“Tell this story: We climbed to the top for a view of the moons, not expecting to meet someone, especially someone like that, all the way up here.” — Source
It was a perfect night–the best we’d seen in years. The fog that usually rolled over our small island had cleared to reveal a sky so full of stars, one scarcely noticed the black void of space amongst their glimmering beauty. Rarer still than the clear night were the two moons, Crescentia, and her smaller counterpart, Selene, being full on the same night.
“I must see them,” Callia whispered in my ear, her warm breath eliciting a shiver that trembled down to my toes. That she, the most beautiful in our village, had chosen me this night…It was a heady, intoxicating rush that pushed all common sense and parental admonishments from my mind, and left me nothing more than a compliant captive to her whims.
I nodded, slowly, almost immediately regretting my decision, but unable to say no when her soft body, all curves and warmth, was pressed so close. Arms that were bare despite the chill, curved invitingly around my neck, and left me painfully aware of the diminishing space between us. Her delicate fingers had gently twined some of my dark curls around them, and with the barest pressure on my scalp, she leaned me further down, equalizing the disparity in our heights. It set her flat on her bare, elegant feet, and bent my neck and back to an odd angle.
“The tallest of the Giant’s Bones–nothing else will do,” she finished, and with a soft kiss of her full lips against my neck, where my pulse sped beneath the surface of my pale skin, she sent a jolt through my nerves that nearly sent me to my knees.
I swallowed. “Of course,” I said, the deep timbre of my young voice rumbling through my chest, because no other answer would have sufficed.
The journey through the forest that lined the edge of the cliff overlooking the beach, was quiet and unhurried. I trailed behind, my larger hand almost engulfing hers completely, as she led me down the narrow path. The moonlight dappled through the trees and stole almost all the color from the world, but nothing could dim the fiery red of Callia’s hair, which seemed to glow like rubies in the pure illuminance.
When we came to the end of the forest, whose branches had been silent throughout our trek with a peculiar lack of wind, we were a scant few yards away from the cliff edge. The ancient stairway carved into the side of the cliff by our many generations removed ancestors, was worn by weather and age. It could be treacherous at the best of times, with sea spray making the grey and black rock slick, but Callia navigated them with an ease that left me to think she floated instead of walked.
The waves echoed against the rock, as the ebb and flow of the tide rushed the shore with a dull roar of sound, only to end in a hiss of spray and water against sand as it receded. The tide was low, yet another fortunate coincidence, as swimming to any of the Giant’s Bones during high tide generally ended in a dead swimmer.
We walked the beach, her still leading me, and with each subsequent Giant’s Bone we passed my pulse sped just a hair. When the biggest and most foreboding of all the huge, rocky protrusions dotting our beach was within a dozen or so strides, I craned my neck to look up toward the top. It was easily four houses tall, and the only Bone big enough to boast a ring of trees at the top, as though nature herself had crowned it the king of its lessers.
Concern for Callia, and her being able to climb to the top, was a mere whisper in my mind when she let go of my hand. She looked back to me, quirked the most enigmatic smile, then turned back toward the king of Bones. Tying up the length of her dress, wet with saltwater and coarse with sand, in an efficient knot, she set about scaling the nearly vertical rock as though she were born to it. Not to be outdone, but not nearly as confident as she was, I took off my boots for a better grip and set about following her.
It was an arduous trek, to say the least, and I cannot count the number of times I slipped, nearly plunging to the beach below. However, Callia was always there to lend me a hand at the precise moment I needed it, and if it had not been for her, I daresay I never would have made it to the top.
When I heaved myself over the edge of the Bone, breathless yet delirious from the exhilaration of not dying, I laughed a short bark of laughter. Callia, still smiling, came into my view as she stood over me.
“Never felt more alive, have you?” she asked, and my grin widened.
“Come, it’s almost time; they’re almost at their peak.” She reached down and helped me to my feet, and I got my first glimpse at the king of Bone’s apex.
I’d never been up here before, as all the children of the village were explicitly warned against doing so upon pain of the worst punishment imaginable by the parent. Most who did try never made it to the top, and/or broke limbs for their trouble.
What shocked me, more than the fact that I was actually here, was that we weren’t alone. There was a man, his back turned to us, gazing up toward the sky. His long hair glimmered silver like moonbeams, woven down his broad back in an intricate braid. His feet were spread, and hands clasped loosely behind him. Clothing that looked finer than any I’d ever seen, even on kings in our storybooks passed around the village, seemed to be made of gold.
“You were almost late,” the man said, his voice kindly and deep, like the echo in a large cave.
Callia fairly skipped over to him, jumped, and threw her arms around his neck. The man caught her in a tight embrace, swinging her around to her laughter that rang through the night like the most exquisitely crafted bell.
“I am never late, father, and well you know it,” she replied, leaving me confused. Callia’s father was not the man I saw standing in front of me, but instead one of the few merchants that traveled beyond our shores.
“I see you’ve brought the one we need,” he said, and looked at me for the first time. At the sight of his piercing, azure blue eyes, pain lanced through my skull with a blinding flash of light, and I dropped to my knees with a cry of agony.
Callia’s small hands touched the crown of my head, and the pain eased enough for me to breathe without wanting to scream.
“You are not strong enough, mortal, to gaze upon father’s visage,” she said, leaving me far more confused than before.
“Mortal, you have been chosen by my daughter for an incredibly important task, and you have my thanks for coming along so willingly,” Callia’s supposed father said, his voice closer than where he was when I could see him.
“Wh-what task?” I asked, not able to keep my voice from shaking, and though Callia’s hand kept enough pressure to suggest I keep my head bowed, I didn’t need any urging.
“What do you know of the legend of the Moon and the Sun?” the man asked, and the undertone of the question implied the answer was of more importance than I thought there could be. The overtone, however, left me with no choice but to answer.
“The Moon, Crescentia, and the Sun, Sol, are reluctantly married to each other, and have one child, Selene. They can only meet fleetingly, during eclipses, and forever chase each other across the sky,” I finished, doing my best to dredge up the stories my mother told me as a child.
“Well, you have some of it correct,” the man said. “What you don’t know is that long ago, Sol, incredibly lonely in his endless trek across the sky, fell in love with a mortal woman. He descended to the earth to be with her, and they had a beautiful daughter together. Crescentia, jealous of the mother, her daughter, and angry at Sol, tried to kill the mother and her daughter. Sol, in an effort to protect them, cast a concealment spell on the island his beloved and her daughter lived on, almost perpetually covering it in fog.”
I started and nearly looked up to the man, and only Callia’s hands on my head kept me from making that mistake again.
“The fog was so thick, that only a few times a year could Sol even penetrate the concealment to look down on his beloved and his daughter. It also hid the island’s whereabouts, so the jealous Crescentia could never find it–except once every five-hundred years. It’s during that time the fog clears, and with the moons at their full power, while Sol is at his weakest, they have the opportunity to hunt the half-mortal daughter down, since the mother had long since passed away,” the man continued sadly, his voice warm like the sun baking the shingles of my house.
“To keep his daughter safe, Sol must resort to the oldest of magic–blood magic–to keep his daughter away from Crescentia, since his magic is not strong enough in the light of the two full moons.”
At the words, ‘blood magic’, I tried to roll away from Callia, but faster than thought she grabbed a handful of my hair in a titan’s grip, the same hair she’d been gently running her fingers through merely an hour or two before.
“Thank you for helping to protect me, Edmund–I’ll never forget you,” she whispered in my ear, but what once sent shivers of pleasure through my body, instead sent a thrill of fear through me that nearly stopped my heart.
Callia let go of my hair and quickly straddled my lap, snaking her impossibly strong arms, like bands of iron, around my upper body. Before I could try to throw her off me, a larger, rougher hand gripped the back of my head, and yanked it backward to expose my neck.
The soft sound of a small blade leaving its sheath met my ears, and soon after the razor edge glided across my throat like the bladed shoes we used on the frozen ponds in winter. Callia’s soft gasp sounded as my blood gushed from my body, covering her face and hair.
Gurgling, and unable to breathe, Callia’s arms let go at the same time as my head being released. I lay down, my arms already so heavy I could not reach up to my throat to stem the flow of blood. She was wearing my blood as easily as the smile she’d given me earlier, and she hugged her father gleefully as the world around me dimmed.
My life didn’t flash before my eyes, and none of my final moments were filled with anything that had happened in the previous seventeen years of my life. All I could think, as I lay there dying, a victim of some ancient feud between Gods we hadn’t believed existed, was; “Her hair is the same color as my blood.”