“A stalk of weeds is a poor memento for an ardent lover.” She turned away from his offering, from the absurdity of the small and unadorned. The helpless. She had her share of courtiers, scoundrels, knights, and knaves. She had opalescent rings and silks stitched through with scarlet. A narrow room, a gilded cage, a fine-feathered bird in blue and silver.
“You lack imagination,” he replied. Between his palms, he twirled the leaves, a spinning flush of green and gold. On top, a small, pale flower splayed awkward petals, as if it were a triumph. He smelt of cinnamon, of sage.
In front of them, the grass was trampled by a hundred swaying dancers. A bonfire lit faces into livid masks, red embers flying. She would not dare to say it, but she wondered if resignation was an entity, a fruit, heavy and overripe.
“The summer passes quickly. Soon enough, the chill will come.” He spoke without looking at her. “The meadow will flood in the last autumn rains. You know the gale. Everything will freeze, pressed down and weighted under ice.”
A standard seduction, then, she thought. He will summon up my passing youth, the fading bloom, etc. She was mildly disappointed.
He half-smiled, caught her eye, assessing. She stared back, for wasn’t he the stranger, come to town this morning, turning all the heads?
“And so, the breath of leaves,” he said.
“The breath of them?” She answered, cross. “Such nothings have no souls, no breath to give away.”
“You’ve never seen the bubbles, then? The frozen beads of air? A testament. A promise.”
“Of what?” she asked.
The dancers lurched before them, circling twisted flames and ash. Shadow limbs of oak and maple upheld a darkness of sky, a shroud.
“Of everything that follows,” he answered. “The trailing strands of story. Every weed, every jagged leaf and thorn and woebegone flower has one. Those pockets of air? They are . . . Snow White’s glass coffin or the bed of Sleeping Beauty. They are Jack’s magic bean, the Little Mermaid’s voice, Red Riding Hood’s bouquet. They are the germ, the waiting. You know of Rapunzel? Of Rumpelstiltskin?”
She nodded. He himself, the traveling bard, had told those tales this evening.
“Then you know of bargains made, regretted. You know of towers, gold threads, and plaited hair. But not every story has an ending, simple. Some are merely stilled, suspended, waiting for a thaw.”
“And then?” she asked him.
“There’s no happily ever after,” he admitted. “I prefer to take my chances. For, what may follow once the standard characters are left behind?” He held out his hand and she surprised herself by taking it, the fragile stalk of weeds pressed between their palms. It was — she was — waiting for the ice, the press of it, a rendering like alchemy. In the spring, he said, the bubbles would fly homeward, pockets of air released into a song that broke the back of words.
Learn more about Wing-Feather Fables here.