Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Wandering (Part 6)

Suddenly a villager was there.

“I stole game from the spear-sisters,” A voice said. “I cooked it in the sauna fires and ate it all by myself, even through it was the week of fasting.” 

I jerked my head from left to right, trying to follow the voice.

“You must now carry this shame, Blighted one. May your bad luck never touch us.” 

“I will carry this shame,” I said, tensing myself. Something crashed into me, making me topple onto my side. A foot? A branch? I curled inward, waiting for more, but no more blows came. Sharp breaths. Twisting. Turning. I inched upright as best I could.

Remembering Ignose, I began to weave my legs through my arms and around to my front. A trick. The blindfold had not looked so dark from the trees last year.

I had watched her, every time. Did she know? Was she watching me, now?

Another Villager. 

“I crave a man, moon-daughter, even through the time of ice is not upon us. I crave a man and I feel shame. You must now carry this shame. May your blighted luck never touch us.”

“I will carry this shame,” I said.

A slap. My head rang.

And so it went. One by one the villagers came to me and told me of their deeds. One by one they bruised or cut or hit me. 

The air felt cooler now. Was it nearing halfnight? I was very thirsty, and my head thrummed to the beat of the ocean.

A light tap on my shoulder made me start with fright. Laughter bubbled up from my left. Ignose. I wilted, relived. 

“You look ridiculous naked,” Ignose said. I felt her hands at my bindings, and as she released my arms, I yanked off my blindfold. The sea was now in front of me, the tide swelling with foam, and the sight of it calmed me. 

“Ignose,” I said, “You didn't tell me it would be so dark.”

Ignose shrugged. Halfnight had come, moons twining the sky, one low on the horizon, one high. The beach spread out behind me white and glimmering. But I was shaking, dizzy and out of breath and could not admire it as I ought. Ignose knelt and helped me drink some water.

“After halfnight, they will come with the stone,” She said. “And the fermentation.” 

I nodded. 

She smoothed my hair, and dipped the water-bowl into the sea, rinsing me off several times. The cold water made me gasp, but afterwords I felt much better.

“I should not have let you do this,” Ignose said, but I shook my head.

“I'm okay,” I tried to croak through wet lips from my dry throat. Ignose did not look like she belived me. “And it's almost over.” 

“The last past is the hardest,” Ignose said. With a glance at the sky, she re-tied my bindings, leaving the blindfold for last. 

“I will see you after,” She whispered, and then she was gone. 

And thus I sat while halfnight deepened.

I could not tell what changed, but suddenly they were there. My villagers. Ogna May untied my arms and legs and I choked back tears as tingling flooded my limbs for a second time. The sky was black, the darkest time of night. Tide had come. 

She took the vest, filled with pebbles from the sea, and placed it over my chest. I bent under its weight like a weed in the rain. 

“We wash our transgressions in the ocean,” she intoned, as she tied the vest in place. “These stones represent the burden of our wrongs.”

“I will carry the shame,” I managed to rasp out, trying to sit up straight under the weight. Both sides of the vest pressed into my chest, making it hard to breathe. I slid one of my hands under the front and pushed it away from me to relieve the pressure. This made the bulk of it pull tightly on my neck and shoulders, and I strained under the burden. 

Ogna May hefted the fermentation, and Cinna stepped forward. She gripped my jaw, thrusting my head back, pinching my nose shut with her other hand. Ogna May frowned at her, but said nothing. She eased the end of the bag into my mouth and suddenly I was choking as sour wine spilled over my cheeks and burned down my throat. I spluttered and swallowed and tried to turn my head, but the bag followed me where ever I jerked, until at last it was empty and I gasped for breath.

“It is done,” The villagers intoned, but I was already having trouble concentrating. Were the trees moving? A face floated over me, and my body felt hot and heavy. Sounds came in a rush, and colors wove together and danced in front of my eyes. My belly burned and I swayed, watching the trees climb towards the sky with dark, twisting fingers. My nipples hardened, pressing into my stone vest, and my vision swam with light.

“You have given her too much,” A voice said. I tried stand up, concentrating on keeping my breathing even. I could not rise. As I sat, my gasps for air increasing as I tried to climb out of the fog. Lightheaded. Was I swimming? I could feel each grain of sand pressing into my thighs and legs. Yet, a wetness? Pressure. Voices. And every night sound—a bird cooing, the steps of the villagers receding—loomed over me like the roar of a raging, relentless storm.

I tried to swallow, to wet my tongue, but found it swollen and thick. I pushed the vest away, gasping for breath, but the touch of my own hands against my skin made panic flood my senses. It was too much. I felt too much. 

With incredible concentration I rose to my knees, pushing myself up. 

I took two steps into the fog before everything went black. Wetness. Fog. Breath. Heavy.

Where was I?

-----

Part 7 here

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