[Author's note: This was part of a series of drabbles I wrote, and was for Kristin O., who asked for a Ran/Gingetsu AU. No particular spoilers, though you'll get more out of it if you've read book 4 of Clover. Please see my disclaimer page for copyright information regarding this story. ]
Wide as Wonder, Tall as Starlight
A Clover fanfic
By Natalie Baan
He paused, the hunk of bread halfway to his mouth, and stared at the apparition in the moonlight. His stomach growled quiet protest. Good, honest hearth bread, and honest water in the skin by his side, from springs that daily saw the sun, and him just back into the world after an unmeasurable time spent beneath those hollow hills, treading the mazy paths of the Fair Ones, risking no bite of their food nor any drop from their singing, silvery fountains. His mission completed, the curved sword he'd won fairly from them slung by his side, he'd not ridden far before pausing to dismount and rest, easing the throatlatch and girth of his horse and slipping its bit before settling himself on a shallow, root-knurled bank. Though he'd kept alert and wary, only pushing up his visor instead of removing the helm, he'd thought he could take a few undisturbed moments to break his fast. But now....
Like a child, small and slender-seeming within shapeless, gauzy white draperies, but no child ever had such eyes. Grey as clouds and sorrowful as a day of quiet rain, they regarded him. A tail of black hair spilled over one shoulder; there were flowers in it, almost invisible in the moon's hazy glow, but he remembered them--they were blue, deepest blue, the secret color of midnight. He remembered, amidst the visions and the wizards' trials, a hush of indrawn breath: a lone figure standing below him, on a rock outthrust into dark, rippling water, glimpsed through a swirl of mist; those eyes meeting his, wide with astonishment. A flicker of another reality, dreamlike, heart-seizingly beautiful.
Clearing a throat gone dry, he said, low, "What are you doing here?"
"I won't go back." That voice, quiet as his own, was forlorn even in its defiance: a sigh of denial, a fight demurred rather than a brandished blade. Those grey eyes refocused, seemed to gaze past him into another world, far as eternity. "There's nothing for me there." The boy wavered, swaying a little on his feet. "To dance in my brothers' dance. To be locked within the cage of earth, in that place where time doesn't move, forever." Closing his eyes, he tilted his head, the fair, delicate face tightening with something like grief, a hopeless lostness, a yearning beyond any hope. "But...I want...."
/A trap/ had been his first suspicion, a snare set to draw him back, the careless treachery of those inhuman folk. He thought of faerie knights slinking between the trees like pale leopards, sly and dangerous. And yet...there was no violence in this child, no impression of guile. If there was betrayal here, this one was innocent of it. No threat alarmed the night forest; even his horse was untroubled, shaking its dark mane with a wry-sounding snort before returning to its measure of grain. He was free to do as he would. Even so, he knew that the prudent course would be to shy off, to avoid the entanglements of involving himself with this flown bird, this lonely flotsam cast up into the vagaries of a time-bound, all-too-human world.
Was it the haunting, finely drawn loveliness that had caught in mind and memory from the very first glance, the elfin purity, the artless, unself-conscious grace? Was it the air of wistfulness, a potential for sweetness over shadowed by melancholy, like a flower struggling to bloom beneath a tree's deep cover? Was it his own otherness, the hint of sorcery whispered to be in his blood, which had led him to enter the Shining Realm and take the sword for his own, which told him what it was to be out of place, never truly at home?
Slowly, as though moving without volition, he extended his hand, holding out the bread.
The boy looked up at him, eyes struck wide with surprise and silent questions. For a moment, he wasn't sure if the child would stay or would fly from him and vanish like a started deer. Then that expression softened, warming subtly, like the sky touched by dawn, like a landscape shimmering beneath the sun's first ethereal light. The boy came forward. Step by step, passing through the slanted moon beams, seeming hardly more substantial yet undeniably present, moving ever closer--he caught his breath, stricken by a sudden qualm. Should he? What would be the cost--what would the food of mortals do to this creature, who knew neither time nor change? He drew back his hand, but only a little, for the choice, after all, did not belong to him.
In choice there lay the only freedom.
The boy paused, not even an arm's length away. He could see the slight chest rise and fall, the upsweep of delicately pointed ears. He could dwell forever within those fathomless grey eyes. At last they shifted, their gaze lowering as the boy sank down to kneel before him in a susurration of spiderweb cloth. Gentle fingers settled on his hand, his wrist, cool and light, sending a shiver down his spine--the boy's head bent, and he could feel the almost imperceptible tug as small teeth closed onto the bread, nipping a morsel from it daintily as a kitten, a pull that echoed the immeasurably greater one trying to possess his heart. Among the trees a night bird trilled, lyrical and tender.
Somehow he found speech again. "Why?"
"Because you shine." The boy's voice was breathless with daring and a tremor of quiet, luminous joy. Turning his head, he laid his cheek against the hand that held the bread. "Like a single, steady flame, so bright and strong. So warm." A moment's hesitation. "So, if it's all right...?"
Bringing his other hand forward, he touched the silken strands of black hair, and it was as if some closed place inside himself had opened, becoming as expansive and calm as the night.
"Do what you like."
[Supplementary author's note: The title is a line from the song "Elf Glade" by Meg Davis; as I was mulling over this idea, I started singing the song, and I was sold on it by the line "Come with me for I will take ye dancing now with all my brothers," which caused me to envision knight!Gingetsu enmeshed in the magical web of the three brothers dancing around him, although that image never made it into the actual story. (It also inspired the mental image of Gingetsu being used as a maypole by the Brothers Threeleaf. ^^;;;)
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