I’ve been listening much more to Spotify lately. What’s most fun for me is making playlists, which reminds me of burning mix CDs when I was in college. Here’s one I made of songs that felt longing or wistful, including a lot of old favorites and others that just came up on shuffle.
I’ve been submitting a lot of stories lately, which slowed down progress on my novel but was a lot of fun. For some reason there’s a big market currently for short stories about evil mermaids, so I’ve written three in the last few months. One of them, “In the Nevergo,” was recently published in Dangerous Waters: Deadly Women of the Sea, an entire anthology of evil mermaid tales I was delighted to take part in. The others were a bit different in subject matter, and I hope to tell you more about them later.
I’ve also been dipping my toe back into poetry in the last year or so, with mixed results. I used to write poems quite a lot in high school, but they were very strange and I never shared them with anyone. Lately I wrote sets of poems for two different calls for submissions. None of them were accepted, but I’ll keep practicing.
Here are some very strange ones I’d forgotten I wrote last year. The project was called “The Unquiet Nursery,” with the idea being that each poem would be structurally based on a famous nursery rhyme but have much darker subject matter. About half of them were terrible, but I kind of liked these. I wonder if you can guess which nursery rhymes they’re based on.
1 I am not going to sleep. The lines have gone too deep. There’s whispering sin Upon my skin And something is starting to weep.
2 My little love Is up above, Pretending she is an angel. But in her wings, Unholy things Are burning like a candle.
3 My little dumpling Really is something, Sunning herself to sleep. She cannot be killed She cannot be held She only can rattle and weep.
4 Go to school, Little fool. See what they do Before they come for you. They’ll take your home and they’ll take your lands, They’ll crush your heart and they’ll cut off your hands. The strongest house is the one that stands, So go to school.
5 Something in the atmosphere Has made me very cold. The sun is full of cinders And the stars have all been sold. I cannot look away from it. I cannot break the spell That echoes in the twilight Like the tolling of a bell.
6 Into the dark! Into the night! Sing with the nightingales! Drink delight!
Out of the dark. Back from the night. Gone are the nightingales. All is quiet.
7 Mary Artless, Vain and heartless, How did you sink so low? The sons you should have cared about Are running like wolves in the snow.
8 First comes the matter of the monster, Next comes the matter of the nun, Then comes the matter of the long walk Into the valley of the sun, And last is the matter of the silver star And how the world was won.
9 Pretty little Mabel, Sitting at the table, Softly tells me, “Life is like a fable. But I don’t know the lesson I was meant to learn When I left my homeland, Never to return.”
I guess they’re basically doggerel. But so are the originals they’re based on. Anyway, it was fun writing them.
One more thing to tell you about: I have an upcoming publication in a friend’s anthology! My friend Sonya Lano has been working tirelessly on Slightly Sweetly, Slightly Creepy, an anthology of gothic romance, and the book will be out on April 29. My story, “The Wind Chimes,” is probably more “romantic gothic” than “gothic romance,” but I had a lot of fun writing it. The book is available for preorder here, and I’d love it if you checked it out.
Lots of love to all of you. I hope you’re doing well.
This was one of my first sales. I suddenly realized it was way past its exclusivity period and I could publish it here.
When I was eighteen or twenty, I had a very vivid dream one night about a woman on a beach at night sculpting an angel from the falling snow. I tried three or four times to write a story about it, and never quite captured it, but this was pretty close.
An angel’s gaze can stir armies to war. For Ori, Sara would have fought wars alone.
When she first found him, on the beach below her house, she thought him dead. He lay on the sand. She thought he was a sailor, drowned and tossed up on the shore. It wasn’t till she stepped closer, peering at him through the fading afternoon light, that she knew him as one of Heaven’s bright children, somehow fallen down to Earth.
She knew no more about angels than anyone. She’d often seen them from a distance, arcing across the sky on missions from the Queen of Heaven, but they had little to do with anyone on the Isle of Gulls. No one in living memory had seen one–not up close. They were said to visit the mainland sometimes, demanding tribute or information, but this island was too poor for them to bother, too isolated to concern them. Now, faced with one, Sara didn’t know what to do.
She was afraid to touch him–but then he opened his green eyes, and she saw he was alive. She padded softly across the sand. “My lord,” she said.
He groaned. He was wounded–a slash across his chest, parting his robes and skin from hip to shoulder. His blood splashed startling red across the sand. In legends, angels bled gold.
His eyes were like trap wires–predator’s eyes. He was taller than any man Sara had met (though she hadn’t met so many). Each of his hands could have circled both her wrists. His face was long and mournful.
She shivered. “My lord, if I can assist you…”
The angel’s eyes narrowed. He studied her. She imagined how she must look to him: small, rough-haired, clad in her father’s old jacket and boots. Not worth talking to, for him.
At last, he cleared his throat. “What isle is this?” His voice was low, softer than she’d expected.
Sara curtsied awkwardly, tugging at her trousers. “The Isle of Gulls, my lord. In the North Sea.”
He groaned. “I fell so far…”
“My lord, you’re wounded,” Sara ventured. “Should we… call your people?” She didn’t know how they could do that, but perhaps he knew.
The angel shook his head. “No matter. If this body dies, she’ll call me back.” Then he groaned, pressing a hand to his wound. “But if you’d sew me up, I’d much appreciate it.”
“Oh.” Sara faltered. She should take him to the village, but she knew the people there would be afraid to touch him. “I… suppose I can. But I’ll have to go and get some things, my lord.”
“Take your time.” He turned and looked out at the ocean. In moments, he seemed to forget that she was there.
Pulling a needle through his flesh was very different from sewing canvas. Fortunately, the angel didn’t bleed much. His skin was stronger, and more resilient, than a man’s, with a satiny texture like fine-grained wood. He smelled like silk. He lay still as she worked, though the stitches must have been agony. Soon her waxed thread had left a neat seam on his chest. She covered him with a blanket, and wondered how to get him up the cliff.
Eventually, she loaded him into a handcart. It was easier than she expected. Legend said that angels’ bones were made from balsa wood. Sara didn’t think so, but this one was as light as if he had been. An odd picture they must have made–his vast wings jutting from the cart as she pushed and puffed him up the cliff like the old woman in the story. Light though he was, she stopped many times to rest.
They spoke little, at first. Each time Sara stopped, the angel closed his eyes, seeming to fall into a trance. Above them, deep in the sky, Heaven’s Eye watched the sea. As daylight faded, the blaze of sunlight on the great bronze was replaced by the light of a thousand thousand torches. Sara wondered if the sentinels there could see their fallen warrior. Perhaps she should light a fire.
“Will they send for you soon?” she said at last. Surely Heaven wouldn’t leave its fallen soldier long. Someone must come for him, unless the battle had gone very badly.
He sighed, like a gust of wind across the moor. “It may take a while. Many of us fell last night. No doubt they think me dead.”
“Who were you fighting?” They heard little here of the Sovereigns’ battles–only brief dispatches, months out of date, embellished by mainland scribes.
“The Demons of the Western Shore,” he said. “We’ve faced them dozens of times now–I should never have caught this wound.” The angel smiled ruefully. “I must be getting careless.”
Sara nodded, as if this meant anything to her. The Queen of Heaven seemed always to be fighting some new enemy, but from what Sara could see there was no real effect. Life on the Isle of Gulls, at least, remained the same.
Seeing her incomprehension, he took pity. “Shall I tell you about it? I’m feeling better now.”
“If it pleases you, my lord,” said Sara, surprised.
He coughed, and then began to speak in a low, singsong voice. “At the crest of morning, our heralds called out word of new attacks on our western strongholds, beneath the great watchtowers of Choir Mountain…”
Sara listened, enthralled, as he told of places she would never see–the silver cities of the Western Isles, their green mountains, their deep lagoons–and over them all, the angels massed in glittering ranks across the sky. He spoke till they came to the top of the cliff. Then his voice trailed off.
Moonlight fell over them, and a wind of wildflowers swept over the moor. Looking down, Sara saw the angel’s eyes had closed. The long planes of his great mournful face were painted bright with moonlight.
She’d stolen him, she realized suddenly. She should have taken him down into the village, where someone could light a signal fire or send a message to the mainland. It should have occurred to her to do that.
She told herself that it would be all right. He could rest here tonight. Then, when they came for him, he’d go back home. Hopefully Heaven wouldn’t be angry. Sara would take the best care of him she could.
She steered them gently to the house, raising her face under the starlight.
Her highborn guest seemed happy in her little house. She’d installed him in the bedroom, and he slept and rested there; but he often came out to speak with her, peering around him, as if everything in human life was fascinating. Often he interrupted her with questions–asked about pumps, woodstoves, wells, things Sara would never have thought to explain.
For her part, she couldn’t stop watching him. Every few seconds she averted her eyes so he wouldn’t catch her staring. Besides his beauty, his strangeness, and his great size, he was the most company Sara had ever had these last ten years.
“What is all this?” he said one day, gesturing at the sculptures and pottery that covered her front room. “Is it an art collection?”
“In a way,” said Sara. “I’m a sculptor. And… a potter, a wood-carver–any kind of handicraft, I’ll do, really, but I mostly work with clay.”
He looked impressed. “There are sculptors here?”
Sara realized, then, how poor her work must be beside what he had seen. “Not as you have them, my lord. But we do our best,” she said.
The angel studied a series of sculptures of Sara’s old dog Brown, whom she missed almost as much as she did her father. “And this is all your work?” he said.
“Yes, my lord,” she said, self-consciously. “Though it must be nothing next to what you’ve seen.” She’d studied as much as she could–ordered books from the mainland at great expense, treasured the library her father and grandfather had collected, refined her craft as well as she could alone. With no other artists around, though, and no teacher but her father, who’d died when Sara was eighteen, her education had been sadly limited.
“No,” he said. “I like it.” He picked up a small carving of a gull, held it to the light. “It’s simple, but lively. I’d like to see these cast in bronze.” Setting down the gull, he picked up a clay bust of Sara’s grandfather–sculpted from her vaguest childhood memories, with help from a drawing her father had made, which still hung in the studio. The angel stared into the statue’s eyes. Then he set it down, and turned, giving Sara a strange look. “Don’t call me ‘my lord,’” he said. “My name is Ori.”
Sara started. “I should… call you by your name, sir?”
“Of course,” he said dismissively. “Why not?”
“Isn’t it… a bit disrespectful, sir?”
He shook his head. “It’s a name. Just like any other. More disrespectful for you, I think, to call me titles that mean nothing to you.”
She tried to see his logic. “All right. Ah… Ori.”
He nodded. “Good.” Then he waited. When Sara didn’t speak, he prompted, “And your name, my good host?”
“Oh. Ah… Sara, sir.”
He smiled, and bowed slightly. “Thank you, Sara, for bringing me into your home.”
“It was my honor, sir,” she said. “And my duty, of course.”
“But I appreciate it.” The angel looked around. He frowned. “Why do you live alone? Most mortals live in groups, I think–but I’ve seen no one since you brought me here.“
“It’s only me,” said Sara, shrugging. “I’ve been alone since my father died. I have no other family.”
“You support yourself?”
She nodded. “I throw pots, bake tiles, whatever the village needs. I do repairs sometimes, but they don’t need it much. Anyway, I earn enough for what I need. That plus fishing, gardening, gathering–food’s not a problem. And you couldn’t ask for a better view.” She gestured to the moor above the cliffs, its windswept cottongrass stained golden by the sun.
He followed her gaze. “It seems… pleasant,” he said uncertainly. “But wouldn’t you rather have companions?”
She shrugged again. “We can’t have all we want. You’ve got to do the best you can, be satisfied with what you have–or so I’m told. Could be worse, anyway.” There were places where Sovereigns were more demanding. The Queen of Heaven had little to do with mortals–even on the mainland, her people were left alone to scrape their way as they always had. In other places, though, the Heavenly Legions fought their battles over open land, and mortals burned in rains of fire–the angels’ weapons did not always fly true. It was said that in some places,whole populations worked their lives away in mines, bringing up ores to forge the Legions’ weapons. Luckily, the Isle of Gulls had nothing more than chalk, and not enough of that to quarry.
Ori soon dropped the subject, but after that he stayed much closer to her. He helped in the garden and about the house, fetching and carrying, making conversation, till Sara could hardly remember life without him. She knew she shouldn’t get too used to him–but no one had come yet to reclaim him. Heaven seemed almost to have forgotten their lost soldier.
Walking the cliff’s edge with Ori at sunset, one cool evening late in fall, Sara was struck suddenly by the angel’s perfect grace. No mortal man was so perfectly in tune. Every element of Ori’s body was quietly efficient–his gestures elegant, his posture like a deer’s. No artist could conceive such perfect beauty.
“How are you… as you are?” she said, unthinking.
He turned his eyes from the dusk horizon. “I am as I was made,” he said. His curious smile forbade closer inquiry.
Sara blushed, but asked a different question. “Are other angels… like you?”
“All of us are different.” Ori seemed suddenly weary of the subject, though Sara had never brought it up before. “We are all unique, like the waves of the ocean. But there are… similarities.”
Sara tried to imagine other angels. She’d seen paintings–stained glass windows in the church–one treasured statue in the vicar’s house. But all of them looked like humans, just with wings, and lacked the wild power that made Ori so compelling. She couldn’t imagine any other being could be as lovely as he was.
“What would they think,” she said, “if they knew that you were with me–that you didn’t die in battle?”
His face grew distant. “Some might envy me,” he said. “Others would resent it. And… my Lady…” He grimaced. “She will not approve.”
“Even though it’s not your fault?” said Sara. “Even though you can’t get back?”
“Even so,” said Ori evasively.
Then Sara realized Ori had… recovered. He’d shown no sign of pain in weeks–she’d forgotten, in fact, that he was ever injured. She’d never seen him fly, but suspected that he could–might even have the power to go back home, if he so chose. But he had not–and Sara, certainly, would not send him away.
One day, two months into his convalescence, Ori came into Sara’s studio. “I’ve noticed,” he said, almost diffidently, “that there’s only one bed, in this house.”
Sara smiled. “I have a couch.” She pointed at her ancient leather sofa. “We used to have two beds, but I sold one when Dad died.”
Her angel frowned. “Then I should sleep in here.”
Sara suppressed a laugh. She’d kept the larger bed, but Ori barely fit it; he’d never fit his whole self on the couch. “It’s all right,” she said. “I’m quite comfortable. Half the time I sleep here, anyway.”
He fidgeted. “I still don’t think it’s right.”
“Well, you’re not fitting on the couch, my lord,” said Sara briskly, “and I won’t have you on the floor, so there’s no other way.” She grinned. “Unless you want to share the bed.”
It was a joke–but possibility suddenly stretched between them. They eyed each other. “Is that,” he said carefully, “an invitation?”
Meeting his eyes, she nodded.
They shared the bed, from then on.
Sara was soon besotted.
Ori was sunlight in a life of clouds. She basked in him, soaked him in, filled herself to the brim with desperate love. Often she was overswept with jealous adoration, imagining she’d do anything to keep him–petition the Queen herself, in her hallowed hall with the angels all around her, for Ori to be set free. If denied, she felt she could take on Heaven itself, and fight–or die–to win him.
Then sense returned, and Sara knew she had no hope. When they came for Ori, she’d have to let him go.
She tried to record him–furtively at first; then, when she saw he didn’t mind, she studied him more openly. She made clay sculptures, shaping with her hands the curves and contours her fingers followed each night. Then she made wood carvings, watercolors–scrabbling for at part of him to keep, something to hold onto.
One night, after a long day’s work, she came out to the moor and found him seated in the grass, looking up into the dark, starred reaches of late-autumn sky. The great curves of his wings cast his face in deep shadow, though the backs of them blazed moonlight.
Though it was cold, Sara sat beside him and leaned against his shoulder. He tucked one wing around her, and they watched the stars in silence. At last, Sara nudged him gently. “Do the stars look different when you’re up there?”
“A little,” he said. “They’re colder, but clearer. You see the colors better–reds and blues.” His gaze fell to the largest star–not a star at all. Grimly, he stared at Heaven’s Eye. “We have an excellent watchtower,” he said. “My lady is ever-watchful, after all.”
Sara shivered. “She hasn’t sent for you,” she felt compelled to say.
“No.” Ori looked pensive. “Caught up in other things, perhaps. But she’ll gather us soon. She loves a winter campaign.” He laughed bitterly. “I’m sure she’ll have much to say to me for dallying so long here.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” said Sara.
“It was,” he said. “ But it doesn’t matter. I’d rather not think about it.” Smiling, he kissed her, covering them with his wings.
Sara let the kiss linger. When it ended, she squeezed his hand. “Could you stay?” she said. “What would happen if you did?”
He shook his head. ”She’s bound us, body and soul. If she calls me, I must go. We all must go and fight again, till we’ve conquered all the world… or are destroyed.”
Sara shivered. After a pause, she ventured, “Were you different? Before she bound you?”
Ori considered. “Lighter,” he said finally. “Happier, I think.” He shrugged. “But everything changes. You’ve changed, surely, since you were younger. What does it matter what I was like before?”
She bit her lip. “How did she bind you?”
“She called me by name–she conjured me. She’s a powerful sorceress–I could only obey.”
“A sorceress?” said Sara, startled. “You mean…”
He snorted. “Not a god. No. Human–or human once. Immortal now–as far above humans as…” He paused.
“As you are,” Sara finished.
Ori looked away.
“How did she call you?” Sara persisted. It seemed important she should know.
He hesitated a long time. Then, at last, he said, “‘Ori. Shining one. Child of light, spirit of air, come and enter this body I’ve made for you.’”
She let the echoes wash over her, memorizing the summons. When the sound faded, she said, “And you had to go?”
Ori nodded. “I’m a spirit, after all. Any strong sorcerer can conjure and bind us. The Heavens are full of them–our Queen, all the others. Which is why,” he said dryly, “we are always at war.”
The wars had gone on since before there were angels. More Sovereigns had risen and fallen than Sara could have named. “Do you think,” she said, “that the wars will ever stop?”
He watched the sky. “No… I don’t suppose they will.”
“I’m sorry.” She held his hand. There were no more words to say.
Ori stared at the stars as if into a void. “I’ve slain so many. Been slain so many times–and raised up, and sent to fight again.” Looking at Sara, he sighed. “I’m so very, very tired.”
She did not know how to comfort him.
Late one night, the two of them sat ensconced in golden light, warm against the darkness of the icy moor outside. Sara had drawn the drapes, but Ori kept opening them and looking out. She wondered what he was looking for.
Over the months, they’d learned each other’s moods, and now their silence was perfectly companionable. Sara had set up a table by the woodstove. By lamplight and candlelight, she worked on a small articulated model of an angel’s wing. She was using all her best materials: resin, copper wire, steel gears, downy feathers. She’d told Ori she needed the model for reference–but it was an art piece, a tribute to her life’s light and center.
Now Ori passed behind her, leaning close. His silk-scented skin made his presence unmistakable, though his footsteps were soft as snow. She shivered, as always, as his cool breath brushed her cheek. The motion of his wings sent kaleidoscope shadows dancing around the room.
“Making good progress?” he murmured. His voice was teasing.
Extending the wing, Sara showed the model’s motion. “I’m doing my best,” she said. “You’re not as like a bird as I thought. I’ve modeled birds’ wings before, but your anatomy is different. I think you angels are a form apart.”
He laughed. “It’s worse: we’re all totally unique. If you met Korban, or Gemara, you’d find their wings completely different–and Ruah has no wings at all. You’ll never model us all, my dear.”
She sighed in mock frustration. “At least I can blame my failure on something besides my own poor skills.”
Ori stole her screwdriver and kissed her. “Your skills are rich and varied,” he said against her mouth. “I appreciate them deeply.”
She laughed, and batted him away. “Angling for another nude study, are you? I’ve done enough… but I suppose I could be persuaded to do one more.” She wrapped her arms around him. For a while, they did not speak.
At last, Ori withdrew. He looked at the model again, and his face sobered. “Keep that hidden,” he said, easing Sara back onto her chair. “If anyone knew you’d modeled it from life… things could go badly for you.”
Sara snorted. “If they knew that, they’d know more–and then things would go badly for us both, I think.” She stroked his feathers, and grinned as he shivered. “Sculpting your lovely wings, darling, is the least of my sins by now.”
He still looked troubled. Setting the screwdriver down, he paced to the window, staring out onto the moonlit moor.
He was restless tonight, thought Sara, uneasy. He’d been like this since afternoon, pacing and fretting as the shadows deepened and the moon rose. His movements were stiff today, almost rheumatic, though she didn’t think angels suffered from such ailments. She couldn’t imagine Ori growing old, aging and dying as mortals did on Earth’s corrupted soil. Soon he must rally, and rise to the sky, whole and perfect and ready to fight once more.
The thought sent thrills of panic down her spine. “Come away from the window,” she said, standing. “Heaven’s Eye is too bright tonight. They’ll see you if they’re looking.”
Ori smiled wearily. “They won’t need to. If she calls me, they won’t have to look at all.”
They made love with desperate thoroughness that night. For hours afterward, they clung together in the darkness of Sara’s quiet room.
“Will you really leave me?” Sara said. “Can Heaven really miss just one soldier?”
“They will.” Ori sighed. “She always finds us, in the end. I think I’m only free because she’s been busy.”
“You’ve died a thousand times,” said Sara, growing angry. “You deserve rest–and she has other soldiers.”
He shook his head. “She wants us all. A mother knows if her children are missing–and we are, in a way, her children.”
“Her children?” said Sara. “or her slaves?”
Ori shushed her, glancing at the curtained window. “Don’t be unwise, my dear. There’s nothing to be done about it. When the Queen calls her fallen–I must go.”
They both fell silent.
Below the cliffs, surf pounded shore, and the world went round as it always had. Inside, they seemed to rest in their own world, a tiny island in an angry sea.
“Do you miss it?” Sara said abruptly. “I’ve heard it’s… beautiful.”
In stories, Heaven’s Eye was known as the loveliest city ever made, its marble halls and crystal windows draped with gold and bronze and silver. Fountains glittered in all the courtyards, sweetening the air. There were hanging gardens, libraries, menageries, galleries that shamed humanity’s best efforts. The citizens were mighty angels–proud and stern, lovely as stars, clad in garments Sara couldn’t buy with a hundred years’ work. And over it all, the Queen of Heaven presided: star-crowned, radiant, her voice a trumpet, her eyes all-seeing. Heaven’s bright Sovereign–Queen of the Western Seas… she must be wondering where her soldier was.
Ori hesitated. At last, he shook his head. “I’m only a soldier there–a servant. The beauty of the place can’t change that. I’m much happier here beside my love.” He kissed the top of Sara’s head.
Sara smiled weakly. “Would she ever let you leave?” She huddled closer, wrapping herself around him. “If we begged her, would she ever let you stay?”
She knew it was a fantasy. If the Queen of Heaven knew what they had done, Sara would be lucky to live, much less see Ori. She should reconcile herself to losing him while she still had time to get used to the idea.
But with him so close–his skin so fragrant–the shadow of his wings so warm–it seemed impossible that he should ever go.
Ori stroked her hair. “My lady is a jealous mistress. She’d be furious to know that you’ve ensnared me with your charms.”
Sara laughed. “Poor charms, beside an angel.”
He took her hands. His voice grew serious. “You’re more precious to me, Sara, than are all the realms of Heaven. Life with you is always paradise. I’d stay here forever if I could.”
His eyes were strangely urgent. Sara’s smile fell. “Is everything all right?” she said.
“I need you to know this,” Ori said tightly. “If you forget all else, Sara, remember I love you. If I were free, I’d never leave. Remember.”
“I will,” she said.
He kissed her, long and gentle. Then, wrapping his wings around her, he pulled the blankets close. “Sleep, darling. It’s getting cold outside.”
The words made no sense, but Sara soon slept.
When she woke, the room was dark and cold. Gray light filtered in, casting blue shadows on the floor. The bed beside her was empty.
Sara rose, wrapping in a blanket. The house was silent, the moor bare of silhouettes. An icy wind was rising beneath a clouding sky. She felt a snowstorm coming.
Fighting dread, Sara dressed, pulling on coat and boots. She went out again and scanned the sky, wondering if she’d see him flying, but saw only the clouds that swept across the moon–and Heaven’s Eye, gleamed balefully below them. Sara stared at it, wondering if they could see her–if they saw her out looking for their lost soldier. It was said they saw everything that happened on Earth, when they wanted to. She wondered what they’d thought of these last months.
Instinct took over. She started down the frozen trail, heading to the beach. Though she’d come this way a thousand times, the landscape seemed suddenly more lonely, as if some vital part of life had left it. She’d lived here all her life–would never leave. The thought had never depressed her, but now it struck Sara with deep melancholy–as if every good thing had been taken from the world and she’d never find another.
Strange how a place could change from day to night.
At the bottom of the cliff, she stopped. She stood a long time, breathing quietly. Then, bracing herself, she stepped onto the beach.
Ori lay as before, stretched out across the sand–his body still, limbs spread like a drowned man’s.
This time, he was dead
She edged closer, choking back nausea. Ori was rotting. His body had shrunk in on itself. Cavities had opened in his skin, showing delicate bones beneath. He was a wreck–a worm-eaten ruin–a remnant.
His feathers were scattered around him like foam, fallen from loosened wings. Sara remembered their paper touch, their softness.
There were gaps in his cheeks. His eyes were empty sockets. She hoped they’d just disintegrated–returned to ether. The thought of scavengers touching Ori’s bones made her want to scream–to dissolve into a bloody mist, like the mermaid in the story.
Heaven’s Eye flashed in the snow-clouded sky. He’d said he must return someday.
But she’d thought he meant duty. She’d imagined a tearful goodbye, a last embrace on the doorstep–Ori winging heavenward, herself sinking back into meaningless life. In the worst case, she’d imagined him in chains–great winged soldiers dragging him off disgraced. Maybe she would have fought, then. Maybe they would have killed her. She’d known her life could end from this–that she might not live beyond Ori. Certainly she’d rather die than live without him, now that she knew what having him was like.
It had never once occurred to her that he could die.
And just hours ago she’d held him. He must have left so that Sara wouldn’t see his death–retreated here alone to die quietly as Sara slept peacefully in her house above the cliff. Not wanting to taint her house, perhaps, with the memories of his death.
His body was rotting quickly–his face almost a skull. If Sara hadn’t found him, he’d have fallen to dust here–she’d never have known what happened. Maybe Ori had wanted it that way.
It made sense, in retrospect. Why would Heaven take back an Earth-corrupted body, when it could so easily provide a new one? They said the Queen of Heaven built all her soldiers just like clockwork, putting them together from whatever was at hand. Ori had been silk, wood, emeralds, blaze-white feathers, precious metals. Maybe other angels had other elements. Did they all fall to pieces when they died? Maybe Earth’s beaches were littered with the dust of angels who’d rotted before they could be found.
She moved closer. His body had no smell–it might have been driftwood. Kneeling, she reached to touch his face–but couldn’t. How could this dead, dusty thing be her love, whose eyes had been so deep and kind, whose face so keen?
Sara tried to be dispassionate. There was nothing of Ori left in this husk–it was only a form, nothing to do with the spirit who’d held it. A shell, rotting on the beach.
She realized, now, that she’d let herself hope they might get away with it somehow–carve out a bit of happiness for themselves, and live forgotten in the margins of time and place. Heaven had so many soldiers. It could have spared this one.
By the time she realized snow was falling, it was thick in the air–a veil across the landscape. It fell on what remained of Ori’s skin, and into the great cavities of his body–hiding his ruined face, filling his emptiness, burying the wings that had been like snow themselves. When it melted, he would be gone–there would be no trace of him.
Absently, Sara started scooping drifts together. She’d never seen snow drift so quickly. Her hands shaped it without much thought. The cold of it was bracing.
On the mound she’d gathered, she began to draw a face: two simple eyes in a soft white plane. The eyes became Ori’s. She drew a mouth next; that was his, too. It took so little to invoke him. He was wind and starlight, lovely as the moon–his voice a lover’s heartbeat, his breath the songs of a thousand lost nations. Angels, it was said, remembered all that came before–all the long history of humankind. Sara wondered if Ori would remember her, when he awoke again.
And suddenly, she could not let him leave her.
Working with purpose now, she began a new sculpture: head and face more definitely his, with eyes closed and mouth serene. Her hands knew his features perfectly, shaped them quickly. His body–she knew that better than anyone. She traced his chest and shoulders, arms and legs, down and down in more detail, making a perfect replica of him. She ignored the other body now. It was nothing–just a container that once held something valuable. Ori’s eternal essence was… elsewhere.
Still the snow fell. It seemed almost to leap into the places where she wanted it, forming the outlines almost without asking. The sculpture was almost finished.
She made her model perfect, made it real. She couldn’t match a Sovereign’s handiwork–but Sara was an artist, too, and she loved her subject better than Heaven ever could.
She saved the wings for last, not sure how best to make them. Gathering feathers from his corpse seemed wrong–but there were no others on the beach, and she didn’t dare risk fetching more. Finally, she realized Ori didn’t need wings. A spirit of air, he was light as snow already. She simply sketched vague outlines in the snow, gesturing feathers with her fingertips.
Then she looked up, and scanned the heavens… and saw him.
A spark of light rose slowly towards the great distant beacon of Heaven’s Eye. It might have been a fallen star, called somehow back out of the sea. It burned steadfastly, and Sara knew it as she knew herself.
She fixed her eyes on it. “Come back, Ori.” She willed him to hear her. If he were as distant as the stars themselves, she knew he’d hear her. “Don’t go back to her. Come back. Come to me.”
She felt her voice go out to him across the snow-filled sky. Over the sea, the rising star came slowly to a halt. It hung suspended, as if trapped between two worlds.
Breathing deep, Sara finished. “Ori,” she said. “Shining one. Child of light–soldier of Heaven–love and anchor of my soul–come and enter the body I’ve made for you.”
The star fell.
It fell like a comet, gathering speed till she almost heard its motion. Inside her head, something was singing–a homecoming song, loving and joyful. Sara opened her arms, and the star passed through her, setting her soul ablaze.
And then he was there. Invisible, he filled the beach, waiting for his rebirth. Potential hung like lightning in the air. Slowly, it gathered–condensed itself, so small and bright that Sara could hardly bear the tension. She closed her eyes, and felt it pass–and felt it born.
Beneath her, the snow drew breath.
She opened her eyes, and found him watching her, looking up with white eyes–snow on snow, but shaped like his, expressive as his were.His. His bloodless, perfect lips began to smile. His body shivered, as beneath a wind, and then sat upright. Behind him hovered a mere suggestion of wings–dancing snow-flurries that cast kaleidoscope shadows on the sand.
He held out his arms, and Sara crept into them.
Ice embraced her. Ori kissed her. His lips, though cold, were smooth and supple.
Sara’s cheeks were wet. She turned so her tears wouldn’t wound his soft new skin. “Ori,” she whispered.
“Sara,” he said. His voice was soft as snow, but in the quiet she heard it. “Sara. I’m here. Don’t cry anymore.”
“I thought you were gone,” she said. “I thought I’d never see you again.”
Ori gazed up at Heaven’s Eye, dimmed by the tumbling snow. “I was…” He frowned. “I think… But I was going back. You stopped…” His white eyes widened. “Sara! You brought me back!” He looked down at his hands, his stark white body, and smiled again. “It’s beautiful. How did you do it?”
“I called you,” she said. “The words she said to you–I said them, too.” Then she froze, horrified by sudden realization. “Ori… I bound you.” She clutched his icy hand. “I bound you like she did. Ori–”
“Shh.” His icy fingers on her cheek brought Sara back to herself. “You did right. If I’d even known it was possible…” He sighed. “But… darling… I can only say goodbye. I have to leave soon–this body won’t last long, and she–”
As if in answer, a lurid beacon swept across the sea, red and yellow flashing on the waves. An eerie blast of trumpets split the sky–the Queen of Heaven calling for her lost soldier, angry at his absence. Soon, the Legions would come down looking for him.
Fury traced Ori’s features. He stared up at the golden satellite, his face hardening in rebellion and resolve. “I’ll get away somehow. She’s bound me long enough.” He clutched Sara’s hands with freezing fingers. “And when I escape, I’ll find you..”
Hope thrilled in Sara’s heart. “You’ll come away?”
“I’ll find some way,” he said. “Somehow, I’m going to escape again. I won’t give you up again–not after this. I’ll come away, no matter how she binds me.”
“And I’ll wait for you,” said Sara, breathless. “I’ll make better bodies–make them last longer…” She stroked his snow-sculpted face, which even now was beginning to crumble. “With better materials, we’ll find one that works. I’ll get started right away.”
“And I’ll seek allies,” Ori said. “There must be others who must crave freedom as I do. I’ll find them, bring them in…”
Sara shivered. This was pure rebellion–not only against their Queen, but against all the other Sovereigns of Heaven. There would be no safety for them in the world once this started.
She thought of her warm house above the cliff–its bedroom and kitchen and kiln, her workshop and tools, her work and her treasures. A very easy target, once she was noticed. “I may have to run,” she said. “Now, or someday. But I’ll call you when I’m safe.”
“And I’ll answer,” Ori said. “Wherever you are, I’ll come to you. It might take years, but someday I will be there.”
Above them, the trumpets blared again. “Go,” said Sara. “Don’t make her suspicious–not now.”
He caressed her face. His icy touch reassured her: even the winter winds, she remembered, seemed to be on their side. “I’ll come back soon,” he said. “I love you.” “I love you,” she said. She couldn’t say goodbye, and so she only waved, watching Ori rise into the sky. She saw his body scatter into snow. Then that faded, and only a spark remained. She watched it rise until it met Heaven’s Eye and disappeared there, merging with all the light and power of the Queen of Heaven.