DISCLAIMER: I don't own Akatsuki no Yona.
"Once upon a time, 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. The elders say they went into hiding when our ancestors settled in these lands."
Little Yona looked 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 her Nurse would tuck her to bed, telling her stories of old.
"I wanted to see one someday, Nanny," Yona said as she rolled over to face her Nurse. "If ever they were true, I wanted to see one."
Her Nurse stared at her kindly, as she reached to brush some of Yona's crimson curls behind her ear. "You might see one someday, who knows?"
Little Yona closed her purple eyes, remembering something. "Mother said she saw one a long time ago." When she opened her eyes, she saw her Nurse staring at her with those motherly look, almost as if she was hers.
Two years ago, her mother had given her that look for the very last time. And then her mother had perished on that mournful winter, leaving her and her lord father behind. She was only six then, and it was the first grief she has ever known.
Her Nurse leaned to kiss her forehead, patting her hair all the way. Then she stood and said softly, "It's time to sleep now, child." She then took her leave, closing the door gently behind her.
Little Yona awoke with an air of delight. Her Nurse had entered her chamber, waking her gently. Yesterday, she had promised her that they would go outside that morning. Moments later, Min-Soo, one of her personal attendants, arrived carrying baskets of cloths, apples and pies.
The lake where they were headed was not far from the castle, only a few miles away from the nearest turret. "It was a good place to have a picnic," her Nurse had said.
As she walked between them, the sweet summer air filled her lungs, traveling through her veins.
The ancient oak trees loom around them, so old and quiet and grey, watching them as they pass by. Very few animals greeted them in this part of the woods, only rabbits and squirrels and birds, staring curiously at the passersby.
After a time, they arrived beside the lake. The morning sun gazed at them warmly, sending greetings upon the three creatures.
Yona approached the lake as Min-soo and her Nurse 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.
She stepped into the shallow water, knowing fully well that the water would be warm.
Summer turned to autumn, autumn turned to winter; winter to spring, spring to summer. And the cycle went on, with the water around Yona's ankles rising up little by little.
After she had witnessed twelve springs, her lord father took another wife. Her stepmother would give her father an heir to carry their House's name, where her lady mother had failed.
Yona wondered if Father loved his new wife. She was young and fair-looking, yet as if made of ice.
It struck her like a cold steel.
But she couldn't weep in front of her Nurse. 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, telling her a hundred excuses.
"Something's wrong with you, Nanny," Yona said one evening, when her Nurse tucked her to bed. "Please tell me the truth…please don't lie to me anymore."
Her Nurse 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, dear child. 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, her Nurse 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 her Nurse 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.
Her Nurse 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, took off his cloak, wrapped it around her shoulders.
Yona was silent all throughout.
"My name's Hak by the way. If you don't mind, may I sit down beside you?"
She 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, and clothes the color of the lake.
Somehow, she felt safe around him, as if he was just like an old friend.
The sky ahead became clear, almost as if it never cried at all. The afternoon sun stared down at them, bright and cheerful as always.
Two little sparrows landed on each of Hak's shoulders, chirping happy notes before flying away. Squirrels and badgers peered from the trees, while one little rabbit approached them, sniffing at the two creatures.
"This forest likes you," Yona told him as the rabbit went away.
He looked at her, smiling. "I can feel that they like you as well." He held out his forefinger and a sparrow landed. "Hold out your finger like this."
Yona did so and another sparrow landed on her finger, and another on her shoulder. She felt her spirits rose with the birds as they flapped their wings and took to the air.
Soon rabbits and squirrels approached them, sniffing and staring curiously up at them. Yona couldn't help but be glad; in all her days, never had they stepped this close to her.
She held out her hand and a squirrel stepped into her hand, climbed up to her shoulder, nuzzling her face. She let out a small giggle as its whiskers tickled her.
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.
"Perhaps 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.