XLVI.

She wondered how the moon feels, having its pallor and scars so often written of and personified by men. Would the moon find civilization’s imaginations laughable?

Interesting enough, the man seated next to her upon this sturdy branch they shared was in a similar predicament as the moon. He almost looked happy watching the twinkle of stars while the faint murmurs of crickets buried the sound of his dagger skinning a pear from the bag of fruits they stole since the dinner was but a glorified appetizer. Jiube perched by with eyes brighten by promise of food.

“I never knew your mother ruled the Nokshans,” She ventured.

“You never asked since you are considerate.” He understood her reservations.

“Well, not interrogating others about their family is not as much of being ‘considerate’ as it is having basic manners,” She dangled her feet, amused by the heights.

“Do you have more questions, then?” He handed her the first pear along with the right to satisfy her curiosity. “I don’t mind if it’s just you.”

She tried not to think too deeply into the statement, “Just one major question.”

“Mhmm.”

“Are you the Nokshan ruler?”

Jiube choked on a pear peel, “Ha.” He commented either to her inquiry or Jiube’s reaction. “What makes you think that?”

“I don’t know, you just seemed unusually bitter when speaking of him.”

“Are you saying I am prone to self-loathing?” He chuckled. “But yes, you are right.”

“…” Lyra attempted to process the implications: why is he here? What’s a king’s business knowing how to cook? Oh God, she stabbed the Nokshan ruler once, she will be killed. Only one question escaped her, “But, you left your realm…”

“Exactly,” He offered the second pear to Jiube: the bird preferred its eat peels and fruit separate. “You must be very disappointed: if the Nokshan ruler is as weak as I, then our race must be made of fleas.”

“You are not weak,” She protested.

“Then you truly don’t know Nokshans, then,” He looked beyond the stars, absent-minded. “I am the successor who had yet to accept the power reserved for a lord.”

“Is that because your mother is still in power?”

“I suppose…If I accept my position, I will know the Creator’s will for all the spirits in the world and have control over all of them.”

Lyra blinked, her mind unable to imagine such a power, “And why did you refuse to take it?”

“My incompetence, of course,” He laughed, petting a Jiube dismayed by his self-deprecation. “There can only be one lord in this world.”

Lyra deciphered the euphemism, “Your mother must die?”

“Yes, the Creator planned for her death few decades ago, but my father interfered…” His eyes were distant. “You saw the…incident. I told you, we couldn’t hear the Creator’s voice since then…”

She recalled a distant conversation by the fire, nodded, “What is to happen with your people then?”

“We don’t know,” He didn’t point out that her “one major question” had devolved into a series. “I don’t even know how to read this tangled web of fates now that a crucial point had been severed…And…I don’t want the power.”

She merely cocked her head.

“If it meant that I would be compelled to do what my mother did, left her beloved to die,” He looked down at his hands, recalling the way his father’s blood colored them as he held the severed head, clenched them into white fists to erase the image. “When a Nokshan find their mate, it’s an union of the spirit of eternity. Why is there a power to overlook such a thing?”

So, he couldn’t take the power because of love? No, his father. He still…when his eyes met hers, she had to snap away before she could tell if the depths were merely reflecting the twinkle of stars: it took all her strength to not pull him into an embrace, cradle that messy of hair soft as down against her heart to promise that the organ’s steady drum meant she would protect him from that nightmare with her life. He read her slightly parted lips, clenched his jaws and tore his gaze away.

“I shouldn’t have said so much.”

“No, I needed to understand,” She mumbled. “Thank you…you are very brave for telling me.”

“‘Brave,’” He scoffed at the idea, his focus drifted off to the stars, and for the first time in their acquaintance a moment of awkwardness passed.

“I cannot say that I could imagine the ‘spiritual union’ between Nokshans,” Her mouth spoke without her mind’s consent. “My parents hardly even agree to the union of formality, much less that of the spirit. I wouldn’t call their relationship an ‘union’ as much as a curse. He…” She choked.

“You don’t have to tell me,” She felt his gaze upon her as she brushed off a traitorous tear.

He continued, “While Nokshans recognize their intended from their spirits and aura, it’s much harder for humans, though some rare cases are successful,” He offered. “Your uncle, for example.”

A concoction of joy and pride warmed her, “I know.” Perhaps it was the pale blue beginning to illuminate the edge of the horizon or her fatigue that made her tired, reckless, “Have you find yours?” The foolish bluntness killed her now, but her foolish audacity made her look up at his silent gaze.

She saw words resurface and die at the edge of his tongue, a pause, “I cannot answer that question, Lyra, I don’t know.” He quickly added, “It’s quite late, you ought to get some rest.”

“Yes,” She cursed herself for ruining a perfectly good moment with her curiosity.

The damned thing would kill her one day.

When she threw herself onto her bed and prayed for sleep to engulf her thoughts her prayers weren’t answered: her stares bore holes into the pale white ceiling, her head throbbed while the sun rose to a day of troubles ahead of her.

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