by Ski Hemulen
Romial was crying when Otmakla entered the room in a quick and economical motion. Great sobs could be heard from under the sheets. Otmakla approached and sat on the edge of the bed, her thigh touching Romial’s back. He was curled up on the bed, knees held by his arms to his chest.
When she touched him his voice choked, he coughed and another sob escaped him, replaced by whimpers, as he tried to stifle his crying.
‘You will have to come out of the room tomorrow’, she said.
She decided this would be the best course of action. He was cooped up in the tiny room she gave him for the last week, barely eating, barely answering questions. When he did speak he talked about not wanting to be seen, about being a traitor, about being disfigured.
He was disfigured to a degree, but not horribly. His nose was broken and the loss of so many teeth made the left side of his mouth look strange and uneven. He had trouble pronouncing some consonants. But it was only hard for her to look because of the sympathy she felt for his pain. He still looked beautiful to her.
‘Why? What happened?’, he raised his head.
‘We have work to do’, she retorted in a dry and practical voice. ‘I’m sorry. I know it’s difficult, but winter is at our door step. The house was nearly broken by the battle with the Romjid. We need every working hand. Your wounds have mostly healed. You know how to work. You have to work’.
She wasn’t sure how he’d take all of that, but she had tried giving him time and it didn’t seem to help. Other than that, it wasn’t a complete lie. She could use someone like Romial who could read and write and knew his way around supply lists.
On top of that, she admitted to herself, she didn’t have time for him. She could only see him for a few minutes every day. She had so much to do – running the house, restructuring it after the loss of so many men, fitting in the remaining mercenaries and stitching things up with the Diarjid who lost relatives in the battle. It was hectic, but it left her little time to contemplate the ruin, the death, her dead brother and cousin and the rest of the dead. She had a position, a house to maintain, responsibility. Mourning and brooding could wait.
Romial had no such comfort. He was a stranger with no position in this house, forever ripped away from his family. The only person he truly knew here didn’t have time for him. All he had was the loss, the trauma, the horrible things that happened, the horrible thing that was done to him.
‘I need your help arranging the winter storage. Preki used to do most of that, and he’s dead. I need someone who can work with old Ditmer on arranging it’, she said.
‘How would they look at me, your people? A disfigured traitor…’.
‘The injuries that dog has given you haven’t made you any prettier, but you are not disfigured. As for being a traitor’, she said in a calm and measured tone, ‘you are my people’s savior. Without your warning we would probably all be dead’.
‘You keep talking as if people here care nothing for honor. Haven’t you lived among them your entire life?’ He was angry. That was good. it was more response than she had got from him up until now.
‘Well, the truth is I can’t control what they think. And more than half of my men now are mercenaries who care nothing for stupid honor, and the majority of people in this house at the moment are women, who see honor as men business, and are much more concerned with the survival of the living. The ones who can’t let go of their honor will have at least to suspend it for us to survive. And quite frankly’, she finished in a cold voice, ‘you’ll just have to take it as it is. Get used to the way you look. Get to know the people of this house and find a way to get along with them. This is your house now, for better or worse. It’s our house, and I need your help’.
He pulled himself up to a sitting position.
‘I see’, he said in a quiet voice, frowning. ‘Could you bring me some clean clothing? And send some food over’.
He wouldn’t meet her eyes, but it was the most alert he’d been since the battle. It was good enough.
‘I’ll have the things brought to you. I’m sorry I can’t stay. I have a lot yet to do this evening’. While she said it she touched his shoulder gently. She missed his touch. He froze, and grunted in reply, still evading her eyes.
She sighed and let her hand drop.
‘I’ll see you tomorrow morning’. She said, to which he replied by another grunt.
The feeling of ugliness, of being dirty and defiled wouldn’t leave Romial as he lay in bed for day after day. He asked every day for more and more water and washed himself again and again. Thoughts about the fate of his family filled his mind. His father dead, Vasil dead, his brother… He couldn’t think about him. He didn’t know what happened to Burim, his other brother. He may never see his mother again, never sit with the men again and laugh, never walk through his orchards. He wasn’t even sure the Romjid who survived the battle could survive the winter.
Other than that, there was the Feeling. Whenever he contemplated his body it returned, a feeling of lightness, of being disconnected from it. Some of the times the Feeling caught his attention for hours. He would lie, concentrating on the way his feelings of self drifted in and out of alignment with his body. It was mesmerizing. It made him forget.
Was it real? It was hard to determine. He remembered what happened in the battle, the feeling of leaving his body and calling Otmakla, but he couldn’t be sure it really happened. He hadn’t spoke with Otmakla about the events of that night, and couldn’t be sure the whole thing wasn’t some hallucination out of his broken mind. Otmakla’s arrival could have been a coincidence. But most of the time he couldn’t care less about what was real. It just felt good to distance himself from his body.
But now he had to get out again. In his body. He didn’t want people to look at him. Even Otmakla’s eyes and touch made him cringe. But being able to slightly side step out of himself gave him some confidence.
Otmakla said it was their house. He wanted it to be true, but couldn’t see how he could live here. Life with Otmakla was an impossibility, and right now, well, he couldn’t even stand her touch. He wasn’t sure he’d want it if it where possible.
When morning came he dressed. He didn’t feel like binding his breasts. It seemed futile to struggle to look like a man when he hardly felt human.
He stepped out of the room and headed towards the courtyard, staying mostly inside his body, just slightly detached, moving with a minute lag after it.
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