Spilt life

I remember watching the sky lighten through the grille and waiting for the door to open on that last day. It was raining clean water from the sky. I lifted my face, striving to catch drops upon my tongue, thinking it might quench my thirst. I murmured a malediction, clutching at beads that slid between my fingers, telling them over and over again. I had no fear that I would weaken, I felt nothing: just the rough texture of the carved beads and the harsh string like wire.

I never thought they would send you. As the door opened I was ready, beads stripped from the wire, an effective garrotte. You choked and struggled and the gruel you carried slid from the wooden plate. You were making too much noise so I broke your neck with the twist I had perfected—your body shuddered and went limp and blood ran from your mouth. I let you fall and stepped over you, not looking at your swollen belly, and locked the door although you were dead and I knew you couldn’t follow.

Even then I didn’t realise, the light was pale and dim and I was in a hurry and had no remorse to spare, you were simply a means to an end, my escape and there is no use crying over spilt life, is there? You should never have got in my way; if you had been stronger I could not have killed you so easily.

So I ran down the passage way heading up out of those living tombs by the path I remembered, thinking you would be there to greet me. It was only when I came out into the light and there was no one waiting and I had to walk for hours after the sun came up until I reached the shore that I began to wonder why they had sent a girl and where you could be.

I thought maybe you had grown bored or fickle—that you had found someone else and forgotten your promise. I thought you had forsaken me. I went into the church and broke open the collection box, being damned without you. The icon cast her wistful gaze on me, her child in her arms, and I trembled. I think I knew then though I wouldn’t let myself believe it.

I was lucky—there was a ship waiting as we had agreed and it was only when they asked me where you were that my courage failed. So I lied and said that you had changed your mind and decided to stay behind. I paid my passage with the coins I had stolen and they never asked me any more questions—not until the night of the storm when lightning shattered the mast and there was a cry like a woman in labour birthing her child.

The ship split upon the rocks and I was the sole survivor, dragged from the waves and given back my life. It is local superstition that one must be saved from the wreck to buy the favour of the sea god. So I was the one—held to appease the winter storms.

Now I have a year’s service in the house of the god and the sea cleansed me of the blood I shed. We get all the news here and of course the priests told me the name of the girl who was killed on the night the prisoner escaped. They say nothing, there is no need. They know I see your face in my dreams and that on the day when the god releases me and they open the door to my cell, you will be waiting for me.

Ω

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