The Choosing - Fantasy Novella Part 1, Chapter 1
A Must-Read For Writers And Readers of Fantasy
The Choosing Part 1, Chapter 1
I look back with horror at the power-hungry siren I used to be, yet I am filled with gratitude for my past. It has made me who I am today.
When the Being of Light enfolded me in his great white wings, I was only eight years old. He wiped my tears away as I lay shivering in the cold dark room where Mother had imprisoned me.
The light was blinding. I covered my face, but I was not afraid when the softness of wings enveloped me. A gentle voice whispered in my ear:
“Akaasa, even in the darkness, you are the light.”
I could not understand what this meant.
The night the angel came to me as I lay on the floor of Mother’s dressing room, shivering with fear of the dark and further beatings to come, I heard through the door, Grandmother's firm voice addressing Mother:
"It's not Akaasa's fault that you've become fat after her birth."
"She's a demon sent to destroy me! Some evil sorcerer has conjured her up because he could not possess me."
"One day you will be sorry for this and it will be too late. You rue your lost beauty, but it is inner beauty that lasts."
And so I learned the reason for Mother's hatred. I was a thing to be bruised, beaten, and locked away. It was strange. Weren't mothers supposed to love their children? I had come upon her, standing naked before the great oval mirror in her room, pummelling her loose belly and crying. When she looked up and saw me watching from behind the reed curtains, bursting to fling my arms about her legs and ask her why she wept, she dragged me with those hungry hands and beat me with her hairbrush.
"It's all because of you, you ugly little demon!"
I would search the mirror for signs of my ugliness and see a little girl with large frightened brown eyes and dark wavy hair falling past her shoulders. This was no demon.
The door opened and Grandmother took me in her arms. I clung to her. Her dress smelled of herbs and flowers. Its clean crispness comforted me. I could hear Mother’s soft moans, as she lay crumpled upon her bed.
I wanted to ask Mother why she thought me a demon, but there was a lump in my throat. I could not bear to look at her. Averting my eyes, I let Grandmother take me to her room for the night.
~ ~ ~ ~
I told Grandmother about the angel as I sat on her lap by the window. The vast beds of quartz crystal where the Tribe of Sorcerers came to recharge their powers, glittered in the moonlight. Beyond them rolled the purple moors, a haze of silver.
"Angels only come to special people, my Princess. What did he say to you?"
“He said even in the darkness, I am the light. What did he mean, Grandma?”
She smiled and stroked my hair. “There is a light inside everyone, only most don’t know it. I believe someday you will.”
"But Mother calls me an ugly demon. Why does she call me that? Aren't I a good girl?"
"She does not mean it, my Princess. You are beautiful. You will bring light to many. Remember this, no matter what happens, no matter what you become."
~ ~ ~
Next day, when Grandmother and Father were out in the fields and I was watching Mother do her hair in front of her mirror and tint her lips with red lip salve, she spied me in my hiding place behind the reed curtains. Rising in a fury from her stool, she took me by the ear and lifting my dress, belted my bare back with the cane she kept by her bed. When I cried out, she beat me harder until I bit my bottom lip and tasted blood.
"I told you not to sneak up on me when I'm in front of the mirror!" she kept saying. Then we heard the voices of Father and Grandmother as they made their way up the steps and she pulled down my dress and let go of me.
"And don't you dare tell them about it, you ugly demon, or I'll beat you even harder," she hissed. "Dry your tears and go to your room."
I limped away, the welts on my back burning, too angry to cry. Through the doorway of my room I saw Father holding a white lamb in his arms. Grandmother was putting ointment on its lacerated ear. I covered myself with a sheet and waited for Grandmother to come to me.
Sometimes there were happy scenes in our home – Father carrying Mother piggy back round the room, her laughter so pure and from the heart, it seemed that all was well between them. Some days I heard them arguing, Mother shrieking, and Father's voice so muted, I could barely hear him. At such times, Grandmother was always ready to comfort me, as was our horse, Midnight. He would whinny softly as though he understood. I would spend hours with him, brushing him to a shine and talking to him. I had fed him tender grass fresh with the dew when he was a foal.
Yet Mother was tender when we went to the woods to gather the wild black berries the sunning lizards so loved to gobble. We chased big blue butterflies and tried to capture the seed fairies of the dandelion.
"Mother, are they really fairies?" I would ask and she would answer that they were. I did not think of it then, but she made me believe in the impossible and for that, I thank her.
On the morning of my twelfth birthday, Father said to me: “Starting from today, you can come with me to the fields. Would you like that?”
“Oh yes!” I cried, glad for an excuse to be away from Mother and get to spend more time with him.
I followed him down the stairs cut into the cliffs – home to us and to the rest of the villagers. Doors, windows and stairways were carved into the sandstone. To the right of the cliffs, lay green fields of corn, wheat, and vegetables and bordering these, a deep forest of gnarled trees.
Hidden among the flowering bushes in the woods, we watched the dragons ravage the neighbouring corn fields and pluck like berries the huge orange pumpkins from the spreading vines.
I clutched at Father's sleeve as those great purple dragon wings beat the air with a sound of whips and the scales upon the sinuous bodies shimmered in the sunlight. Their long forked tails flailed, their claws arched in anticipation.
"Oh Father," I cried, "will they eat our corn too? Will they eat us?"
He gave my fingers a reassuring squeeze. "Our fields are protected with magic. Sadly, not everyone can afford the spells of the Tribe of Sorcerers."
"But do the dragons eat people?" I insisted.
"No one knows for certain. Once in a while they carry a man or woman away into the Dragon Mountains, where not even sorcerers are brave enough to go."
"I'd like to be a sorceress," I said. "Then I could protect all the fields in Tacta."
"It is not an easy life, child. The sorcerer bears great responsibility. If he turns to the dark path, he can destroy himself and others. Your future is the land. As one dedicated to bringing forth good things from earth, you will lead a happy, simple life. Besides, girls can't become sorcerers."
"You will understand when you grow older," said Father, and before I could say I was old enough, the sound of drums began, at first like distant thunder, then growing louder.
People were advancing upon the fields, beating drums to scare the dragons away. The huge beasts turned from their feast to snarl, baring long pointed fangs and growling deep in their throats. Then they crouched and sprang into the air with high-pitched cries of defiance, their sail-like wings bearing them away.
~ ~ ~ ~
At fifteen, I decided to brave Mother's scorn and show her I was special. She had always laughed at my desire to ride Midnight. As Father helped me scramble clumsily upon the horse's back, she hung out the window with a contemptuous smile. Then she burst into laughter and to my horror, I found myself missing the stirrup and falling face down upon Midnight's neck. I felt a blush warm my cheek.
Father looked at her and shook his head in a despairing way.
"Steady girl," he said, hastily placing my foot in the stirrup.
I thanked the Goddess that Midnight did not add to my humiliation by flinging me off his back.
"Now dig your heels in and ride up to the edge of the woods and back," said Father. "Remember to move with the horse. You should be like water."
At first my belly hurt as the horse began to trot, but I soon relaxed, secure in his love for me. The wind blew through my hair, my scarlet dress rose up my thighs, young men whistled as I rode by.
So, Grandmother hadn't just been kind when she called me beautiful. These boys could see my beauty too. Bolstered by male admiration, I spurred the horse to a gallop. A heady feeling of power surged through me - one I would seek to re-create for many years to come.
The beatings did not cease despite Grandmother's interventions and Father's disapproval of which I was aware by the snatches of conversation I heard between my parents. The torture had to stop. I was fifteen now, not a child who could not tell right from wrong.
I sneaked into the kitchen one day when Grandmother was in her room, grabbed the paring knife from the counter and taking a deep breath, ran the blade across my arm. Droplets of blood followed the wake of the knife, yet I did not wince or feel any pain in my trance-like state of frustration. I wanted to show the wound to Father. I wanted to blame them on Mother.
Father did not speak when I showed him my lacerated arm. He looked at Mother with rage in his eyes while she stood staring at me in disbelief. Perhaps she worried for my sanity. She did not deny my accusations. Grandmother put healing herbs on my shallow wounds and held me close.
When they left the room, she said, "Why did you do this to yourself, my Princess?"
"How did you know, Grandma?"
"Your Mother wouldn't go so far. You must not do this to yourself again. Promise me, child." A deep frown furrowed her brow, her brown eyes shone with unshed tears as she stroked my head.
Her gentleness made me cry. "I promise," I said through my sobs.
Did Father know too? I could hear him speaking in a stern voice to my strangely quiet Mother.
That evening Father took her for a "long drive" in our horse drawn carriage, and returned without her. He refused to answer our questions about her and shut himself into his room.
I was glad Mother was gone. There would be no more scars, only the endless tenderness of Father and Grandmother, and the admiration of love-struck boys.
© 2014 Anita Saran