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The Daughters of Men

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Daegaer wrote, @ 2003-10-02 23:56:00
Birfday!
Happy Birthday, minkhollow!

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The girl ran over the field and threw herself down by the furthest wall, enjoying the brief freedom from the day's tasks. The goats had been milked; the men had been given their bread and had gone out for the day. Her mother had taken the ground flour and had already made it into little round loaves for the men when they should return at noon. Soon she would look round for her daughter to grind more, and when that time came the girl knew she would have to be within call, unless she wanted a beating. For now, though, she could sit, and look at the sky, and take out her spindle to make thread, so that her mother could not call her completely idle and clip her round the ear just on principle.

She let her mind go blank and sat there, empty-minded as one of the goats that grazed peaceably all day, only showing their wicked cleverness when they were gathered together and would rush every way but the one their herders wanted. It was very hot. It was not stupidity that kept the goats quiet in the heat of the day. The thread stretched itself out evenly under her fingers, without any need for her to look. She could not remember a time she did not know how to make thread, although she could still remember being taught to weave, if she thought hard.

She sighed. She would have to go back. She climbed to her feet and dusted off her dress, turning toward the house. She froze. A young man was watching her, just standing still, looking at her. She had never seen him before; he was not from the village. She began to edge along the wall, feeling behind her for a loose stone. He did nothing, just turned his head to watch her slowly move along. Keeping her eyes on him she kept going until she had reached the end of the wall. She risked a glance at the house. She had a good lead. She would be safe within calling distance of her family. She flung herself away from the wall and ran as fast as her feet would take her.

She had barely taken ten steps when he caught her by the wrist.

"Why do you run?" he asked.

"Let me go!" she screamed and tried to pull herself free.

It was like trying to move a piece of stone. She could not so much as move his arm. He looked at her, head a little on one side, his eyes bright. She had never seen anyone with eyes that colour, the colour of the sky at midday, light and shining. His hair was lighter than hers, a rich reddish brown.

"You are beautiful," he said.

"Please," she gasped, "please let me go."

He pushed her sleeve up to her shoulder and looked at her arm, tracing it with one soft finger.

"I did not truly believe you people were so beautiful," he mused. He seemed to come to a decision. "I want you," he said.

She kicked at him hard and tried again to pull away. He laughed and grabbed her other wrist.

"Why do you fight me?" he asked. "Am I not beautiful too?"

He made no move to do anything else, just kept holding her wrists, letting her tire herself out fighting. She realised this and stood still, waiting for her chance.

"My father will hunt you down and kill you," she said. "My brothers will take their scythes to your flesh."

The young man smiled politely, as if it were only right he should hear her out.

"You will not be able to flee my father's anger," she said, thinking of the terrible times her father had screamed with rage and beaten one of his children for disobeying him. "I am his favourite child."

"Perhaps when you were small and made him laugh with your childish ways," the young man said. "Now he calls you 'the girl'. Does he never call you by name anymore? I would call you by name. Tell me your name."

"What do you want?" she whispered.

He smiled brilliantly. She saw he had all his teeth, and that they were strong and white.

"I will be to you as a husband," he said cheerfully. "Come, lie with me."

"Talk to my father," she said, desperate. He seemed willing to talk, she had to keep him talking, make him relax his grip on her. "Ask for me as a wife. He'll listen to your suit, and you can have me honourably." If he believed her, if he would go to her father, then her brothers could kill him.

"Ah, my dear," the young man said, "your father might well approve. Mine would not. Besides, yours is arranging your marriage to his friend with the striped tunic. 'Why don't you marry the girl?' he said. I heard him. His friend is giving him a heifer for you."

"That's not true," she said. "Ilu-eser is an old man. I won't marry him. I won't marry anyone!"

He giggled. It was a disconcerting sound.

"You'll marry someone," he said. "And your father will choose him, will he not? Would you not like to lie with someone other than your father's friend, with his old-man smell? Tell me your name. I won't hurt you."

She could not look away from his unnaturally coloured eyes, still gazing at her, bright and unblinking.

"Zillah," she whispered.

"Zillah," he repeated in delight. It sounded like music when he said it again. "Zillah. I love you, Zillah."

"Then let me go," she said desperately, "you won't harm me if you love me."

"Does it harm you people?" he asked quizzically. "I had thought you took pleasure in it."

"I am a virgin," she begged, "I have never "

He laughed. It sounded like a bird calling.

"Why, neither have I. Let us remedy this lack."

"Please," she said, her mind casting round quickly, "my my husband you speak of will know, he will shame me."

He smiled fondly at her, as if he was putting a childish fear to rest.

"He will not know. That is very easy for me. Now, Zillah," he smiled, but she could see his eyes grow colder. "I do not want to hurt you. I am sure you will not try to upset me." He paused delicately. "You people are so fragile."

She looked at her wrists, already bruising from her attempts to pull free. He had not put forth his strength against her, she realised. Yet. Neither had he blinked once in all this time, nor did his chest rise and fall with his breath.

"What is your name?" she asked, one last chance, that she could take his name and use it in the spell all children knew, to turn aside small demons.

He laughed again and pulled her to him. He did not hurt her, although his embrace was like fire. After, he put a bangle of gold on her wrist and smiled brilliantly at her and was gone. She walked back to the house, shaking, knowing she could not say anything. The bruises on her wrists were gone, leaving no proof of her struggle. Everyone would think her a whore, even without seeing the bangle. She took it off her wrist and made to throw it away, then stopped. What if he was watching? What if he became angry? She knelt and buried it, carefully noting the spot, then ran into the house, imagining light grey eyes watching her every move.

There were spirits and demons in the world, every child knew that. Now one of them knew her name. She did not think she would ever be free again.

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