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In a blush-touched sunrise, a sea-mount lies in an unnamed sea in the land of olives and island kingdoms. The Princess meets Icarus on the top of the mountain again. Birds were in the trees when she had wound up the trail, darting from one limb to another constantly, or swooping across her path. She had gathered their fallen feathers in a basket many times while treading this course. As she emerges into the clearing at the apex, the youth who fell to the waters surrounding her island lopes up to her. There is an ease between them; the trees can feel it.
“Have you finished?” she queries. He says:
“ Yes. I who flew too high on wings my father made now will soar with caution on my own. It is time for me to leave.” He adds, “Will you come?” She stumbles on the edge of her peplos.
“Friend, I -- I do not know,” she stammers. The air is moist and salt laden, an ocean that crashes through her lungs.
“You do not need to decide yet,” he says.
“Oh, thank you.” The swells subside. “I will think this day, and come back tomorrow at morning. You will not be too delayed,” she pledges. They exchange goodbyes, and she starts back down the path.
The Princess is halfway down, chirrups and twitters having outflown from each branch along her way. A flurry of feathers streaks over her shoulder in a satin rustle, and she watches the bird rise on beats like a heart. Her heart rises with it, soaring on waves of longing in the ocean-air. ‘To fly! Ah, what liberty that would be.’ She turns and walks a few footsteps upward. Then she stops. ‘I owe it to my family,’ she thinks, ‘at least to think as long as I said.’
She stands in the ageless trees and sifts her musings. Birds still fly about her through streams of midmorning light. ‘They are so unrestrained, so without burden.’ She has been lectured on her duty from her youngest days. ‘I feel I might suffocate sometimes, or be crushed beneath the weight.’ She grows envious of the birds, of their pure freedom. ‘Why shouldn’t I fly away, leave behind a life where others choose what I must be?’ Yet, she feels a wrongness in the thought, the presence of some amorphous answer to her question.
She falls down on her knees. She cannot move; she brims with yearning and doubt. They spill out and blindingly wash over her cheeks.
“What can I do?” she cries. The paralysis holds her long, in rending conflict. She sobs. Seas plunge through her center. There is nothing she can do; something in her battles the constrained desire of years, that aching to be unbound, unobligated, uncaring, a bird in flight.
She looks up at a bird carrying something to its nest. Two raggedy-feathered mouths meet it at the edge of the twigs, cheeping for their meal. ‘They always return,’ she thinks. ‘They never fly too far, and they always come home.’ The ocean stills and she gazes through it to the shimmer of sand. She looks at the nestlings again. ‘My country needs me. And I owe a duty to my family.’
Standing up, the Princess shakes off the remnant of her crying. She straightens her back and steps firmly down the trail. The loveliness of the day carries her swiftly home, and before midday she has apologised for her absence and begun the day’s tasks. When she goes to bed that night, she is content.
The morning sun beams down from a cloudless sky and drives away the mist that clung to the peak in the night. Dew shimmers in the air at ankle height as it evaporates, and a balmy wind
wafts up from the side of the mountain, bearing a thousand spiced flowers.
“It is beautiful for flying,” she says.
“Will you come?”
“No, friend.” She was silent for some time, and he shared the silence.
“Farewell, then. I see you. I understand.” He runs to the edge of the mountain, and leaps, dropping then soaring into infinity. Just before an updraft snatches him beyond sight, she sees a flicker of his hand. A single feather drifts softly down from his loosing of it, returned to she who had gleaned and given it to restore her grounded friend. She picks it up, turning it over, scrutinising the fine interlocking ribs, feeling the wind in its silken arc. The hand holding the feather drops to its place beside her thigh, and she lifts her face to the empty blue.
“It was your place to go, mine to stay,” she says, “but I will build my own small wings, to fly always within sight of the ground.” She smiles. “And one day I will call you back to this mountaintop, and we will rise from it together to touch the sun.”