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The Long Dance

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When Kathleen turned fourteen, she stood like a queen before death.

Annwn of the Dead, master of the Wild Hunt snapped his fingers at the dog, who whined and wound around Kathleen's feet.

"D'ma, chi," a not-voice said, the words shaking into her bones. The dog shivered but stayed.

"Go on," she whispered, pale but standing tall and straight. "Go, but come back," she said, and Annwn looked at her, his yellow eyes wild and unbearable. He bowed.

"There and the return, lady," he said, and his voice this time was a graveyard whisper.

"Thank you," she said, holding herself rigid against the wish to fly.

He smiled and held out a hand. "Thou art welcome, if thou would ride."

And she shook her head and stepped back, one small step. "I am spoken for, my lord," she said politely. And knew it for truth. He bowed his head and did not ask again, although he came every year, and with solemn courtesy took her dog, and brought him back.

When the first dog died, because dogs burn faster than humans, he brought a pup at midwinter, a scant three months old, full blooded, and said, "There and the return also," and she bowed her head stiffly, burning with the need to ride.

The Wild Hunt was not what she sought, but sometimes she thought it might be enough. On the wild nights when the winds beat hard through the trees, and geese barked harsh as dogs across the sky, long skeins of hounds chasing their master, it seemed like it might be enough.

But up and beyond, circling the North Star, brightly burning, hung Sirius. By summer she would rise early and Sol would almost, she thought, almost dim a little, delay his steps that she might see. And in the winter months she watched him in the evenings rising low above the horizon in the long dance.

She wondered if he was lonely.

Miss Smith died when Kathleen was twenty-three. She kissed Kathleen goodnight as she passed up the stairs to bed, spoke of the groceries, the laundry. And in the morning she did not wake. Aludra howled instead, wailing the death to the street, the steps of the dead too familiar to bear, out of season.

Kathleen fell in love when she was twenty-five. And again when she was twenty-nine. And again ... it did not -- quite -- matter. Somehow, when she took them for long walks with Aludra they didn't -- quite -- match up to something.

Perhaps they needed green eyes, or red and yellow fur, or wings of flame.

A star; a zoi; a luminary. Too vast to touch, too real to hold. Too ancient to bend to Kathleen's slight flame.

And still she circled patiently with the years. Aludra was followed by Furud, and after him came Murzim, and then Adhara.

"Daughter," Earth called, and Kathleen rose up, Adhara at her side. "The journey is done, go home."

"Daughter," the Moon whispered, and Kathleen took her hand.

"Daughter," Sol said, so kindly, as he burned away all that was mortal and walked with her out of the world, Adhara pacing her, a greathound with her queen.

And Annwn bowed her out of the gates of the world with a whisper: "There and the return, lady."

"As I may, Lord of the Dead," Kathleen said, and passed on, passed on, her Wildhound by her side.

As she walked, the small fire that she carried as a mortal flickered, and Sol held her by the left hand, and Adhara walked under her right.

"She held a zoi," Sol said to the bright court of the stars, who hummed and sang softly.

"She was not wholly mortal," he said, "and my Earth cannot bear her step now her mortal sheath is gone. There is a responsibility."

And they did not look to the empty companion star that circled and circled, waited and waited.

Stars have patience.

Kathleen smiled into Adhara's ruff, and murmured, "There and the return, as I may," and rose, her soul bright like fire, to the court.

"He is lonely," she said simply. "And I wish it otherwise."

And Polaris nodded, and with that all the other stars bowed their heads also, for the North Star led all.

There are two stars in Sirius. And a third, a faint dogstar, who dances the long dance with her mistress, and her mistress's beloved.