“Siron and I cared for it as best we could,” Tyal sounded apologetic as they entered the small home. A strange mix of joy and sadness pulsed through Ayrella, pushing a fresh round of tears towards her eyes, but she quickly wiped them away. The room looked almost exactly the same as she remembered. Her home never grew or shrunk as the others did, as there were none that paid homage to her, but it was clear that someone had spent time coming in and keeping the dust away,
“Your care was the best anyone could give, I am sure.” Fresh flowers had been put on the table, providing a spray of color, a sign of the loving care of Siron and Tyal. “It is home, just as it was when I left.” Though she tried to keep it hidden, there was a thread of wistfulness and longing that wove through her voice. Tyal’s hand rested on Ayrella’s shoulder with a small reassuring squeeze.
“It is your home, yes, as it always has been and always will be. But it will never be the home you left behind.” Ayrella looked at Tyal and found herself smiling slightly.
“Because I have loved, and I have lost. And I am not the same as the one who lived here before?” She felt the words flow through her naturally, as though they had been said to her before. Faint recollections of words whispered through dreams not dreamt.
“Yes.” Tyal returned the smile, “And I suppose you also know what else I would say to you?”
“I will continue to live. And I will continue to love. And I will continue to lose and feel the loss. As that is the nature of having a mortal heart, even if it resides in an immortal body.” Again, the words came through her as memory, though she knew that she had never heard them before, and the smile on her face grew slightly. In a lifetime past, Ayrella had sometimes been able to find the words about to be said by her friends. A gift which she had sometimes teased them with and a gift, it seemed, that was returning rapidly.
Tyal laughed, “But you will forever be our Ayrella, as you always have. You have never been like Ikthar and Kisha, so clear and certain in their place, separated from the rest of us in indefinable ways. And you will never be like us, with our clear beginnings, our history wrapped around our very essence. You will always be Ayrella. You have simply assured that you walk in both worlds. And now… now that may be just the thing that is needed, to save us, and to save the Realms over which we preside.” Tyal paused, looking around the small home. “I will leave you now, to settle. I am sure you are ready for some rest. But I, for one, am glad to have my very dear friend back. And, though I know it is painful now, I am pleased to know that you – too – have a history and mortal life wrapped around your heart and steeped in your very essence. You are more one of us now than you were before, but no less one of the Most Revered.”
Ayrella gave her friend a farewell hug before turning to look around the space with a more critical eye. Humble by any standard, with little more than a bed, a table, and a few chairs. A bookcase, always full and always ready for more stories to fill the shelves. Ayrella did rather enjoy reading the tales that were created by those of the Realms, and they all passed through her shelves at some point in time. The flowers were a welcome splash of freshness with a slight sweet scent. There were other thing that she now noticed, small things that had not been there when she left. Additions that surprised her, and warmed her heart.
Sitting on the bed she picked up the small frame that had appeared on a bedside table. It was a simple frame, nothing ornate or over-bearing. But it had been finely crafted in a silver that demanded attention and seemed to reflect light that wasn’t even there. Smooth to the touch it provided a comforting coldness in her hands. It contained two images. On the right was a sketch, a near perfect sketch that allowed her to feel as though she were looking through a window at the pictured moment. Through that window she could see herself, standing next to Henrich. She was leaning against him, her head rested on his shoulder. He had an arm wrapped around her and, while her gaze focused on something beyond them, he was clearly looking at her, adoration vivid in his eyes. Her own expression was one of peaceful contentment, but she now saw something more in this sketch, in her own eyes was contained a strength that surprised her.
It could have been a picture of any of the many moments they had stood together on the waters edge, on that very same cliff she would step off of after his death. It was a place they had visited often, the spot they had first met. But the clothes they were wearing told her exactly the moment the image showed. It was just after their Union Ceremony, when the two of them had walked there so she could say her farewells. Her final, silent farewell to the Realm of the Sky and the Horizon Lands. She had not uttered a word, not asked him to join her, but together they had been drawn to go there. To stand on the edge so she could have a moment to look back. A moment to make clear to herself, and to any that may be watching from the Skies, that her decision had been clearly made, that this was her new life.
On the other side of the frame was a copy of a picture that Hernich had painted. Though the original painting was much larger, this was a perfect miniaturized rendition. It depicted the woods by their home. There was nothing special about it, not on the surface of it, but it was a painting that Ayrella loved. She has spent hours looking at it before they had found a buyer. Buried under layers of paint Henrich had painted visions of mystical worlds, the creatures he saw dancing in the woods and that passed through his ventures to dreaming lands. He painted over them thinking no one would know they were there, keeping to himself that particular ability. Ayrella never told him that he likely was seeing things that were there, simply dwelling in different realms, realms that even she did not know and could not see. But they were there, dancing on the canvas behind the plain painted trees.
She put the small frame down with a smile.
Ikthar had once shown her a drawing he had done of Kisha, in a moment when she had fought so fiercely for something or other. He was drawn to strength, to any sign of strength, and he found it in places that Ayrella could never imagine. She knew that he was the artist responsible for the pictures in this frame, there was no doubt in her mind. It meant, she realized, that he had been there, watching, and she said her vows of Union and as she said her farewells. He did, though he would never say such a thing in words, support her. He may not have agreed with her but he admired that she had the strength to follow through with her convictions. To follow her heart was not an action of weakness.
She sighed and looked around the room. The flowers from Siron and Tyal, the pictures from Ikthar. There was a fresh loaf of bread on the counter, a gift from Orpin. Her little garden of herbs looked far healthier than it had ever been under her own care, likely thanks to Kisha’s ministrations. Each of them, in their own special way, welcoming her home.
Laying back on the bed she let her eyes trace the familiar patterns in stars above, for there was no roof on her home, nothing to separate her from the Skies. She took a few breaths, wondering just how this would all unfold, sending a silent plea for guidance to help find what it was she must do next. Finding her way back had been a challenging step, a frightening one. But she knew it was just the first.
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