The air was crisp and smelled sweet and fresh, like how cucumbers tasted. The breezes, few as they were, were soft and cool, carrying the sounds of cicadas and rustling leaves. Dusk had just settled, the dark and solid night taking its place as the sun descended past the horizon. Inside a small cottage, bright white lights flickered on, filtering out into the world through cream and mint colored curtains. The small brick chimney, snug against the dark champagne wood of the hovel let loose a small stream of smoke. Inside, a small fire kept a lone young woman warm as she ate a simple dinner. Cherry wine made by the Wilston family in exchange for babysitting, bread made at home, and goat cheese from widow Marie Norwood in exchange for ground flax meal. A meal made from the shared work of many was a better meal than any. That was what her grandmother had said when she was young, asking why the village families each only made a few things of their own. It was easier that way, her grandmother had elaborated, we each become skilled in our few trades and make more quality works that everyone may benefit from, but yet we never get bored with just one thing.
Her grandmother had always said the right thing at the right time, witty and kind, tension cutting and raw, all at once. She always laughed when someone mentioned it, saying it was because the bees blessed her when she was born. Her father had always told her that after her mother passed during the birth and the two of them sat on the porch, a whole swarm of bees surrounded them, not landing but swarming. Almost like they were her mother’s spirit, blessing them and saying her last goodbye. The cherries were plentiful that year for the Wilston’s.
The young woman thought about her grandmother often, her passing having happened only a few years earlier. She had been away at school, learning how to tell the difference between an old rusty pot and an ancient rusty pot. Anthropology regarding ancient, wiped out, and forgotten societies. But that didn’t matter, not anymore. The family farm was hers to work and maintain alone until some man came along to give her children, and they would all work the land together. Just like every woman in the family had. But for now, the flax was blooming and soon the seeds would be ready for harvest, and the stalks ready for picking, cutting, and replanting. Making flax thread, flax meal, and baking bread out of flax had been part of the family trade system for generations, and would continue to be so.
But that was worries for the future, in the present the young woman sat enjoying her simple meal with her warm fire. The insects singing outside and the crackling of the fire soothed her stress; this was her home, and nothing short of an orphic miracle would take her from it.
The young woman had since fallen asleep, the moon now high in the sky. Outside, a multitude of luna moths flew around each other in tight circles. If you looked closer, you would see that the moths each had tiny crowns and necklaces, and tiny arms, and legs as though they could stand on two feet. If you looked closer you would see that two in particular were especially regal. One male moth had a string of flowers on spider silk strings laid over his antennae, while a much older female moth had the same, but she also had the same string wrapped around her arms, like moonlight. The female moth appeared to be speaking to the younger male, as though she was his doting mother. If you got closer, you could hear them speak. That is, if moths could speak. And these moths most certainly can.
“Oeric, you can’t possibly keep avoiding this issue. If you are not married, and married to a lady of the wind silk court, you will not be allowed to ascend the throne. And then not only will I be forced to name one of your cousins as my successor, but I will work until I cannot breathe. You know what traditional law says!”
The Queen of the Wind Silk Court, also known as the Moth Queen, was the one who spoke first, and at such length. Her only son, Oeric, was set to become King soon. But the Law of Courts dictates that any Court Ascension must be marked with a marriage, so as to cement the loyalty of the people with a doubly joyful celebration. Oeric, the Prince, however, did not believe in this rule. In his mind, such a rule was outdated and spoke of more strenuous times. Beyond that, the additional rule that stated each indirect Ascension must be marked with a death was simply barbaric to him. And unnecessary. If it weren’t for the superbly irritating education his mother gave him since he could talk he would have asked who came up with such rules, but no. He knew exactly who had made them.
The Second Court of the Regality, who were faced with the death of the King of Wood Silk, Spider King Archibald the First, whose eldest daughter and youngest brother had been vying for the throne. They had decided to side with his brother, Spider King Leopold the First, over Archibald’s daughter Kinue. This established the rule that a break in the direct line must be marked with a death. It wasn’t until the Fifth Court of the Regality that the rule that a marriage must mark a direct line Ascension. Oeric’s ancestor, distant cousin of the first Moth Queen, had seen fit to pass on his crown to his youngest daughter. However, his distant cousin wanted the throne, as it was his father who had given Oeric’s ancestor the throne in the first place. It was obvious that this distant cousin was planning an assassination. To prevent this, Oeric’s ancestor called the Fifth Court to announce that his youngest daughter was to marry Lord Ulric of the Elder Tree. The celebration the marriage would cause would calm the people, who had come to unrest with the backwards transfers of power and the lack of stability. It was voted there that the marriage also mark of the transition of his daughter to Queen, to ease the people’s fears over the next Ascension and promote a Queenship of stability and prosperity. It was at that same court that assassination of a means of Ascension was outlawed. Since that court, nearly every transfer of power had been direct, and it was every transfer of power for the Wind Silk Court.
Oeric sighed to himself as his mother continued to drone on about how his cousin Bancroft was terrible looking and had no sense of dignity, and how his other cousin Aldrich was too uptight and conservative and had no sense of the people. He knew how high the stakes were, but his mother had plenty of years before she even had to worry about dying. He was still young, and he wanted to experiment.
“Mother, please! You still have many years before you must worry for your health. I am still young, and I want to have some time to see the world. This worry is unnecessary,” Oeric said exasperatedly, his mother still hovering close behind him.
“Unnecessary? Oeric! You know the women in my family have always passed young, and I have lived 2nd longest out of all of them! Just how much time do you I have? And what do you mean, “see the world” ? I didn’t realize the world existed between the sheets of Queen Charlotte of the Wood Silk!” His mother brought up his latest tryst, in which he and the Spider Queen had a few too many draughts of honey water. Nothing would come of that night, only members of the same court could produce children, so there was no political issue, merely a social one.
Oeric’s face wrenched itself in mild disgust; that night was something he would rather forget. Twas the night he discovered that having any more than the now standard 2 legs was not his taste. That and the Queen had tried to make him stay the following morning, despite her being much older.
“Mother please, I just need some more time to myself.” Oeric flew off, fast as a firefly as he said that. He almost thought he heard his mother yell something, but he was too fast to hear it.
He barreled under the crowd of nobles, hoping to avoid as much attention as possible. He kept gaining speed, and not looking where he was going. Next thing he knew, he hit something hard that had very slight give. He fell, and everything went black.
The slight sound of something hitting the door woke the young woman from her sleep, where she sat curled up on her grandfather’s old armchair. Her plate had nearly fallen to her feet, but a hand shot out to catch it, and only a few crumbs fell. Realising she had fallen asleep in the chair, she sighed in self-disappointment. It took her a few moments to shake off the haze of the nap before she wondered what had woken her. It certainly hadn’t been a dream. Shaking it off as a noise outside by one of the animals, she padded over to her bed in the back room. In wake of the warmer weather, she had opted to change out her flannel and fleece sheets for cotton. Away had gone the comforter and down quilt, out came the small throw and thin sheets. As she sat at her bed and began to remove her shoes, she remembered what had woken her. A soft thud, against the door.
Without bothering to put on socks or slippers, she walked over to the door and looked down. Just outside her screen door lay a still, unmoving luna moth, from amongst the many that still flitted about. A soft whisper of air left her lips as she swung open the door to pick up the moth. She knew enough that the moths were uncommon, despite the proliferation of their caterpillars.
Carefully, she scooped the moth into her hands, and she sped back inside. Her first thought was to put it into a box, so that she did. Google is everyone’s best friend, and so she searched for help on what to do. Apparently, the moth had not long at all to live if anything. What she could do, was build a small enclosure to keep it comfortable. And so she did. She took the moth from the box and placed it gently into a smaller box, while she filled the larger of the two with leaves and small twigs. Protip: Moths like perches, like birds. She then took the sugar water she had prepared to sell at the market in town and placed enough of it into a small cotton ball that the moth could drink safely. Of course, luna moths don’t actually have digestive tracts, but it was a measure of hope and comfort to the young woman.
She finally placed a heavy cheesecloth over the box, as a sort of ceiling to keep the moth from climbing out. She hoped the poor moth would be comfortable in its final resting place. As informed by mighty Google, she knew it was a male luna moth, but not much else besides.