The first thing the young boy noticed was the hair. There was a lot of it, falling way past her shoulders and waist. It was a rich brown, like all the nuts he had been picking in the wood that day, only more alive, more throbbing with colour.
It matched her face. Her face was round, rounder than his, and freckled like a wren. Her eyes, another rich brown, were large, large as ponds, and with thick lashes. She was pretty.
She was older than he. He could not gauge by how much, but she stood much taller than him. He could tell this because she was walking towards him, blocking out the light by her growing shadow.
He was only small, he was only short. He had brown hair too. He did not know what colour his eyes were, he had never looked. He could not see his own reflection in the sunlight.
Or was it moonlight?
Was he still in the meadow? He didn't know. He meant to ask her where they were. Now he could see where they were, for he didn't need to ask her. He had been here before.
The river wound around his feet, and he could almost feel its cold laugh and rushing sound. The river wound in a circle, nearly completely enclosing a small segment of luscious, green meadow. He could feel the beetles as they sprung from the soft earth and as they called out in joy. He could taste the flutter of the birds' wings as they swooped from above.
He was not facing the meadow, however. He was facing a bank, carved into the clay of the earth over thousands of years. The bank rose steeply, displaying its bare body to the sunlight. Perched on top was a herd of trees, from which the birds were playing. The trees looked thin, but peeking into the eyes of a badger he could see they were thick and spread vast beyond. Further than that lay the moor: his home.
She was coming down from the bank. Half falling, half flying. But she was very purposefully heading towards him.
It was definitely moonlight now. The bank had vanished. There were stars, so many stars.
"Did you finish the den?" he found himself asking, but he did not know why. "Was it a good den? Did you cook that feast?"
He was asking her. He knew her. She was a long way off, but still heading towards him.
"Don't forget, you promised to have a water fight on our way back! We have to be back before sundown!"
He was shouting, but he could not see her, who he was directing it at. He did not know her, but he did. He knew very well that they had to be back before sundown. But he was bathed in moonlight.
Now it was bright again. The meadow, the trees, the moor, the stone walls, the music, the laughter, his mother, his horse, his apples. All at once, they were there. And they were wonderful.
But something even more wonderful was approaching. It had long brown hair and wide eyes.
"Your head," she finally said, opening her mouth to reveal large, white teeth. "I never saw what happened to your head!"
He felt for the back of his head. It was covered in his brown hair. It was round and head shaped. But her face was suddenly stricken with horror. He did not understand.
Suddenly her hair was dripping wet. A small spurt of water escaped her lips before she closed her mouth, not seeming to notice.
"Did you fall in?" he said to her, now aware that they could converse.
"What are you talking about?"
"Stretch your wings and fly into the blue."
"Why are you singing?"
"It's my favourite song."
"I never forgot that."
"But you did."
Suddenly he knew her. She had remembered his favourite song. She had said she had remembered it. But she did not listen.
She was only a foot from him, both now paddling in the laughing stream. There was no wind, and no strong current. The only wildlife he could now detect were the birds, the blackbirds, a whole swarm of them flying simultaneously from a tree. They called together, a great anthem, the song of the Blackbird.
"I always listened." She creased her brow with confusion, reaching out her hand to him.
"You did not fly."
"No, I fell. I was falling. But I did it for you!"
"For me you should have flown."
He did not know. He did not know anything.
"No remorse. No remorse." she repeated it like the phrase was stuck in her brain, the only thing she could say. "No remorse."
"What did you do?"
She held out her hand. There was something in it. A saddle pin, his saddle pin.
"I brought this for you."
The enamel blackbird glinted in the sunlight. Or was it moonlight?
It was starlight. The place, the beautiful place had gone. Now they were floating in blackness, surrounded by their stars.
"That's better," she said, "this is where we belong. I can't stand that place."
"It's where," she stopped, looking him over with confusion. "It's where you died."
"I'm dead," he repeated. "That's my saddle pin," he took it from her hand. Somehow they had been gliding towards each other in the blackness. "How old are you?"
"I'm sixteen. You are twelve."
That wasn't right, and he knew it.
"No, I'm older than you."
"But you're falling?"
"I still am. Look at those stars," she pointed. She seemed so calm. He did not feel calm. He felt confused, but he could feel that she had been just as confused and scared. It was as though she had passed her feelings on to him. Everything had been so perfect before. "We are with them."
"We are dead."
"Your head! And I am falling."
"How did you die?"
"A bridge. Into a river. I had no choice."
"I don't understand."
"It's a long story. But the start of it you know. It's how you died."
"How did I die?"
He remembered. The den. He had been building a den, but he had been with someone.
"You were murdered."
He still felt confused, but somehow that didn't worry him, that he had been murdered.
"But now I am dead, that story is over. You were the beginning, I am the end."
"The end of what?"
"The war, the hatred, the pain and the separation. The end of the Pistos."
"What's the Pistos?"
"Bad magic. It killed us both."
"Like I said, it's a long and complicated story."
She took his hand. It felt strange. It felt real, like he hadn't been touched in a long time.
"Have you seen anyone else here?"
He had been so alone. But he didn't feel so alone now. He didn't feel so confused. He was with her and he was with the stars.
"So you were waiting for me?"
Was he waiting for her?
"I suppose so."
"And I wanted to bring you your pin. I suppose we can go, then."
"I don't know, do you?"
"No. But we need to go somewhere."
The meadow, the stream flashed before his eyes. His horse, his room, his hills, his moor, his mother, his father. Something else had appeared, another memory.
Two children. one older, one younger. They were his siblings. His brother and his sister.
She was still holding his hand. She was older than him but she shouldn't be. He knew her.
"Yes, Jovhulan," she sounded more like his mother now.
"I just wanted to check you're really here."
"Yes, big brother, it's me. I've come a long way to find you."
"Are you happy? You're dead, like me."
"I brought you your pin, like I said I would. Now, let's go on an adventure!"