When you’re an orphan, abandoned at a monastery at the very edge of a swamp, you question your worth. When the monastery is so far away from civilization that no one even knows you exist, it goes from “at least she thought enough to put me someplace safe” to “look where mommy stumbled into, probably drunk, and needing to squeeze out a puppy before fleeing to better accommodations”. Or worst of all, “mommy’s just gonna drop you here because I’ll be dead in three days.”
Those are the stories orphan’s often tell themselves. Never good enough for the mother, much less the father who you’ve never even dreamed of.
I do have memories, shadows really, of my mother singing to me. That was the clearest. Mostly I had hateful things told to me by some of the others in the monastery, especially Brother Durham. I may have mentioned it elsewhere in this journal, but he always claimed that my mother was a trollop who traded physical affection for money. Whore, he called her, and worse. Sister Edna told me when I woke crying in my sleep, that she was a strong woman, tall and proud. That bringing you here had been the only thing she could’ve done.
As I looked up at Captain Kershaw I heard my mother’s voice in my head, singing a lullaby about the moon and stars.
Kershaw cleared the room, sending the guards out with a threat to kick their hind ends up into their shoulders if they laughed at her, or repeated anything I had rambled on about. She reminded them that I’d been found in my small clothes, out of my mind, and punched a visiting dignitary.
Braids sneered and said that the bully boys knew nothing of dignity but went out with Stumpy, closing the door and leaving me alone in the room with my mom.
Once the others were gone, she came and leaned against the chair Braids had evacuated, anger and confusion warring on her face. She hadn’t seen forty summers unless I was sorely mistaken with a pair of the kindest blue eyes. I remembered those eyes, could see them looking down on me, swimming with tears.
“I don’t know what you’re playing at,” she said, her voice tight. Her hands turned white she clutched the back of that chair so tightly. She was gritting her teeth and breathing a little too hard and fast through her nose, trying to calm down. I knew the signs. She was about three seconds from swinging that chair at me. She was not just incensed, she was outraged.
And yet I could find no words. I just sat there, hands out in front of me on the table, as if I still held that deck of cards. I couldn’t look away from her. She wasn’t the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, but there was something about her that held me enthralled.
“Don’t gawk, boy,” she snapped, lifting the chair an inch and then shoving it down and against the table before turning away, throwing her hands in the air. “Sebastian vouchsafed for you. And I’d trust that man with my life. Tell me you aren’t afflicted with some malady that addles the mind.”
I blinked at her. Her voice flowed over me, her emotions raw, and yet I saw nothing but a warm glow emanating from her.
She paced the room. “Slow then, after all,” she said, crossing her arms and leaning against the wall by the door. “Well, stranger, you’ve set me a pretty mess to deal with. The least you could do is say something.”
My mind spun into motion finally, but there was nothing but fog. The only word I could bring to my tongue was the word mother. That, I knew would just make her even angrier. So I opened my mouth, took a long, slow breath and asked the one question that I’d repeated in my mind so many times that I didn’t have to actually think to utter it without conscious thought. “Why did you abandon me.”
She made a face, as if to say something virulent and hateful but stopped herself when she saw my face. I don’t know what it was, but one moment she was facing a stranger who had angered her, embarrassed her in front of her men, and the next she paused to truly look at me. She shook her head, as if to clear the muddle from her mind and approached the table where I sat, tentatively, as if approaching a skittish animal. Like how Liz approached that horse just the other day. Thinking of Liz helped me to find a bit of footing and the fog that filled my head thinned a little.
“I’m sorry,” I said, not knowing why. “I never intended to find you. I mean, you had your reasons for not wanting me, after all.”
She inhaled a sharp breath and pulled out the chair she’d so roughly handled just moments before. Cautiously she slid into the seat and leaned forward, tilting her head just a little and looking at me through a mask of years.
“Child?” she asked, reaching across the table as if to touch my face. “Is it possible?” She counted on her fingers, a look of truth dawning on her face. When she spoke next, it was with a reverence. “How old are you, boy?”
I laughed. “Depends on how you count it,” I said. “From your point of view, twenty two, give or take a season.”
She counted on her fingers again, a look of wonder and horror intermingled on her face. I don’t know what she saw when she looked at me, where her memories took her, but there was something coalescing from the mists of time. I could see it in the way her eyes were slightly glazed and her mouth parted, as if to whisper a name.
“Who do you worship, boy?”
The question confused me, but her look was so fervent that I was compelled to answer. “Two,” I said, pulling out the holy symbols I wore on chains around my neck. I parted them to show the symbol of Kithri, an oval of purest white, a shield of life; and the second, an egg carved from a milky stone that was streaked with veins of green.
She reached out and touched the second one, with the streaks of green, my symbol for Semaunzilla (may she guard my fragile heart). She swallowed hard, and touched the tip of her index finger to the stone, letting a shudder run through her. “You were so small when I left you at that monastery.”
I couldn’t help it. I burst into tears.