Ravens hand, p.1
James Somers © 2015
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“…And He shall knit them together, blood and blade and bone, so that only death may tear them asunder.” — Eliam’s Chronicle, Prophecy of the Daughters of Light 10:23
Questions are Dangerous Things
A line of white fire burned diagonally across my back from my right shoulder down to my left buttock. My breath hissed out through gritted teeth. I struggled to hold back the scream of pain trying to usher forth. Balled fists and white knuckles bunched my silken robe around my breasts, leaving my backside completely exposed to the implement in Mistress Evelyn’s hand.
My legs were tucked beneath me, as I faced my bedchamber alone. Mistress Evelyn sighed heavily behind me. She meant to teach me a lesson I should have learned long ago. Still, I couldn’t help it that I had questions.
They buzzed among my thoughts like mosquitoes, pestering me with insecurities. I should not have asked. All my life I had been instructed to believe my superiors and accept the laws. I knew the truth—obedience and subservience brings peace and tranquility. Questioning the laws brought only pain.
“Such beautiful skin,” she remarked. “You are so very young and foolish, Raven. Do you not realize the privilege afforded you—the opportunity to bond with a great house?”
I did not speak back to her. To do so would have only brought her stern rebuke and more lashes. Part of my robe was pressed against my lips, holding back my gasps of pain. My back was on fire. No doubt, bloody lacerations crisscrossed my pale skin. With each breath, I felt my wounds expanding and contracting. Every movement caused me to shudder in agony. Hot tears fell across my cheeks onto the folds of my robe.
I could feel her steps as she tread a leisurely pace around me, coming to pause before me. Her slippers clicked upon the flagstones of my room. The jewels upon them caught the firelight. Their glinting seemed to mock me like whispering schoolgirls.
I shielded my nudity with my crimson robe, despite the fact that Mistress Evelyn had inspected my body for imperfections many times. It was her duty as the matriarch of her great house to see that her sons only bonded to the finest specimens available to them. She had only ever considered me to be adequate. I never knew if this was the truth, or if she merely said so because a mother never feels any woman is good enough for her son.
I felt ashamed for having provoked her displeasure. I should have known better. My matron would also hear of this—the woman in charge of my care and learning. Hannah would not be pleased that Mistress Evelyn was inconvenienced by the need to punish my insolence. I had imposed myself upon the lady during her visit and might feel another lashing before all was said and done in this matter.
“Honestly, you seemed so promising,” Evelyn continued. “Your beauty is quite incomparable. Nathan would have been quite taken with you, I’m sure. But how can I choose you when these questions persist? You force me to choose another.”
My eyes opened, but I kept my face downcast. Still, I could see her in my peripheral vision. This was the first real compliment I’d received, and that in the middle of a rebuke. Still, because I felt a need for her approval, it did briefly pull my attention from the pain.
Her intricately crafted, silver wand flashed with reflected light as her hand moved back and forth at her side. This was the implement used to cause me so much pain. A simple wave and focus of thought allowed the wand to open my flesh in surgical lacerations.
“I can only hope that your matron can recommend a suitable replacement,” Evelyn mused in her annoyance.
At last, she replaced the silver wand into a specially made sleeve at her wrist. The implement of my torture disappeared neatly inside her gown. She was dressed already for the dinner prepared in her honor upon this visit. Tomorrow morning she would return to House Rainier, and my opportunity as the chosen bond for her eldest son would come to an end.
“You may heal your wounds now,” she said. “Raven, I hope you think on what you have done.”
Evelyn turned toward the door. Whispering a word of command, the darkly stained wooden door opened for her. She glided from my room as gracefully as an eagle in flight. The door closed soon after her departure.
I remained, kneeling upon the floor. I began the process of healing my lacerations. My eyes were closed as I concentrated. I flinched as the power flowed through me, finding the separated edges of the wounds. The power cared no more for my agony than Mistress Evelyn did. It only knew that my body had been damaged and needed repair. To this task it went immediately to work, bringing the skin together.
I had control. I had set it to do its work, but it knew how the work must be accomplished better than I. The power sought to restore the balance, the wholeness of my body. Unfortunately, the mending could be nearly as unsettling as the tearing. Mistress Evelyn’s punishment would therefore continue, even after she had left the room.
It seemed to me a perplexing thing—a strange situation to be so valued a person by the great houses and, yet, I was no more than a slave. I was raised as property. My ability was cultivated for the use of my future husband, my bond. Only, I supposed I had just ruined all of that.
We Bright Ladies belonged to a long line of slaves who were put upon the world—upon Titan—for this purpose. We became the power of the great houses, the means by which each heir inherited the authority and strength to rule his kingdom. I do not deny that it is a great purpose. I felt grateful. At least, I tried to feel grateful. Sometimes—like then, when my flesh burned like fire upon my slight frame—it was difficult to hold on to that emotion.
I shuddered as another laceration began to knit together. I tried not to move too much while the power was working to mend my wounds. The skin was tight and could tear again—never enjoyable. Not until it was completely whole could I relax and allow tension on it again.
I suppose there were worse fates a person could have. After all, I had received the finest education. I lived in rooms filled with items of luxury. Had I been allowed to complete the bond with Rainier’s prince, Nathan, I would have lived always in opulence for the remainder of my days.
Yet, my will was never my own. I had never known true freedom. Every place I went had to be allowed by my matron. The company I kept was prescribed. Even my few friends were determined without my consent. All this so I could be molded into the Bright Lady a great house heir would desire to have as his bond.
The last of my lacerations sealed, and the power faded once more. Its job complete, it retreated to the place deep within me where I drew from. It would be difficult to explain where this power resides.
I understood my place. As a Daughter of Eliam, I was placed here for Titan’s kings. I was given to complete them—a conduit through which dominion could be bestowed over Eliam’s Creation. We were imbued with these abilities—to tap into the lower orders of Creation—so that kings might reign. Each bond makes two individuals into one. At least, in the metaphysical sense, that is.
I had been taught that, millennia ago, the Malkind overthrew Eliam and took control of our world, establishing the great houses from their human worshippers, giving them power and dominion. Part of their victory was the assurance by Eliam that his daughters would serve as the link between the followers of the Malkind and Eliam’s Creation. In order to know our full power we had to be bond
It was from these teachings that so many of my questions had arisen. However, we were not allowed to hesitate upon these precepts. They had to be accepted. Despite my wonderings, I had no choice in the matter.
I pulled my silk robe around my shoulders, tying it in the front as I stood. Turning, I noticed that blood had gathered on the rug where I was punished. The matron would not like to see it. I fixed it with my gaze and watched as the color leeched out, so that the stain became invisible. That would do; at least until I had the opportunity to clean the spot by hand.
Someone knocked upon the door—a light two taps and then three heavier. I smiled, realizing Celia had come to me. She was the next in line behind me in our ward, but still two years away from completing her training. At fifteen years of age, she was becoming a young woman, though her tendencies were still very immature in my opinion. She could be quite silly at times; at least when the matron was not around.
Celia was my one true friend in the ward. She had been ever since she came under my tutelage. Since I was her senior by two years, I had the privilege of passing on my learning to her. In this way, one matron could look after the entire ward without so much distraction. The elders, like me, taught the younger until we were sent away to a great house, like Rainier, to become the bond to a prince.
“Open please,” I said to the door.
The door complied, swinging open quietly on well-oiled hinges to reveal Celia standing anxiously beyond the threshold. The nervous line of her mouth creased into a bright smile when she saw that I was standing. She had assumed, because I had not cried out, that my wounds were minimal. Though she was incorrect, I did not want to distress her by revealing how bad they actually were. I had become adept over the years at healing my wounds quickly and quietly.
Celia flowed into the room in her gown of deep blue. Only her girlish manner, hastening eagerly across the room to my side, betrayed immaturity. She had been taught better and she performed better before the matron and the ladies of great houses. It was only her anxiety for me that caused her to drop her poise now.
The door closed itself, once Celia came inside.
“Raven, I was so worried for you,” she said. “Mistress Evelyn looked so cross when she came out of your room. Matron Hannah was ringing her hands while the Lady was in here with you. I was also, though I did not show it before Hannah. Did the mistress not stripe you?”
I laid my hand gently upon her shoulder. “Do not worry yourself,” I replied.
“Oh, but the mistress looked very cross.”
“She was,” I replied, “and she did.”
Celia understood my meaning, her hands coming to her mouth. “But you’re standing,” she said. “I should get salve for the wounds. Are they not terribly painful?”
“They were,” I said, “but I have mended them already.”
“I’m so sorry, Raven,” she said, trying to be careful not to brush across my back, despite my reassurances. “You are very clever. I do not know how you can heal them so quickly. Mistress Evelyn came to the sitting room only a moment ago, and you are already whole again.”
I smiled for Celia’s sake. I didn’t want her to concern herself so much. She could become agitated so easily. It was a characteristic I had tried to train out of her, but without success. Time and experience would do a better job, I was sure.
However, Celia was more timid than I. She had never been forced to undergo such a punishment. If only I could have learned better to be like her in this way. I had been striped quite a few times, unfortunately. I had learned what pain my obstinacy could cause.
I walked to my four poster bed, gliding with as much grace as I could muster. My wounds were whole again, but only time would remove the dull ache left behind. Celia followed after, her hands fidgeting to reach for me should I suddenly collapse. She must have known that I was weaker than I pretended.
I found the bed terribly comfortable when I lay down upon it. Much of the weight felt by my time with Mistress Evelyn lifted as I stretched upon the plush, crimson duvet. A matching canopy of silk hung from the massive bed frame like ivy.
“Can I do anything for you?” Celia asked, standing next to the bed. “I could have Pricilla come to give you a rubdown. That might make you feel better.”
“Honestly, Celia, I’m fine. I just want to rest for a while before dinner.”
Celia grinned at this. “You’re going to see him, aren’t you?”
I closed my eyes. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Celia hopped onto the bed beside me, her gown ruffling indignantly. “Oh yes, you do,” she said. “You know exactly.”
I opened my eyes, but said nothing.
Celia placed the back of one hand against her forehead, pretending to swoon. She fell back onto the bed beside me with a muffled thump upon the duvet. “Oh, my handsome prince,” she said. “Take me away from all of this.”
I propped myself upon one elbow in mock indignation. “I never said he was a prince,” I protested.
Still swooning, she said, “Oh, my handsome plumber!”
We laughed together at this.
“It would be easier if you knew his name,” Celia observed.
“It’s a dream,” I replied. “How can I know his name?”
Celia laughed. “Well, have you asked him?”
“Of course not, silly,” I said. “Besides, what difference would it make? He’s not real.”
“Oh, that doesn’t matter,” Celia protested. “At least, you have fun in your dreams. Mine are so terribly boring. I can never remember them, anyway.”
“I cannot forget mine,” I replied wistfully.
Celia smiled, placing a hand upon my cheek. “Then go to your prince, or whoever he is, while there is time before dinner. I shall come to wake you.”
We grinned at each other, and then she scooted off the edge of the bed. The door opened before her. She turned before exiting, whispering conspiratorially, “Give him a kiss for me, and don’t forget to ask his name.”
Celia resumed her composure before leaving the room, aware that she might happen upon the matron at any moment. Hannah always seemed to be where you least expected her, and she was always watching for breaches of decorum in her charges. We did our best to always be mindful of her stern looks. The door closed, after Celia crossed the threshold.
I sighed, pulling the duvet from the end of the bed to cover me. When I woke, it would be that much easier to put back in place, so that it would not appear I was sleeping. After all, Mistress Hannah might not like it that I had failed to properly reflect upon my misdeeds today.
I watched the hearth and the logs stacked upon the grate. Smoke began to issue from pores in the wood as I commanded the elements with my thoughts. Heat built for nearly a minute before the flame finally kindled. Yet, when it did kindle, all of the wood was suddenly ablaze.
The room was warm enough already. I only created the fire in the hearth in order to push myself over the edge into exhaustion and sleep. It made for a fine exercise of my control over the power, but I had ulterior motives.
When I relinquished control over the heat, fatigue assaulted me, as I knew it would. My eyes closed, and my body relaxed until I no longer had any thought of my surroundings. Sleep had come as my comforter, and the man of my dreams would not be far behind.
What Dreams May Come
Mistress Evelyn rounded upon me in my room. Her features were crone-like now—elongated nose, warts, arthritic, bony fingers with long, misshapen nails. Some of her teeth were blackened and others broken and jagged. Her skin was wrinkled, and the woman was wearing far too much makeup to be considered proper for a lady of her status. I realized this caricature was woefully inaccurate, but the mind does what it will in dreams and I did not care. After all, I had come to think of her in this way—at least subconsciously.
I stood before the hearth in my room in a robe of blue. I pulled the garment from my shoulders and dropped my arms at my side, allowing the robe to slide down and off my body to the floor. I was naked before the crone. My pale bare skin was unblemished, but I knew what was coming.
Evelyn whipped her wand from the sleeve of her dress where it was kept. However, this wand was not the elegant expertly crafted kind handed down to the great houses by the Malkind. This wand was made from a twisted tree branch, as gnarled and bony as the fingers that now wielded it.
I stood before the crone, trembling in anticipation of the pain she would inflict upon me. She seethed with anger, standing hunched upon the flagstones, amber firelight casting monstrous shadows upon the wall behind her. I closed my eyes and prepared for the worst.
The wand whipped the air and a line of fire raked my bare skin. I shuddered and very nearly cried out. Still, I managed to hold in my agony. Again and again, the wand cut the air and a corresponding energy lashed my skin. Evelyn laughed as she marked my body with welts and lacerations, over and over again.
By the time she had finished and the cackling stopped, I was on my knees lying prostrate upon the floor. I had been reduced to a quivering mound of flesh. Blood poured from my wounds onto the carpet around me. Where I was once beautiful; now I was marred and horrid. My body ached and burned, but Evelyn the crone had no sympathy for me.
Her cackling died away and I believed myself to be alone. Then silk slid over my back and up over my shoulders. Strong hands wrapped me up in a sheet, gripping my shoulders tightly in order to help me back to my feet. A warm baritone voice—his voice—resounded in my ears, speaking comfort. I did not know the exact words—for some reason they escaped me—but I was glad to hear the voice.
Normally, I would have been ashamed of my condition. I would have been horrified to be found unclothed before any man. Yet, I didn’t feel this way with him. He did not look upon me with lust, but with compassion. I rose to my feet beneath the silken sheet, while he supported me.
Raven's Hand by James Somers / Fantasy have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on39 votes