Deleted scenes [SPOILERS]|
I was just feeling weary with the idea of dying in the dark, but I got to looking over the page, and now my heart flitters. I can write words! I know boasting is ugly, but no one’s here to notice. See how neatly I turn the curves of the letters? I scan my writing and count how few letters I put down backwards, how little ink dribbled. There are a few smudges, but how good it looks! Mama would slap her chest to show her heart felt proud.
My lady and I have begun having our monthlies at the same time. It doesn’t seem proper, but I guess mucker maids and honored ladies alike can have their monthlies in time. I’ve been washing clothes enough to split the skin of my fingers. Poor lady, she’s abed, feeling weak. I should go make her more soup and try singing for her again.
I will in just a moment more. My Lord is asleep on my lap.
I’ve decided that there’s nothing in all the world that feels as good as a cat asleep on your lap—not even the sun full on your face, not a bath in a hollow where fresh river water and hot springs meet. Not a full belly.
A cat, asleep and purring under your hand, is better than a cellar full of food.
Today I thought to get her up and moving, get her blood going to make her heart work and warm up her cold face. I invented a little game in my head, rolling peas into a circle I’d scratched on the floor, and when someone gets three peas into the circle, both of us race around the tower. The first one back to the circle would win. It’s just the sort of game Mama would make up and I smiled all morning at the thinking of it and planning and imagining my lady smile and laugh as she raced. Then after I finished the dinner wash up, I looked at my lady in her gown, freshly laundered and fire dried, sitting up straight, staring at the wall, and I didn’t say peep. We’ve been alone together so long, I’m afraid I let my own thoughts trick me into thinking we are no more than clan sisters. Saying that I’m her best friend went to my head like fermented milk. I can’t just race around with my lady and throw dried peas, as though she were another mucker girl.
It wouldn’t be proper.
I can’t remember. Is the sky still? Does it spin like milk spooned into tea or flicker like a candle flame? Ancestors, but how tight and dark is the whole world. I live inside a clenched fist.
I don’t know what comes over me. I’ll be fixing supper or mending the candlewicks or even just lying abed, and suddenly I’ll realize something silly, like that I can’t remember anymore how honeysuckle smells, and my throat hurts something awful, like a great hand squeezes there, and my lungs start to boil and my stomach wrings, and I think I’m dying, struck strong with the mud fever and on my way to see my mama.
But then I just find myself crying. And I sob and sob for an hour, and when I’m done, my head pains me and I feel that much worse.
It scares me. I don’t think I used to feel this way, back when I lived under the sky. Will her khan never return? Will Lord Khasar?
Year 2 Day 161
I didn’t write this part before, because I was ashamed. Why do I write it today? Perhaps because I’m staring at the darkness and my mind is mumbling at me and makes me want a story to tell with my brush.
Yesterday when my lady was wretched sick from the bad grain, she vomited so hard all over herself, she fainted into sleep after and wouldn’t be roused. Nibus, god of order, forgive me, for I had to undress her and clean her up. I squinted as I did so, but I had to look a little to see where I washed. A baby is only naked before its mother, a husband and wife only before each other. It’s gross humiliation for anyone else to be seen naked, worse for a mucker maid to see her lady. But her clothes were steeped in filth, and I couldn’t leave her lying like that, could I?
It’s spring again. I haven’t slept for two days. In my waking dreams, I keep seeing Mama when the mud fever took her, her skin as yellow as this paper I write on, her lips dry like a snake shedding its skin. Why do I think of her now? I sang to her throughout her illness, but she didn’t mend. I sang! I swear I sang my soul with the words till my voice rasped to ashes. But she fell asleep, deeper and deeper till her skin went cold.
I’m sorry! Mama would flick seed pods at me for getting so teary and dark over things I can’t change.
“Laugh, Dashti,” she used to say, when the barrel was licked empty and the rooster gone to boiled bones.
And when I’d say, “I can’t laugh, Mama. I’ve got no cause.”
Then she’d say, “The best time to laugh is for no good cause.”
So I’d laugh, then she’d laugh, and we’d laugh back and forth like a tug-of-war. It filled our bellies.
Year 2 Day 191
Times I wake up in the morning and think Under, god of tricks, has traded my heart for a boulder, it’s so heavy and weighs me down. Then I remember why I feel this way—Mama is dead. Isn’t it odd that of a sudden, the heart pain is so strong now, near four years since the fever took her? The grief ache was always with me a bit, pinching me on the inside as though two fingers squeezed the edge of my heart and never let go, not for a moment.
But now suddenly the grief pain is so heavy, I wonder if I can get up from my bed ever again. I put a hand on my heart and I sing, stitching every memory of light I have into the words, not candlelight but sky light, sun and moon and starlight on water. It helps a bit, I guess, but Evela, goddess of sunlight and songs, never meant for a singer to heal herself.
Year 2 Day 221
I’ve decided. When we run clean out of food, I plan to laugh. What’s the use of dying sad?
Once we saw a fox scuttle right across our path, and I stopped to fold myself toward the Sacred Mountain. My lady didn’t understand, but a fox can sometimes be a mountain shaman in fox form, and saying a prayer after seeing one brings good luck. So if it was a mountain shaman, we did see someone, I guess. But then again, it may’ve just been a fox.
Mama used to say, on the steppes you can pass through all four seasons in a single day. We’ve hiked through snow banks, been blasted by a steamy sun, and curled up under our blankets inside an unexpected and violent rainstorm.
It seems as though we’ve waded through every one of the hundreds of streams that cross the steppes in spring, and despite the soggy boots and red-cold feet, it always make me sigh happily just to see them. A traveling shaman once told us that the earth’s soul moves in flowing water, so I know that even if all the people are gone, at least the earth still lives.
Yesterday, I crept upon the nest of a wild swan with an eye for the eggs, but the mother was near. The great creature came at me, beating its wings, biting and clawing at the air. It must’ve been half my weight, and between the two of us, the swan was winning with anger and violence on her side. I stumbled back and fell, and that might’ve been the end of my eyeballs before they were pecked out, if I hadn’t managed to squawk out the song for swans. I barely remember it, having never sung it before.
As Mama used to say, “Songs for friendly attract, songs for enemy repel,” and sure as sure, this swan was no friend.
The swan startled to hear me, and hung there, listening. It thrashed at me one more time before flying off, leaving me with a scratch on my arm, a bruised chin, and two wing feathers. This is good news, for my brushs were nearly out. Thanks to Lord Titor, god of animals, for granting me a few pages more.
But I didn’t get the eggs.
Made some suggestions to the town chief about placing the refugees throughout the city. She didn’t exactly trade shirts with me over the idea. I guess I’d call her look “infuriated.” She reminded me that she was gentry, which was something I didn’t know. I knew the lord and lady of a realm are gentry and all their family, but the chiefs are, too? Forgive me, Ancestors, but while her nostrils flared and she told me to go scrub some pots, she didn’t look much like gentry.
No news from Khan Tegus yet. I guess we’re all a little short from worry.
[This will give you an idea of how partly formed my early drafts are. Here's the original ending. It came about much quicker in the first draft, and it was completely unsatisfying. This is the end to the scene in the yard, when Dashti tries to run away but Lady Vachir stops her. In my first draft, I hadn't worked in as much Mongolian influence. Dashti was Celie and Saren was Malene, and Khan Tegus was the prince....]
Ever since he took my hands, my lady had been looking at her prince and back at me, her forehead mightily creased as it does when she’s thinking.
“You’re Lady Malene?” asked the prince.
She took a deep breath and stepped forward. “Yes, and Celie is my sister.”
Lords and Ladies, how I wanted to claim she was right! How I wished I could lie brilliantly, right there under the sky, with no remorse and no consequences and fall into her prince’s arms and be what I’d pretended to be. You may think I’m as weak as shaved wood, but so powerful was my desire to give in, I couldn’t even keep to my feet, and I fell to the ground, to my knees, right there. Her prince knelt beside me, his arm around my shoulders. His gentleness was painful.
“Celie, what is it? Are you in pain? I’ll call a healer.”
“It’s not true, Tegus.” I was sobbing mightily. “Malene’s the daughter of a lord, but I’m a mucker born. She asked me to claim her name, to see if you’d honor her betrothal, and I wish I could say I did it all out of duty, but my soul wanted to. When we spoke in the tower, I gave you my shirt, because I wanted you…to have it. I’m so sorry.”
Her prince’s arm fell away from my shoulder as he left me on the ground. I guess I rightly expected the man with the sword to return. And this time I’d lay my neck down on the block myself.
“Stand up, Celie,” he said, and in his voice I heard the strength that made him a warrior, made him a prince, and made me want to shake until I crumbled into dust.
“How dare you defy the word of a noble? If Lady Malene says you are her sister, then who are you, before Lords and Ladies, to deny it?”
I looked at him then, and he was smiling, warmly, wonderfully. He was as radiant as the son of Lady Evela herself.
“Celie of Titor’s Garden, Lady Celie of Song for Evela, will you once and for all take me for your husband?”
His voice trembled with fear, and I think it was for fear that I’d say no! My throat was too tight to speak. I looked to my lady. It was, after all, her turn to speak for me.
She was smiling, her new happy smile, when my sister Malene said, “Yes, my lord, she will.”
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