Like the Sound of Teacups Breaking and Kittens Screaming
Sometimes trees are just trees. If you've seen the trees, you've seen the leaves, and if you've seen the leaves you've seen everything the trees have to offer. Sometimes people try to romanticize trees, like Sain does by saying they are the shelters given to men and women by gods to hide their private displays of affection, but everyone knows Sain is full of shit. Trees are pitiful things that live and die like humans do, spy and cry and lie like humans do. Trees watch and peep through knots and holes at the world beneath. Trees aren't a metaphor and if you get a lot of them together, you don't get an allegory you get a forest. Trees are no good for shade in Sacae, you can't climb trees in Ilia, trees don't grow in Nabata, and Lycians love their trees in poems and song, but if they need a house built they take an axe and do not shed a tear.
The going was slow since they entered the big bad lord of Caelin's domain, and it had been raining all day, and now all night, so the moment they reached a deep enough stretch of forest—where the damn trees were everywhere—they stopped. All of them, Lyn, Sain, Kent, Florina, and everyone else who went along, each for their own reasons, each marching headlong into Caelin like toy soldiers towards a treasure chest. It was still raining and everyone sat against broad tree trunks where hopefully the canopy overhead was thick enough to stop the raindrops from pelting their heads.
The world was cold and dark and wet and they were all together in their own little sphere of influence, and at least for the night they knew that no one would come to kill them—anyone who tried to come over would fall ten feet down into the muddy forest floor and drown.
Of course it was Sain who complained about how better it would be staying at one of those pretty little inns where the lanterns hang outside and the wooden sign creaks a little when it swings and where it was warm and dry and the barmaids served warm ale and roast lamb and had breasts so large and soft you could sleep on them (and this was the part Sain didn't say, but everyone knew he was thinking it). But eventually he too fell asleep and everyone knew that the only reason he complained was because he wanted a dry roof and a warm beer for the rest of them as much as he wanted it for himself. Half-asleep and soaking wet, Lyn had told him not to talk about things they couldn't change, but that was only because she knew he was probably right and she wanted to be under a dry roof as much as he did. No one liked sleeping in the wet cold. It was awful, really, it was.
The forest floor was covered with wet leaves and wet loam and the whole world smelled like fresh. Everyone else had already fallen asleep and Lyn was dreaming she was on the plains warm in the sun when she felt something shake her shoulder. She opened her eyes and Florina was there. They made conversation, quiet conversation, half-sleeping conversation, even though Florina was wide-awake and couldn't sleep. There was pitter-pattering above them as the rain hit the trees and bounced down onto their heads. It was hard to hear over the pattering and hard to see through the night and the rain, but Florina was crying and asked Lyn to hold her. She did.
Florina choked through tears that tasted like salt and ashes that she felt sad all of a sudden and she didn't know why, and before long she was hysterical, nearly inconsolable. Maybe it was just the wrong time of the month for her, but Lyn knew it was something else. The night was dark. Too dark. Lyn saw only an outline of Florina's body nestled up against her in a fetal crawl until Lyn's arms surrounded her and swallowed her with a creaking jaw and a torrent of saliva that was like rain—or maybe rain that was like saliva. Lyn remembered feeling her friend in her arms, a soft wet mass that shivered cold, and Florina felt so like Lyn to Lyn that when Florina crawled into a ball in Lyn's arms, Lyn swore they were all part of one growing entity getting bigger and bigger and Lyn and Florina and Lyn and Lyn and Florina and Florina and so big that nothing could ever, ever stop them.
Florina sobbed again and her sadness pushed daggers of frozen rain through Lyn's heart. It was the worst sound in the world. It was a terrible sound. She couldn't place quite what it sounded like, but it was the most terrible thing she could ever consider. It was a horrible sound.
Lyn heard Florina say something unintelligible. She wanted to hear it, but she couldn't, and even her sharp Sacaen ears couldn't hear her. But she knew what she was saying. Lyn already yearned for the plains. She knew what Florina was saying. Lyn couldn't help herself, and before she knew she had even opened her mouth she had spoken so loudly that she was at once afraid the entire group would wake up, her brain still back under the warm sun running ahead of her tan body just trying to keep up with her plainsfolk wanderlust. She felt herself needing to speak.
"Sometimes the ghosts chase."
Lyn didn't even know what it meant or why the hell she ever said it. Sacaens weren't meant to be philosophers in the "civilized world". They were nature's guardians, the noble savages good for nothing else but the dirt under their feet, that was what the rest of the world believed. Sacaens were supposed to spew shit about Mother Earth and Father Sky and maybe get drunk on cherry wine and learn how to fight and how to skin and hunt animals and how to stop the other tribes from raping their land and stealing their women. Sacaens were meant to roam. No good for anything else.
"Sometimes the ghosts chase." Lyn shook her head. She thought she had killed the moment. But Florina stopped crying and Lyn could see through the rain and the dark that she was looking up at her and she had stopped crying.
"Sometimes the ghosts chase." What shit. Lyn believed it, even though she didn't believe it and wanted to discredit it with every word she knew how to speak.
A part of the piece of the many pieces of herself inside her chuckled. She knew what the ghosts were. She knew what the ghosts did. The ghosts would fuck her if she lived as a noble, with her father's ghost staring down icily like the tan men of the plains did when they were betrayed, and the ghosts would fuck her if she lived on the plains, in the fields where the grass grows brown and green and sometimes bloody like razors and her what-they-called runaway hussy of a mother's family living in the castles and the mansions with the old books knew knew knew knew she was always no good.
The ghosts liked to pretend they were kings and sometimes the peasants knocked them them off the wall and they cracked like eggs just like in the old stories. Maybe that wasn't real but then ghosts weren't real so—well, it didn't matter anyway. Maybe the rain was snow, and maybe Florina wanted them to be snowflakes and she could stick her tongue out and they fell and melted away until nothing remained, but something remained. Something invisible. Something like dancing. Something like home. Something like three snowflakes, never the same, all different, all lovely, all falling together, falling, falling.
Maybe that's what Florina was really saying, Lyn thought, stroking Florina's hair absentmindedly. I know what it feels like, she thought. Maybe the trees had heard what Florina really said. Maybe she'd ask them. She shivered. It was too cold and Florina was almost almost crying again and she wasn't nearly as warm as a girl should be, Lyn thought, because at Florina's age she had more than anyone would ever hope for: A home, a family, a blanket, and a meal. She wondered are you a tree, Florina? Are your leaves green or white as snow and when is your autumn coming, it cannot be now, no, no, nay. This is your spring.
You ran away, you ran away too, just like my mother. Just like me…no, but it wasn't about Florina, Lyn realized, and her heart fell through her stomach like the feeling you'd get from reading a book so painfully melancholy it makes you cry in slow-motion. Her whole life was slow-motion. It wasn't about Florina, Lyn realized, it was about every girl, every boy, every human being in the world, which was why Lyn felt like such a whore when she ran her tongue along the edge of Florina's ear then licked the inside slowly, warmly, tenderly. She could make love to the world around her and pleasure every forlorn soul, every fallen friend on their knees who needed someone to haul them up and tell them you are not a tree. Not a tree. Florina squeaked. Lyn licked her neck.
Lyn could hear the trees whistle and catcall. In Sacaen lore, trees were the perverts and spies of the natural world. She kissed Florina on the lips and to her surprise but also not surprisingly, Florina kissed back. Was it right? Lyn didn't know, maybe she didn't want to know, maybe she did not have to know, maybe, maybe, maybe, there were too many maybes. When the moon turned and the rose, maybes could buy you no bread, and maybes could spare you no shelter from the rain. Lyn did not want maybes, only yes and yes and yes and yes and yes!
She hoped Florina wouldn't cry again. It hurt her heart to hear it. It was the worst sound in the world. It sounded like...
Bad. It almost didn't feel right, it didn't feel right, there in the pouring rain, pulling her close, their faces melting into the soil in the rain, grafted together so close as to rend the earth, kissing her and fondling her and making her squeal with some bastard concoction of pleasure and guilt under the base of a tree in one of the few places of the world where a tree means anything. Lyn inched down, breathing any heat she could muster, her hands wrapped around Florina's back, holding her close as hard as she ever held anyone in her life ever. She felt vulgar, so very vulgar, vulgar like the pit of the earth itself. But it was a beautiful vulgar, a vulgar vulgar, a real vulgar. The world was vulgar. Love was vulgar. Friendship was vulgar. Friendship was skin and fingertips and beauty and caring. Friendship was vulgar and warm, Lyn knew.
Her lips were thawing pieces of ice and her mouth was hot and Florina's nipple was like stone but it was nice. Lyn could feel her smiling. She could feel it. Ghosts can't do this, ghosts can't chase us, Lyn thought. Lyn did strange and wonderful things with her tongue, dancing with her tongue and Florina stopped crying and started smiling and moaning and saying "Thank you." The rainy world spun around her and she lay on her back, out of breath, hot breath, cold breath, mist breath, minutes later or maybe hours later, tired hours, the rain attacking her face, and she couldn't tell where awake ended and sleep began. Ghosts don't feel like cold rain and warm flesh and body heat and ghosts with breasts don't fuck other ghosts with breasts. Was she her father or her mother?
Maybe she was both. Or maybe she was just a tree. Trees slept well.
The next morning everyone woke up. No one had died. That was important. Lyn and Florina smiled. Sain tried to talk and make merry, Kent discouraged him, Wil went off scouting, everyone else waited for their orders. The rain had stopped, and the sun was shining. The big bad lord of Caelin and his men stood waiting around hiding in corners of forests or mountains or forts for the rain to stop so they could march in, without knowing their life's only purpose was to die. Everyone was glad to get out of the trees. The trees were perverts anyway.
Everyone needed to look to the now, but Lyn was stuck in the then, something she had never done before, knew she couldn't do. She didn't know where she was right then or even if it mattered, didn't know where she was going or where she could have or couldn't have ended up, didn't know if there was going to be trees or ghosts there, but she wanted nothing more than someone to hold her and anchor her to the ground. She wanted to run away, to distance herself as far as possible from the sound, the sound that was only a sound, the sound of a friend crying. It was the worst sound in the world, and she tried to console herself that a sound was just a sound and only a sound but she couldn't and she fucking hated the trees, they were everything, everything she had ever hated. Trees stayed where they were. They couldn't run away, not like her mother did, not like she did, not like Florina did even if she didn't call it that, not like Sain the knight-errant who wanted to dance when the floor was empty and not like Kent who could follow his liege through the neck of the empty bottle Sain had drunk merry from and not like the rest of the runners who threw away everything to join her.
They were all free. The ghosts were too slow and too fat and too stupid and too old and too too too faraway to catch them all. Lyn kept her own little ghost with her, the ghost with breasts, the kept thing she left behind, the forgotten thing she brought with her, the beautiful flea that was as much a part of her as her arm or her left eye was. Maybe the trees did watch and gape and paint pictures in their mind of fucking girls to pleasure themselves with. But it did not matter, so run. Run. Run forward. Lyn ran. Ran forward. Lyn waved to Florina and Sain and Kent and the rest of them and told them to come along and when they had passed the forest, Lyn turned back and laughed, laughed at the trees. The trees couldn't move.
Fuck them. Fuck them. Who needs trees anyway?