Tonight I’m going to sneak out of this tiny cell they call my room. Tonight I’m going to walk inaudibly past the rooms where the Sightless slumber and out into the garden. Tonight I’m going to escape from the castle near the Côte de la Brume for the first time. For good.
I hear the ocean’s pounding surf against the rocks far below my jail’s window. It crashes and breaks, crashes and breaks. Sometimes I wonder how earth can withstand the relentlessness of water and wind. Seawater sprays up, carried by the wind, and sticks to the walls, rotting them slowly from the inside. The sharp taste of salt lingers on my tongue. From up here, I can see whitecaps on a moving landscape of grey. It’s summer. At least that’s what I feel in my bones. The need for earth and verdant things. Instead, I’m surrounded by decay and varying shades of grey.
Mistress Hossel enters my room. Her blindfold disappears neatly — but so tightly it digs into the skin of her cheeks and forehead — into the severe bun at the back of her skull. She is one of the Sightless. They number only a handful, but they care for this castle, and me, during the day. At night we are not allowed to move from our rooms, lest one of the night creatures find us and carry us away to be slaughtered. I’d rather take my chances with them than stay here another cold, damp night alone.
She carries breakfast on a tray. When she sets it down, she moves as though she can see to the window where she finds the trickle of ivy I’ve grown there. The flowers are yellow. The smell of them must have alerted her to their presence. With a flick of her wrist, she plucks the vine off the rock and flings it through the bars of the window. She leaves as quietly as she arrived.
For seventeen years I have lived here in near silence. A prisoner. I remember nothing of before, but many of the rooms in the tower are filled with books. Books that paint a much different picture of life than I know. Maybe I was born in this very room. My mother was a queen and I a princess. It must be. A horrible monster must watch over this place. All I have to do is wait for my prince to come and rescue me. No. I won’t wait. I can’t wait any longer.
The routine is the same for six months of the year, and slightly different for the other six. I rise. I dress. I never speak to my jailers. That lesson was the hardest to learn. When I was four I wouldn’t stop shouting, though now I can’t remember why. One of the Sightless, Mistress Asri, came to my room. She tried to give me sweets to eat. When that failed, she took away my doll. It escalated until she spanked me. Still, I would not be quiet and still, as I had been taught.
Mistress Asri removed her blindfold and I saw what horror hid beneath it. Her eyes had been torn from their sockets. They were thick with ropey scar tissue. Pink and shiny in the crisp morning light. I screamed then and continued screaming. If I close my eyes right now, I’m back in that memory. The dust from my hands is choking me. My screams are echoing off the pockmarked walls.
She shouts back, the first time I’d ever heard her voice, at me, “Be quiet, child! Do you want to join the Sightless? To be one of the caretakers of this castle and bound to the damned?”
All at once, the horrible sound I’d been making ended. It was as though a candle had been snuffed out in a pitch-black room. Nothing remained but a thin trail of acrid smoke and an eerie feeling that it hid something else, something far worse waiting in the blackness.
The next time I saw Mistress Asri, her tongue had also been torn out. I never understood, I still don’t, why she would stay here. It took one more altercation before I stopped misbehaving. Mistress Asri was buried beyond the tower’s shadow. I watched them solemnly put her in the ground. However, I never crossed a boundary again. I would not be the reason some poor woman was mutilated further. Or worse. Every day they suffer for whatever they’ve done to be here.
The only person who’s allowed to talk to me without harm is Professor Rolm. Professor Rolm’s not from here. She doesn’t live at the castle. Six mornings out of the week, I meet her near the castle’s gate. She teaches me how to Weave. Something, it seems, that no one else around here can do. She places an object in my hand, anything from a book to a teacup, and I have to break it down into its basic composition. The book becomes protein, fiber, and water. The teacup becomes clay, water, and fire.
My strongest gift is Earth Weaving. It must be the only reason they keep me alive and intact. During the summer months, I rake my fingers through the garden that rings the inside of the castle’s walls. I let my feet sink deep into the cool earth. It tingles with possibilities. There’s a pull in my chest and something escapes out into my limbs. The ground always responds with tiny leaves. I love the flowers the most with their bright colors in stark contrast to the dull walls. I spend hours covered in rich dirt, convincing beautiful plants to grow. On the rare occasions when the sun shines down fully, it’s as if every bad thing that has ever happened has been a dream. A very bad dream.
Professor Rolm doesn’t like flowers if they don’t turn into fruit or vegetables though, so I have to be careful what type of petals I allow the earth to yield. This food must last us through the winter months. They’ve never let me till the earth outside of our walls. In harsh winters, we’ve lost some of the Sightless to starvation that could have been easily avoided if they let me grow things out there. Instead, I sit in my room, watching more bodies go into the earth. A peace for them, I think. Within the week, there’s a replacement. A girl with bright red skin ringing her new blindfold.
I shall weep for them when I leave. They will suffer the consequences of my actions. And I? I shall be free.
“Lemongrass,” Professor Rolm calls me from across the thigh-high wheat. She uses the diminutive when I don’t respond. “Mon.”
I face her, seeing the lines etching her face, the liver spots dotting her hands. She was young and beautiful once. “Yes, Professor?”
“We need more gourds this year. Start them today,” she says, running a hand through the wheat. “And Mon?”
The watering can is heavy in my hand, the handle slick with rainwater. “Don’t forget to add a bed of potatoes. I remember.”
She gives me a rare smile. Tomorrow is her day off. By the time she hears I have run for it, it will be too late for her to track me down.
The day proceeds like any other day. Two more books are turned into piles of base materials due to my tutelage. I say good-bye to Professor Rolm and climb the stairs up to my room in the tower. Mistress Hossel brings my evening meal. I eat in silence while she waits by the door. When I’m finished, I place the tray in her hands and watch her leave. She never puts out a hand to feel where she’s going. She’s more certain on her feet than anyone with sight.
In the evenings, I’m allowed candlelight for an hour. I strike the flint. I’ll need the fire to weave a stronger blade from the metal bars on my windows. The handle will come from the rock-hewn walls. Water and a stone will ease the sharpening process. Weaving like this is so much harder than it is with earth and growing things. Beads of sweat form at my brow, dripping down my nose into my work.
I’m nearly finished when Mistress Hossel appears at my door, indicating lights out. The knife makes no scraping sound when I push it beneath my pillow. I snuff out the candle with a pinch of my finger and thumb. When I climb into bed, I find it easy to close my eyes and pretend to sleep. It’s not so easy to slow my beating heart.
* * *
Screams startle me upright. I didn’t realize I’d fallen asleep. I reach for the knife with one hand and throw the blankets off with the other. In an instant I’m on my feet, rubbing sleep from my eyes. The shouts are coming from the courtyard. I can’t see that part of the grounds even if I put my head tight against the window bars.
So I run as quietly as possible down the stairs, the knife clutched in one hand. I pray I won’t fall and stab myself. When I get to the lowest level, I can hear the voices, or I should say voice, more distinctly now.
“Take me back! This isn’t my home. Where’s my dad?” A female voice.
She’s under the awning of the gate, and I can’t make out her features yet. Even so, her shadow looks small and fragile though she’s fighting like the wind. Her hands are bound, keeping her shoulders rounded and defensive. As she steps into the torchlight, I can see she’s a girl of about my age with hair the color of raven wings. Our eyes lock.
“Hey!” she yells. “You! Girl with the knife! Are you going to let them kidnap me, or are you going to help?”
How do I help her? A knife against any one of the four Sightless that hold her would be cruel. I watch as they drag her to the main keep. Underneath is the dungeon. That’s where I used to hide from Professor Rolm when I didn’t want to do my lessons.
The girl continues to scream at me for help. I stand there, dumbly, and watch her being led away. Right as I make a decision to follow her, a hand snatches my wrist and the knife falls out of my grasp.
… to be continued.
This month we’re trying something new. July is going to be a themed month. Meaning, all of our prompts will be connected. For more amazing art by Catherine Langwagen, please visit her Deviant Art page (cassiopeiaart.deviantart.com). Join us Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of next week when we post three more tales on a new prompt. Follow us on Twitter to get updates and news.
Artwork © Copyright, Catherine Langwagen 2011. All rights reserved. Used with permission.