Twenty-five, twenty-six. I edge along the corridor wall, counting the steps from door, then the 95 stairs, which lead up to my room in the top of the keep. Nim, my companion, walks behind; should I misstep.
I’d not always been such. A child of the keep, I roamed freely. Few constraints til I needs make a bargain with my father. No move to the ladies’ quarters if take on a personal-assist. Nim, a maid of all works, caught my attention. Always meeting my eyes with hers; no bowed head nor shuffling of deferential feet. I asked would she trade mop for spending time with me. No worries of dressing my hair or stooping under the weight of my wardrobe. I fancied I’d teach her letters and numbers – a skill denied to most low born, and all women. True, the high-born ones were graced with the simplest of education – enow to impress suitors in correspondence and the like. But not the same as being a scholar, a scribe. Being the ignored child, I was granted leave to learn.
Thirty-one, thirty-two. We settled into a daily routine; mornings were observations of the weather, I recorded in my annals. Then lessons for Nim. Afternoons spent in the stultifying air of the manor house among my sisters and father’s current “mistress of the house.” Stitchery, and dance steps. Friffy costuming and dressing of hair. Silly giggles over naught.
I abhorred, but abided it. Nim, well . . . “Autumn,” she started, hesitancy in her voice, “Would you so mind if my lessons were in stitchery rather than letters? I find I have a disposition for it, more so than words on paper.” Of course, I released her to more hours among the females. Her stitchery was truly art; fingers, needle and thread capturing skyscapes of stars; a wildflower meadow; forest blanket. Upon the loon, she wove wheatfields and moon-dappled lakes.
Forty-six, forty-seven. Not that I spent time with the males. My father tolerated me; my brothers scare acknowledged my existence. I was fey child of wife-two, nare spoken of. The fever took her, burnt fat off my bones and hair off my scalp. Robbed all memories before age 10 or so. When hair returned, was as if the woods, in their royal tween times robes, reached their branches down. Each touch, left a strand of autumnal hair.
My elder brothers birthed of a woman with sunflower hair and wintering sky eyes. They were compact and muscular; the way of my father. My sisters, less my age, were all raven’s breath hair and sweet curves, ripe plums waiting to be plucked. I stood rather tall, lean – all edges and angles with eyes mismatched as one jade, one amethyst.
Fifty-eight, fifty-nine. When mother of my sisters passed beyond, my father took no one to the marriage bed; instead, he moved a series of mistress into the manor to see to the household. The present one was a hard fit; she sought to make me saleable with a bride price high enow, I should be gone. Thus, better matches made for my sisters. In my family, it was thus: sons wed for wealth; the daughters wed for power
Sixty-two, sixty-three. My blindness was thus a boon for my youngers. Enow, how could traditions be kept (though father might not cleave to such) and the eldest daughter, even if of questionable parentage (I knew the whispers; heard the gossip) be to the marriage bed first.
The fever that robbed me of much nare left my body through the years. It returned, with the seasons, to throb my head to point of breaking. Sicken stomach. I would hide away under covers, Nim mixing tonics and potions to less the pain. She somehow kept the physiks away – I would not be bled; waiting til a travelling true healer could visit. Her words were dire, but true – the stabbing knife of the fever at my eyes would soon pluck away my sight.
So, in those days I still had, pain tamped down by nostrums and my will, began to count. The number of steps and stairs. To listen to even the tiniest of sounds for clues of the world around me. Hear spider’s spinning or bee’s breath. Learn how each hour of a day has a different scent; how the air tastes sweet or bitter. All in preparation. For that morning, when I oped my dawn eyes to pitch-black night. “Are you frightened?” Nim asked, finding me flaying air with my arms, caught in bedlinens. “No more so that of the marriage bed,” I responded. Though was not quite true – I feared being sold off for bride price even more than darkness.
Seventy-four, seventy-five. Tonight, had been another such chattel call: a high table banquet to welcome members of my brother’s cadre. A captain, with an elder brother having the ear of the king, expressed a desire to negotiate bride price for my eldest sister. I was summoned to ladies’ chambers for lectures upon appearances, fitted for pluffed-up underpinnings, and frock of rich velvet. I fingered the design Nim stitcheried against midnight-blue fabric. “You’ll still the stars,” she told me of her work. “Made knots deep and thick so you can feel your way across the night.”
I had not to do with preparations. High in the keep, I was sheltered from the organized chaos. Nim made daily reports; but with her needle in high demand, I generally knew little of her for a time. Eventually, the dreaded day was nigh; trumpets blared, horses strutted, men swaggered. I was spared the greeting line; I had only the banquet to endure.
In the placing of people, for some strange reason, I was seated next to Thomas, the powerful brother and marriage-broker for his younger sibling. Byhaps, it was more likely to balance some fragment of arcane etiquette that mistress of the house liked to follow. Nim stood at my left elbow (though I said she might sit with the other lady’s maids), making sure knife and spoon, platter and chalice were in the proper positions for me. We’d practiced, so there was little fumbling, and I didn’t dribble wine nor drop venison in my lap.
Eighty-eight, eighty-nine. Conversation swirled around me – hearing distinct and discreet voices mixed with unknowns. The clatter and clash that goes with dining; the footfalls of servers; soft music underlying. Scholar Thomas addressed me by formal name, or gently touched my arm to gain my attention. A forward move without my blindness as reasoning.
There is more to the tale, but with pruning and re-pruning, this fragment of the saga still tetters at just over the 1,000-word limit. (The rest isn’t quite full-formed)
Thanks, Stephanie, for the prompt, in the dark, about losing the sense of sight. It gives new dimension to one of my “head story” characters, and allows for two or three plot lines to mingle.
I’ve only experienced almost total darkness during a train trip from east to west coast. Long tunnels blasted out of the hearts of mountains provided the opportunity to acutally not see the proverbial hand in front of my face. Brief slivers of time which, almost 40 years passing, I can still vividly remember. A discomforting feeling. I have friends who have lost sight or hearing; I always impressed by their adaptability, resolve and resilence. I don’t know if I’d do so well as they.