The air was damp and cool in the dim early morning light. Helena stood stone still over the proceedings, her thoughts a million miles away, refusing to fully accept the scene before her.
“And so we release this body once inhabited by our beloved Ezeal into the chasm to return to the trees. May his spirit ride the winds and watch over his daughter, Helena, now alone in this world.”
The body, wrapped in long strips of cloths was released from where it had previously been lain amongst the ancient, twining branches that formed a sort of ledge. A few colored strips were left loose so they fluttered as the body fell, descending in to the deep, thick darkness below. The chasm was a sacred place, kept clear of branches and obstructions; it was one of the rare places where one could see down into the depths, unobscured. After a while, the body faded from view, a memory against the blackness.
He was gone. The finality of it hit her hard, a choking feeling deep in her chest. She gasped, and looked up, refusing to feel, to linger on that feeling that caused her breath to catch and rasp in her throat. As she did so, she caught the eye of Betrean, standing across the chasm with his mother. He gave her a sympathetic smile, and turned to help his mother and leave her to grieve, as did everyone else. She slumped back against a thick branch, her eyes clenched shut and let herself think on the future, rather than the past, or the pain of loosing her father.
Her thoughts went to Betrean, and the fact that soon she would be living in his house under the watch of his mother, the Elderwoman Rosslean. She had grown up with the young Betrean. He was a charmer, that one. He had such a way with people.
When they were growing up, her father was often called to aid Beteran's ailing father. Despite the fact that she was a starchild, Betrean treated her as an equal, as if she were just another of the children that frequented the large house. They played endlessly amongst the twining vines and branches of that old, intricately woven old house. They played hide and seek, immidated bird calls, and had climbing races, which Betrean would always win, despite the barbed gloves and other tools her father had made for her to adapt.
While other children avoided her, Betrean never shied away from Helena, the tribe’s starchild. People of the stars were rare, and for the tribe to have adopted a single abandoned child of the stars, it made her a strange and rare oddity. While she held a place of value and significance, it did not make her life one of ease. Her father and mother, before their passing treated her as if she was a normal Teagean child. Well, as much as they were able, and did their best to helper adapt and fit in. Despite their best efforts, she was still different, and shunned by many of the children and she lead a life of isolation.
As she stood in silence by the deep, dark chasm, a voice called out to her.
Helena smiled. It was Dialeana, a girl younger than her, who was one of the other few rare youths that would even dare speak to her.
“Hardly,” Helena replied, bemused.
Dialeana nodded grimly. “I suppose you wouldn’t. Not after your recent turn of luck, eh? You, the starchild are now practically an Elder.”
Helena shook her head sadly. “Again, hardly. I’m simply pondering over my future, my place in the tribe.”
Dialeana laughed now. “Ah, your place. Your place is to do as you please! You are part of the tribe, now under the protection and care of the Elder Rosslean. Yet, as a starchild you are not one of us. As I said, you will be forgiven, any misdeeds overlooked. Such privilege. Use it!”
Helena laughed. “And do what?”
“Run amuck! Within reason, of course. Oh, how I would love to be in your place. To not be bound by the expectations to find a mate, raise a family, to be a proper woman of the tribe.” She put her hands on her hips and stuck out her chest. “I would be a warrior! I would spend my time with any of the males that pleased me!” She sighed, and leaned on the thick, gnarled tree trunk beside Helena. “Alas, I am what and who I am… bound to family and home.”
“And I am whom I am…” Helena said softly, watching the lovely Dialeana with her long, silky brown locks, streaked with green. Her hair caught in the breeze that rose up from the chasm, much like those trailing ribbons of her father’s death dressings only a short time earlier. Dialeana was everything a Teagean should be: long limbed, limber with dark, mottled skin and lovely, long tapered fingers and toes. When Dialeana met Helena’s wistful gaze, Helena’s eyes dropped to her own stubby toed and woefully flat feet.
“I would trade you, if I could,” her voice was a barely audible murmur.
Dialeana only laughed lightly. “You should be proud, indulge yourself. Do you truly not see the men admiring your exotic beauty? Their eyes linger wonderingly on you, your body, so like ours, yet a mystery to them. You are so full, your skin and hair so lovely pale, like starlight. You shine like a beacon, a light amongst us. Why do you cling to our traditional modesty when you are on the outside, free in ways I could never be?” Dialeana gave her a wicked look then. “Besides, I hardly think you would have to worry about the risk of being with child.”
Helena looked away at that final comment, hiding the hurt as best she could as Dialeana continued on, her voice filled with envy and wonder. “Oh, how I wish I were you…”
“And I you…” Helena replied.
YOU ARE READING
bit·ter·sweet: being at once bitter and sweet; especially: pleasant but including or marked by elements of suffering or regret. A collection of short stories I've written since joining Wattpad for various contests, challenges and publications. The...