I was born the youngest of twelve, with three brothers and eight sisters. Most were quite a few years older, and I really only knew my youngest older sister. For the most part, I simply co-existed with the rest. That being said, by the time I was old enough to even remember anything, half of my siblings were already married.
Eventually, my turn would come—my turn did come. It was only one of the many things a daughter was born to do, nothing special. As my father began the negotiations, tired as he seemed of doing it for the twelfth time, I didn’t even bother asking about it or investigating it; there was nothing for me to do anyway, even if I knew—why bother? Instead, I used the time I had left wandering in town, interacting with the more interesting parts of it as best I could.
It wasn’t long before I found something worth distracting myself with: among the many households made of stone, there was one, hidden in a far corner of town, made with wood. I had already explored most of where I could by the time I saw that house, and I couldn’t tell how long it had existed at that point. When I first saw it, I saw only the house—without seeing anyone living in it. The structure was thinly coated by what I assumed was ice—it certainly felt cold to the touch—and judging from the age of the wood underneath that ice, it seemed that the house was actually held together by the frost and not the wood. Fascinated as I was by the structure, I almost forgot to look for the master—or masters—of the house. Surely whoever lived in a place like this would also be a mighty exciting person.
As if to remind me that the house was a dwelling after all, a beautiful woman walked out the door, running a hand through a loose strand of her hair as she did. Her hair was a vibrant vermilion color; it would probably flow straight to her waist had it not been tied up like a high ponytail. Nobody tied their hair that high up, or that simply…or even had hair that straight, actually. I made a mental note to try it at home sometime—provided that I wouldn’t be reprimanded for it, although I already had an idea that that hairstyle wouldn’t look as good with my curly black hair.
Our eyes met. If it weren’t broad daylight, I wouldn’t be so sure: her irises were pure black. Black as night, black as the feathers of a crow’s feathers, blacker than any of the people’s hair. I could not tell her pupils from her irises even as the sunlight shone directly into her eyes. There was something alien about her beauty. There was something strange about it that made me unable to look away from her.
“Rarely does anyone come here,” said she, with a tone so authoritative I would have thought she was the princess if I didn’t already know that the princess lived elsewhere. “But if you found yourself to us, there must be a reason—what is it?”
A priestess? That was my first thought, but her lodging did not look like a sacred place. Besides, a holy woman would not tie her hair up so unconventionally.
“By chance, I think,” I answered, “I didn’t know about this place.”
“You look young,” the woman said—though she didn’t look much older than I was. “Are you to be wed soon?”
I nodded. “I don’t really want to.”
“Tradition is silly, I agree.” Walking to a table of stone, she sat on one of the few stools around it. The woman gestured for me to follow suit—which I did. “Do you know the man personally?”
“...I don’t actually know who it is,” I said truthfully with a shrug. “It’s all the same. Are…are you…”
“Married? No. I am not bound by such rules. Are you sure you’re free to be here? Aren’t women usually very busy?” she asked.
Why did she ask? Was she not a woman of society as well?
“I have a little bit of freedom left,” I said honestly.
“I’m Clio,” said the woman, patting me lightly on the shoulder. “Nice to meet you.”
Just as I was about to introduce myself, the door opened again. This time, out stepped a man who looked to be around Clio’s age—but he, too, was utterly otherworldly. He stood in stark contrast to his cohabitee. His hair was also smooth like hers, but his reached his knees. He did not accessorize it in any way, instead simply letting it flow however it pleased. The color of his hair was startlingly white—so white it was that it looked almost transparent under the sun. His eyes were an icy blue, and where Clio’s black eyes felt as if they were world-absorbing voids, the man’s felt as if they were so alive they could birth worlds.
The moment I stuttered in the middle of introducing myself was the moment everything changed.
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