NOTE: This story is part of a series. For the recommended reading order, see Beryl's Storyline.
There was something vaguely catlike about the way Beryl had spread herself out atop the blanket, Aloise thought.
Maybe it came from the way Beryl had yawned and stretched before sitting down. Or maybe it came from the look of simple satisfaction that formed on her face, as the two of them lay together on their backs, and watched for shapes in the clouds.
Whatever it was, it made Aloise happy.
“I think I see a horse,” Beryl said. “Or maybe it’s a centaur.” She pointed a finger at a small cluster of clouds which, when viewed from the right angle, did indeed look a bit like a four-legged creature, if it was running at a gallop. “Whoever he is, he’s moving awful fast.”
“Maybe that’s because he’s being chased by a dragon,” Aloise said, and she pointed at a nearby cloud which, if she squinted her eyes just right, took on the appearance of a long-necked and fierce-winged beast. “Or, if not a dragon, then at least a really angry flamingo.”
Both women laughed at that, which made Aloise smile.
She and Beryl were lying atop a soft, blue blanket in a green, sun-dappled meadow, just an about an hour’s walk from Lys’s home. The spot was one of Aloise’s favorite places for a picnic, and the day was so clear and so fine that it would have been a crime to spend it inside. So a neatly-woven basket lay within arm’s reach, and it was full to brimming with good things to eat and drink. There were fresh tomato sandwiches, sliced thick and generously salted, on Lys’s honey bread. There were tiny lemon cakes with sugar icing. There was a wedge of soft, nutty cheese, from Aloise’s favorite dairy, along with raisin crackers and jam. And there was a tall carafe of iced and minted tea, kept perfectly chilled by a clever enchantment which Aloise herself had devised.
It was a feast to be envied, and Aloise was looking forward to it. But, for the moment, she was content to just bask in the sunshine, and watch the clouds drift by. The sun was warm on her skin, but not unpleasantly so, and a freshening breeze from the east set the tops of the tall grass dancing, and bore aloft strings of candy-colored butterflies from flower to flower.
Next to Aloise, Beryl sighed, and closed her one green eye. She inhaled deeply, and, for a moment, she held the breath.
“I love how the meadow smells,” she said, exhaling slowly, with her eye still closed. “It smells like summer.”
Aloise closed her own eyes, and she too breathed in deeply. In her mind, she made a catalog of all the different scents which perfumed the air. She smelled green grass, and cedar trees. She smelled clover, and heather, and bluebells. She smelled the tomatoes and cheese, waiting in the nearby basket. She smelled the lavender soap that Beryl used to wash her hair. She smelled the faint, peppery spice that the air itself seemed to make, when the summer sun was high, and the days were long.
“It does smell like summer,” Aloise said, and she smiled.
Shifting ever so slightly onto her side, Aloise stole a glance at Beryl, and she couldn’t help noticing how the green-eyed woman had changed. The differences were subtle, but they were there – if you knew where to look, which Aloise did. Regular meals had erased the hollowness from Beryl’s cheeks, and restful nights had removed the darkness from beneath her eye. Beryl carried herself more confidently, too, with her shoulders straighter, and her head held high. And, when she spoke, she looked Aloise in the eyes, rather than angling her gaze just a bit down, and off to one side.
But the biggest change was when Beryl smiled, which she now did with pleasing regularity.
When Aloise had first met Beryl, the scarred woman’s smile had been a small, fragile thing. Now, when Beryl smiled, her whole face seemed to light up from within, and her green eye sparkled.
In her life as a planeswalker, Aloise had traveled to many worlds, and she had seen many treasures. She had seen diamonds so bright that they shone with the fire of a thousand stars. She had seen spidersilk tapestries so intricate that they had taken lifetimes to weave. She had seen crystal caves so luminous that they reflected her lamplight into a kaleidoscope of colors she did not even have the words to name.
Each of those memories was precious to Aloise. Each was a treasure that had given her a moment of transcendent happiness.
But not a one of those sights could hold a candle to seeing Beryl smile, and knowing that she – Aloise – was the reason why Beryl was smiling.
That was precious. That was a treasure unlike anything else in the Eternities.
That was beautiful.
Beryl must have noticed that Aloise was looking at her, because she turned her head to meet Aloise’s gaze, and she smiled one of those full, perfect smiles.
“Is everything okay?” she asked, her cheeks reddening slightly as she did. “Did I say something wrong?”
“It’s not that,” Aloise said, shaking her head. Reaching over, she brushed a wisp of black hair away from Beryl’s eye. “I was just thinking about how beautiful you are, is all.”
In response, Beryl’s face flushed further still, until her cheeks were the color of ripe tomatoes. Seeing that made Aloise’s smile widen.
There were ways in which Beryl had changed, and there were ways in which Aloise hoped she never would.
“How did I ever get so lucky?” Beryl asked quietly. “What did I ever do to deserve you?”
“That’s easy,” Aloise said, and she laughed. “You were you.”
Beryl’s hand drifted across the blanket to Aloise, and Aloise took Beryl’s hand in hers.
“I still have days when I think this must all be a dream,” Beryl said. “I still have nights when I think that I’ll wake up the next morning, and I’ll discover that none of this really happened – that I just… dreamed you.” She gave Aloise’s hand a small squeeze, and, for a moment, her voice wavered, but it did not break. “That’s the first thing I do every morning, you know? I open my eye, and I check to make sure you’re still there.”
“I always am,” Aloise said.
“You always are,” Beryl said.
Earlier, when Aloise had spread the blanket out atop the warm grass, she had noticed a small cluster of dandelions nearby. Some of the tiny flowers were still ringed with bright yellow petals, whereas others had transformed into round, white globes of wispy seeds. Reaching over with her free hand, Aloise picked a single dandelion – one of the fluffy, seed-covered ones – which she offered to Beryl.
“Make a wish,” she said.
Beryl took the flower from Aloise, and she held it up in front of her face. After a moment for thought, she closed her eye, puffed out her cheeks, and blew as hard as she could, sending a tiny storm of dandelion seeds flying up into the air, where their little white sails caught the freshening breeze, and the wind carried them off into the blue distance.
Opening her eye, Beryl saw that the dandelion’s head was completely bare, and she smiled.
“What did you wish for?” Aloise asked.
“I wished that today would never end,” Beryl said. “I wished that we could just stay here like this, forever.”
“Are you sure that’s what you want?” Aloise said. “I mean, far be it from me to critique your wish, but that seems a bit sudden. After all, if we’re going to be here forever, then I didn’t pack nearly enough sandwiches. And, second, there’s an awful lot of the multiverse that we still haven’t explored.” Aloise tried to look stern, but her smile gave her away. “Don’t you want us to see it?”
Beryl laughed, and she made a show of looking abashed.
“You’re right,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking straight. You have that effect on me, you know?” Then she nodded urgently in the direction of the dandelion patch. “Quick, get me another one. I need a do-over dandelion.”
So Aloise plucked a second flower, which she passed to Beryl. Then, after putting on a show of deep concentration, Beryl blew a second time. As before, a tiny torrent of dandelion seeds scattered to the wind, and, as before, Beryl offered a nod of satisfaction when she saw that the dandelion’s head lay bare.
“What did you wish for this time?” Aloise asked, taking the stem back from Beryl.
“I wished for tomorrow to be as perfect as today,” Beryl said. “I wished for a thousand-thousand perfect tomorrows, and I wished that I could share them all with you.”
“That’s a very good wish,” Aloise said. Then, leaning forward, she kissed Beryl softly on the cheek.
“I thought so, too,” Beryl said, and she returned Aloise’s kiss.
For a moment, the two of them just lay together, smiling at each other, and gazing into each other’s eyes. Then Aloise slid across the blanket, so that she was right next to Beryl, and Beryl rested her head atop Aloise’s shoulder.
As the clouds drifted and danced overhead, and the sun warmed her skin, Aloise ran her hand through Beryl’s hair, and Beryl sighed contentedly.
“We really ought to eat those sandwiches,” Aloise said quietly, after a minute had passed. “That’s the trouble with tomatoes, you know? If you wait too long, the bread gets soggy.”
“Maybe in a little bit,” Beryl said, as she gently nuzzled the base of Aloise’s neck. “For now, just tell me about the clouds?”
Aloise smiled, and she kept stroking Beryl’s hair.
“Well,” she said, “I see what looks like two rabbits on horseback, and I’m pretty sure that they’re jousting. I think the one on the left has the advantage, but we’ll just have to wait and see. And, over there, I think it could be a whale? Or maybe it’s a Segovian leviathan – although it would be much too big for that, now that I think about it…”
They never did eat the sandwiches.
Aloise Hartley is an original character created by RuwinReborn for the Expanded Multiverse.
Magic: Expanded Multiverse is not associated with Wizards of the Coast. This is a transformative work of fanfiction, protected in the United States under the laws of Fair Use.
All works copyright their respective creators.