“The last only bought us a few moons,” comes the worried hum as they plait her hair. Pull the fine strands into neat, tidy ropes tucked over her shoulders and tied off with ribbon. Pluck the flyaways.
“She’ll be worth more,” another assures. They smooth powder over wild freckles, turning her face pure and white and faultless.
“A year, at the very least,” one assents and she can hear the avarice dripping through their tone. It reminds her of saliva running out between a wolf’s fangs, hanging in strings from their greedy jaws.
“This one? A decade for sure. She’s pretty as a peony.” They line her eyes dark and pierce holes through her ears, filling the spaces with metal and gemstone that shine in the flickering torchlight.
She doesn’t say a word as her worth is debated like the appraisal of a silver coffee spoon. As she’s polished up just the same, to fetch the prettiest price.
They fuss and pluck and powder to their hearts’ content, swarmed around like bees to their queen. Only she holds no power here, no regal royalty. There’s nothing she can do to quiet the hive, to quell to swarm. With whitened teeth gritted, she bows to a destiny she never wanted to meet.
But it’s time, and she’s shepherded out of the cottage and into the night. Through the forest, lush with dew and greenery, she’s guided, until the trees yawn open to clear the way. It’s only in stories and legends that she’s heard of the Starstream. The river that doesn’t flow but stands, reflecting the constellations of their masters in an inky sky.
Hungry, starving, the stars pop and crackle in the sky. Bursts of their light rain to the earth, splashing and sizzling in the stream or searing the life right out of the ground. Grasses and clovers char black and turn to ash under the heat of the falling stardust.
Into the stream she staggers, clammy hands pushing at her arms and shoulders. And the stars, through their perfect mirrors in the water, swallow her whole.