The Duty of Stars

 

  

   There was once a young lady named Miss Aurora.  She had raven hair and dusky skin and almond shaped onyx eyes with a happy secret winking out of them, and she taught the little children at the local school.

     She lived alone, in a little house at the base of the mountains, where the tall trees bent in the wind and the breezes whispered secrets to each other of ancient places and fairy dells.  Miss Aurora liked to stand in the sunlight and listen to the gossiping breezes, but she couldn’t quite understand what they said.

     There came a night when the winds whispered frightened words, and Miss Aurora went inside and locked the door, turning on the brightest lights in the house and sitting up on the sofa most of the night.  There was a scratching noise at the windows and on the porch, but Miss Aurora remained utterly still, and eventually fell asleep, wrapped tight in a blanket and facing the door.

     When she went to the school in the morning, the smile in her eyes was dimmer, and she was quiet and tired.  The children noticed and were very well behaved till the last bell rang, when they silently filed into the hall, casting many a backward glance at Miss Aurora sitting at her desk with her head bowed into her hand.

     The next night and day was much the same, but when the last bell rang one little boy remained behind, and stepped up to the desk as the other children filed into the bus outside.

     “Miss Aurora,” Robbie whispered, “Have the Goblins been bothering you?”

     “I don’t know any Goblins,” Miss Aurora replied.

     “Yes, you do. They whisper outside of your window at night.”

     Aurora shuddered.

     “I have a secret for you,” the little boy said.  He stood on his tiptoes and leaned across the tall desk, whispering loudly: “Just wish upon the nearest Star, and he’ll come and scare the Goblins away!”

     Miss Aurora smiled a small, sad smile, and patted Robbie’s head.  “Thank you. I’ll remember that when the Goblins come again.”

     Robbie smiled and ran out of the classroom without a backward glance.

 

     That night when Miss Aurora was wrapped in her blanket and turning off the lights, the scratches sounded at the windows again.  Creeping to the curtains, Aurora drew them aside, and saw a shadow darting into the forests.  Dirty smudges and scratches marred the window.  Aurora dropped the curtain and stepped back from the window, drawing her blanket close about her shoulders.

     She stood in silence for a moment, and then crept back to the window and peered out.  Yellow eyes glinted in the forest and disappeared.  Aurora shivered from her shoulders down to her toes, her breath quavering, and lifted her gaze to the sky.  The velvet indigo sky was studded with brilliant stars.  Aurora fastened her gaze on the brightest star she could see, and whispered:

     “I wish upon a Star…for protection…and…and companionship, so I won’t be so frightened.”

     And then she dropped the curtain and hurried to the sofa, where she curled up with a pillow and tried to fall asleep, ignoring the scratching at the door and the sniggering and moans that seeped through the cracks of the house.  She squeezed shut her eyes and clenched the blanket in her fists.

     A short scream outside made her bolt from the sofa.  She stood in the living room, staring at the door as a bright light moved around in the yard.  Now she had not only Goblins to worry about, but robbers as well!

     She stared at the light till it came to the door, and whoever bore the light tried the doorknob and found it locked.  There was a short pause, and then the knob twisted and the door drifted open.  A tall stranger entered the house, and brought the bright light with him, but he didn’t carry a flashlight or a lantern.  The shining light came from him, his skin and clothes and hair.  He closed and locked the door behind him, and turned around, starting when he saw Aurora.

     “Who are you?” she demanded.

     “I’m Shiloh,” he replied.  “Are…are you the only one living here?”

     Aurora glanced at the nearest lamp, only a few feet away, and sidled towards it.  “Yes. Why are you in here?”

     “You wished!” he exclaimed.  “At least…it must have been you, if only you are here, and you can see me, after all, which most adults cannot do. You did wish for me, didn’t you?”

     Aurora’s fingers slipped off the base of the lamp.

     “Did the stars send you?” she whispered.

     Shiloh laughed.  “I am the Star! I’m the one you looked at when you uttered your wish. I’ve frightened away all the Goblins, but that was not all that you wished. You said: Protection and friendship, to keep you from being frightened. And you do look frightened!”

     Miss Aurora stared at the strange, shining man.  “But you look human!”

     “But I’m a Star,” he replied.  “Most of the children say we look like Elves, actually.”  He turned his head and ran a fingertip over the point of his ear.  Then he held out his arms, and the beams of light that came from him fell across the kitchen. “What were you expecting?”

     “I…I don’t know. You…you’re safe, aren’t you? I mean, you only came here to scare away the Goblins?”

     “To protect you and be friends,” Shiloh replied, hesitantly, “unless you want me to go away.”

     Aurora tiptoed from the living room to where Shiloh stood, and extended a hand till her fingertips brushed his arm.  She studied his face, and he stared back into hers, until her fear dissipated and she turned to the fridge.  “Do you want a glass of juice?”

     Shiloh shrugged.

     “You can sit down,” Aurora suggested.  Shiloh sat on a barstool, and Aurora brought him a glass of orange juice before sitting down on the other side of the kitchen island.  He drank his juice slowly, watching her over the rim of the glass.

     “Do you know Robbie?” Aurora asked.

     “No…but I bet I know someone who knows Robbie.”

     “What do you do, being a Star?”

     “I travel the galaxies and scare away Goblins and other frightening, evil creatures,” he replied.  “The Stars are posted in the skies to watch over the children…and anyone who has the believing heart of a child,” he added, squinting at her.  “You’re the oldest person I’ve ever known to call upon a Star for protection!”

     Aurora blushed and bit her lip.  “Most adults don’t believe in Goblins, either.”

     “No, they do not,” Shiloh agreed.  “So…why do you?”

     Aurora shrugged.  “Why not? They’re real. I could not believe, and be safe, I suppose. But when I do believe, I can see other things…the way the tiny people in the wind catch the light of the sunset, or hear the voices of the trees, or feel the touch of the summer sprites on a warm afternoon. Just because the concept of hell is frightening, does not mean that I disbelieve in heaven. If I believe in Goblins and Ghouls, then I also believe in Elves and Fairies and Wood Sprites–and a Star that will come and keep me company.”

     Shiloh smiled.  “Elves are the form Stars take when they visit terrestrial worlds. I am an Elf, right now. It’s the same thing.”

     “I think I used to play with Elves, in my garden, when I was a very little girl.”

     “You probably did,” Shiloh answered.  “Now, let me see about setting defenses around your house.”

     He slipped out the door while Aurora ran to get her shoes and a jacket.  By the time she stumbled onto the porch, he was stepping onto it again, and cocked his head at her. 

     “Defenses are easily erected, Miss Aurora.”

     The woman paused.  “Did I tell you my name?”

     “No, it came along with your wish. Aren’t you frightened of robbers or vagabonds, living alone this far along the road?”

     “Not particularly. I keep my doors locked, and I know a few tricks to protect myself with things around the house.”

     They stepped into the house again, and Shiloh walked into the living room, appraising the atmosphere of the home.

     “Now that I’m your personal Star,” he said, “you can call on me whenever you need aid. Simply call my name, and I’ll come down. If you could also call up whatever the problem is, I appreciate that, so I can be prepared, but it isn’t necessary. Do you feel safe now?”

     Aurora glanced around her room and listened to the silence outside.  She nodded.  “Yes, I think I do. And…and if at any point I don’t…?”

     “Call for me,” he answered, grinning.

     He promptly disappeared in a beam of starlight, which left shining motes floating in the air for five seconds.  Aurora staggered back in shock, and sat down on the sofa, staring at where the mystical man had stood moments before.

     Despite her shock and the strangeness of it all, Aurora was unafraid to call for help when threatened, or companionship when frightened.  When she heard the trees whispering dark secrets and wondered what they said, she called on Shiloh, and he came down and interpreted for her; or, if it was too dark a secret to reveal, he would stay with her until they stopped speaking of it, and assure her that their words would mean no harm towards her.

     If she heard Goblins in the woods at night, she merely whispered his name, and the brilliant light streamed down, and brought with it the Elf who would frighten away the terrors.

    Aurora always tried to give him food and drink when he came down, as a token of gratitude, but he was seldom hungry, and seemed not to realize her intent, so she invented other ways to thank him.  In the early hours of the evening, when his light was one of the few stars shining in the heavens and she thought perhaps he was lonely, she would call up to him, but tell him to stay where he was and that she was all right, and then she would tell him about the children at the school, or what she had seen in the woods that afternoon.

     “Do you mind that I talk to you when you’re not here?” she asked one night.  She sat on the steps of the porch, staring into the velvet sky at the light that twinkled there.

     “No,” a soft reply came.  “You asked for companionship also. I cannot always be there, but you can always speak to me.”

     Aurora sat up tall.  “I didn’t know that you could talk back to me from way up there.”

     “No, I can only hear voices from impossibly far distances, not also make my own voice commute that distance,” he jested.  There was a short silence.  “I like your stories. I have not spent much time on earth, as some of the others have. But from you I feel I am becoming acquainted with it.”

     Aurora grinned and looked down at the grass, and in that second the Starway, the beams of light that Shiloh travelled on, connected to her yard and presented her Star.  Shiloh walked across the lawn and sat down beside her on the porch.

     “If you can talk to me, why do you usually not answer?” Aurora asked.  She cocked her head at him, black hair falling over her shoulder.

     “I am not always alone during my watch of the worlds,” he answered, “but the others cannot hear you. And sometimes I think you do not look for an answer.”

     “Only because I didn’t know that you could speak from that distance,” Aurora replied.  She gazed up into the Stars again.  “Are each of those Stars a person like you?”

     “Yes.”

     “And they are watching over the earth and other worlds?”

     “Indeed they are. Do you see that brightest one there? That is my father.”

     Shiloh leaned back, bracing himself with his hands behind him.  Aurora stared at the brightest Star for several minutes, and then leaned close to Shiloh and whispered: “Why is he the brightest?”

     Shiloh bent close to her and whispered back, “Because he is the King. He is the oldest and wisest of our people.”

     Aurora drew back a moment and studied Shiloh’s face again.  “You never mentioned… And how old is ‘oldest’?”

     “Hundreds of billions of years old,” he murmured.

     “Are you that old? I mean, not exactly as old, of course, as your father, because that’s ridiculous. But are you also hundreds of billions of years old?”

     “I’m hundreds of millions of years old. As earth considers it, I believe that is much younger. Age does not matter much to Stars. We burn on and on and we guard the light in the heavens. We are fragile in this state,” he gestured at the form he wore, “capable of being injured or killed, but when we are up there,” he nodded to the skies, “we are immortal. We keep to our duties until we are prepared to move on to our next state.”

     “What’s the next state?”

     “Does anyone perfectly know who has not travelled that way themselves? Even I do not know what lies behind the veil of night. It depends upon how well we kept our duties while here, and whether we improved the time that we had. I hope for something wonderful; sometimes I dream of it.”

     He looked down into her wide-eyed, contemplating face, and his lips lifted in a small smile.

     “Sometimes, while you sleep, and I gaze down to search these mountains for danger, I can almost see your dreams drifting about your pillow, and I wish I could see into them and understand what it means to be human.”

     “You think the key is in our dreams?”

     “I don’t know. I’m certain it would help.”

     They fell silent. Aurora stared into the winking Stars, but Shiloh watched the woodlands and the breezes and the bending grass; each wondered about the world in which the other lived.  This lasted till Aurora’s head began to droop, and Shiloh helped her stand and guided her into the house, where he hugged her goodnight and bid her goodbye.

     He waited by the door till he was certain she had stumbled off to bed, and then slipped out, locking the door behind him, and opening the Starway between Aurora’s yard and his homeland again.

     We would not understand his homeland, a world of endless light and music, where travel is swift and time is all but meaningless.  It is a world that knows not death, and seldom sees sorrow.  Those who dwell there are perhaps as eternal as this existence is capable of being.  They watch and pray and guard and burn in the immensity of the revolving universe, setting fire to the shadow, loving both the grandiosity of the twirling galaxies and the little dewdrops upon the grass in a maiden’s lawn. Rarely do they fear, and never do they abandon the beings or the worlds that they love.

     This world and these beings, balanced against our own world and our own civilization, throw into sharp contrast the darkness and rampant fear that roams streets and hearts.

     But Aurora’s heart was light, and she cast that light into all the shadows she found.  As the days passed, and she and Shiloh spoke and visited with one another, the woman’s light grew, and the Star’s path more often bent down to the terrestrial world.

     In the chill evenings of the waning year, Aurora would slip outside and call up to her Star, and run off into the woods to see the changes that winter brought to the mountains.  Shiloh would watch from the skies, and warn her of danger, and sometimes remind her to go home before it grew too dark.  As soon as he came once to join her, he was enamored by the forests, and would ever after join her in her evening rambles.

     The forests were not all that enamored him: Words that drifted on the wind; thoughts that saw inward and outward, too, and were wise and brave; a quick laugh; a lasting smile; onyx eyes that glinted with life; the soft touch of a fragile mortal hand.  Now and then, she fell asleep with her head on his shoulder as they sat on the porch, watching the Stars and woodlands.  On nights when she was too tired to explore the mountains, weary from the business of the day, he would sit with her as she worked, or hold her as she cried.  When the first snows of winter came, and she was free for a day, they romped in the freshly fallen snow, and he kissed her beneath the pines.

     It was shortly after this that he disappeared for nearly a week.  She did not see him in the skies at night, nor did he answer when she spoke to him and uttered her concerns.  She went to work and she came home and worried, and she watched for the light descending from the Stars, but it did not come.

     When it finally did, late on an icy night, she pulled on her coat and boots and ran onto the porch.  Shiloh smiled sadly and came up the stairs, hugging her tight and kissing the top of her head.

     “Why were you gone so long, and being so quiet?” she asked him, lifting her face.

     He tapped her nose with a fingertip.

     “Father had business for me to do. I’m sorry.”  He paused, and she nestled her face into his shoulder, breathing in the dust of galaxies and energy of the cosmos.  “I have more business yet to finish,” Shiloh murmured.  “I have a duty to my father and our Kingdom, but what of my duty to you? I am your Star, after all! Father says I must go away for a time. There are disturbances in worlds very far away, to which I must tend.”

     Aurora lifted her face again, studying his somber countenance.  “Is it very dangerous?”

     “I don’t know. I have not spent much time on the terrestrial worlds, save when I am with you. It is not the danger or the duty which gives me pause. It is the time that I shall be absent.”

     “How long?” Aurora asked.

     “Time is hardly accounted to amongst the Stars,” he replied.  He hesitated, and pushed her hair back from her brow.  “I don’t know. I know what the time shall be like for me, but I don’t know how it is measured for you. I fear it will be longer than you like.”

     “How long do you think this last week was?”

     “I don’t know! It seemed short for me. It was hardly anything.”

     “What do you think your time away will be like, according to you?”

     “Not lengthy, by any means, to me, but much, much longer than your weeks. Weeks are, according to you, a fourth of month, or about that?”

     “Yes.”

     “This shall be years then.”

     Aurora lowered her gaze again and pressed her face into his shoulder.  “Oh.”

     “It may be many years.”

     Aurora was silent. Shiloh gave her a tight squeeze.  “Are years a long time for you, Aurora?”

     She nodded without speaking.

     “You can still speak to me all the time and I’ll answer when I can. I may be very far away, but when I can I will listen for you. How does that sound?”

     She nodded again.  “When do you have to go?”

     “Tomorrow, when it is evening here,” he answered.

     “Do you have to go now? Can you stay for a little while?”

     “I will. Come inside.”

     He pulled her inside, and made cocoa while she sat at the island, staring at the counter or watching him by turns.  When the cocoa was ready, they went back outside and sat on the porch, and she stared at the place Shiloh usually appeared in the sky, while he contemplated the shadows in the woods.

     “I won’t see you in the sky for a very long time,” she murmured.

     He put an arm around her shoulders.  “And I shall not be able to look down upon the earth, as I usually do. I’ve asked father to keep an eye on you while I’m gone, and other Elves serving in this area will visit now and then. I promise. Are you terribly angry with me?”

     “I’m not angry at all…not at you. But it is disheartening. I will miss you.”  She sipped her cocoa.  “And we were growing so close.”

     He kissed the corner of her brow and whispered, “I love you.”

     “I love you, too.”

     He lifted her chin and kissed her lips, set aside his mug, and stood up.  “I have to go now. I will see you again, Aurora. I promise.”

     Aurora smiled faintly, rose, and embraced him again.  They held to each other for a few minutes, and then he kissed her brow again and patted her hair, and stepped away.  In a second more, the Starway had taken him away, and Miss Aurora stood alone.

     She still looked to the skies every night, and whispered her thoughts to Shiloh.  But his shining light was absent from the heavens and his gentle voice never replied.  Winter deepened, and then released its hold and was chased away by spring, with the sun beating down on the mountainsides, and then April showers that drenched the dirt and trees and brought out the brightest blossoms.  Still, she looked to the nighttime skies.  And still, only darkness and silence met her.

     Spring gave way to summer, and she wandered the mountains alone, watching the sprites and listening to the breezes and the trees.  Summer relented to autumn, and the world turned scarlet and gold.  Winter came again, first gray and then white.  Aurora stacked the books in the school and wrote on the chalkboard and smiled at the children just as she always did.  A year was gone by.

     And another year.  Her messages to the night sky grew shorter and shorter, till eventually she sat on the porch and said nothing, though her wondering thoughts screamed in her ears.

     A third year ran through her fingers.  She spent an evening or two with a friend from the school, who asked her questions and paid for her food, but when she went home again she felt lonelier than ever. 

     In the summer of the fourth year she accepted a job in a larger school, in a big, busy city with yellow streetlights and dirty windows.  Now she had no porch to sit on and watch the sky, but every night she would pause by her window and peer through the curtains, and for a time she almost expected to see his light there again.

     But it never was, and her hope faded.

     Three more years passed. The eighth began. On Christmas Eve she felt his voice whisper, very faintly, and almost imperceptibly: “Merry Christmas.” She looked to the Stars, but he was not there, and she crawled into bed and wept.

     She spent more evenings with other various individuals, but was never content afterwards.  She started talking to the sky again, saying everything that went through her mind and hoping that somewhere, wherever he was in the immensity of the universe, Shiloh at least heard the lingering echo of her voice.

     Then, in the ninth year, the talking to the sky abruptly stopped, and the crying in the night increased.  Aurora spent less time at the school and more time sitting or lying on a table in a white room.  She cut her long hair short, and ate little pills from orange cylinders many times a day.

     One night, in late November, she peered into the sky again, and whispered, “I love you,” one more time.  In the morning, she moved from her apartment to her parents’ house, and she rarely went to the window, much less outside at night, till eventually she grew a little stronger and could leave her bed when she chose.  She spent many hours playing the piano in the front room, or curled up with a book in bed.

The tenth year began in December. Christmas was crowded in the cozy house, but quieter than it should have been with so many there, and Aurora had many pictures taken of her nieces and nephews sitting with her by the tree, and many times a sibling would slip away from the others to wipe a tear from his or her eye.

     On New Year’s, in the evening, while fireworks crackled in the distance, Aurora went to bed.  An hour passed, and she was sleepless, lying with her eyes closed and her thin, frail body curled around a pillow.  Without warning, a warm hand rested on her hair, but she lay still, knowing that her parents often visited when she slept.  Fingertips gently mussed the short strands of black hair, and pressed the edge of her ear.

     “What year is it?” a soft voice asked.

     Aurora’s eyes flew open and she rolled over.  Shiloh smiled, but it was faint, and there was a shadow in his eyes.

     “I’ve gotten old!” Aurora exclaimed.  She rolled back over and clutched her pillow tight, staring at a corner of the room.

     “You’re not old, Aurora!” Shiloh replied.  He flopped onto the end of the bed and put his chin in his hand, blinking up at her.  “I’m old. You’re not yet forty…I think. What year is it, I ask again?”

     Aurora muttered a reply.

     “I don’t even know what year it was when I left,” Shiloh murmured.  “How long have I been gone, dear?”

     “Nine years,” she whispered.

     Shiloh stared at her.  “Is that a long time?”

     “Does it look like it’s been a long time?”  She looked down into his eyes.

     He studied her for a moment.  “No…but however long it has been, it does look as if it has been very hard on you. Are you well?”

     Aurora closed her eyes to hide the tears that welled up. “Why did you never speak to me?”

     “I did, every night, when I knew you’d be looking at the Stars. I…I know you must have been speaking to me, too, but I could never hear you. I was in a war. It was loud and busy, and though I tried very hard to listen, I could rarely hear more than the echoes of the cosmos. Did you never hear me?”

     “Only once, on Christmas Eve.”

     “I spoke to you every Christmas Eve. Say, why did you move here? Is this your parents’ house?”

     “Yes.”

     “Are you well, Aurora?”

     She opened her eyes and met his gaze again, but said nothing, and he touched her foot, which was wrapped tightly in a blanket.

     “You are very thin, and you look tired–and I know it isn’t because I woke you.”

     “I have cancer.”

     Shiloh hesitated.  “I don’t understand.”

     “My body is ill and fighting itself. I…I am very sick.”

     Shiloh crawled off the bed again and came around, kneeling so that he could look into her eyes.  He touched and studied her skin and her eyes, and ran his hand through her short hair, murmuring beneath his breath in a language she did not know.  Eventually, he rested his chin atop his arms, on the edge of the bed, and merely stared at her.

     “How long have you been ill?” he whispered.

     “Several months…half a year?”

     “What do your doctors say?”

     “They said to go to my family, and rest, and try to enjoy myself.”

     Shiloh stared at her till she added:

     “They said two months ago that I only had four months to live. The treatments were killing me just as fast as the cancer, and making me so ill that we thought I’d better come be with my parents, and rest.” 

     She took his hand, and he hid his face against the mattress.

     “Was I gone that long?” he mumbled.

     “Oh, Shiloh. These things happen to humans. It doesn’t have to be over a very long time. Even children get cancer sometimes. We’re fragile and short-lived. I’m very sorry. I could never match you, you know. I’m not sure if the extra fifty or sixty years I could have lived otherwise would even seem to be any longer to you than these two months shall be. I would always have died too soon. I’m only human. I’m sorry.”

     He rose from the floor and sat on the bed beside her, gathering her into his arms and kissing her brow as he had done years before.

     “These are but days to you,” Aurora whispered, and she wept.  Shiloh held her, and whispered comfort to her, till she fell asleep, and then he slipped away, and returned to his post in the sky, staring down at the earth with a heavy and perturbed heart.

     He returned to her in the morning, entreated her to rise from her bed, and sat with her in the flowerbeds in her parents’ back yard.  The flowerbeds were barren and gray, and no curtain of snow veiled the winter-dead world.  Shiloh piled dry leaves in her lap and kissed her gaunt cheek, and brought her back inside before she could grow too cold.  He sat beside her as she played the piano, and now and then her mother would glance in at her, and see only her daughter, with a fresher glow to her cheek and a small smile on her lips, bent over the black and white keys.  Her mother thought: “It will not be long now.”

     “The years were long for you,” Shiloh said, as he tucked Aurora into bed that night.  “Did you never love another?”

     “Sometimes I tried, but it felt wrong,” she murmured.

     “Do you still love me?” he whispered.

     “Of course I do. How could one fall out of love with a Star?”

     He smiled faintly.  “I love you, too. I wish we had more time! I will come and be with you often. Do you mind that?”

     “No. It will make me happy. You’ve been gone…now that you’re back I’d love for you to visit often, while you can.”

     He visited every day.  That month drew to a close.  Aurora’s health continued to decline, and sometimes for whole days she would lie in bed, in pain, though she tried not to show it, and smiled bravely at Shiloh while he was with her.  When he was not with her, he was studying all that he could about this disease that was claiming her life.  The Stars had no medicines for humans, and the medicines they used on themselves would be far too strong for a mortal.  Even amongst the medicines they used while on earth, in their Elvish forms, there was nothing that could cure the woman.

     So Shiloh would sit by her bedside and try to cheer her heart, and return to the skies at night and weep, and his light in the darkness grew brighter because of the tears that streamed down from his loft.

     As they approached the final days of her mortal existence, the Star realized that he wanted to be closer to her, able to show his love clearer, and perhaps convince her of how precious she was to him.

     And so, on a February night when an ice storm was raging outside, he slipped a slender silver band, studded with the glinting dust of the heavens, onto her frail, withering finger.  He kissed her goodnight, and in the morning he returned with his father–who hardly looked older than his son save that his eyes were full of ancient wisdom and sorrow and joy–and the King of the Stars sealed their wedding vows.  He watched them for a time.  Aurora could not rise from her bed.  Shiloh knelt beside her, grinning and effusive with happiness, but weeping at the same time.  Any doubt the King had harbored about his son’s affections for a mortal dwindled, and he watched first with curiosity, then wonder, then delight, and then suddenly a deep and powerful devastation, because Aurora feel asleep, in the middle of one of her own sentences.  Shiloh tucked the blanket in around her frail form, and looked up to his father.

     “Why is she dying?” the King asked.

     Shiloh was startled by his father’s expression of horror.

     “She has cancer; I have told you of all of this.”

     “But she is not really old, even amongst the mortals. Why must she deal with such pain, and wither and die, so young?”

     Shiloh looked to Aurora again.  She was frighteningly thin.  The Elf did not answer his father, but crawled into bed behind his bride, and tenderly, and oh-so-carefully, gathered her in his arms, resting his cheek against hers.  His father left in silence, and Shiloh watched over his failing bride alone.

     The King was thoughtful all that day, and when night came he spent only a little while in the sky before going back down to Aurora’s room, where she rested in Shiloh’s embrace, telling him little stories and trying to be lighthearted. 

     “Would you allow me, Shiloh, to speak to your wife alone for a moment?” the King inquired.  Shiloh nodded, kissed his wife’s forehead, and slipped from the room, touching his father’s arm in passing.  The King sat on a chair at Aurora’s bedside, and for a few minutes they watched one another in silence.

     “I suppose it must be somewhat disappointing, that I should be Shiloh’s first wife, a mortal, and dying,” Aurora murmured.

     “I am not disappointed. I am amazed, amazed at my son’s depth of feeling towards you and his courage in the face of your pain. I did not come to belittle or berate you. I came to offer you a gift, and bless my son as well.

     “I am old, Aurora, ancient. I am the oldest Star that shines from the heavens. I have seen much and suffered much, and also felt joy, elation. I am elated that my son has found so great a love, and devastated that he should lose it so soon. I was blessed with the company of my wife for billions of years. I am ready to rejoin her. I wish for my son to have a marriage as fulfilling as mine has been.

     “I do not know if you understand how life is for the Stars. We are born in the cosmos, raised in glory, taught to defend and keep safe the lesser worlds, and live and love till we decide we wish to continue on, to take up a further and more glorious journey. My life energy will still enlighten the skies, but my soul will carry on. I wish for that! I am ready to go.”

     “But you are not. You are young, and Shiloh still has millions of years ahead of him wherein I do not wish for him to be alone. What remains of the energy and light of my life, which will stay when I am gone, can still support millions of years of life. I could give it to the cosmos; I have that power. But I will give it to you, you frail, fading mortal woman, loved so by my son. I will give it to you, if you accept. You are my daughter now, and I would not see you die.”

     Aurora gaped at him.  The King smiled. 

   “Thank you,” Aurora gasped.  The King rose, kissed her hand, and left the room.  Aurora heard their voices as they spoke in the hall, and when they returned a few minutes later, there were tears in Shiloh’s eyes.

     Shiloh sat on one side of the bed, and his father sat on the other, and the three of them held hands.  Shiloh kissed Aurora’s cheek, and then both Elves closed their eyes.  Aurora did as well, and felt throbbing warmth travel up her arm from where the King held her hand.  The warmth spread over her shoulder and into her whole being, slowly chasing away the pain and weariness that had been her life for months now.  Brilliant light seared the edges of her eyelids, and she felt another change, one that connected her mind to the heavens and the whirling galaxies.

     She opened her eyes, and the King was gone.  The warmth dissipated from her hand, but remained in the center of her being, and the light in the room was still bright.  She looked down towards the warmth, and saw light pouring out of her, as it always poured forth from Shiloh and the other Elves.  She looked around the room.  Shiloh sat beside her, tears streaming down his cheeks though he smiled, and she squeezed his hand.

     “Where is your father?” she whispered.

     “Gone, love,” he murmured.  “He’s gone now. How do you feel?”

     “Marvelous; better; I’m healed. But more than that…”

     “You are now almost, only almost, as the Stars are,” he smiled.  He turned over her hand and they stared at the light that poured from her palm. “Do you like it?”

     She laughed in answer.  He kissed her and gathered her into his arms, and though he wept a little, he laughed more, and held her tight.

     Aurora’s mortal presence had changed.  Though she could not travel through the Stars as the other Elves did, and could only perhaps be considered a half-Elf on earth, mortals perceived her differently than they always had–except for the children, who always saw her for what she was.  Shiloh built a stone house for her amongst the mountains where they had fallen in love, and he would return to her every night, though as King he spent his days in the skies, watching over the planets where little children wished upon the Stars.

By Rachel Lianna

 (Read more of Rachel Lianna’s works at Robin Hood West)

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