From Cursive To Curses- Part XIII
Aledia walked out of the small bedroom and tugged on the edge of her tunic. She looked at the low oak table. Everyone else had also changed into lighter clothing to fair better in the warm weather.
“I don’t think I have ever seen a princess in trousers,” Rafe said from his place at the table.
Wilhelm clipped his shoulder. “Lad, you don’t need to point out the obvious.”
Aledia pulled on the tunic and took a seat between Rafe and Jacob. She felt heat flood her face as she looked at Jacob. “Has he said anything about your father?” she asked.
“Not yet. He is bringing back tea,” Jacob said.
The room fell into silence as they waited for their host to return. The summer heat seeped in through the windows and clung to their skin. Even in the cottage, the heat was inescapable. Aledia looked at her hands and didn’t break the silence.
“Well, now that we are all together, let’s have some tea,” the old man said as he walked into the room. He carried a tray of teacups to the table.
Jacob handed the tea around the table and looked back at the old man. “What is this place? How can it defy the hold of winter?” Jacob asked.
The old man shrugged. “The gods protect this place. They bless this place with endless summer to protect the trees,” he said as he sipped his tea.
“Why would father take an interest in trees?” Wilhelm asked.
“It’s not the trees that interested him, but the end of the path. He sought the devil,” the old man said
“The devil? Why?” Aledia asked and looked to her companions. They looked perplexed.
“He would not tell me. It was odd. Most travelers come for the apples,” the old man said more to himself.
“The apples?” Rafe asked. “What is so important about an apple?”
The old man laughed and looked out the window. “Stay the night tonight, and you will see what is so special about them.”
Aledia looked at the window. Beyond the pane, the sun was setting. It would not be the worse idea to stay overnight. She sniffled a bit as her nose dripped. The drastic temperature change was not doing them any favors. A good night’s rest would do them all good. “That would be wise. We can set off first thing in the morning,” Aledia said with a nod.
“Excellent,” the old man clapped and stood. “Then you will get to see the valley tonight. After coming so far, it would be a shame to miss it. Twilight is upon us. We should leave now.”
He walked to the door and picked up his cane. He waved and ushered everyone out the door. The warm air greeted them, and the smell of orange blossoms carried on the wind.
Aledia licked her chapped lips and rubbed her nose. She could taste the air of summer as the remnants of winter remained on her body. She felt a nudge to her left and looked over.
Rafe walked sheepishly beside her. “I did not mean to embarrass you earlier,” he said. He looked to the front of the group. The Grimm Brothers walked beside the old man. They were chatting about something, but Rafe wasn’t listening.
“I know, Rafe. It’s alright. The change feels strange,” she said with a smile.
“This whole place is strange,” he responded, looking around the lush scenery. “For what it’s worth, the clothes don’t look odd on you. They look good,” he said as a blush spread across his cheeks.
Aledia smiled and nodded. “Thank you, Rafe,” she said.
The small cottage stood within a small circle of cottages. Around them, a massive forest grew. There were no paths or markings to show where to go. Yet, the old man did not hesitate as he made his way up a steep hill.
Jacob sniffled as a warm breeze brushed through his hair and then died. As they climbed up the hill, Jacob could feel the anticipation. It was as if the landscape around them was holding its breath. What was about to happen?
They reached the top of the hill and looked down. The endless forest stretched below the setting sun. The golden rays of the fading light warmed their faces.
“Only a moment more,” the old man said and pointed to the trees.
A silence descended around the group. They traveled onward towards the horizon. Lower and lower until it looked as though the sun kissed the tree line. A wind brushed through the trees, as did vibrant rays of light. All at once, the trees glittered. Each adorned with ornaments made of sunlight.
Aledia squinted. No, it wasn’t sunlight hanging from the trees. They were apples. The apples were pure gold, like the shimmering sunlight. Her breath caught at the sight.
“That is impossible,” Rafe whispered. It felt wrong to speak as if it was sacrilegious.
“Impossible,” the old man said with a scoff. “That is such a human term. What defines possible and impossible? If something has never been seen, is it impossible? Do not be so closed-minded, young man,” the old man said.
“You’ve said that before,” Jacob said, turning away from the trees. “Why do you speak like you are separate from the human race?” he asked with an arched brow.
The old man threw his head back and laughed. “That would be showing you my hand. The game has only started,” he said and turned. With slow steps, he started back towards the small village. “Feel free to enjoy yourselves. There are food and drink in my home. All I ask is you do not eat the apples,” he called back.
The group watched him go in silence. This was all a game to him? Rafe moved first towards the old man.
“Hey, wait-” he called, but Wilhelm caught him by the arm.
“Boy, stop. That thing admitted it wasn’t human. We are in a realm that defies the natural laws of weather,” Wilhelm said. He looked at Jacob.
“My brother is right. We don’t have enough knowledge to challenge him. We are at a disadvantage. At the moment, he is humoring us. Let’s leave it at that,” Jacob said.
Rafe paused but nodded. He looked back to Aledia and then to the brothers. “If he won’t tell us, we can always try to talk to the other villagers,” he said.
“Not a bad plan. Rafe and I will take the houses to the west. Jacob, you and your brother, can take the houses in the East. We can at least try to find out where to go from here,” Aledia said and moved forward. She tugged Rafe on the sleeve, and together they moved down the hill.
Wilhelm looked to Jacob and shrugged. The brothers moved down the hill towards the village. The golden apples glittered above them. “Do you think they are gold or trapped sunlight?” Wilhelm asked.
“There’s no way to be certain. It’s best not to pick them…” Jacob said and then hesitated. “How was life on the farm before all this?” he asked.
Wilhelm ran a hand through his beard. “It was the same but different,” he said with a touch of sadness. “Father was never the same after you left. He was quieter and kept more to himself. His anger faded as the quiet set in. You were not there discussing your books, and mother was not there to indulge you.”
Jacob ran a hand through his hair as silence held in the air. “The journal you gave me contains nothing. Nothing but the man’s hatred towards me,” Jacob said.
“I was afraid of that. Still, we are on the right path…Jacob, I…” Wilhelm hesitated.
Jacob stopped and looked at his younger brother. Wilhelm looked as though he wanted to say something but was holding back. “Wilhelm, whatever it is, you do not need to force yourself. Soon enough, we will find him, and I will be out of your lives,” Jacob said.
Wilhelm frowned. It was as if someone had put his heart in a vice. “I was going to say; we should be careful about how much information we give out. We cannot get too close to these people,” Wilhelm said and kept moving. His tone was harsh as stone.
Jacob furrowed his brows. Was that not what Wilhelm was going to say? Even if father was quieter, they must have thought it to be more peaceful without him. Now Wilhelm could be the first-born son. Still, his heart felt tight.
“If there was one regret,” Jacob started. Wilhelm stopped and looked at his brother. “If there were one thing I could have done over again… it would have been to find a way. I would have like to…” He ran his hand through his hair. “Why is this so difficult?” Jacob said, and began to pace.
It was if the words that he wanted to say. The words that were warring within him would not come. His mind and heart tore at each other. He wanted nothing to do with this family. They had disowned him. How could he even start to say that he would have wished?
“I would have wished we could have stayed friends,” Wilhelm finished. He walked towards Jacob. “That is something I would have liked to.”
Jacob and Wilhelm stared at each other for a moment. The gap between them seemed smaller, yet it stretched between them.
Wilhelm clapped a hand on Jacob’s shoulder. “I hated you for a long time, brother. You left us, and father instructed me to forget about you. He is my father; I could not disobey. I did not have your will. Sometimes, I am convinced you were the strongest of the family. We cannot change the past,” Wilhelm said and looked up to the trees.
“Then, perhaps, we start again. This is my path, Wilhelm. I cannot change it as much as I can change the moon’s course through the sky,” Jacob said.
Wilhelm saw it for what it was, a compromise. He was willing to move forward but would not return to how they were as children. Jacob was a scholar, and Wilhelm was a farmer. Could they move forward knowing what happened in the past? What would father think once they found him? What did his heart think of all this?
Wilhelm looked to his brother and sighed. He held out his hand toward his elder brother. “We can try,” he said.
Jacob smiled and shook his younger brother’s hand. They were by no means friends, but something had shifted.
Aledia and Rafe watched from behind a tree. They were close enough to listen, but far enough to remain hidden. They exchanged a glance. “Things are changing,” Rafe whispered.
Aledia nodded and looked around. “I wonder if the City of Walls has that effect on people,” she said. She looked back to the brothers. “Or maybe this was a long time coming. Change is good, Rafe.”
Together they made their way down the hill before the two brothers saw them.