They christened her Azure, because like the deep blue of the sea her little blue eyes were a wealth of hope and happiness. She was raised in humble circumstances, with the lovely nourishing of nature – of rivers and fells and forests for company – and with the firm instructions of her mother. But when Azure turned thirteen, her mother died quite suddenly of a nervous condition that the doctor would not explain.
Azure had no sense of what to do with herself. Without her mother’s guidance, she did not know who or what she was and how. Her father was no help, and retreated into his books. A nursemaid from the village fed her after school and helped her with her homework, but other than that, Azure was a lonely thing, adrift in a world uncertain.
She found friendliness in the valleys and hills around her father’s cottage. While he withdrew to private study, Azure played in the wide green world that was suddenly open to her without her mother’s restrictions. She would hang upside down from a yew tree, listening to the linnet singing. She would dangle her feet in the clear mountain streams, where the water rushes past with the coldness of ice. She would take off on a Sunday afternoon and climb the summit of some new peak, finding solace by a lake where she watched little fish circling in stream after stream. In a rainstorm Azure would find shelter under the bowers of her favourite trees, nestling in with the flowers and ferns and leaves. She learned which berries to eat, which mushrooms to pick and where the faeries lived.
When she thought of her mother, Azure would not weep anymore; she would fly down some mountainside until the thoughts rushed from her head and she was more alive than ever she could be.
But Azure’s name bore a prophecy, and the world would not stay her own forever. When she was fifteen the war broke out and all the city children were being sent to live in the country. Azure offered to train as a nurse but her father would not allow it, and even when he was drafted and she had only her grandma to answer to, she was still forbidden. They insisted that she get an education. It’s what your mother would have wanted. Still, she had little time for books or figures; all Azure wanted to do was feel the dew on her skin and the pleasant caress of the wind. Whenever she sat with her homework, idle at her father’s desk, she felt unfaithful to nature.
To make matters worse, the city children were leaps and bounds ahead of her. They knew long division and the capital cities of Europe; they could recite Shakespeare by heart and list monarchs and dates from history. In class with them, Azure felt nothing but the awareness of her failure.
One day, however, it was snowing and the school was closed. All the children had turned up in their hats and scarves and now were lost and shivering in the desolate playground. It was hours before the adults would come to pick them up. It was Azure that had the Revelation.
“You think you know everything,” she told them, “but there are things you haven’t seen.” She took the troupe of children across the village and out into the fields. The snow was falling thick and slow around them, blinking bits of ice in their eyes. Their cheeks grew rosy as they chased after their leader, who knew the contours of the ground like the back of her hand. They danced across great puddles of ice, raced down hillsides, linked arms and sang an elegy to a dying eagle. They buried its beautiful body with snow. The war and the cold were forgotten as the children crouched in the forest and listened to the stirring crickets, the squirrels rustling in the undergrowth. The animals always knew how to take shelter.
It was a sad thought to know it was soon home-time. Home, but not really home. Together, they followed Azure across the white plains of farmland back to the village.
At the school, the parents were full of rage. They wanted someone – some dirty country scoundrel – to blame. But when they saw the happiness on the children’s faces, all was forgiven. They took their children’s hands, and as they looked up to the bright blue sky, they too saw the new world that they already lived in.
(Prompts: azure blue, fidelity, prophecy)
by Maria Rose Sledmere