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Away From the Sun

by

Jennifer Morton

"Donít watch the sun so closely, child," her mother warned gently, "Youíll harm your eyes."

The young girl simply laughed, filled with the invincibility of childhood and a future that stretched unendingly before her.  Expression mired in insolence, the girl turned her pale face skyward, once again gazing steadily at the sun. Its diffused light fell softly onto the girlís dark head, highlighting silken threads of a lighter brown in her nearly black head of hair. Stormy gray eyes flashed imperiously at the golden orb, as though daring the passive woman by her side to order her again.

So intense was her gaze at the sun that she missed the momentary flash of ill disguised pain that haunted her motherís eyes before being smothered by lighter tones of a dark sadness. "As you wish then, Ilandere, I cannot stop you," the older woman said impassively, dark navy eyes shining with regret, but voice betraying nothing. The mother turned and left her daughter without another word, and the young girlís eyes burned from the sunís harsh glow forcing droplets of teary rain to fall from her cloudy gray eyes.

He arrived during the night when the moon was still high enough in the sky to light his path and Ilandereís view of his fair head. She thought him beautiful from the first moment she laid eyes on him. An ethereal beauty that spoke of sunlight and made her long to gaze at him in length. She did not see him again for some time. The moon had begun to wane in the sky, shrinking from its nearly full figure that lit the sky the night of the mysterious arrival to a slender crescent. The horizon was flushed with a light brush of pink, heralding the approaching dawn. The wind whispered softly as it danced through the eaves overhanging Ilandereís balcony and carried with it a sweet fragrance of the new spring blossoms.

Slowly, the wind was transforming into a haunting melody. Each note hung cold and clear in the night air before dropping and fading into a new tone, its pitch first cresting a rising crescendo before dropping abruptly into a deep valley only to rise leisurely once again. Ilandere found herself captivated by the melody, leaning out as far as she could manage along the railing of her balcony, straining to catch a glimpse of the musician.

The pale moon, partially obscured by stormy gray clouds, offered little light in the inky blackness, but just beyond the large green hedges, Ilandere saw the silvery flash of a flute.  In the next instant, she was racing down the servantís staircase, slippered feet flying nimbly and silently down the stairs. At the door into the garden, Ilandere took a moment to compose herself and steady her breathing before pulling the thin, diaphanous robe tighter around her gown, suddenly wishing she had taken another moment to change.

Then Ilandere noticed the silence. She held her breath as she strained her ears in an effort to pick up the alluring strains of the flute, but the night was serenaded only by its normal admirers. A barn owl hooted a subdued tenor from the tree while sleepless crickets chirped in a chorus of high sopranos. Fear clutching at her heart, Ilandere began to sprint once again, agile feet carrying her along the springy grass and towards her previous destination. Panting, the girl halted where she had caught the brief flash of metal from her balcony, disappointed eyes taking in the empty and silent alcove.

"Looking for someone?" An amused voice questioned lightly from behind her. Ilandere spun around abruptly, simultaneously taking a cautious step backwards. The flaxen-haired man standing in front of her merely laughed, and Ilandere felt a cold fury welling within her.

"What right do you have to laugh at me? I do not know who you imagine yourself to be, but I assure you, it is not wise to laugh at those who you know not." Gray eyes swirled in a tempest of emotions.

"And I assure you, little child, that you would do well to hold that impudent tongue of yours securely in your cheek." The taller man countered, sky blue eyes flashing with indignant injury.

"Child?! You would have the audacity to call me as such? Ignorant simpleton, know you not to whom you speak?" queried Ilandere, hands placed firmly on her hips.

A heated anger filled the cool eyes of the tanned man, inciting his emotions and words. "I care not to whom I speak. For no matter your name, I know you already. A spoiled brat accustomed to always being waited upon and receiving your childish desires. Oh trust me, I know you well."

Pale skin blushing red with humiliation and anger, Ilandere opened her mouth to retort again, when she suddenly caught sight of a fully risen sun. Its light had dwarfed that of the crescent moon even though its rays still had tendrils trailing below the horizon. "I must go," she whispered hastily, unsure why she did not part from the manís company with an insult instead, but having no time to ponder her reply. The sun was risen, and Ilandere had been awake for far longer than she had thought. Servants were no doubt awake by now, and she would be hard pressed to return to her room unnoticed. Using the same grace with which she had descended, Ilandere left the gardenís early morning light, retreating through the householdís door. The stranger was left standing alone in the garden, flute clutched tightly in his hand, and sunlight transforming his hair into spun gold.

The next night, the barest sliver of the moon hung on the horizon, its light already being overshadowed by the dawnís soft glow. Ilandere, although she would never freely admit it, had waited the night within her room, by her curtains, or on the balcony for a glimpse of the elusive player and the haunting melody that drifted on the wind. Exhausted from the previous late night, Ilandere rested her dark head on the marble railing, and as the gray clouds gathered on the horizon, her eyes drifted closed.

Two more weeks passed before Ilandere once again heard the music, floating along the cool breeze of the dawning morning. She soon found herself once again in the same alcove of the garden, breath held in fear of being heard, and heart hammering in her chest as the eerie melody sent chills racing along her spine and skin. She closed her eyes, drifting with forgotten memories as the music washed over her. Letting the notes carry her from the earth and away towards a perfect place, to a time when her father still lived, and she was not looked upon with the same scorn directed towards her mother.

"Back again I see." Ilandere was startled abruptly from her thoughts, only now realizing that the music had stopped. The tall tan blonde was standing in front of her again, and the sun was nearly completely above the horizon. She had barely made it back to her room unnoticed the last time. She knew her luck could not possibly hold out a second time. If she did not leave now, her early morning wanderings would be discovered.

"I... I must go," she told him hastily, turning to flee before she ever received an answer. She did not make it very far. The man held her thin arm in a strong grip, the large fingers securing her in place and preventing her from escaping.

"No, no you donít understand," she told him frantically, struggling in vain to loosen his hold and keep the panic from her voice. "I must go now! My stepfather..."

"Just tell me your name, and I will free you."

"Ilandere," she said automatically before tearing her arm from his now slack grip and racing along the grass.

"Ilandere," he repeated to himself. Testing the name as he rolled it experimentally off his tongue. "Moon woman," he stated in both an acknowledgment of her nameís meaning and her ethereal beauty.

The tall blonde wandered through the well kept gardens, his mind still occupied with the morningís peculiar encounter, and the lithe form of the wraith-like young girl who always seemed to disappear while the rest of the world was first stirring. Even now as the sun was sinking lower in the sky and the servants were cleaning the last remnants of a busy day from the fading walls, he could not forget the slight girl. Could not forget her young, slim face, nor small figure. The beauty of a child that would one day grow into a stunning woman, a child that had yet to mature. He saw the same beauty in the ordered trim of the gardens, in the budding rosy hues of the flowers with their closed blossom and delicate petals. Rose buds dotted the dark green foliage that stretched along maze-like rows of hedges, stone pathways twisted crookedly through the leaf strewn garden, the footpathís desolation belied by the squared bushes and neatly trimmed shrubs.

The fair-haired man turned a sharp corner, lined with trestles of budding vines, when he saw a lean figure perched along the edge of a marble bench. Her dark hair shone with lighter hues of a mahogany brown in the dying light of the sun while her thin, pale hands rested upon her lap, fragile delicate fingers curled tightly in her faded dress. The young man was startled to see her in the garden, yet he made no move to acknowledge his presence nor hers. He watched her silent figure as she continued to stare unblinkingly at the setting sun whose crimson tones bled color into her white cheeks and turned the lonesome moon into a burning flame.

Decision made, he moved swiftly to cross the space between the seated figure and the bordered entrance, gliding onto the space beside Ilandere on the bench. She did not so much as acknowledge his existence as she continued to stare at the slowly falling star that was sinking below the horizon, eyes misting from the  brightness.

"Donít watch too closely," the tall blonde warned, voice breaching imperiously into the silence, "Youíll harm your eyes."

An unknown emotion flashed through the young girlís eyes, before her face hardened into a mask of superiority. "Who are you to tell me what to do?" She whispered dangerously, her voice subtle in its tone but demanding in its singular intensity. "I am far less of a child than I appear. I know what will and will not harm me, and I choose my own path."

"I doubt that," he laughingly said, voice finding humor in her haughty words, "You are a girl-child, hardly fit to rule yourself or your future. Your father does so for you now as will your husband later. You are no more the owner of your own path than I am of mine..." His voice trailed into obscurity, last words spoken more in the throes of passion rather than any real desire to communicate them.

Yet Ilandere took no notice, her face had darkened from its earlier blushing tones once she heard his comment about her father.

"I have no father," she denied quietly, but in the silent world that surrounded the two, the words echoed.

"Then your lord rules you," he continued, purposely forging ahead in an effort to forget any previous words spoken in haste, "For no girl is her own, nor would she be wise enough to be so."

"You let your tongue run away with you. I may be a girl, but I am no oneís property, for my lord is my stepfather."

"Then your fatherís replacement rules you, it makes no difference. Your mother belonged to both, and so, in turn, do you. Although why this new lord should keep such a rat is beyond me. To think that a lord would claim a drowned rodent for his own is nearly blasphemous. I myself should start a new brood with heirs worthy of their title and station, not the simpleton who currently spoils the name."

The young man had expected some sort of reaction from the immature, arrogant child to his right, not the taut silence that now filled the cooling air. Even as the sun began to dip lower, her eyes still followed its burning trail, only occasionally straying to the golden threads the glow illuminated in her companion's garments. Threads of pure gold were embroidered into intricately woven cloth of the finest silk and brilliantly dyed hues, the garb of royalty. Beside her own sadly inadequate clothes, the difference was obvious.

The young royal had noted her clothes the second upon which he saw her. Old garments that looked as though they had been altered to adjust for growth, continually adding more cloth of mismatched origins and poorer quality. Small tears and rips were sewn haphazardly together or patched with contrasting colors until the entire dress looked almost patchwork in design. Dirt and grime camouflaged most of the colors, blending one muddy gray tone into another. Yet, beneath the accumulated years and abuse, the young man caught a glimpse of some ineffable quality, a fleeting intangible presence. It was the same undertone that he had seen hidden beneath the insolent airs, beneath the battered clothes.

A current dishevelment that belied a grander interior, that was colored and changed and corrupted until only a hint of its previous finery remained. The dress itself, although frayed and patched, was reminiscent of a style of cut that had once been fashionable in court, but had long since fallen out of favor for newer trends. Even the haughty exterior that manifested itself from within a grimy face and dress found roots in a deeper pride. Compared to his airs, the differences were nearly out shadowed by profounder similarities.

"What of your mother?" he asked before he was even aware that his mouth had opened.

The child who lay perched on the cusp of teetering into adulthood, appeared startled by the sudden question, the answer being nearly automatic and would not have left her mouth if not for her surprise. "My stepfatherís whore you mean?" She laughed bitterly, "No not my mother, merely my past fatherís peasant wife. And I the daughter born between two classes, an outcast who cannot be disposed of nor cared for. Neither a servant to my stepfather as my mother is now, nor a royal as I once was or my half sister has become. Oh yes, I know that men rule womenís lives. My mother, once lady of this place, now reduced to little more than a concubine after being forced to remarry. Yes, I know only too well what men rule my life."

Another bitter laugh echoed brokenly in the silence before being abruptly cut off, as the sound leered hysterical. Her now troubled companion stood slowly, eyes darting between the subdued figure hunched ruined on the cool stone bench, a mere shadow of any previous glory, with only the insolent superiority of a child still left intact, and the darkened sky where only the lonely satellite hung. His large gait lead him quickly to the edge of the sheltered grove, leaving his uncomfortable mood buried beneath the current atmosphere while his lofty bearing slipped firmly back into place.

"I do not know your name." Ilandereís quiet voice forced him to stop his progress, his near escape being paused at its end, but his mind feeling compelled to answer.

"Ramses," he returned in the same soft spoken voice before his broad back and shoulders disappeared into the encroaching darkness.

"Of the sun," the young girl whispered fondly, problems forgotten as the brilliant orb of burning flames came into her mindís eye. The mysterious man with hair the color of spun gold, tanned skin, sky blue eyes, and a name that represented that which Ilandere longed to watch as she had done when little had haunted her dreams and the future was a thing of endless possibility.

Reaching up absentmindedly, Ilandere tenderly touched her cheek, fingering the newly blackened skin and wondering why Ramses did not comment on so obvious an injury. The dry crackle of leaves beneath his soled boots was nearly drowned by the sharp whistle of a bitter wind, rattling the skeletal limbs of the overhanging trees. The moon shone down with the cool, clear intensity of a winter day, despite the autumn colors that decorated the ground. Ramses noticed neither. With single-minded purpose, he strode down the familiar path, mottled with brown decay and only the sharp tang of crisp air filling the garden where once had been blooming fragrance.

Her figure stood out sorely among the grasping claws of bare branches, the dark head seeming far more saturnine and ethereal in the harsh glare of clear moonlight. After only seeing the dark hair lit with the diffused, dying throes of a crimson sun, flushing her skin with passionate color, having her outlined in the intangible rays of a bright light, brought to him a dangerous clarity.

Her small figure, forlorn and tensed, ready for flight at a momentís notice, presented a solemn picture in the sleeping garden. Beneath the satelliteís glare, her pale cheeks stood out in stark relief to Ramses own tanned skin as he came to stand beside her, not daring to stare so intensely at the burning glow as Ilandere did. He looked, instead, at the pale skin and stormy eyes of his companion, her being focused so entirely on the lonely orb that she missed the movement beside her.

"You have been here for awhile," he said with the familiarity of one who knows their friendsí desires, but cannot understand them.

"Yes," was her simple answer, nothing more needing to be said. Heated words had long ago been exchanged.

"I will not see you again for quite a while, I fear."

"You fear nothing," she returned, voice light in jest, but eyes showing no mirth.

"No," he returned after a pregnant pause. "I do not." For a long moment, only the wind filled the strained silence, and Ramses swiftly turned his head away from the probing eyes of the child beside him, eyes suspiciously blank of their normal emotion.

"Why are you here, Ramses?" the old girl questioned, needing to break the silence. "You hate the night."

"I hate the night, not the moon. The two are not the same."

"They are more alike than you would like to acknowledge," Ilandere said with a burdened sagacity that Ramses had not before heard in her young voice. "You still have not answered my question."

"I could not sleep," he answered simply.

"You are worried," she clarified.

"Perhaps. I needed to speak with you... To make you understand."

Her bitter laugh fed the wind. "Oh, Ramses, I understand perfectly. I have understood for a long time now. It is you who are blinded." Indignant anger welling at her peremptory tone, the tanned man opened his mouth to retort, but Ilandere continued speaking before he could begin an argument, her tone and the change of subject distracting him. "The earth is moving between the moon and sun now."

Ramses jerked his head skyward, watching as the luminescent orb began to darken along one edge, slowly being eaten and deprived of its light.

"That is a bad omen for a wedding," Ramses commented, frowning.

"It is not my wedding, why should that matter to me?" A childish petulance crept into her voice.

Ramsesís voice rebuked her, tone leaning heavily against the superiority of age. "Do not speak ill of this. Even if this is not your wedding, it is your sisterís. Or if that does not matter to you, then respect that it is mine as well."

"Half-sister," she corrected, tone impassive and with the same colorless flavor as her blank countenance.

"Kaia, then! What does it matter what we call her. She is to be my bride." The words hung harshly in the air, and Ilandere flinched at their weight. Then, as though the moonís slow decay began to eat at Ilandereís defenses as well, a desperation entered her eyes.

"Why?!" She cried out, stormy eyes threatening rain as her entire body seized in the fit of violent emotion. "Why Kaia? You donít love her. You never have, and you never will. Why should you marry her when... She cares nothing for you, only your money and your title. She can never love you as I can..." The last sentence, although spoken with the beginnings of wild intensity, ended in barely a whisper. Her thin, pale hand came to rest daringly along Ramses finely woven sleeve, the gesture encroaching on propriety.

"Donít touch me, peasant!" He cried, his own righteous anguish forcing the angry words from his mouth. Pain was reflected in Ilandereís eyes, the gray clouding into a somber storm.

"No, not peasant," she said, voice returning to the same apathy, showing no signs of her previous bout of abandon, "Not even concubine. Not even the pretense of a station. No title, no anything."

Ramses turned from her, unable to look at her face, knowing he would only find calm acceptance, emotions long hidden beneath a mask of a childís insolence. A childís body, but no longer a childís face, and never its mannerisms.

"It matters not what I feel," he said finally, voice carrying the same weight as implied by the slump of Ilandereís shoulders, the burden of loss and defeat, "This is the way it must be."

"I understand." And she did.

Ramses left without a word, although the smell of his sweat remained, its masculinity cloaking Ilandere. The moon was now completely obscured, the earth interrupting and stealing what light it had once received from the sun. Only a halo of silver light shone around its edges, diffusing softly until it blended into the darkness.

Dawn would arrive soon, but by that time, the moon would already have sunken below the horizon, its glow waning as would its form.

She wished now that she had listened to her motherís advice so long ago. She had watched the golden star for too long and dreamed of what could never be. Day loved its darker companion. But both were doomed, always to glimpse, though never to touch, to long, but not to have. The sun, so bright and pure, was blinding in its allure, and the moon, a lone, glowing shard amidst the darkness, only alight because of the sunís radiance.

For, as was its wont in life, the moon would always need the sun, but never be needed in return.

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