On her third attempt to gain her wings, Hauvi has some realisations.
The horizon was covered in roiling clouds. At least it wouldn’t be all grey for long, she thought. There would be thunder. Maybe even lightning. Some black and white to add to the picture.
Always, when musing about the weather, her thoughts travelled to her people. The skypeople, up there somewhere in Huiounia, their capital.
Oh, but she missed Huiounia! Some days, the light could be so blinding that getting out of the house was a bad idea. Sometimes, the rainfall was so heavy that the skycities would become waterfalls in the sky. And the people. They were always so helpful.
Earth might have had its own beauty, she noted, but there wasn’t much to see in winter. Trees rose bare and black like tridents wielded by the mythical Araga’s army, rising out of brown dirt instead of blue oceans. Perhaps if she’d been brought here when the Vine Mother rose from her slumber, she wouldn’t feel the way she did. Maybe she’d have felt that Earth wasn’t so bad to live on after all.
Her cold feet faltered. Some ways before her, an enormous tree stretched towards the heavens. The Earthens didn’t like the idea of a lady climbing trees, so of course she wanted to do it. She put down the basket of winter berries she’d been out collecting and hitched up her skirt until the hem of it rested above her knees.
Many Earthens had considered this scandalous when they’d seen her practising, the sight of her pasty-white legs too much for their sense of propriety. She didn’t know why they were so aggravated by the sight of her skin – it wasn’t beautiful. There were scars around her knees from the many, many accidents she’d had on Huiounia. If one could not fly in a place designed for people with wings, one was bound to encounter obstacles.
One of them being the city’s border wall. It was a very long drop. Some Earthens had spotted her and, using whatever bit of Earth-casting they’d had between them, they’d managed to soften her fall with mounds of loose dirt. Of course, after that they’d had to dig her up. It was as if she’d been born anew. Born Earthen. She shuddered.
She knew there was no point in attempting to get her wings by throwing herself off a tall tree. That was how she’d ended up in this mess. But doing something was better than sitting around with her grim thoughts. She didn’t belong here with the Earthens.
She hadn’t belonged up there with the skypeople either. That was why it was important to keep trying. Someway, somehow, she would get back to Huiounia. If she managed it herself, no one would ever look at her with pity again. No one could help her, she knew. She was alone.
After gaining several fresh cuts and bruises to add to the map of scars on her legs, she took a deep breath and realised she was about as high up as she was going to get – the branches that now spread above her were far too thin to support her weight. The wind was gaining strength, causing her blonde hair to whip about her face. She pushed it back, looking down at the ground far below.
Her vision spun. At least when she’d attempted it on Huiounia, she hadn’t been able to see the ground she would fall on.
Letting go of her hair, she braced herself. Her muscles tensed. Taking a deep breath, she took her hand away from the tree, ready to leap.
Her heart thundered in her ears. What was she doing?
They said that one’s life flashed before one’s eyes in the face of death. She had seen things during her fall from Huiounia which had made her even more upset. She had remembered long days waiting for Father to come home. She had remembered all of her friends going away to pursue apprenticeships or move elsewhere after getting their wings. She had remembered her bitterness when the house-sharers’ children, most of them younger than her, had developed their wings.
All she could remember of her life was waiting. For Father to come home from work. For Mother to finally show up and say that she was sorry for all the time they’d spent apart. For her wings. It had felt so empty. She lived with that emptiness now – living on the Earth had only made it worse. The people here did not understand her. They did not know what to say to her. They were just Earthens – what did they know?
She looked at the faraway ground. This would be her third attempt. The first time, she’d been saved by Father’s timely arrival. She blinked tears from her eyes. Although he had given her a severe tongue lashing for what she’d done, she wished he was here to berate her now. Even though he was always so concerned with work and wasn’t home often enough, she wished she could see him. Even though he showed more kindness to their house-sharers’ children than he did to her, she wanted to meet him.
That isn’t going to happen if you end up killing yourself! she thought.
She took a step back. The hem of her dress came loose and fluttered down to cover her legs again. She took a deep breath. Think this through. You can’t continue being brash like this.
“Look at me, Big Sister!” Ahnri fluttered about here and there, showing off her new russet wings. “Isn’t this great? It’s too bad you don’t have them yet!”
Ahnri had her moments but she wasn’t cruel. She had had no idea how that simple remark had cut into Hauvi’s heart. She’d only been nine at the time, while Hauvi had been twelve.
“They’re just as stupid as you are!” Hauvi snapped, before storming away to her own room.
She sighed. That hadn’t been kind. She’d known it then and she knew it now, but somewhere in-between, she’d stopped caring about being kind.
You must always be kind, Hauvi.
She frowned at the memory. Where had it popped up from, all of a sudden? It sounded like her mother, but Mother hadn’t been around for fifteen years.
Kindness is the foundation of our society, Mother’s voice continued like a soft and soothing lullaby. Without it, we cannot make any meaningful progress.
Where was this coming from? The words were crisp and clear, as if someone was speaking them into her ear, but there was nobody with her. There was no sound except the distant rumble of thunder.
“Mother?” she mumbled.
Can you be kind, Hauvi?
It was no illusion. She was hearing her mother’s voice!
Can you? Mother pressed.
She hadn’t been kind for a long time. Whenever she saw Father, she was curt. Regardless of how he treated others’ children, he was still her father. She had a responsibility too. The house-sharers – she knew she wasn’t kind to them. The fact that they lived in her father’s house had been something she’d reminded them of frequently during their decade-long stay. Perhaps this was why her friends hadn’t bothered to stay in touch – she wasn’t kind enough.
Think of the people around you, Mother’s voice continued.
There is no one around me, she thought. Tears appeared in her eyes again and she wiped a furious fist over them. I’m all alone. Why did you leave, Mother?
You did not get here alone, Hauvi. People have been around you. They have shaped you. It is whether you respond with kindness that will determine if you are a worthy person.
The words reminded her of something she’d heard in Huiounia once. She thought hard for a few moments and straightened up in surprise.
“Our wings are a manifestation of our kindness, granted to us by the great Mitia herself!” the preacher said, floating above the crowd with powerful strokes of his wings. “If you are worthy, you shall have them!”
She remembered this because she’d known, with childish certainty, that she would have her wings soon. I am worthy, she had told herself again and again, even as she’d left her eighth year behind.
She had messed it up.
Then set it right, Mother urged. Repay the kindness that was shown to you. Who knows, you might just get your heart’s desire.
Blinking back tears, Hauvi started down the tree. She slipped her frozen feet into the sandals with a sigh of relief and hurried back to the Earthens.
WORD COUNT: 1498