The sky was wet with swirling clouds, lavender against the dark purple abyss and dotted with bright stars, grouping together in small flourishing clumps. No stray light tainted the depth of that darkness and no proof of life broke in the night. The world was quiet.
What if… echoed the shimmer of the stars through the black, empty bowl, we had company? What if there was a light all the way down there that loved to just sit with us? The glow of a constellation flickered in response.
Then we wouldn’t be alone… Silver streaks flew across the sky with an excitement. Light that had traveled millions of miles to hear the idea boomed into the darkness at the thought. Everything shifted in every crevice of the high reaching chasm. The moon tilted and the waves below crashed with a violence.
It would be unwise to bring a newness among us. Something that must learn can be taught incorrectly, it can deviate. The voice was a wind through the uncountable crevices but caused the vast celestial bodies to quake as if glass ornaments that hung from a fragile, breaking branch.
But what use are we if there is no one to love our light or stare into our faces with awe, to feel our presence when the sun has hidden us away? We are of none. The brightest stars twinkled in unison, flashing with desperate loneliness. The sky was still and the moon pulled at the luminance of its company, seeming to grow without an inch of movement. Every blink of light erupted into a blaze, radiance overflowing into an empty space.
The roaring of the light poured down onto the earth below, crawling through the blades of grass that tickled the air. As it writhed through the reeds and over the rocks, it found itself and gathered. It twirled about and cohered, arching with femininity. From its center, two slender appendages molded and extended away, five more sprouting from the ends. At the bottom of the cluster of light, two other extremities pushed away and bent in the middle. At the top, the projection thinned and rounded, bright fibers sprouting.
A girl. A young girl, with a lithe figure and thin wrists. Delicate features brandished perfect white skin, with large, crystalline blue eyes peering up from the ground. The glow of her body dimmed slightly as every flawless angle and dimple came together to finish her form. A delicate smile graced her thin but cerise mouth.
“Hello.” Her voice drifted like clouds beneath the violet sky. The stars twinkled.
Hello, solum amor, they whispered. You will love us, and we will watch you. She kept her eyes on the sky above, fingers laying gently on the soft dirt beneath her. It was warm against her ear, insect noise humming against the internal echoing of their voices. A tear fell from her eye as she held the smile that lifted her cheeks with a blush.
“Forever?” she asked sweetly.
Until you love another.
“I could never love another as you. I adore you; I come of you or I have come of nothing.” She reached her dainty finger towards the lights that the fragmented pieces in her eyes mimicked. The moon spoke.
You will be ours, altera, and will remain ours through time until a time comes that you forget our shine, and you ignore our coming in the evening. The girl felt a chill in her heart and she repealed her hand from the air. With a gesture towards her chest, she nodded and curled up against the grass. Her naked body shivered with the virgin wind that blew over her, her gaze remaining on her beloved sky.
Time past unnoticed by the girl and her darling dusk. Her loveliness stilled as trees changed from green to orange, full to bare, and the grass beneath her feet browned and withered. She taught herself to clothe her body and build a barrier from the cold, to make fire to warm her pale skin and songs to curb the emptiness she felt in the daytime.
Every night, when the clouds turned a hazy azure from the glow of the moon, she walked out into the open field of grass that danced in the sun. She clutched her harshly sewn blanket to her silken skin and looked up. They stared back at her, unchanged and faceless, though she recognized each one with a fondness. Her chest filled with an unknown hurting.
What is it, carassime? a cluster asked her with a familiar tenderness.
“I’m afraid to tell you,” she admitted, pulling the material closer around her bare collar bones. A bright scintillation passed across each body in the sky as she said this.
Never, they told her. Never fear us. Your heart is ours, and we will attend to it. The pallid girl looked away from them and to the ground. She bit her lip nervously.
“I’ve grown lonely, and not as if you aren’t enough to make me happy. I’ve grown lonely for someone I can share with, someone who knows what I know and loves you as I do. I don’t ask for someone to love, but someone to live beside.” She watched the light above her, flashing and undulating in the never-ending space. She could feel their silence bear down on her. “Am I wrong to ask?”
No. The moon spoke. I knew you’d ask for another, this comes as no surprise.
She dipped her head in shame, rubbing her chilled skin to protect her from the air. Snow was not far off.
“Forgive me,” she said. “Please.” She didn’t see as they churned, stars brightening and stellar clouds swelled. The moon shifted towards the ground she stood on and the sound of the lake at the end of the field boomed with movement. It tipped and brightness fell from its sphere. She watched as this happened; several yards away at the edge of the water, light played amongst itself and came together. Shapes began to pull into recognizable figures: arms and legs, fingers and toes, noses and brightly lit eyes. A wide, bright smile flashed as she watched them stand through the luminescent darkness. Her swan-like neck lifted to the sky. A tear fell down her cheek and landed on her shoulder as she looked up.
“Ora!” came a voice from across the field. She lifted herself from the bent position she’d been in, picking from the pods she’d make her food from. Her white hair fell brazenly over her shoulder, soft curls tangling together.
“I’m coming,” she called back. She placed the dried beans in her sewn basket gently, patting them down into each other.
Ora lifted her legs high into the air to avoid crushing the plants around her. Her feet were bare and soft, with high arches and thin ankles. She moved with as much haste as possible towards the small group of crudely constructed houses at the far end of the field.
“Ora!” came another yell. She saw the older woman standing there, arm raised into the air to wave at her. The young girl smiled and waved back, basket hanging in the crook of her elbow. Through the short bushy crops, she darted towards her family.
“Here we are,” the older woman said, hands in the air with delight. “You’ve been in that field all day, you little sprite.” She kissed the young girl’s cheek. “Rest.”
“Yes, Mable,” she agreed, handing her friend the basket. The sky around them was dimming, the orange sun pinched between two mountains that surrounded their valley. The isolation made for an amphitheater.
As she sat around a young fire, she pulled her long legs to her torso and held them. It was still warm enough to remain outside through the evening. As the sun dipped lower and lower in the sky, the towering rocks around them swallowed its beams. An excitement grew as the breaths she took in became colder with each inhale. Her eyes plastered to the sky, as the sounds around her continued; hammers slamming against iron and blades sawing through freshly fallen trees. She blocked it out.
Through the copper hue of the remaining twilight, she waited patiently. The first twinkle of a star winked at her and her smile grew.
“Hello,” she whispered. Another star pushed through the thin sheen of sunlight and then another. Soon, the sky was dark and velvety again and her companions were quiet. She looked around and saw the rest of them joining her, men and women standing under the stars with their eyes bright and jaws slack with admiration.
The moon peered from behind a cloud, silver and aglow against the black.
“He’s beautiful,” breathed Mable from behind her. Ora looked up at the woman on her right flank and grinned at the look of love and the shawl wrapped around her thin shoulders. As she watched her friend, she examined the wrinkles near her eyes and the creases around her mouth.
Her white hair had faded from its initial luminescence, a grey tint overtaking it as the braid fell down the center of her back. Age had found Mable.
“My love!” came the billow of an older man with the same grey hair and wrinkles. He trudged over them, his trousers and sweater muddied with his work. Mable turned towards him with a smile and a finger towards the heavens.
“They’re beautiful tonight,” she remarked, spinning as he approached her. His grey beard lifted as he grinned at her, love dancing across his old eyes. He took her hand and kissed it.
“As are you, my dear,” he replied and the woman giggled with vigor. After a moment, he turned to the young girl sitting with her knees to her chest.
“Ora, my dear! I didn’t even see you.” She replied to him with a sweet smile and she nodded. “Do you mind if I steal my wife away to our cabin?”
“Of course not, Rasmus; you’re welcome to her any time you like.” Ora nodded, speaking sweetly and smiling at the older couple. Another kiss to his wife’s hand and he led her away, chuckling and cooing as if they had only just fallen in love.
“She’s growing old,” Ora whispered.
She has chosen to love another. We gave you the same option, parvulus.
“I’ve never chosen another over you,” she began. She watched the crowd begin to dissipate, small children running ahead of their parents as they lingered behind, hands interlaced and arms touching.
Intermingling in the group, men and women with bright white hair remained. Their bright eyes continued to stare up into the sky with appreciation, perfect faces locked in their looks of ardency. They were a few of those she’d known since her birth, right there in the field she sat so peacefully in.
Ora stood, pushing herself up from the chilled ground with her hands and wiping them on her rough skirt, a short length below her knees and a light tan. Her bodice was a cornflower blue with brown straps to attach a pack to from the back of her dress.
She made her way to her little house to sleep through the rest of the night, wrapping herself in the quilted blankets she had made herself. Out the window, stars twinkled on the horizon, Sleep well, solum amor.
When her eyes opened in the morning, her homely cottage was filled with sunshine. Voices murmured outside the door, a sense of dread coating them as they hit her ears. Her arms reached above her head slowly, a stretch wracking her body, and she groaned. A deep sigh left her and she flipped her legs over the edge of the bed. The grass outside danced.
As she stepped through the door, she saw the crowd. They were huddled and nervous, glancing at each other with tense faces. A young man stood at the back of the crowd with his arms cross, his hair bright, his skin flawless.
“Joah,” she whispered as she came upon him. He turned and smiled thinly.
“Morning, Ora,” he responded in a low voice, then turned back towards the water they all stood in front of.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, concern riddling her features.
“They’ve found a dead deer,” he began. “It’s young, so thought not to have drowned. The water isn’t that deep.” Ora listened to him anxiously, waiting for a straight answer. He was quiet.
“So what is thought?”
“Some think it’s diseased.” Her heart jolted with the idea.
“A diseased animal in…”
“In our water.” They both sat in silence as their peers murmured with the same fear. She looked at her friend and bit her lip. His stillness unnerved her and she ached for movement.
“What do you suppose we’ll do?” he asked her. Ora scowled at the question.
“Why would you ask me?” Their raised voices attracted attention and the whispering group turned to them.
“Because you’re… You were the first. You’re always a part of decisions.” Ora considered this with hunched shoulders, hugging herself anxiously. The sun shown brightly on her from directly above.
“I…” She looked up at their expectant faces. “I don’t know where… Or how.” They looked away from her and at each other with hopelessness. Joah straightened his stance.
“Someone needs to find a new water source,” he spoke, projecting over the crowd.
“And when they do?” came a nameless voice.
“And if they don’t?”
“What do we do? We’ll die.”
“The Coelum wouldn’t allow it.”
“Do we not thirst? Do we not hunger?” The last voice was desperate, loud. A subtle sense of panic began to arise in the crowd. “We can’t drink this water.”
“We must find more.”
“But where? None among us have ventured so far.”
“We’ve never the need to.” A silence fell over them that felt like loss. With the loss came mourning, mourning their lives before they had been lost.
“Please!” Ora called out, dropping her fists to her sides. “Please don’t despair.” A sea of bright eyes stared at her. “I will go.” Gasps responded.
“But Ora, you’re so…”
“You’re so young.” At that, she smiled.
“I have been here the longest of all of us, and have known more of the earth as well.” As she said this, she felt her heart flutter in her chest and she took a deep breath of the summer air. Joah turned to her and took her by the arm with his wide hands.
“You don’t have to do this. There are others, there are-”
“You heard me, Joah. I’m the oldest of us, and therefore, only have reason to go.” Joah frowned but didn’t release her arm.
“This worries me,” she said too quietly for the rest to hear. Ora smiled and laid a gentle hand on the fingers wrapped around her upper arm.
“I know.” She turned to the crowd again. “I will go with tomorrow’s sunrise.” After another content silence, she turned back towards her hut, her skirt swaying and her heart pounding.
The sky had only begun to be tainted with light, the black of midnight swirling with the lilac of dawn. She stretched from her sleep and stood at her window. She pushed back the woven curtain and glanced out at the last of the stars. “Give me strength.”
As the sky lightened, she packed her things. Every item she would need for a long trip was fit into her pack with tears falling in with each.
The road was rough, no paths sewn by feet with rocks and tall grass to impede her. She tied her skirt high around her thighs to keep it from tearing on foliage and jagged stone.
Heat beat down on her through the day as she spoke to herself with encouragement. The journey ahead presented her with what she had been looking for without knowing it: more.
After a day that seemed to last weeks, the sun finally came to rest. As her tired legs started to wobble with the trek, she found an open space of soft sand. She set her pack down and sat next to it with labored breathing. The night closed in around her and she felt trapped for the first time since her making. Her opal eyes darted around the grass that enveloped her. The darkness creaked and howled around her. The grass shifted in a cold wind that quickly escalated.
She lifted her head from her knees and stared into the dense blackness. The moon was covered by clouds. From the darkness moved figures she recognized as her own but no one familiar. A laugh rattled through the weeds and she pulled herself further into the dark.
As her ears filled with a cacophonous ringing, she covered them desperately. Her breath picked up. It raced as she begged for her moon, she begged for her stars, she begged for help.
“Aaaaah!” A thundering scream came from the tall grass somewhere near hear as she shut her eyes. A slashing, yellow glow twirled and darted back and forth behind her eyelids. She heard a man, cursing and calling to the shadows she had seen.
Suddenly, the whirling orb she shut her eyes to stopped moving and the hollering stopped. All that could be heard was heavy breathing, and how she hoped it was the newcomer.
“Young lady,” said a soft voice from the darkness. “Young lady, please, calm down.” Ora realized the quick, heavy breathing was her own. She opened her eyes.
The fire at the end of his torch burned brilliantly, blinding her to the stranger’s face.
“Are you alright?” he asked softly, lifting the torch above his head and his features cleared through the intense gleam. The opal translucency glistened as their eyes met. Her lips the shade of pink pearls slightly parted. Her white hair had fallen over his eyes.
“Yes,” she squeak, her voice small with her fear. He brushed the hair away from her eyes and let out a breath of surprise.
“Well, you were very close to not being so, if you don’t mind my saying. What do you think you’re doing out here all alone?” She sat up a little straighter and he leaned back in his crouched position. He plunged the torch into the ground and crossed his wrists over his knee.
“I’m looking, I’m… I’m looking for,” she tried to speak clearly but her throat was dry and her mind raced.
“Shh, sh, sh,” he soothed, reaching out to touch her pale shoulder. “It’s alright. We’re safe now.”
“I’m looking for a new place. Our water supply was poisoned.” She nodded curtly and tucked her tangled hair behind her ear.
“Well, just so happens…” he started, smiling softly. His hair dangled near his eyebrows, honey gold and kinked. His skin was bronze and smooth in the firelight. “I know of a place.” Her heart fluttered with hope.
“Really?” she asked. “Are you sure?”
“Well, I know what water looks like,” he said, chuckling and she laughed with him.
“I’m sorry. That’s just so exciting. I thought I’d never make it back.”
“So, you have quite a home, then? With family?”
“In a way.”
“What way is that?” She looked up at the sky and he watched her.
“The stars are shut away now, but I’m from them. We’re all from them.” She smiled at the dark sky, and when she looked back at him, his eyebrows were furrowed with concern.
“From… the stars?”
“Yes.” After a moment longer of his incredulous stare, sat back in the dirt.
“Then we better get some sleep if we’re to venture out tomorrow. The Star People need their water and quick, I imagine.” She smiled and watched him as he adjusted his pack behind his head and shut his eyes. “Goodnight…?”
The morning brought the sun and she sat up to him tending a small, dwindling fire.
“I grilled some leeks.” She hugged her knees.
“Thank you,” she said, sleepily rubbing her eyes as he handed her a roughly carved serving plate. His smile sent warm shivers down her arms and he went back to his own breakfast.
“Where are you from?” she asked, gritting her front teeth against the fibers of the vegetable. He remained quiet and stared pensively, a sadness painting his face.
“Do you have a family?” He remained quiet. Then he stood, and offered her his hand.
“Time to go. That family of yours needs its water.” She took his hand and an unbalanced hand touched his chest to steady herself. Her pallor cheeks filled with a shy glow.
They walked all day, his boots tromping down the rough, scorched grass and she followed with bare feet. Watching him ahead of her, she felt warmth in her body she hadn’t felt before in her village. The chill of moonlight ebbed away.
“Have you always walked alone?” she asked, breaking the silence between them. He glanced over his shoulder at her and grinned.
“Yes, ma’am. Nothing but the wind and the road and the sunshine.” He took a few more steps before glancing again. “And of course, the mud and the rain and the animals that want to kill me.”
“Like those animals last night?” she asked, leaning in her stride to see more of his face.
“Those weren’t animals,” he said sternly. She waited in silence. “Those were… That was Darkness. I was surprised when they weren’t around for me to chase off my camp,” he said with a quirk in his voice. “Then I found you.” He winked at her over his shoulder and she grinned.
“I’m glad you did.”
The sunset captured her attention in a way it hadn’t before and she stopped to absorb its beauty. He stood next to her, arms crossed and smile soft and warm.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Different every day,” he said, shifting his weight towards her. “That’s my favorite part.”
“I’ve never appreciated it in such a way.” Her white skin looked golden in the evening sun. He watched her stare, his eyes alight with her beauty.
“First time for everything.” She looked up at him and they shared a smile.
“I don’t know your name,” she said with a mixture of surprise and disdain. “You never told me.”
“Finlo. My name is Finlo.” He reached up and tucked her ivory hair behind her hair. “I’ll set up camp.”
She watched him go and her skin warmed.
The night and day went, quickly overtaken by the tedium of walking. The fire crackled and spit tiny, spinning embers into the air. Ora watched as they danced.
“You’re the loveliest thing I’ve ever seen.” His voice startled her and she looked at him with wide eyes. He watched her from the fireside, reclining on his left elbow in the moss and sticks and dirt. He had given her his tanned skin blanket.
“I– I am?” she stuttered. He nodded, his green eyes alive with the fire and want. Her heart sped up with the exhilaration, with the heat.
“I’ve never seen another creature like you. You’re…” He came close enough to touch her, on his hands and knees, fingertips reaching out to touch her cheek. “You’re magnificent.”
She caught her breath and held it, the burning in her chest and pelvis growing the closer Finlo came. His breath was even and smelled of sweet char. Her skin prickled at his touch.
“I want to know you,” he said, bringing his face close to hers. She hoped desperately he’d close the gap. Her bosom rose with the intensity of her desire.
“You… you want…”
He kissed her. His mouth crashed into hers, their lips soft and gyrating against one another as they moaned deeply. Ora was excited, confused by her craving, by the greed she felt for his body and he leaned her down on the plush hide of his blanket.
They spent the night together, the moon shining brightly on their skin. She took no notice, her eyes and mouth and hands utterly preoccupied with the glow of her new lover’s body.
Ora opened her opal eyes to the singing forest around her, the green of the emerald leaves waving in the gentle breeze of morning. The gold of the cascading sunlight appealed to her in a new way. The sounds of a creek could be heard nearby, rolling into a clear pool a few yards away. Her heart sang at the realization that she had found what she had been searching for. The fear she had experienced for the first time would be quenched. She would see the ones she loved live long lives, free of disease and never having known the experience of going without. She wondered if they would move to this place, with security and beauty and with Finlo. Her thoughts surprised her.
Then she felt his strong hands caress her from behind, palm sliding over her curved waste and around to grip her bare ribs.
“Good morning, beautiful,” he whispered, his lips almost touching the tip of her ear as he spoke. He sighed as he lay next to her, pressing his own bare chest against her back and nestling into her hair. She couldn’t hold her smile back, her chiseled cheekbones lifting with her overwhelming happiness. “How are you feeling?”
“Well. So well, I could… I just,” she chirped, rolling towards him and relishing the feel of his hand on the small of her back, her bare skin warm in the morning light.
“Just what?” he asked with a relaxed expression of contentment, his smile accompanied by a deep dimple on the left side. His voice was low, gravelly in his bliss.
“I can’t describe it. This is so new, I never thought…” Finlo began kissing her jaw and along her cheek, to her ear and across her eyebrow, as he waited for her to finish.
“I never thought I feel… this way. I’ve always been so devoted- They don’t want us to-” She quieted and leaned into his kisses. Her large, round eyes misted. A single tear fell into his nose.
“Ora,” he said, uncertain and surprised. “Ora, what is it?”
“The way I feel,” she began, “if it continues, if it continues and we…” He smiled.
“Fall in love?”
“If I love you, I lose…” He waited again. “I lose their love.” His forehead creased as he searched her face for understanding.
“Who?” She brushed her long fingers over his cheek, the bristle of it tingling their tips.
“The Stellarum. The moon. The stars. The celestial beings who made us, for them, to love them.” He understood, slowly, with derision tugging at his features.
“Ora, you are a woman. A woman to love and be loved. You are to experience life and happiness in all ways. You aren’t an object. You can’t exist to be used. I want to…” He kissed her face. “I want to make you happy, for you, because you deserve it.” Ora shook in his arms.
“I don’t know if I can,” she said. Fear gripped her.
“You can.” Finlo brushed at her hair and smiled brilliantly. “Let me make you happy.”
She sighed and looked in his eyes, green and full of love and deep enough to fit the world around her. In her own, he saw the sky: sparkling and infinite in their beauty.
Mable bent over the fence to rip at weeds in her garden. She placed them in her pocket in her skirts and dusted her hands off. The sun beat down on her forehead and she wiped at it with a bare forearm. Her husband dipped into a bucket of rain water, collected over days. He frowned at the level, quickly reaching the bottom of the wooden container. Mable sighed, fear gripping her. “Oh, Ora, where are you?” She looked up at the sky for her invisible sovereigns.
As she let her vision fall, it caught itself on the horizon. A small hill protruded and blocked the blue sky and the lands behind from sight. There, Mable saw movement. She saw figures, shifting against the azure, in step with the other’s natural sway. Long, white hair blew in the breeze and her heart clenched at the possibility. “Ora?”
She began to walk towards the figures, then started to run with a hand holding her dress from her feet. “Ora!” she called, waving the other wildly in the air. The figures ran towards them.
“Mable!” Ora cried, her hand clasped tightly in Finlo, who ran with her, laughing loudly. “Mable, I found it!”
They met at the bottom of the hill, and Mable’s eyes were wet with tears. She kissed Ora’s cheeks again and again, holding her face in her hands.
“Ora, we were so worried. We were so worried you would be harmed.” They laughed as they spoke and embraced and kissed.
“Of course, of course. I’m fine. I’m safe. I’m… I’m perfect. Finlo saved me, he found me and…” She turned and looked into Finlo’s smiling eyes and took his hand again. “He saved me, from everything.” Mable looked up at the newcomer and smiled, knowingly.
“We thank you, stranger,” she said, taking his free hand in the both of hers. “We can’t tell you how important it is to have Ora safe with us again.”
“I have an idea,” he said and winked, leaning to kiss Ora’s forehead.
“Will you be staying?” Mable asked, cautiously, sending a glance toward the grinning young woman beside her.
Finlo adjusted his shoulders and cleared his throat, “Well,” he began, “If… If you’ll have me.” As he finished his sentence, Ora jumped into his arms and pressed her curled lips against his. He wrapped his strong, tan arms around her lythe frame and held her in the air. Ora’s hands found his golden hair and Mable’s husband trotted up to the group, his hat in hand.
“Ora!” he cried and Mable placed a steady hand to his chest. They shared a look, happy and knowing. The couple before them stared into each other’s eyes, overtaken by the elation.
Ora turned and hugged the older man in front of her. “I’ve found it,” she said with a new glow in her skin, a warmth in her eyes. “I’ve found the light of my life.”