DISCLAIMER: I don't own Akatsuki no Yona.
"Long long ago, before the first kings came to our lands, it was said that supernatural beings used to dwell upon this land. They were fair creatures, spirits and such, living in forests and rivers and lakes, as the stories said..."
Yona glanced up at her dry nurse, a fair woman in her forties, with a very kind face, and a very warm voice. She has always loved this part of the day, when Nanny would tuck her to bed, telling her stories of old.
"I wish I can see one someday, Nanny," Yona said when her nurse had finished her story. "If ever they were true, I wanted to see one."
Nanny stared at her kindly, as she reached to brush some of her crimson curls behind her ear. "You might see one someday, who knows?"
Yona turned her eyes to the ceiling, remembering something. "Mother said she saw one a long time ago," she said wistfully. If only she had known that Mother would lie on her deathbed so soon...
Nanny leaned to kiss her forehead. Then she stood and said softly, "It's time to sleep now, child. I'll wake you up early tomorrow."
Yona closed her eyes. Tomorrow, Nanny said she would take her to the lake for a picnic.
The next day, Yona awoke with an air of excitement. Her nurse helped her in a pink silk dress, the fabric flowing like a swift waterfall until it reached her knees. To match the color of her eyes, she decorated her hair with a purple hairpin.
Minsoo, one of her personal attendants, waited outside her chamber, carrying baskets of cloths, apples and pies. He was a very young man, only around thirteen, with chestnut hair and emerald eyes.
The lake where they were headed was not far from the castle, only a few miles away. So old and quiet and grey, the ancient oak tress loomed around them, watching them silently as they passed by.
Very few animals greeted them in this part of the woods, only rabbits and squirrels and birds, peering among the tree limbs and roots.
After a time, they arrived at the waterscape. The sweet summer sun gazed at them warmly, sending greetings upon the three creatures.
Yona approached the lake as Minsoo and Nanny rummaged through the baskets, placing a big cloth in the soft grass, setting the simple setup.
Stones and pebbles rested beneath the clear waters – ones that are smooth and round and large.
Far ahead where the lake ended on the other side, the fir trees grew more crowded. Yet the lake was so wide and deep, mysterious and perplexing.
Knowing fully well that the water would be warm on her little toes, Yona stepped into the shallow water.
Summer turned to autumn, autumn turned to winter; winter to spring, spring to summer. And the cycle went on, and the water rose and rose around her ankles.
Ten, eleven, twelve.
Her twelfth birthday arrived in a blink. And then after that...Father took a new wife. Yona wondered if Father loved his new wife. She was young and fair-looking, yet as if made of ice.
And then there were the whispers, always whispering. Her stepmother would give her lord father an heir – where her lady mother had failed. Like a cold steel, it struck her deep.
But she couldn't weep in front of Nanny. She wouldn't let her worry about her, because though they won't tell her the truth, her eyes were not thick with tears to notice that her once cheerful nurse now became thinner and looked so much older...and then there were times when she wouldn't see her at all for days, a hundred excuses thrown her way...
"Something's wrong with you, Nanny," Yona said one evening, when she finally had the chance to see her. "Please tell me the truth…please don't lie to me anymore."
Nanny smiled at her tenderly, yet her eyes gave a different story. For though her lips curled into a tender smile, her eyes were weary, like a soldier who has battled death for a long time now.
Maybe her nurse had ran out of excuses, or maybe she could feel the tide rising now. Either way, she finally admitted to her, "I am sick, my little lady. But you shouldn't worry about me, okay? Because the doctor was doing everything…everything he can to heal me. And I do believe I will be fine soon, because I can feel my strength coming back now."
Yona knew that was a lie – it was the same words they told her when Mother got sick. Even so, she still smiled with all her heart, trying to convince herself that everything will be fine.
That winter, Nanny passed away. She didn't even wait for her thirteenth birthday anymore.
What a fleeting life.
Yona stared at the gloomy sky ahead. Laid before her, the lake was quiet, as if fully aware of her grief. Five months have passed since then, when Nanny had made her promise to live fully, despite the sorrow.
She sat down on the soft grass, wrapping her arms around her knees. Little drops of water now poured from the sky, but she wouldn't move, and instead, she closed her eyes, and let her tears blend with the trickle of the cold rain.
Nanny had promised to ride on a boat with her that spring, just after her thirteenth birthday – but she was gone now, along with her promises.
The heavens must have pitied her, for though she can still hear the raindrops dripping around her, she no longer felt the trickle in her face. Curious, she opened her eyes.
She was startled a bit when she noticed a boy standing beside her, holding out an umbrella over her head. Yona wondered why he would even bother to cover her when her clothes were now damp all over. Even so, she stayed still.
The rain has not lasted long. When the rain has stopped, the boy looked down at her and smiled, saying, "You'll catch a cold if you stay under the rain for a long time." He placed the umbrella on the ground, unfastened his cloak, draped it around her shoulders. "My name's Hak by the way. If you don't mind, may I sit down beside you?"
Yona nodded, trembling slightly from the cold. The cloak was warm on her body, but her clothes inside were wet. She had never seen him before. He looked like a traveler, she presumed. He seemed only a few years older than her though, with hair as black as midnight, wearing a tunic and a trouser the color of the lake.
Somehow, Yona felt safe around him, as if he was an old friend. Perhaps she had met him before, she thought. Somewhere in one of the towns, perhaps?
Far above them the afternoon sun shone brightly, almost as if the sky had not cried only a few minutes ago.
Two little sparrows landed on each of Hak's shoulders, chirping happy notes, sweet to the spirit. Rabbits and squirrels approached them too; so close, like never before...
"This forest likes you," Yona said, almost a whisper. She remembered the times when she was younger, when she would approach them and they would just run away from her.
When she looked at him, he was smiling at her so brightly, she felt her spirits rose as the sparrows flapped their wings and took to the air.
"They like you as well."
A squirrel stepped into her lap, climbed up her shoulder, nuzzled her face. She let out a giggle as its whiskers tickled her cheeks.
"Perhaps they've been just ashamed of you before."
A smile escaped her lips. "Perhaps." They liked her as well, perhaps he was right. She held out her forefinger and a sparrow landed, singing sweet songs to her spirit.
Yona wasn't sure whether time sped its pace, or whether they were just so absorbed in their own little world. When she turned her eyes to the sky, she saw that the sun was now slowly setting, casting long dark shadows of the fir trees ahead.
"You should go now," Hak said, turning to her.
Yona nodded then took off his cloak. Her clothes were dry now. "Thank you for this, Hak," she said as she handed him back his cloak. "And my name's Yona."
"I hope this is not our first and last meeting, Yona. It was nice to meet you."
"It was nice to meet you, too. Good-bye."
Yona took her leave, walking through the wet forest floor, with the sinking sun behind her. She looked back one more time, then saw Hak waving at her, his face warm like summer.
Rabbits and squirrels peered from the trees again, but this time, they looked as if they were smiling at her for the very first time.