there is much in my mother's story that she did not tell. She never wrote of the many hours she spent, helping her people grieve and then helping to rebuild. She would never tell of the days she spent coaxing a single tree to health, or pouring her own energies into the ground so that the grass might grow. It was not her way to speak of such things, only to do them.
She told me once that she feared pride above all else, for it was for pride that she had been exiled, and it was pride that caused the most pain to those she had loved. Perhaps she was proud when she was young, but if it was so, then it had all been driven from her by the time I returned to the Realm.
Sometimes I would come upon her suddenly, and catching her looking out across the river at something much farther away than the other shore, but she would never tell me what it was that she saw at such times.
However, she did not speak of such things, and so it is not my place to write of them, save the brief mention here. I am here to tell of her final days and her passing, and so to give her story a true end.
One mild summer, many years after the restoration of the land, she told me that she felt a chill that did not come from the wind nor the morning rain. I stayed with her for a time, and we walked among the gardens, talking of my life in the world of men and of my father, whom she still missed greatly.
Slowly, we came to talk of this land, of the way things grew, and the way the wind blew, and how the people behaved. She loved them all, and I could hear another sorrow in her voice, and I knew that she was ready to leave them. She could not bring herself to talk of it openly, but her talking was a way of telling me what to do, how to make things grow, how to treat those around me that the restoration might continue.
I listened, and spoke at times, and eventually she seemed at peace. That summer we had our best crop of flowers yet, and the scent of them was forever in the air. I loved it, for I had always hated winter, and loved the spring and summer, and to live in a land of eternal spring was the joy of my life. We stood on a hill in the summer light, smelling the flowers and listening to the sound of the water running in the streams.
She sat down in a bed of long grass, and looked out over the river, as she had so often done in the past. Her eyes were distant, and again, I wondered what it was that she saw. Her hair was now pure white, and it shone like silver in the light of the sun. Her face, though lined, had taken on a great beauty, and was fairer to look at than any of the faces of the other Children of the Realm.
Finally, she turned to me, with a smile that I had never seen on her face before. It was a smile with no pain, no guilt, and no grief behind it, and it brought tears to my eyes to see it.
“Zarya,” she said, taking my hand, “the time has come for me to leave. Please do not be sad, for I have been waiting for this day for so many years. My friend death is coming to take me away, and I will not see you again here. Perhaps we shall meet again on the other side, but I do not know, for the ways of death are strange. But be strong, my daughter, and love this land and its people, and do not fear grief or hurt or loss, but only fear the lack of love.”
Then she kissed me on both cheeks, and embraced me again. She lay back in the grass, facing the river, and a sunbeam broke through a cloud and shone full upon her face. She looked straight into the light of the sun without blinking or turning away, and lifted up her hands to the light.
For a moment, I thought I saw a raven fly overhead, wings outstretched, but then it was gone, and I could not be sure. And my mother, Vasilissa of the Summer Realm, closed her eyes and passed beyond our knowledge.
While it it rare that one of our own passes, there are rites to be observed; some of the older ones left alive in the Realm knew of them, and explained them to me.
We plucked armfuls of flowers from the fields, sun-drenched and warm, and piled them on a simple raft woven from the branches of the growing trees. When the raft was full of flowers and could hold no more, we put the body of my mother atop the pile, and she rested lightly on them. A bundle of sweet jasmine was tucked into her hands, and a crown of lilies was placed on her head.
By the light of the first moon, we took the raft down to the river and set it in the water; it floated as though there were no weight on it at all. Torches lined the river, and their light was reflected in the water until the air was bright with it. We sang a final song for my mother; a song of thanks, of forgiveness, a song of love, and I loosed the final tie that bound the raft to shore.
The current quickly took it and in minutes it was out of sight around a bend in the river. I ran after it for a little while, following the craft as it weaved and bobbed through the river, the moonlight bright on my mother's white hair.
But then I came to the edge of a great sea, and the river opened into it, and sped the raft across it, and soon I could not make it out from the white caps of the waves. And that was the last I saw of my mother in this world.
Was she right? Shall I see her on the paths of the dead, or do my kind have a place in the world beyond death? I do not know, any more than she did, but this I do know. If there is any force in the world that can call us onward past the gates of death and into the light on the other wise, it is that of love.
Here endeth the story of Vasilissa of the Summer Realm.