At night I dream of swimming in a river that I myself was never allowed to swim. “The crocodiles will get you!” said my nurse, and I was good and stayed behind the curtains of my boat so I’d be given another day outside soon. But I’d see other little girls and boys swimming naked as fishes. In the reeds, where papyrus grew in fronded flowers over murky shallows of lotus, eyes watched. It made me frightened, and I couldn’t bear to watch the swimmers.
But now, I dream that I too swim, and a wave carries me into the reeds where teeth wait gnashing. I hear small cries that were once very real and the waters are hot like blood. I know the bank is somewhere close, but I cannot see it. I’m not sure if I’m trying to save my children or myself as my hands scrabble for land and recoil from scales and teeth. My feet sink down, down into the grieving black river silt, and I’m tired and alone and defeated. Fear and sorrow pull me under.
Thragan shouldn’t have told me that we share more pain than you know. Channah is your second child and not your first, lost with her mother’s death. Poor Sadira. The men of the tents who roam those plains are hard, hard like the stones and the scorpions who live under the unforgiving sun. She and her child never had a chance that she could have seen, for there, women are raised with bent heads and untaught minds. I could tell you. In a moment, in a few words this pain that I alone must carry could be ours. I would not be alone as I drown in grief.
I am not good in the way you are. Not unselfish, not unstinting. But my cruelty is confined to those who have wronged me, Glariond. Never you. Never you. I think I see your hand now, and I can hear you through the memories of things that hurt me once, but not now. I remember that I am strong, and my lost ones too were strong. Amir wouldn’t stay hidden when they pulled me from the cart, but stabbed the man who had his mother. My son was a good man, even if he was young. He would want me to fight. Nafisah is shy, but lets no-one call her names. Samir fought for his one night of life. And Channah… Melethannas. My newest little jewel. She hits wolves on the nose and charms smiles from hardened warriors. All of my children… our children… they need us to hope, and to dream, and to fight too.
I will hold your little one with my lost sons, as you keep Nafisah as your own child. You will never know. Stay firm on the bank, and give me your hand. I want to have this victory for them, and for us. Show me joy again, heart’s brother. I want to have joy.