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Candas Jane Dorsey's oeuvre includes novels Black Wine (winner of Tiptree, Crawford and Aurora Awards) and Paradigm of Earth (shortlisted for Sunburst and Spectrum Awards); short story collections Machine Sex and other stories (containing the Aurora Award-winning story Sleeping in a Box), Dark Earth Dreams, and Vanilla and other stories (winner of the WGA Short Fiction Award); four poetry books; several anthologies edited/co-edited, and stories, poems, reviews, critical essays, and rants in anthologies and magazines.

Eclectic in output and style, she has just completed a mystery novel, a young adult novel about an intersex teen, and has even been working on children's picture book scripts.

She was editor/publisher for nine years of Canadian independent SF publisher Tesseract Books, and for 14 years of a literary press, The Books Collective. She teaches writing and speaks internationally on SF and other topics. She was founding president of SFCanada, the only Canadian professional writers' organisation operating in both official languages. She works as a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant, and is an active arts and community advocate.

In addition to her literary honours she is the recipient of the Alberta Centennial Gold Medal, the City of Edmonton Achievement Award, the Todd Janes Pride Award, the Edmonton Police Service Human Rights Citation, and the YWCA Woman of the Year award.

Black Wine by Candas Jane Dorsey

An old woman hangs in a cage; a young woman slaves on a rich lord's estate. How does a woman discover and assert her identity in a primeval, barbaric world? From slave dens to merchant cities to isolated mountains, Candas Jane Dorsey's first novel is a powerful exploration of gender, identity, and freedom.

CURATOR'S NOTE

Candas is a Renaissance Woman. She writes both poetry and fiction, both mainstream and speculative, in long and short form. She's written television and stage scripts, magazine and newspaper articles, and reviews. She teaches and delivers writing workshops, is active in arts journalism and advocacy, has served on the executive board of the Writers Guild of Alberta, and was editor-in-chief of The Books Collective for over a decade. So, yeah—Renaissance Woman. She's also been a friend since I started writing. Along with the 1998 Aurora Award for best novel, Black Wine also won the James Tiptree Jr. Award and the Crawford Award. – Douglas Smith

 

REVIEWS

  • Dorsey creates a complex and human story about freedom, love and the need to retain one's own identity. The fantasy setting is stark, a world where the most brutal events are treated with cold matter-of-factness, but Dorsey's writing is strong, even unflinching. Those who enjoy the work of such popular feminist speculative fiction writers as Joanna Russ and Ursula K. Le Guin will find much to admire here.

    – Publisher's Weekly
  • In terms of technique alone, Black Wine is one of the most sophisticated literary SF novels of the year.... Black Wine lives in its passionate prose and startling imagery.... A rewarding and moving novel.

    – Locus
  • As brilliant as William Gibson, as complex as Gene Wolfe, with a humanity and passion all her own. Candas Jane Dorsey isn't just a comer, she's a winner.

    – Ursula K. Le Guin author of The Left Hand of Darkness
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

There is a scarred, twisted old madwoman in a cage in the court yard. The nurse throws a crust at her as he passes therefore so does the girl. Others bring a can of water, or a trencher of meat cut up small, to stuff through the bars. The woman shoves the food into her mouth, dribbling and drooling and muttering.

"Why do they keep her?" says the girl." She is useless. She is crazy. She eats too much."

"So do you," says the nurse offhandedly.

"But I work," says the girl. "I am a slave."

"She is not a slave."

"She is in a cage."

"It doesn't matter."

The old woman babbles in a language the waif understands but the others don't. She calls names, she recites recipes, she counts things. Sometimes she talks of hanging, and carrion crows. The girl thinks she calls like a crow herself, and the voice makes her shiver with an atavistic fear she hardly notices, so like the rest of her life it is.

The waif grows used to her hoarse, angry voice raving; does her bit to feed the caged beast, and hopes the evil is never released.

She begins to dream: that the madwoman cradles her, sings lullabies in her birdlike voice, bends over her with eyes like cloudy fire and pecks out her heart. She wakes whimpering and her nurse, in whose bed she now lies, wakes too and fucks her for comfort, lying beside her after saying, "There now. You'll sleep now. Sleep."

But the girl never sleeps, only dreams some more, of sun she scarcely remembers, of hills gleaming white and impossibly large, of a giant crow who nurses her with a bitter milk, then flies away. Flies away and turns silver, and is shot by arrows from an evil god and bleeds, head exploding and the feel of cobblestone underfoot.

She learns to dream silently and never to turn for comfort to the nurse because he will always fuck her then, and to save a bit of every meal to propitiate the madwoman.

One day she stops by the cage, her heart screaming with fear, her face flushed with it, her hands full of sweets she has stolen from the kitchen.

"You must stop them," she says desperately, in the secret language. "You must stop sending me the dreams. I don't know what to do with them. Here. I will steal you anything. Just stop them."

She is thrusting the sticky stuff through the bars. The old woman backs away, silent for a change and, the girl thinks oddly, horrified.

"Who are you?" says the woman." Are you me? Have you come to kill me, at last? To carry me up the Remarkable Mountains?"

"I don't know," says the girl.

"Tell me who you are, before I go mad again. How do you know this language?"

"I don't know. I don't know anything. Just take the dreams away. Give me back my heart."

"Your name, girl, your name first."

"I don't own a name yet. They found me, they fixed my head. I belong to them."

"You should have a name," the old woman insists, scrabbling among the sweet buns, tearing one open, then licks out the filling with a greedy swiping tongue.

"I can't afford one. I can't even afford to be free. Please, leave me alone. Eat the heart of someone with a name. Please, please."

"You are the only one who speaks my language. Do you know that?"

"I will stop. Honestly. I can't help it. It's in my head from before. I can't help it."

"When is before? Where is before?" The woman comes closer, crawling across the food, her hands and knees mashing it to useless paste. The girl thinks how hard it was to steal the food, how she could have eaten it herself. The eyes paralyze her. They are the eyes in her dreams, but there is no fire. They are cloudy and almost blind but yet she knows they see her.

"When? Where?" insists the hag.

"I don't know. I don't know anything before I was here. They say I fell out of a cloud. I was all broken, and my head still hurt. It's flat here, see? And it hurts if I touch it."

"Should be trepanned," says the woman, and reaches out to the girl, who stands paralyzed like a snake.

"What is a snake?" says the girl.

"An animal," says the woman absently. "Why?"

"I thought of it. Sometimes I think of things and I don't know what they are."

"I could tell you. Lessons, now that's an idea. Pass the time."

"You don't sound mad anymore."

"I'm only mad when the wind's from… oh, what's the quote? North-north-east? I'm never mad in this language. I could teach you about snakes, and silver clouds—"

"How did you know it was silver?"

"How did you?"

"A man saw it. He told my nurse, who told me when he was fucking me."

"Oh, he touches you?"

"No. Just at night."

"Why?"

"He took care of me when they found me. Now I belong to him, so he fucks me. And his master. Because they put all that time into saving me. So I have to pay it back. They explained."

"Don't you get lonely?"

"What's that mean?"

"For someone you like to touch you."

The girl realizes that the woman is not mad, she is a pervert. But the idea of touch has never repelled her as it does the others and she draws closer." Is that why they put you here?"

"They put me here because I refused to be owned. I wouldn't take enough from anyone person. So they all have to give me a bit, and they think I belong to all of them, and so no-one can kill me alone, or the others will want reparations. But I belong to no-one."

"No-one?"

"Except myself. Nor do you. Nor does anyone, really. You are lucky you speak this language. In theirs, I couldn't say this. There are no words for it."

The girl realizes this is true. She steps even closer, and the sticky, scarred hand darts further out to touch her head. She turns so that the woman cannot reach the tender spot on the skull, still afraid enough to be that careful. The touch is only seconds long yet in the girl awakes such a wave of warmth and then of terror and illness that she thinks that she will fall. She grabs at the cage bars, and begins to cry.

"I hate crying," says the woman. "Go away. You've had your first lesson. Steal me some more goodies, and I'll give you another." And she hitches herself away to huddle, back to the girl, in the other corner of the cage, spoiling her pose somewhat by furtively half turning to snatch some squashed scrap of the new food. In the shadow, the girl hears her slobbery munching and all her previous despair returns.

She has stolen food, and risked coming out here, and let that scabrous hand touch her, and all for nothing. Instead of taking her dream away, the madwoman has given her more to know, more than she needed to know to survive, more than she wanted to know and all in the shadowy secret language of her dreams. As soon as she can stand, she runs away to the showers, where she knows no-one will be, and washes her hair, and if she cries, no-one will notice under the flowing water, she thinks, and lets it run and run until it runs cold and gives her a reason for shivering.

* * *

A dream:

In childhood it seems there are easy answers. Later in life the curriculum will spiral and all the easy things will be re-evaluated, but for the child running in the dusty track of a mountain summer the world was simple.

She was safe. She ran from her father to her mother down a dusty path. Roots gnarling across the track just under the ground made a kind of gentle staircase for her feet, and she ran downhill accelerating, her plump feet finding the safe places. Below her on the path the woman, her mother, had turned, laughing, and was holding out her arms. She wore bright colours and her hair was loose and tangling in the wind. Behind her the giant trees rose straight and fragrant into the sun.

As the child ran into the haven of arms her mother picked her up and swung her dizzyingly into the sky and back to her hip, then turned and ran down the path herself, her feet as sure as the child's had been. The man, her father, came behind, calling to them through laughter. They were all laughing. The world seemed to the child to be wheeling by in great forward-and-back arcs as the path twisted down the mountain) into the shade of the trees then out, through the meadow of flowers and then onto the strip of dusty moraine again, then back toward the trees, then into the sun…

After they had run down and down they came out suddenly on a great grey-tan talus slope and the woman stopped and set the child down, let the man catch up. They went across the slope hand in hand in hand, the child between the adults, all of them slipping and sliding and laughing more.

It was a long way down the slope.

"The beach of an ocean feels like this to walk on," said the woman." The dunes at Avanue are steep like this, and climbing them is slippery. Can you imagine going up this?"

The man snorted.

"Then imagine all the bits of rock are little grains of sand. It's amazing. It's like some kind of hard water. It flows. And if the wind blows…"

The child imagined the wind slipping and sliding down the dunes at Avanue. She imagined the dunes as some kind of geometrical slope, at thirty-five degrees, like this one, but the mother kept talking and the mind-picture changed with each sentence, like the shape of the wind.

"It is an amazing landscape there. It is all billowy and soft, like a puffy quilt. Or maybe like the body of some great voluptuous fat person turning over in bed, the covers falling off, the mounds of flesh shifting gently and sensually. You know, you can memorize the patterns and then a big windstorm comes and when you go out the next day everything is different. The skyline is different. The shoreline is different. The sand has turned over in its sleep. While you slept."

They arrived at the bottom of the slope, where the grasses began to grow again. There were tiny flowers scattered through the grass. Vetch, broom, clover stood tall, and wintergreen, bedstraw, strawberry flowers—no berries yet, the child noted with regret—nestled in at their bases. The heat sat heavier here, and the buzz of the honey-gathering bees mixed with the clatter of grasshoppers. The plain was not easy walking—under the grasses and wildflowers the ground was uneven. Duster-pods popped underfoot.

They moved slowly, meandering across the open and toward the trees. Here, there were some deciduous trees with the evergreens. The white trunks flashed in the dappled sunlight through their rounded, shivering leaves. Swallows had swooped low over the field, diving on insects, but once the trees surrounded the family, they could hear birds all around but see hardly any.

There was a tangle of berry-bushes and rose-prickles all around them, but they followed a path clear of all but grasses and the occasional thistle. The child tugged at her father's hand, wanting to be carried; when he picked her up, she leaned her head back until she could see the blue, clear, slightly hazy sky above the trees. There, so high that it was almost invisible, some kind of raptor—hawk, maybe even eagle—was circling slowly in and out of the open stripe of sky above the path. She saw it suddenly stoop and dive, but its rapid fall took it out of sight, and she straightened up and turned to a close scrutiny of the bushes unrolling into the past behind her father's shoulder.

The path was well-used, and it had cut down into the clay to make a little dry-mud bank on each side, where some kind of animal or bird had tunnelled out a riddle of holes. Like little caves, she thought with satisfaction, and imagined living in a cave. She imagined that her mother would know about caves; her mother knew about everything.

"Little mother," she said, "did you ever live in a cave?"

"Like a squirrel?" her mother said. "Not a cave like a squirrel or a swallow. But I went exploring once in the caves of Denamona. They are big limestone caves with icicles in them, but the icicles are made of rock, not water. They form the same way though, but slowly as these mountains."

"Not fast like the doomes."

"Dunes, you mean."

"Yes, dunes. Not fast like fat people dreaming."

"No, slow, like icicles but one drip in a person's lifetime. Maybe. Or maybe a mother and her daughter both have their lives in the time it takes one drop to freeze into rock in the caves of Denamona,"

The child shivered with joy. She loved her mother's stories. She loved the pictures her mother put into her mind.

"When can we go?" she said.

"Go, little one?"

"Go to the caves. To see the sleeping fat people. Everywhere."

"When you are older."

"Next year, when I'm four?"

"No, a little later than that. When you are old enough to carry your own pack, and walk all day, then the three of us will go somewhere."

"Promise?"

The father hugged her. "Promise," he said. His voice sounded a little wistful.

"Do you want to see the pictures too, little father?" It was a new idea for the child. She knew her mother was telling the stories to her father too, but it was the first time in her small life that she imagined that her father might feel as she did, might not know everything. It made her shiver a little with another kind of shiver.

"Yes," he said. "I want to see it all too."

She was watching his face, and so she saw then the look that passed between her parents, a gentle look but much too deep for a three-and-a-half year old. You would have to swim a long way down in that look; the mountains had no pools that deep, not in the places she was allowed to go.

Then she thought about the sea. "Can you swim in the sea?" she asked her mother.

"Yes, if you are strong," said her mother.

"And it's big down, right?"

"Deep. Yes."

"Big down." The child liked bigness. "I want to go big down and big up and big across."

"Deep, wide and far," said her father and mother, accidentally together. Their collision of voices made everybody laugh again. The child thought nothing of that. They were all always laughing.

The waif awakens sweating from a dream forgotten but for the language and the terror.

* * *

"I don't like you," she practiced saying to the madwoman. "I don't want you in my head."

But when she says it, the old woman just laughs. "Why not? What else is in there?"

To that, the girl has no answer. The bizarre logic has caught her.

"So we'll fill it up. What kind of food did you bring?"

She hasn't any, except a bread roll she'd stolen for herself. Trapped, she thrusts it sullenly at the bars.

"We'll share," says the old woman. "You keep half." The waif looks at her. "Go on, you break it—I'm sure you wouldn't want it after I'd touched it!" And she laughs.

The girl breaks the roll, dividing it as fairly as she can, keeping the sticky meat filling inside from dropping out. She holds out the two halves.

The old woman reaches through the bars and takes the smaller half. "Eat," she says. "Then we'll talk."

"No." But she has to say it in the dream language. The nurse's language doesn't seem to have a word like that. So she's broken her resolve. Tears form, and she sniffs and blinks them back.

"Never mind," says the old woman. "It won't hurt for long. You'll go crazy, or they'll hang you. Easy as that, really."

The girl knows that is true, and so, comforted, she stays for a while. That is the second lesson.

* * *

And so it goes.

"Looks like it's going to clear."

The old woman in the cage harumphs. She is soaking wet despite the bits of wood and tin the girl has over time stolen for a makeshift roof to the cage. The storm has blown in hard and horizontal.

She and the girl crouch on either side of the bars, as far to leeward as she can go, as close to her as the girl can get. A little warmth is shared.

The doors were locked when the storm came, of course, so the girl has been trapped in the courtyard.

"It's because of the demons in the lightning who'll get you if you're out in a storm."

"Nonsense," says the old woman." Lightning is dangerous for a much more prosaic reason."

So the storm is devoted to a learning session on electricity. The girl is cold but whenever her attention wanders the old woman shouts at her, grabs her through the bars and shakes her, or turns a ragged back to her in silence. The latter is most effective: soon the girl is begging for her to speak, and promising to listen.

The girl would have thought that both the storm and the old woman at such close quarters would be frightening, but it seems that over the past months she has grown less and less afraid of the mad woman, so much so that she would rather be here, cold and wet, huddled close to her, than locked in the warm, safe corridors. Especially considering what her nurse and owner might think a suitable way to pass the idle hours of the storm-confinement.

The lesson is over and the rain has slowed to a tranquil drip. The woman is silent. The girl hums to herself a little.

"Tell me a story," she says, "about your Othertime."

The old woman starts. "Story? What do you want?"

"A story. You know. About before you were in the cage. Before nobody owned you. Somebody must have owned you once, or you owned somebody. Or—"remembering some of her lessons "—you did something else. What was it?"

The old woman laughs. "You think I can remember that?"

"You can remember everything else. Electricity and how genetics work and how to plant trees in the mountains."

"Do you have any idea what it was like?" the old woman demands shrilly.

"Of course I don't; why do you think I asked?" snaps the girl, then hears in her voice the echo of the old woman and begins to laugh. So does the old woman.

"Learned your lessons well, girl, eh? Eh?"

Then the nurse comes out into the eaves-dripping calm and shouts for her, and she has to run away before he sees her. No stories that day.

* * *

In the afternoons, now, the girl is to go over to the hairdresser for some lessons in makeup and deportment. Her nurse must have paid for it, or his master, because she is not required to serve the woman, or her assistant who teaches about makeup. The assistant is an impeccably turned-out boy with skin as pale as hers. He is the one who knew which makeup suits her colouring, and gives her lessons until she masters the elaborate eye paint and cheek contouring which is the fashion in the Land of the Dark Isle.

"Why there?" the girl asks her nurse.

"That's where you're sold," says the nurse, and it is thus she finds out she is to leave the place.

That evening she hurries to the cage with her gift of food. She has long since stopped stealing sweets and gone instead for meat and vegetables; she has begun to take the life of the old woman more seriously, and has developed a peculiar desire to nourish her properly. The madwoman always grumbles.

This day, the girl still wears the face paint when she comes up to the cage in the evening light.

"They are selling me north!" she whispers.

The madwoman turns around and sees her face. She begins to cry and backs into the corner of the cage.

"Don't fuck the old woman!" she says. "Don't fuck the regent. Don't let anybody in."

"What?"

"I know, I saw in the mirror. I saw through the wall. I know what they will do to you. To me, I mean. You are me, aren't you?"

"Talk sense, old woman. I won't be here much longer. Who will take care of you then?"

"You will die," says the old woman, "if you go there without a brain in your head like this. You know you shouldn't go there."

"I have no choice. You know that; I keep telling you. And anywhere is better than here."

"Here, at least, the cages have real bars and when they kill someone, they stay dead. There the corpses walk around for years after they're dead inside."

The girl shivers even though she doesn't believe the old woman.

"Have you been there?"

"Been there! I was born there, that cursed citadel looking out to the Dark Isles. I saw the weather blow from the north for eighteen years before I ran away. I know everything about that place but it doesn't help, you know. It didn't help us."

"Us?" She gives the old woman a potato.

"Us, yes, us, don't think I'll tell you anything."

"You have to. You were the one that made me come back and back for the lesson, as you call them, but you never tell me anything. You know things that would help."

"Can't talk to you in that face. Go take it off. Put your other one back." The woman throws the potato at the girl; she darts away, angry, and almost eats the rest herself and doesn't come back. But the shower does feel good, and her face feels better without all the greasepaint on it. It is almost dark by now.

"Here's your meat," she says." Tell me!"

"What I've told you a thousand times before," says the woman." You aren't a prisoner. You just take their word for everything. Do you know it is possible to live in the mountains with everyone taking care of everyone else, and no debt at all? I did it, yes, we both did it, long enough for our cells to replace and then some, but I'm the one alive to tell. I'm not hanging for the flies and birds to eat. No, no, don't be thinking of that. Ee-yah ! What a fool you are."

"How would I be free? I don't have anything."

"Steal it. You steal my food. You think you can do that. Steal away. Steal away to the east, or across the sea. That's where you should go. Find my family, that's it. That's it. Here, here."

And she scrabbles in the filthy nest at the other end of the cage. Under the rags and scraps there is a small box; the girl has always wondered what was in it. The woman shakes it open impatiently. Out falls a peculiar tablet, all bound together on one side, with a metal hook holding the other side together.

"What is it?" says the girl.

"It's a book, my book. Everything is in here. You should take it and send it to my daughter. She lives in the mountains, across the sea. She must be my age now, my age when I went there, I mean, she must be old enough to live her life. She was supposed to have it. Look, I wrote in it." The woman shows how the clasp unhooks, the pages spread open. There are marks on the pages and with familiar horror the girl realizes she knows what they mean. They are flat, silent words. She knows how they are made, with a stylus, like the marks on a kitchen tablet or a laundry count but more complicated, and every sound and word has its own shape. She even knows the words for the stylus, and the medium it spreads.

"Pen," she says." Ink." Her head hurts to think of it.

"Didn't have ink," says the hag. "But I'm not stupid!" She cackles loudly.

"Shhh!" The girl huddles against the cage. It is almost completely dark in the courtyard now except for the weak light above the page. She is grateful for that; the individual words are hard to see, and maybe that will protect her. This old woman always catches me with some kind of magic, she thinks angrily.

"I figured it out pretty quick! Helped to remember her blood dripping down on me, from where they put the spear in her. There's lots of blood in a woman, you know. Lots of blood. Dippers and dippers full. And if you aren't dead, you make more every day. So there's plenty to write with. Here, see?"

The pages all look the same, dark marks shadowy against them in the dimness. In the daylight, many months later, she will see the writing in blood clearly for the first time. But now, she believes the woman.

"Here, I'll write the name and the place in it," and taking from the edge of the open side of the binding a thin sharp pen, the old woman drives it into her arm. The waif jumps and cries out a little, as if she were struck. The swelling drop of blood looks black. With bizarre care, the old woman dips her nib in it, opens the cover, and gently scratches a few words, bringing the pen back and back to the swelling drop to load it again.

"Pretty good, eh? Pretty tidy, don't you think? One thing I've learned in the last few years, to be tidy." The woman looks at her keenly through the bars; if not for the grotesque shadows of her ragpile bed, the smells of half-rotted food and unwashed flesh and clothing, her careful, serious expression would look credible. "Otherwise," she says confidentially, "you can't find a thing when you need it. Keep tidy, that's what I say."

She beckons the girl closer. "Take this," she whispers." Put it on a black ship north if you aren't going there yourself. She was supposed to have it when I left. Keep it with the abacus. It'll be safe."

"How do you know about that?" blurts the girl. It is her only possession, her only secret. She had remembered its name first, though her own still remains a mystery." It's mine!"

"Yes, certainly, it's yours. It was a gift. A person doesn't take back a gift. But sometimes a gift gets lost and it has to be sent back. You'll send it, won't you?" And she grabbed the girl's arm in her filthy, sharp-clawed fingers.

"You said you wouldn't touch me anymore!" says the girl, angrily pulling away. She has the book in her hand now, though. The woman looks at her steadily. The girl looks into the shadowed eyes and something stirs from the dream world, something from the night she has tried to forget. "Yes, I'll send it," she promises and tucks it into her shirt. The hag rummages, comes up with a thin light rag.

"This'll be fine when it's washed," she says. "It's all of hers I have left. Take it. My daughter should give it to her children. They should have something back, too, since their mother is dead." And she begins to weep, great heaving sobs too loud for the girl's taste. She is afraid of the curfew guard, if the hag isn't.

She begins to steal away. The old woman stops crying suddenly, and "Hsst!" she whispers. The girl stops, looks back.

"You will remember," says the old woman. "You won't like it, but you will remember. Remember this too. It will be important."

"Why?" the girl says, half-angry, half-believing.

"We all remember," says the old woman." It's our curse. It is our freedom. I think sometimes this cage will drive me mad, but memory takes me out of it. Of course," she goes on reasonably, "then the memories drive me mad instead, but a person in these circumstances can't have everything."

The girl can't help it. She begins to laugh. "You are crazy," she says, "and I think you are the most frightening dream I have ever had, but I like you."

These are words she didn't learn in the south, and they come out of her in the madwoman's secret language. She stands still, shocked. The hag doesn't laugh.

"That's fine," she says. "That's all I can expect, these days. Where's that meat, anyway; I put it down somewhere and do you think I can find it?" She begins to rummage in her cage, throwing out old crusts and rags. The girl runs.

She finds that the nurse, luckily, is not yet in the room, so she washes the scarf—for it is that, an oblong silk scarf—and hangs it up under her other set of clothes, where he will not see it. In the morning, while he is out pissing, she unties the ragged end of the long strip of cotton cloth which is the turban she was found in, and there is the abacus. She wraps the little book and the abacus in the silk and ties them again in the end of the cotton strip.

She sits for a second fingering the strip, which is longer than she is tall, but only as wide as two spread hands. It was once a bright saffron colour, but it is faded from washing, and there are stains now where her blood did not come out, even in cold water: by the time she had been well enough to wash the clothes in which she had been found, the stains had set.

The reflex, when she found the abacus, had been to trade it for safety, but she had realized that while she could have sold it for some nights free of sex, it would not buy her autonomy, so she hid it instead. Its colours echo her dreams.

She folds the turban strip, thinking for the first time that it had probably saved her life, cushioning her head on landing. Then she goes out to do her morning ablutions. It is the hag who has taught her to wash morning and night, and the habit is pleasant—now that she is used to the abuse others give her for it.

She is returning to the room, her hair dripping, when the nurse comes running, "There you are, little bitch. Should have known you're always washing. Get your things together. Your new owner has sent for you."

And this is how it is that the girl, instead of running away, goes north in a guarded caravan, with her little bundle, to the home of her new master, the prince of the Land of the Dark Isles. She thinks often on the way of the madwoman's stories, and shivers even in the sunlight, even as she sweats her way the long walk, the long road north. And at night, once, the hag's words ring in a dream, and wake her sweating: "Don't fuck the regent," she had said. The girl's terror abates quickly with the foolishness of it. What choice would she have? The richest man in the world, for so her nurse had called him, won't trade her abacus for celibacy.

She shivers again. There are dreams where she likes sex, but in her short life since awakening, there has not been one awake-time she has not hated it: the pain, the roughness, the perfunctory nature of her nurse's pleasure, and the mess. She is only glad that the nurse had never made her pregnant, to bear a child belonging to him. As she walked, her courses had come again, so she is sure. But if the regent ever sees her and ever wants her, she will have no chance.

For the first time, also, in her short sentience, she has begun to think about how she can run away. And although she has come up with no idea of how, still, the thinking itself has made her feel different, as if she were changing, or as if at least she can see now the bars of which her cage is made.