She had gotten used to the dark. The creaking and occasional scratching sounds had stopped scaring her. She had been locked in the dark since the morning before, and remained alone, while the festivities thundered and clattered outside the locked door. She knelt patiently before the door, praying and pondering the events soon to come. The dust rubbed against her knees and the muslin material of her gown and started to chafe at her sides. She laid down and curled up in a ball. The sounds of trumpets echoed loudly and ricocheted against her eardrums. With that signal, she knew the final parade procession had started. The clattering crowd and clumsy conversations ceased outside, and within minutes the door would open. Her cheeks still felt sticky and hot, and her eyes stung, while her head provided a slow thudding of a headache to the situation. She rubbed her face in frustration and got to her feet. Tilting her head back with pride and dignity, she shook her hair free from her face, and straightened her shoulders.
I won’t be found on my knees. I won’t let them see me on the ground.. not now, not ever.
Tears began to well up in her eyes, but she rubbed them away, and took a deep breath to calm her racing heart. She could hear the marching of the guards and knew the moment was upon her. She shouldn’t lose control, because she had been given two weeks to accept this fate. She should be fine about it, but anger was all she could feel. No acceptance, and definitely no happiness. She had worshiped regularly, and had been dutiful to the temple, her family, and the community, but she was the only one that had to hold this burden today.
It is always the oldest daughter that bears this responsibility, her mother said.
Her mother then had given her a hug, then ran to the bedroom; away from the king’s guards’ faces, her father’s ears, and her eldest daughter’s eyes, so to cry and mourn. Her father stood strong, but after the guards left, and the children had gone to bed, she knew he had cried with her mother. Her little sister, Marnie, slept with her that night, and her brother, Ben, sulked in the dark. All the pain her family had suffered with the death of her older brother, Larkin, last winter in battle, and the death of her baby sister, Nina, two falls again from illness, but now her responsibility would only bring more grief.
“Hadn’t we lost enough. Hadn’t we given enough!”
Suddenly a strip of bright light brought the answer, the door was being opened and she turned her head away to avoid being blinded. She shaded her face with her hand, and the door opened further. The light was finally interrupted by a shadow. A heavyset man stepped into the doorway. Six foot and dressed in formal attire. As his face became more in view, she recognized the man.
Her father’s best friend had been given the grave task. His gray eyes showed sadness and the tufts of gray hair poking out from under his helmet were disheveled. Wrinkles around the eyes showed the wear of this act, and his hesitation to retrieve her, and escort her out onto the platform. He released a heavy sigh and reached out for her.
“Sophie, it’s time.”
She felt numb. All the anger had drained from her and now the fear had set in. Her heart began to palpitate rapidly, and she felt the tears started. She turned away ashamed for being weak.
Why can’t I be stronger? Many have gone before me. We have to choose to accept this… but I am not ready.
Sophie couldn’t move, and she looked up for help. She needed his strength, or his guidance. Davin’s eyes softened and he looked down for a moment. Sophie saw a stray tear and her heart softened, clenching her teeth and hands; she decided to be strong. His eyes fixed on her knees, and she felt inclined to follow his gaze. Dirt had clumped upon her knees, and streaked down her shins, covering the tops of her feet. With another sigh, he knelt before and began to brush away the dirt briskly.
Sophie watched and smiled, because at this moment, he reminded her of her father, and maybe it was the best he could do for his best friend at this moment. Davin had fathered her, and raised her along with his three sons. He took care of her, while her parents were away or when someone fell ill. He had taught her how to shoot an arrow and showed her the different animal tracks. He definitely had scolded her like her father did a number of times. She could see the heartache in his eyes now, and recognized the grief this moment would cause him. Sophie saw another tear and knew he had accepted her as one of his own children the day she was born, and was torn between protecting her like a father and fulfilling a duty required of the king’s guard.
“It isn’t fair,” he whispered, returning to his feet. “It shouldn’t have to be you.”
Sophie could only smile and felt a tear run down her cheek. She reached out and gripped his arm, nodding in agreement.
“Yes, but it is my duty, and it is time.”
Davin gave Sophie a quick hug, then brushed away her tears.
“Let us go now.”
He moved around to her back, then placed his palm against her upper back for support.
“Lead the way,” he said. “May the goddess forgive us of this travesty.”
Sophie began to slowly shuffle forward, stumbling slightly, but Davin held her up, smiling down for encouragement. She smiled up, trying to ignore the fear that had made her forget her own legs.
“Bring out the girl,” a stranger bellowed outside, then a loud roar of applause and cheer followed. Sophie trembled with anger, forgetting her fear and the pain. She straightened her neck, and couldn’t fight the urge to look out into the light with contempt and disgust.
It isn’t fair.
“Ignore them, Sophie,” Davin whispered into her ear. “Be strong and walk with dignity. Don’t let them think you are a dog.”