When I was 13 years old, my father decided that I should marry the slaughterer’s son.
He smelled of dead animals and blood. They all did, that whole family and so did their house, their yard, even the cobblestone road a few steps this way and then that as you went past and entered the dead animal zone.
His name was Lak and one night, he tried to kiss me by the well. I could not clearly distinguish if the blood on his hands when he groped my bodice was for real or just imagined, and I found it too hard to stand still. So I scratched him and kicked him as hard as I could and then I ran until my bare feet bled and my breath was knives straight through from my lungs into my calves.
Eventually, I had to stop running and clung on to an old wooden fence post (so smooth, rain bleached, dead) to wait for the pains to recede enough to think clearly again, and then on the darkening road there was the pale blue glow that told there was Serein approaching.
Still I can’t quite know what possessed me or how I ever found the courage to step into their paths, three of them in a triangle, gliding not walking, spreading my arms wide and saying though a voice was rough from force of will,
“Take me with you”.
Stop they did, and the distortions that hid their faces flickered many colours.
How long must it have been since so they were challenged? Had they ever? Would they glide on by as though I was the nothing everybody took me for? For a moment there I felt like crying, but deep within me there was always this bright black rage, tentatively chained behind a very, very thin layer of attempted good behaviour so I wouldn’t get beaten too much or too often, and it helped me stand firm in mind within my quaking body.
The first Serein raised a gloved black hand and pointed a finger at me; it bore a big golden ring with a dark stone throwing moonlight off its facets, worth enough to buy the village and every idiot within it and their children too. A strange vibration swirled within my head. Everything went out of focus and the ground was moving beneath my feet. I thought I might be swaying, tired, lay down and the vibration will pass overhead and it will be silent and calm and so comfortable there, just resting on the ground –
I snapped my eyes open and forced my body to stop weaving under the Serein’s spell.
“Take me with you,” I said and tried to bore past the distortion, into the man that lay below, behind, hiding, into the man’s eyes, sending my conviction and my need and my desire and my force of will like an arrow through the shields, through the castes and through the differentials of training and of birth, reaching to touch human to human, will to will.
The distortion turned through all the colours of the rainbow and then wavered, turned curtain, and it fell. I was staring into a man’s face, into a man’s dark eyes, just a man (with a penis and groping hands and a stomach that is filled and emptied daily) just a man – for an instant recognition I was in shock and the distortion smoothly re-grew.
I took a deep breath, shuddering, sigh like.
The Serein flowed around me like so much water round a broken log (immaterial, immaterial!) and I was to be left on the darkened road, sinking to my knees, feeling bruised all over but not just in my body, utterly bereft of hope.
The last of the three turned in passing, held out to me a small object.
I took it without thinking.
Then they flowed away and I was then really left on the darkened road. It took force of will to command my hand to unfold and in the stray remnants of purple dusk light behind my back and moonlight up ahead, there was a small dark stone.
It hummed in my hand.
It had knowledge inside its very structure.
It belonged to me by rights.
It would open the doors of the Serein monastery that sat on the highest of the mountains in the ridge above the valley.
They were giving me a chance.