Brittle one – prologue

Her mother is still holding her hand.

„Brittle! Come, child. It’s now or never!“ That’s what she said. She knows. She can’t really remember her voice, but those were her words. Brittle is sure of it. She has reimagined this scene enough times to be sure of every single little…brittle…detail.

„Where? What are we doing?“ she squealed. What a tiny thing she was back then. „You’ll see!“ Her mother whisked her out of the doorway with her customary fluid grace, somehow managing to dress her mid-air. Brittle had never been able to figure out exactly how the slight woman was able to work what seemed like small feats of magic just with her deft hands and her sense of balance. But anyway, when she landed feet first in the white winter fluff as a perfect finale to that wave-like motion, her bare toes were snugly protected by snow shoes, and her small frame enveloped in her favourite red coat. That little puff of snow at the end was the most glorious thing. Brittle remembers.

„No time to waste! Ho!“ Her mother had already strapped on her skis! No wonder the oldfolk had named her Brook. Always bubbling, flowing. Not like Brittle, who had been almost dead to the world when she slid out with Brook’s waters. She hadn’t breathed for the longest time, all white and pale like a waning midwinter moon. But Brook had kept on talking to her, pulling her Deepheart from the brink of death with her insistent stream of words. „I dragged you back with Love’s intent, Brittle mine“ she used to say.

Brittle misses her so. But she shouldn’t lose herself. She must finish the memory. Like she always does.

Her mother’s skis whoosh-whooshing through the snow. Brittle clinging to her back in the little nettle net. „Where are we going?“ „Don’t be impatient, child. You’re just like..“ „You?“ There is nothing quite as beautiful as the resonant laughter of mother and child. White clumps dropped from the trees in response to their laugh-song.

She stopped by the stump of the War-Begone-Tree and seemed to sniff the air. „Wh..?“ started Brittle. „Shh!“ answered Brook. „Now. Quickly“. In one spiralling motion she spun off her skis and put Brittle down on the ground. „This way“. Holding her hand, Brittle followed her mother. Silent now, almost gripped with reverence for something she could not name, only sense in her deep Deepheart. Her mother was also silent, uncharacteristically so. They walked crunch-crunch-crunch through the snow. Into a clearing, an almost perfect circle surrounded by trees. Here Brook lifted her up, walking gingerly like a hunting tomcat, watching her every step, until they arrived in the centre.

Brook breathed. And listened. Breathed. And listened. Breathed. And listened. And…“There“. As her mother exhaled, so did the snow beneath their feet. At first Brittle didn’t understand what she was seeing. Singular patches of snow rising from the ground, falling the wrong way, into the sky? But no, she could see tendrils, like thin strands of hair glinting gold in the soft light of the sun. The snow fell off, she saw the shapes from which the tendrils flowed, no head, no arms, no legs, no eyes, just bulbous whiteness, translucent and ethereal. There were so many. Expanding, contracting, pale beings, swimming in the air.

They seemed so fragile. Their skin the faintest glimmer of an idea. Yet they were clear, clearer than anything Brittle had ever known. Her Deepheart sang. And as on cue, they did too. „How can they sing without mouths?“ she said, beyond amazement. „It’s the strings, child.“ Brook gently took her hand and guided her fingers towards a passing tendril mane. As her fingers touched the strands, for the briefest of moments a solo trill erupted from the choir drone. „Just like a harp“ said Brittle. „But softer.“ „Yes, child. You know, they sing to you.“ „To me? Why? How?“ Her mother clasped her hand with both of hers. „My Deepheart’s Mirror is…“ „The starfisher bird, the first to kiss the river when the ice retreats.“ „Yes, and father’s…“ „is the mountain stag, who bleats its mating call when the leaves begin to fall.“ „And yours, Brittle mine, with breath so short and skin so thin, is this flock of shining wonder that erupts to sing just once a year, on midwinter day when the sun is in the centre of the sky.“

The song started to fade. The beings began to slow, to sink. „What are they called?“ „They have no name. They are not known by most, except for my mother and the mothers before her, and now you know them too.“ „Can I call them…brittle…brittlefish?“ Brook gave a slow smile, somewhat like a river pushing back the ice just before the starfisher comes a-hunting. „I don’t see why not.“

The wagon-sleigh jerks to a halt. Her father soothes the stag steeds. The memory is done for now. But Brittle can feel the pressure on her palm.

Her mother is still holding her hand.

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