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My name is Honor - Chapter 1
They say it was the End of Days. War,disease, famine, and then; one last explosion of the hate and perdition that was mankind. They say people then were heinous, barbaric; murderers, thieves and rapists were rampant...war in every country. They say that the Rulers ignited great fires and plagues which decimated whole populations. Every land but this...everyone but us. So they say.
They say this land once had a name and a flag. It has no such title now, no banner. It is just The Land. There are stories of a way of life long left behind but not forgotten, a way of life which remains only now in cautionary tales. We live now by the land and The Council, our saviors our church, comprised of a group of elders and their apostles. They are said to be the final ruling, the end-all-be-all of the only remaining population of humanity, the chosen of the chosen; direct links between the Gods and the remains of Mankind. So they say.
I asked Mother one day how The Council could know, for sure, what happened if none of us were even alive. I was beaten ruthlessly and locked in the root cellar for two days. When Father came for me, I was fevered and dehydrated and terrified but there was no need for further explanation. The message was clear; The Council was never to be questioned. I was five years old.
At age six, though I had not forgotten the previous punishment I was unable to restrain my curiosity, and questioned about the Otherlands, what they were like now, how could we be sure it was a wasteland if we never went there to look? Again, I was beaten, with strap and switch, and this time I was cast into the cellar for five days. It went on this way for years, beatings for various reasons, blasphemy, slothfulness speaking out of turn. Then came my thirteenth birthday, when my parents announced to me their choice for my marriage.
It was another of The Council's ordinances. Only those of desirable physical and mental faculties were allowed to procreate,to ensure that only the strong would be born into our population. If a child born was sickly, deformed or mentally unfit, they would only be allowed to live under the condition that they would be sent to The Council to be sterilized before puberty. Matches were made for healthy children within their first year of life, based on very stringent rules set by The Council. The pair,if in any way related, must be separated by at least three generations, so as to avoid inbreeding and thus the production of unfit offspring. Then came the comparison of physical traits, personality, and intelligence. The two to be matched must have attributes which compliment each other. It mattered not whether they got along or felt any sort of affection toward each other. It was about the survival of our people, the Chosen. We, who survived the end of days, who were set aside from all mankind by the Gods themselves, to carry on life on this planet. I always felt a tinge of pride at the fact, but it was always tainted by the thought; "That's why The Council has told us this, so that we might be blinded by our pride". I was furious, though I'd known for some time the day would come. I objected immediately to which Mother replied with the back of her hand, always her signature move. Father was a man of few words, and was never the first to inflict physical punishment, He would come in later with the strap. He stood quietly in the shadows of the kitchen, smoking his pipe.
"Nora, do not refuse this. It is the way of things and Orin is a good man. He will be kind to you." Father told me. "This has been decided since the day of your birth, understand? Its final. You will have a good home in his village."
"I don't want to live in his village or this one."
My mother moved to deliver another slap for my reply being something other than "Yes Sir", when something in me surged, and I found myself catching her by the wrist and inch or so from my face. My eyes locked on hers before I realized what I had done. This would be the worst beating I would ever receive I guessed it to be nearly ten days before anyone came for me.I woke to the sound of the cellar door creaking open and stood expectantly, waiting for Father to call to me from the stairs. When Seamus appeared, I shrank back against the cold cellar wall, unsettled by this change in routine. He knelt before me and tried to pull me into an embrace. I flinched from his touch, both from the quiet hate I had growing inside me for everyone around me, and from the bruises I still bore.
"Where is Father?" I asked bitterly, staring at the ground
"He would not come." He reached out and gripped me gingerly by my shoulders, his eyes wet with tears threatening to spill over. "You must stop this behavior Nora; asking so many questions, insubordination, it's blasphemy.The things troubling your mind are not for us to know. The Gods have provided us with The Council and they provide us with a peaceful life, free of the brutality which destroyed the other lands. We were chosen above all mankind to survive, and we must be grateful... and your marriage... well, it is the way of things. I know Orin, he is a good man, you will have a good life. I know you are headstrong but I can't stand to see you hurt like this. Mother and Father are not wrong, your behavior must be punished... but still it hurts me to see you like this"
Perhaps I should have felt something in that moment for my brother. Perhaps I should have wept, hugged him, and vowed to be to the obedient waif I was expected to be. I could only feel an empty sort of hate, laced with pity. To survive, I could act out the scenario, the life I was expected to live, but I would never be devoted to it as they all seemed to be. I became good at appearances, though, so that my parents were convinced their last punishment had changed me, though I spoke less and less. My family and I became cordial strangers, and when Seamus and Rauri both left home to collect their wives from neighboring villages, I was left alone with our parents and silence ruled the house. I spoke only when spoken to, Mother and Father only to me when necessary, and it was finally peaceful, as long as I didn't speak, I couldn't get myself into trouble. I even managed to appear agreeable when they began having Orin's family to the farm for dinner several times a month. Inwardly, I imagined a place without the oppressive presence of The Council, their facade of blissful peace, preaching non violence and love in their churches while all the while enforcing death upon any who would oppose them. The hypocrisy of it made me sick, thinking of the many savage beatings I'd received in my life, but this was not the violence people were afraid of. We were without war,which The Council had taught us since the beginning, was the worst thing that could happen to our people, and that without The Council, we would most certainly sink into barbarism and chaos.
. Mother and I stood in our dismal kitchen, preparing a large meal for Orin and his parents when they joined us later for dinner. While Mother prattled on about some recipe, my mind had soared away with thoughts of the sunshine outside, my brothers and father working alongside each other in the fields. Mother brought me back to the lesson with a sharp slap and explained, yet again, that Orin would expect me to know these things when he came to take me next year to be his wife. With my brothers already gone, I would be the last to go and then my parents would move on to the next stage of their life,waiting for all three of their children to have their first child. When they had held each of our firstborn, then began the final two years of their lives, during which they would comprise the updated family tree and history as was tradition. It would be passed to their grandchildren, who they would barely get a chance to know and the later born not at all, as proof of their lineage. Then, after those two years, they would take the journey into the wilderness to where The Council itself resided, where they would give themselves to the Gods in death. It was considered an honorable affair, with a enormous feast put on the day before, with all of the soon to be deceased's family and friends, one final goodbye. No one was allowed to accompany those departing on their journey.
"Pay attention, girl!" Mother admonished me in her usual way
"Yes ma'am" I mumbled in my usual way, turning my attention back to the meal we were preparing. A half-diced carrot sat before me on the cutting board, the knife still in my hand.
"Orin will be here for supper tonight, do you intend to serve him nothing?!I swear, Nora I pray that man and your children never starve for your daydreaming!" Mother continued as I resumed my chopping vehemently, pouring my frustration into my work.
I detested the mundane life I was doomed to live; my mother's life, and her mother before her. While men worked outdoors, and were allowed to study as an apostle to The Council, it was a rarity for a woman to ever know such privilege. My sole intended purpose was to bear children and raise them, to care for my husband, and then go to The Council to die... and I found then entire endeavor, the whole facade of our existence, repulsive.
That night, after the meal was done and my parents had retired with Orin's to the sitting room, I cleaned up while Orin sat smoking his pipe at our kitchen table.It was the first time they'd really left us alone, and it was intentional. With just barely a year before our marriage, our parents seemed determined that we would get to know each other.
"You don't say much" He finally uttered, breaking the heavy silence
"Should I?" I countered, scrubbing a pot
"I just thought, after all this time, you might find something to say to me. Or do you plan on spending the next twenty or so years mute?"
I refrained from tossing the pot at his head and instead rested it in the dish rack.
"I'll speak when I have something to say"
"I think you have more to say than you let on"
I yanked the plug from the sink, focusing on the water as it spiraled down the drain, through the pipe to where is drained just outside the house, wishing I could spiral out with it and be free. So focused I didn't hear Orin get up, stride across the kitchen. Only when I smelled the sweet spiced tobacco in his pipe did I realize he stood directly behind me. I wiped the sink and counter top clean, not acknowledging him, until he spoke my name..
"Nora" His voice was lowered, almost a whisper "I know you don't agree with this arrangement, I know about your doubts, you don't have to be false with me."
I turned to him, unsettled by how accurate his assumptions were.
"I don't know what you mean." I managed simply "This is the way of things, and you are a desirable match for me. Our children will be strong."
I thought of the days I spent, cold and broken, in the cellar and a shiver of dread ran down my spine. If Orin felt I was disobedient, that I would resist our arrangement, if I were revealed in my doubts, I would be sent to The Council. I had no faith, no trust for the man before me, no way of knowing if he would betray me should he learn the truth of my heart. He studied my face, brow furrowed.
"You don't really believe in that nonsense, do you? After what The Council did to your birth parents?"
'What do you mean? my birth parents?"
He quickly looked around and, satisfied that no one could hear, he continued fervently
"Carrick and Kaya are not your parents, Nora. They have been lying to you all your life."
"Orin, what are you talking about?" I could hear my voice rising, and didn't care.
"Shh, Nora, calm down. -" He opened his mouth to say more when we heard the shuffling of feet across the wood floor in the next room.
Orin leaned close, his voice barely audible; "We're out of time... we will talk more next week when your family comes for the Harvest Festival. I just need to know now, Nora, are we of the same mind? Do you also feel there is more beyond our borders? more than this life?"
His eyes, wide and desperate and pleading, made me forget my reservations about trusting him.
"Yes" I breathed.
Orin nodded and winked, stepping back just as his father came into the kitchen.
"Son, get the horses, your mother is feeling poorly, it's time to head home"
Orin nodded curtly and was out the door. I watched him go and turned to find his father eyeing me strangely. I turned away, feeling uncomfortable under his gaze, began putting dishes away.
"He's a good boy"
"My boy, he's a good boy. You see that he stays that way."
I heard him leave the room and puzzled over his words a moment, until it came to me. Of course, he was worried I, apparently some sort of inherently bad seed, would corrupt his youngest son. The subtext of his words ignited me. How dare this man, who'd said perhaps a total of thirty words to me since the day we went, presume to pass judgement on me. It also made me very nervous about what Orin had said... Mother and Father were not my parents, and in fact my real parents had done something so heinous and had been punished so severely, their story was told as a scary story to frighten children...and for some reason it had been kept from me.
When Orin's family had gone, Mother and Father sat, drinking tea in front of the fireplace. I sat at the table, sewing a quilt Mother had directed me to make and give to Orin's mother next week at the Harvest Festival. It was tradition, she said. My mind not being in my work, I pricked my finger over and over until finally I had to stop lest I bloody the fabric. I stepped into the sitting room to say goodnight but at the sight of Mother and Father, I couldn't get the words out. Knowing now what might have been kept from me all this time, I had to know the truth of it, damn the beating that was sure to follow. Mother noticed me standing in the doorway and put down her knitting.
"What is it?"
"Are you my parents?"
Mother's face reddened at once, her lips pursed and for once she said nothing, only looked at Father expectantly.
Father looked at me over his glasses, through the haze of smoke curling out of his pipe. He puffed thoughtfully a moment, then set it aside and leaned back in his chair.
"Come sit with us, Nora."
I reluctantly obeyed and perched lightly on the edge of the loveseat next to Mother.
" I don't know what has prompted this, but it matters little. We had hopes that you would never have to experience the pain of this story, or know the tragedy of your origins. But, it seems that is not the way of it. No, we are not your birth parents. Your true Mother and Father are dead because of their traitorous, blasphemous ways, of which you are the result. You father was my brother, and so you were left to me to raise.There is nothing else to tell. So now, you know." He paused and looked at me gravely. "You are never to speak of this to anyone."
"How did they die? what did they do to betray The Council? How old was I then?"
'Mother', quick as a Terrier on a rat, slapped my squarely. "Enough! You heard your Father, there is no more to tell."
"Easy, Kaya." 'Father said, staying her hand from another strike.
My cheek stung as I formed my next words. "You are not my mother, and he is not my father, Kaya "
Her eyes widened at my use of her name, I saw her hand twitch, wanting so badly to deliver a blow. "Father" spoke before she could act.
"We have raised you from a baby, Nora, show some gratitude. If it will quiet you, I will tell you about your parents and their sins. Aengus and Hazel...were not meant to be married. Aengus was to be married to a local girl Hazel was promised to a man in a village far from here. But they grew to love each other, and would not abide by the law. Aengus was always trouble as a child, but our parents hid his nature, not wanting to bring shame on our family. When it was discovered Hazel was with child, she was arrested and was to go before The Council for confession and judgement judgement, which would almost certainly mean death as deserved by adulterers. Aengus, in his petulant, impulsive way, murdered the men guarding her the night before she was to be transported to The Council, and stole her away. They escaped into the wilderness, but in her condition, Hazel could not go far. When the apostles themselves came from The Council's sanctuary to recruit the men of our village to find them, I was among those that volunteered. We found them cowering in a thicket barely five miles out. Aengus was wild-eyed and it took six of us to restrain him. He looked upon me as a stranger and I knew then my brother was lost, devoured by his sin. Hazel was just as vicious in her fight, but was weakened by the fact she had just given birth to you. When the apostles caught up with us, they said that the pair were to be put to death on the spot. And so they were. Hung from a strong tree and left without funeral rites for their shame. Now you know the whole of it, and there is nothing left to tell. I will not see you die as my brother did, tempted by a whore and left hanging to be fed upon by buzzards. You are our child, we have raised you from your third day of life, and risked our very lives to do it. Your life is a burden placed on me with my brother's dying breath. A request I was too weak to refuse. The apostles ordered you put to death as well, but I was too naive, too young, and too grieved with having to end my own brother's life to kill an infant. I hid you away until things settled and we claimed you as our own. I will answer no more questions, and if you find your curiosity cannot be contained, the only answer you will receive will be that of the lash. Understood?"
I knew by his soft, even tone that I would be answered by more than the lash. This man before me who I'd called Father, who murdered his own brother and then stole his child away, would kill me as well if the situation called for it.
"It is understood, 'Father'" I said, the last word dripping with disdain.
"Good. I am sorry you have had to know this.. It is not a pleasant thing to bear. But now you know why you are the way you are, and you can overcome it. Go to bed, child." He spoke as if I had been absolved of my sins. As if I had been ill and finally had my disease diagnosed. I could only bring myself to nod and left the room without another word, my mind racing as I slipped into bed. Sleep would not come that night as I lay haunted by the tale "Father" had told me. Picturing my parents, my real parents, fighting for their lives and mine, attacked by their own friends and family, and in the end left to hang with no dignity to be devoured by scavengers. I began to feel sick thinking about it and forced my thoughts elsewhere. Orin. What could he possibly hope to accomplish by suddenly opening up to me, and could I trust him? It was too late to wonder about trust, I knew, I had already revealed myself to him, the blasphemer that I was. No more questions could be answered tonight, I told myself. I should only be grateful that I was comfortable in my bed and that the punishment I had been so certain of had not be delivered. Finally, sleep took me as I imagined what my parents looked like.