lj idol season nine | week 13 | 1111 words
Under a rock beside a forgotten well lies a necklace of finest artistry. Anyone else would think it foolish to leave something so beautiful and costly behind, but such ideas mean nothing when its wearer is lost.
It was I who put it there.
The necklace belonged to Nerea, a golden-haired girl with sky-blue eyes. Nerea was my first love. Her father was the town merchant and mine the blacksmith, and we had grown up together and transitioned into that place where someone you have known forever suddenly becomes much smarter and more beautiful than you could ever have imagined.
We walked together in the evenings, trading teasing words at first and then later, promises toward the future. We had our love, our families, and the willingness to leave everything we knew should our parents not permit our union.
It was in June, in the hour before dusk, that we came across a tiny old man standing at the edge of the woods.
"Greetings, Old Father," I said. He tilted his head in acknowledgement, but had eyes only for Nerea.
"You, dear maiden, are summer-born," he said. "A daughter of the Solstice."
Nerea, whose birth had caused her mother to miss the annual festivities, looked at him in amazement. "Indeed, it is so!"
The man nodded. "I have come to claim you," he said.
I put myself between him and Nerea. "There shall be no claiming of anyone!"
Nerea was calmer. "I have my own dear family," she said. "I need no other."
The old man scowled. "It is not your need that matters, though if it be propriety that burdens you then I shall take you as my wife."
"I am most flattered," Nerea said. "But I am promised to another." She smiled at me, and my heart swelled at the sight of it.
"You may find," the old man said, regarding us both angrily, "that promises mean very little when there is nothing left to keep."
He turned and stumped off into the forest, his stride stiff and uneven and doubtless slower than he would have liked.
"That man is not well," I said, though my thoughts were far less kind.
"Most certainly," Nerea said. She linked her arm through mine and leaned her head against my shoulder. After a time, we continued on the path back toward the village.
When blessed with good fortune, one does not always notice when it first begins to slip away. Nerea fell ill the next day, "Merely the effects of an abundant Spring," she assured me. But as days passed and soothing rains came and went, she did not get better. She grew feverish and pale, and her mother's eyes showed the same worry that haunted my own.
I walked aimlessly at times, unable to settle. One evening, I found myself in the woods above the village, where the wind stirred the trees and night birds called to one another in mournful voices. The sounds only increased my worries about Nerea's chances of recovery, and I became angry. The woods cared nothing for my sorrows. I turned instead toward the stream that ran alongside them, knowing it would help me find the way out.
The little old man appeared shortly thereafter, in the shadows that fell over the stones of an abandoned well.
"She should have come when I bade her," he said.
I rushed to him and shook him mightily, fury rising within me. "You cursed her!"
"I did no such thing," he protested, the words altered by the clattering of his yellowed teeth. "It is the way of this land. All children of the Solstice belong to us."
"Is there no way to save her?"
"You may bring her here, and the earth may yet revive her. Let her tears fall into this well, deep into the ground. If the Old Spirits will it, she may live."
The old man's words might have been the ravings of a madman, but I was desperate and could not ignore them. I ran down the old path to the village, straight to Nerea's front door. I could not offer any logic in my strange request, but her parents were as panicked as I. Together, we loaded Nerea on horseback and walked back up the hill to the old well.
It was a difficult journey in the dark, but we reached the stone circle and laid Nerea down alongside it.
"Mother," she whispered. "Nolan, what—"
"Shhhhh," her mother said.
"Nerea, do not leave us, I beg of you," I pleaded.
"I think…" She breathed in raggedly. "I have already stayed too long…"
Before the spark in her eyes faded, I could see that she loved me—loved us all—though she had no words left to give.
Her mother sobbed as I stroked Nerea's hair, tears coursing down my face. Our entire future—the only future I had ever wanted—had fled in an instant. I could not help feeling that it had been stolen just as Nerea's life had been stolen from her.
A few breaths later, Nerea herself vanished. It was if she had dissipated into the earth, leaving behind only the wrought-iron necklace I had given her on her last birthday. A matching ring waited for her coming birthday, two days hence. I ached with the thought that she would never see it.
"It is true then, what they say about fairies and iron," her father murmured.
"These cannot be fairies," I said. "They would not be so cruel!" The look he gave me was half-pitying, whether for my loss, my callow youth, or the sum of both.
I hid Nerea's necklace, there among the stones where she had lain. It belonged with her, or at least to the place she had last been.
I dared not hope it might bring her back.
I have been to the well since then, in daylight and in darkness. The necklace is always waiting, though I think none but I have ever found it. I bring it out of the stones and hold it in my hand, resting my head against the well's ruined circle. Then I close my eyes and imagine I am lying next to Nerea, holding her hand.
Time continues on as I sift through the memories of her beauty, her kindness, her bright laughter, and all the plans the two of us shared. Sometimes, I can almost feel her head against my shoulder, the press of her hand against my own.
I have no sense of how long I lie there each time. I only know that with each passing month, I find it harder and harder to leave.
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