Goda’s Slave – Chapter 10: Twin Fortunes

Goda’s Slave – Chapter 10: Twin Fortunes

“Why did you do that?” Kanna demanded. “What if I hadn’t been able to get out from where I was? You would have been pointlessly torturing me!”

But Goda had already turned and started walking in the direction of the temple complex. Kanna ran up behind her and reached up to grasp her shoulder. Her palm accidentally pressed against the spot where she remembered Goda’s bruise had been, but she had no compassion left, and so she didn’t feel compelled to move her hand. At any rate, the woman didn’t seem to flinch.

Kanna tugged at her. “Hey! Hey, listen to me!” she shouted again with anger. “Are you crazy or something? Why did you do that to me?”

“I looked around and couldn’t find you. I suspected you were hiding from me, but I knew you would appear quickly enough once I left the garden,” Goda said without turning around or even pausing her stride. “Otherwise, you did it on your own. All I did was stand there and allow you to do it.”

Bullshit!” Kanna grabbed two handfuls of Goda’s outer robes with a pair of clenched fists, and she dragged her feet against the gravel to slow the woman down. “It was you! You pulled out of the cuff’s range, not me! Why would I do something like that to myself?”

“Because you love the shocks. You enjoy punishment.” Goda looked over her shoulder at Kanna. Her face was neutral except for that tiny, annoying smile, which made her words all the more hard to tolerate.

Kanna wanted to punch that face, the same way that she had punched Goda’s body—but she wondered if the woman’s jaw was similarly made of iron, and if it might break her hand. Her knuckles still hurt from the night before.

She felt two streams of tears suddenly burst from her eyes. “I hate everything about you, Goda.”

“Good.”

Good?” Kanna pushed her hands forward and dug her nails into Goda’s back through the fabric of her robes. She felt a crazed laugh emerging from inside of her instead of a sob, and she didn’t know why. She held it back.

“Yes. You told me earlier today that you didn’t want to be afraid of me,” Goda said, turning back to face the plain again. “Now you’re not afraid; you’re angry instead. Isn’t that what you want? Something to hate because the fear is too hard to face?”

Kanna didn’t know how to respond. As her eyes and the inside of her nose became damp, she found that the grainy air of the desert irritated her. She pressed her face to Goda’s back and took a deep breathful of the warm air that was hovering between the folds of the woman’s clothes. She felt the moisture from her eyes and nose and mouth seeping into the fabric.

She followed Goda mindlessly. She closed her eyes. The ordeal had exhausted her enough that she couldn’t even put a name to the mix of emotions that were simmering in her chest.

“I’ve only known you for three days. Why do I feel this way about you?” Because she was in a daze, at first Kanna hadn’t realized that she had spoken aloud, that she had whispered the confession against Goda’s back. It was only the feeling of her own hot breath filling the mesh of Goda’s robes that made her finally notice that she had opened her mouth.

She hoped that Goda hadn’t heard—but of course she had.

“You have been through the most intense moments of your life in the past three days. Everything you’ve known has been torn away from you, and so it feels as if you’ve lived many lifetimes in a matter of hours, like you’ve gone through the labor pains of your own birth all over again. And you’re projecting those intense emotions onto me, because I happen to have been the pair of cold hands that ripped you out of that womb you were living in,” Goda said. “It’s all right. I’m used to the blame. That’s the job of a porter.” Her husky voice vibrated in her body distinctly enough that Kanna could feel the words buzzing against her own face before she had fully heard them in the air.

She thought about what Goda said, but she knew that it didn’t answer her question. She had been asking about something else. But maybe the answer lay between the words. Maybe Goda had just dismissed her feelings as generously as she could have.

When Kanna’s breaths became shallow and she felt the urge to taste the outside air again, she pulled back. A cloud of motor exhaust hit her in the face immediately. She opened her eyes and saw that they were surrounded in a labyrinth of military trucks, and there seemed to be even more of them than there were the night before. As she squinted into the dim evening landscape, she could see that some of the rigs were hauling huge storage containers, and others carried what appeared to be farming equipment.

“Why did they come here?” Kanna asked.

“They’re stopping to rest and get a blessing at the monastery before they head North. Now that the fires in the Upperland are under control, it seems that the government is sending soldiers up to finally collect the grain.”

“Fires?” Kanna had vague memories of smoke when she had stepped onto the train that was destined for the Outerland, but it had just been a thin taste in the air, so she hadn’t thought anything of it at the time. The sky had been clear when they had stopped in the desert days later.

“In the mok grain fields. They started just before you arrived at the Outerland.”

What? But how? What started the fire? Was it anywhere near my family’s property?”

“The fire is over now, so don’t worry about it.”

Kanna sighed. She knew any further demands would be useless, so instead she looked around at the uniformed women who rushed to and fro. Some of them were tying down equipment, some were flipping through paperwork, and still others were just standing around smoking. “But why are they sending soldiers to do farm work?”

“Easy labor, I suppose,” Goda said. “For the past few decades, a lot of the resources have been funneled into the military machine. It’s how the Middleland expanded so quickly. So many people are employed by the military—and they work on a contract, so they can’t just quit—that the government shuffles them around to do all sorts of menial tasks. They’re also the ones who consume most of the truck fuel.”

Kanna’s grip on Goda’s back tightened. “The fields they’re harvesting the mok from—they’re my father’s fields, aren’t they?”

“They’re not his fields anymore.”

They reached the threshold of the temple complex not long after they had both fallen silent. As Kanna noticed the two towers looming near them, she peaked from behind Goda and saw that there were soldiers near the gate. Most of them were kneeling on the ground—just as Goda had done the first day they had arrived—and they were placing bowls of fruit and yaw near the gateway.

On the other side stood two priestesses, smiling down at the visitors, saying nothing. Their expressions reminded Kanna a bit of the Goddess that she had seen in the sanctuary. Priestess Rem was not among them—and neither was anyone who looked like her. Now that Kanna knew that the woman had a twin, she had been a bit more careful to observe the faces of the other clergy members, though she still wasn’t sure if her sister worked there.

Goda turned to hand Kanna a thin stack of papers. “Here, take this to the head priestess. She’ll stamp them.”

“But I don’t see her.”

“She’s here.” Goda’s gaze seemed to fall beyond the gateway, but her eyes didn’t appear to be searching for anything in particular. “Go in and you’ll find her soon enough.” And then Goda knelt down beside the soldiers to stand in the crossfire of the priestesses’ blessings.

Kanna stared after Goda with a questioning expression, but the woman had already turned away. Then Kanna remembered suddenly what Priestess Rem had told her the day before about Goda: “I can usually tell where she is most of the time. Call it a sixth sense.” Perhaps Goda had a similar perception in return.

Kanna moved on, and she found a space in the threshold where she could respectfully squeeze past the priestesses after giving a deep bow to each of them. She wasn’t sure if the gesture was adequate, but they both offered her a smile in return. Perhaps as a foreigner and a heathen, no one expected much from her.

She flowed down the path that she had walked with Priestess Rem the night before, even though now it felt like she hadn’t been back there in ages. Goda had been right; every hour of her life in the desert had felt like years already, and so it was difficult for her to perceive time as it actually was.

Before she had come upon the space between the two towers, she noticed a low table set up outside at a corner of the fence, and the crooked form of Priestess Finn hunched over stacks of paperwork. Kanna couldn’t help but smile. That poor woman has been faced with a torture worse than mine perhaps, she thought. She couldn’t imagine spending years staring at tiny little smears of ink for hours per day.

At what point did all those words become meaningless? They already meant nothing to Kanna and she had only spent three days trying to parse the Middleland’s endless bureaucracy.

Kanna approached, wondering if perhaps she didn’t need to see Priestess Rem at all, if maybe the assistant could stamp the papers for her and be done with it. As she moved closer, it took her a moment to recognize the silhouette that crouched near the priestess. When she noticed the pretty face and the large eyes, she realized that Parama, too, was subjecting himself to the smattering of words on the table.

She felt a bit ashamed to come upon him—because of what had happened the night before—but she took a hard breath and walked the last few steps. They both turned to look at her at the same time. The assistant said nothing at first, but Parama immediately offered a friendly face.

“Hello there, Slave Rava! How are you feeling tonight? It’s your last day here, isn’t it? Tomorrow morning you’ll be able to—” He stopped. His expression grew a bit puzzled, a bit surprised. “Er…eh…are those my robes you’re wearing?”

Kanna looked down at her clothes, her cheeks growing automatically warm. She had somehow forgotten what she had put on hours before, and indeed it did seem a bit awkward to approach someone while carrying around something that had been stolen from them.

Or borrowed, perhaps. Kanna decided to rethink the last thought in her native tongue, since the term for “steal” and “borrow” were the same. It made her feel better about it.

“I’m sorry,” Kanna said when she had the courage to look up at him. “Innkeeper Jaya gave these to me today during…an emergency. If you need them back, you can follow me to the storage shed tonight and I can change into my other clothes.”

“No, no! Don’t worry about it!” Parama replied quickly, waving his hands around as if the notion of Kanna’s returning the clothes were preposterous. “Those are old anyway. She bought me some new ones recently, so I don’t need them. Besides, they seem to suit you well.” He gave her a smile that she felt she didn’t deserve.

“Are you sure? After all, I’m not the only one who has stolen from you recently. If you want, you can come with me and I’ll return both the clothes and that book that Goda took from you. I think I saw it on a shelf in the storage room this morning.”

Parama shook his head, his smile not even slightly faded, his eyes sparkling. “Oh, that? Don’t worry about it, either, Slave Rava. It was just a beginner’s guide on Old Middlelander script and I don’t need it for anything. It’s not like Porter Goda would have taken something I actually needed. I had already forgotten about it, actually.”

Kanna stared at him. She found it unfathomable that he had forgotten, considering that there had been a whole altercation over it. “Then why did you try to fight her?”

The corners of his eyes creased, the edges of his lips rose just slightly. “We weren’t fighting.”

“What are you talking about? I was there!”

You weren’t fighting her, either, were you?”

Kanna felt her face grow warmer, so she turned away. She cleared her throat. “Anyway,” she said, “I’m sorry about last night, but I didn’t come here to talk about any of that. I’m supposed to get my papers stamped.” She looked at Assistant Finn.

The woman gave her a blank stare. “It’s the final evening. You’ll have to get the head priestess to do it.”

“Fine, but where am I supposed to go?”

“I think I saw Priestess Rem go into the silo,” Parama said. He gestured towards the tower that stood on the opposite side of the wide path.

Kanna turned to stare up at that huge spiral of stone. A silo? she thought. So that’s what they had been. How strange that it hadn’t occurred to her before. Perhaps it was just that the granaries on her father’s property had looked very different.

She bid her farewell and headed towards the tower, and she floated naturally towards the doorway that had been carved into its side. There was no door or barrier that covered it; it was merely an open archway and the moment she stepped inside she was faced with a choice. A spiraling staircase to her right seemed to lead up towards the top of the structure, and another spiral to her left seemed to lead down below the ground level.

There was a warm light—like a flickering fire—that came up from the left, but the stairs that led upwards seemed cold and dark. She figured that she’d have better luck descending, so, with a moment’s hesitation, she went down the stairs of flickering stone.

As she circled down around the core of the tower, the air grew slightly more damp, enough that it contrasted noticeably with the desert air that she brought with her. She came upon a pit soon enough, a small room that spread out before her.

In the middle of the chamber, facing away from her, was a figure in black robes kneeling on the ground. There were three candles against the wall in front of that figure, a makeshift altar that did not include any image of the Goddess.

The space carried an uncomfortable silence to it. Kanna’s soft footsteps echoed even though the room was compact and the walls were smeared with dried earth. She wasn’t sure whether she should approach or not, but after some minutes passed, she grew impatient, and she took the last few furtive steps down the staircase and into the room. She was sure that the woman in the chamber was Priestess Rem.

Before long, she had wandered quietly towards the shape of the priestess, and she had come far enough that she could see the side of the figure’s face and confirm her suspicions. In front of the priestess lay a bowl of water. It was only when Kanna peered at the woman’s reflection in the water that she noticed anything was wrong.

Kanna shuffled back on reflex. Her eyes darted up to the woman’s face, to make sure it hadn’t been a trick of the light on the rippling water. Indeed, Priestess Rem’s eyes were glazed over, her pupils wide, her mouth agape like all consciousness had been stripped out of her. Fat streams of tears flowed out of her eyes and landed like lead weights into the water below. Drool had accumulated in the corners of her mouth and fallen just the same.

Startled, Kanna turned to leave, her feet loudly shuffling against the gritty floor, but then the priestess’s whole body seemed to jerk. Her eyes blinked in rapid succession. She seemed to become awake.

“Ah….” The priestess’s mouth closed. She looked around as if she were just as surprised as Kanna was. “Who…?” She blinked again. She peered at Kanna—who was now frozen in place—through the dim light of the chamber. “Oh! Kanna Rava, is it? Is it time already for your papers to be stamped? I must have lost track! Sit down, sit down.” She pointed to a spot next to her on the floor and Kanna hesitantly crouched down beside her.

“Are you all right, Priestess?” Kanna asked.

Priestess Rem gave her a funny look. “Yes, of course. Why would I not be?”

“You seemed…different.” Then again, Kanna had only met the woman a few times. Perhaps crying and drooling into a bowl of water was the norm for her. For all she knew, every Middlelander did this once a week; she had only immersed herself in the culture for a few days yet.

“Ah, yes, well, I was in the midst of a ritual—one that must be done in private.”

“I’m sorry,” Kanna said, looking towards the floor, already feeling her legs bursting with the itch of needing to run away. “I didn’t mean to interrupt anything.”

“Oh no! It’s my own fault. I should have emerged long ago to the surface. I was just caught up in the moment.” She motioned for Kanna to sit all the way down. “I was fortunetelling, you see. It’s an ancient practice, but it’s not very common among the priestesses anymore. I’m out of practice myself. It took me hours in get into this state.”

Kanna looked around the room awkwardly. Fortunetelling was technically against the Upperlander religion, but people had a tendency to do it anyway, so Kanna wasn’t completely unfamiliar with it. She herself had always regarded it as nonsense. Still, she pushed herself to remain respectful. “Uh, did you see what you needed to see?” she asked politely.

“Hmm,” the priestess murmured. She pressed her hand to her mouth and stared again into the bowl of water, this time with eyes that held an active mind. “No. I tried, but something blocked me from seeing through the eyes of the Goddess. Sometimes, even when partly blocked I have been able to get through, but this time the energy wouldn’t flow.”

“Is it because of Goda?” Kanna asked cautiously.

“To be honest, yes. I think so. When she leaves tomorrow, maybe I will be able to reconnect. Even then, however, I will just be resting on the laurels of avoidance. The truth is that as long as I hold this rage inside of me, I will never be able to fuse fully with the Goddess, and the anger will only come up again and again. There will always be something between the Mother and I as long as I hate Goda. It has always been this way. It is clear to me now. In fact, when I entered the fortunetelling state, this was all the Goddess would show me: my own hatred and how it colors my fate.” She paused for a long moment, her eyes growing dark. “No, there was something else. One other thing.”

“What’s that?”

The priestess looked directly at her. “It was about you. I saw your future instead of my own.”

Kanna recoiled slightly, unnerved by the expression in the woman’s eyes. “Could I ask you what you saw?” In truth, though, she wasn’t completely sure if she wanted to know.

“I saw…a swan.”

“What?”

“In my vision, there was an egg inside of you filled with a writhing ball of snakes. The Goddess sent a white swan down from the heavens, and then the swan attacked you. The swan seeded the egg inside of you by force, so that the egg could grow faster. And then the egg hatched and the snakes slithered out of you, and the swan came between your legs and ate them one by one.”

Kanna’s face twisted in confusion and embarrassment. “I don’t know what that means. How on earth could that be my future?”

“It’s a symbol, of course,” the priestess murmured. “For what, I don’t know. Only you can really know that.”

“I…know nothing. I’ve never known less in my life.” The words had come tumbling out seemingly without intention, but they were nonetheless very true. She and the strange woman in front of her stared at each other for a long moment.

When the room had fallen again into an awkward silence, the priestess extended her arm, but was careful not to touch Kanna directly, since her hands were not gloved this time. “Put the papers on the floor,” she said. With her other hand, she rummaged inside her robes. “I will stamp them. You are free to go. You look to me like you are not influenced at all by Death.

And you? Kanna thought suddenly. The woman’s pupils were still large and Kanna could see beads of sweat on the side of her neck.

But then Kanna shook her head. It was preposterous. A servant of God—even a Middlelander—would never partake of Death.

“Perhaps,” the priestess said suddenly, “that swan that will attack you and shatter everything inside of you…is Goda Brahm.”

* * *

Back on the other side of the gateway, Kanna tried not to appear too shaken when she met eyes with Goda. For her part, Goda didn’t seem to notice anything different in her, and as soon as Kanna stepped through, they began walking back into the plain.

“Priestess Rem told me all kinds of terrible things about you, you know,” Kanna said to her as soon as she had wandered far enough away from the two priestesses at the threshold. She wasn’t sure why she was saying this, but something in her felt that it would be dishonest if she held back.

“Did she now?” Goda replied simply. She didn’t seem bothered or even interested. She walked into the wind, the sand pelting hard against her, but she did not flinch the way Kanna did.

“For some reason, I didn’t believe her.” Kanna walked up beside Goda. She squinted from the dirt that was getting in her eyes, but she could still see the details of the woman’s neutral face. “Should I?”

Goda smiled. “Depends on what she said, I suppose. Just to be on the safe side, go ahead and believe it. It’s probably true.”

“But I don’t. I can’t. The only thing I seem to be able to believe is what I see in you directly for myself. Nothing anyone says seems to change my mind. Maybe I’m foolish.”

“Maybe you are.”

When they had walked back to the inn and stepped into the storage room and Goda had closed the door behind them, this time Kanna didn’t find the privacy quite so unnerving. She felt anxious still, but the fear wasn’t overwhelming. She glanced at Goda discreetly as the woman began to take off her own robes.

“Here,” Goda said. Now half-dressed in the middle of the room, she handed Kanna a small book. Kanna recognized it as the volume that Goda had stolen the night before from Parama’s room.

Ancient Middlelander Script for Beginners, it said. It took Kanna a moment to parse the text, since it was in a stylized form that she hadn’t encountered before. “What’s this for?” she asked.

“You said you had dabbled in calligraphy, did you not?”

Kanna tilted her head. She found it odd that Goda had been paying that much attention to her conversation with the assistant the day before. She shrugged awkwardly. “Yes. I used to paint decorative scrolls for my father, but that was in Old Upperlander. This is Old Middlelander. I don’t know it.”

“Exactly,” Goda said. “You’ll learn it, then.” She extended the book further until Kanna felt she had no choice but to take it.

“But why do you want me to study this?”

“We can say that there’s something special I want you to write for me.”

Kanna furrowed her brow. “And we can also say that I don’t want to do it.” She began to put the book down.

Goda’s face was still blank as always, but her stare remained fixed, intense. “You will do it,” she said simply. Her voice held no threat in it, almost as if to imply that the threat was unnecessary. “Because you are my slave.”

Kanna sighed. Her hands still held the book, even as they loosely hung down over the floor, where she had intended to drop the weight. “Fine,” she said after a moment. “I’ll try, then.”

“No. You won’t try. You will do it.”

* * *

In the late evening, after Kanna had studied the book and scrawled messily on a sheet of scratch paper for an hour, Goda had told her to go to bed. The woman blew out the candle, and they lay side by side in silence for many long minutes, and yet Kanna still could not close her eyes. She could see the outline of Goda’s form, the rising and falling of her chest in the moonlight.

Goda was awake. She was staring up at the ceiling. Kanna tried to glance at her as inconspicuously as she could, but still she wondered if the woman had noticed her gaze. After a moment, although Goda did not move, Kanna decided that her master knew that she was watching. What’s more, she was convinced that Goda was watching her too, out of the corner of her eye.

Kanna gripped the edge of her sheets awkwardly and steeled herself. “Could I…?” she began to ask. She swallowed against the growing nervous lump in her throat. “Could we…?”

Goda turned slowly towards her. At first, Kanna was convinced that the woman hadn’t understood her at all. How could she? The words hadn’t come out right.

But then Goda lifted one of her arms, as if she were spreading open a single wing. Her hand fell lightly on the edge of Kanna’s pillow. It was an invitation. It was only now a question of whether Kanna had the courage to accept such a thing.

After a moment of hesitation, she did. She slid across the space between them and pressed her body to Goda’s side. She laid her head on the woman’s chest, which felt hard and soft at the same time, the same way it had earlier that morning. She sensed Goda’s arm sliding back over, coming to wrap around Kanna’s shoulders in a loose cocoon. It was something that was not quite a half-embrace.

Kanna pressed her face against the rough fabric of Goda’s shirt and closed her eyes. She could feel the flows of heat exchanging naturally between them, from the pores of Goda’s skin underneath and from Kanna’s own rhythmic breath.

It was through this small ounce of comfort that Kanna was able to fall asleep.

And when she woke again, it was still dark. It seemed like only a second had gone by, but the moon had moved to fall out of the frame of the window, and so it must have been hours. Kanna was still lying in Goda’s bed, but it was empty and cold. Perhaps it was the discomfort of separation that had awakened her, though she hadn’t noticed any stirring before she opened her eyes. It took a second for her to look around to even see where Goda had gone.

Her master was near the door, dressed fully in her robes and fiddling with something made of metal and glass. Kanna couldn’t see what it was until a bright spark came to life in Goda’s hands and the edges of the electric lantern became apparent as the only source of light in the room.

It bathed the bottom of Goda’s face in an eerie glow. She seemed to sense Kanna’s movement, and so she turned to her with a faint smile.

“Let’s go,” she said, “back into the belly of the beast.”


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