This story is by Hannah Tussing and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“I thought I’d find you out here.”
Wimbler turned his head toward the speaker, his lips drawn in a tight line.
“Don’t worry about the Council or anyone else. They’re wrong about you,” Nareia said as she walked to his side. “You will be knighted, I know it.”
Wimbler heaved a sigh and turned away from her. Even if he were able to speak, he could not summon the words to explain his feelings. He let his gaze drift back to the landscape, the calming refuge he sought. The moon blazed brightly in the sky, bathing the pool in a silver glow, disrupted only by a waterfall that cascaded over glistening rocks. A gentle breeze swayed the trees, sending crimson and orange leaves fluttering to rest on the surface of the water.
“It’s so beautiful here,” said Nareia.
Wimbler nodded. He clung to the feeble hope that perhaps his stiffness would deter her.
She held out her hand, smiling. “Let’s go for a walk. It’s not that far to Bringer’s Bridge.” Silver moonbeams glinted in her bright hazel eyes.
He hesitated for a moment, as he had come to the pool to be alone. But he couldn’t resist her warm smile and dazzling eyes. She appeared as a glowing fairy in the moonlight, her untamed auburn hair streaked silver.
He took her hand, the corners of his lips twitching. She tugged on his arm, pulling him toward the dark path. Wimbler planted his feet and shook his head.
Nareia frowned. “What are you doing?”
He turned back to the waterfall pond and held out a hand. A few fireflies flew into the air, bioluminescent lights flashing as they landed in Wimbler’s palm.
“I didn’t think there were any fireflies left from the summer,” Nareia said in surprise.
Wimbler held up his cupped hand. The fireflies’ light pulsed brighter and stronger, illuminating the dark path with a greenish glow. Nareia took his free hand and squeezed it, grinning.
They walked in silence to the bridge. The wooden boards creaked beneath their feet. Nareia leaned against the railing and stared down at the stream that flowed below. Wimbler joined her. The fireflies flew from his palm and swirled around his head in dizzying circles before settling in a row on his short topknot.
Nareia laughed. “That’s amazing.”
She punched his arm lightly. “I’m serious, Wimbler!”
Wimbler met her gaze for a moment before gazing back down at the dark water.
“Don’t you want to talk about it?” she asked.
He shook his head.
She cringed. “Well, not really talk, you know what I mean. I didn’t mean it like that.”
Without looking up, Wimbler laid his hand on hers and laced his fingers with hers, giving them a gentle squeeze. His heart thumped harder in his chest. Tingles spread through his body as they stood, hand-in-hand.
“I’m sorry, Wim,” she whispered.
“What is all this fuss about?” said a squeaky voice.
Nareia jumped backward with a yelp. “Tricky! You nearly gave me a heart attack!”
“And you interrupted my nap, Lady Nareia,” said the gray hooded rat as he emerged from the collar of Wimbler’s outer tunic.
Nareia let out a frustrated sigh.
“You know,” Tricky said to Wimbler, “you could have warned me we were going on a moonlight stroll. I would have stayed awake. You didn’t have to stand here in silence.” He moved his pink paws over his ears and face in an attempt to groom himself presentably.
Wimbler’s lips moved in silent speech.
Tricky chirped and flicked his tail. “I beg your pardon, I am not interrupting anything!”
“You’re always interrupting something, Tricky,” Nareia said.
Tricky narrowed his black beady eyes. “That is a rash generalization, Lady Nareia. One that hurts me to my very core.”
“I’d like you better if you spoke for Wimbler more than you flapped your own lips,” said Nareia.
Wimbler sighed and chirred to Tricky in his tongue.
The little rat settled back on his haunches with a huff. “I’m not mad at you, Nareia. You don’t have to be sorry.”
Tricky looked up at Wimbler, his whiskers twitching. “There. Was that better?”
Nareia took a step closer. “I didn’t mean it to come out like that. I just hate seeing you down like this.”
“I’m fine, Nareia,” said Tricky.
“I know the Council is taking forever to make their decisions and everything feels like it’s changing,” she paused as she picked up a bright orange leaf off the railing of the bridge and tossed it into the water below, “but some change is good, you know.”
“I said, I’m fine,” Tricky said again.
Her lips twisted in the beginnings of a frown, but she stayed quiet. She took Wimbler’s hand again and stared out over the bridge, watching as the water disappeared over the waterfall and into the moonlit pond below.
They stayed that way for a long stretch of heartbeats. Then Nareia released his hand and darted across the other side of the bridge. Wimbler raised his head, watching her in confusion. She disappeared in the darkness.
Fear knifed at his belly. He took off running, the fireflies lighting from their perch at his sudden movement. Their lights flashed in panic and as they spun in frantic circles about his head. Owls hooted in the trees and the howl of a lone wolf reached his ears.
“Nareia!” Tricky called into the darkness.
Leaves crunched beneath Wimbler’s boots as he ran, the ghostly glow of the fireflies his only guide. How had she gotten so far?
“Lady Nareia, what is the meaning of this?” Tricky said, panic edging at his voice.
Wimbler fell forward as something slammed into his back. His lips parted in a silent cry as he crashed into a giant pile of leaves. They crackled and crunched beneath his body. Tricky’s claws dug into his flesh in an attempt to remain on his shoulder.
“What in all Carhana?” Tricky cried.
Laughter filled the darkness.
“Lady Nareia! What has gotten into you?” asked Tricky.
“Someone needed to lighten the mood,” she said.
Surprise, anger and then finally amusement crossed Wimbler’s face. Dancing across his vision, the fireflies illuminated Nareia’s face.
“Just like old times, right, Wim?”
He smiled as he remembered that same smug, teasing look on her face. The one she’d worn when she pushed him into a mud puddle when they were kids. Even then her hazel eyes had danced and her ponytail swayed as she laughed at him.
She grinned at him and offered her hand. “Truce?”
He smiled back and reached up for her hand. He grasped it firmly in his own and tugged her down in the pile beside him. She let out a shriek of surprised laughter.
Nareia threw a handful of leaves in his face. “You jerk!”
Wimbler grinned as he rained crumpled leaves down on her head. They fluttered through the air and landed in her auburn hair. Nareia laughed and grabbed his topknot, yanking it loose from its leather tie. Blonde hair spilled over his ears. Silent laughter ached in his chest. He had forgotten what a good friend Nareia was.
He gazed into her eyes. She was so close that he could feel her breath on his cheeks. The fireflies landed on her head, pulsing in a glowing crown. She stared back at him, her hand still hovering in mid-air, the leather tie between her fingers.
“Well, I never!” Tricky said, desperately trying to shake dried leaves from his pelt as he clawed his way up Wimbler’s shoulder. “What is all this and why are you two so close? Is there something I should-”
“Shut up, Tricky,” Nareia swatted the rat from Wimbler’s shoulder. He fell with a squeak as his body disappeared in the leaves.
Wimbler’s gaze traveled to where the rat had fallen. Nareia’s hand on his cheek brought his focus back to her. She leaned forward and kissed him deeply on the lips.
“Some change is good,” she whispered.