Talking Can Be Hard, but it Can Also Solve So Many Problems
“Do we have to share a bed in the hamlet?”
“I wasn’t asking you.”
“I’m going to sleep in the forest.”
“That’s a great idea! You’ll freeze your balls off and be less annoying and less alive.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“Oh. Then it’s a stupid idea.”
“You know,” Ron interrupted, as Micha and Jed bickered, “you’d have a lot more energy to study magic if you didn’t spend all your time fighting.”
“We’re not fighting,” Micha told him. “If we were fighting I’d have drowned him to death weeks ago.”
“He means he’d be permanently lost in the forest with no way to escape,” Jed put in helpfully.
James sighed. “No, you won’t be sharing a bed.” When both of them brightened, he added, “the centaurs don’t have beds. They’ll put you up in a small hut with some leaves on the ground and you’re going to be extremely grateful and polite when you thank them for it. Jed, if you plan to sleep somewhere else, you’d better be prepared to explain at length that you’re not intending it as a slight against their hospitality.”
“Okay, I will,” Jed promised. “Ah, fuck.”
Some melting snow had fallen off a tree and landed on his head, and he was brushing it off as quickly as he could. Micha started laughing. “But sure, he’s going to sleep out here tonight. He’s afraid of snow but he’s going to get naked in it.”
“Ew, stop picturing me naked?” Jed made a snowball and tossed it at Micha.
“I don’t have to, I’m forced to see it every night, you pervert.” Micha threw one back.
“Sleeping in the nude is natural. At least I don’t strip off all the time to do weird shit in the river.”
“How else am I supposed to talk to it?”
“By not being a pervert, maybe?”
“If the two of you don’t stop arguing, you’ll both be sleeping naked in the snow tonight,” James told them, his calm no doubt seeming real to anyone who couldn’t feel how frustrated he was. Not with Jed and Micha. “And for every other night until I can get you on a boat back to your clans.”
Jed looked a little surprised, and Micha a little worried. “Sorry,” Micha said.
“Yeah, sorry,” echoed Jed.
James shook his head. Ron patted his shoulder. “It’s fine. I didn’t mean to snap at you, sorry. We’re almost there.”
James had been a bit irritable since the other day with Sam. The way they’d left everything was bothering him. He hadn’t told Ron that, but Ron knew. He didn’t know what to do about it but he wanted to do something. And it didn’t seem like there was anything he could do. So he’d decided that they were going to see the sleeping god.
They came to its cave not long after that, and James paused at the edge of the pond. “The ice might not be totally solid anymore,” he said.
“Here,” said Micha, crouching in front of it. He took his glove off and put his hand on the surface of the pond, and a cold mist started rising from it. “There, it should be pretty solid now.” He stepped onto it. Ron followed him with James, and then Jed behind them.
Jed slipped and had to grab Ron’s arm not to fall, and Micha snorted at him. And then slipped himself and fell. Jed snickered as he got up. “Please,” Micha muttered. “The only reason your ass isn’t cold is because you grabbed someone else.”
“You’re picturing my ass again,” Jed accused.
Micha just rolled his eyes as they went into the cave. It was the same as before, but louder. Ron could hear faery magic swirling around the god’s stone sphere. There were still some flower petals frozen near the walls.
“You okay?” Ron asked, taking James’s hand.
James nodded, taking a very deep breath. “Yes. I’m okay. I’m remembering it, but I’m okay.”
“Okay. What do you want to do first?”
“I only want to do one thing today,” James said, going up to the sphere. “Well, no, that isn’t true. Two things. I wanted to see what Acacia and Amaryllis did myself. But I can see it and it’s good work. I’d like to try talking to him.”
“What…you’re going to just talk to this thing?” Micha asked. “Will it talk back?”
“Maybe,” James said, lifting up the hand that wasn’t holding Ron’s.
“The power in this thing is insane,” Jed whispered, fingers twitching. “I’ve never felt this kind of magic before.”
“Don’t get a boner over the weird rock god.”
“Stop thinking about my dick.”
“Stop making me look at it all the time and I will.”
“So you do think about it.”
“Shh,” Ron said gently, but James was looking at the sphere, not paying them any attention. Ron had suggested he bring the stone, but James hadn’t wanted to seem threatening.
James put his hand on the sphere. Nothing happened immediately, but slowly, over a few minutes, Ron felt him changing his music to match the sphere itself. Ron helped, humming the sphere’s song as best he could.
The sphere’s song slid into place in their minds, and a darkness flowed around them. It wasn’t the calm darkness of night, but a hard, jagged darkness that came from being…inside a stone. And in that darkness, something was moving.
There were no words in the darkness, just them with the god. Keden was his name. Without saying anything, James whispered a song that told Keden he just wanted to talk. Keden shrunk away, his song insisting on solitude. James tried to tell him he didn’t want to hurt him, but the god wouldn’t listen.
So Ron tried something else. His song asked Keden why he was afraid. In exchange, he felt a lance of pain from behind, right through his heart. He gasped, plummeting from the sky all the way down to the ground, but the ground wasn’t welcoming him like it usually did, it would kill him if he didn’t…
Ron took a breath, swallowing. That had happened a long time ago. Nobody wanted to kill Keden now. The forest was safe.
The forest itself, through Ron, agreed with that note.
After a second, Keden’s song got stronger. And he asked James what he wanted to talk about.
James squeezed Ron’s hand, and he whispered words into Keden’s dream. “I want to know what you want to be when you wake up.”
Keden didn’t know. Didn’t know if he could wake up. But he would, and Ron and James and the forest all knew that was true, so Keden did too.
And so he asked for some time to think about it. James gave him a reassuring note, and that was…it.
James took his hand off the sphere, stepping back. The darkness was done, a different darkness in its place. “Micha, they’re back.”
“Oh, fuck, finally,” Micha said, rushing over from the cave mouth. “You guys were in a trance for like…hours.”
“Are you okay?” Jed had been sitting right next to them, and now he stood up. “What happened?”
“Keden is sleeping,” James told them, stumbling. Ron helped him, but then his own knees went weak. “The only way we could talk to him was to dream with him.”
“What…is he dreaming about?” Jed asked.
“Right now? How afraid he is to wake up. But I think…he’ll come around.”
“Someone hurt him,” Ron said, hand on his chest, where he’d been shot and very near where Keden had been pierced. “A long time ago, someone tried to kill him. I think he’s afraid if he wakes up, someone will try again.”
He wondered, as he said that, how likely it was that that was true. It was probably Cameron and her friends who’d tried it the first time, and they were still alive.
But James knew that too, and he wasn’t worried. Because Ron and James both knew the same thing. The forest would protect itself and its own from anyone. And they’d all said it at the summit. Keden was part of the forest. However long it took him to realize that.
“I can’t believe that worked,” Jed muttered. “You just…talked to him?”
“There was quite a lot of complicated magic involved, but yes. You can solve most problems by talking about them,” James muttered. “It’s just a matter of figuring out how to talk about them.”
“Okay look, you guys both seem like you’re going to pass out,” Micha said. “We have to get you back to the centaurs. Jed, I think they’re going to need help walking.”
Jed and Micha helped them leave Keden’s cave. Ron looked over his shoulder as they went over the ice. It looked the same as it always had, but it felt different. It felt like it was waiting for them to come back.
It felt like part of it was coming with them. So Ron knew Keden wouldn’t have any trouble letting them know when he was ready to talk again.