Follow Ria, whose task is to protect the only zoia flowers in Tell’s forests. Day in and day out, she tends to them and ensures that their songs are bright. The flowers are her life’s work, after all.
Everything changes one night when a stranger turns up at her doorstep.
So, what is she willing to sacrifice?
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The flowers always sung this time of year. Ria gently inhaled the scent of the silver petals, relishing in their sweet gift. She could hear their soft song ever-so-faintly, washing the entire field in an otherworldly aura. With a small woven basket in one hand and a spray bottle filled with water in the other, she glided through the field. For a moment, she simply stood there and bathed in the sensations of simple existence. In such an exquisite setting, it felt perfect.
Before her, rows of silver petals stretched as far as her eyes could see. They kissed the horizon with tenderness, somehow brightening the scenery into something picturesque. The imagery faded into heavy clouds hanging low in the sky, and Ria worried for the rain to come. Her small hut often leaked rain into her kitchen when it stormed out. It was a real pain to keep the wetness out.
But she couldn’t stay still for long, not when there was work to be done. She examined the field of flowers at her feet and, one by one, tended to their needs. The silver petals unfurled as if in greeting as she sprayed them with water, and they swayed in the summer breeze in a soothing dance. One by one, she made sure that the plants were taken care of. She took note of every wilted flower and every sickly stem. Occasionally, a flower would sing, and she would smile.
The song meant they were happy, and she knew she had done a good job.
By midday, sweat soaked the hem of her dress. It was no bother, though—she was used to the hard work. She savored the feeling and started checking the last few flowers. By now, almost all of them had been tended to. All five hundred and twenty-six of them, to be exact. Ria beamed with pride.
Late in the afternoon, heavy droplets of rain began falling from the sky. She finished her work and slid back to the small hut beside the field of flowers. She fixed herself a cup of tea—plain and black; she was never one for sweet teas—and settled down on the sole armchair in the hut to read the next chapter in the latest volume of Magic, Herbs, and Silly Incantations. This was her daily routine. The same tasks, day in and day out.
But it never got tiring. No, tiredness was not for Ria. She took great pride in her work. She was chosen by the previous elder who toiled in these fields, after all—chosen to do the work treasured by all in the land. Chosen to protect the flowers of life.
As she flipped to the next page of the hefty volume and listened to the rain pounding outside her window, she contemplated this. It was a great honor to protect the zoia flowers, but also a great responsibility. She did often wonder whether the responsibility on her shoulders would eventually become too much to bear. She had only turned twenty a few moons ago—was this what the rest of her life would look like?
She shrugged off the doubts. People very rarely came to try and pick the flowers. Everyone knew that such a transgression would bring the scourge of the heavens upon them. The flower’s nectar was powerful enough to heal most illnesses, and it was distributed to the Ka’kmani people every twelve moons. But all other portions of the flower were sacred. Zoia flowers didn’t reproduce, but they also never died. They could wither away slowly and stop producing nectar, but they’d never truly perish…unless they were picked. Picking a flower was not just stealing a year’s worth of nectar from the people but an eternity’s worth.
Ria finished her chapter and started preparing her meal for the evening. Booming thunder could be heard outside as the rain slapped down on the earth with malice, sending shivers up her spine. She gathered her ingredients and set a small fire on her stovetop, basking in its warmth. In this part of the woods, she hunted for her own food. She usually liked sticking to simplicity—rabbit, fish, and vegetable stew, garnished with the wild thyme that grew behind her hut, were quite common for supper.
Today was different. Earlier that week, she had come across a severely wounded deer. Failing to tend to its injuries in time, she had stayed by its side as the life had faded from its eyes. She had felt an odd kinship with the creature, something that ran deeper than the blood flowing through her veins. At that moment, the deer had bowed its head as if in acceptance of its fate.