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A High, Strange Home

This was written in response to a question about chosen family in this month's Torn World Muse Fusion. It is a sequel to The Butterfly Girl.

I hope you enjoy it!

A High, Strange Home

By Deirdre M. Murphy

Akaalekirth sat carefully at the edge of the high tree platform, swinging her feet out over the rainforest, pretending to be comfortable. Dozens of people had welcomed her in the tenday since her arrival in the Rainbow Rainforest, telling her to make herself at home in the treehouses of the Fuchsia Clan, but she still felt like a stranger. The sounds of the reeds set into the trees and the windchimes still sounded out of place to her. She wondered if she would ever learn to read the movements of wind, animals, and strangers in them like her new clan did.

She looked at her mostly-healed shoulder, where the tattooed wings of a stylized akaalekirj butterfly glowed in her skin. The shaman, Iffarir, had chosen to use a butterfly with a broken wing as her model, and Akaalekirth still couldn’t decide if she liked having the front lower wing stop so suddenly, halfway down. She felt like a stranger to herself too. She couldn’t go home looking like that, her father would—

Awkwardly, she turned her thoughts elsewhere. She didn’t have to ever think of her father again, that’s why she came to the Rainforest, why she now wore laced leather bracelets on both arms, the right one positioned to cover her licensing tattoo. She looked around for something to distract her thoughts.

There was another girl on the platform, a much younger girl, one who walked right to the edge and looked down.

“Hey, be careful!” Akaalekirth couldn’t stop herself. Letting small children, kids who would be in first form back in civilization, wander around on the tree limbs and platforms seemed very dangerous to her, even though the littlest ones all wore a harness and leash. One little boy (happily not within sight at the moment) seemed to delight in leaping off the edge and making his mother rescue him.

The little girl walked right up to her, looking over the butterfly carefully. “You’re new. That’s Iffarir’s work—she must have spent a whole day on that tattoo!”

It had been a whole afternoon, anyway, and it had hurt more than she expected, though not as much as—deliberately she looked at the girl, whose long dark curls were tangled around a brown face smudged with white frosting. “Yes, I’m new. I’m Akaalekirth.”

“Ooh—like the butterfly!”

Akaalekirth nodded. “Almost like the butterfly, but with a new bit at the end.”

The girl smiled. “I like it.” She lifted her shirt, to show a green lizard coiled around her belly button. “See—there’s my tattoo!”

The tattoo was simple, barely more than an outline, like most of the children’s tattoos. Someone had told her that they would be re-inked once the kids reached their adult size—that they were left intentionally pale so that idiosyncracies caused by growing skin could be prettied up.

“Very nice.” Akaalekirth smiled politely.

“My name is Lereterli.”

“Oh! Like the lizard, but with something new at the end.”

The girl’s eyes widened. “Is there really a lizard named after me?

Akaalekirth laughed. “No, the lizard—like the butterflies—existed long before you or I were born.” She told the girl the story of Batakai, and how her stew and her instructions on how to spot sick lizards saved an army.

Then Lereterli took her to gather squatty eggs and salad makings, teaching her the names of the leaves, seeds, and flowers they picked for dinner.

Akaalekirth and Lereterli became regular companions in the tendays that followed. Lereterli’s mother, Rreisali, proved to be the unfortunate young woman with the boy who liked diving off the platforms, and she was delighted to have help minding her older child—though Akaalekirth responded that Lereterli was minding her at least as much as the other way around.

They grinned at each other over the lizard stew Lereterli had insisted they cook that morning, though a moment later, the sturdy ropes tied to Rreisali grew suddenly taut and her baby boy’s squeals of glee called her to the far side of the high tree-platform.

From time to time, the windchimes would ring out-of-time with the wind, and everyone would seek the heights, and hide in silence. It might be just tourists, but in case it was monitors looking for someone “lost”, the whole Fuchsia Clan—and anyone visiting from the Crimson Clan, the Turquoise Tribe or any of the others—hid carefully.

It was during one of these times that Lereterli came up to her, a lidded basket on her lap. “Would you—” the girl paused, looking nervous.

“Yes?” Akaalekirth spoke very quietly, just a thread of sound, but trying to sound encouraging.

Lereterli took a deep breath, then spoke really fast. “Would you be my sister?” She wasn’t loud, but she was loud enough that her mother gave her a pointed look. Lereterli covered her mouth, blushing hard enough that Akaalekirth could see it even through the child’s brown skin.

“I—” Akaalekirth found she wanted to say yes. “We can do that?”

The younger girl nodded vigorously. “There’s—” she looked at her mother and lowered her voice. “There’s promises, and a ceremony, and we get matching tattoos.”

Lereterli looked so anxious, Akaalekirth wanted to make her laugh. “Do I have to be your brother’s sister too, then?”

Lereterli did laugh, behind her hand. “No, silly—he’s too young for tattoos.” Then she was serious again, her eyes wide enough to show the whites all around her deep brown irises. “But will you?”

Akaalekirth smiled. “I would even if it meant I had to be his sister, and pull him back up into the tree when he dives!”

Lereterli opened her mouth in a silent squeal, then opened the basket to share crystal-candy all around.

When she had crunched down several pieces, Akaalekirth looked again at her beautiful butterfly. Would the new tattoo match or clash? “So, what will the new tattoo look like?”

Grinning, Lereterli offered her more candy. “We have to agree on that before we can have the ceremony.”

Akaalekirth’s jaw dropped. She got to decide?

Lereterli giggled, popping a piece of candy into her open mouth, but Rreisali leaned over to hug her gently. Everyone had seen her bruises when she arrived, and the grownups all were very careful about touching her. “Now that you’ve been adopted as part of our tribe,” the woman said fiercely, “No one gets to mark your skin without your permission. Not even Iffarir.”

Akaalekirth looked at her in surprise, then felt her face relax into a huge grin. This must be what other people felt when they talked about their families. For the first time since she’d arrived in the Rainbow Rainforest—maybe for the first time in her life—she felt at home.

If you enjoyed the story, please let me know! Comments, tips, and even smilies are welcome.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 26th, 2011 10:05 pm (UTC)
This is lovely.
Feb. 26th, 2011 11:13 pm (UTC)
Re: Yay!
Thank you!
Feb. 26th, 2011 10:42 pm (UTC)
From pain to hope
There is so much past pain hinted at, and the threat of discovery which looms, that it really makes it all the more poignant that she has found a loving community and now has reason to hope for the future. I like it a lot.
Feb. 26th, 2011 11:14 pm (UTC)
Re: From pain to hope
Thanks for stopping by, and for taking the time to comment. I'm glad you like it.
Feb. 26th, 2011 10:48 pm (UTC)
I love this! *grins*

I wish we-modern-American-peoples had something like that.
Feb. 26th, 2011 11:12 pm (UTC)
We-modern-Americans could create something like that. Socially, at least. (-:

I'm glad you like it.
Feb. 26th, 2011 11:16 pm (UTC)
I'm fond of ceremony. :-)

But yes. A friend has done "orphans' Thanksgiving" for over a decade now - chosen-kin time, rather than stressing oneself with blood kin.
Feb. 27th, 2011 01:59 am (UTC)
(I hate to be nitpicky... but it's "fuchsia", a spelling which makes more sense if you know that it's named after someone named Fuchs.)
Feb. 27th, 2011 02:18 am (UTC)
Thank you! Nitpicks are welcome; I'll fix it in the file before submitting it to Torn World.

That's an interesting bit of information!

I hope you enjoyed the story, as well as helping me out by serving as my proofreader.
Feb. 27th, 2011 03:46 am (UTC)
Very nice; thank you. I may have to start following Torn World (as if I had time...)
Feb. 27th, 2011 03:51 am (UTC)
You're welcome!
And you are welcome at Torn World, either as a regular or as an occasional visitor.

You can get e-mail notices when your favorite creators have something new, if that helps.
Mar. 7th, 2011 10:16 am (UTC)
I really like this piece. Well written.

The only thing that made me stumble was the fantasy names. I write fantasy as well, so I understand. I generally don't mind odd, made-up names, but yours were so long, my eyes just couldn't wrap around them.

Other than that, really smooth and nice characterisation.

India Drummond (http://www.indiadrummond.com/)
Mar. 13th, 2011 09:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Lovely
Thank you!
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )


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