idol season ten | week 19 | 1400 words
There were whispers at night in the bottom of the garden. Alina heard them, even in her dreams.
At times, when everything else went silent, she caught a note of something that sounded like her own name.
Out under the moonlight, she searched for answers. "Who is it?" she would ask the willow, the wandering rose, the westerly wind. "Is it you?"
None of them replied.
You are imagining things, Alina, she would think. You'll soon be inventing dragons rising from the forest.
Returning to bed, she would sleep until morning, her rest broken by murmurs too faint to fully wake her.
It was odd that she noticed nothing during the day, nothing apart from birdsong or the quiet rush of breezes. She went about her work, her hands busy dying and spinning wool or tending to her loom, while questions turned over in her mind like pebbles tumbling in a stream. Some shy creature, perhaps, or might it be nocturnal?
After dark, she took to strolling or sitting in the moonlight, listening to all that surrounded her and pondering the mystery of night. In rare moments, often just as her eyelids grew heavy, there were whispers—always too distant to be certain of the source. Once, she caught a hint of a melody that almost seemed familiar, and just as quickly, it was gone.
One warm clear night, as she was on the verge of returning to her bed, she saw man sitting under the willow tree and looking up at the stars.
"Oh!" Alina gasped.
"Forgive me for startling you," the man said. His voice was low and deep, his words like music to the ears of one who had strained so long to decipher plain speech from unknown sounds. "I am surely intruding in your garden. It is very beautiful here."
Alina smiled gently. "It is no trespass," she said. In truth, it was, but she had been alone too many years and made lonelier still by nights spent waiting for answers to be revealed by whatever might come.
The man rose slowly, and stepped forward, reaching for her hand and bowing over it. "My name is Bram, and I am most pleased to make your acquaintance."
He was beautiful, Alina noticed, tall and lean with fair skin and with hair the color of night.
"I am Alina," she said, "and bid you welcome. Is it you I've been hearing in the evenings for so long?"
"I cannot say," Bram laughed, "for I do not know what you might have heard."
They talked on for a bit, as Alina showed him the rest of the garden. The roses had a lovely aroma, the feathery heather a spicy green smell.
"What a pity the petunias have closed up," she said. "All of this is much prettier in sunlight."
Bram turned to look at her. "Many things are beautiful by day, but that which shines at night is rarer and far more precious."
Alina wasn't certain she agreed, but was too caught by the intensity of his gaze to contemplate the idea. An odd way of thinking, but he is surely entitled to it?
Bram showed her his favorite constellations and described the stories behind the ones she did not know. At last, Alina could no longer keep her eyes open. Bram begged her pardon for having kept her out so long, and thanked her for her company and bid her good evening.
Alina slept well that night, with dreams of moonlit flowers and handsome strangers.
Bram was not there the next evening, although Alina wandered outside for some time, hoping to see him. He returned the following night, bearing a few blossoms of his own.
"These are moonflowers," he said, as he offered them to her. "Perhaps you know them?"
"They're lovely!" she said. "And what a pretty fragrance they have. Are they from your own garden?"
"No," he said, "I have no garden of my own. But I have found them many times in my travels."
"Really? Where are you from?" Alina asked. "Is it far?"
"Everywhere," Bram said, his arms encompassing the fields and sky. "Everywhere and nowhere," he added.
"I imagine you've seen a great many things," Alina said. "I should love to hear about them."
They strolled through the garden and the fields beyond until Alina grew weary and Bram bid her farewell again. She went back to her cottage, turning around just before opening the door. In the distance, she could see Bram's dark outline as he stepped into the forest.
He returned every few evenings, and she did not presume to ask where he was on the nights she did not see him. He was always pleased to be with her again, and she with him. The days, once too short, began to feel long and the unslept hours in Alina's nights were over far too soon.
She found herself dressing prettily for him, and yet wondered if the colors—even the ribbons in her hair—were lost to him in the absence of real light? For Bram's part, he favored dark clothing, which lent a simple elegance to his appearance. His fair skin glowed against his black clothes and hair, and his eyes nearly black as well. She had seen the reflection of the moon in them one night, an astonishing thing that left her breathless.
As for Bram, he was equally captivated by her appearance. The pearly gleam of her face in the moonlight, the bright beacon of her hair—they entranced him, he said. He told her she was beautiful, and he could not take his eyes off of her.
"Why do I never see you by day?" Alina asked once. "Where do you go?"
"I often sleep then," Bram said, "or work that I may eat."
"Don't you miss the sunlight?" she asked.
"I see it from time-to-time, but I prefer the night—and those who are able to see its beauty."
So much was beautiful to Alina, a gift given by her mother now many years gone. All of the seasons were exquisite in their own ways, and there was a quality of loveliness to all times of the day, even evolving hour over hour into something new. Since meeting Bram, she had seen more of the night than ever before. It was more strange and majestic than she'd realized.
As the weeks became months, she was surprised to discover that she preferred the night. The days had changed for her, somehow growing dimmer simply for all of those hours in which Bram was away.
She rose later in the morning to allow more time at night to be awake on those evenings when Bram joined her. He was rarely absent now. On the few nights he missed, she was beside herself with disappointment.
She was becoming someone different, attending less and less to her work and growing thinner. Too often, she neglected to go to the market for food.
She wondered if she cared.
The nights grew colder as summer turned to autumn. She was bold enough now to entreat Bram to come inside the cottage, but he always refused. He wore a cloak against the wind when he visited, the darkness of it fluttering like wings behind him as he moved. The moonlight glinted off of his hair like lightning released from a storm.
Winter would come, Alina knew, and what would happen then? Would Bram stop coming altogether?
One late September night, the wind turned bitter, and Alina went back into the house for a blanket to wrap herself in. How much longer would it be before all she loved was suddenly gone?
Bram must have glimpsed something in her face when she returned, for he pulled her gently to him and stroked her hair.
Had she betrayed herself with the glimmer of tears?
"Alina, my love," Bram said, "I cannot bear the thought of the seasons ahead without you. Will you come with me and be mine forever?"
Yes," Alina said, her tears flowing unceasingly now. Wherever Bram might live, the loneliness without him was agony. She cared less for hearth and home than for the unrelenting need for his presence.
Bram kissed her deeply and held her close, warming her against the chill of the rising wind.
That, it was said, was how the beautiful Alina came to be The Raven's bride.
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