Children of Iris
We bobbed and curtsied all afternoon, while the Watcher walked up and down in front of us with pursed lips. Then, she towered in front of us, arms folded, skin white like a statue. She nodded. As one, we dropped to our knees, heads to the ground, caring not if our white frocks were covered in mud or if the course fabric scratched our skin.
She touched me on the back of my head. I raised my eyes slowly, carefully, no higher than her jewelled knees. The bright morning sunlight sparkled through the gossamer fabric of her robe and I could feel the rays dancing on my face.
“Raise child,” her voice boomed through the open corridor.
I raised my head high enough to see her nod.
In a smooth movement that I have been practicing for days before in the small hours of the night I straightened my body and stood eyes forward, looking straight into her navel. A giant ruby sat where her belly button should be. Her lady, half her height but still a head taller than me, stepped out of her shadow and reached out her hand to me. This was my cue. I slipped my small hand into the lady’s and we walked, in small rapid steps, following the Watcher. I heard the girls chatter under breath as we turned the corner.
Jasmine filled my nose when we walked into the courtyard beyond the wall. The lady led me to a pool filled with crystal water and ordered me to strip. This too I had practiced, and disrobed in one small movement. Two girls, even smaller than me, scurried in from behind one of the painted pillars on the far side of the courtyard, gently helped me into the pool and scrubbed me from head to toes.
We were careful not to laugh or splash a drop of water, and soon enough, they had me dressed again. The indigo fabric was smooth on my skin, and the perfume they brushed through my long hair made me feel lightheaded. But I kept my head – like I have been trained.
The Watcher didn’t even notice me enter and stood motionless in front of the tall, open window for several minutes, her wings wrapped tightly around her body. Her lady wordlessly touched me on the shoulder. I didn’t sense her until she stood right behind me. Then she whispered in my ear “It is time, child.”
I took a deep breath, careful not to release a sound, and stepped forward a couple of paces, until I stood next to the Watcher. She looked down at me, smiled and returned her gaze to a point outside the window. My eyes followed, and then I saw Them. Five tall figures, dancing in the sunlight, casting their lights with their smooth movements on the landscape surrounding them. The Guardians.
“Do you miss your home, child,” the Watcher asked me. Her lips hardly moved and yet, the words boomed through my head.
I shook my head, the jewels in my hair jingling with the movement.
She nodded once, and said “Your new sisters will be along soon.” She rested her large hand on my head for a moment and closed her large, black rimmed eyes. I stood quietly bearing the weight until her lady whispered in my ear again “Come.”
I curtsied and followed the lady. When we reached the door, I turned around. The Watcher had resumed her position at the window and stood motionless. The afternoon sun glowed on her skin and sparkled like jewels on her hair. The lady’s hand tightened around mine. I turned and followed her again.
“Wait here,” she whispered.
I nodded, and sat down on the low bench against the midnight wall. One by one, she brought in my new sisters until we were seven and then did not return to us for a long time. We sat, side by side, quietly holding the hand of the sister on either side of us, waiting for the lady’s return. Finally, just before sunset, she returned and told us to follow her again. We walked out of the gate and along a small cobbled path, one behind the other, careful not to let go of the hand in front of us. We walked all night long until we arrived at a dark door. The lady tapped on the door seven times and waited. A tall figure, cloaked in darkness, opened the door. The lady stepped aside, and whispered “This is where I leave you.” We nodded as one, and followed the darkness. She showed us into a large room, layered in fabric and strewn with pillows.
“This is your room for the evening,” she said, and shut the door behind us.
We clung to each other until we heard the call of the morning chimes announcing the return of the sun. This was it. It was time. We lined up in front of the door long before it was opened for us, the anticipation flowing from every pore. I silently hoped the lady would return, but a new face greeted us when the door opened. We filed out hand in hand and followed the silent figure – as tall as the dark figure last night – out through the door and along a moss-covered path. We walked until the morning sun baked the earth and we finally reached a clearing in the dense woods.
They were there, dancing, like I saw them yesterday, to an unheard beat. My sister next to me held my hand tighter, her short sharp nails digging into the soft fleshy part of my hand. “It will be all right,” I thought and hoped the words would reach her. She nodded quietly and loosened her grip. Our guide took us into the centre of the clearing, carefully avoiding the dancers, and left us there. When she was gone, they danced a tighter circle, until we could feel their fingertips brushing along our backs as they spiraled past.
I let out a loud audible breath. It was the first noise I had made since the previous morning. I felt safe with my new guardians.
Not once did they stop dancing, but we knew what were expected from us soon enough. Later that afternoon, dark clouds thundered on the horizon and the smell of Rain danced through the hot summer air. The Guardians danced taller, faster, hands woven together into a canopy over our heads when the first drops left craters in the dust. We watched them dance, mesmerized, until, one by one, we nodded off to sleep.
My sisters and I awoke to the sound of the morning chimes and found our Guardians still dancing in a mad frenzy. The sky was dark, and Rain was stretched across it like the cloak of a starless night. She was no longer dancing, but rather lazed and laughed, mocking us, and the Watcher, and the Guardians. By the end of the second day, anger crept into the Guardians’ dance, breaking their concentration and large drops broke through the canopy and hit us in the eye.
By the morning of the third day, one of the guardians untangled her hand from the woven canopy and spun away from the frenzied dance. She danced taller and taller, until her hands reached into the clouds and touched Rain herself. She took hold of Rain’s hands, and pulled Rain down to the ground to join her dance. Faster and faster they danced around the rim of the clearing until we could no longer tell them apart. Rain’s laughter turned to a high pitched whine which stopped when she was released from the dance and spun away, over the distant hills.
The fifth guardian returned to the dance as if she had never left. We were pulled into the dance, slowly because it was our first, and, as we danced, the light from the Guardians’ hands reflected off our robes and stretched our bow across the clear blue sky. They smiled down at us and danced the words straight into our heads “You did well, little ones. You did well.”
The Guardians of the rainbow don’t like those who get in the way of the sun.