A long time ago, before the Sun-Queen and the Moon-King went their separate ways, the world was a very different place. Magic ran deep and steady through the veins of the world, and they spread so far that even those places barely touched by the light of the heavens could be wellsprings of strange events. This was a time when there was no delineation of things such as “day” or “night.” The Queen and the King walked together through the heavenly roads, each bearing their jeweled lanterns, and darkness was left in their wake until their journey brought them around again.
During this time, in a small cottage deep within a nameless forest, there lived an old man and an old woman. They were not siblings, nor were they lovers; they had both simply been travelers who had come to this place together, and together they remained. The old woman was named Spring and the old man was named Autumn. They both worked to create small toys to be sold in the market: Spring made little pinwheel flowers of many pale colors, and Autumn fashioned balancing toys made out of acorns and twigs and bold red leaves. Once a week they would walk through the forest to the nearest village, and they would spend the day at the market before they walked home together again. The village they walked to was different every time, and the road was changed each morning, but still they made their way to market, carrying a large basket between them, forever and always without fail.
This continued for many years, but even in that long-ago time, where one could go to sleep as an elder and awaken again as an infant, there was a limit to how much magic could extend a person’s life. Spring woke to darkness and felt something cold clutch at her heart, and knew that she would soon be leaving this cottage that she’d made her home for so many years. When Autumn awoke, she told him of her dreams:
I was in a dark cold place, where there was neither sun nor moon. Not even the stars were visible. I was entirely alone. Though I walked endlessly, I couldn’t find my way out. At the end, I fell to my knees and I wept, and that was when I woke.
Autumn listened to her words and nodded, and he too was troubled by their omen. Spring was a good and steady companion to him, and he knew well how empty a place could be without a lifelong companion to fill its spaces. That day, they did not work on their normal crafts, but sat together in their small cottage, drinking tea and saying nothing.
The next night, though, Spring woke with a light heart and bright eyes. Again when Autumn awoke, she told him her dream:
I was kneeling still in that dark place, unable to find my way forward, or even the strength to lift myself to my feet. But at that time, I felt something warm upon my face, and I looked up to see a beautiful woman standing before me. She was dressed in white with a dozen yellow jewels woven into her hair, and in one hand she carried a large gold lantern. She said to me that I was meant to continue on, and that I could not simply allow myself to despair in this place. There was a greater place waiting for me. The darkness faded, and I saw flowers everywhere.
Autumn listened to her words and nodded, and he too was relieved, though he was still lonely with the knowledge. It had been many years since he and Spring had begun living in this little cottage together, and he could easily picture the loneliness her absence would bring.
That night, however, Autumn was the one who dreamed, and in the morning, it was he who told Spring this:
I too saw a beautiful woman carrying a golden lantern. She said to me that she had long admired our work, the two of us together, and our consistency. It was not just you, and it was not just I, but in a world where things are never the same, constancy is still something to be admired. In time, there will be something grander waiting for us both.
Spring listened to his words and took his hands, and she smiled, for she too had been worried at leaving her old friend behind.
In time the world did change; the travels of the Sun-Queen and Moon-King took them higher and farther away from the world and from each other, until their paths were in entirely opposite directions. The strange things of the world became solid and consistent, and the deep veins of magic slowly drained to trickles and whispers.
And twice a year, from a small cottage deep in a nameless forest, an old woman and an old man step out together, carrying a large basket between them. Sometimes they leave flowers; sometimes they leave bright leaves and acorns.
But they are steady and they are patient, and as always, they are together.