By Evie Kendal
‘Cursed you mean! Are you sure? How did this happen?’
Lady Maria Wetherford stared at the small creature smiling up at her from the crib. She cooed quietly, sucking on her tiny thumb and giggling periodically – all the while tracking her mother’s movements with unnatural closeness.
‘Don’t look at her that way,’ Lord Henry Wetherford pleaded. ‘She’s still our daughter.’
‘People will talk,’ his wife reminded him, coarsely.
‘Let them talk.’
Lady Wetherford hung her head, mopping her forehead with her handkerchief.
‘This is all my fault,’ she moaned.
‘It’s not like it’s hereditary,’ her husband countered. ‘It’s all a matter of fate.’
‘Don’t start up about “deities” and “fate.” We have to try to hide this as long as we can.’
‘We can’t hide something like this – their kind have methods.’
‘I don’t want our daughter to grow up as a freak!’ Maria cried, despondently.
‘She won’t,’ Henry promised. ‘We’ll work it out.’
Stavroula Wetherford was sick of the darkness. All she could remember of the sun was that it had been brilliant – but it had been gone for years now. Farmers were losing their crops and the streets were becoming increasingly unsafe. No one had planned for this perpetual blackout and no one seemed to know how to stop it.
‘Do you think the city could ever use solar power again?’ Stavroula asked her maidservant, Chloe.
‘Mistress you do have some strange ideas – imaginin’ solar power in a place like this! Why, I ain’t seen a glimpse of sunshine since you were a wee ankle-biter.’
‘But if the sun came back…?’
‘Hush child,’ Chloe chided. ‘No point wasting your time with fanciful notions of light and warmth – your parents won’t be happy with that, now will they? Come on now Missy, I need to sew up the rest of these here blankets and you need to return to your lessons.’
‘I can hardly read by this light,’ Stavroula complained.
‘Oh, you ain’t half a difficult child!’ Chloe reprimanded, lightly. ‘There are children in this town that have no lamps to study by at all.’
Stavroula groaned. She would happily give up her artificially lit prison for one such unfortunate if it meant she could go outside once in a while. She was hardly likely to roam the streets by herself in this gloom, so why did her parents insist on keeping her indoors all the time?
Chloe continued her sewing. Her mother had always told her it was better to sew by natural light and Chloe had long since abandoned her notion that it made little difference. She strained her eyes and kept working, checking every so often that her charge wasn’t neglecting her studies and daydreaming again. She couldn’t understand how such a privileged child could be so ungrateful and rebellious.
‘Next thing you know she’ll be running off to join them Mystics. Howlin’ at the stars and calling down the spirits of the hay bales and what have you. It ain’t right,’ she muttered to herself. ‘It ain’t natural.’
Louise had lived her whole life on the outskirts. Her mother had been disowned and cast out of town after she’d fallen pregnant to a visiting holy man – a Mystic the townsfolk claimed caused a mudslide that killed many head of livestock. Neither Louise nor her mother had ever manifested any powers or affinities with nature, but suspicion of belief in the Deity or any of the lesser spirits alone was grounds for expulsion nowadays. Or being the blooded daughter of a true believer.
As she walked through the tents Louise saw James approaching. He smiled when he saw her and ran up to greet her.
‘Are you busy tonight?’ he asked. ‘I want to show you something I learned in class today.’
Louise knew she would never be welcome among her own people, so had made friends among the less devout members of the group her mother had joined. Sometimes they even invited her to join them in their lessons. Though she had no skills of her own to hone, Louise enjoyed watching the other young people develop their abilities. Living in exile would almost be worth it if she could do the things they did.
‘Mother has me cleaning the pots tonight,’ she lamented.
‘Another time then,’ James responded, suddenly stern. ‘It’s going to change things for all of us.’
Stavroula finished her lesson just on time for her first promised visit to the courtyard garden. It was her father who had finally conceded that she should be allowed outside as a reward for completing her study, after Chloe had described how unmotivated she had been of late.
‘Why are they so sick?’ Stavroula asked, gazing from one plant to the next with fascination.
‘Plants need sunlight,’ Chloe explained. ‘This used to be the most beautiful garden in the whole city. There were flowers in every colour you could imagine.’
Stavroula stared at a withered, brown stalk growing alongside a metal spike in the ground. She instantly pitied it and somehow believed she knew how it felt. As she reached out to touch it she could feel a brilliant heat emanating from her that passed to the dying plant. A flash of light followed that threw Stavroula backwards in surprise and she ran inside the house in terror. What had happened?
‘We’ll make them listen to us,’ James argued. ‘They can’t keep us on the outskirts forever.’
‘The townsfolk are frightened of us…’ Louise began.
‘Why? Because we’re different? Because we believe in the power of the Deity?’
‘They blame us for the sun leaving.’
‘We both know who’s responsible for that!’ James scoffed.
‘You can’t know that for sure.’
‘C’mon. Even our esteemed Lord and Lady must have figured it out – probably before we even saw the signs. Why else would they hide the child?’
A loud moan sounded in the background and Louise looked up with concern.
‘He can’t keep this up forever,’ James said, pointing at the crippled form of his brother, Luna, curled up in the corner of the tent. ‘He’s losing touch.’
‘Luna, you need to rest,’ Louise said, crossing over to offer the exhausted boy a glass of water. ‘You were never meant to work so long without rest!’
‘But the darkness…’ Luna stammered. ‘The moon’s light is all we have now. I have to keep going.’
Louise bit her lip and turned away. Luna was dying. The celestial energy he was channelling was tearing his body apart. The cycle had been disrupted and Luna was trying to compensate for it alone.
As a Mystic, Luna had inherited his attribute of the Deity at a young age and had lived out his childhood in exile. While he used to play everyday with the other children, now he barely left the campsite. When he did no one knew where he went or what he did, but he always returned looking drained. Even with all this power he had been chosen to control and protect, Louise and James knew he wouldn’t last much longer. Fate or no fate, unless the balance was restored, Luna was going to die.
Maria Wetherford watched her daughter studying with some apprehension. She had always been frightened of what Stavroula would do if she ever learnt about her ‘curse.’ Lady Maria had long ago been a leading political activist calling for the banishment of so-called ‘Mystics’ from the town’s centre, and her views on these religious fanatics had not changed since then. Despite their pacifist claims, Maria, like many others, still believed they were dangerous – and now she was forced to live with one under her roof. There was an irony to this situation that was not lost on her.
‘She’s a year ahead for her age,’ Henry said proudly, coming up behind his wife, gripping her shoulders affectionately.
‘What are we going to do with her?’ Maria asked, despondently.
‘Well, once they light up the city again, we’ll send her to school,’ Henry answered, plainly.
‘That’s not what I meant.’
‘I know,’ Henry said, running his fingers through Maria’s hair. ‘I’m not sure. I do know that we can’t keep her locked inside this house forever though. Sooner or later she will learn what she is.’
It was after the first tiny glimmer of sunlight suddenly returned a year later that Lord Wetherford finally realised his wife had left him for good. Following that revelation, he devoted all his effort and funding into scientific research. The artificial lights now set up in the busier parts of town were fast running out of fuel, and they needed to find an alternative soon or the darkness would return.
After months of studying and hypothesising, however, the sun’s rays inexplicably returned by themselves. At first there was just a dim light on the horizon, but each day the light had become stronger and brighter. Stores that had been boarded up for years opened their doors again and the bustle of trade could be heard throughout the streets. The whole community began to function normally again.
It was also during this time that Stavroula was finally allowed to go to school. She found the very notion exhilarating, her blue cheesecloth dress and woollen blazer had been laid out on her dresser a week in advance. Chloe was worried that she wouldn’t be able to cope being around so many young people, having had no real social interaction her whole life. Stavroula wasn’t even nervous though. She had blossomed into a daring, confident young lady in such a short period of time. When the day came for Chloe to leave her in the care of her schoolteachers, Stavroula didn’t even look back to say goodbye. She seemed so alive, so independent. Chloe thought even her mother, despite herself, could not have helped being proud of her.
‘We have a new student with us this year,’ Miss Trenchen said pointing towards Stavroula, her voice smooth and kind. ‘Miss Wetherford, would you like to stand up the front and introduce yourself? Tell us your name, what you did over the holidays and perhaps a little something about yourself.’
Stavroula walked up slowly and faced the class.
‘My name is Stavroula Wetherford, my father is Lord Henry Wetherford,’ she started, calmly. ‘Over the holidays I visited the outskirts and met a boy named Luna, who is now my best friend. I like painting, reading and gardening…’ Stavroula paused for a moment, steeling herself to continue.
‘And I am the Avatar of the Sun.’
Image by Annie Spratt