I drew my wool and fur cloak closer to hide my quivering hands and the defiance in my posture. “This dotter is grateful for your wisdom and guidance, Papa.”
I stared straight into his eyes and drove the lie home.
My mother frowned and corrected me to use the more formal “Foder” or “Ser”. I found the brutish words lacking. The vile language of the invaders had infested our native tongue over the past six years like ticks. They left a bitter sting on my tongue and a wad of bile in my throat.
“Gud! There, you see?” The tension melted from Papa’s face and his shoulders loosened as he reassured Mama. His naked face and shorn hair still disturbed me. I missed braiding it and beading his beard as he told me stories of our people who lived long ago — the great beasts they hunted and the creatures they charmed.
The foreigners had made all our men shed their hair to show their loyalty and the biting winds chapped their faces. My mother could no longer decorate her tresses or weave beauty into her garments. We were all to clothe ourselves in garb drabber than the evening mid-winter mists on gray rock and to coil our hair so that even a breeze would forget we stood in it.
With most of the elders and leaders dead now, my parents were among the few who remained. The foreigners who governed had taken a shine to several young women of our village. The rest of us — whose faces were not as pleasing and whose cunts had known other men — were parceled off to soldiers, lesser sons, and brothers. The abomination who was to claim me reeked of rotten flesh and loose bowels. I pitied the girls who had scarcely a foot in womanhood who had been taken because they had not known the embrace of a boy and lacked the maturity to fight. Perhaps, I thought, my mother sought status to protect herself now that women could not carry even a sharpened stick without punishment.
“May I have leave to visit the ancestors?”
My mother clasped her hands tighter. “You should pray to –”
“Ach, Grineld, let her be.” Papa motioned to wave me away, but then held my gaze and clasped my arms. “Bren, my dotter, heed the weather. I had pains in arranging your betrothal before the squalls. Say your farewells, for tomorrow you go where I cannot.” His weathered hands left heat prints even through my garments.
Was that hope there in the endless dark of his eyes?
I bowed my head in the new way, though I desired to throw myself into his arms and have us all embrace as we once did. Even with the cold sting of a dozen lost children, they had always had laughter to gladden the sod walls.
The foreigners only laughed at others pain, and their women had never known joy from their first breath.
I left and walked familiar paths through the dying village. The ground swelled from the moisture in the air that would become an icy kiss. I breathed in the scent of the first squall and tasted the cool salt from the coast. The invader’s temple had once been the common dwelling and I passed it. None stopped me to speak, for that was forbidden. Guards made a move to halt me, but let me be when they spied the betrothal necklace and prayer beads of their god.
They smirked and spoke vile things in their cursed tongue, not caring if I understood. That is what became of men with no mothers and no love from their fathers.
We laid our dead by the cliffs facing the sea and let the tides take them. Women had long given birth in the tide pools. From water we come and to water we return. I removed the shell band from around my arm and dropped it in the hollow where I was born — every child separated from their parents this way.
The rising ocean storm slapped my cheeks until they were ruddy and my lips froze on my teeth. I let the wind take my cloak, cut my braid with my contraband blade, and tore away the vile necklace. My intended would presume my death.
I picked my way through first fingers of the violent squall to The Endless Caves where I had squirreled away a stocky horse and meager supplies.
I knew my place in this world.