Hello, everyone! I'm back, with a short story set in my fantasy world, in the country of Relastin. I hope ya'll like it, but please feel free to criticize it (constructively, of course!). And forgive the bad poetry, as I'm not much of a poet, but felt as though I had to include those verses in it. Oh, and Amira is pronounced (Uh-my-ruh).
I stood quietly by the bedside, now and then dipping a cloth in a basin of water and placing it on Orren's forehead. He tossed feverishly and muttered something which sounded like,
"My... son..." Though it was so low and weak, I could not be sure. His eyes opened, and for a moment, as they beheld me, recognition dawned and a faint smile played across his lips. I bent down as he tried to speak, and put my ear close to his mouth.
"Run," he whispered. "Little dove."
I brushed away tears as his eyes closed once more and the fever again took complete hold. How could I run, as long as there was some hope, some slight hope, that he would recover? And how could I take our son, only a year old, with me? He would be a heavy burden to carry in haste over many miles across the border. No, I would stay until the bitter end. My fate would be no different than that of many thousands before me, and thousands more would come after.
I heaved a sigh, and then heard the crying of my son. I picked him up and rocked him gently. Then, sitting on a stool beside Orren, I fed the babe.
The long night passed. Again and again, hope would rise in me as the fever seemed to lessen; but then, it would come again with renewed fury. I could hardly stand to hear Orren's groans, and his confused words.
In the morning, the village doctor came in, uninvited, pushing through the door made of black wool.
"Coll Amira," he said. "Why was I not told that Orren was ill?"
I backed away, too frightened to speak, and watched as he put his hand on my husband's forehead.
"You hoped to escape in the night, as soon as your witchery took effect, did you not?" asked the doctor, turning on my with ferocity. "This is no ordinary fever, for he is in pain too severe for that. What have you done to him?"
"Nothing!" I cried. "I have done what I could for him!"
"That is not true, for you did not call me."
"You know nothing of what you are doing," I said angrily. "For all you do is mutter and cast spells. They have saved no lives yet."
"You foolish woman!" said he, making as though he would grab me by the wrists, then turning back as Orren spoke.
"Do not... touch her..." my husband said, in a voice which sounded as though he had gathered all his strength for one last effort. "This... is not her work."
He motioned to me with his left hand, and I came forward. Then, slowly and painfully, he put his hand on mine. I held out our son, and he put his lips to the baby's head, but did not have the strength to kiss him.
Although I was trembling, I found courage to say,
"You see, doctor, he loves me, and I him. Leave our home at once."
The doctor gave one more glance at Orren, who lay almost motionless, then pushed through the door. Then he turned.
"You will be dealt with," he said. "You know what will happen."
"I am ready to face it," I said, though my voice betrayed my fear.
All that day, except to make meals, I sat beside Orren, easing his pain as much as possible, singing to him the songs he loved best.
Curious neighbors put their heads in at the door many times, but I ignored them and their questioning. How I longed for my own mother! But I knew that soon, I would face that which I had seen her face twelve years ago.
Even then, it was clear in my memory, as though my mind were a slate upon which the memory had been etched in crystal lines. I had seen it happen before and after to others, but none had been stained so deeply in my heart. As I thought of this, my heart almost failed me. I could remember my own cries, as I stood near her, five years old and incapable of understanding it. She had not looked at me. I can remember that clearly. I had wondered why for years, and then realized that she had not wanted her courage to break down before her child. If she must bear it, then better to bear it without weeping, without becoming more of a spectacle for those watching.
The gods were cruel, indeed! It was said that they themselves came down to behold the sight, and that they dropped all of their duties and other pleasures to see it.
My lip curled bitterly. I had often wondered what a convicted criminal, in their last moments before being led out to the chopping block, would feel like. But this was different! It was senseless! I had done nothing, nor had the countless wives before me. My mother had done nothing.
Clearly to my mind came my husband's word of the other day.
It repeated itself in my mind over and over, beating itself out into a chant like the doctor's healing spells.
"Run. Run. Run. Run. Run."
Suddenly, the air of the room changed. I had experienced it before. My husband's spirit had left his body, had left the house, had left the world. At five years of age, when my father had died, I had felt it but not understood until my mother had explained. I hardly dared to glance at Orren's body. I felt glad for him, almost; or would have, if I had not known that his death had sealed my doom.
There he lay, his dark hair limp and wet with sweat, his dear face fearfully pale and contorted in the last throes of drawing an agonizing breath. His chest heaved no longer, his voice was silent, his eyes closed.
As I gazed, the weight of it fell upon me suddenly, as though a great stone had struck me full in the chest, and I flung myself upon him, as violent tears poured down my cheeks. At first no sound could force its way out of my throat, and then my cries rent the air of our small house.
My son, startled out of sleep, joined his wails with mine.
"Orren! Orren!" I wept. "My husband!"
It did not take long for a crowd to gather outside of the house. I could hear them by the windows, and at the door, but I could not stop the flow of tears, nor could I move from my place. Fear, for a few moments, had left me, replaced with utter grief. But, as the two priests of the gods stepped in, terror struck me. I was carried back in time, seeing as though it had been a moment ago my mother, gripped and hauled out. I had followed, crying, begging them for an explanation, but none had been forthcoming. All I had for an answer were the words of my mother ten minutes before,
"You and I must part, Amira, dear Amira!"
I glanced at my infant son in his cradle. He had ceased his weeping. A wife of one of the priests took him in her arms, and I recoiled at the sight.
Then, I felt both of my arms taken in grips of iron, and I was dragged out of the house. Although I knew it was useless to resist, I did it anyways, digging my feet into the dirt floor, trying to wrest myself out of their hands. One of them struck me in the face, the other twisted my arm mercilessly until I stopped struggling and went quietly along.
There was the place. I knew it well. How many times had I been there? A hundred? A hundred and fifty? I had lost count. Now it was my turn.
The people had begun trickling in.
The men first, most of them staring without pity. As the priests released my arms in front of the house of the gods, my hands strayed to my hair, unkempt, straggling out of the cloth that tied it in place.
Then came the children; the older girls and boys mostly were quiet, for they had been here at least once before in their lives.
The younger children stared and laughed, but they were innocent and ignorant, and I could not bring myself to be angry at them. Soon enough, harsh reality would be theirs. Let them be merry while it was still possible.
Last of all came the women, walking slowly, looking at me with unwilling eyes. They spoke in hushed voices to each other, and soon joined their husbands. They took their children and forced them, with cuffs and rough threats, to be still. Soon, a silence fell over every person present. The priests had gone back to my house, and would not return for several moments. I had time to think, to calm myself.
I remembered Orren, as he first came three years ago to Relastin. He had been fleeing war in Anarth, and had gone across the border between the lands. There, he had stumbled across our village. I was fourteen at the time, orphaned, raised by one of the wives of a priest. Orren and I began to talk often. His hair, black as midnight, had fascinated me, for in Relastin our hair is light brown. He had wondered that so many children were orphans, but we were under strict orders to tell no outsider the rituals and practices which we performed for the gods.
Orren told me of his own country many times, with a wistful longing. To me, it had sounded like a dream. Never had I heard anything so strange as Anarth, where women often outlived their husbands, and where there were no gods worshipped, only Enderel. Enderel! How my heart turned to the very name when Orren spoke it.
The land of Anarth had, at one time, been full of forests like Relastin, but it had been mostly cleared over time, so that now wide fields and plains stretched across it, and food grew in abundance. My heart longed to go there, but Orren said that he was hunted because of who his father was, and that he could not go back.
He saw that I listened to his tales, but that I begged eagerly for him to tell more of Enderel. And, as he told me, I began to understand love for the first time. I learned of how Enderel had been captured by treachery, and locked in a dungeon so deep that none had ever escaped there by themselves. Some few had escaped with help, but the rest had rotted there until death took them.
Enderel had gone, however, willingly. And, once in the dungeon, the enemy learned their mistake. I could still hear Orren saying,
"He burst open the doors of his own cell first; there was a blinding flash of lightning, or something similar to that. And then he went and opened the doors to many of the other cells, and led them out into the sunshine. Most of the freed prisoners had been there since childhood, and were now old men. Others, younger, had still not seen the sun for many years. It was not until then that he revealed who he really was."
"Who was he?" I had asked, breathlessly.
"He was the son of the emperor himself. He was greater than any prince. No other ruler had power even to compare with the emperor or his son. But no one had believed that there truly was an emperor before then. At least, none of those in the dungeon."
I was taken out of my reverie by a murmur of whispering among the crowd. I looked up and saw the priests bearing the body of my husband towards me.
It was only after he had married me that he had learned the terrible customs of our village. Many times he had wished to leave, but the priests had not allowed it, repeating often that a woman could not leave the village she was born in. Orren had waited long for news that the war in Anarth was over, and that he could take me with him to his home, but it had never come, and there was nowhere else for us to go.
Run, little dove! I heard in my mind. But I could not. I was surrounded.
"Oh, Enderel," I whispered. But I did not know what else to say. How could I expect to be saved from death, when so many others had not been? Then I remembered a song which Orren had taught me.
Enderel, son of our king,
Free us from our prison bands,
Free us from the chains which bind
Our feet and hands.
Though die we must
Yet we hope and trust
To even find you still
Beyond the curtain of the grave.
Oh, Enderel, help. Oh, Enderel, save!
The priests lay Orren's body upon a pile of straw and sticks. Then they handed me flint and tinder.
"Strike it," the elder priest said, holding out an unlit torch towards me. With trembling hands, I did so. The torch blazed. Then I was taken up to stand beside my husband's prostrate body. I did not look at him.
The elder priest stood in front of the crowd. His ritualistic speech was so familiar by now that I did not need to hear it.
"As it is against the laws both of nature and the gods that a woman should outlive her husband, lest she should be tempted to reduce his lifespan for her own ends, it is the will of the gods that after his death, she should die beside him. In this way, she shall follow him directly into the afterlife, and continue with him." He then looked around at the assembled people.
"Is this a just law?" he asked.
"Aye," they responded.
Then he looked at me.
"Is this a just law?"
My words caught in my throat, and I nodded slightly.
"Are you willing that you should die beside your husband in accordance with the will of the gods?"
Again, I nodded, but tears ran silently down my face.
"Then, in the name of the gods, let it be done."
I wondered what would be done if a woman ever dared to say that she was not willing.
Oh, Enderel, help. Oh, Enderel, save!
My wrists were bound together behind me. Sudden fear overwhelmed me, so great that it almost forced me to my knees. I trembled from head to foot. The priest came up and thrust the lit torch between the ropes on my wrist.
"Oh, Enderel, help! Oh, Enderel, save!" I cried desperately.
And then I fell unconscious upon the body of my husband.
This story was inspired by several things, but mostly by the old Hindu custom in India of burning the widow alive on the funeral pyre of the husband (which, thank God, has been outlawed for a very long time).
I was a little bit leery about putting this on here, since it has such a sad ending, but not everything can be happy (I actually toyed with the idea of having her rescued, and that was the original idea, but it was too unrealistic). On my blog, lauraeandrews.blogspot.com, I've been posting about different countries in my world. I suppose this tells you pretty much most of what you'd need to know about the culture of Relastin.
Please tell me what ya'll think. Thank you!