“They’re different,” Aern had told her one night seven months ago.
She hadn’t answered him right away, instead rolling his words over in her mind, trying to settle on what it was he meant. It had always been something of an unspoken game she had to herself–he had the habit of starting in the middle of a thought, and she took delight in trying to jump to where his mind had wondered.
She remembered how the soft tufts at the end of terrefis grass fronds bobbed all around them, arcing over where they lay. Head to head on the ground, Liadin had felt when he shifted his arms up to pillow his head, his elbows neatly framing her shoulders while she considered what he’d said.
“You don’t recognize any?” she’d asked at length.
A soft laugh had drifted from him, softer in memory than it had really been then. “Now I do. But, it was strange the first time I came so far from home. I watched the familiar sky I grew up with fade into one I knew nothing about.”
“It’s so very different?”
“In some places. Where I was born, there are stars that will never be seen down here, because it is so far north. There are others in the middle that you can see if you know where to find them.”
“Show me one of those.” A quick and bright desperation to find a bridge in the sky had formed in-between her rib bones, to find something that connected his faraway home to hers.
Aern had fallen quiet for a while, leaving Lia to still the breath fluttering in her chest for fear he’d hear.
“There.” Her gaze had followed the straight line of his arm and hand up through the indigo deep of the sky to a scattering of stars. “Here, that’s Ifarinn, the Ship of a Thousand Sails. Back home, it’s Oewyntheld, the Tree That Watches.”
“The same stars?”
“The same. It’s not really a different sky from there to here,” he’d continued, “but one expanse larger than you can imagine. If you stood here and I stood back up north, we could both see this and know we were under the same sky.”
Liadin looked up at the stars, miles away from the sloping hill they’d lain on that night, searching for Ifarinn. But it was the wrong time of year, and the Ship wasn’t there–and neither, she knew, was his Tree.
He’d said he could still see those stars from the land where he was born, but she didn’t know how to believe him. They’d vanished from the sky four months ago, right before he left, as if he’d packed them away and taken them with him. Aern knew how best to burn all his bridges, and Lia supposed she–nor the stars themselves–were no different, after all.
He’d said when they saw the Ifarinn, the Oewyntheld, they’d know they were beneath the same sky, but when it was gone? She knew they stood beneath two different ones. How could the skies remain the same now, when he’d gone and so had the bridge that held them together?
Lia tugged a tuft of terrefis off its stalk and ground it to a dusty powder between her fingers and thumb and tried not to hear the hollowness in her chest.
She should have never believed that he’d be less fleeting than spring, and the dreams in which she saw him should have stopped hurting by now. But the dreams were so real she could still smell him when she woke, and it made her angry. So she wrote letters she’d never send to him in a small, worn book and went back to the city she’d met him in, back to the rotund belvedere to teach where she once had studied, and buried herself in work. In work, where there were no striking green eyes in an unsettlingly still face.
But on the nights when her work slackened to a dull drone and she walked through the observatory arboretum, she caught the taste of spring against her lips and tongue and could not stop from looking for Ifarinn, even though she knew it would never be found in the winter sky.
And she crumbled terrefis in her hand so that she wouldn’t do the same.