Ren and Kuko lay on their backs beneath chequered blankets gazing up at the clear night sky. Ren and Kuko's favourite thing in the whole world was star gazing and every night Ren would visit Kuko and they would lie outside in the garden and stare upwards counting the stars and naming the constellations. Often they would make up their own by tracing invisible lines from star to star with their fingers and conjure up wonderful stories about how those constellations came to be.
Kuko's favourite constellation was called Sorla the Star Catcher. Long ago Sorla had caught all the stars in the sky with her net and offered them to the love of her life as a gift. Kuko had been very proud of her story but little did she know it had also given Ren an idea.
Ren had a secret that he had never shared with Kuko; there was one thing that Ren loved more than star gazing: Ren loved Kuko.
When Kuko had made up the story about Sorla the Star Catcher Ren told her that he too would catch the stars and give them to Kuko as a gift.
Kuko laughed at him. 'You're so silly Ren,' she said.
But Ren had another secret he had not shared with Kuko: Ren knew where he could find some stars.
One evening, before he went to meet Kuko, Ren climbed the Hill. The Hill was the highest place in all the land and had never been given a name. It was once believed that as it was high enough to touch the sky it belonged to the heavens and as such could only be named by those that dwelled in there. To those who lived beneath its peak it was known only as the Hill.
At the very top of the Hill was a tree. It stood at the highest point on the hill and had a slender delicate trunk which supported a dozen or so thin twisting branches that spiralled round each other before stretching up toward the sky. Hanging down from these branches were long silvery threads which held the fruits of the tree. They cradled the tree's fruits delicately and they swung gently in the breeze that brushed across the hill. The fruits were stars for it was a Star Tree that Ren had discovered and dozens of them winked and twinkled at Ren as he marched up the hill.
In his hands he clutched a pair of sharp garden shears and a wicker basket and his brow was a solid mask of determination.
As he approached the Star Tree it spoke to him. 'Are you going to take my stars?' the tree asked.
The words came to Ren like tinkling bells and he stopped beneath the tree's branches startled but unafraid. 'I need your stars,' he said.
The Star Tree's precious fruits rang out softly as another breeze swept gently by. 'If you take my stars I will die,' Ren heard the tree say.
Ren moved toward the tree's trunk and began to climb onto the lower branches. 'I'm sorry, but I need your fruit. They are for the girl I love. She loves the stars more than she loves me so if I can give her your stars as a gift she will love me as much as I love her.' With one snip of the garden shears a dozen stars fell from the tree and landed with a soft thud on the grass below.
'As you wish,' the Star Tree sang. 'I hope my fruit will bring you the love you desire.'
The Star Tree said no more as Ren cut the remaining threads. He then climbed down from the tree and collected the mass of stars and placed them in his basket arranging them neatly so that the brightest of stars were on the top. The stars shimmered and sparkled like a nest of glittering jewels. It would be difficult to part with something so beautiful but Ren would have swapped the entire world for Kuko's love. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen; more beautiful than the stars in the sky, more beautiful even than a Star Tree.
He left the Hill and hurried back to Kuko's house. She was waiting for him in the garden wrapped in a blanket and sipping tea from a flask. Beside her was another blanket for Ren, folded up neatly in a square.
'I have a gift for you Kuko,' Ren announced eagerly. He held out the basket to her. Kuko looked down at the basket's contents curiously. His heart was racing as he said the words he had wanted to say for so long. 'I love you Kuko. These stars are for you to show you how much I love you.'
Ren tried to read the expression on Kuko's face. Where was her perfect smile? Her eyebrows were arched in a frown and she glanced up at the sky searching for something.
Ren glanced up at the sky too.
It was empty.
The sky was an empty black void without a single star anywhere to be seen. It was as if someone had come along and painted over them with thick black paint.
Kuko looked at the basket and recoiled from it in horror. 'What have you done Ren?'
Panicked Ren took a step toward her pushing the glittering stars in her direction. 'They're for you Kuko,' he said anxiously.
Ren pulled away from him. 'You've stolen the stars from the sky! How could you?' Kuko turned her back on him and ran into the house sobbing. The door slammed shut behind her.
Ren was left alone with his basket of stars.
His chest felt hollow and his heart was as empty and dark as the sky above. He stood there in the garden clutching the basket of stars and staring at Kuko's door for a long time. Finally he trudged back to the Hill.
When he reached the top the Star Tree was gone. All that remained was a blackened stump as if it had been set on fire and burned.
What had he done? Ren dropped to his knees. He had lost Kuko forever, he had ruined the night sky and he had killed the Star Tree all in one evening. Even the moon was refusing to come out. It hid on the horizon unmoving, a thin slice peeking above the edge of the world.
'Why won't you come out moon?' Ren called to it.
Ren heard the moon's voice as a whisper in the air. 'It's lonely up there without my stars.'
Ren lashed out at the basket of stars beside him. It fell on its side and the stars spilled out across the grass. 'I'm lonely too,' he said gloomily.
By the time the night had ended and the sun had risen Ren was exhausted. His eyes itched from salty tears and lack of sleep. He had stayed on the Hill all night. The morning sun was warm on his skin and as it rose Ren watched the flowers dotted around the Hill blossom in the sunshine and open out to bask in its warmth.
It gave Ren an idea.
He dug a small hole in the soil not far from the black stump of the Star Tree and selected one of the stars from the toppled basket. He placed it in the hole and carefully covered it with soil. There was a stream that ran down the other side of the Hill where Ren fetched some water. He poured a little over the mound of earth where the star was planted.
Every day Ren returned to the Hill to add a little water to the seed but every day he was disappointed. No tree would grow. After three weeks of frustration he screamed out angrily. 'Why won't this star grow?'
The sun, who had been watching Ren's endeavours with amusement each day, laughed. Ren heard the sun's voice on the rustle of the grass. 'My sunshine will not grow a Star Tree,' the sun said. 'They are the flowers of the moon.'
Ren could have kicked himself. He returned to the Hill that evening and looked for the moon. As it had done every night since Ren had taken the stars away it hid on the horizon refusing to rise into a lonely sky.
Ren called out to it. 'Please moon, rise just a little. I need your moonshine to grow new stars.'
The moon was quiet for a long time. Finally a breeze touched Ren's ears and he heard the moon's voice. 'But it is so lonely without my stars.'
'Please moon,' Ren begged. 'I can grow more stars for you if you give me your moonshine. I'm lonely too. Without the stars the love of my life is gone. Please come out, we can keep each other company.'
The moon said nothing but after a time had passed it rose ever so slightly above the horizon.
Ren checked the star he had planted. Moonshine fell upon the little mound of earth. Now all they had to do was wait.
Each night Ren returned to the Hill and kept the moon company. They talked through the night about the moon's love of the stars and Ren's love of Kuko and each night they both felt a little less lonely. The moon rose slightly higher each night until eventually it was as high in the sky as it had been when the stars were there.
That evening Ren saw the first shoots of a new Star Tree.
'Look, look,' he cried to the moon. 'It's growing, it's finally growing!'
When Ren returned the next night the shoot was already a sapling with the beginnings of branches already twisting and turning up toward the sky.
On the third night Ren saw tiny buds on the branches that shone like bright little fireflies.
On the fourth night the tree was almost fully grown and the buds had opened. Silver threads dropped from the buds and stars had started to grow at the end of the threads.
On the fifth night the stars blossomed.
The moon was high in the sky and Ren could hear its laugh in the wind. The stars had come back out winking down at Ren from above. The moon was in love again.
Inspired Ren ran down the Hill all the way to Kuko's house. It had been so long since he had seen her, so long since he had upset her. When she opened the door to him she looked even more beautiful than he remembered.
'I've fixed it Kuko,' Ren told her excitedly. 'The stars are back.'
Kuko couldn't quite meet his eyes. 'I'm sorry Ren,' she struggled to say. Her voice faltered. 'You should never have taken them in the first place. I'm not ready to forgive you yet.'
The door closed slowly.
Ren walked away dismayed. At least she had said 'yet.' He made his way back to the new Star Tree and sat with his back against the trunk. A chorus of chiming stars sang in the branches above and he watched the star lights dance to the sound of their own song. No wonder Kuko loved stars, Ren thought. They were wonderful.
Not far from where he sat the basket of stars lay discarded, its contents spilled on the ground. An idea suddenly came to him.
He ran to the basket and gathered up a handful of stars. With his free hand he dug a hole in the ground and planted one of the stars and covered it with earth. Then, moving several paces away, he repeated the process with another star. A few hours later he had planted every single star and had covered the Hill with dozens of tiny little mounds of earth.
The moon was a huge white disc in the sky that night and it seemed so near that he could almost reach out and touch it. He heard it laughing on the wind and he grinned back at it before leaving the Hill satisfied that his plan might just work.
The next night when Ren returned he saw dozens of little shoots climbing up through the earth reaching for the moon. Ren clapped his hands gleefully.
On the second night the shoots had grown into saplings with slender branches that twisted and spiralled toward the sky.
On the third night Ren could see the new Star Trees from the bottom of the hill. The little buds of light twinkled like a little forest of Christmas trees.
By the fourth night the buds had opened into silver threads that hung down from the branches and held the seeds of brand new stars. Ren ran through the lines of trees leaping in delight at the wonder he had helped create.
On the fifth night Ren did not immediately go to the Hill. Instead he visited Kuko's house and knocked on her door. When she answered his heart quickened and he spoke quickly in case she might close the door on him again. 'Kuko, I've made something for you. Not just for you but for everyone. Will you let me show you?'
Kuko hesitated and those few seconds felt like aeons to Ren.
'Please just give me one last chance,' he pleaded.
She looked at him unsure but at last she agreed and followed Ren out of the house and back to the Hill.
Though Ren was eager to reach the top he waited patiently for Kuko who had never climbed the Hill before. When she saw the bright lights at the top she stopped and raised an eyebrow at him. 'What have you done now Ren?'
It took all of Ren's will to convince her to keep going.
When they reached the top they were both stunned into silence.
All across the Hill were rows and rows of the most magnificent Star Trees abundant with thousands of bright shining stars. Their branches coiled together creating star lined arches between the lines of trees and the fruits of the Star Trees glittered, twinkled, shimmered and shone as they sang out in an endless chiming chorus of song. Above their heads the night sky mirrored the Hill and was filled with more stars than even the moon could have imagined.
'Ren,' Kuko gasped, 'what have you done?'
Ren, himself shocked as to how beautiful the sight before them was, found his voice. 'I've made you an orchard of stars,' he said. 'I know how much you love them. Now there are enough for both you and the sky. My only wish is that you forgive me and perhaps one day you might love me a fraction as much as you love the stars.'
Ren turned to him smiling from ear to ear. Her eyes were wet and the fruits of the Star Trees were reflected there, sparkling and bright. 'You're so silly Ren,' Kuko told him. 'What I loved about watching the stars was that you were by my side.'
Ren opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out.
Kuko giggled at him and took his hand in hers. She squeezed it tightly and together they ran through the orchard of stars dancing and laughing to the sound of the moon, the stars and the bright shining Star Trees.