MUSED Literary Magazine.
Fiction

I Know Days

Sam Muller

I know days. They are easy to know, from one sunrise to the next.

But weeks, months and years are just words.

Sometimes she says, ĎIíll be away for a week,í or ĎIíll bring you a new dress next month.í Yesterday she said, ĎSo, you are seventeen. One more year...í

I know there is a world out there, beyond this desert; a world of hamlets and cities, forests and mountains, rivers and seas. I know it is not natural to live in a tower, alone, except when she visits me. I know about lovers and friends, parents and children.

I know these from the books she brings me. The books have pictures. What the words tell, the pictures show. Without them I wouldnít know a tree from a bush, a horse from a donkey, or a prince from a monster.

Sometimes she tells me stories, her voice dripping like warm honey. I listen, as still as the cushioned chairs, the oval table, the two-door wardrobe and the canopied bed. At those times, Iím free of this world of scorching sand. At those times Iím far away, frolicking in a crystal clear river, walking in an evergreen glade or twirling in a glittering ballroom.

When I listen to her stories, I donít feel lonely.

When I listen to her stories, Iím almost happy.

**

The crows keep me company when she is away. I talk to them. They listen, their bright eyes fixed on me. I think they can understand me.

I try to make my conversations interesting. But I know so little to talk about.

The crows caw back. I wish I could understand them. Their conversations must be interesting.

They have seen the world.

**

Sleeping or awake I have just one dream.

One morning the dream comes true.

It begins as a dot and ends as a prince on horseback. He dismounts and looks up at my window. His curls glimmer like a peacockís tail in the morning sunlight.

I smile. I beckon.

He smiles back. My body tingles. Iím filled with longings I canít fathom.

A cloud of gold breaks the sameness of the searing white sky. She is here, gold hair cascading down her back, gold skin glowing in sunlight, gold dress clinging.

I donít watch. I close the window and sit on the bed, my eyes shut, my hands clamped on my ears.

His last cry pierces the wooden shutters and seeps through my trembling fingers.

**

Others come. Sometimes she is here when they arrive. Sometimes she is not. But she always gets here before they can do anything more than dismount and wave.

Soon, when I see a rider I donít smile. I weep.

**

One day she is late.

This prince has a rope. He throws it at me. Words are not necessary. I know what to do. I catch it and tie it to a bedpost.

When he reaches the window I give him my hand to help him in.

Human touch is unfamiliar and exhilarating, light as a feather, tight as a claw. I laugh, whenever my mouth is free.

After a while I stop laughing.

He is too strong for me, but not for her.

He screams, the sound growing distant as he gets closer to the ground.

I busy myself, changing my torn dress, redoing my tumbled hair.

Before she leaves, she pats my cheek with an icy finger. Itís the first time she has touched me. Her touch is nothing like his. It canít be. She is not human.

Later, much later, I look down. He is at the bottom, a tiny unmoving heap.

**

The crows are chatty, more than usual. They fly in and out of the room and hop about on the furniture, cawing endlessly. It is as if they are telling me something important.

I listen and listen, trying to make sense of their chatter. But I canít understand them.

**

He comes with the next dawn.

There is no horse. He doesnít need one. His strides are longer than a horseís gallop. He covers the distance between the horizon and the tower far faster than any prince on horseback.

His head almost reaches my window. His red eyes are lidless; his teeth are knife sharp; his tail is a whip; his horns gleam in the morning sun.

He doesnít wave at me or try to come in; just stands with his back to the tower and calls to her.

She arrives, a vision in molten gold.

The whole long day they battle. Lightning is their weapon. I sit at my window watching.

It ends as the sun sets. She vanishes in a bleeding cloud. He remains, a mountain cracked and eroded.

He peeps through the window. I cower. The crows caw and caw but I ignore them.

ĎThe crows begged me to free you.í His voice rattles the furniture. ĎI know I am fearsome. But you have no reason to fear me.í
I shudder.

He says ĎWithout her spell of renewal, the tower will collapse. But you will die long before that, from hunger and thirst.í

I gather some of my clothes into a bundle and go to the window. He picks me up with a wounded hand and sets me on a bruised shoulder.

The crows caw a song. They are happy.

I wish I can be.

**

Days drift into weeks, weeks into months. I live in his castle in the midst of a forest. The doors are open. But I have nowhere to go.

He tells me Iím free.

But freedom is just a word, the way weeks, months and years were, once.

He tells me thereís a world out there.

But world is just a word, the way weeks, months and years were, once.

He says nothing about her, even though I ask.

One day I recall a story she told me, about a prince who was turned into a monster by an evil magician, and rescued by the love of a beautiful maiden.

Hope lights a fire in my heart. I smile and twirl round the room.

When he arrives, I run to him and ask him whether he is an enchanted prince.

He looks at me with pity in his blood red eyes and says no, this was the way he was born.

Hope dies. My heart is a heap of ashes.

**

One day a prince arrives on a white steed, as easy on the eye as the prettiest picture in the books she gave me.

I leave a letter behind, explaining where Iím going and with whom. Words are hard to find and two sentences are all I can manage.

**

I marry my prince. I have a son.

But there is a hole in my life, a hole made of things I donít know and things I didnít do.

I donít know who my parents are, why she took me away from them, for what purpose she brought me up in that tower.

I never thanked him for freeing me.

The hole began as a pinprick, the day I left with my prince. It grew as I frolicked in a crystal clear river with my prince, walked in an evergreen glade with my prince and danced in a glittering ballroom with my prince. It grew as I watched my son at play, as I tried out a new dress or opened an old book, as I lay by my husband at night and listened to his gentle snores.

I know it will consume me one day.

**

I sit by the window holding my first grandson in my lap.

A man lumbers by, a man on stilts, his feet precariously placed on two poles. Children trail after him, their awed faces staring at the fifteen feet tall figure in red, blue and yellow satin.

He reminds me of me.

Iíve never stood on my own feet, never had my feet on the ground, never experienced life on earth.

Iíve been a prisoner and a queen, a wife, a mother and a grandmother. Yet I donít know who I am.

A murder of crows arrives. They perch on the balustrade, cawing.

I think I know what they are trying to tell me.

**

This time I write no letters. I say what I have to say to my husband and my son. The words are hard to find and harder to voice, but I manage.

At first they are horrified and angry. At first they feel bewildered and betrayed. Then they begin to understand. Or perhaps they donít understand. Perhaps they just accept my decision because they love me too much to stand in my way.

As I leave, they wave and they weep.

I weep too, and almost turn back. But I know this is something I have to do. I might not find the answer I seek. But seek I must.

The hole within me stops growing as my feet touch the ground.

**

Itís a different road than any Iíve traveled.

I learn how to care for myself. It is either that, or die.

All my life someone was responsible for me Ė she who kept me a prisoner in a tower, he who rescued me from it and my husband who gave me all the things I craved. On the road, I am responsible for myself. I have to prepare my own food, find my own shelter and ensure my own protection. There are no maids, no beds, no guards.

I reach his castle after three weeks of riding.

It is empty. It has been empty for a long time.

I walk all over, looking for some sign of what happened to him. Eventually I reach the room which had been mine, once.

As I turn to leave, I catch a reflection in the mirror. I walk up to it and a stranger stares at me.

I touch my face. My skin is no longer soft. It has been toughened by the sun and the rain. My hair looks as if it has been chopped by a butcher.

Long hair and journeys donít go together. That was one of the first discoveries I made. I had to cut it off with the short sword I brought for my protection.

Learning how to handle a sword had been my husbandís only condition, when I told him of my decision. My son taught me. The day I beat him was the day he and his father became resigned to my journey.

**

I reach her tower after three months of riding.

It lies in a heap of ruins.

My past is beyond my reach. It is buried under those stones.

I dismount and start looking through the rubble, for answers. Sand is all I find.

The crows come, a murder of them. They circle my head three times, cawing urgently, before flying away.

I mount my horse around and ride after them.

**

Once it had been an oasis. Now the spring is dry, the grass is dead and the trees are withering.

Between the parched spring and the leafless trees is a stone house, a round house. Itís as if someone tried to create a tower and gave up.

The crows perch on the roof, cawing.

I dismount. The stone house has a single door. It opens when I push it.

The house is a single room, dark, and dank. It reeks of dust and disuse.

I call out, but hear only the echo of my own voice.

I turn to leave.

The crows stop me. They fly in and out of the room and hop about on the furniture, cawing endlessly.

I think I know what they are telling me.

I stand still. The crows fall silent.

I donít call out. I listen.

The sound is so tiny, it might have been the wind, or an insect, or my imagination. But I know it is not any of those.

I look under the oval table, behind the cushioned chairs, inside the two-door wardrobe.

There is nothing.

I peep under the canopied bed. And I see the small shape, huddled into a ball.

As my eyes become used to the darkness, the shape turns into a child, then a girl.

I smile at her. ĎI am Rampiana.í

The girl stares, eyes saucer-like in her thin face. ĎThat is my name.í

ĎI know.í I take a deep breath. ĎWhere is she?í

The other Rampiana shakes her head. ĎShe said sheíll be back in a week. I donít know if a week has gone. I know only days.í

**

The girl is hungry and thirsty. I give her my water and my food. She eats and drinks in silence until nothing is left.

ĎWill you come with me,í I ask.

ĎWhere?í she asks.

ĎHome,í I answer

Her little face crowds with emotions. I know them all.

I wait. My heart is an overworked bellow.

She smiles and gives me her hand.

The hole inside me vanishes.

I have found the answer, though not the one I sought.

I looked for words. I found a life.

**

We leave.

The crows caw a song.

They are happy.

So am I.