Goda’s Slave – Chapter 3: A Flower Named Death

Goda’s Slave – Chapter 3: A Flower Named Death

The wind was blowing dust across the plain, and for a moment Kanna’s view of the group of women was muddied by the dirt in her eyes. She hesitated, blinked through the haze. Soon enough, though, she felt Goda’s presence beside her, and this time she didn’t flinch when Goda grabbed her arm, because she had already come to expect it.

Goda led her out of the truck. She brought her up to a tall threshold made of stone. It was the only break in a long brick fence that encased the courtyard with the two towers. Since the fence was only waist high, though, Kanna could easily see what lay beyond it.

There was a building made of the same stone as the towers, a building with three floors etched into the side of a crag. The windows were open and curtain-less. A long walkway led out from the main doors, a walkway that pushed between the towers, past the group of huddled strangers, and out through the arch where she and Goda stood.

When one of the robed women approached—the one, Kanna thought, whose face had been clear in the light—Goda pulled Kanna the last few steps towards the stone threshold until they couldn’t have walked another pace without crossing it.

And then Goda let go and fell to her knees into the sand.

Kanna stared down at her with bewilderment.

“Give her this,” Goda said. She reached into her robes and pulled out a small pouch and handed it to Kanna. When Kanna took it, she heard a metallic clinking as the contents settled. Even through the velvet, she could see the outline of coins that had accumulated at the bottom.

Kanna looked up. She saw that the woman in the black robe had approached the other side of the gateway. Behind the woman, a group of her comrades had filed up and it was only then that Kanna noticed they were each holding a large clay vase. Among them, sticking out rather conspicuously, were two women dressed in white who were empty-handed.

Their smiles were unnerving.

“What’s going on?” Kanna whispered, leaning towards Goda. She wasn’t sure why she felt compelled to keep her voice low, but something in the energy of the air felt unfriendly.

But Goda didn’t answer her question. “Give it to her,” she said instead. She had still not risen from the sand.

With some uncertainty, Kanna extended her arm and offered the pouch, but the woman two paces in front of her did not reach out to accept it. After a moment of confusion, Kanna felt Goda shaking her head beside her.

“Put it on the ground,” Goda said. “Don’t touch her. Just put it on the ground on the other side of the gateway.”

And so Kanna stooped down and obeyed, still perplexed by the entire situation. At the line of the threshold in front of her, the sand ended and became a stone path, so she placed the pouch gingerly on the stone, right at the robed woman’s bare feet. Just as Goda had told her, she was careful not to graze her skin against the stranger.

When Kanna had stepped back and put space between them again, the woman picked up the bag. She nodded her head in acknowledgement. She met Kanna’s eyes without the polite caution that a stranger usually allowed.

“We’ve been waiting for you, Kanna Rava,” she said. Then she turned around and walked back towards her comrades.

Kanna raised her eyebrow, suddenly more uncomfortable. She looked up at the small crowd that had formed and her eyes fixated on one of the clay vases in one of the women’s hands. The vase had two handles that flared out from the sides like wings, and the woman’s grip on it was tense, as if she were poised for action. Her knuckles were already turning white.

“How do they know me?” Kanna asked. She wanted to run away. She took one shuffling step back.

“Stop,” Goda said. “Go through the gateway now.”

What?” Kanna stared at the strangers, who were all staring at her in return, every single one of them with a smile that seemed to have been carved out of stone. She could feel a wave of impatience permeating the air, but she wasn’t sure if it belonged to the group or to the woman who knelt beside her.

Go. Go through the threshold now and meet them. I can’t go in with you. I have to stay outside.”

Thoughts of escape had already flooded Kanna’s mind, but she knew that there was little she could do to disobey. Even though Goda had cut the rope not long ago, Kanna was still tied to her invisibly, and seeing that she had little choice, she took her first hesitant step through the gate.

The group waited. Their collective posture seemed to adjust as she grew closer. It was like there was some coil made of energy that was slowly being wound up.

Kanna took another step. Then another. When she was a few paces beyond the threshold and both her feet were firmly on the stone floor of the courtyard, she began to turn towards Goda, to throw her a glance of uncertainty.

But before she could turn very far, she caught some movement at the corner of her eye. She snapped her head back towards the strangers and cried out in surprise.

They were rushing towards her. As if some timer had gone off, they had all simultaneously pushed forward, and before she could even consider fleeing, she felt four cold hands grasping at her arms, and she realized that the two women in white had seized her.

“Goda!” she cried out. “Goda, what’s happening?”

But she could no longer see her temporary master. The women in black who held the clay containers had surrounded her and blocked her view beyond the gateway.

The women in black did not touch her. Only the women in white were holding her still. As she struggled to break free, they clawed at her clothes and pulled them sharply from her. She thought she heard the seams rip. In any other moment, she would have been grateful of being freed from the rough fibers of the hairshirt, but she was too afraid to fully notice the relief.

Once she had been stripped naked, they allowed her to pull away, and she stumbled onto the hard floor. She looked up at the crowd that surrounded her, terrified. Something in their eyes made her feel that they were aching to descend upon her and tear her apart, limb by limb.

She tried to hobble onto her feet, but before she could even straighten her knees, she felt a freezing wave pouring over the back of her body. It shocked her almost as badly as the cuff had the night before, and her muscles locked so tightly that she fell back onto the ground.

She heard a loud, heaving gasp that echoed through the courtyard. It took her a moment to realize that it had been hers. There were some words spoken behind her, but she could not parse what they were.

Before she had even recovered from the first freezing blow, another one came. An ice cold waterfall splashed over her head, overwhelming her body with a shudder that seemed to reach into her bones.

This time, she understood the words that were being shouted. “Awaken! Be cleansed by the goddess!” the woman above her declared.

Then another one came to take her place. Kanna braced herself when the stranger began to tip her vase, but it made no difference. The water was so cold that she couldn’t fathom how it hadn’t already turned into ice.

“Awaken for the Goddess Mahara! Be cleansed!”

Then another came, then another. And they all were saying the same things.

“Goda!” Kanna cried out towards the sky, hoping that somehow her voice would carry over the tall strangers and reach her master. “Goda! What is this? Goda! Make them stop!”

But her voice cut out when she was drowned again by a vase full of water.

“Awaken!” her assailant declared.

“I’m awake, I’m awake!” Kanna shouted, coughing into the ground. “Can’t you see that I’m awake?”

Another rush of cold smacked the top of her head, like a watery fist had come down from the heavens. She felt the freezing sting of it seeping into her nose. She spat onto the ground, and noticed that some of the women near her moved back. Otherwise, the torrent continued.

One after another, they poured the ice cold water onto her until her vision had grown watery and unclear, until her muscles were so chilled to their core that she couldn’t move.

“Goda!” she cried in desperation.

But she heard no words in response at first. Instead, above the sound of the splashing water and the shuffling feet, a ringing laugh sounded through the clearing. The voice was husky and full of carefree amusement.

She didn’t want to believe that it was Goda.

A long moment passed where Kanna did not realize at first that she was bracing herself against nothing. The assault had stopped. The rows of feet that had surrounded her dissipated, just as suddenly as they had appeared.

She stayed there on her hands and knees, the wind blowing against that slick layer of cold water that still remained on her. She shivered. She stared at the ground, her mind free of thoughts, her heart pulsing so hard she could hear its roar in her ears.

Heat rushed into her eyes suddenly. Some tears fell hotly against the ground beneath her, to join the cold water that dribbled from her soaked hair. She hid her sob well, as it folded naturally into her shudders.

The first bit of warmth she felt came in the form of a towel that fell over her shoulders. She flinched at the touch, but then she looked up and saw that one of the women in black had stayed behind. It was the same woman who had taken the pouch from her.

“Dry yourself up,” the woman said. She took a step back, as if to avoid leaning too closely, then she dropped what looked like a neatly creased set of clothes in front of Kanna’s hands.

Kanna looked past her and noticed the path that spread between the two towers that led to the building on the crag. The other women in black were filing back into the building with their empty clay jars. They did not murmur to each other. They did not seem exhausted from their effort. It was as if nothing had happened at all.

When Kanna finally turned her head to look behind her, beyond the stone threshold, she found that Goda was still kneeling in the same place as before. A wide grin had grown across her face.

“Are you sure you’re awake now, Miss Rava?” Goda asked. She was laughing.

When Kanna stepped back out through the threshold, she refused to look at Goda. Because she was turned away, staring at the ground, she only sensed Goda’s movements by watching the tall shadow on the sand as it slowly stretched out. She heard the woman dusting the gravel off her knees.

Kanna started to walk away. She didn’t know where to go. She was in a daze and she had no idea what had just happened, but she set her jaw and shuffled forward anyway. She did not stop even when she heard Goda’s smooth movements behind her.

Unexpectedly, there was the rustle of heavy fabric. Kanna felt the weight of a new burden on her shoulders, but it was warm and it had a pleasantly strong smell that she couldn’t place. She looked up and she realized that Goda had taken off her own outer robes and wrapped them around her.

“Cold?” Goda said with a faint smile. As usual, her tone was flat, so it took a moment for Kanna to surmise that it had been a question. Maybe, she thought, it was just that the Middleland tongue was spoken that way.

A new shudder rattled through Kanna, as if in response to what Goda had asked, but she knew that this time it had nothing to do with the cold. She jerked her head away again; she trained her eyes on something in the distance.

“What have you done to me?” she said. It was the first phrase that rose to the top of her mind, and she hadn’t entirely expected to say it out loud. She was still walking, but Goda quickly took her by the arm and stopped her.

“Earlier today, you said you were thirsty,” Goda told her.

Upon hearing that, Kanna didn’t know how to respond. She didn’t even struggle against Goda’s grip. “Are you trying to make fun of me?”

“No,” Goda said, “but you wanted water, so now you’ve had some. The goddess has blessed you, yet you still complain. Why?”

Kanna ripped her arm away then and glanced at Goda with disbelief. Goda was smiling at her, but Kanna could still not read her intention.

“I asked for a drink of water, not a freezing tidal wave,” Kanna said.

“You’re picky.”

“I can’t imagine you brought me all the way out here just for that. What an elaborate way to humiliate someone.”

Goda huffed with amusement. “It has nothing to do with your thirst for water or your thirst for humiliation,” she said. “We’re nearly at the border, and naturally you have to face a cleanse before you cross into the Middleland proper. Every foreigner does.”

“A cleanse?”

Goda tilted her head. “Yes, of course. Otherwise, how else do you expect that the temple will stamp your papers for you to cross? They won’t allow an unclean person into the Middleland.”

“You’ve slept on the same filthy ground as I have and been pelted by the same dust in the wind, and yet they didn’t pour ice cold water over your head. It’s discrimination. And anyway, if they wanted me to bathe, they could have just said so and I would have done it myself.”

“But it wasn’t your body that they were cleansing—it was your heart.” Goda’s expression seemed entirely serious at first, so much so that Kanna almost missed the subtle wickedness that had come over the woman’s eyes.

“You must be joking.”

“Not at all. You went through the cleanse, and now you will be quarantined for three nights. We’ll have to wait here while they observe you for signs of Death.”

“Signs of…of what? Well, clearly, I’m not dead,” Kanna protested, a bit offended that Goda seemed to imply that she might have been carrying some disease. “As far as I know, there’s only one sign of that, and if I’m speaking to you, then we can rule it out.”

Goda shook her head, something that Kanna had already started to resent. “No. They can tell you’re alive. They just want to make sure you’re not carrying Death Flower in you.”

Kanna’s eyes widened. “They’re looking for drugs?”

“Oh yes. Death is extremely illegal in the Middleland, but people try to smuggle it in anyway. There are various methods, but we can at least tell if you’ve swallowed Death recently by putting you through a cleanse. Those under the influence can’t regulate their body temperature very easily, and so they become ill from the cold water.”

Kanna wrinkled her brow. “I would never eat Death Flower. What kind of person do you take me for, a Lowerland savage?”

Goda laughed at this. “It’s more than just the savages who eat the Flower. Otherwise, our Motherland wouldn’t have bothered to make it illegal.”

“What do you mean?” Kanna asked, but the woman seemed to ignore her, and had already begun to shuffle away towards the truck. Kanna narrowed her eyes and followed.

“I mean,” Goda responded without turning around, “that the only things that are illegal are things that people would actually want to do.”

“I heard that eating the flower is extremely risky, that it can kill you. Why on earth would someone want to die?”

“You’d be surprised,” Goda said—but she didn’t explain anymore.

They reached the truck and Goda went to open the back tailgate, which creaked and wobbled as much as the passenger door had. She pulled a pair of empty wooden buckets from the bed.

“Come,” she said, slamming the gate closed with her knee. She tipped her head up towards some point in the distance and Kanna followed her gaze. “Let’s go fetch some water. There’s a well on that hill.”

“Oh, I think I’ve had my fill of water today.”

“Don’t be silly. It’s not for you.”

Kanna stood there for awhile, watching Goda walk off into the dusty clearing. It wasn’t that she was refusing to follow exactly, it was simply that it bothered her that Goda seemed to assume so confidently that she would. For a moment, she forgot that they were joined invisibly by the cuffs. She remembered as soon as Goda was far enough away, and she felt the early sting of her warning radiating from her wrist.

And so she chased after her.

When she caught up, they were only a few seconds’ walk from the foot of the hill.

“Who is it for, then?” Kanna asked once she had caught her breath.

Goda nodded in the direction of a small cabin that sat in the distance. Kanna hadn’t noticed it before—but, then again, she had been too distracted to take a good look at their surroundings.

“The woman who lives in that house. It’s actually an inn, and it’s our best bet for accommodations. She doesn’t like tending to porters, though, and she hates foreigners—even though she married one—so we’ll have to appease her with something.” Goda pressed her boot against the sand at the bottom of the hill and some of it crumbled. It was smooth and flowed almost like water. Even still, she leaned forward and stepped up into it. Once she was a few paces up the hill, she glanced briefly over her shoulder and seemed to watch Kanna as she struggled to follow.

Kanna felt shaky at first on the sand, but eventually she found that some patches on the hill were made mostly of rock, and she was able to get stable footing. Once Goda appeared to notice this, she turned back around and continued.

“We’re going to appease her with two buckets of well water?” Kanna asked. She thought this sounded odd, but then again, they were in a desert. Perhaps water meant more in a desert than it did in the Northern Upperlands.

“She’s lazy about climbing the hill and pumping the water,” Goda said. “She tends to wait until the last minute, when she’s used up every drop, and then she’s so thirsty that the trip up to the well is even more unpleasant.”

“It sounds like you know her rather well.”

“We’re loosely acquainted.” Goda reached a steep section and pressed one of the buckets onto the ground to ease her balance. “I’ve stayed at her inn many times when I’ve come to this border crossing, because I can’t stay in the monastery like many people do.” She glanced at Kanna again. After a moment, she dropped one bucket into the other and with her free hand reached down to help Kanna climb up. Once they were standing side by side, Goda pushed her to advance, until Kanna was standing above on a flatter section of the hill.

“The monastery…,” Kanna said. From her higher vantage point, she could see the building beyond the two towers and the courtyard where she had been assaulted by the women in black. “That was a temple? Those were Maharan priestesses, weren’t they?”

“That they were.”

“That’s right, I remember that you stayed behind when I crossed onto the temple grounds. You told me that you couldn’t go in. Why is it that I could go in, but you couldn’t?”

Goda pressed a hand into the dirt and climbed up to Kanna’s level. “Let’s just say that I’m also unclean,” she told Kanna with a smirk. “But it’s the kind of uncleanliness that can’t be resolved with a splash of cold water.”

Before long, they had reached the top of the hill and Kanna could see a small ring of green at the center of the summit. In the middle of the weeds, there was a rusted well pump and nothing else.

Goda grasped the lever with one hand and pushed her weight into it. It gave an angry creak, but cooperated nonetheless, and before long Goda’s arm and the handle of the pump seemed to meld into one machine. The tunic that Goda wore under her robes had no sleeves, and the sun was still bright, so soon enough Kanna could see the sweat of the woman’s effort accumulating on her skin.

Her shoulders flexed tightly as she pulled the lever up, and when the handle would reach its peak, she’d drive hard back towards the ground, as if she were about to plunge her body into the earth. She grunted softly, a sound that seemed meant to coax the rush of water. She looked completely absorbed just then, completely blind to Kanna’s presence.

Kanna fought the urge to step back. For some reason, she felt like she was watching something immensely private, something she shouldn’t have been seeing at all. She thought about slithering out of the robes that Goda had covered her in, because she suddenly felt a bit too hot for them.

Don’t be stupid, Kanna thought to herself, the moment she became conscious of what her mind was conjuring up. She’s just pumping water. And yet she couldn’t understand why something so mundane seemed suddenly on the border of obscene.

She let the robe drop. The wind quickly gusted against her and cooled her down. She had averted her eyes at some point, but when she looked back up, the scene appeared to change, and instead of a woman driving her body into the earth, Kanna merely saw a woman pumping water into a bucket.

The heat is making me delirious already, Kanna thought. But it was wintertime and the desert had been fairly mild. What bothered Kanna more was that her body seemed unable to make up its mind: was she cold, or was she hot? Maybe I did eat the Death Flower and didn’t realize it.

When the buckets were filled, Goda handed one to Kanna. Kanna nearly stumbled when she took on the burden, and found that she had to hold onto the handle with both hands.

“Don’t worry,” Goda said. “It’s a lot easier on the way back down.”

“Why are you giving this to me?”

“To give you some work.” Goda smiled and turned around and began trudging back down the hill, the overfull bucket in her left hand putting her slightly off balance. “You’re a slave after all.”

Goda knocked hard with the side of her fist, enough that it made the whole door shake. Kanna thought this seemed a bit rude, but she said nothing, and she wondered if it was simply another one of the strange Middleland customs.

Always take your shoes off before you go into any Middlelander’s house,” Goda had instructed her when they had been making their way back down the hill. “Don’t point to any of her possessions directly with your finger. Don’t call her by her given name without a title. And, most of all, don’t ask about her wife or her family—you probably don’t know how to ask correctly and you’ll end up offending her.

The way Goda had made it sound, they were already teetering on the edge of being rejected for a place to spend the night; all these extra rules had made Kanna feel a bit uneasy. She wasn’t looking forward to searching for another cave and waking up again with sand in her nostrils.

She tried to stand up as straight as she could when the door finally creaked open, but the weight of the full bucket made it hard.

Her efforts seemed to make no difference, though. As soon as the door had cracked slightly, it had slammed shut again in Goda’s face, as if it were attached to a counterweight. The breeze that rushed out made Goda’s hair fly.

Goda knocked again. She showed no sign of frustration. She merely knocked exactly as she had before, completely unfazed.

After another series of insistent knocks, the door opened, but the crack was even smaller this time. Kanna could see a single eye peaking out at them. “Go away, Goda,” said a voice that seemed attached to the eye.

And then the door slammed closed again.

Just as before, Goda knocked, as if it had been the first time she had come up on the door. Kanna was growing frustrated herself, shifting her weight from leg to leg.

“Don’t you think we should just leave her alone, then?” she whispered to Goda. “Obviously, she hates you.”

“Don’t be silly,” Goda said, glancing at Kanna briefly. “She just needs to make a token effort to turn me away, so that then she can tell people that I wore her down and forced her.”

The door opened, enough that Kanna could see half of a woman with tan skin and a middle-aged face. Her hair was curled and it fell over her eyes and hid some of the details of her features. She looked impatient. Kanna had the distinct impression that they had interrupted something.

“Didn’t you hear me, Goda? Go away. I can’t have any more criminals staying at my inn, and that’s all you ever bring here—thieves and murderers and blasphemers. It’s bad for business! What are people going to think when they see that you’re always loitering at my cabin?”

Goda lifted her bucket of water. “I’ve brought you a gift.”

“As if I couldn’t go up that hill and fetch it myself anytime I want,” she said. “You haven’t saved me any trouble.”

“You seem a bit more disagreeable than usual,” Goda said with a touch of curiosity. She had the tone of someone trying to diagnose a mechanical failure. She tilted her head and seemed to peer through the door and past the woman. “Ah, there’s someone in there with you. Is it your wife?”

“No. She’s in the Middleland. She had to go across the border to fulfill her residency requirements.”

Goda craned her neck a little more, and the woman shuffled to step in her way and block her view.

“So she’s a citizen now?” Goda asked casually, with no shred of real interest.

“Well, yes, in a few months,” the woman said, though she sounded aggravated with all the small talk. “Why should you care, Goda? Are you going to send her a letter of congratulations and a bouquet of flowers?”

Goda smirked and glanced down at an empty basin that was near the door. “I see that you’re out of water, so I’ll leave this here.” She dropped the bucket. “We’re not trying to cause you any trouble. If you’re too embarrassed to accommodate us, then I can just take my slave out to the back, and we can spend the night in the storage room. I remember the combination on the lock.”

Before the woman could even respond, Goda had turned and begun walking. Kanna glanced back and forth between Goda and the angry woman behind the door, and not knowing what else to do, she followed. On her way, she tipped her head in a slight bow, but the response from the woman was simply a glare.

“I don’t owe you any favors, Goda,” the woman called after them. “Go find some hole in the desert to sleep in, and take that pale little outsider with you.”

Goda paused. She had stopped so abruptly that Kanna nearly ran into her.

“Oh, don’t worry, Innkeeper Jaya,” Goda said, glancing over her shoulder with a neutral expression. “I would never mention anything to the priestesses about who I saw in your cabin. That would just be unseemly gossip.”

The woman in the crack of the door said nothing for a long moment. Her face had turned a bit pale. “Go to hell,” she said finally. Then she added: “I’ll bring you the towels and linens in the evening, so don’t come looking for them inside. And don’t make a mess of the place, for god’s sake.”

With that, she slammed the door a final time, and the force sent a rush of sand skidding across Kanna’s feet.

Onto Chapter 4 >>