A/N – This little drabble popped into my head a few brief hours ago. Can't say it turned out exactly as I imagined, but I like it.
I am sitting on the soft, fragrant grass, with my hands folded before me. It is a sunny day, no hint of a breeze, and I try to match the stillness of the air. My only movement is the rise and fall of my chest, and the gentle rocking of my head as Deleon, my sul'dam, draws the brush through my hair. It shines already, soft and fine like nut-brown silk, but the sul'dam takes more pleasure from the activity than the results.
There is a faint pleasure in this, something that brings back memories of earliest childhood, when my mother would do much the same thing. I am at least sure that it is my own pleasure, for once; the bracelet is curled peacefully beside me, so that it does not snarl and tangle with my hair. I can see it without turning my head, and I am glad. A ribbon of woven silver, winking in the sunlight, but unmoving: an extension of myself, motionless, waiting.
Deleon is stroking through the strands, now, the brush set down and replaced by clumsy fingers. I try not to be irritated as they begin to tug and twist; it is not painful, but it disturbs me, interrupting my stillness. I hate the braids. They are worse than the strands for their distracting, swaying movement; but I am only a damane, and Deleon can do as she pleases with me.
Ribbons? Has Lili been a good damane? Usually I am bound in twine. They sag limply from Deleon's hand, unstirred by breeze or breath. Perhaps we can be friends, for now. Their vivid crimson feels like blood, staining me, colouring me, a creature of greys and shadows. Isn't Lili a pretty damane? I should toss my head, make the flimsy scraps of fabric flutter, but I am loath to make the slightest movement. Is Lili not happy? I am not. Neither am I unhappy. My mind is a lake, perfect and undisturbed. Will Lili not smile?
The sun might seem immovable, but even she follows a path, sinking towards the sleep of darkness. It has been a lazy afternoon, a treat, but we must return now. The brush is tucked into a belt pouch, already heavy with coin and candies. The bracelet is disturbed from its own slumber. I wonder if it has warmed, like a snake sleeping in the sun. I do not move to touch it. A soft click and we are complete again.
I like walking, and I do not like it. I can be still even when walking, I have found; if I move without thought, flowing like water, and let my soft shoes make no sound, my mind can be still, even if my body is not. And yet there is that other half of me, Deleon, who bludgeons the air aside rather than edging through it, whose boots ring on the stone street with every step. It laps at the edge of my consciousness. I must work extra-hard to ignore it.
I do not know all the sul'dam, but I know most of Deleon's friends. All have completed me, at one time or another. The woman who joins us now is called Malian, and I do not like her. She tries to talk to me. I do not wish to talk. I want to be left alone. But I must talk. She wants me to talk. Yes, Lili is feeling well. I do not move to kiss her palm. Thank the Light for that odd custom of not touching a damane completed by another.
They talk to each other, then, and do not move to the side of the street to do it. We all know that no one will jostle a linked pair. Deleon is gesturing extravagantly. The leash twitches and sways, stroking my shoulder. I believe she has forgotten she is wearing the bracelet. I wait with my eyes downcast. A damane does not call attention to herself, not in the smallest manner. My mind is quiet again. I might be called patient, but I do not feel patient. I do not feel anything.
We are late back to the kennels. My supper is already waiting, and cold with it. I am not allowed to heat it. Deleon is not pleased with me. Has Lili not been a perfect damane? I am allowed my spoon, at least. A bad damane sometimes has to eat with her hands, like an animal. The spoon is hard and smooth and perfect in my grip, and I close my eyes for a moment, happy. When I look, however, there are dents and scratches. I wish I could put it down, but my supper waits, cold and congealed in its bowl. I am not hungry, but I must eat.
Sometimes I dream of starving. In my imagination it isn't painful, but a gentle fading away, like a cloud in a blue sky. I would do it, but I would be punished, and I do not like pain.
The sun sinks below the horizon. I can hear singing, probably Ferilin, the der'sul'dam and Soul Healer, soothing a new damane to sleep. She did so for me, many months ago, but it did not comfort me. The songs were foreign ones, from distant Seanchan. It was just my bad luck that my room had looked identical to any novice cubby. I had wept every night that I was in it. I no longer do.
Usually the sul'dam leave after their damane have been fed, their duties discharged, but tonight Deleon does not. She likes me, even when she is angry with me. Perhaps I ought to be flattered. But her talk batters the air of my kennel, her ceaseless movement seems to strike at me like blows. I am tired. I wish I could sleep, or at least have some peace.
It is dark, now. A single candle provides the only light. There are snores rising from the kennels beside me, but I still have some final chores. Once they were more difficult by night, with me unable to see, but I am so familiar with them now that I can perform them without thought. Now Deleon does not speak, save to murmur a few words of encouragement. I am glad of the quiet. My body works mechanically. My mind is elsewhere, a silent pool.
When Deleon has left I pour my wash-water. One washes in the morning, I know, but I prefer to do so now. I feel dirty. And yet when the water is poured I cannot help but stare at it, transfixed by its perfection. Smooth, without a ripple. I almost feel pain when I plunge my hands into it, breaking the surface into swirling eddies and waves.
When I am clean again I reach under my thin pillow. I had wanted to kill myself, and so I found some rags and scraps that I thought to tie into a noose. They would not take, however, and so I knotted them into a rough rag doll instead. There is a head, but no hair; limp arms and legs, but no hands or feet. Dust and a handful of stolen ashes have created a facsimile of a grey dress. I even found a length of twine that I wound around her throat.
Sometimes I dangle her from my hand, imagining her slow spinning to be like a body from a rope. She does not cry out. Perhaps she cannot. Other times I take the end of the twine and wind it around my own wrist. She does not like this. She will not talk to me.
With a sigh I wrap the string back around her body and tuck her back under a corner of the pillow. Someday someone will notice the grey smears and take her away, but it has not happened yet. For now, I am sleepy.
Sleep is the best time, stillness so deep that there isn't even memory of it. I never dream any more. It will seem like only a few moments before the sun will come up again, and bring a new and noisy day with it. For now, however, the kennels, that great dollhouse, are silent. I wait, eyes closed, for tomorrow's play.
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