Love on Gaia: Bitter and Sweet (Philia - Friendship Love)

Written By QueenMedb
(In-game character nickname)

CW: alcoholism, domestic abuse

Love on Gaia: Bitter and Sweet (Philia - Friendship Love)

The little girl was running through the rain. Her feet flew over the wet ground, her soaked hair clung to her neck, dripping down her blouse with the red ribbon she loved so much. Her father had given it to her on one of his better days. But today, today he had been in pain. She had felt it as he had come home, she had whimpered and started crying, stunned by his pain that felt like her own, and even now the tears ran down her cheeks, mingling with the rain. Her father’s solution to pain was and always had been to drink. Today was no difference. And Sophie knew that his helplessness and welling emotions led to his violent outbursts. On an emotional level, she empathized with her father’s pain, but she knew she had to run from it, run into the forest where he would not follow.

“Sophie!” She heard his angry voice behind her. But she knew he was too drunk to follow, this was not the first time she ran away to hide until sleep would find him and she could go home safely.

She did not stop when she reached the edge of the forest. Trees flew by and twigs scraped her arms as she raced into the thicket. It was cold and dark in the forest. But her heart pounded with fear and she heard the pulsating of her blood in her ears that grew lesser and lesser the further she moved from the village and the deeper she went into the forest, away from the people and their pain that could sometimes immobilise her.

Exhausted, she slowed. She felt as though she was crossing a threshold. She was four years old and had never heard of the Law of the Forest, yet she knew it instinctively. And she also knew with her whole body that she was safe and protected here in the sanctity in the heart of the woods.

There was a huge tree in front of her, as old as time itself it seemed to her. Its giant roots were covered in moss and she nestled into it, tired and fatigued. She welcomed the freedom of other human emotions rippling into her own. The sounds here were different. Deep and damp. Her eyes got more used to the darkness and her breath slowly returned to its normal rhythm. She looked around. The trees seemed foreign to her, strange and magic and ancient.

She had forgotten where she had come from. How would she ever find back?

Suddenly a wolf was beside her. She had seen them on the farm, aggressive and wild with rabies. It growled at her, then sniffed, it’s snout so close to her small body, she felt it could eat her with one bite. Instead, its warm tongue licked across her face, accepting her as part of the forest folk, and trotted away.

Sophie sniffed. Then she heard a voice, rumbling like an avalanche and strong as the river yet at the same time bright as silver bells and soft like butterflies on a meadow.

“Lady Sophie” it said, sounding surprised and impressed, “child. I thought I would need to protect you from the forest. Now I see that you can manage well on your own.”

A great stag stepped in front of her. Or was it a man? Sophie blinked and rubbed her face. He was both. A deer and a man. Or maybe more of a majestic yet musty elk. In his presence, she felt calm and safe, despite him bearing an aura of incredible pain that usually would have made her crumble and pass out. It was spread through the wood like a network of mushrooms, and he felt every branch and every trunk, every creature and every insect in his realm with all their humming and buzzing and hunger and lust and fear and death. He was of the forest and the forest itself. Might oozed from his entire being, sublime and beautiful and terrible.

He bowed before her, sensing her unspoken question and curiosity about who he was. “I have no name, Lady Sophie. Your kind has called me Cernunnos once. Now they think of me as Horned God or Green Man.” He chuckled at that silliness. “But in truth I have no name, I just am. Come, child, we better get you home.”

He knelt down before her and held out his hand. She reached for him and found him warm and strong. For the first time she saw his eyes, they were twin pools of dark wisdom. He took her into his arms and she cuddled into his thick coat of hair. He smelled of earth and moss mixed with cinnamon and pine. “Sweet!” She murmured. He huffed in surprise. He had not been called that in… ever. It delighted him.

“You must be careful in the forest, Lady Sophie. We move quickly in the dark shadows. We are wild beings, and most of us do not care for villagers as the villagers do not care about us. The Padurii will show you no mercy in their agony and despair. There are safe spaces and very unsafe spaces. It is dangerous for a human child, even one that is as special as you.”

She pressed her face against his chest.
“It’s safer than home.”
And she told him everything. From the look in his eyes she saw that he understood and that gave her consolation.

“I am sorry that your father lost his way” he said as he carried her through the forest. “Forgive him. Do not blame him for not knowing how else to numb his pain, but not for taking it out on you and your mother. But I cannot take you somewhere else. And your hatred would only hurt yourself, not him.”

She thought about her father lying alone in the darkened room, crying because he didn’t know where his children were and hating himself. She could not hate him. And yet she condemned him. So she suppressed her desire to give compassion, and simply let herself be cradled in the deer man’s arms as he carried her to Harbaburești.

At the edge of the forest he stopped.

“Dear child, I cannot protect you out there but you can always come to me. These are troubled times and you will play a part in the destiny of things.” He let her down onto her own feet. Out of his green cloak he took an acorn, attached to a long silver necklace that he slipped over her head. He showed her how the acorn opened to reveal a beige powder inside it. “Take this. If you put it in his drink or food, he will sleep before the bitterness attacks. It helps with the symptoms, but the cause he can only heal alone.”

“Thank you.” She hugged him. He welcomed the gesture. It felt good and melted away his bitterness for this soft, innocent moment.

He looked down at her. “And thank you, Sophie.”

“For what?”

“For your healing presence, child. For reminding me of hope.”

She smiled. “Can you be my friend?”

He bowed. “It will be an honour and a pleasure.”

Sophie turned towards the farm. There was a candle in her window, guiding the way home. She turned towards it. “Cern?” She said over her shoulder.

He grunted at hearing that nickname. “Yes?”

“There is always enough hope.” She walked ahead without expecting a reaction.

He stepped back into the shadows as she walked home, watching until she disappeared inside. Their meeting lingered on his mind long after that. Despite her age, she had something ancient about her, something familiar. And she gave him the warm feeling of confidence.

From this day on, Sophie would often come to meet him at the edge of the forest. She kept his spirits up and everyone else’s in Harbaburești. But the conversations with him helped her to carry that burden easier. They gave solace to each other. When she became a barmaid in the tavern almost two decades later, Cern began frequenting that place, too, daring to enter the village as drowning his sorrows was easier in her company. Ever since their presence in the tavern, the bar fights seemed to mysteriously stop. Customers who had too much to drink just fell into a deep and dreamless sleep. When the siege gripped Harbaburești, they were there, together, lifting each other up, protecting each other, sharing pain and helping each other through it.

He had seen the Mother of Demons a long time ago. He had fought her before. And now they were attacking the forest. His forest. And besieged her village. Sophie felt the spirits of the fallen tormenting her until she could help ease their misery. But together they kept on living, braving each day with hope. In The Besieged Farmlands, the young woman and the Forest God protected one another. And that meant comfort.

Sophie slowly stretched her hand out over the bar counter and lightly pressed Cern‘s. His dark eyes rose up to meet hers and he toasted back with a raised glass of dark whiskey. They understood each other. And it was all that they needed to hold on.

Author’s note: The first encounter of Cern and Sophie is described in the additional dialogue lines about one another in the Harbaburești Tavern in The Besieged Farmlands. To honour their friendship, I decided to tell the story of their meeting in my own voice, because I like their characters a lot and wanted to honour them by fleshing out the story of their meeting.

Thanks, funcom writing people for inventing these two.

Thank you for reading.

EDIT: Added title into the post, not just the heading.


Thanks for putting that story up :slight_smile: