, and when he wandered by again, following the trail of a sparrow, he found the thin, wispy reed towering twice his height, with drops of pure silver glinting from the tips of its sparse leaves. And when his curious hand reached out towards them, they dropped willingly into his palm.
     His wide eyes drifted back to the river, ears twitching, eyebrows shifting crooked, and he hummed a question to himself. Slowly, he wandered to the edge and dropped one of the silvers in. It broke the surface with the faintest plop, sank to the bed, and glowed all the brighter. And when the others in his hand tinkled with delight, he smiled and scattered them out in a wide arc to join it. The water shone with the tiny lights, glittering like diamonds in the flow, and Ardeyn breathed a marvelling little sigh.
     He stepped back to the plant before he moved along, and peered down at its tapered leaves. There were already more drops glinting at their stem.
     "What a marvellous thing..." And he trotted off after the sparrow.

     Ardeyn returned to the river many times as he matured, and the reed sprawled and branched in tandem. Every few months, he collected and scattered the drops along the water, and the night soon shone with flecks of silver. It wasn't long before others came to notice its brilliance, and they charmed Ecine's eye in particular, a woman so beautiful that Ardeyn felt his heart flutter high enough to escape with the butterflies every time he saw her.
     But for all his desperation, he couldn't find the words to speak to her.
     So he embraced another method instead.
     He visited the stem and gathered its drops more often after that. But rather than scatter them as freely as he used to, for the waters were already perfectly speckled, he arranged them into pictures beneath the surface; tales and stories written in light to capture her heart. And they worked a wonder.
     The dimensions of his art grew with the passing of the seasons, and glowed brighter with the depth of their love. And the day she agreed to join with him, he ran joyously along the riverbank, trailing them in a great, long, dusty streak beside him. The sun shone even brighter on his life.
     But the clouds soon rolled in.
     Ecine fell ill some years later, and he consumed himself with finding a cure. He asked the birds, the foxes, the trees, the rocks, but nothing worked. And when she passed into peace, the stories and images Ardeyn had so meticulously created for her crumbled to a halt. He became listless, wandering his sylvan charge blindly instead, and the forests, the rivers, the stones and the sky wept as he mourned in a cloud.
     But the power with which he tried to forget, to shield his heart and wall his mind, seeped into the world around him. And it rose with the summer heat.
     The sky and the river conspired; one night, the lights in the water shone back from the black expanse above, illuminating the world with his love for her. And when Ardeyn looked up into that mirror from his lonely riverbank, he smiled for the first time in a year. A single tear fell and stirred the twinkling waters.
     The lights have shone every night ever since.

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Copyright © 2021 Kim Wedlock