Mirela watched from behind the tree line as Tomas and three other men huddled around a beautiful pinto horse. Tomas gestured wildly as he talked, and the men laughed, charmed by him.
Mirela continued observing until she felt that her presence would be missed. She rose slowly, her eyes lingering on Tomas as she walked away.
There was no need to stare too long. His image had been permanently stamped in her mind's eye.
Even as she walked away, she could still see his dark, rich hair and his dark, cinnamon colored skin.
Even though she had been far away, she could see his olive green eyes smiling at her in her dreams.
She could feel his heavily muscled arms tighten their grip on her as his growing beard poked the top of her head.
She entered the clearing on the other side of camp with a bundle of twigs for tonight's fire. She shook her head to clear her thoughts.
Her father immediately noticed her and walked swiftly towards her. "Why did you take so long?"
Mirela's eyes looked towards the left, involuntarily, in the direction of Tomas. She quickly snapped them back, "I only lost track of time.
I didn't realize I had been gone long enough for you to worry."
Her father turned to look in the direction Mirela had gazed in. His eyes furrowed. Turning his head slowly back to Mirela, he scowled as the boisterous laugh of Tomas was heard.
He held her gaze momentarily before walking away hurriedly. Mirela breathed a sigh of relief as she walked towards her sister.
Tsura gave her a meaningful look, "Please don't tell me you were spying on him again."
Mirela closed her eyes indignantly as she placed the bundle in her arms down. "It's not spying. He just caught my eye as I was passing by. I didn't go out of my way or anything."
Tsura gave a worried look, "You know how Father feels about you and..." She looked around for her father and whispered, "Tomas."
Mirela tsked in annoyance and dismissal. She knew. When her father had told her that she was to marry Pali instead of Tomas in three months, it was as if he had told her the date of her death.
How could she marry the brother? She would be forced to watch as Tomas take another bride and watch in misery as he lives happily. Pali was small, young, and uninteresting.
She had played with him in her childhood, but only so she could be close to his brother. How many years had she yearned for Tomas?
She remembered on her 9th birthday, after the night's celebration's had died, and everyone had fallen asleep in a drunk stupor under the full moon, Tomas had come to lie next to her.
They had shared a kiss that night.
"He's only angry because he is speaking to Pali's father tonight and doesn't want to jeopardize the marriage proposal." Mirela sighed wistfully, "Hopefully his offer is low."
That night Mirela crept away from the campfire towards her father's tent. She knew Pali's father had not arrived yet.
As she stuck her head inside, her father's warm and expectant smile turned into a dark frown. "Yes, daughter?"
"Father, please consider Tom--" Mirela began. Her father slashed his arm across the air, silencing her instantly.
She gulped her words and gazed pleadingly at her father, her eyes watering slightly.
His fury softened at her expression. "Oh, daughter. You know I have asked. They only wish to marry off Pali. He is closer to your age, a good carpenter, and he has a soft demeanor.
I know he will treat you well because he asked his father for this marriage. He wants to care for you."
"But I do not love him! I love Tomas!" Mirela's tears spilled over, her voice a fierce whisper.
"When your mother and I met, I did not love her. As the years passed, I grew to love everything about her. From the way she parted her hair, to the way she laughed.
When she left us, I loved her even more for her gift of two beautiful daughters who look just like her." Mirela's father looked down sadly. He raised his head again and attempted a smile.
"You will also find love in Pali; especially because he already thinks you special. He will love you greatly."
Mirela opened her mouth to argue but her father held up a hand, "Stop. Nothing is final. For all you know this will not happen. Please go and wait outside."
Mirela snapped her mouth closed and twirled around angrily, stomping past Pali's father. He turned to say hello to her, but she had already broke into a run.
The pliashka was held the next day. Mirela cried all night when she found out.
Now that it was morning, and the celebration was underway, she couldn't help but smile and want to dance along with her friends.
Food and wine was shared by all, and Mirela even danced with Pali. She quickly left him upon seeing Tomas laugh and encourage them.
After seeing Tomas so nonplussed, her mood dampened. She was going to be married to his brother and he was laughing.
Was he not sad that she would no longer be able to be claimed as his? Mirela turned to look at Tomas. He was drinking wine and enjoying a roll, casually speaking with his father.
Mirela was interrupted by her sister, "Mirela! Mirela! Are you going to go?"
"Where?" Mirela turned to look at her younger sister. Her shiny, dark hair and green eyes looked similar to Tomas'. But her sister's sweet face and smile was more beautiful than anyone she knew.
"We're going to the lake tonight when everyone is asleep," Tsura said excitedly. "Everyone is going, even Tomas!"
Mirela's eyes lit up. Just as suddenly, her eyes furrowed. "But father said we shouldn't. That the lake is deceptively deep and we shouldn't swim there at night."
"But Tomas is going! You said you like him. Why not see him one more time before you are wed? What if he asks his father to change his mind?" Tsura said naively.
"Besides, it's a full moon tonight. We will see just as clearly as we do in the day."
Mirela looked sadly towards her sister, preparing a reply. As she opened her mouth, Pali's father spoke up and shushed the crowd. "Tonight, I want to honor my future daughter-in-law.
She was specially chosen by my son. Her beauty outshone every other girl he saw. Her smile stole his heart. She will be a good wife to my son, I have no doubt."
Mirela stood stock still as everyone's attention was diverted towards her. Pali's father walked towards her, a brightly wrapped orange and blue wine bottled in his hand.
The bottle also had a coin necklace that he was removing. He passed the bottle to another guest and held the necklace up for everyone to see.
"May your lives be fruitful and long! Please bear my son many children."
He placed the coin necklace over her head, and a cheer rang out. The music and dancing resumed. The festivities continued unaware that Mirela was silently crying.
She took a step back, away from the laughter and the celebration. Pila saw her, and quickly ran towards her with his hands outstretched.
When she saw how close he was, she angrily pushed him away and ran towards the forest.
She ran and ran until she felt her legs and lungs burn. She cried out with a long wail, yelling. She ran until she had nowhere else to run. The ground suddenly disappeared, forming a cliff.
She laid at the edge, looking out over the valley.
The bright moon shone as the sun would and nothing was hidden. She could see other tribe's campfires and every dip in the landscape. She looked at the moon, its silver light caressing her face.
"Why?" She asked it. "Why must it be this way? Why must he love me, when I love his brother? Why couldn't Tomas love me instead?"
As she spoke aloud, her tears welled up again. Mentioning Tomas released a floodgate of emotions. She cried horribly, her breath jagged and her saliva dripping from her mouth.
Her mucus flowed freely as she cried all night. In desperation, she began to call out to the moon. "Let me marry Tomas! Let me marry Tomas!"
All night her pitiful cries rang. Just as it seemed she had cried all she could, and she was calming down, she just as suddenly began wailing to the moon again.
The moon shone passively, never wavering even as dawn approached.
At the first sign of light, Mirela looked up to the disappearing moon with her wet, tear streaked face.
She wiped away her mucus carelessly, closing her eyes slowly, "Moon, don't leave before giving me Tomas. I would give you anything, even my firstborn."
Suddenly, a booming voice rang out, "You would give up your son for the sake of a man?"
Mirela's eyes widened. She looked up to see the moon bright in the sky. Its brilliance was overwhelming, and Mirela shielded her eyes, "What?"
"If you are willing to give up your firstborn for the sake of a man, you would never have loved the child anyway," the moon boomed, as if to itself.
The moon asked Mirela again, "You would give me your firstborn if Tomas marries you?"
Mirela's heart lept. The moon had heard her pleads and had taken pity on her. Elated she replied, "Yes! Yes, anything. But please let me have Tomas."
"You will have your man, my brown skinned child, but your firstborn shall be mine."
Mirela waited, but the moon said nothing more. Mirela peaked behind her arm to gaze at the brilliant moon, but it was no longer there.
The sun was peaking over the horizon and had replaced the moon's brilliance.
She stood up slowly, dazed. Could this be real? Had she imagined it all? How could the moon grant her wish? Her moment of logic escaped her completely as hope bubbled inside her.
She began walking back rehashing the events in her mind. It must have truly happened. She was not asleep.
Has the moon been known to grant wishes before? The clinking of the coin necklace brought her back to reality. Pali was to be her husband and there was nothing to be done.
Everything had been sealed. Despite this, Mirela did not feel despair. There was hope.