(chapter continued from previous post)
“My parents stood by me. His family supported him. I suppose it’s better I found out before the marriage. I accepted it as my own fault and accepted that I would never marry. I’m taller than half the men in Galimont, I think too much and don’t know when to stop talking, and now I wasn’t a virgin either. Two years later, I was raped on my way home from work. I knew I hadn’t done anything to make that my fault, even though Guards and the magistrate all told me I was asking for it walking alone after dark, so I started thinking, and then I started wondering why what I’d done before was bad. Even in my mother’s generation, as long as you were reasonably discreet it was almost expected while courting. It wasn’t a passing flirtation, we were engaged. So what had gone wrong in Galimont? Something let him act like that and get away with it. Something let me be hurt on a street I walked every day and be blamed for it. The more questions I asked, the more I understood just how bad things were getting. I’m twenty-six now. Things have gotten worse every year for as long as I can remember. For the past six years I’ve been trying to make a difference, any kind of difference, and haven’t really been able to help anyone at all. Life for women just keeps getting worse, no matter what I do.”
“There have been too few against an enemy you cannot name,” Kaveri said softly. “The power of law is used against those who obey laws. We are outsiders with different abilities. You are brave. I think you would have offered to do this. But you would not have a friend with canine senses to track you. You would not have an escape even if he failed to find you. You would not have Tyrel who was raised to organize and command in a way no one in Galimont is. What we are is not all good. We have no home. We have no family but each other. We must hide what we are. In many places we would be thought evil. It is very hard to have friends when you must tell lies about your past. But what we are allows us sometimes to help where no other can. I think that is what the moons intended.”
Mirren thought about that, her head resting on Kaveri’s shoulder. “Are you happy?”
Happy? That wasn’t a question she’d asked herself—it wasn’t one Foresters generally bothered with. One was in the present, one tried to make the future what one wanted, but it involved little introspection. “I made a choice. I am not sorry. The Forest is very large. The world is larger yet. There are people in it I am glad to have met. Like you. I think you underestimate yourself. You have been unable to repair Galimont. But there are people whose lives you have made better. I am not the first you have come to after a rape. You remind everyone that what is does not have to be. You show other women they can be strong. You cannot cure the disease. But you can help some to suffer less from it. To them it is not a small thing.”
“I suppose so.”
The angle of the light had changed, Kaveri observed. Late afternoon edging into evening, probably, since she’d seen full midday sun when they’d been brought here. It felt like moonrise had never taken so long to come. Not her own moon, since Lirit was closer to new than full, but Talir was just short of full, a factor in their timing.
For lack of better options, she began to sing Forester songs. Since Mirren didn’t know the language, there were many pauses and repetitions for the sake of explanations, but it kept them both distracted.
Kaveri broke off in mid-line, laid a finger over Mirren’s lips to silence her, hearing voices outside their prison. Mirren looked puzzled, not surprising since Kaveri had to strain to hear them, and even then, she missed more than she caught.
She did catch the words bitches and kill and lordship, though, and something about dinner preparations.
“What?” Mirren whispered, when the voices stopped and Kaveri let her hand fall. And, when Kaveri hesitated, “Tell me. Don’t hide things from me.”
“It was hard to hear. I missed most of it. It is not my own language. I may be wrong in what I did hear.”
“Fine. Tell me what you think you heard.”
Kaveri told her.
Mirren paled, and Kaveri felt her shiver, drawing in on herself. “That doesn’t sound good.”
“No. It does not.”
“I don’t think Tyrel is going to get here in time.”
“He may.” It was uncertain, though, and if he did, then what? The plan had been for Tyrel and Kieran to track Kaveri—and then leave her there for the time being, because if she escaped, it could put the whole corrupt network on alert. She’d expected to learn as much as she could, knowing she couldn’t really be hurt and that she always had an escape. Being executed would only mean that she didn’t have to play along and wait, though it would remove the chance to learn more.
But Mirren was here. That complicated everything.
Because Mirren was human.
There was no time to ask Kieran’s advice, no time to ask Tyrel or Madoc what they thought.
“We do not know if I heard correctly. It might be that it is nothing. Or it might be that they intend to kill us. I know the one in charge is present at executions of those who betray him. Perhaps those who annoy him count. I do not know. Nothing is certain. But it is a thing I can believe. So I will let you decide.”
Very quietly, in Mirren’s ear, Kaveri whispered, “Change. Be like me. Moonlight heals us. Nothing of earth can truly harm us. But there is no changing back. It is forever. You will not grow older. You will no longer bleed with the moons. You will bear no children. Your life will be ruled by whichever moon chooses you. But we are one blood. We are a family. We are more free than anyone in many ways. Some is good. Some is hard. All is different.”
For a long time, Mirren said nothing. Kaveri stroked a hand over her hair reassuringly, singing softly without interrupting herself for translations or explanations. If Mirren chose to join them, how could she do this? Curious, she’d asked Kieran how changing worked; his replies had made her wonder where he’d gotten the information, but he evaded the question and she didn’t pursue it. It was a given that it involved moon-touched blood in contact with human blood; their blood was thinner than a human’s, flowed more readily and mingled easily, transformed what it touched into itself. Kieran estimated it as needing maybe as much as one could cup in a hand, more than a few drops but not an extraordinary volume, and that it needed to be via broken skin that was still fresh and bleeding to give it a pathway into the human body where it could begin its work. Other than Kieran himself, it appeared to work only on humans, but whether that was whatever passed for biology for them or something to do with the moons, who clearly chose to accept their new children, Kieran didn’t know. And while the first phase of it moved rapidly, Kieran believed it took at least a few hours, less in strong moonlight, to work through and alter one’s entire body.
Well, as far as speed, she couldn’t do anything but trust the moons. Would a change have to be complete, for Mirren to go safely to her moon if killed?
This room was intended to prevent self-injury. How could she draw enough of her own blood and Mirren’s both? Nails could break skin, if used with enough force, but narrow punctures weren’t going to bleed enough, and they would be extremely visible on their naked bodies—therefore the odd colour of the blood would be extremely visible as well. Human teeth were too blunt to be effective without considerable pain and, again, being even more obvious.
Mucous membranes were far more fragile than skin, though, far easier to damage, and much less obvious.
Finally, Mirren said, “Please.”
Kaveri didn’t ask if she were sure; what else had Mirren been doing, while the sun continued to fall, but trying to decide?
“We have nothing sharp. This will hurt. It will be messy. But the moons will heal it. There can be no scars.”
Mirren swallowed, and Kaveri saw the muscles in her jaw, in her shoulders, in her hands, all tighten resolutely. “I can deal with pain. And what woman hasn’t had to deal with blood being a mess sometimes?”
“Interesting you say that.”