Hope y’all are doing well. What follows is draft 1.1 of the first chapter in a longer story I’m working on. I have not been doing any work on shorter stories, and this site became barren lately. I “fixed” that.
-Scott “Speaker of Words” Brown
Chapter 1: The Mark of The Traitor
Hajra saw her mothers hair grow whiter each time she returned from battle. The lines on her face deepened, the bags under her eyes grew larger and darker.
There were many perks of being a Siren, but this was the trade. Where normally sleep would be a respite, that is where death would find you, and the only escape was to wake.
Still, her mother would return form the eastern front with pride, and new stories and honors. She sang well, bringing pride to their family name.
But Hajra saw her smiles fade. She was disillusioned with what she was doing. It was only a matter of time before death would take her, as it did each Siren. None retired from singing to awaken the dead. They joined the dead.
On one evening, as her mother returned, Hajra saw military escorts. Halfway to the house from the horizon they walked slowly and somberly. Her mother’s hands were bound.
“What does it mean?” she asked her older siblings.
They shushed her.
“We are going to be branded,” her older sister Kilde said, biting her nails.
“I will spit on these men,” hissed Beliv, the oldest boy.
“No one will disrespect these men! We don’t know who they are or what they want!”
All five of the children froze as their father, Charyk, bellowed.
“If your mother has been branded, then we are a breadth form exile. Anymore of this and I’ll belt you,” he told them.
Charyk’s hands fidgeted. The three figures approached the door.
Hajra saw it on her father now. He had known this was going to happen, or at least known it could happen.
Mamun entered the home, the soldiers pushed their way in with haste. One of them pointed at her.
“Mamun Neimev, you have called into question our way of life for the past thousand years. Instilling doubt is spreading fear, and spreading fear is attacking your Sowd comrades,” he recited.
No one moved. Seven pairs of eyes watched the man. His eyes darted around, seeing the frightened children. He blinked, frozen in hesitation. His partner nudged him with an elbow.
From under his armor came the iron rod, on its end was the symbol of the open eye. The mark of the traitor.
“You and your kin will be marked as traitors,” he said, moving to the fireplace.
Beliv yelled, and Charyk grabbed at the back of the boys shirt. Kilde screamed and held onto two of her sisters.
“I’m sorry, you may not understand now, but it was necessary,” Mamun cooed to her children.
The soldier came away from the hearth in the living room with a glowing red brand.
“Oldest first,” he signaled.
Beliv scowled, his hands shook in anger. His knuckles were white, and his jaw clenched. His teeth ground against each other hard enough to be heard by Hajra.
“This one,” Charyk patted the boys shoulder. His words were filled with displeasure.
Beliv shot a glance at his father, the rage turning to him.
“We’ll be fine. We’ll be okay,” Charyk told the boy.
The soldier with free hands took a step towards the young man.
“No!” Beliv shouted, swatting at the soldiers grasp, “No! No! No!”
He shouted as the soldier put him to his knees, and his siblings fluttered and yelled.
A hiss a burning flesh, a scream, and it was done.
With Beliv a puddle in the corner, weeping from the pain and embarrassment, the soldiers continued down the line.
Kilde, Abidya, then Liruz. They yelped and teared up. Hajra remained to be marked.
She stood with defiance, lifting her hair so the men could brand the back of her neck. Hajra did not understand the weight of the mark. It was a sentence worse than death. She and her kin would be pariahs of the worst kind.
The six-year-old waited for the pain, eager to join her siblings.
The brand was heated, and the soldier turned to the final child. He stopped, meeting her eyes.
Hajra’s look of indifference and acceptance left him dumbfounded.
The other nudged him, “One more and we go. Do it,” he whispered.
But he stood still, blinking, his muscles refusing to move.
“C’mon, Dima!” the other nudged again.
Dima’s face tightened and he stepped towards the child.
She turned her body, and met her family’s eyes. She was dulled, sullen and ready for this to be over.
Dima pulled the back of the young girls shirt down to expose more of her neck.
“What are you doing?” the other soldier asked.
Dima ignored him, plunging the the brand where her neck met her back, far lower placement than the others.
Hajra gritted her teeth, with tears running down her cheeks. She scowled, staring at her mother.
“Dima, what have you done!?” the other soldier yelled.
“I have branded her, let’s go,” Dima said.
“The brand is too low! It will not be seen! We must…”
“Selib! You will not make me brand a pup. Twice!” Dima yelled.
“You do not play enough notes in your melodies. This job is not done. If the commander sees this…” Selib accused.
“I do not care! Report me if you wish. Then you will come back and twice brand a six year old girl,” Dima breathed with venom.
Selib looked at the family. They stared back at him, waiting for his decision.
“Let’s go,” he said, and stomped out of the house.
Dima followed him, stopping at the doorway.
He tapped the doorway three times inrapid succession. It was an action of apology, far more potent than using words.
The family refused to respond.
He tapped again, this time harder, and left. The door fell shut.
Beliv waited a couple seconds before shouting. He pointed a finger at Mamun.
“What did you do!?”
“Quiet down, child,” she dismissed.
Charyk grabbed him by the hair, pushing him down to his knees. He leaned over, speaking into the boy’s ear, “You do not speak to your mother like that.”
“You’ve doomed us. You’ve fucked us!” Beliv cursed.
Charyk pulled his head back so that Beliv was now looking at the ceiling.
Abidya wailed, and the two middle sisters embraced each other.
Kilde, went to Mamun, and Hajra joined them. Her neck was in a great deal of pain, but she sang a lullaby.
Mamun joined her, but her spirits were weak. The room quieted, save for the calming melodies that Hajra sang.
Charyk let go of his son.
“I’m sorry, mother,” Beliv cried.
Mamun nodded a response while singing. Kilde joined in song, and soon everyone was sitting on the floor.
Charyk took out his special brandy, and each member of the Neimev family took a swig in turn, even Hajra.
“We are a cursed family now,” Liruz said, staring into the floor.
There would have been protest from her older sister, but she was right. Her somberness was not out of place.
Mamun would sing. The bright tones brought swells of happiness, confidence and laughter to her children.
In the river, in the middle of the bright green summers of her childhood, Hajra and her sisters would be doing laundry. They would join their mother in song, knowing the words were unimportant, only the feelings.
Mamun would tell them that the song was already there, written in the wind, and you just had to let your voice find it with the right grip. Too much force and the song would fall flat, not enough and there would be no song at all.
Hajra and her three sister would be strewn across the riverbed, bathing, braiding, or laundering.
Mamun would begin to hum, and Hajra would cheer. Being the youngest, she was the first to show emotions, and was not shy about it. Her sisters would roll their eyes.
But Mamun would wink at her, and Hajra would clap and dance.
Flowing notes, bending and writhing like the river would cascade and echoe against the rocks. Mamun swayed with the unheard rhythm.
Kilde, the oldest daughter, would begin to sway and hum while using the washboard. Albidya and Liruz pretended to ignore the magical impact of their mother’s singing. As Liruz braided her sisters hair she could be seen swaying, but then force herself to sit still, as an act of spite.
Hajra would join in, hitting high harmonic tones that weaved in and out of her mothers melodies. The oldest, youngest and their mother would sing as they worked, an intoxicating feeling of appreciation and HARD WORK GOOD would wash over them.
“It’s not fair!” Albidya protested.
“Be quiet! Sing with us!” Hajra yelled.
“No one wanted you to talk! You just do whatever Kilde does!” Liruz leaped to her middle-sister’s aid.
Mamun would continue singing and working, letting the girls work on their issues. A smile crept onto her face, fueling the middle-sisters jealousy.
“You always sing! You know I can’t sing! You know I can’t and you do it in my face!” Abidya cried out.
Normally the girls would be in tears by now, with each parent consoling a child. But with Mamun’s song, the negative feelings were subdued.
“It’s not my fault you can’t sing! I like singing. Why should I stop because you can’t?” Hajra stuck her tongue out.
“You won’t be able to do anything anyway. You’re marked just like the rest of us,” Liruz spat with venom.
It was the stone she cast when cornered.
“Liruz, that was a nasty thing to say,” Kilde broke out of song to speak.
“I don’t care. She shouldn’t be allowed to sing, not until her elders can!” Liruz said.
She stood up, separating herself from her sister, her hair becoming undone from the braid.
“None of us can sing! We shouldn’t sing! We’re traitors, everyone hates us! We should be sad!” her voice broke as her tones got higher and higher.
There was a tinge of magical power to her voice. she was tapping into what she truly felt.
“Enough!” Mamun stopped her singing to interrupt.
The trance-like feelings of satisfaction vanished, and Hajra felt waves of anger flow into her in its absence. The sounds of the river remained, and without the voice of her mother, everything seemed dead.
“We may be marked, but that does not mean we must feel marked!” Mamun said.
The girls stopped, Liruz wiped tears from her face, sniffling.
“Why do you continue to focus on the things we cannot do?” she looked at Liruz, “Rather than this moment? We have each other, the river, and songs in our heart. Feel your life-rhythm! It still beats strong! Perhaps stronger than others! Pain keeps it strong, and family keeps it going.”
Liruz’ lips quivered, as she prepared to sob. She turned away from her family, and ran in the direction of their home. Albidya followed her, hesitant at first.
Kilde sighed, and went back to the laundry.
“You taunt her with your voice, Hajra. Have pity on your sisters, they do not have your talent,” she said.
“No!” Mamun cast a finger at her oldest, “Hajra has a gift, and she should not be made guilty for that. If you must feel pity for your sisters, feel it for their obsession with discord.”
Hajra and Kilde shot glances at each other. Their mother rarely pointed, and this was a sign she was more upset than usual. They continued their chores in silence. Hajra’s mind raced. She had so many questions, and was afraid to ask them.