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Oct 14, 2019 1:31 AM
we're not sorry
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That night, she is wracked with nightmares.

Something is just beyond the edge of her vision – something is standing behind her – something is above her head.

There is nothing but that, and the gnawing, wrenching fear, for hours on hours.

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The moment the false sun peeks over the horizon, there is a flash of light behind her eyes, and then relief.

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She's shaking, still -- it's hard to feel certain it won't come back. Hard to feel certain of what's real, when she hasn't spoken to another human being in -- how long has it been, this time? Not since the last time she was frustrated to tears by long tangles of hair and found someone to beg to cut it off her.

She prays thank you, thank you, thank you anyway, kneeling on the ground and trembling.

She's not alone.

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From then on, she dreams. Not every night – not even every seventh night. But there are dreams.

Sometimes there is only the moon, low and white and impossibly large in the sky. Sometimes there are creatures moving under the surface of the ocean.

They are never easy dreams. It is not restful sleep.

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The next night the false moon is new, there is only fear, and blackness, and the moment before being cut and swallowed.

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And, again, when the sun rises, she is freed.

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Each one is terrible. It starts to be hard to fall asleep, knowing that this night might be the night. She walks farther each day, tiring herself out so that her weary body can overrule her anxious mind.

Thank you, my lord, she prays, after, every time. She's always kneeling; she's always crying.

(She learns to love the sun.)

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After a while -- she doesn't know how long -- she starts practicing swordplay again, just with a stick or running through footwork, just trying to stay sane. She reports her progress to Aton dutifully. I did a hundred lunges before breakfast today. I know you don't care. I miss you. I love you. I'm sorry.

She doesn't have to be so careful about hurting herself now. Nothing she couldn't hide from her sisters, still, but she's not a precious tool to be carefully tended anymore. Neat rows of thorns and spines pressed through her calves and left there to remove once the flesh heals around them; cuts opened on her shoulders and upper arms with sharp rocks and teeth and fingernails; bleeding stripes on her thighs from branches.

Sometimes she makes it an exercise in self-control. Stand on rocky ground, let every muscle in your body go slack, don't break your fall. It's harder than it sounds. After days or weeks of practice, though, she gets good at it. Kneels on perpetually scraped knees to pray.

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(The dreams begin to be a terrible, terrible comfort. Someone has enough use for her to answer her prayers with pain. She throws herself into them, longs for them, prays for them, wakes from them screaming.)

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And then, one day, she wakes in his arms.

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"My lord?"

(What happened -- did she do something stupid, did she wreck her body so entirely that he had to come fix her...)

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He pulls her closer to him.

(He smells of incense, the precious amber burned in tiny scrapings on his altar and the smoke that rises from it.)

"I'm so sorry, child."

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"There's nothing to be sorry for, my lord."

It's all she can manage to say before she's crying on him, pressing her face into his robes.

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"You've had no rest since you got here. That is absolutely something to be sorry for."

He holds her while she shakes, presses a kiss to the scarred stump of her wrist.

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"My own choice," she says, "not your fault," but her voice is uneven.

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“If a child of mine is tortured in my domain, the fault is mine too.”

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All she can do, for a little while, is cry on him.

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He strokes her hair, rhythmically, combs some of the snarls away with his fingertips.

“Oh, child. My poor child.”

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"Thank you for coming to see me, my lord."

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“I’m sorry it took me such a long time.”

He’s still gently touching her wrist.

“...would you rather keep it?”

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"I've grown attached, my lord. So to speak."

She hasn't. But it's good to remember.

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He laughs, softly. It seems like the sort of thing one should laugh at.

“Then I will leave it with the rest of your collection.”

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"Thank you, my lord."

It's not like the rest of her collection. The rest are badges of pride, of battles fought and won. This one's a mark of shame: she's lost half her purpose.

It doesn't matter, much. Not with him holding her.

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He touches her arm, where it’s stained with mud, runs his hand down to her elbow.

“How long have you been alone?”

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"You'd know better than I, my lord."

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