I hurt. Why do I hurt? Why was I even here? Where was here? My pain-fogged brain couldn’t seem to get past ‘I hurt’ to give me an answer. I forced my eyes open, squinting until the room came into focus. Pain wasn’t an unknown thing to me. I am a dancer, trained in the best elven tradition. I was used to tripping, stumbling and falling into the barre when learning a new dance. I was used to the ache of tired muscles. But this felt different. For one thing, it wasn’t my leg muscles that hurt. My abdomen was screaming fire at me, and my palms felt like they’d been shredded. I tipped my head sideways to get a better look at my hands, turning them palm up. They were shredded. Shredded with tiny crescent moons, all steadily oozing blood. Crescent moons? I’d done this to myself?
That triggered a flood. To yourself. To yourself. You’ve done this to yourself. Yourself. Yourself. yourselfyourselfyouryourselftoyourselfselftoyourse lf… Suddenly the pain was in my chest, and I couldn’t breath. Desperately I lifted my head and forced out words through the dryness of my mouth
“Don’t worry about that now.” My mother’s voice, from somewhere above me. “It doesn’t matter. Rest” that last was issued with voice my mother used when she expected to be obeyed. It was a response so deeply ingrained in my psyche that I laid my head down without another further word. I could hear my mother’s voice above me, floating over my head. The light faded as a hand swept over my face, came back again as the hand moved on. Pressure landed briefly on my forehead, my mother’s hand holding something.
“Rest Nadriene” she told me. And I obeyed, sinking immediately into the soft oblivion of trance.
I awoke later, and simply lay still and silent for a time, enjoying the quiet. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong though. Something that should have been present, next to me. No. Someone. Two someones.
“Lianna? Lianna, where is my-?”
“Lianna is not here.” My mother’s voice again, cold as always when she spoke of Lianna. “She left.” My heart slammed into my throat. Lianna had gone? That was – impossible. Incomprehensible. She would never just leave me. She had been here for almost a year, the full nine months. Enduring patiently the stares and cruel words of my family. And that…
“Mother, where is-?”
“Enough Nadriene” she cut me off. “You need to rest.”
“I am done resting!” I snapped, finally getting angry. I shifted in the bed, pulling at the sheets to give me balance as I pulled myself into a sitting position. The bed smelled clean and crisp, warring with the remembered scents of blood and sweat and tears.
“Where. Is. My. Baby?” I bit off each word, furious. I never even saw the slap that rocked my head back, but I saw the look on my mother’s face as she came into view. She was mad. Beyond angry. Beyond furious. It must be her I get my temper from.
“Do not speak of that again” she said flatly, in the tone that said she would answer no more questions and I would be foolish to push her further.
I was foolish.
“Where is – it?” I choked on the last word, but if I could just be diplomatic, careful, maybe she would answer my questions. Throarlian was teaching me the nuances of diplomacy, it was time to see if the old elf knew what he was talking about. Mother glared at me, but seemed to realise that I would not just be silent. Would not be cowed by her disgust of anything not fully elven. Not this time.
“Lianna took it and left” she said shortly. “I don’t know why and I didn’t bother asking” she added, seeing me opening my mouth. That set me off. Not for a second did I believe my mother. Lianna wouldn’t do something like that, and my mother would certainly lie to me if it served her purposes. And it clearly served them to keep my baby from me. Because my baby isn’t fully elven.
“Which way did she go then?” I asked. I could follow her, find out what was going on. Mother looked at me with an expression, almost of pity.
“Nadriene” I am really starting to hate that name. “You need to rest. You must rest.” If I’d been thinking straight, I’d have recognised the threat in her voice, but her words had triggered my own fury.
“I don’t WANT to rest!” I yelled at her, “I want my baby and I want to know what you’ve done with my friend.” Mother’s dark green eyes flared and I knew I’d pushed her too far.
“The thing has gone. We will not destroy life, but we will not permit dilution. It will be left with others” she sneered the last word. Others. The Domoth word for ‘anyone who isn’t an elf’. My people were blind. I was blind. Blinded by inarticulate rage. Mother’s expression didn’t change, but she beckoned to someone hovering in the doorway. My cousin – Naeren. He walked in, stretching his fingers as he came to stand beside my bed.
“She needs to be quieted” he said mildly. Oh how I hated him.
“I do not want her hurt” oh, now she gets maternal. Naeren nodded, and leaned over towards me. I leaned away instinctively, not sure what he was about to do, but sure I wouldn’t like it. His long fingers, strong and calloused from using a longbow reached out for my neck. I went wild. I hissed and spat on his face, scratched his face and screamed in his ear as his hands wrapped firmly around my throat. I gagged and choked and howled – impotent and unavailing. I might as well have been the sea that slams uselessly against the rocks of the island. Naeren is stronger than I, he always has been. I felt my vision greying out, and instead focused my last piece of strength on his hated face, and spat my hatred into his face
I hurt. Why do I hurt? Why does my throat hurt?
My cousin, not a bastard in the technical sense of the term, but one in every other sense, had failed to understand one very important thing when he obeyed my mother and choked me into unconsciousness. I am tougher than I look. Thanks to my training as a dancer, I have endurance beyond what most elves are capable of. And most elves underestimate me. Right now it was going to save me.
I’d be damned if I was going to stay here a moment longer. They all expected me to simply shut my mouth and accept the determination of my family. They were the fools if they really believed that I would. Jerik had pinned me, had held me in the dance studio, had caused all of this. My family were determined to finish it. I was determined that it would not end here. Not now. Not like this.
There was a child out there, a – damn. Tears filled my eyes as I realised I didn’t even know if the baby was a boy or girl. Still, they would have something of me in them. Some mark I could use to recognise my own. I would find Lianna, and I would find the child. My family – they could stay here, in seclusion, in isolation. I would learn to survive without family. Men couldn’t be trusted. Elves couldn’t be trusted. Nadriene have to die; she would not survive on her own.
I am not an adult yet, but I will become one. I will choose my own name, one that no one may take from me. A name that ties me to the history of my people, when they were not so cold or unfeeling as they are now. A name that speaks to my new identity – I am a dancer. I will return to the Arieathus and insist on finishing my course. I will become – Arinatria. The silver dancer.
I am Arinatria Siannodel.
Now. How the hell do I get out of here?