Tomorrow Will Come.
What happened instead was that the tree fell in love with him and began to murmur fondly of the joy to be found in the eternal embrace of a red oak. "Always, always," it sighed, "faithfulness beyond any man's deserving. I will keep the color of your eyes when no other in the world remembers your name. There is no immortality but a tree's love."
The Last Unicorn.
Hare's Moon was high upon the sky when Lir was aroused from his light sleep, a song he might once have known being woven into the night. When he came out from his tent, his men still slept, even the guards he had said he needn't, snoring with their arms crossed.
Sword on his belt, Lir moved as silently as he dared because he had been in the presence of magic before and he knew myths, and he would've known lady Amalthea's song even if he had been deaf, even if he had forgotten himself despite the ten winters that had gone by since the last time he had been by her side.
Perhaps it wasn't despite but because of the years.
There was not, however, a maiden with moonlit hair singing by the side of the trees where he and his man had made camp, nor the sight of an unicorn to sooth his sudden grief. A lonely oak was at top of the cliff, the first blooms upon it's branches but other than that, Lir was all alone, having chased another lonely dream.
He sighed, sitting down on the floor, his back against the tree.
"That's a heavy sigh for such a handsome man," a woman said, laugh and spring in her voice. Lir startled, looking around, but his only answer was another laugh, not mocking but with the chirp of sparrows. "Back here, love."
He might have been king and he might have been loved by an unicorn he still loved, but Lir had never seen something as a tree suddenly stretching, eyes soft and a mouth open upon its trunk. Had he not been a king, he might have run away.
Instead he stood up as fast as he could, hoping that the lack of grace could be excused, considering the circumstances and he gave a half bow.
"I-I apologize, my lady."
"Such a handsome lad, and so courteous," the tree said again, her smile candid. "No need to apologize. I'm glad to have such a sweet company in such a beautiful night."
And then the tree sang, its song the one lady Amalthea had once sang with a voice mellow and deep. The grief inside him seemed to swell and Lir swallowed, eyes upon the Oak as it swayed upon its own song.
"Where did you hear that song?" Lir asked.
The Oak smiled, its eyes still closed. "From the wind and from the birds, as I've learned most of the songs. But why do you seem so sad?"
"I once--" but he stopped, shaking his head, unable to lift his head. "It made me remember."
"That's good, then."
At that, Lir did look up, but the Oak was smiling again upon the night, the moonlight shining upon its blooms.
"I'm sorry, but how can that be good?"
Its eyes were on him again, eyes that had seen hundreds of winters and seen the ways of man for far too long resting there.
"What else would anyone be without that? " It hummed again, a different song this time, a song that Lir didn't think he had ever heard.
He thought about this for a moment before he shook his head. Remembering had, for the last ten years, made nothing of him but to crave with the need to speak to Amalthea because even when his dreams were of her she remained silent.
Instead, he said. "I never knew of any tree that would talk to men."
"Few men have the will to stay still enough and just listen for trees to share their wisdom." It laughed again, rivers upon its laugh. "And I am a tree no more than you are an elf, my beautiful child."
Lir gave a curious frown. His knowledge of elves came no more than from the folk's song and the few legends that had managed to crawl upon king Haggard's castle when he had been nothing but a boy. Elves, even more than unicorns, were nothing more than fairytales, which was why he paid attention to the words of the tree.
It smiled again, its voice still swimming with old lore's tales.
"A sweet magician awoke me from my sleep by mistake and now I slumber but do not rest," the Oak said. "I can't recall my name but I recall my past, the past of my husband and my people and that is enough."
"How can that be enough?" Lir asked again. "Does loneliness not touch your branches?"
"But I am not alone, love." The Oak seemed to stretch upon the sky and for a moment Lir thought that it might shake it's roots out of the cliff and walk, perhaps dance with him, but it just settled down again, its blooms shaking with what Lir thought might have been mirth. "Always, always. Faithfulness like men's memory won't ever know. I am with him as he is with me and tomorrow we will cross the ocean and be with our people and be with each other at last."
"You sound certain," Lir said, hoping that the bitterness hadn't crept upon its voice. His people thought he was kind and noble and smart, but sometimes Lir still thought he wasn't much of a leader, moments such like this weighing him down.
"Why shouldn't I be?" It sighed, flowers and life upon its breath. We have been promised tomorrow, and tomorrow shall come so I will wait until my sleep renders me back to be another tree."
"Is a promise enough to be so certain?"
The Oak opened its eyes again and looked at him again, its eyes reminding him of the Amalthea he had met at first, the Amalthea whose eyes didn't offer a reflection. For a moment, as it gazed upon him, Lir thought he saw an unicorn upon its eyes, a magician walking by the unicorn's side but then the tree sighed, sorrow like Lir had never heard in its voice.
"And I am remembered of how young men are and how young they will always remain." It moved a branch towards him, a long thin wooden finger raising his chin. "The promise of tomorrow is enough," the Oak smiled, her eyes set upon a future he couldn't see but that, suddenly, seemed as certain as the wind upon his face, or the sky clearing with the coming of the sun.. "Tomorrow will come and the wind will carry me and my sisters to our husbands."
Lir joined into her sigh. The grief in his soul seemed softer now, like the cool whisper of morning that seemed to be coming to them.
"I'll sleep soon again," the Oak said, releasing him. "I'll sleep again, perhaps the last Entwife to have ever been awaken and then I'll wait for the day my husband and I shall be reunited again. Tomorrow will come, my sweet child. Have faith."
Lir smiled and gave her a deep bow, his hand upon his chest as the Oak gave him a last simle, closed its eyes and mouth and stilled its branches. One of it's blooms fell down and Lir picked it up, smiling as the sunrise poured itself upon the land.
Tomorrow would come.