In the valley, spring is coming.
It unfolds in the forest first; bright green mosses timidly spread on the host-branches, and the rains cover them in droplets that resound in the stillness at the end of the cold and dormant blanket of winter. The water falls on new grass and the compost of the years, and the forest is peaceful.
In the valley, the villagers wait for some signs of spring in the midst of slush and mud. The skies are still a dark moody slate and birds remain silent; but for everything that others see, or lack in seeing, Ivy Walker sees and hears for them. She is not afraid of the drift of snow at the edge of the forest or of what lies beyond.
She has not made a promise to avoid the forest and she does not need to. She knows what is at stake; she knows what her lie protects, so she lies. It is not safe out there, for anyone, for any of them. For her. Not because of her blindness, but because of the things she knows and holds dear. This life, these people. Her village.
One drop after another, the melting winter falls in her red hair, dripping from the edge of the woods. She can smell green things, knows they are there, and a part of her wishes she could step into the forest where it is warm and awake and not grieving for the losses of winter. She is so very tired of loss.
Another little one grew ill and passed away, suffering from some sickness that the medicines she fetched from The Towns could not cure. Haggard elders dug a grave twice, once through snow and once through dirt; and they marked the location with a pole so winter would not erase the grave from their memory, and prevent the placing of a proper stone in the spring.
The wind stirs. She hears the call of a blackbird, and the answering call of a finch.
From some place to her right Ivy hears footfalls on brambles and rotting twigs, and she does not have to turn into the sound to know who it is. A gradual increase of colour, bright gold, comes into focus in the midst of her blackness: there is only one like that, in the entirety of the world. She is sure of this.
He is standing close to her, not close enough to be touching her, but close enough she could be touched. Some ways do not change; some people are constants and known, as dependable as the rising and falling of the sun. He is constantly right within reach.
She leans into his presence, smiling, smiling. The warm light behind her eyes is a sun of her own, and someday she will tell him: this is why she never stumbles when he is close, and why she can steer her path clearly toward him when he is far away.
"Winter is passing, can you see it?" she asks, inclining her head to the woods. She hears him nod. There is a pause filled with the dripping of wet trees, and then she adds without bitterness or melancholy: "I wish I could." Her tone is conspiratorial, as though she is giving him a well-kept secret. In a way, she is.
She feels him moving away from her, and the sound of something cracking, and some sort of shifting in the tension of the nearest tree: and then he returns and grasps her hand, but it is only for a moment. He exchanges his touch for a token, the soft bud of a leaf in the cage of her curling fingers.
Her face aches from smiling so much, and perhaps from something else. She does not deserve this man or his quiet ways. It is a strange thought -- to deserve, or to not deserve, someone's love; it has always only been a matter of its presence or absence. But she remembers too clearly his silence a month or so after it happened, when she had obtained permission from the elders to tell him the truth. Their secret I could have kept, Lucius; it was my father's secret and your mother's secret, and not my secret. But my secret... how could I explain to you what happened to Noah Percy, if I could not speak of this? And how could I be your wife and keep his death's cause between us, unknown? If they had refused to let me speak, can you see why yesterday I said, "if tomorrow they decide I may not tell you, I will not let you be my husband"?
She remembers clearly how she had wished to unspeak, even when the things spoken were words that honour and love had commanded her to say. But now, clutching the bud tightly in her fist, she remembers most clearly how he had turned her aching wet face back to him with the warm persistence of his calloused hand. Even in the midst of his own hurting, he offered forgiveness.
He brings her back to the edge of winter and field with a gentle tap on her elbow. She smiles again, wondering what she has let out on her face for him to see, and if he worries. It is not for him to worry. She is not afraid.
"I came to collect you," he says, as if only now recalling his purpose. His hand moves from her elbow up the inside of her arm. He grasps her hand in his. "Supper is on a little early today."
She will not say what she is feeling, or what remnants of some slumbering fire still smolder in her stomach from the smooth manner his hand had passed over the length of her arm. She is sure he already knows, from the way his breath hitches over the cold air, and from the way his hand tightens against hers and does not let go.
She tucks the leaf in her pocket and folds her cane under that arm, against her body, and allows him to guide her. She can walk without him and they both know this. Some people are constants and known. He is always aching to touch her.