It was summer already, and the leaves of the trees in that forest were almost as deep green as Schmendrick's eyes. He was examining an old, dusty map he had obtained in their last adventure. A few feet away from him, Molly Grue was fanning herself with a cooking booklet. In front of them, a crossroads with washed out signs lay expectantly waiting.
"Just let it go," she said, and a brown lock of hair swayed in the fake breeze. "You've been staring at that for at least an hour and it's almost dusk."
"It's definitely not updated. Give me more minutes to think."
"Of course not. See, I told you we had to ask that wagon ten minutes ago."
"Please, Molly, not again." He grinned, offended.
"You men can never ask for directions! I'm starting to believe you're as lost in space as you are in time."
"Heh. Perhaps. But regardless, everything alive is lost somehow."
"It's not a nice feeling, stupid magician," she sighed. "Let's wait for a passerby."
Schmendrick turned around and looked significantly at Molly.
"Do we really have to go to Grunburg, dear Molly? Let's just choose any direction."
"Well, it's the closest town and--"
"That's the only reason we chose that destination. But really, we're just adventurers who wander through stories. Does it really matter where we're sleeping tomorrow? For those who don't know where they want to go, any road would work."
Molly Grue was proud to be a practical, sensitive woman. Her heart gave a tug, but her head wasn't willing to give in that easily.
"I'm not sure about that," she said. "It might not matter to you the story you're about to enter, but we might regret it."
"We could also regret going to Grunburg. Fate is as whimsical as tossing a die. Let's choose a random road, I don't care which one."
She stretched her legs and mounted her horse. "Alright. Since you don't care, why don't you ask your magic to pick one where we're needed? It's slightly wiser than flipping a coin."
"I thought you didn't trust magic."
"I still can't forgive it. But somehow I'm always following something that's either foolish or beautiful."
Schmendrick chuckled and grabbed a yellow leaf from the floor. After toying with it, he closed his eyes and called the power. A blue wind spiraled on the magician's hand and stole the leaf from his palm. After gliding in circles, it landed on the left road. Schmendrick mounted his horse as well and they sang along, as they went up some hills of whom they did not know the names.
Over the mountains
And over the waves,
Under the fountains
And under the graves,
Under floods that are deepest,
Which Neptune obey
Over rocks which are the steepest,
Love will find out the way.
Where there is no place
For the glow-worm to lie,
Where there is no space
For receipt of a fly,
Where the gnat dares not venture,
Lest herself fast she lay,
But if Love comes, he will enter,
And will find out the way.
After sunset they decided to stop to rest. The night was warm and moist, yet the fireflies' lights and the cicadas' voices made it more tolerable. Molly took care of the fire while Schmendrick looked for water for the broth. They had rabbit soup from some meat they were carrying with them. They ate and Molly just stared at the flames in silence.
"A penny for your thoughts," said Schmendrick and sat next to her.
"Can't charge you; I wasn't really thinking..." The fire reflected in her eyes and danced.
"A while ago, you said you're always following something. Why did you come with me, anyway? Who are you really following this time, Molly Grue?"
"Don't get the wrong idea," she whispered, but her voice tone wasn't upset. "In any case, I can't answer that. It's between me and her..."
"Here we go again." He leaned to the opposite side. "It's funny, you know. When we met I was jealous of you; but now I'm jealous of her."
"...It's a different kind of love." She avoided his eyes. "Have you ever considered she might be jealous of us both?"
"If she can be jealous of humans, then I truly did something horrible."
"You better believe it, mister. Still, I hope she isn't." She reached for his hand and they didn't talk for a few minutes. "But you're dying to know why I'm on the road, right?"
He smiled and looked at her again.
"It's not just that I'm following something or someone. I'm not a naive young girl anymore. I'm aware I could settle down anywhere and get a job. My sewing is mediocre, but my recipes are much better by now and I could relearn how to weave. But what do you know, I've found that I don't want that peaceful life anymore. I never did when I was young, and I'm too old to learn my lesson now. This is why I fell in love with Cully, before I realized he was as dull as the other men. I wanted to be Maid Marian."
"And who do you want to be now?"
"Why, Molly Grue, of course! She might not be a young, beautiful heroine, yet I'm sure she will do big things in some stories. And I can't do that if I abandon the road.
"So, who do you want to be, Schmendrick the magician? You've never told me why you keep going. You're now the most powerful so you have more reasons to stay somewhere and be the largest fish in the sea. Any king would love to have you as his right hand, stupid as you are."
"Enough with the kings!" He laughed, and his face was filled with smugness. "Well, I think I wander because that's my role. Mages and sorcerers in fairytales are either enablers or antagonists, or both at the same time depending of your point of view. I could do much good or much evil, yes, but then the protagonists would have it too easy or too hard. I should help in moderation and only if asked. I'm already a servant of the magic and the story, and by going anywhere and nowhere I'll end up becoming a legend among my peers. That's how I see it."
"A legend of modesty, I see!"
"Give me some time to get used to it, Molly. But I'm fond of this fate, through story and time. It makes me feel like the Fool in the Tarot deck."
"That's adequate! You certainly are a fool already. Or more like a Joker in a normal deck."
"Why can't I be both? Look." He took three balls from his robe's pocket. Then he juggled, to Molly's surprise. She started laughing.
"Hey now, what's up with you? There's no need for you to do that trick anymore, now that you're a real magician."
"I heard it impresses the ladies," he winked at her.
"No, it doesn't," she shook her hair, looking even more beautiful. "If you try to do that, they'll think you're a dork."
He stopped and saved them inside his pocket. "So be it. At least I made you laugh."
"I wonder sometimes what on Earth I saw in you."
She let him put his arms around her. She rested her head in her shoulder and they looked at a lost firefly attracted to the fire. They didn't seem to mind the summer heat that much for a while.
He broke the silence after an eternity.
"Do you want to know what I see whenever I cast any spell?"
"Oh no, don't ruin this moment with a cheesy line now!"
"No, that's not it... I see Lir protecting her with his life. Every time."
"For serious?" She looked above and found his eyes, now darkened by the night.
"It was on that moment that I woke up. Now I have to remember it and bring that feeling back in order to call it."
"That's... sort of morbid, you know."
"Is it?" He shrugged. "I'm moved just by thinking about it. Something broke in me then. Suddenly, all this emotion was filling my soul and pouring. Whatever that was, it's exactly what I've been missing for all these years."
"Of course, you were never selfless. There's no way you'd understand that."
"I disagree; it can't be selflesssness. You saw how much pain she suffered afterwards. Protecting a loved one with your life is somehow a little selfish."
"You still don't get it, you idiot. Love is selfish and selfless, all at once. That's what makes it great and terrible."
He caressed her head in contemplation. He treasured in his heart even the few white hairs.
"If you ever were in mortal peril, I--"
She let an exasperated sigh.
"I knew it! Don't ruin the moment with a cheesy line! Especially such a painful one."
"We should be going to sleep. Extinguish the fire, please."
Just a snap, and only the fireflies and the stars above were shining.
"I hope the story we find tomorrow is a good one," said Molly.
"Me too. Sleep well."
He kissed her in a clumsy way, and they both fell asleep in an embrace. Only on those sparse nights were they the main characters, and yet they wouldn't change it for the world.