This week’s words were:
relapse :: busy bee :: ocean :: pacify :: putrid
A Traitor’s Grave
‘He wants to hear the ocean,’ gasped Lily, stumbling out of the putrid bedchamber with her arms piled high. Streaks of unhappy colour – browns and greens and off-yellows – yawned their way across the linens she carried. Old blood. Sepsis. Ill-humours. The heralds of death.
‘And how are we expected to do that?’ I muttered, falling into step beside her.
‘There has to be a way,’ she muttered, her face sweating and her teeth gritted. ‘I just – ugh!’ She stopped, throwing the soiled bandages to the ground. ‘I can’t!’ She slammed her fists against the wall and leaned her forehead on them, her shoulders quaking through her thin gown.
‘Lily, I –‘
‘Just leave me be!’ she snapped, and I drew my hands back. ‘Please, Maryam. I’m all right.’ She took in a deep breath, before pushing herself upright once more and bending to pick up the linens.
‘How is he? I mean, really?’ I asked, sinking my hands into the slimy, stinking fabric. Lily let me help her without a word, and that said everything. ‘Does he – I mean, how long?’ We slipped into the darkness of the long narrow hallway, our feet finding the way without light, as they had done for all the years between our girlhoods and now.
‘He’s suffered a major relapse,’ said Lily, and even though I couldn’t see her, I could imagine her looking around for peeping eyes and spying ears. ‘It’s impossible to pacify him now. He’s like a starving man who’s forgotten how to eat.’ She paused, and I thought about how she licked her lips when she was nervous, and the shine in her dark eyes. ‘He has a day. Maybe,’ she whispered.
‘If I run, right now, and wake the Librarian, I can get a recording of the ocean,’ I said, my throat contracting. ‘If that would help. If it would help you, I mean.’
‘My busy bee,’ she said, her words stumbling. ‘It wouldn’t do any good. It’s the real ocean he wants, the real thing. He’ll know a recording.’
‘But – it’s impossible,’ I said, my eyes flooding, warm and wet. I blinked, hard, realising we’d stopped walking. We stood, in darkness, our Lord’s sickness between us, and only one day left. ‘It can’t be done, Lil. The ocean? Nobody’s heard it in a generation, not for real!’
‘Sssh,’ she said, like she was comforting me. ‘I know. He knows it, too. He’s playing for time, is all. But he’s too sick.’
‘But that means… it means…’ I wanted to fling the sodden bandages far from me, but instead I sunk my fingernails into them, feeling them rip beneath my hands.
‘You know I loved you, Maryam. Always,’ she said, so quickly I barely heard it.
‘Lily –‘ I said, but a clanging bell smashed my words to shards and turned my blood to ice. Voices shouted, and the darkness lifted a little as, somewhere close by, someone lit the first of the torches. He’s gone, I thought, and my heart clattered around inside me. The Lord’s dead.
‘They’ll be coming for me now,’ I heard Lily’s voice say, straight into my ear. Her lips were warm on my cheek.
‘I won’t let them take you,’ I wanted to say, but it was as if I had swallowed a handful of thorns. I won’t let them touch you I won’t let them butcher you I won’t I won’t
‘I won’t leave you alone,’ she said, shoving the disgusting bundle of cloth at me, making me stumble.
‘Wait!’ I screamed, but it was too late.
In the darkness, her sure feet found the top step without difficulty, and she fell without a sound.
They buried her alone, in an unmarked hole, because only the beautiful can be interred as handmaidens of the Lord, and only the perfect can join him in the sky. From the top of my tower I can watch the old soil reclaim her body – her traitor’s body. Or so they say, at least. I know better.
She promised she’d never leave me, and she kept her word.
Ooh. Look at you and your fancy theme. I LIKE! Fantastic engaging tale too. Your brain is clearly in excellent working order after your weekend. 🙂
Yeah, the theme is a bit of a gamble. I’m hoping I’ll eventually get used to it. Time for a bit of a spring clean around here, I suppose! Thanks for the feedback. 🙂
Glad you liked the story, too! As for ‘excellent working order’, well, ehhh…. *drools* 😉
A lot of Catholicism in here, I feel. I found the piece a bit confusing, but that happens a lot.
Thanks, Patrick. I’m intrigued by your impression that there’s Catholicism in this piece – I don’t see it. It’s based around the idea, common to some ancient (and usually non-Christian) societies, that a high-ranking nobleman’s handmaidens should be sacrificed upon his death in order to serve him in the afterlife. I am a Catholic, and the imagery usually finds a way to squeeze itself in somewhere when I’m writing, but I’m really interested to know that you saw some of it here because it wasn’t consciously on my mind at all when writing it.
I’m sorry you were confused, too. If you have questions you’d like to ask me about it, of course feel free. 🙂
Oh, that linen! Those hands delving into it! Your descriptions are so good. The story itself is so intriguing- oceans not being seen in a generation, handmaidens being butchered and interred after a Lord’s death. Really enjoyed. I also found ‘loved you’ so sad and clever.
Thanks so much. I had this idea about a society where the people live in towers and are totally divorced from the land (which is why being buried in the soil is such a punishment), and where nobody has really set foot on the ground, or gone anywhere near the sea, in years. I’m not sure why, but that’s a story for another day. 🙂
So many layers to this, and the imagery is wonderful. You have an engaging way with words.
Thanks so much! 🙂