37, day thirty
Another story! I can’t stop! I really did not want to do a blog post today, but I wrote something anyway. Here it is!
The day I turned six years old my grandmother told me that on my thirty-first birthday, I was going to die.
“But why should I have to die, grandmother?”
“Because you are a Koriae,” said my grandmother in her dry, cracking voice. “It is what the women in our family do. It is what we have always done.”
“But you are ever so much older than thirty-one,” I said, not out of protest, but out of simple curiosity. “So is mother.”
“My blood is laced with silver. I bleed the moonlight from the sky to bring the winter, but I am not part of the sacrifice. Your mother’s blood is laced with clay,” she spat out the word. “She is part of nothing. But you, my dear, my precious little one,” she bent down, and ran a leathery finger along my cheek. “Your blood is utterly pure. Your heart is full of crystalline snow, and when it melts, the clearest of waters runs through all the vessels in your body. There is so little purity in the world, and the everything everywhere will desire it. Do you understand?”
“You will.” She smiled at me. Her teeth were rough and scarred and filthy, like she had been eating gravestones. “Believe me, you will.”
On the day I turned ten years old, my mother took my to the dressmaker’s shop and told me I could have anything in the whole store I wanted.
“Anything, mother? Anything at all?” We were desperately poor, and could never afford niceties.
She smiled at me, her eyes full of sunlight. “Your uncle Agron died, and he left us all of his treasure. So pick anything you want for your birthday, my princess. From now on, everything will be different.”
I chose a beautiful lavender and sapphire-blue dress that brought out my eyes. The woman at the shop said it was her favorite dress she had ever made. She said that she had not know it, but she had made it just for me.
When we returned home, my grandmother was waiting for us. She sat among piles of gold, a thousand times more than I had ever seen before.
“So beautiful, little one,” she said. “Do you feel beautiful?”
“Yes, grandmother,” I said as I twirled.
“Beauty does not always come at a price. But your beauty always will. Do you understand?”
“You will,” she picked up a handful of glittering coins and then dropped them. They clattered to the ground. “You will.”
On the day I turned sixteen years old, Lethan Stirias, the handsomest and bravest boy in the valley, asked me to be his partner at the Feast of the Dawning of the New Sun. He gave me a bouquet of flowers that glittered with all of the colors hidden by moonlight.
“Oh Lethan!” I cried. “Of course I will go with you. Are those moonblossoms?”
“They are indeed, my precious and beautiful one,” he said as I pressed them to my face and inhaled their glorious scent. “I scaled the Wailing Mountain by night, each full moon for eight full moons, to pluck them for you.”
“They are wonderful,” I reached out to stroke his beautiful face. He winced. “Lethan, what is wrong?”
“It is nothing,” he protested. “Nothing to concern yourself with.”
“Tell me, Lethan, or I rescind my acceptance of your invitation.”
I grinned. “I can, and I will. Now tell me.”
“It was Elurial.”
“Elurial? The smith’s son?”
He nodded. “Elurial, and others. I cannot be sure which one.”
“Lethan, have you been brawling?”
“It is not like you think. It was a fair contest, with rules, and…a prize.”
I stared at him. “A prize?”
“I was not the only one who wished to take you to the Feast. Nearly all the boys of age competed.” He brushed a lock of golden hair from in front of his face. “I won.”
I knew I should be appalled. This was hardly civilized behavior, and I was not a prize to be won. But I could not help but be flattered at all of this being done for me. Had any boy other than Lethan won, I would have refused him. The contest was held for nothing. Still, Lethan must have fought the hardest, to emerge triumphant. I knew I should scold him. Instead I leaned forward and kissed him. His eyes widened as if struck. I giggled. Then I kissed him again.
When I returned home in the dead of night, I snuck in through the back so as not to wake any of the servants. Mother would be cross if she knew how late it was. I need not have bothered. My grandmother was in the hall, waiting for me.
“You look happy, my little one,” she stared at me from her silk chair with her yellowed eyes. “Are you happy?”
I could hide nothing from grandmother. I never could. “I am so happy, grandmother!” I exclaimed.
“Sometimes happiness is all that it seems to be. But never your happiness. Do you understand?”
“You will,” she approached me, and plucked a bit of hay from my hair and tossed it away. As it felt to the floor, in the light of the lanterns, it looked golden. “You will.”
On the day I turned twenty-nine, I tasted the Wine of the Nectar of the Distillation of All Things. A single drop on my tongue was more sublime than the sum of all of the sensory pleasures of my life.
“It is divine,” I said in awe. “I thank you, young man. But why do you bring me this?”
“I have heard tales of your beauty, my lady,” said the man, with a cough. “And of your goodness. I had to see them myself, but I had to be worthy. So I bring this gift.” He coughed again.
“Are you ill, sir?”
“I fear I have caught the sickness that ravages this valley, my lady. I do not know if I will make the return journey. But it was worth it, to see your smile.”
“Was it, I wonder?” said a weak voice from nearby.
“You should not speak, grandmother,” I said. “You are not well.”
“Not well?” she laughed. “I am dying, little one.”
“Do not say such things.” I walked over to her and placed my hands on her cheek. Her flesh was dry and stretched over her frail bones.
“So many around you are sick. Yet you are healthy,” said grandmother. “Do you understand, little one?”
“I…am not sure, grandmother.”
“You will.” She coughed, and blood spilled from her mouth. Flecks of it stained her white satin bed sheets with crimson. And silver. “You will.”
I am thirty years of age, now. When the sun breaks over the horizon I will be thirty-one. I will not be there to see it. The land all around the valley is scorched. Nothing will grow, and no rain will fall. The garden in the palace my people built for me is full of earthly delights. I let everyone feast upon it, but it is not enough.
There are enemies lined up along the edges of my kingdom, waiting to strike. They are armed with sharpened sticks and rocks. It is the same for the soldiers here, who have vowed to lay down their lives to save me. All of the metal in a hundred leagues of this place has rusted. There is a single blade that is still pure, and still sharp. It is the finest knife, perhaps, ever forged by man. I hold it now against my breast.
Was this truly the only way for it to be? Must we have gone through all of this, to arrive at this point? I believe that we did. Curse me, but I believe it had to be, though I cannot fully grasp why.
I understand, grandmother.
Finally, I understand.