Every hardship, every heartache. The feelings of being so alone that even the sight of the sun could not lift me. My life is as if Arï himself write upon my flesh my fate. And perhaps, I know not, he did. He is the god of all things, and I have seen in his keeping things that I can scarcely believe now. I am mortal nonetheless and so cannot fathom the intricate pattern of Gods that are fickle.
The Gods are like children, with shiny new stones in their pockets, simple and complex in their pleasures, playing at games that only they know the rules of. It is not for me, either way, to say. I leave them to their devices and just know, now more than ever, that I was a pond they favored, and that was nothing to wish for.
Some feel that in pain the human soul is at its most beautiful, which in the face of cruelty a hero emerges. I do not know if this is so. But I know bravery is not to live without fear but to conquer it and accept it as a part of life. I am no heroine. There are those who watched me crumble in defeat even as I rose to their aid. There are bards who sing of me, though the nave has been vastly changed over the years, but I am not that woman. I never was. Everything I did, everything I am is for love.
I must first begin by saying that I loved my parents, from what I remember of them anyhow. They are forever planted in my mind as the young couple that was so in love they were happy, as happy as to be expected in an arranged marriage. That was how it was in such a day. Marriage for love was an unheard-of phenomenon. But my father, I know, loved my mother dearly, and she loved him. However, it was still a match for the sake of wealth for their respective houses.
My mother, Levi, had been of good stock. She came from a line of women baring as many as sixteen children where most of them were male babes, a nearly prophetic omen. This above all things made her irreplaceable in marriage. She was also the daughter of a wealthy landowner, which helped none too little, and known for the sky-at-midnight color of her locks. Their fairness of her eyes, only paled by the alabaster of her skin, were true green.
She was, as the people said back then, and still say now, a pearl of great worth. That was my mother with a voice as beautiful as the rising sun. I remember the lullabies she would sing to me when the night demons would enter my dreams and battle the sweet Gods away. I would awake with tears and she would come with a kind song. She never tired of me. In a world where I later learned that beauty would betimes save one’s life she could have anything, did have everything. And so, this firebird of beauty claimed my father.
Valen, my father, was a man dictated by his loins if I ever knew one. He fell into any woman’s bed that was willing and supple, which is but a man. His was, however, landed him in more than a few duels, enough to cool any man’s ardor. But my mother gave chase, letting him become sick with desire as he lusted after the one thing he could not have. I learn this one thing from her, as she would tell me the story. Women, in Arï’s great wisdom, are granted the power to bring any man with caress and she gave him nothing of herself and he was infatuated.
And so he married her as arranged. He never made her feel the difference of their stations but she remembered nonetheless. She was the daughter of a wealthy landowner, but Valen was of the aristocracy. Her saving grace was the birthing of male babes in the family and Valen’s unrequited lust for her. She landed herself a match with a title. Time passed and she bore him five sons, strong and hail. I have forgotten their names I never really got the chance to know them. My life later took a path that no one would have expected.
But that shall come later. I think, perhaps, my mother was well on the way of completing what the women of her family did before her. She had done her role as a woman; she had given her husband heirs. It is not to say that my father called for it, but it was the way in those times. My brothers are faint thoughts when the nights get cold and I wonder what my life would have been. I know too much now to return to those times when life was simpler then and sometimes I ache for it. Trials and tribulations have their due, but family, my true family, I never had and I wish for them greatly. That is all that I remember of life until the fateful day came that changed it all.
On the eve of my eighth natal day, came a messenger from the desert caravan. He wanted to speak to my father. I remember the haughtiness with which my father’s butler handled him. Fillip was always as such. I think, even for him, his stature as our butler gave him status that any man, until naming his title, was beneath. I was young and had a penchant for sneaking into a side closet near the main stairs that had a large keyhole. It allowed me to view all visitors, even the ones who came late at night that my father did not want me to see.
The man who came to the door that night I remembered, in the way children remember anyhow. He was big, even big to my adult size when I think back on it now. His beard was like wool as it fell to his stomach in disarray. He was covered in sand still from the desert winds and he brought with him exotic smells that at that time I could not have identified. He fascinated me then, the child hidden in the closet. I remembered him from other occasions, though I never knew of what he spoke. He spoke in low tones, his words halting as if he spoke little Verdi, the language of Verdirian.
I knew some geography, being the daughter of a wealthy man, though I knew not nearly as much as my brothers. Verdirian was the land of our Lady Queen Pari. Her lands, though massive, were surrounded on three sides by water, the Lake of Talimé. The fourth side was bridged where her soldiers stood guard. To her left was Pesiclus, land of the Wounded King that was said to be cursed and death to any newcomer. To her right was the Forrest, a land never touched but rumored to be the land of the Fae. I believed this as a child and came later to realize the truth that was said in the fables of youth. North of Verdirian was the desert sands of the nomads. We, the Verdirians, never gave the savage land a name. Barbarians and crude dwellings overran it. I later found its name to be Crupec. It was a land night and day to my own, but as beautiful as the treachery therein. South of us was Suri-Kan, a land that had been conquered by the yellows from across the Kaji Sea. It was said their eyes were like almonds and their bodies as fit as a hound. I had dreamed, in my childhood, of seeing the many peoples of the land we shared. But travel was restricted to the express permission of men, unless that is a woman was a slave. This in itself was a mystery as the leader of Verdirians was a woman.
I strained to hear the halting words of the night visitor. His teeth flashed with gold.
“Valen…he…shall know what…this is.” He reached into a pocket at his right breast. It was a solid gold coin he pulled out. I could not see the design but I could see the raised part of the gold. Fillip paled at the sight and hurried away. I studied the man before me, as he stood alone. His skin was dark; almost as black as the hide of the jackal dogs we took as pets. It was a color I can say now to be a brown that flowed darker than chocolate but lighter than black. His eyes were keen, like a hawk, beaded and small in his face where his nose was larger than the men of Verdirian. It struck an amusing picture and I stifled a laugh behind my hand. He was still beautiful, with his lean body, in an exotic way.
My father had arrived in a rush, his clothes immaculate as always. I was always awed at the god-like picture my father could acquire. His shirt was silk, pale blue. The vest he had over it was silver, accenting nicely his dark looks and long hair. My father had hair as long as mine at that tender age of not yet eight, reaching to below his shoulder blades. His legs, powerful from horseback riding, were covered in moleskin breeches, tapered off neatly at his calf. The glossy boots he wore were black as night and to the end of his breeches. But the look in my father’s chocolate eyes, I think gave him away. He shifted without realizing it, showing that he was afraid. I could not decipher this then but I know it now.
“Caliprious,” my father said his voice stern.
“I am here as agreed.” Caliprious tilted his head to the left. “You…have had much success…from my investment.” His look changed slowly. My father looked as if he wanted to back a step away but he regained his composure.
“Yes, as I promised I would.”
“Ah, the promises of the Verdirians…they forget…with the silver of their tongue…they think others do not listen.” He moved so swiftly that he almost a blur. I saw the glint of cold steel against my father’s throat. “You promised me flashed trade, and yet I have received none.”
“You asked for a girl. One who could match her mother in beauty so you may compensate your investment in me. I have not forgotten. My wife has born all sons until the last.” Valen stiffend under the pressure Caliprious exuded, leaving a nick where bright red blood began to trickle. I marveled at the sight. I was too young then to understand the gravity of the situation. I was a child in the closet, torn between being found out in my hiding space or running to my mother. I stayed, in fear and mystery. This mattered to a child. The red blood was nothing more than a trifling matter that would ruin my father’s vest.
“And why have I…not received her…” he searched for the words, “bond paper?”
“Her eight natal is tomorrow. She is but a babe!”
“No, she is almost too old to take now, training starts at…six. I will have her this night…we will say your debt paid…I still hold your marker.”
“She is…” My father stopped suddenly as Caliprious turned him to stare out the outside door. I could see the men upon horseback with torches lit in their hands. They seemed to meld with the shadows. And upon the first horse, again the chest of a burly man with arms like an ox was my mother’s form. She was unharmed but she struggled against her captor.
“What have you done?” She cried to my father. Her face was eerily more beautiful than I ever have seen. Her tears were diamonds falling against a marble face. Her eyes, always so expressive, were pain-filled. I almost ran from the closet into her arms. But I looked at my father first. I have never seen up until then, and never have I have seen since, such an expression on a man. It was the expression of complete and utter defeat. His face seemed to crumble from forehead to chin. His eyes lost their light and his mouth turned to frown. Even the blood seemed to stop flowing under his flesh. His cheeks quivered, his proud chin giving way to his neck.
“I did what I could to win you,” he said, barely discernable about the crackle of a fire. He was in love; still, to that day with the woman he had married. Everything he had accomplished had been for love of her and I think she may have forgiven him, one day. I never knew or heard from them again. The child I was in the closet did not completely understand what was happening. I watched from my hiding place as Caliprious released my father. What was my father to do with his wide in the arms of a man thrice her size who would surely rape her? Dear father, I forgive the honor and fear that propelled you to give me away. It is not for us to say where fate will lead us. Time turns upon it wheels and races to once again take the lands into its folds. I have threaded my fingers through the sands of time and know there is no way to grasp it but to live fully within each moment. In every caress, every breath, every kiss. Such is the life of a slave.
My father called for me then, in voice as calm as water, and I stepped trembling from my hiding place. No tears shone in my father’s eyes but I think inside her wept. He loved me a little, even if I was nor one of his sons. I was my mother young again. His hug was reverent as he passed me to Caliprious from his arms. Caliprious took in my raven’s wing hair that reached passed my shoulder blades. He looked at the honey glow of my skin set off by my violet eyes. It was a color I got from my mother’s grandfather I was told. He even pushed my lips apart to study my teeth. He nodded as if say ‘she will do’.
“Be blessed by Arï, God of all things.” He kissed my brow and it did not register until I passed my mother unable to touch her, what was happening. My small fists pounded at Caliprious as I struggled towards the outward stretch of my mother’s arms. She screamed within the arms of her captor, calling to my father to be a man. I looked at him and away. I saw only shattered pieces there. If but a small wind would blow he would be nothingness. My mother screamed again and I looked at her, struggling as Caliprious mounted his horse. I turned to my father, my small body trying desperately to get to him, make him keep me.
“I am sorry! I will not hide in the closet again. I will not be bad. I am sorry!” I screamed over and over again. I felt then that I had been the cause of my father’s defection. Why else would he give me away as the man holding my mother released her into a fallen heap? My father stepped forward to calm her, his fingers digging into her flesh to keep her at his side. She raged at him as Caliprious turned his horse away. Her cries were the last I heard of the life I once knew. I shall search for you forever, in this life and the next. Dear mother, I do not fault your failure. Forever is a long, long, time to wait.