Two children fled through the shadows of the forest. One, a girl, had hair as pale as winter sunlight. The other, a boy, ran ahead of her. His sharply angled face gave him a starved appearance, and his hair, once as bright as his sister's, was fading to a muted, dusky brown. They were dressed similarly in tunics of faded red. Both still had the flat blue eyes of innocence.
The boy tore away from the girl and jumped a log that was in his path. The girl shrieked in frustration and followed, her outstretched fingers narrowly missing the boy's arm as he disappeared through the trees. She stopped and pouted.
'That's not fair Danael!' The boy's laugh was her only answer and the girl sat down on the log, her thin chest heaving as she caught her breath.
Danael appeared, his face pale among the murky trees. He smiled at his defeated sister. 'You're getting faster! But you'll never beat me, boys are better than girls.'
The young girl looked up indignantly. 'That's not true! Girls are better than boys, even Mama said so.'
'She did not.' Danael picked up a twig from the forest floor and began to slash at imaginary enemies. 'Boys can fight in wars and go hunting and sailing across the sea and go exploring. Girls have to stay at home with babies and make bread.' His young features frowned at the very thought of it.
His sister sprang up from the log and picked up a stick of her own. 'I want to go exploring! I won't make bread for any stupid boys.'
The boy defeated his make-believe foes and tapped his stick against his sister's. 'You will! When I get back from wars with all my gold you'll have to make bread for me and clean my house.'
His sister scowled fiercely and smacked Danael's arm with her stick. 'I could fight in wars and get my own gold!' She didn't sound very sure. Danael grinned and began to taunt her.
'Raine is a silly girl who makes bread for boys,' he sang.
Raine dropped her stick and jumped on her brother. The children tumbled to the forest floor and began to fight with the happiness only children could feel. After a short tussle they lay on their backs, breathing loudly in the quiet forest air. Raine took her brother's hand. 'I won't make bread.' She said firmly. 'And we'll go exploring together, won't we?'
Danael rubbed his nose with his free hand where Raine had managed to hit it. 'We have to take Mama too.'
'Yes! All three of us going over the sea and finding… What will we find Danael?'
Her brother answered, and the midday sun shifted quietly into afternoon as the two children lay beneath the trees and dreamed of a future bright, neither knowing how far from their words their futures would truly be.
Later, they picked berries, smearing their hands and faces with bright juice. When they had as much as they could carry, the children wandered home through the twilight forest. Neither had any fear of the dark as bright specks of light fluttered among the trees, alternately twinkling or glowing softly, sometimes fading altogether.
Raine pulled on her brother's arm. 'Look Danael, the souls! The souls are out!'
Her brother stopped and watched quietly as a stream of floating lights danced lazily over their heads. 'Remember what Mama said?' he asked his sister.
Raine nodded as she watched, entranced by the lights. 'Mama said the lights are bits of the souls of dead people and they come to visit us. She said Papa might be up there.'
Danael nodded but wondered how their Papa would recognize them if he died before they were born. He didn't say this to Raine, knowing even despite his young age that some things were better left unsaid.
Raine would have stayed all night underneath the scattered souls but darkness was truly beginning to fall and she was getting cold.
'Come on,' she called as she set off running. 'I'll race you again!'
The dark-eyed boy looked up a moment longer, the soul-lights reflecting in his eyes like the moon in a still pond. Thoughts too old for his young body passed deep within them, before the moment too passed, and he was a young boy once more running after his sister.