My name is Elloraine, but I have been forgotten. The stars are bright, and Matron tells us that they are full of life — but our star system has been forgotten in the darkness of space. Nevertheless we still have hope, for almost all of my sisters are betrothed.
It is said that when the Savant chooses a bride, then we will be remembered. I sit here, braiding my sister Abigail’s hair; she is excited to finally see the dark star, and of course to meet the Savant. He probably will not choose her; after all, he has held no interest in any other daughter of light for over six thousand years. But if he is kind, or if he is lonely, then he might take Abigail. She is kind, and there are not many brides left unclaimed on the planet of light; he must choose one soon, or all hope will be lost.
Abigail turns to me, smiles and presses her hand against her cheek to thank me, then departs. My sister Hilda is next; she moves her hand in a circle around the back of her head, so I begin twirling and shaping her hair into a bun.
I met him once, the Savant. Three thousand, two hundred years ago I made the journey to the dark star, to find a husband. During the following reprieve, when my journey-sisters were able to speak again, they told me that I spent too much time with the Savant, that I should have saved my Breath for a more achievable Word-bearer. Perhaps they were right.
One day I will return to the dark star, after all of my other sisters have had their chance to visit. He will not remember me, but that is okay. Next time I will be practical; I will give my wine offering to another, and receive grain from any Word-bearer who deigns to take notice of me.
When the bun is complete, Hilda turns to me, draws a circle in the air, and holds out her hand. “How much longer?” the gesture asks. I shrug, and draw three quarters of a circle in response. “It should be soon,” is the reply, although that really is just a guess. I complete three more hairstyles before the outbound portal begins to crackle with electricity.
My sisters gasp. For many, this is their first time sitting near the portals at the opening of a reprieve. But I can hear their gasp! I clear my throat, and try to speak a word. “My sisters!” I say; many turn. In delight, we break out in laughter, and a few start singing — we are finally be able to speak again, for an entire year! One year of speech, followed by six years of silence. But we endure the silence with patience, for one day the Savant will choose a bride, and we will be remembered.
My sisters pick up their wineskins; some bring bulls and donkeys to help with the load. Soon everyone around me is streaming into the portal, to visit and trade with the dark star, until after three hours of commotion, I am left alone.
But I am not alone — “Abigail, why are you still here?” I ask. She is standing with her donkey, far away from the portal.
“It is not my turn to go,” she replies. I frown, then open my book, and thumb through the pages a bit.
“Abigail Ciadi, your name is right here. Matron told me that it is your time to go.”
Abigail smiles impishly, walks behind me, and starts redoing my hair. “I am Matron.”
I whirl around; Abigail’s face has changed; I gasp. “Matron! How did you change your face?”
“That does not matter; just turn around; I need to do your hair.”
I turn around, and feel her fingers begin a braid. “Why?”
“Because you are going in my place. I wanted to be sure you made it onto the list, so I reserved a spot under ‘Abigail Ciadi.'”
Even with the ability to speak, I do not know what to say. “Thank you, Matron.”
“You are welcome.” She spends over an hour on my hair, continuing in silence. When she is finally done, I face Matron, to find a brilliant smile on her face. “Not many of your sisters have taken my advice to heart.”
“What do you mean?”
“Years ago, after your first trip, when we spoke at the end of the reprieve. Do you remember what I told you?”
“Of course Matron,” I laugh. I remember everything she tells me, every time I get to see her. “You said, ‘Whoever would be remembered most among you must be the servant of all.'”
“You spend your leisure on your sisters, tending their flocks, working their vineyards, doing their hair on the eve of a reprieve, all without asking for payment of any kind. To this day you have never even asked me for a second trip to the dark star.”
“I thought others should have the chance to go first, before my second.”
“Your kindness is a credit to you, Elloraine. Go, find a husband; you will be remembered well.” Matron wipes a tear from my eye, gives me her donkey, and ushers me into the portal.
Inside is darkness, but there is a glimmer of light somewhere ahead, around a bend in the hallway, off to the right. The hallway opens into a massive chamber that is dark, and speckled with pins of light, like the stars in the sky. I see the multi-colored auras of my sisters, and the bright white lights of the Word-bearers with whom they are speaking, hoping of course to join in betrothal.
I bind my donkey near the others, relieve the burden of wine and give him a pat on the head. Then I walk down a nearby path through the grain, meandering with no particular destination in mind. I walk for hours, completely unnoticed. Every Word-bearer in sight is already engaged in conversation with my sisters; I suppose I could join a conversation, but I would think it better not to interrupt the budding of a fresh union. Perhaps farther down the road I will find Word-bearers that my sisters have not yet reached.
I come to a metal wall with a gateway that I have seen before — an entrance to the observatory of the dark star. I step inside.
The room is no larger than seventy kilometers in height and width, but it displays a brilliant view of the stars that I have not seen in over three thousand years. I remember this place; I see our planet through the curved glass wall. I see the tiny star that orbits our planet as a moon, providing light to our wineries, and granting us warmth. And I see the other planet — the dark planet, that has no moon. It has no light, and the telescopes reveal it to be covered with mountains of ice.
Some of my sisters are here, but we are all silent, watching a handful of Word-bearers recalibrate one of the telescopes. “Project it onto the wall,” one of them commands — I recognize him.
It is the Savant! I gasp, as do a few others in the room. The Savant never speaks — not even during a reprieve. In a moment, the stars are covered with a holographic projection of ice, presumably the dark planet. There is a gash, or a canyon in the face of the planet, but that is not what interests the Savant. “Who is she?” he asks, pointing to a light hovering over the expanse of the canyon. After a minute, the light descends below the face of the rocks, and can be seen no more.
The room stirs with commotion. Before I am aware of it, my feet move, drawing me closer to the Word-bearers surrounding the Savant. My heart yearns to know more about the light on the dark planet, the girl who actually caught and held the Savant’s attention. They are watching a video replay of the light before it disappeared. The Savant speaks, barely more than a whisper, “She is like a jewel, hung over the expanse like a necklace.”
I keep out of the way; I just want to see what they see, to hear anything else he might say. The Savant passes near me with another Word-bearer. Our eyes meet briefly as he passes on by, but I see no recognition in them. He does not remember me; of course he does not remember me; I was that random awkward girl who would not leave his side three thousand years ago.
But then he returns. “Elloraine?” He asks; I catch my Breath when he smiles. “Elloraine, you are back! It is so good to finally see you again.” He gestures to the other Word-bearer. “Brent, hold up a minute; there is someone you must meet.”
“This is Elloraine,” he repeats my name, melting my heart. “She does the hair for all of the Breath-bearers who come through the portal every year.”
I hold back a tear as the other Word-bearer takes my hand. “Only those who come through the Delevian port,” I reply with gratitude.
“It is great to meet you; Deuteroseth speaks so highly of you.” The comment surprises me.
“You are saying he actually speaks?” I then tease the silent Savant. “Such moments are rare as legend.”
“Ever since he first saw light on the dark planet, I have not been able to get him to shut up.” I break out in laughter, thoroughly endeared to this Brent. He smiles, takes my hand again, then excuses himself with a promise to come find me at the end of the day.
“The two of you should really get to know one another,” the Savant tells me as Brent leaves. “He has sacrificed so much for his little brother, choosing to be forgotten by the rest of the galaxy so that I might have an aide in this exile. And you are like him, are you not? It is always such an encouragement to hear of what you do for your sisters, to see your kindness in their hair whenever they visit us.”
The Savant leaves, and I blink. In all of these years, I never actually believed that it would happen.
But the day has come. My name is Elloraine, and I have been remembered.
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