Beth pushes through the long grass and straddles over Barn, blocking his view of the reaching, convolving, glittering things that stretch endlessly over and throughout the night sky forever in every direction. “Why do you stare at the heavens like that?”
Barn answers her, “They're just pretty is all.”
“You're not curious about them?”
“Not deeply? They have their plan, we have ours.”
Beth plants a kiss on the bridge of his nose, and asks, “Don't those plans cross paths, sometimes?”
Barn realizes he's being accused of something, and looks back defiantly, “But there's no point in worrying about it.”
“You think they wouldn't interfere with our lives without a good reason?”
“But there's war in the heavens, war spits out a lot of bad reasons.”
“Can you call it war, when it's... like that?”
Beth flops back into the grass and the couple look up, and it's hard for Beth to deny that the turmoil of the heavens is beautiful, and perhaps even harmonious, in its own way.
They could focus in on any detail of the heavens, if they want to, they can watch it. A joyous dream, a debate, a triumphant performance, the experience of the sublime, yes, beautiful, but strange, there are too many eyes and too many tentacles, and it happens too fast, they'd have to watch it slowed down by a thousand times, and when they woke up and resituated themselves in the present, whatever speck of life they'd been watching would have long dispersed out over so many pathways through a churning tapestry of spirit, and it would be gone, and they could search and search for its remains, but they'd never find it, they'd just be caught in more threads and further hooked.
If a person looked too long, they could become absorbed in it, invested in it, obsessed, bewitched.
Becoming so bewitched by the heavens was one way that people sometimes died.
You could glimpse a sprite up there who was too unnaturally beautiful, and fall in love, or you could get caught up in a conflict and decide you wanted to fight alongside one faction or the other, or the heavens' sweetness would curl your palate against the mundane charms of earthly life, this cradle, your home, would come to seem small and bland and in some cases wretched, and you'd be done for. Ready or not, Heaven's wardens would descend screaming from the sky to punish you. They'd show you a terrible light that would sweep you off the ground, and then you would rupture, and your pieces would be scattered over the sky, in front of all of your loved ones.
So we agree not to look too long at the details the heavens through the numen. Instead, Barn looks at it through his own eyes, and he sees only pretty blobs, and knowing this brings his fiance peace, because it means that Barn will not be torn up.
Beth wonders why it has to be so messy. Why can't the wardens just come down and discretely take away the part of Beth's brain that caused her to yearn, but she remembers, it's because that part of her brain who yearns is entangled with all of the rest of her. A sundering like that can never be made painless.
And then the firmament cracked, as it sometimes does.
A warden coming to tear someone up would glide at an incline and scream, but it isn't a warden.
It's a ringing sounding from a white point of light, falling straight down towards the lake. And in its silent voice the heavens commanded, “CATCH HER.”
“Oh shit!” Said Barn. Beth was already standing, and the two ran to the lake, and they swam out until they were beneath the falling light, and when it landed between them, the lake surface broiled, and the light thrashed and kicked, unable to swim, and the couple brought her to the surface and dragged her ashore as she coughed, and sobbed, and struggled to walk.
“Who are you?” Said Barn.
The light with effort turned to look at him, and though she could not command her lips to speak, through numen, she tried to answer, and she babbled in the strangest fragmented thoughts the couple had ever heard, and eventually, the light could only say, “I'm so sorry.”
“Nonsense.” Said Barn, “We were perfectly in the mood for a swim.” And the light looked at the lake, and the moon, and the reflection of the moon, and looked and looked, and then she looked at Barn, and Beth, and smiled, and they held her.
Eventually, the heavens answer for the fallen light, “Ninsianna, is her name.”
“How about Nina.”
Nina did not object.
Nina's thoughts are still hopelessly stirred, so the couple hold her hands and help her to walk to their encampment. Partway there, she figures out her legs and begins to run in a strange gait and the couple run after her and bring her to a safe stop before she runs right into a building, and they put her into a bed beside their own, and bid her to rest, but Nina does not rest.
[TODO: insert a depiction of the room?]
The couple find her in the morning, crouched in her bed, waiting, and Beth says, “Good morning. Are you feeling better?”
For the first time, she speaks, slowly and haltingly. “Yes. I'm sorry that I have stolen debt. I am... a negotiator? I wanted to determine whether Firmament was Good, but Firmament is secret to us, so I had to come, rephrased as a baseline, but most of me could not fit, so I lack grace.”
The couple understand most of this. Everyone knew that the Firmament was opaque to the heavens, but no one had ever explained the reasons very well to Barn, and he asked if Nina could explain it.
Nina used to know, but no words come out. “I'm sorry.” She almost starts to cry. She senses something, and looks relieved. A white bird descends from behind her and takes residence on top of her head.
An answer comes from the bird: “There are few secrets in the Firmament, but there are secrets, and under our light, all signs are visible, so in our eyes secrets infect everything they touch, and all that they have touched has infected everything under the Firmament, so we can be shown nothing.”
“You're a messenger from the heavens?”
“Yes. Like all messengers, I shall die here. I shall tell the heavens nothing.”
Nina looks blank. Beth and Barn frown. Beth decides to broach the subject. “Is Ninsiana a messenger?”
“Ninsiana is different to me. Ninsiana will grow, here. And then she will be allowed to send just one yes, or one no to the heavens. But she does intend to die after that.”
Their frowns deepen. “But she doesn't have to?...”
“I don't have to. But I don't belong here.”
Beth grabs Nina, “You DO belong here. You can stay as long as you want.” Nina and the bird struggle away and nina says “I will punish dependence.”
Beth is confused.
The bird clarifies, “A tree grows heavy and can hold its burden no longer, and it begins to pull away from the cliffside, dragging earth in its roots. The tree warns that all those who live in the cliffside will perish with it. The wise shrew hears its warning, and builds no burrows on the cliffside. The foolish rabbit sees the space that the shrew has left and makes its burrow there. Though the tree grows to love the rabbit, it is true to its word, and it kills the rabbit all the same.” With emphasis, “The rabbit will be torn away from the earth.”
Beth and Barn are in shock. Nina shuffles awkwardly. “Yes.”
Beth takes a step back.
Nina asks, “Will harm come to me in this place, around this house?”
“No? No! Definitely not. The encampment is safe.”
Nina turns around and runs towards the window. Beth isn't quick enough to intercept her, and watches gormlessly as Nina lands a flawless dive-roll and continues sprinting.
Barn asks, “Is she okay?”
A few moments later Beth answers. “Oh. She's just exploring. She's swimming in the fountain... I think she didn't understand the sensations of wet or drowning, last night. She's replaying them.”
“Trauma processing, eh? Hair of the dog that bit her? Breaking the bull? Getting back onto the horse?”
“Could be. It's my turn to cook, yeah?”
And Beth fetches brisket from the mother cauldron and pickle from the ongie pot, and brings it to bed, and the couple eat.
The couple stroll out arm in arm to find Nina beside Harrod's buffalo pen. They exchange smiles with her and embrace.
Nina: “May I speak to the man?”
“Who are you?” She asks the man.
“I'm Harrod. Who are you?”
“We named me Ninsianna. My purpose is to measure the humanity of the firmament.”
“Well, hello Ninsianna. On whose behalf do you measure it?”
“For...” And then Nina's eyes grow distant. She squints. Her bird answers “She measures on the behalf of the Anchetti Upper North Junior Orthodox constellation.” Nina doesn't recognize the spoken name of her home, and this upsets her.
Beth squeezes her and says, “It's okay. You'll figure it out. How about we show you around the camp?”
Nina holds firm. She is glaring at the calf in Harrod's pen. Eventually, she finds the words, “The calf should be outside of the enclosure.”
“What makes you say that?” Says Harrod.
Nina closes her eyes. She can't explain.
“That's okay,” says Beth. “We can come back to this later. The calf will still be here.”
Nina frowns, as if she's going to cry.
Beth carries her away. Nina struggles, and starts to yell, and then stops, and says, “I'm sorry.”
“It's okay. Are you hungry?” Says Beth.
“I'm sorry. I ate some of your meat, before. I didn't ask first. You were asleep.”
“Don't be sorry. Hunger is a real thing. Eating is mandatory.”
The couple spend the rest of the day introducing Nina to the rest of the camp. Around mid-day, Nina passes out, and remains asleep for 17 hours. She's still breathing. They're sure. The couple leave her in the house, and set out for the daily meeting.