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Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Miseducation of Selena - Chapter Two

Chapter 2

I held my breath as I released the arrow. A moment later, it hit a good sized fox, which would feed me for a week if I was careful. Cleaning and skinning the fox was now almost second nature to me, and I continued to be grateful that my mother insisted that I help out at slaughter time each year. Had it not been for her insistence that everyone learn the butchering skills, I'd have starved!
I absently ran one hand along Goldie's back as I packed the extra meat away in her saddlebags. I tossed one small chunk on a rock in the fire I'd rebuilt after waking this morning so that it could cook. Thankfully, I'd found some wild potatoes and onions yesterday. A couple of those were baking under the fire, and should be ready to eat as soon as the meat was cooked enough for me... and then I'd have to move on again.
I rubbed a hand over my belly. The small bulge confirmed that my father had been right after all, which both excited and disappointed me. Part of me had wished that it simply wasn't true and that I could go home. The rest of me already loved the baby inside me, and I couldn't wait to hold him or her one day. In any case, it wasn't safe for me here.
I was traveling south because I knew that eventually winter would come and I wanted to be as warm as possible when it hit, but I also had to try to stay away from areas that might attract bandits – such as roads leading to and from cities. This meant that I had to stick to less traveled roads and the forest.
And towns... small towns and villages where I could trade the pelts I collected as I hunted and buy things like rice, which could be stored in my saddlebags almost indefinitely, and cooked up to feed me even if I had nothing else. Thankfully, I'd been able to hunt and scavenge plenty of food, so far...
When I was done eating, I made certain that the fire was out, and then mounted my horse once more. I was still amazed at how different it was to ride while wearing pants! My mother had snuck me two complete outfits consisting of sturdy work shirts and pants – which came in handy out in the wilderness.
A noise made Goldie's ears stand at attention, and I looked around warily. I readied my bow in case I had to defend myself.
Dismount and step away from the horse and you won't get hurt!” A man commanded.
I quickly located him, and made certain that I had a clear shot before responding. “Never!”
Boy! I just want the horse, but I'll kill you if I have to!”
I ignored his assumption about my gender, grateful that my clothes were loose enough to hide the truth if one didn't look too closely. He could clearly see that I was ready to fire at him, but I bet that he assumed that I wouldn't have the courage to actually do so, and that if I did, I wouldn't have the aim to actually hit him. I decided to prove him wrong on both accounts.
He shouted in agony as my arrow lodged in his thigh. I took a moment to shoot his other thigh so that he couldn't follow me, but then hesitated before kicking my horse into a canter. I literally couldn't afford to waste two arrows on him. I had to save and reuse the six I had for as long as possible.
He had fallen to the ground, and now tried his best not to let me know he was in pain, but I would be shocked if he wasn't. I slowly dismounted, and then walked over to him with my hands held out soothingly. I'd left my bow on Goldie, but I still had my dagger if I needed to defend myself.
Stealing a horse is an automatic death sentence,” I reminded him.
He shrugged. “Not if I steal if from a dirty little thief boy.”
I am not a thief!” I shrieked indignantly, and then bit my tongue before I could blurt out that I was a well bred Lady. At least I knew that my unbathed body and messy, half-hidden hair kept him from noticing that I was a woman. However, since I was going on 19, I was also a bit insulted that he thought I was a boy!
He muttered in disbelieving agreement, and then focused on his legs as if mentally preparing himself for an onerous task. As he took a few purposeful breaths, I used his distraction to yank my arrows out of his legs.
He shouted from the pain, and made a wild attempt to grab me, but I evaded him and remounted as quickly as possible.
Wait!” He roared desperately. “You can't just leave me here like this!”
I scoffed at him incredulously. “You were going to steal my horse and everything I have and just leave me here, so I really don't see why I can't do the same!”
Because I wasn't going to leave you bleeding to death!”
I'm almost certain that he was being overly dramatic, but it's true that he's bleeding profusely from his wounds. I wanted to abandon him to his fate, but my heart constricted at the thought of being in his position. It would be better to just kill him and be done with it. I readied my bow once more, this time aiming at his heart.
He held out his hands in horror as if he could stop me from shooting him by sheer force of will. I held my breath for a moment, and then sighed in defeat. I just couldn't shoot a man who wanted to live and hadn't yet done anything to me.
Storing my bow, I dismounted once more. “Fine,” I ground out. “I'll help you!”
I didn't have anything I could use as bandages, and from the look of it, neither did he, so I had to improvise. He's damn lucky that as a Lady, I was required to learn about herbs and their various uses. I wasn't an expert, but at least I knew which of the nearby plants could help heal him. I packed his wounds with crushed herbs, and then placed a large leaf over each and bound then with a bit of twine.
As I did this, he had plenty of time to study me. “You're not a boy!”
I was both happy that he had finally realized this basic fact, and wary about what he planned to do next. I think he could tell by the look on my face that I was considering shooting him again. He held up his hands to assure me that he intended no harm.
Listen, I'm not a fighter. I'm not even a thief. I'm simply a farmer down on his luck...” he paused to sigh in aggravation. “My overlord seized my property and banished me from his jurisdiction.”
I shook my head, not sympathetic in the slightest. “You're still better off than me. All you have to do is find a Lord or a farmer that needs help, and you'll have a place to go.” I decided not to finish my bitter thought, which was that unless I wanted to become the town whore – a term I now understood just a little bit better than before a bandit had taught me a few things my parents didn't want me to know – I would never have a place to go.
I pulled the potato and onion I saved from breakfast – which were still warm – out of my saddlebags, and handed them to him. “Here, at least you won't starve... There's a town just over there. I'm certain that you'll find some work and a place to stay.”
Thank you,” he murmured.
I returned to my horse to mount up once more, but paused to press a hand to my belly. My child was usually nothing more than fluttering wobbles inside me, but right now, it felt like something kicked me. I grunted, more from surprise than actual pain. When there was no more movement, I carefully got onto Goldie's back.
You're with child...” my momentary companion remarked.
I shrugged, and then twitched the reins in a silent command for Goldie to start walking.

*****

I grunted and pressed a hand to my stomach. My child moved around almost painfully, and I longed for the days when I didn't have an elephant inside me! Unless I had lost all track of time, 8 months had passed since my afternoon of pleasure with a bandit that had caused my current predicament.
The only good news was that I had traveled far enough south to survive winter and found a secluded wooded area where I'm fairly certain no one would ever find me. This was going to be my only protection against bandits and thieves until I could once more walk rather than waddle. In my current state, I'd have to stand my ground and fight, and I'm not certain I could do that against anyone with agility.
I didn't have the skills or tools to chop down and mill lumber to make a small hut, so I had no choice but to build a shelter out of dirt. I dug – over the course of the last month or so – a hole in the ground big enough for me to lay down in in both directions. Therefore, it was a little longer and wider than I was tall.
I'd had enough time to dig the hole so that it was almost as deep as my hips, but eventually, I couldn't waste any more time digging it deeper if I wanted to finish my shelter before the baby came. Using an enormous pile of sticks, I erected a frame, and then packed mud all around it until I had a wall.
The only thing I really knew about what I was doing was what I had learned when we'd had to rebuild the outdoor ovens behind the manor two years ago. I figured that if I was careful, and built it in stages, it would work well enough for my needs. The hardest part was the roof, which required me to find quite a few larger branches.
I finished building my shelter and – deciding that I would prefer it to protect me should it happen to storm – rushed to dry it rather than letting it dry on its own. I didn't particularly care if it cracked so long as it didn't wash away in a storm. Cracks could be filled...
A bonfire in my shelter dried it out quickly, including the floor. As I swept out the ashes, grateful that I'd remembered to leave a few spaces for windows for air, I continually felt a pain in my belly. At first, I thought the baby was just kicking me, but then it got so painful that I almost fell over.
What's wrong baby?” I asked, almost panicked. It would have been nice if my mother had ever once explained what to expect! For all I knew, this could be normal, but it felt much too painful to be normal.
Dear Gods, please don't let me die out here all alone!
There was nothing I could do. I couldn't even crawl to my horse to ride to the nearest town!
I felt this urge to tear my clothes off. It felt like even the lightest touch was too much, but rather than ruin my clothes, I forced myself to take them off carefully.
I was crying now, screaming and sobbing intermittently. Each time the pain stopped for a couple of seconds, I sighed in relief, but I never had enough time to figure out what was wrong or try to stop it. Was there an herb I could take to fix whatever's wrong?
My crying caught Goldie's attention, and she wedged herself inside my shelter the best she could considering that the doorway wasn't big enough for her to get through. She nudged me with her nose, and I was strangely comforted by her presence. I held onto her until I felt like I had to squat. It felt like I was about to empty my bowels... If I had the presence of mind, I would have objected to making such a mess on the floor of my new shelter!
I watched a fluid gush out of me. It looked like it was watered down blood, or perhaps it was more like slimy water with a bit of blood in it...
The urge to empty my bowels only got more intense. I could feel something stuck between my legs, which prompted my to try and figure out what it was. I reached a hand up inside my grotesquely distorted opening -why was it like that? - and felt something like a ball stretching me out.
OHHHH! I felt incredibly stupid at that moment! This has to be the baby coming out of me... I was angry at my mother again! Why didn't she think to warn me that I'd go through all this pain and that the baby would come out the same way it went in!
Had I been married before all this happened, I'm almost certain that she would have been by my side holding my hand through this whole ordeal. Instead, I was all alone without any idea what was happening to me! Did I really deserve this?! Was what happened so terrible that this was an appropriate punishment?
I wobbled as more pain racked my body, and then fell onto my hands. When the pain receded, I managed to get back in the squatting position so that I could see if my baby had come out yet. It looked and felt like the entire head was out, but the rest was still inside me. I was suddenly afraid that it would drop onto the floor and break its head!
No matter how much it hurt or how shaky my body got, I forced myself to remain in the squatting position so that I could hold onto my baby as it emerged from my body. Finally, I had him in my hands!
Of this I was certain. I hadn't actually seen the part of the man that went inside me, but if this baby didn't have parts that looked like mine, then he had to be a boy.
I sat down to rest, relieved that this was finally over! Except that my pains – which were thankfully much less painful now – continued to come. I examined the rope-like cord that was attached to my baby's stomach, and realized that it was also attached to something inside me. Did the cord go back inside me, or was it supposed to come out too?
That would explain the continuing pains...
I stared at my baby in fascination for a long time, but eventually I simply had to squat again. A large ball-shaped thing came out of me. It was the other end of the cord, so I was fairly sure that my ordeal must be over now. Except that I didn't stop bleeding. I reassured myself that I probably had to go through all the monthlies that I had missed.
I wondered what to do with the bloody ball... strangely, the more I stared at it, the more I simply had to eat it! I cut it into chunks with my dagger and absently ate the chunks as I watched my baby.
He rooted around in my arms as I reclined against the wall. I felt lethargic and numb, and didn't have the energy to protest as he clamped his mouth around my nipple and started sucking. It was part of my upbringing that no one should ever touch my breasts, but surely such an innocent baby didn't have a nefarious reason for doing so.
I gasped as I felt the strangest sensation in my breast. It felt like the baby was actually sucking something out of me. Aha... this must be the same as a milking a cow. Shaking my head, I wondered why my parents thought it inappropriate to explain even this much to me as a child.
Goldie whinnied softly, reminding me that she was still watching over me. I held out my hand to her, and then stroked her on the nose. She could just barely reach where I was sitting against the wall, and sniffed my baby curiously.
At least I had you with me,” I whispered, and then fell asleep, still sitting against the wall.

*****

I was amazed that it was warm enough here that it didn't even snow! The nights were still pretty cold, but my shelter was easy to keep warm. I simply needed to keep the oven I'd made – also out of mud, in the corner of the room – full of sticks and other wood scavenged from the forest around me.
Between hunting and foraging, I had plenty to eat, but now I had a bunch of pelts ready to trade. My mother had given me a small pot and a blanket in addition to the clothes she'd handed me just as I left, but that was literally all I had. Hopefully, with the money I would make from these pelts, I could buy a few other things, starting with cloth, thread, and a needle to make clothes for my baby.
I'd pulled the dress I'd been wearing when I was thrown out apart at the seams, so I had a basic covering for him. I also had a makeshift carrier, which helped a lot when I had to ride my horse! Once he was tied to me in the sling-like carrier, I only needed to keep one hand on him protectively. The other was used to steer my horse.
Goldie was smart enough to know her way around now, and had memorized how to get to the nearest towns and back. Therefore, I didn't really need to do anything other than point her in the right direction.
The best part of living in the middle of nowhere like this was that no one ever came out to where I lived. In a way, I was free to do whatever I wanted out here. Even so, I had to be wary at all times because people did actually know I was out here.
I was the talk of the towns after all. I was the first lone pregnant woman to ever show up out of the blue and boldly declare that I was going build a shelter and live all by myself in the middle of a thick and mostly uninhabited forest. It was just easier to keep to myself and let them assume that I was a widow or perhaps an abused wife on the run. So long as I didn't get too chatty with anyone, I didn't have to admit that I was cast out for bringing shame on my family.
It was a two hour ride to the nearest town when Goldie was running lightly; not enough to tire her out, but faster than just walking. Of course, she couldn't run constantly because she only had trails made by animals to follow, and they didn't go straight to town and back.
After arriving in town, I went straight to the tanner. I'd dealt with him a couple of times already, and he was a kindly old man who seemed sympathetic to my plight.
Good day, Joe,” I greeted him. “How are you?”
Oh not bad,” he assured me with a grin. “I see the babe came since last I saw you.”
I nodded, still astride Goldie. Joe offered me a hand so that I could dismount a bit easier.
What's the babe's name?” Joe asked as he gently pulled the carrier open just a little bit so that he could get a peek.
I sighed and confessed, “I don't know what to name him! I've just been calling him baby of mine or Bom for short.”
Joe laughed. “I've always been partial to Joe!”
I chuckled as I considered the name. Meanwhile, Joe unloaded all the pelts I'd brought. He nodded as he inspected them.
If you happen to come across a few more rabbits, I'd love to have their pelts!”
I tilted my head to the side curiously. “Why? We don't exactly need fur coats around here.”
He grinned. “That's true, but I do get a man who comes through from time to time. He likes to buy up good quality furs to sell up north, and he always gives me a good price.”
I was actually partial to slightly bigger animals that gave me a bit more meat – such as a porcupine or a raccoon – but I could see why rabbit fur would be more in demand than needle-filled porcupine fur. The selection I currently had for Joe was mostly raccoon furs with a handful of rabbit furs and a couple of fox pelts.
Each animal fed me for about a week, and minimized my need to hunt. More often, I was foraging for wild fruits and vegetables or tending to Bom. Or sleeping... For some reason, just feeding and caring for this tiny human being made me more tired than I have ever been in my life!
Joe handed me my payment and I smiled at him gratefully. In addition to what I'd already earned, I should have plenty to buy what I needed. I probably already had it from last time I came to town, but I hadn't been thinking about clothes for the baby then. I looked away to hide a grimace over how little I'd known when I first arrived here.
I waved to Joe and walked to the small building that offered a variety of goods for sale. A husband and wife owned the Trading Post, and they both seemed to have a good head for business, so they tended to keep in stock everything that a person might need. This town was centrally located to a much larger community of farmers, and wasn't under the jurisdiction of any overlords.
Therefore, the Trading Post didn't carry the things a Lady might want – such as lace – but even if I could afford some, I didn't want to waste my money...
Sally – the wife – was tending the shop today, and smiled at me as I entered.
Selena! Good to see you again,” she greeted me. I hadn't bought anything from her yet, but I had come in to look things over on a previous trip when I was still planning out how to build my shelter. I take that back, I had bought a shovel. Considering that it was practically the only thing I owned, I'm surprised that I'd forgotten about it!
Good day Sally,” I returned her greeting and then smiled at her. “What do you have for cloth? I need something suitable for making baby clothes.”
Sally sighed. “It never seems to fail! Whenever I sell out of something, someone else comes in needing more!” She shook her head at the irony. “I've got a shipment coming in in a week, but I bet you're not going to want to make another trip all the way out here so soon. Hmm...”
I watched her bit her lip in thought and pace her store for a few seconds. I have to admit that it never occurred to me that she might not have anything for me to buy!
Oh, I know! Wait here,” she ordered and then rushed toward her door.
Wait,” I bade. “Why did you sell out of cloth?”
She tilted her head and cast me a funny look. “It never occurred to me that you wouldn't know, but there's going to be a wedding next month. Naturally everyone is excited, and there's a lot of new outfits being made for it.”
Oh...” I murmured, looking to the floor. Sally finished rushing off, and I was left alone to wallow in my memories.
Shortly before I turned 18, my mother had taken me by the hand and led me into the attic. She explained that – if my father ever managed to find a suitable husband for me – I would carry on the tradition started by her great-great-grandmother. She unlocked and opened a beautifully hand-carved chest that contained a stunning wedding dress.
Her great-great-grandmother had been a princess who was married to a knight as a reward for his service to the Kingdom. No one ever specified what he'd done, but if he's the same knight featured in a couple of the stories she'd told me at bedtime, then he'd saved the King's life more than once when assassins were after him. In any case, the princess commissioned a fabulously expensive wedding dress to wear during the ceremony.
It was creamy-white with long sleeves and a 5 foot long train. It was intricately embroidered with gold thread, and had clusters of diamonds sewn to it from the neck down to the end of the train. The undergarments were made out of silk that felt like the softest material ever made! The only downside was that the dress was designed to be worn over a wooden cage-like contraption that made the skirt bell out.
Even so, I dreamt about wearing it almost every single night for at least a month! A dress like that would make most women cry from sheer joy! Considering that the knight was only a minor lord, and his descendants were my family, it made sense to me that this was the type of dress we could never have afforded to have made, which was why it was our tradition to pass it down.
A tear fell from my eye as I wondered what would happen to it now. Hopefully, Sebastian would have at least one daughter that could wear it. Otherwise, it would likely remain in our attic until everyone forgot it was there and it fell apart from age.
Is something wrong?” Sally asked me, pulling me from my reverie.
I shook my head and smiled at her.
She shrugged and thrust a bundle in my arms. “A while back, the Madisons finally had a baby after being barren until near their forties. Lottie was so excited that she made enough clothes to last the baby years!”
I frowned as I wondered why Sally suddenly looked at her feet. “What?”
Well, the baby died after only a few months, and Lottie couldn't bear to have the clothes anywhere near her. She gave them to me and told me to sell them. Only... no one wanted to buy them...”
I scrutinized the clothes in my arms with an expression of near horror.
Sally sighed. “I figured that you may as well take them. Most of them were never even worn.”
I nodded slowly in agreement. “How much do you want for them?”
10 coppers?” She stated uncertainly.
That was far less than I expected to spend on cloth, so I didn't argue. I simply dug the coins out of my coin purse then handed them to her. She thanked me for my business, assuming that I was ready to go home now.
I bit my lip, and groaned. “I don't suppose you have a small table and a chair.”
She laughed softly. “No one's ever asked that since there's plenty of wood around us to simply make them! Sorry...”
I thought you might say that,” I sighed in disappointment.
Sally smirked at me just a little too sweetly. “You know... if you simply found a man to marry you, you'd have someone to make such niceties...”
I rolled my eyes but nodded in agreement. “Instead, I have to figure out how to make my own. … I guess I'm going to have to learn to chop down trees... do you have an ax for sale?”
Sally nodded with a confident smile. “Now that I have! … Though, I'm not entirely certain I want to sell it to you since you don't know how to use it. I really don't want to be responsible for you chopping off your own hand or foot!”
I groaned as I thought about the possibilities. “I can only pray that I manage to hit the tree!” I used to spar with my brother, certainly wielding an ax couldn't be too much harder.
Sally took a deep breath, and then smiled at me. “Please, just promise me that you'll practice on smaller branches and downed trees before you ever dare try to chop down a tree!”
I promised,” I vowed sincerely.
And honestly, it'd be easier to find a man-”
I grunted, cutting her off.
To teach you!” She finished.
Oh,” I muttered in mild embarrassment. “Hmm...”
Laughing softly, she located the ax. “This'll cost you a silver piece.”
I was relieved that it was within my price range, and handed her the coin. She tilted her head curiously, and pursed her lips in thought.
Do you have nails or – for that matter – a hammer?”
I blushed and chuckled in embarrassment. “Uh... no...”
I tell you what, I'll sell them to you for another 10 copper coins,” Sally informed me.
I suppressed a sigh. After I bought them, I'd only have one silver coin and 2 coppers left... At least I wouldn't be broke though.
I carefully carried the ax, hammer, and nails to Goldie, and Sally followed me to make sure that I didn't need help loading them onto my horse.
Selena... Do you have an aversion to men? Did something... bad happen to you?” Sally asked.
I shook my head in answer to both questions. “No nothing bad happened to me, at least not like that.”
Oh...” she murmured in confusion.
I carefully mounted up, amazed that Bom had slept through my entire visit to town. I knew that he'd wake up to nurse on the ride home, but I'd have nothing better to do anyway.

Go To Chapter Three 

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