8/3/2016 K.L.Goad/Lo5:Breathing Water/
The Water in the Air
There is a beginning and an end to all things that ever came to be, and all things that will come to be. The gods themselves made sure of that. After her death, after only one year of living, Lily knew everything. She was reborn. Lily could not speak but she understood the world around her in ways no one else could fathom. As an infant she knew all that had happened, all that was happening, and every possible thing that could happen. Knowing how the world worked while she lay helpless and at the mercy of others made returning the world of the living complicated.
The couple that eventually took care of Lily and her twin sister were as good as anyone, except they insisted on calling the twins by horrible names. Lily accepted this because she knew full well the danger she and her sister were in, the danger they would always be in. As she and her twin sister became older, Lily was able to comprehend their lives so much more clearly, she learned to delve deeper into her gift. She knew water was the source of her abilities, she knew it was what had killed her in her infancy and the reason she returned to life. Lily was also aware it was her eldest sister who had made her like this. It was her eldest sister who was to blame for the fact Lily’s twin sister would one day die by air and be able to be reborn to control what had killed her. Lily also knew it was their second eldest sister who would rescue her and Camellia, her twin, once the events of time aligned correctly. Lily planned wisely with the aid of this knowledge she had gained from her gift. Yet still she did not open her mind fully to the power of water. The water itself could push back into her and warp her mind in ways she could not come back from. Lily was not the only one with this ability and her counterpart had been driven mad by the power of water.
Lily was also aware this was not the first time a person knew things others should not. She was not the first to die and live by water. Lily kept her discoveries to herself once it became clear this was not something her caretakers and the world around her found normal. She acted unaware to save herself the burden of those who had fallen victim of these powers before her. There were so many desperate souls who had commanded or had been commanded by the drowning power of water. This also meant her sisters were not the first to be taken by the other elements. Since the dawn of time there had always been five sons of one father and five daughters of one mother that would each die by an element. Earth, Fire, Wind, Water, Spirit. After their death by an element their bodies returned to life with the ability to control what had killed them. They were reborn. If they could not learn control their element they would be consumed by it.
Despite her fight against the visions and power, the strength of the element came in waves. Some gentle and others crashed into Lily knocking her down until they paralyzed her with things she could not bear to witness. The visions that came from water would haunt her with her eyes opened or closed, they would not go away. With what she could see of her own future it would take Lily a lifetime to be at peace with what had ended her and brought her back to life.
The sun amplified the early morning heat as it forced its way into Allie’s lungs with each breath. She could feel the sweat linger on her neck as she tore into the dry earth with her bare hands. The young slave continued to pull out the decorative greenery that had browned from the unusually dry spring season. The master of the house, Randall Trent, had ordered all slaves to attend to the property in preparation for his upcoming guest. His visitor was to arrive at the manor any day and the master expected the grounds to be pristine upon the woman’s arrival.
The visitor was known to outsiders as the Western Pearl. This was the name given to her by the Emperor of Zheguar. The Pearl was a western woman talented in art and politics who had become a great advisor to the Emperor. It was said she seldom left the Emperors side. The Pearl’s upcoming visit to view Master Trent’s ancient eastern coin collection was going to be a rare opportunity for Trent to raise his standings within local society.
As the adopted daughter of the grounds keeper, Allie had no issue digging in the dirt and being a part of the earth, but this task had gotten out of hand. Every able body was outside tearing the hard years of labor her father had put into the outer appearance of the manor. Even the Master’s younger brother, Thomas, had gotten out of the wine cellar to help with the task. It would have been wiser to allow Allie and her father to water and care for the plants closely. In time everything would have flourished again.
Still, the Master ordered his slaves to have everything removed and replaced with fresh greenery. They were to remove the plants that were nearing recovery with blossomed foliage delivered to the manor from around the continent. Allie grumbled to herself as she dug her fingernails deeper into the earth to remove the remaining parched roots.
Allie’s father, Fen, had given her the north side of the manor to manage on her own and she welcomed the peace of being away from the chaos on the properties front drive. The stone path from the road was in the process of having the trees that lined it removed and replaced. Despite the stillness of the warm air she could hear the efforts of the elaborate task echoing through the walled property.
Sweat slid down Allie’s face. She used the back of her hand to wipe the forming moisture from her brow. The droplets were warm as they fell across her burning skin. She could sense within the thickening air that no breeze would come this day. She felt the aches from her morning work as she stretched out her arms above her head, her bones cracking beneath her skin from the strain. She thought of the Master’s daughter, Hadlen, and her slave, Zera. Allie and Zera had been purchased as infants by the Trent family. When they were young she and Zera had been raised by the groundskeeper, Fen, and his wife Sera. The Master’s daughter had taken to Zera not long after Lady Trent’s death and ever since Zera had lived in the manor attending to the spoiled brat. Beyond her minimal duties Zera was left to roam free, following Hadlen around the manor causing chaos.
During these past few weeks their normal prey, the indoor slaves, had been given a reprieve by being forced to work outside. Most of Hadlen and Zera’s usual activities had been reduced to whatever they could find indoors to entertain themselves, anything from scaring the elderly indoor slaves to swiping buckets from the kitchen. Sometimes they took a midnight ride to the nearest tavern to use their young wiles on unsuspecting country boys or a rare traveler.
Allie sighed and pushed the two girls from her mind. She sat back looking at her hands, spreading her fingers wide. Her eyes took in her calloused palms. Dirt clung to the dead skin surrounding the broken blisters that she had acquired from her days in the dying gardens. She flipped her hands over, her fingernails had begun splitting. Some of her wounds had torn so deeply she bled each time she used her fingers to pull the withering roots from the dry earth. Allie looked past her hands to her loose white cotton shirt. It had yellowed from perspiration and felt thin against her wet skin. Her pants had already worn out in the knees and she could see her own hand prints of dried earth smeared across her thighs.
Again she reached her arms above her head and this time Allie stood. She caught a glimpse of herself in one of the manors windows letting her arms drop to her sides. Her coiled sun brightened braids were coming undone from the sweat flowing from her scalp and her face was covered in dark smeared finger shaped swipes. She spit in her hands trying to rub away the smudges. She focused so intently upon her own reflection she did not see Zera peering through the window at her.
Zera’s soft face hid her cruelness, her deep blue eyes storming like oceans surrounded by porcelain skin and smooth alabaster blond hair. Her small pink lips curved upward as she thrust the window outwards on its hinges. The panels clacked onto the brick walls as Allie fell on her backside, dusty earth flying up beneath her. Zera and Hadlen lifted the stolen kitchen bucket and heaved its contents out the window upon Allie.
The two girls laughed wildly as they turned their chins upward. “I think that makes her look better don’t you?” Hadlen wiped sweat and ratty dirty blond tangles of hair from her round splotched face, spitting out the window. “You may need more of that to clean yourself fully.” Zera threw the wooden bucket to Allie’s feet before pulling the windows shut smirking at her fellow slave. Allie could still hear their laughter as the girls disappeared within the manor.
Allie lay still, taking deep breaths to keep her eyes from watering. The reeking stench of used kitchen water filled her nose. She scraped at her shirt with her broken nails to remove the rotting kitchen slop. The broken skin on her fingers stung as the congealed globs of waste covered the open sores on her hands. Her stomach pulled tightly into itself as a lump formed then rose in her throat. Allie pushed herself onto her side and heaved until her stomach was empty.
She lay in the dust, letting the moisture evaporate from her eyes trying to ignore the strong smell and the intense heat. Allie’s muscles twitched and popped beneath her skin. She knew she had too long been the fool in the games of the Master’s daughter and her slave. Allie wanted nothing more than to retaliate but she knew her place. She let the light of the sun beat against her already tanned skin. Allie wanted nothing to do with Hadlen and Zera. She only wanted to be left alone in the gardens.
A shadow fell over her. Allie opened her eyes to see her father standing above her. Fen wore his usual brown trousers and blue cotton shirt, the rim of his straw hat bent upwards in the middle from sitting on it once or twice. His face was worn from years in the sun and his hazel green eyes only shone brighter with each passing year. He reached out to help Allie rise to her feet. She did not have to tell him, he already knew. Fen held his mouth tight to keep himself from smiling. “Head on back to Ma, she’ll get you cleaned up.” He placed his calloused hands on either side of her face. “You are destined for much greater things my love. Just you wait.”
A laugh caught in Allie’s throat. “Whatever you say Pa.” She turned away from him, leaving the mess behind her. Fen always took care of her after Hadlen and Zera had their fun. This time was no exception, as Allie turned around the corner of the manor heading toward the south garden she looked back to her father. He had already moved the bucket, removing the mess. Fen shook his head as he dug up the vomit stained earth with his shovel.
The young slave slid the back of her hands across her face to wipe away the remaining droplets of sweat. As her hands pulled away from her skin she could feel the familiar grating pain of a sunburn forming. Allie let her shoulders drop. She could sense the oncoming heat resonating from every inch of her exposed skin. To be certain she rubbed one finger across the back of her neck, groaning at the burning sting.
The young slave let her feet drag while she walked to the back wall of the property. She wound through the browned shrub labyrinth until she came to the large white stone wall that surrounded the entire property. She walked beside the stones to the southwest corner and pushed through the rotting wooden door. Gently, she shut it behind her then followed the worn dirt path to the clearing in the forest south of the estate where the married slaves had built their own modest log cabins and wood sheds. She was thankful that everyone was working, and those who were not in the manor’s yard had enough sense not to be outdoors. Soon everyone on the property would know what happened and would want to get a few of their own words in before Hadlen and Zera took out their boredom upon someone else.
Allie made her way to the oldest house near the center of their makeshift neighborhood. The wood cabin was graying from age and usually had a steady stream of smoke filtering out through the stone chimney. Today was an exception. The unusually hot and dry weather kept the fire from burning. Allie took the short steps up to her own front door and stopped. After a few shallow breaths to keep the stink out of her own nose she knocked on the door with the back of her hand. “Ma, I need some help.” She waited to hear the elderly woman move from her chair by the empty fireplace. “Please, Ma?”
“I’m a coming.” After a fall and a broken leg the spring before, Master Trent had agreed to allow her mother, Sera, to stay at her home. She spent her days mending clothes and stirring pots of food for the slaves’ meals. Allie could hear the slow drum of her mother’s offbeat steps with the click of her wooden cane against the floorboards as Sera walked from her chair to the door. Allie braced herself as the door swung in. “To high heaven child, the gods themselves wouldn’t dare to smell you right now.”
Allie grunted and began to fidget in the doorway. “Can you get me some fresh clothes? I’m going to the river.”
“After all of this strange weather? It will be ice cold from the mountain snow without rain water to warm it a little. We’ll pull out the tub and warm up the water.” Sera turned from her adopted daughter in search of what Allie would need. Sera’s hair had grayed in the last year and the seamstress moved slower than before. “Without fresh rain to warm it up a little that water will be like jumping into a snow bank.”
“It will take too long for a bath in the tub. I just need to stop smelling. It’s burning out here anyway. I won’t freeze too much. I have to get back to help.”
Sera wrapped a set of fresh clothes in a large piece of cloth. The seamstress went to her personal cabinet pulling out a gray bar of homemade soap and a large toothed comb. “I’ll need you to take up the mending for me. So clean real good, and you’ll wear the blue dress with the lace and your soft leather shoes. The dress does look nice with your eyes.” Sera smiled at Allie as she tied everything up in a large piece of unused cloth. “Take the things up then you can go back to the yard. Wash your hair, hands, and all those other places nice. Don’t forget to rinse your clothes a little for me and bring them back so I can wash them real good tonight, maybe mend those knees if I have a few free moments.”
“Ma, they need me in the yard, get one of the girls to take up your sewing.” Allie tapped the door lightly with the toe of her boot. “I’m not a maid.”
“Don’t argue, I need someone presentable to take my work up and all my girls are in the yard. Might as well be you. After you bathe of course.” Allie took up the wrapped clothes from her mother. “Don’t make a quick job of it. Wash up like a lady. I don’t want that stink in this house tonight. It’s too warm to have that smell floating around on top of the smell of sweat and dirt.” Sera placed a hand on Allie’s cheek. “Take some time. I still have some things to finish.”
Allie let out her breath before making her way through their small neighborhood. Instead of following the worn path east, Allie headed through the thicket of trees moving south. The underbrush was thick, but it made her favorite place on the river isolated. The overgrown trail was a small price to pay for privacy. After a short time hiking through the wild growth the trees cleared. The opening let the sun shine down upon large flat rocks that lay across the river. The dry weather left the water lower than usual and she shivered thinking of the melted snow that ran through the slow current.
Picking at her braids Allie plucked the ribbons from her hair, letting her dark gold braids fall across her shoulders. She kicked off her dirty boots and peeled off her soiled clothes. She tossed her shirt and trousers to the river bank to soak on the water’s edge before removing her undergarments and throwing them atop the rest of her clothes. Allie took a deep breath as she moved to the river and let her entire body fall beneath the surface of the dark blue water. The bitter shock sent the air from her lungs. She stood, returning to the surface. Breathing deeply she moved to the shore for her soap and brush, already shaking from the chill.
Her second plunge into the river bothered her less, this time keeping her head above the water line. Allie swam to the center of the slow moving current placing her things on the largest of the flat rocks near the center of the river. She pulled at the tangles in her hair with the comb and after she was satisfied she took the soap to her body. She started with her hair, then her face and scrubbed hard at her hands and feet. The soap stung through the numbing water into the cuts on her hands.
She swam back to shore, this time pulling her ragged discarded clothes into the water. She kept moving as she scrubbed at the clothes with the dull gray soap bar. Once her arms began to shake she balled her clothing into one large mass and threw them back to the shore past the bank of the river. She would leave it to Sera to clean the rest. Her body adjusted to the cold, the icy waters soothing her burning skin, numbing the pain pulsating through her body.
Allie’s teeth began chattering and she was moving more slowly. She swam to a flat rock and pulled her body up out of the river. Before lying down she combed her hair out once more then lay back letting the sun dry the remaining moisture from her body. Eyes closed she let her mind wander as she lay naked for only the sky to see.
Even with the unusual drought, Allie could hear the river move over the rocks scattered around her and continue downstream. It was as it always was. Flowing down from the mountains and onward, moving away from her and the manor. Allie lay with her arms splayed out across the rock, letting her fingertips slide through the uppermost current of the river.
Without wind the leaves in the trees did not whistle, all she could hear was the flowing water with soft birdsongs drifting through the wooded areas on either side of the river. In the distance she could hear the rustling of light steps through the underbrush and the crackling of dead branches. The noise emanated from the southern bank. The land south of the river was deserted through to the mountains. Only animals roamed through the overgrown thickets beyond. Allie kept her eyes closed and shifted upon her rock running her fingers through her hair until it fanned out around her head in a damp golden crown. The rustling grew louder and halted.
She strained her ears to listen. The sound of empty metal clanged against empty metal. She could hear water rushing against metal. Allie could feel each part of her body go rigid as her heart skipped a beat then thrummed wildly in her chest. She opened her eyes to the initial burn of fresh sunlight. Her eyes adjusted to see a young man bending over the south bank. His shoulders sagged under the weight of metal flasks and empty leather water bags. The sweltering air caught in her throat. He was not a slave of Master Trent’s or from town. He was taller and leaner than any of the boys she had ever seen. The trapped air dislodged itself from her throat releasing a high pitched cry unlike anything Allie had ever heard from her own lips. The boy looked up from his task, jaw falling wide and his sharp green eyes opened to their whites. He kept still, his earthy green gaze boring back into Allie’s sky colored eyes.