Bred (Chapter 4 Part 8)
Jova did her best to wipe the girl’s face with the lace handkerchief, although the child squirmed and twitched as she sat, and Bechde kept fussing around over Jova’s shoulder. “Fallborn can be fickle,” the lady said, and Jova’s head spun as she tried to keep track of where Bechde was standing. “But they’re ever so quiet about it. It’s so hard to tell what a fallborn is thinking sometimes, isn’t it?”
However hard it may have been for Bechde to read the quiet girl’s emotions, it was nothing compared to how hard it was for Jova. She sighed, letting her arms fall as she let the girl go (and the girl was, contrary to Jova’s initial guess, a girl).
“What will you name her?” asked Bechde. “It’s very important, the name. She can’t run around with some Wilder name like Stick or Stone or River or Brook. It’s very lucky, really, that you found her. A nice civilized name, that’ll do it.”
“Anjan changed her name when she grew up,” said Jova. “I don’t remember what her name was first, but she changed it.”
Bechde sniffed, and patted Jova on the head. “Yes, well, it’s much easier if you start with a civil name, dear.”
“Do I have to name her?” asked Jova.
“She is yours, darling,” said Bechde, kindly. “I’ll help if you like. A good Alswell name, what say you?”
“I don’t want her to be mine, though,” said Jova, and she hung her head. “Bechde, why can’t you take her?”
“Where are you taking me?” said a soft voice, suddenly. Jova jumped. She had almost forgotten the girl was there. The girl spoke slowly and deliberately, and sounded almost too articulate for someone so young.
“Nowhere, dear,” said Bechde, quickly. The lady’s dress rustled as she moved past Jova, and the girl squeaked as Bechde picked her up. “Quele, come here! Get the child food and water, anything she wants.”
With nothing but the rustle of her chainmail and a curt “yes, m’lady,” the alsknight Quele picked up the girl and walked away.
“And now to talk in peace,” said Bechde, resuming her seat next to Jova. The lady had special travel cushions, just for sitting, and while it was still morning they could sit and talk by the fire, uninterrupted.
Jova could feel a light mist on her fingers and cheeks. The sun would burn it away soon, but the humid air still clung to her skin, and made her breathing short and shallow. She hadn’t slept much the last night, holding, for the first time in her life, a tabula in her hand.
“You can sell her in Hak Mat Do, if you like,” said Bechde, and even though Jova knew the lady was trying to be kind, she couldn’t help but shiver. “The markets beyond the Barren Sands thrive with the odd trade.”
Even under that pseudonym, Jova recognized what “the odd trade” was. Slavery had never agreed with her, even when it was such a natural facet of everyday life. It came from having a slave father, perhaps—a slave father who, unlike all other slave fathers, could tell his child stories of his servitude. All Jova said, though, was, “I don’t want to sell her.”
A comforting arm wrapped around her shoulder. “Then you’ll just have to keep her, dear girl. You’ve done so much good already! She could have died out here, or met Hag Gar Gan slavers next, or run in with a crowd of wild savages. You’ve given her a chance for a real childhood, Jova. That’s a very precious thing.”
What about the chance for freedom? Wasn’t that precious too? Jova didn’t say it out loud, though; it was too hard to articulate what she was feeling. She scratched her chest again, pensive.
“Just imagine if she had been found by the horse riders.” Bechde paused, and lowered her voice. “By Rho Hat Pan’s people. Imagine! The brutality of the Hag Gar Gan! Oh, I don’t dare to think it. No, it’s much better this way, honestly.”
“What do I do, though?”
“You clothe her, you feed her,” said Bechde. “She won’t be good for much work until she’s older, but I find that they are most excellent companions even in their younger years if you treat them well.” Bechde must have noticed Jova’s expression, because she said, after, “Oh, don’t look so unhappy, Jova. It will be a treat, honestly.”
“If she’s mine,” said Jova, hugging her knees, “Don’t I have the right to give her to you?”
“Then I have the right not to take her, dear. I’ll help, but Ladies know I’ve got too many of my own to look after.”
“But you will help me?”
“Yes, Jova, now stop worrying.” Jova felt a thumb press against her forehead, and move across it as if it was smoothing out the wrinkles in her skin. “Smile! There’s no need to have your face all scrunched up like that.”
Jova reached up to touch Bechde’s hand, not sure if she was going to hold it or push it away, but Bechde withdrew quickly.
“I’m so terribly sorry, Jova, that was far too forward of me,” said Bechde. “All this talk of children and mothers, I suppose it’s gotten to my head.”
This was the first time Jova had heard talk of mothers, but she didn’t inquire further. “It’s alright, Lady Bechde,” she said, smiling. “I don’t mind.”
Bechde sighed. “I hope you don’t mind my saying this, darling, but you are truly…open. It is something I have never seen before, and I think I am not alone in saying it is something I want to protect.”
Jova had to admit there was a pattern: Roan, then Janwye, and now Bechde. All the same, she could not help but feel that Bechde was not being entirely honest. It was her faults that marked her, not her strengths: it was pity she inspired, not care.
“For all your smiles and your laughter, you have known suffering,” said Bechde, her hand hovering just over Jova’s face, where her bandages were tied. “That takes real character, dear. Honestly.”
“Thank you, Lady Bechde,” said Jova, bobbing her head. Bechde sounded so sad, that Jova felt she had to say something else. She thought hard for a minute. “May I be forward too, Lady Bechde?”
“Why not,” said the Alswell lady, and Jova could tell she said it with a smile.
“Were you a mother once?”
Jova could almost hear the smile vanish. “I pray that I still am,” Bechde said, and her tone was resigned. “They are lost and gone now, Ladies take them wherever they may be. I haven’t had child in many years, though, old crone as I am.”
Jova scoffed. “You don’t sound very old, Lady Bechde.”
“Why, thank you, little darling, but I assure you I am.” She lowered her voice. “I am going on fifty summers, and there’s silver in my hair.”
“You’re young on the inside, though,” said Jova. “I think you might be younger inside than I am!”
Bechde laughed. “Oh, darling, you make me blush. I dare say you’ve got a little youth left in you yet, though.”
Jova was about to answer, when a horn sounded so suddenly and so loudly that she flinched. Bechde yawned.
“We really did spend the whole night talking, didn’t we?” Bechde’s dress rustled as she rose, and she patted down the cushion to wipe off the dirt. “Well, up we get, Jova, we’ve got a long way to go. You’ll ride with me today, how about that?”
Jova tensed. “What about Roan?”
“If the sandman wishes to be alone with his beasts then let him be,” said Bechde, dismissively. “If he needed you, he would have sought you out, but as it is you have no obligation to be with him.” Her voice softened slightly. “There’s plenty of room in the wagon, and the bumping’s not so bad. We could have pomegranates again! Wouldn’t that be nice?”
Jova nodded her consent, just once, all while wondering where on Albumere Roan could be and why he had suddenly become so distant.
“Oh, marvelous!” Bechde trilled, taking Jova’s hand. “There’s so much left to discuss. We simply must find a good name for the girl, Jova. I was thinking something with an ‘m’ sound, Methila or Makenna.”
“Bechde, can I ask you a question?” asked Jova. She was thinking back to the last night, of all the strange things that had happened then. There were things about that glade she wanted to forget, and at same time things that she wanted to know so much more about.
“As the Lady Fall listens, ask away,” said Bechde, unperturbed by Jova’s interruption.
Jova hugged her own cushion to her chest as they walked away, her ears pricked to the sound of the camp coming to life. Things were quieter on the Alswell side of things, the slaves breaking up camp almost mechanically, the other fieldmen’s morning exertions lazy and gentle. “Do you have many hollows in Alswell?”
“A fair number.” Bechde helped Jova up as they stepped into her personal wagon, nestled comfortably in shade on the jungle path. “Just as much or as little as any other nation, I would think.”
“And you keep them walled in, you said?”
“The great wells of Alswell, we call them, yes. Poets say we draw from them the sap of the world. Beautiful, don’t you think?” said Bechde. She made a sound as if she was going to say more, but then fell silent.
“And these hollows,” said Jova, feeling as if she would regret the words the moment she said them. “Do they…do they walk?”
“I would certainly hope not,” said Bechde, and her laughter made Jova’s face turn red. “The ones we’ve caught certainly don’t go anywhere, and if we lose them out there in the wild, well, there are quite a few trees in the woods, now, aren’t there?”
Jova nodded and did her best to laugh, all while wondering what the thing in the glade was last night if it wasn’t a hollow. She had already been wrong about the girl; if she could mess up something so simple, who was she to say that the thing she had heard was truly one of the walking trees? It was preposterous. There had to be another explanation.
Another question drifted across Jova’s mind unbidden, and before she could stop herself she asked, “Bechde, do the hollows have tabula? Tabula of their own, I mean?”
“What a clever little girl you are,” said Bechde, as the wagon rose and began to trundle away. The bumping was bad, even as they rolled over soft jungle mulch, and Jova could swear that her behind was beginning to bruise as they rumbled on. Bechde and her voluminous dress suddenly seemed rather practical now. “I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about it before,” continued Bechde, unfazed by the wagon’s movement. “There must be some philosopher out there I’m sure who’s looked into this, but I’ve never seen a hollow with one. Perhaps it is buried somewhere under all those other tabula, dear, or perhaps one must simply be able to move to have a tabula.”
It was true, plants didn’t have tabula, but if moving was the only rule, then Jova was either an exception or the rule was wrong.
The tarp parted suddenly, and Quele said in her gravelly monotone, “She has been fed and watered, m’lady. I can’t carry her the whole way, though.”
“You’ve done excellently, Quele, thank you. You may leave.” The tarp closed, leaving the three of them in their comfortable little world. “Come here, little one. Did you eat well?”
“Yes,” she said, curtly. Again, there was an earnest dedication to the words that made it hard to imagine them coming from a mouth so young.
“We were just thinking of what your new name will be,” said Bechde, in a kind voice. “Jova, what do you think of Methila?”
Before Jova could respond, the girl said, “My name is Alis.” It wasn’t an argument or an assertion; it was just a practiced statement of fact. Her parents must have taught her that, Jova thought. They had taught her to protect the one thing she could bring with her, her name.
“Why don’t we let her keep her name?” suggested Jova.
“Oh, that’s not such a good idea,” said Bechde, quickly. “Best to start fresh, don’t you think? Whenever we take new ones in Alswell, we always give them new names.”
“I’m sorry, Bechde, but I think…” Jova reached out and took the little girl, Alis, by the hand. It was small and hot, and only squirmed slightly when Jova touched her. “I think we’re not in Alswell. I think she should keep her name.”
“Well…well, alright then,” said Bechde, and she sounded more disappointed than angry or upset. “Alis is a good name.”
“A holy name, too,” said Jova, patting Alis on the head. “Roan would approve.”
“What’s Roan?” asked Alis. She took a seat next to Jova and asked in her prim, directed voice. Who had this Alis been, before the Fallow took her away?
“Roan was the man on horseback, remember?” said Jova, holding Alis’s hand still. “You’ll talk with him more soon. He might seem harsh, but he’s really very nice.”
“What’s that on your face?” asked Alis, and Jova had to change tacts just as quickly to figure out what she was talking about.
“This?” Jova asked, indicated her blind fold.
There was an expectant pause, and Jova realized Ali must have nodded. “It’s called a blindfold,” she said, nodding back even though she wasn’t quite sure how far up or down Alis’s face was in the silence.
Alis continued with her interrogation. “Why do you have it?”
Jova’s breath caught in her throat. For a moment, she saw a glimpse of it what it felt liked to be unrestrained, unjudged, and realized how tempting it must have been for Roan. Jova hesitated, wondering what truth she had for little Alis, when at last all Jova chose to say was, “There’s something wrong with me.”
The little girl seemed to accept that, and asked no more questions.
The wagon jerked suddenly, and Jova nearly tumbled out of her seat. “What’s going on?” muttered Bechde, as she opened the tarp.
As Jova picked herself up, there was a fevered muttering between Bechde and one of her attendants, and as the attendant left Bechde whispered, “Three years and there are still refugees on the road from Ironhide’s revolution…”
There was a rustling of fabric as Bechde slid out of the wagon. “I’ll be back in a moment, Jova dear. We’ve met some people who want to talk to us. You two stay in here, and get to know each other!”
“Bye,” said Jova, meekly, as Bechde left. She was left alone with Alis in the wagon, wondering what to say. “Are you OK?” asked Jova, hesitantly. “After last night? Do you feel…better?”
Alis did not respond for quite some time. Then, she said, “Where are we going?”
“Very far away,” said Jova. “To Alswell, and to a place called the Seat of the King. You’ve probably already gone a far way, to here. This place is called Moscoleon.”
Jova felt the bench shift as Alis began to swing her legs. “When are we going home?” she asked.
It was like a hand had clenched around Jova’s chest. She felt sudden moisture around her eyes, and she shook her head to clear it. Her hand gripped Alis’s tighter. “I don’t know,” said Jova. “Not for a long time, I think.”
There was a sudden weight on Jova’s shoulder, and Alis mumbled, softly, “Will you be my sister?”
“OK,” Jova said, and she adjusted herself so that she could lower Alis’s head gently into her lap. “I’ll be your sister.”
She wasn’t sure what being a sister meant, but, as Alis’s little body leaned peacefully on her, Jova figured it couldn’t be so bad. Jova felt her own head begin to droop, as the warm air in the wagon and the trials of last night began to lull her into her slumber.
Jova did not know how long she had slept, or if she had even slept at all, when shouts from outside made her jerk upright.
“Lances up, tabula out!” shouted a voice from the outside, one that Jova recognized as Janwye’s. The shout echoed all the way down to the end of the procession. “Draw weapons! Lances up, tabula out!”
Jova tensed, and began to pat down the floor of the wagon, looking for something she could use as a spear or a stick. Alis stirred next to her, yawning and smacking her lips together. Her tabula felt heavy in Jova’s pocket.
Jova’s hand closed around something that would do, and she felt years of morning practice with Arim return to her. It was time to prove that she could make it in the real world, time to prove that she was no longer just a scared little blind girl.
It was time to protect the one that the Ladies had sent to her. It was time to find faith, once again.
Jova tensed, crouched in front of the tarp opening, and waited.
Posted on December 22, 2013, in 4.08, Chapter 4 (Born & Bred) and tagged adventure, Alis, Bechde, creative writing, fantasy, Janwye, Jova, novel, original characters, Quele, story, web fiction, web serial, webfiction, writing. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.