I am Heva.
In my tribe, we told stories of a sister who left the Wood. They said her hair was fairer than a snow-capped mountain. So fair, its strands were as pure and clear as winter icicles lit by the bright morning sun. Her bow was carved with the many stories of her feats, every notch a tale a loosed arrow true to its mark. By day, she was the lead huntress of our tribe, at night, her voice sang to our sisters in a sweet soprano, her notes pure and like air on wind.
She was perfect in every way, considered a chosen of the Veena, her singing voice like the very voice of the Wood itself. She was beloved, known even to our other sister tribes, and every year on our Couplings, our brother tribes would travel far just to glimpse at her.
Then without word, she left. She broke the Word, left the Wood, and her arrows protect and voice sings no more. One morning came when she no longer was in the warren or the Wood. It was as if she vanished, as even her departing footsteps were never found by the best of us.
My sisters never knew why. Like every sister who has left the Wood, they no longer speak her name. Though our eldest still remember her, and tell her stories with tears flowing in their eyes, her name never crosses the trembles of their lips. She is gone to us, no longer viera, and now so many moons later, no doubt deaf to the Wood and its voice.
When I was a child and first heard her story, I asked how they knew that she left. After all, if there was no warning, no foot steps, no sign of how or why, did that not mean something else could have befallen her? But my elder sisters always swatted my questions aside. No one is to leave the Wood. If one of us is gone, if she is not here, then there is no where else she could be.
In the nights that followed, I would climb the rockiest ledges near my warren—where I learned my voice would always rang back to me—to the highest heights I could reach—where I knew my voice could carry farthest—and I would sing to her. I would sing the stories my sisters still told about her, I would sing about the pain in their hearts, and sing about our Wood so she could hear my words and found her way back home. I did not yet understand that there was no path to return once a viera left her home. All I understood was the pain my sisters felt in the wake of a sweet soprano with arrows that flew true.
Even our brother tribe told stories of her. Every Coupling, on the waned August moon when our brothers came to our warren and the of-age would lay together, they told yearning stories. One of our eldest brothers told stories of fathering one of her children: A young brother who still lived among them, but they would not say who he was, or if he came to the Coupling that year. Not all would come, it was a long distance, and the young or sick or elderly would not always make the journey. I wondered if the son of the Fairest, as I thought of her, was too young or perhaps too heartbroken to journey to the warren of a mother who left the Wood. I always wondered, when I saw the elders who told the stories, and the children of those elders, and compared their moons to mine, if that meant he was just as many moons as me.
Once I was old enough, I came to the Couplings to look for him. Sometimes, I wondered if he was actually there, his brothers keeping his identity hidden, letting him quietly lay without shame or the heavy weight of eyes and questions. Perhaps they feared no one would lay with him, that the line of the Fairest could father another child who left the Wood. Perhaps they hoped that if the line continued, we would have another chosen, another lilting voice to put to song what we all heard from the Wood.
By my fifth Coupling, I was coming of age to choose whether my own Couplings were only to lay or to bear. Not every sister is expected to bear in my tribe, many choose the way of the huntress, of magic, or tracker. I had not yet chosen my path, and my sisters knew it. They knew of my singing as well, of my songs echoing among the stones, only the stars and moon—at least I thought—to watch me. They told me my voice was not the sweet soprano I hoped it would be, but a velvet alto, not as clear as melting icicles in the morning sun, but like the warmth of a night fire’s white smoke lifting into the starry skies. They meant it as a compliment, but to me, it brought me sadness. With every song, I wanted to be like her. My voice was not light, my hair was not fair, and my arrows did not ring as true no matter how I tried. But I did not know it then, and my feet had barely left the warren, but every note I sang was another footstep out of the Wood.
On my Coupling, I took the elder brother aside who was said to have fathered the Fairest’s son. I asked him, pleaded with him, to tell me his name, to let me meet him. I thought that perhaps if I could meet some part of her, I could better understand the legend, understand why someone so beautiful and perfect simply disappeared and left such a hole for my sisters in her wake. I thought, maybe if I knew some part of her, that the hole I felt in my own songs could be filled. I had no fears or sadness in the Wood. Among my sisters, I thought, I was happy. But since the day I learned the story of the Fairest—a name that I alone used to describe her because I sorely wished I knew her name—I could think of nothing else.
Maybe it was my voice, maybe it was my eyes, maybe it was the wine I gave to him again and again in hope the elder brother would tell me the answer to the question I asked every Coupling since my first. He looked at me, and I saw the water in his eyes, the reflection of me looking back at him, and I heard the pain in his voice as he responded to the desperation in mine: His son had left, had left some time ago, and no longer was in or of the Wood.
How could I feel pain for someones I had never met? Whose stories were always told by others, and I had no stories of my own? Yet I felt it, it weighed deep in my chest and took my words away. The Fairest was gone, and so was her son, the only one of her line they told stories of, and I felt as if my own limbs where taken from me.
I do not know how long I stood there, feeling a pain in my chest that felt like knives cutting into my bones and skin. It took over me until a hand sharply took my shoulder and whirled me around: It was an elder sister, her gaze and tone sharp. She told me to return to the warren, that my part in the Coupling was done this year, and I was to join the first hunting party in the morning. Rest was needed, and I was to go now. I looked over my shoulder to my elder brother and found he was not looking at me, but my elder sister. Though I was many moons from being a child, I felt like one scolded and caught between them, and I felt the anger she intended for her flowing through me.
I obeyed and returned to my den in the warren, though my head and heart felt sick. I did not have words as to why. I clutched myself in close and tried to drown out the sounds of the Coupling I left and listen only to the Wood instead. I squeezed my eyes shut tight till they ached and turned my ears as away as I could from the gathering. All I wanted to hear was the Wood, to steal away to its voice and forget, even for a moment, the sadness and song of my people and ones I had never met.
Huddled and holding myself close, that is when I heard it. I had heard the voice of the Wood before, as any viera does the day their ears unfurl to the skies. But it was different. It was lighter, clearer, like words on air, and sung to me clearer than any voice of the Wood I had heard before.
I was on my feet with my bow in hand before I knew what was happening. I ran, breathless, my ears filled with the lilting sounds of the songs in the Wood. At first, I heard steps behind me, my elder sister running and calling for me. I heard others as well, all running, all trying to keep pace then overcome me. Then they stopped, and so did the Wood. And though their steps stopped, the trees stopped, I could still hear it: The song of a soprano, singing true and clear in my ears. I took one step, then another. I was gone from the Wood, I had broken the Word, my sisters and brothers would no longer call me viera. Maybe they would tell stories about me, but I was no Fairest. I was only smoke in a starry sky, warm but brief, and so very alone.
Now I walk. I walk to still hear the sweet song, to fill what I feel in my chest, to sing to her and for her to sing to me. I sing to the brother I lost but never met, to the legend who captured me the day I heard the hole where her name should be.
I am Heva. I am no longer of the Wood. but I still hear song. I walk, I wander, and sing for her, so that she may find me.