Miriam pushed her way through the thick brush, stepping through the overgrown greenery. The sun was hidden in this place, the trees growing so tall and full that only tiny scraps of light penetrated the forest floor. Miriam continued forward, brushing her bandaged hands across the massive trunks of trees, feeling the depth of their bark, a sense of history emanating from them. She placed her feet carefully with each step, trying to avoid any small plants. She continued like this for some time, until finally, she broke into a clearing. She paused on the perimeter of the clearing, taking a moment to study it. The grass was short, and light shone down from overhead. Miriam narrowed her eyes, studying the leaves that hung from the trees. They were all a golden yellow, each shining like a miniature sun, illuminating the clearing. Miriam brought her gaze down, coming to a rest in the center of the clearing. A small pond, barely a foot across, sat directly in the center. A small pile of rocks lay next to it, a sapling, just barely poking out of the ground. A man sat next to the pond, his gaze downcast into the water. Miriam studied him for a moment.
He had soft auburn hair, dark skin that seemed to almost glow in the light. He wore a simple tunic, pale yellow, his trousers a dusty blue. Miriam walked towards the man, stepping up next to him. The man did not look up as she stood beside him. Miriam stared down into the water for a moment, the water a deep blue, reflecting a perfect mirror image of Miriam. She studied her pupilless steel-colored eyes, her ombre ash hair that hung from her head. She cast her gaze across the scars on her face, the largest crossing the bridge of her nose, stretching from nearly ear to ear. Miriam closed her eyes, sitting down next to the man. They sat in silence for a while, until Miriam finally opened her eyes again, the water now clear as a spring. She turned her gaze to the man next to her. He was gazing at her, his eyes a brilliant yellow. But the glow wasn’t harsh, rather it was warm, like the sun on a lazy summer day. His expression was soft as he studied her, but he still said nothing.
“I thought I’d find you here,” Miriam said, giving the man a smile.
“Miriam,” he said, returning his eyes to the water. “It has been quite some time.” The man returned his gaze to her, looking her up and down once more. “You’re looking well,” he said.
“Sarcasm is unbecoming of you, Summer,” Miriam replied. Summer furrowed his brow, before returning his eyes to the water.
“I did not mean it as such,” he said. “Considering what has happened, I think you look rather well.” They were both silent for a while, listening to the wind gently blow through the trees, the light from the leaves warming Miriam from the cold of the dark forest floor.
“So, how are things?” Summer asked.
“Good, all things considered,” Miriam responded.
“No, they’re not,” Summer retorted.
“Actually, I wasn’t lying. They are going pretty well,” Miriam said, returning her own gaze to the pond. “And that’s the issue.”
“Why are you here, Miriam?” Summer asked. “This is unlike you.”
Miriam let out a chuckle. “I suppose it is, isn’t it?” she said. “I need your advice on something, Summer.” Miriam sensed Summer giving her a quizzical glance, before returning his gaze to the pond.
“This truly is unusual,” he said. “Why seek my advice?” Miriam cast her gaze skywards.
“Are you unwilling?” Miriam asked.
Summer shook his head. “No, but there must be those more involved in the world that are better suited to assist,” he responded.
“Yeah, well, not about this,” Miriam said quietly, dropping her gaze.
“You’re stalling,” Summer said. “This must truly be bothering you.”
Miriam let out a sigh. “Summer, as someone who has lived for so long, how do you do it?” Miriam asked.
“Do what?” Summer asked.
“Watch everyone you love fade away,” Miriam whispered. Summer slowly turned towards Miriam, staring at her. She wouldn’t meet his gaze, keeping her eyes downcast. “How do you watch the people you love slowly grow, knowing that one day they will be gone? How do you tell the ones you love you’ll be here long after they're gone? How do you watch them whittle into dust? How do you tell the man you love that you’ll never bear him any sons, never conceive with him any daughters? That their line will end? No legacy to leave behind, no children to carry their father's name? All because they loved you?” Miriam looked up at Summer, a pained smile on her face. “How do you make them understand what they’re sacrificing?” Miriam whispered. Summer said nothing, simply holding Miriam’s gaze. She held it for as long as she could, before she could no longer bear staring into those soft eyes. She cast her gaze downwards, staring into her lap.
“How many lines I’ve ended, just by loving someone,” Miriam said. “It’s not fair.” They were quiet a moment. “My mother always told me that love was something special. Something to be treasured. But as my life’s gone on, I’ve felt it bring nothing but sorrow in the end.”
“Have you told them that? The ones you love?” Summer asked.
“Yes, but they don’t understand, Summer,” Miriam replied. “How can they?”
Summer took a deep breath, before letting out a deep exhale. “Now I understand why you came to me for advice,” he said. “But Miriam, I think you have chosen poorly.”
Miriam lifted her head, giving Summer a confused look. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“I have lived for quite some time, it is true, but I fear I lack the experience necessary to assist with your problem,” he said. “In my lifetime, I have had one, single daughter.” Summer cast his gaze skywards. “Autumn. My Autumn. In spite of all the world, the suffering that surrounds us, she is a light in my life, a reason to be.” Summer turned towards Miriam, his face wearing a serious expression. “But she is still here, Miriam. And so long as the world marches forward, she will always be here.” Summer let out a chuckle. “I suspect all of us Seasons shall continue on for quite some time. As long as there is life, we will continue the cycle, watching over you as you carry on. And if one of us were to disappear, the rest would soon follow.” Summer paused a moment. “You see Miriam? I have yet to experience such a thing, and I suspect I never shall.”
Miriam dropped her gaze to the water, staring deep into it. “So even you cannot help me,” Miriam said. She chuckled. “No wonder Father secluded himself from the world,” she whispered.
“Your Father was a complicated man,” Summer replied. “His… circumstances… were unique. He wished not for children or his bloodline to continue. But your Mother decided against it, betraying his final wish, and in time, bore you with another.” Summer glanced over at Miriam, giving her a warm smile. “And I think she was right in her decision.” Miriam kept her eyes downcast, not looking up.
“Miriam,” Summer said quietly, “You said before that you are not able to bear your lover children. Why?”
“A trait from one of my Mothers,” she replied. “A side effect from her blood. A succubus can control their fertility at will. A racial trait passed down. But I’m not a succubus. So when I was born, I was already barren, with no way to reverse the effect.”
“Miriam, I am so sorry,” Summer said. “I had no idea.”
Miriam shrugged her shoulders. “I’m just glad Mother wasn’t around to find out,” she responded.
“And there is no way to reverse it?” Summer asked.
Miriam simply shook her head. “I’ve looked, Summer, believe me,” she said, before letting out a chuckle. “And if you don’t know, then I really am stuck.” They were both silent, staring into the pond.
After a while, Summer took a deep breath. “Miriam, can I ask you something?” he asked. Miriam nodded. “This problem you’re facing, who are you concerned for?” Miriam turned towards Summer, her brows furrowed. “Are you concerned for the lines you’ve ended? For the hurt they’ve caused others? Or are you looking for a way to deal with the guilt you feel?”
“They’re the ones that leave, Summer,” Miriam said, anger seeping into her voice. “They don’t have to deal with what comes after. I do.”
“So it is your guilt,” Summer said. “Feeling as though you’ve led them down a stray path. You are looking for a way to console your own guilt, not protect those that you love.”
“After everyone I’ve seen die, after everything I’ve experienced, gone through for this world,” Miriam said angrily, standing up, staring down at Summer. “I’ve earned the right to be a little selfish.”
“And that’s your issue,” Summer said quietly.
“What?” Miriam asked, her eyes full of fury.
“Why do you think you’re selfish, Miriam?” Summer asked, casting his gaze up at her.
“Because of what they sacrifice to be with me, because I take away their chance at a family, because their names, their blood, their line will end because of their love for me, because I take away their choice,” she said, frustration growing. “Because I can’t stand to see them with anyone else. I can’t bear to watch another woman have their child. I can’t sacrifice to let their line continue, I can’t bear the thought,” she screamed, before she dropped her gaze again, her shoulders going limp. “Because I’m selfish,” she whispered.
“And who are you to decide that?” Summer asked.
“What?” Miriam asked.
“Who are you to decide what is worth sacrificing?” Summer said. “Who are you to decide that what they sacrifice is not worth it? Who are you to decide that your love is not worth sacrificing for? Who are you to put value on your companionship, on your love?” Miriam was silent for a moment, Summer’s gaze intense as he stared at her.
“But they don’t understand,” Miriam said softly.
“No, they don’t,” Summer interrupted her. “But neither do you.” Miriam blinked several times in confusion. “You have forgotten what it means to be finite, Miriam. You have had time to reflect on lifetimes of love, of relationships. You’re right. They leave you. You have to stay. And that’s your problem. You focus so much on what comes after, on what’s missing, on what could have been, that you forgot to remember what happened. What was real. What their lives were like with you. You say they leave no legacy? How many of your past loves can you name Miriam? How many do you remember?”
Miriam cast her gaze to her feet. “All of them,” she whispered.
“Exactly,” Summer said. “You say they leave nothing behind, only because there's nothing tangible for you to hold, for you to look at, to know in this world that they’ve carried on. But you’ve become too focused on the tangible, Miriam. Because they did leave a legacy. You.” Miriam raised her gaze to meet Summer’s. His eyes were much softer now. “A woman so dedicated to each of them that she remembers them fully. A woman who cares so deeply about them, that she deludes herself into thinking she robbed them of what could have been, instead of focusing on what was. Love is a road that leads in two directions, Miriam. It seems you have forgotten that.” Miriam slowly sat back down, staring into the water. Her reflection stared back at her. But this time, it was a much younger version. She had far fewer scars, and a large smile was spread across her face, a playfulness in her eyes.
“You’ve been so caught up, looking to the past, and staring into the future, that you’ve forgotten what makes life so special,” the reflection said, before giving her a triumphant, toothy grin. “The present. Now stop worrying so much and tell them how you feel, you big dumb idiot,” the reflection said as it slowly dissipated from the water. Miriam let out a chuckle.
“Thanks, Summer,” Miriam said. Summer simply nodded. They both sat together for a while longer, before Miriam stood, turning and making her way through the forest once again.
Miriam pushed the door to the tavern open. It was fairly empty, the bar maids making their rounds, wiping down tables and chairs. Miriam cast her gaze across the room, before coming to a stop on a man who sat up at the bar, a canteen of ale in front of him. Miriam began to make her way over to him. He turned as she approached, a smile coming across his face.
“Miri,” he said, standing. Miriam shifted her eyes across Hedrick’s features, unable to meet his gaze. He was two heads taller than herself, which was unsurprising, given Miriam’s short stature. She cast her gaze over the familiar short brown hair that she loved to run her fingers through, cropped short to the side of his head. She moved her gaze to the close cut beard that tickles her when they lay in bed together. Miriam cast her gaze over his firm cheeks, strong jaw, thin lips, straight nose, before she finally forced her gaze to meet the man’s, his green eyes staring at Miriam warmly.
“Hello Hedrick,” she said.
“So, what’s up?” he asked. “Why did you want to meet out here so early?”
“Hedrick, I need to tell you something,” Miriam said. “Something important.” Hedrick’s expression shifted to a serious one, noticing Miriam’s tone.
“Okay,” he said, turning back to the bar. Miriam stepped up to the bar as well, hopping up on one of the seats, Hedrick sitting next to her.
“Hey, Toris, do you mind giving us some privacy?” Hedrick asked the bartender. He nodded, moving off to the kitchen area, leaving Hedrick and Miriam alone. Hedrick pushed his canteen away, leaning in on the table.
“So, what did you need to tell me?” he asked.
Miriam sighed, before leaning in on the counter as well. “Hedrick, I’ve told you… that I’ve lived for a long time, right?” she asked. Hedrick nodded. “And I’ve told you, I,” Miriam paused for a moment, the words struggling in her throat. “I’ve told you I cannot bear children, right?”
“Yes, which I’ve told you is fine, I-” Hedrick started.
“Hedrick, listen to me,” Miriam said, interrupting him. Hedrick blinked several times in surprise, before leaning in, his eyes intent. “This isn’t a joke, this isn’t something to be taken lightly. I cannot bear you children. I never can. There is no later on, there is no turning back.” She turned towards Hedrick, deadly serious. “Hedrick, if you want to be with me, if you want to continue this, then having a family, having children, is something you can never do. If you want to love me Hedrick, you have to sacrifice that. You have to understand I won’t grow old like you will, I’ll be here long after you're gone.” Miriam closed her eyes, taking a breath. “I’ve loved others before, Hedrick. And now they're all gone. Their lines ended, no children, because they decided to be with me. And now you have to make that choice.” Hedrick stared at her with a serious expression, before it slowly faded, his normal cheery smile returning to his face.
“Gods, you're dramatic, Miri,” he said.
“Hedrick, I’m serious,” Miriam said.
“So am I,” he said, pushing himself off his seat, crouching down in front of Miriam. “Miri, I love you. And I’ve already accepted to be with you, I’ll never have a child of my own. And I’m fine with that. So please, stop being so hard on yourself,” he said, brushing Miriam’s hair behind her ear.
“Are you sure?” Miriam asked quietly.
“Good gods woman, what did I just say?” Hedrick said, throwing his hands up in a dramatic fashion. Miriam chuckled, Hedrick turning towards her with a sly smile.
“I love you,” he said as he stepped up to Miriam, planting a kiss on her lips. They held for a moment, before Hedrick pulled back. “So, previous lovers, huh?” Hedrick asked.
Miriam rolled her eyes. “I love you, you frustrating man,” she said.
“How many times have you said that?” Hedrick asked, the sly smile on his face again.
“I don’t know,” Miriam said, a smile crossing her own face. “But I meant it. Every time.” Miriam pushed herself out of her chair, Hedrick putting his arm around her as they made their way out of the tavern.
“Oh, so you’ve lost count, eh? You’re gonna make me jealous,” Hedrick said mockingly as he opened the door. Miriam took a step back, before giving Hedrick a swift kick in the rear, sending him stumbling into the street.
“You’re all very special to me,” Miriam said in a playful tone.
“Yeah, but who’s the most special?” Hedrick asked, glancing up at Miriam.
“Oh, you want me to show you how special you are?” Miriam retorted, cracking her knuckles.
“You know, I should probably say no,” Hedrick started, as he took a running stance. “But yes I do.” A huge smile spread across Hedrick’s face as he took off, sprinting down the street.
Miriam gave him a head start, before bending her knees, readying herself. “Then come here, lover boy,” she shouted after him, a huge toothy grin on her face, launching herself after Hedrick, the tavern door shutting behind them.