As the sky faded from bright blue to pale grey, I hurried to the well in the servant quarters. It had been filled most of the way with cement, topped with a wooden lid. Despite the narrow enclosure, there was enough room. So, I closed myself in and waited–I waited until my watch ticked twelve. And when the two beeps broke silence, I hastily climbed out into the peaceful night.
The ancient palace grounds were different under the starry sky. A mist had settled, the crickets and owls were now awake, and the trees rustled in the cool midnight breeze. There was also something magical in the air, stirring an emotion that sent my heart racing with excitement. Sneaking into a wide pathway, I hesitated not to set my imagination free. For where I stood had taken on a new life–one so real that I found myself startled when a maidservant ran right past me.
She wore a plain white dress, embracing a china vase in her arms. Night shadowed her face, but I knew she was in trouble. Unfortunately, right when I planned to follow her, I spotted two palace guards. They were armed with sharpened blades and stern, unfriendly faces. In fear of being caught, I slipped behind a bush. But when the guards finally strolled out of sight, so was the maidservant. Sighing at the missed opportunity, I headed to the royal garden instead.
The royal garden was a masterpiece at nightfall. Lanterns hung from towering trees, lighting the crystal clear ponds. Lotus flowers floated on the surface of the glistening waters as the fishes beneath rippled the reflection of the moon. I planted myself by the water, listening to a frog croaking in sync with a hooting owl. But halfway through their duet, another joined in. It was a humming of some sort. And oddly, I became determined to find it.
Far from the realm of humans, nature breathed with a passion. The humming grew louder as I followed a narrow path, winding through the timberland. There was an absence of lanterns along the descending route, but the buzzing lights from a million fireflies brought heaven to earth. They guided me until I reached the end of my journey, where a large lake said ‘hello’.
The lake was like any other lake, except for the lonely structure in its center. With red pillars, adorned with paper lanterns at the four corners of the concave roof, the pavilion nestled within the full moon’s reflection. It wasn’t barren, but bore a low table homing parchment paper, paintbrushes, and a tea set. There was also a man, who stood when he saw me nearing his safe haven.
“Who are you?” he asked, as he strolled to the entrance of the pavilion. He donned a silky blue robe with a golden, dragon-embroidered crest on his chest.
“I’m… not supposed to be here,” I replied.
“Clearly.” The stranger eyed me from head-to-toe. Then, with a strange question, he asked, “Are you real?”
Frowning, I asked in return, “Are you real?”
He chuckled and waved me over. After a second of hesitation, I crossed a series of large rocks that made the pathway. And when I finally came face-to-face with the young man, he prompted, “What’s your name?”
“Rose. What’s yours?”
“Sun,” he answered, as he returned to the low table.
Sun gestured for me to take a seat across from him. “Tell me about yourself, Rose,” he said.
“Myself?” Shouldn’t I be asking the questions? Nevertheless, I replied, “Well, I’ve been travelling a lot recently–exploring one country after another in search of a story. My publisher has been pushing me for a new book, and… I think I might’ve just found a tale worth telling.”
You’re a writer?” he asked.
“I write stories–fictional ones.”
“I’m a poet,” he said. “So, how long have you been travelling? Where have you been?”
“I’ve only been to a few countries in the past month.”
“In the past month? But how?” Sun seemed eager to know.
“By flying, I-”
“You can fly?” Sun asked in childlike amazement.
“No. I take an airplane–a vehicle with wings.”
“I guess… you can call it that.” I chuckled. “How about you, Sun? Tell me about you,” I said.
“Ah, well, I’m not really a poet by profession,” he confessed. “I’m, well, a prince–recently made crown prince, and conveniently betrothed to a princess.”
Sun laughed. “Thank you. I’m not exactly excited, but thanks.”
“Being a king isn’t what you want?”
“I want to be a poet. I don’t want to rule or marry a princess I barely know.”
“Sorry. I wish I could help,” I said.
Sun heaved a sigh. There was a brief moment of silence, before he changed the topic. “Do you know what this pavilion is called?”
I shrugged, turning my attention to the unique structure–spreading across the ceiling was a swirling painting of the starry night sky, and sweeping across the floor were pastel koi fishes and blooming lotuses.
“I call it, Moonlight Pavilion. I had it built a year ago as a place to escape reality.”
“Moonlight Pavilion,” I echoed.
“Do you like the name?”
“It’s a nice name.”
We admired the pavilion for a few good minutes. A gentle breeze now settled in the air, and despite having more questions, neither of us said a word–Sun returned to his writing while I sat watching. Strangely, as the minutes ticked by, I slowly drifted to sleep. And, the last thing I heard–in the midst of nature’s symphony–was a question.
When my eyes reopened, day had arrived. I found myself on the floor of an old, abandoned pavilion–parts of the roof had caved in, allowing streaks of sunlight to bask upon my face. Reality has always been vastly different–the lake had dried up, the rocky pathway were missing a few steps, and what was a comforting escape in my head had become a dead and hazardous place. There was no wonder why the area was restricted.
Not wanting to linger on the forsaken ground any longer, I trekked my way back to the main path. Once on permitted soil, I spotted the earliest tour group ahead of me. Quickly joining them, I was certain I could get out uncaught.
As the group shuffled along, the tour guide announced, “Right behind us is a trail to the Moonlight Pavilion. It was built by the twenty-fifth crown prince, who later renamed the structure to Rose Pavilion.”
“Rose?” I muttered under my breath. Wait, was my sanity in question? I couldn’t recall that fact from the time I read the visitor’s brochure. In that instant, I knew my answer to his lingering question. Whether it proved me sane or mad, I knew what I had to do.
“Will you come back, Rose?” he asked.
“It seems… I have to.”
12 Genre Months © 2018 by Jeyna Grace. All rights reserved.
(Click HERE for the list of stories in this writing challenge.)