It was cold and raining, with the sun somewhere buried behind the clouds. Wendal stood on the balcony, his hands gripping the wood railing, peering somewhere distantly to the south. Within the shuttered home behind him, a woman stirred in the kitchen, preparing food for the last meal of the day. She took some plates from out of the cupboard and set them on the table opposite each other. The rain continued to pour down, filling the home with the sound of soft tapping and an occasional gust of wind scurrying across the roof
Once Wendal had his fill of staring out into the storm, he returned to the interior of his home. Waiting for him there was Annka, and she was almost ready to serve their food for the evening. However, there was a tension that filled the air of their cramped living space that was hard to ignore. They almost didn’t look at each other, only passing their eyes over in a sort of casual recognition; absent the formality and attentiveness of the love they used to share.
Wendal was the first to speak, and he did so in an almost mournful fashion.
“So, this is it?” It was a question that didn’t need asking. They were both aware of the demise of their union. Beleaguered, Wendal grasped for straws, hoping that there was still a reconciliation to be had between them.
“Yes,” Annka said suddenly. “This is it. As soon as the storm clouds clear, I will be on my way.”
“Trapped with me for one more night?” Wendal said with words weighed down in bitterness.
Annka did not have a response to his quip. She pulled the meat from the fire and carved it with a sharp knife on the kitchen counter. Wendal sat at the table, looking at her.
“I can’t help but wonder why you said all of the things you said to me. Was it a way to gain my trust? Only to then throw it away? I don’t understand how we got to this place. “
A lengthy silence filled the space as Annka stopped cutting the meat and set the knife and carving fork down. She turned slowly to face Wendal.
“This is not really about you at all. I’m doing what I need to do for myself.”
“That much is abundantly clear,” Wendal jabbed. “But you still haven’t taken responsibility for your words. It was your language that invited me to love you. It was your eagerness that told me there was a future to be had. Now I find you leaving, running off to a distant horizon where you believe the future is brighter?”
“I don’t have to justify anything to you,” She said softly and with a coldness in her voice. “I get to make the decisions in my life. Right now, I just need to focus on my goals and my future, which don’t include you. “
“Well, who does it include then?” Wendal asked angrily. “Don’t think me a fool.”
The vein of Stream that crept along the base of the railing outside had gone from a pale blue with flickering white, to a deeper red, flashing with yellow. As the tension in the room began to grow, the Stream bore the weight of the anger, frustration and sadness that permeated the small home that these two had made for themselves. A home that was soon to be unmade bye this chasm that had formed between two once loving partners. As Annka’s bitterness grew in the conversation, the Stream danced with flecks of purple. Her resentment of the circumstance was palpable.
“I was wrong to have invested in you,” she said in anger. “You said it yourself, you’d never move south with me back to Realm. Even though all my family is there, you would rather we stay here in the Fold for the rest of our lives.”
“Our home is where we make it, Annka.” Wendal gestured around the open space of the one room home. “We have all this for ourselves, and your family has only ever disapproved of you and your choices. Yet, you’d give up this life, your freedom, to be back with them in Realm? Is there not a way that you and I can still stay together, and they could be a part of our lives?”
“We’ve had this talk before,” Annka said bluntly. “This never goes anywhere. You just don’t understand that I need to do this for me. I need to get away from this place, and you. I need to be my own person again.”
“Don’t expect me to be here when you come back.” Wendal barked. “Why you ever wanted to be with me I don’t understand. All along, you were only interested in yourself, and your idea of what your future should be. If I had your attitude, I would have left for the Academy years ago. I put all of that aside when I met you. I wanted to give this a chance, and a safe place for it to grow. Clearly, our minds were very differently aligned on this.”
More silence filled the space but instead of looking away from each other, they were locked eye to eye. Her brown eyes were open wide and filled with frustration, while his blue eyes were glistening with fresh tears on the way. She boiled with words she was unwilling to say.
“You are not the one for me.” She said then, as if to put a final book end on the conversation. With that statement she crushed flat any hope that Wendal had of reuniting the two of them. Their conversations had become increasingly ensnared by bitterness and a lack of honesty. It was only now, in these gruesome moments, that the sting of the truth was revealed. She had no place left in her heart for him, and her treachery had broken his. He knew that she had already intended to find another, a man of Realm who would support her and live beside her in the Southern Spiral or the City of Realm.
It seemed to Wendal that it was only recently that Annka had come up with this idea for what to do with her future, but his nagging judgments clouded his logic. He mused that it was only as the regularity of life in the northern Fold began to set in, and the two of them achieved a symbiotic bond, that her desire to break free became apparent.
Yet, he thought that she was only flying from one cage to the next. If she could not find peace with Wendal in the free lands of the Fold, she was unlikely to find peace living in a culturally oppressive place like Realm.
“You can serve yourself,” Annka snapped, gathering up her belongings in the travel bags she had prepared earlier. Her garments, tools, supplies and a weapon were all tucked neatly into one bundle. She grabbed her winter clothes from the wall hooks and dressed herself rapidly for travel, even though the gale outside was still blowing rain against the walls of their home.
“Now you’re leaving?” Wendal was surprised. “You do know that there is a torrent of rain falling outside, and a fierce wind as well? “
“I don’t want to be here anymore!“
“Whatever you think you’re running from, you’re carrying it with you when you go. This was home, and somehow, you’ve decided to throw that away… for what?”
“For a life that is just for me.“
“You keep saying that, but what does it mean? You’re still going to look for someone new once you’ve arrived in Realm, how much about you will it be then? I don’t know who you think you’re trying to fool, but it’s not me.“
Now that she had readied herself for travel, she gave one final look at the place that had been her home. The meat was still warm and wet with blood, having been carved and left uneaten. The potatoes were steaming but she was already gone. She had moved on from this place and this time and was resolved to make a future for herself and not anyone else. she didn’t resent Wendal, but she didn’t love him. Not the way he loved her. His effusive affection only reminded her of how temporary he was, and how little interest she had in investing in him for the long term.
A few months back, she made the journey south to see her family in Realm. There, she got a taste of a different type of life, one where she was needed, one where she was depended on. She felt those things from Wendal too, but not in the way that she did with her family. When Annka was with them there was a sense that she was bigger than her previous self, or somehow more relevant. That brought her the feeling of being a decision maker in her own life. She no longer wanted to be a partner with someone else when she could have authority, and the ability to decide her own fate without needing to consult anyone. It was inherently selfish, but the allure was too great for her to pass up. When Annka came back from her trip south, things were never the same again.
“I don’t care about the storm,” she said gruffly. “I’m leaving now.”
“Are you going to eat dinner? The resting hours will soon be upon us.” The Stream confirmed, turning back to a blueish purple color. Somewhere distantly the sun was still shining above the clouds. The rain fell hard, and the wind whipped across the grasslands and through the rolling foothills. Wendal new that above all that fray, there was warmth and light.
“Goodbye Annka.” Once the words had finally escaped his lips, he felt the threads of his soul being pulled apart. She was really going, and there was nothing he could do about it. His heart began to break, slowly, as though being eviscerated like the meat on the counter-top; exposed, bleeding and growing colder by the minute.
Without any additional ceremony, she turned, opened the door, and walked through it. He heard her footfalls go down the front stairs of the porch, and then she was gone. She took her horse and began the slow journey south across the soggy plane, towards Realm.
He held himself together until he was sure she was out of range, and then let the tears come down his cheeks. He didn’t whimper or sob, but Wendal did feel the knife of sorrow twisting deep in his chest. He recalled all the beauty they had made together, and all the laughter they’d shared. He would not forget Annka, and just because she was gone, that didn’t mean the feelings he still had for her would miraculously dissipate. The pain held him in a shadowy embrace for many hours.
The transitions of life were still a mystery to him, but he found himself often on the beneficial end of changing circumstance rather then the benefactor of misery.
As the storm above slowly dissipated, shafts of glimmering sunlight broke through the clouded sky. Wendal mused that even in the face of such torment, light would still fall across the land again and turn the leaves of the trees out to receive it. Just like he had noticed earlier, behind the veil of pain, there was the sun with its warmth, and a hope for something better.