He was not always a god.
He can't remember the time before very well, but sometimes he thinks that he might have been a farmer. Or maybe that's just her. But he knows what earth smells like, what it feels like to have it dry against his hands, itchy and stiff and warmed by sunlight. So he assumes it's a valid thought, because there is no earth on his mountaintop. Just stone and snow.
In the dim, backwards recesses of his mind, he can recall what sunlight looks like when it's filtered through the branches of trees, and what fresh fruit tastes like. Or, less pleasantly, rotten fruit. He knows a dull ache that used to strike like fire through his stomach, an emptiness that called and yearned and begged to be filled. He knows what it looks like to gut a fish, and to gash the skin of his hand wide open and see red blood spill across his palm. He remembers it, but so distantly that it might all be twisted and warped by the passage of time. Maybe his blood was not red. Maybe he only recalls it so because his hair is red, and his eyes are red, and the world turns red whenever he sees it a certain way.
It's almost enough to make him try and gash his hand, impossible as that would be. Just to see. But that is a notion filled with folly, and besides which, it wouldn't properly answer his question.
It is a hard road to become the Harvest King. The only person he can recall from the time before he walked it is his counterpart, with her gossamer wings and crystal-clear eyes. Beautiful, he had thought of her once. Certainly it is still true. Nothing about her has changed since the first time he saw her, least of all her appearance, but the sentiment no longer carries the same sense of enthrallment and admiration it once did. There is no fire to it now. Whatever odd longing he had once endured, it has vanished along with his humanity. Now she is another half of a tapestry that spans beyond mortal understanding. She is important, but in the same sense that the sky or the sea is important.
Still, before his long sleep and after, she was the majority of his companionship in the world. Before those little sprites appeared while he was dreaming. After the silver-haired immortals trailed into the forests and towns. She is constant, steady, kind – and somehow, far less human than any of them, for all of her compassion and love for them. Because she is never petty, never selfish, never prideful, or greedy, or bitter, or vengeful, as he can be. She is nothing he comprehends, in truth, and he often suspects that the reverse applies as well.
It once bothered him. It once gave him great cause for misery, the same way the fleeting passage of a mortal life would leave him feeling bereft and alone.
He thinks the term might be 'heartbreak'. Or maybe that is something else. It's hard to remember such things, when the languages and manners and ways of thinking among mortals seem to change as quickly as seasons. So quickly that he long abandoned his watching of them in place of slumber.
Try as he might, though, he can't quite remember why he went to sleep. It's not really important, but he dislikes the gaping chasms within his own mind. They make his thoughts seem like islands, and his memories mere clouds drifting past. They make him so conscious of the long road ahead of him that he begins to wonder where it will end. If it will end. Does he even want it to end? There was a time when he would not have, but that was before the world turned red.
She is coming again. The mortal one. He hears her movements long before she emerges from the darkened passageway. He keeps his back to the narrow stairwell, distracting himself with the world unseen. She is nothing if not persistent. He has no idea why – he knows he is not pleasing company for most mortals, unsettling in his countenance and intimidating in his power. But there is nothing else on the mountain top.
He remembers climbing and climbing until his muscles felt like they were lit aflame, and his every inch of skin felt bruised and battered. There were rags around his hands and rope that bit into his flesh, and all of the rock seemed to go on and on into the sky. A platform straight to godhood. Back then it was some driving urge and quiet promise which pushed him forward.
It is not easy to come here. What does she seek in doing it?
"Good evening, my lord," she greets him lightly, as if there is nothing peculiar in her visit at all. He glances back, giving her only the briefest acknowledgment as she takes a few steadying breaths. The air up here is much colder and thinner than below.
She makes him think of things long forgotten. Reminds him of someone. When he dwells on it, he thinks it might be himself.
He tries not to dwell on it often.
"Why have you come here again?" he asks. It is the thirteenth time he has asked this question, and he has yet to receive a satisfactory answer.
"You have beautiful eyes," she blurts out in reply.
It is true, but it is not an answer. He makes an involuntary sound of disapproval and resolves to ignore the issue until she has left whatever tribute she saw fit to bring, and taken her leave of him. The wind whistles across the crags of his summit, and he thinks again of how cold it is. Not that he can feel it. But he can remember it, that dismal, biting ice followed by a numb ache that was somehow worse. So much worse.
He pushes the thoughts back from his mind, but spares her another glance. She is human.
It is still cold.
"You should go home," he tells her. She starts – it is unusual for him to say more than one sentence to her during such inexplicable visits. Her arms are tucked in against herself, so surely she feels it. The oppressive push of invisible knives against her skin. But rather than obey him, she instead takes a moment to pull the pack off of her shoulders.
He lets other things occupy his mind while she does. Things which are not guesses at what she has brought him. She has been trying new things each time, he has noticed, and each time they are closer to things that he can distantly recall enjoying. In addition to her tenacity, he supposes she must have a good eye for detail in order to reason such matters out.
"Here," she says, with little of the pomp and circumstance a devout follower might employ. The gesture is not lacking in respect, however – it is merely straight-forward. Her hand extends the small, paper-wrapped package towards him.
He takes it, peeling away the flimsy layers until they reveal a narrow, dark red bottle. It takes him a few moments to shift his mind back towards the material, and then read the tiny letters scrawled elegantly across the green label, but he recognizes the apple drawn into the corner straight away.
"It's an apple liqueur," she needlessly informs him. Liqueur. Alcohol. He drank heedlessly once, when godhood was new to him, and the revels of humanity seemed like a welcome reprieve from the long passage of time. Before they, too, became just another form of monotony.
One of her hands waves in some vague gesture, not quite grand, not precisely hesitant. He watches it. Stares at the bottle in his grasp, the falling sunlight catching on a corner and glinting like a stray diamond. "I hope you like it," she says.
"I am… fond of apples," he admits, examining the tribute more closely, almost failing to notice that the comment nearly topples her over.
"Good!" she exclaims. "Great! Excellent! I'll remember that." Her hands fumble when she closes up her pack, gloves slipping over the rough fabric as she re-folds and ties and then slings it back onto her shoulders. Her face has gone scarlet. It is a strange way to behave, and yet...
He thinks of the cold. It is only once she has made her careful way back down his staircase that he realizes he is scowling, and that the wind has carried off the paper wrappers.
Distantly, he recalls the taste of apples, and of the harsh drinks he once enjoyed. He wonders if his memory will prove true. With a deft motion he pulls the top from neck of the bottle, and raises it up to his lips. The smell is atrocious. He had forgotten that, but he remembers it again when it hits him. It makes him think of long summer nights, and broad, tall flames, and… pain. Sickness.
His scowl deepens, but after a moment, he tips the bottle back and drinks. It tastes of apples and fire, far sweeter than the smell. Not quite a match for his memory. There is a slightly sour quality he does not expect, but the surprise of it is strangely pleasing in itself.
It is the work of minutes to finish the bottle. After it is done he cannot say, for certain, whether the experience was positive or negative. But the sensations are distinct. Nostalgic and strangely new all at once, and that alone is enough to make him appreciative. He lets the bottle vanish into wisps of red flame against his fingertips, watching it melt into flecks of sand before he turns his mind back towards the matters of gods and kings.
You have beautiful eyes.
He remembers a young man, starving hungry, hands desperately working against soil that brought no life, body aching, desperate, and exhausted. He remembers looking up and seeing a woman, and thinking he must be dead of hunger, because she was certainly no worldly maiden.
"Lady, you are beautiful," he had whispered then, before he collapsed at her feet.
He remembers what it was like to be stricken with a feeling too large for his body to contain.