Though some of my stuff has a creepy edge to it, I don’t tend to like writing pointlessly grim and dark stuff (I’m not exactly ancient myself, so I like my fiction to be readable by most ages). However, this one is dark with a capital D.
I debated with myself about publishing it, actually, but it explains so much about Melinda – the oft-mentioned mark under her eye, her paranoia – and has been accepted Past Lives canon since the beginning, even unwritten. I thought it was needed. This is a huge part of how she came to be who she is in 1947. (I’ll be back soon with something much brighter.)
Warnings: Issues revolving around slavery, gore. This happens sometime during Roman rule.
People think they know true silence, but they delude themselves.
True silence? True silence is when even the birds have ceased their calls, having long since fled or died; the flames have relented, leaving behind only ash and the stench of burning flesh.
The tattered girl runs through the remains of what was once a village, her dark, matted hair flying behind her, until she finds him.
Her mentor. The one to teach her the Ways, the magics and the rituals. She has no idea how old he really is, the magic having stopped his ageing long ago (as it will hers, she knows, and the thought sends a thrill of anticipation through her, bright even in her despair); his beard is thick and black, made thicker by the blood matted within it, his eyes wide and horrified in death.
She has heard that the dead are supposed to look peaceful. He seems anything but. She wonders how he will ever rest.
Perhaps it’s that thought that has her chanting quietly, closing his eyes and sprinkling earth over the corpse. She dimly recalls that there are meant to be sprigs and branches in the rites, but all the trees are burned to husks of their former selves. She thought at one point that she heard them scream. She does the best she can with a couple of pieces, all that remain of her teacher’s home.
She is coming to the end of the chant when a hand seizes her shoulder; she looks up to see a severe-looking man frowning down at her, all leather and metal. “With me,” he says in the strange, flowing tongue of the conquerors.
Adrift, she complies.
It’s only when she sees the line of the others, their hands bound with and so burned by rope, their eyes hollow and resigned, that she begins to struggle. By then, it’s too late – her magic, not her strength, is her defence, and there’s no time to cast; besides, there are other invaders as strong as the first…
She stills eventually, numb and bloody, joining the line without a word. One of the others catches her eye, and she looks away. Shame fills her.
She is sold to a good master. He isn’t as cruel as some, she is told. He is quiet, thoughtful, a sword sheathed at his hip, and when he buys her, looks at her for a long moment. His expression is unreadable.
When he raises the brand terrifyingly close to her eye, a small smile on his face, she knows that she has heard only stories.
The mark stands, seared into her skin as proof of his ownership. The others with the same mark show her how to behave: slumped shoulders, lack of eye contact, weak and subservient. She apes them, pretending not to watch the men training: their grips on their swords, their planted feet and their stances. She mimics them, too, clumsy and in the dark; a stick as a sword, in the hours when she should be sleeping.
She rarely sleeps, casting or fighting the air. The others speak to her little; some of them laugh at her, she knows, see the rites and dismiss her as a mad barbarian.
She ignores them, and bides her time.
The opportunity comes when she least expects it: she’s told to bring him wine.
She begins to call for sleep as she walks through the house, chanting over and over, the guards collapsing in her wake. She has memorised this place by now, and knows she has several rooms free of opposition. All who hear her will sleep.
She reaches him, and he is watching her expectantly; walled off from his guards, he’s unaware of what has happened. She glares at him in a last attempt to keep her pride, and he laughs. Laughs.
She chants under her breath as she pours, placing the cup in his hand with a flourish as the spell comes to an end. He looks at her in a horrified epiphany for a brief moment before slumping, his head hitting the table and the cup falling from his hand.
She reaches for the sword that his paranoia causes him always to keep at his hip. She draws it clumsily – it is, after all, so much heavier, so different from her simple stick – with the grip of a fool. Somehow, she still manages not to drop it, and to thrust it through his chest.
His breathing stills, and she looks at what she’s done, paralysed by horror. Then she withdraws the sword with a gasp and an awkward tug, sheathing it and reaching for the scabbard. She unbuckles it with shaking hands, learning the fastenings as she goes, and after a few seconds manages to strap it to her own hip, over her rags.
Wine and blood spread scarlet across the floor, the house terrifyingly silent, and she runs for her life.
New York is never silent, no matter how much its residents sometimes like to pretend otherwise. Melinda stands and watches the street through the blinds, sleepless, and the mark under her eye tingles with a distant memory of searing heat.