It wasn't just that it was a valuable and lovely gift as it was, that made Tide so happy. Just like in Spirit folklore, demons as well seemed to have deemed an act of exchanging gifts a special ritual of friendship and affection. It was an act as old as time, to share something of yourself, and receive something of another one in return. It was a solemn act of sealing friendships. Tide's eyes teared up, and he grinned back and accepted gladly with hoarsely little trembling voice, seeming touched indeed.
With the gentle loving act that mirrored his own from before and so made a complete cycle, demon's aura was shining very brightly and intently, and it was felt strongly in the air, as he held the lute gently and shyly as they went to the shopkeeper - not just any instrument anymore, but a token of appreciation from Svarik. it was a force warm and soothing, an echo of his excitement and thrill, that spread around him in waves of music, glimmering with simple, pure joy. Both Sage and Hans nodded to king amiably, seeming very glad their friend was so happy about this, smitten by happiness, in fact.
Fox, in her cat disguise form, looked around, thinking about all the stuff once she understood a question.
She looked around the drums, that she sow Svarik try out before, as those to her as well seemed like one thing that she could play, with her cute fluffy but clumsy paws.
And when she sow one, her heart skipped a beat, and she beamed too.
She patted it with her cat paws with excitement, meowing playfully and eagerly at a picture - picture of a fox with a big bird, which she seemed to love, as it seemed exciting, and with yellowish shade of orange fur, illustration almost resembled her a tiny little bit, close enough to Xia to get excited and love it.
Critter nodded, slowly growing to understand the basic concept of money - she didn't seem to quite understand why would someone trade so lovely drum for couple of tiny dimes, but dimes were, indeed, shiny and sparkly, so she seemed to accept it that humans just really liked shiny round objects with stuff engraved on it.
When they payed for everything, Xia let Hans carry her beautiful drum, and Tide with utmost cautious entrusted Sage with his beautiful new lute, so he could carry Svarik's harp instead as they walked back.
Everyone agreed, and as Sage insisted, they took a ride on lovely open carriage back to the harbor.
There, as Tide promised, were Erdel and Melody, already waiting for them. Girl was sleepy already, but beamed as she sow meadow king - her hands were conspiratorially below the blanket sweet demon wrapped her up to keep her warm, and she seemed to have been holding something secretively.
" We did. We found a small, but very lovely antique shop. It had all kinds of ancient stuff, and it was splendid, my dearest! " girl said. " I found something a little bit, sweet and lovely, just like you! I know you would never buy it because of the price, but it was sweet, and I could feel it once belonged to some Spirit, so it was very cute dusty old trinket, would you like to see it? " she bid shyly and fondly, seeming excited.
" It doesn't look so, but it's couple thousands year old. I could feel Spirist wore it once for a long time. It's nothing super special - it just seems to have some some leftover protective charms around it that seems to make wearer feel warm and concealed from strong force of wind or bitter cold... A little warming spell, I think... " girl smiled shyly. " It reminded me on you and Birdie, so I thought it would be just right for you, dearest - simple and sweet, like you are... " Xia also seemed charmed and glad for Svarik, seeing he, after buying so many gifts, ended up receiving as well, specially something so nice that reminded her on her lovely new drum too.
" I am glad you like it! You are my special wonderful Sunshine, you should have all the lovely things you desire... " she told him fondly. " And because you were so lovely and so brave in last few days, I feel so proud of you, my love, and I wanted to treat you with something delicious, too - we also went to the market, and I bought lot of sweet apples, corn and lovely fresh fish, from the sea, my Sun. I am going to make your favorite fish baked with corn and apples for dinner, just the way you like it! " she beamed, apparently it being something she looked forward to, and probably hoped to do for Svarik first thing after she played the song for him, to soothe him after the intimate experience, but since she spent herself so much back then and fell into long slumber, she couldn't do it at a time, but now felt already strong enough to cook it when they get back.
"Oh..." Svarik murmured, feeling bad for having to reject her offer. "I'm sorry, I had no time to tell you yet... Xia only yesterday found out that the meat we are eating comes from animals, and she does not want to eat meat anymore. I would like to support her in that, if I have a choice. How about just corn and apples?"
" But... " Melody retreated her hand stretched toward him, seaming taken aback and stung by his rejection, not knowing how to response. " B-but... You are human. You need it. Why would you neglect needs of your body so, when it needs so much patience and care still, with all the hurts and perils it had been put through in last months? " she stuttered, and her eyes grew sad and teary. " Everything is alive. Corn and apples die too, when you pick them up, just like flowers. Plants cry out as much as animals when you end them to feed yourself. What will you do when Xia finds out that? Stop eating altogether? " her eyes filled with tears. " Something has to end, for you to live. Isn't it the same if it's for a plate of meat, or handful of carrots? Do you know how painful it is, to be torn out of the ground from roots up, to be stripped bare, and right away consumed, while you're still conscious? " she shook her head, stunned. " You can make the case that plants suffer more than animals... Animals die instantly. If you want to live without killing anyone, what will you have left to live on? Milk and cheese? "
"Plants suffer as well?" Svarik looked taken aback by that. "I didn't know that... But if Xia finds out, she will stop eating at all. I do not want that... She was distressed enough when she found out about the animals..."
" I should know that they do. I am comfortable as you see me - but as Spirit, I was a sunflower, couple of times in my life. It is a lovely serene life, being sunflower... until somebody starts picking out your seeds, and picks you out of the ground too. I died in one of my lives as a sunflower. I should know how much it hurts and how long it takes. " girl whispered, and for the first time since he knew her, he could feel a slight trace of reproachfulness in the colder voice of the little girl. " It hurts, much more to die a plant, then human. I died both deaths. Ask any Spirit. It is very painful to die a human death, yes, but it is quick, for few minutes till soul departs, at most. More often than not, souls of plants take few hours to depart at least. They don't have blood that drips out or heart to stop, that sends signal throughout body that life is shutting down and there is no longer place for soul on it. Imagine being chopped down in a salad while your soul is still in the stem. How do you think a poor apple feels as well? An apple is just a baby from the tree. " she frown. " By all means, if you really want to be shameless and look at it like that, you're ending life of a baby each time you do such a little thing as pick up an apple. "
"That's sad..." Svarik whispered. "I thought we had a choice, but it seems we don't... anything we eat is bought with suffering. What should I tell Xia then? That she should stop eating if she doesn't want to cause suffering?"
Melody was looking at him gravely, this particular subject seeming to have been personal to her, since she had form of plant. She looked away then.
" I can.... teach you... how to blow away souls of fruits as you pick them, so they don't suffer long like they usually would. I always kiss away souls of plants before I pick them from out garden, or after I buy them at the market. I made sure to kiss away thy tiny little specks of souls of all apples I bought for you, and all the corn. I always do that, and double check before cooking too. I never fed you any plant with soul left lingering upon it. " she whispered with sadness, avoiding his look. " Svarik... Dying as a process isn't pleasant. But Death is. That is difference you need to distinguish. You never died, so you just do not know. " she whispered. " Best you can do for both plants and animals, is make sure their dying passes quickly and as gently as possible. You need their flesh to feed yourself, but if you let go of their souls with care and with dignity, it is a sign of respect for having to sacrifice them for keeping you alive. Dying is unpleasant.. But once you die, your soul slips into domain of Death. And being in arms of Death is most soothing experience that can be. Your pains and bad memories fade before magnitude of Music that he is and his greatness. While he holds you, your forget the meaning of pain of suffering, and get cleaned from it, ready for rebirth. You are upset by the *dying*, Svarik, but you fail to see that *Death* is not the end. It is just a healing... Once souls are too hurt or their vessel is too damaged for soul to remain in it any longer, they depart, and get healed until they are ready to cloak themselves with body again. When you pick an apple, you feel like you're ending something... But you're not. You're just pushing the little soul back in the circle. One day, your soul will depart too, and maggots will eat your flesh that is left behind, and it will return to the ground for grass to grow. It keeps energy flowing, the constant process. It doesn't mean maggots are your murderers. It just means that what you have borrowed from others, you will return when you return to soil... It is always so. There is no straight line of life. There's a reason it's called circle, Svarik. "
"I would be grateful if you could teach me how to make sure that the soul is freed," Svarik said. "I know how dying feels. I was dying when my soul was torn... I don't want to lie to Xia. I didn't know plants feel the same when I told her she could eat them. But she likes eating a lot... I don't want her to stop eating... Do you think you could explain it to her, if Tide translates for us?"