(Tiegli’s story, part 2)
[begin blog post #9]
“And the honour?” I refrain from asking about the evil juice – no time. I find out later however that the “evil juice” is a concoction made from dried and powdered chakr (pronounced shoak) root – an indigenous herb that grows profusely at the edge of the desert, readily available and cheap – that is mixed with the blood of one’s kill after a killing orgy. The drink is usually shared with several males. It is a bonding which, they believe, makes them invulnerable and immortal, despite all evidence to the contrary, I might add.
Tiegli continues with her story:
“Returning from fight or hunt alive, telling of dangers and wounds received, and saying “I do this again!” Showing off skins, part of animals and people too; dead bodies; captive slaves and scars on body – all good for male pride.”
“Is any woman ever recognized for her endurance or courage or the money she brings her owners?”
“That be outrage. If man ever praise woman for deed he be disgrace and treat like female. If not rich to buy out, he castrate and flog like woman in arena. Or he given for special fun to bad, vicious fighters in compound for trainer fun and kill. How you not know? Everybody know this.”
She tucks her body against mine and I feel her desire for sexual comforts which I give her freely. She will die having known a moment of gentleness and companionship and will know that she is more than an animal. I wish I could kill her as she rests against me but that is not what she would want. She needs to return to her arena and maybe discover the additional courage to yell when she makes her kill. Maybe she will scream that she is just as human as the men who came to watch her die, or to kill her. Maybe she will upset a tiny bit of the status quo, enough for me to find the match I need to light the fire I came here to light. Yes, what this place needs is a cleansing fire; nothing less will do.
I say, more to her mind than ear: “Tomorrow you must scream at them that you are human. You must yell your own taunts over your kill. Strike hard and die with courage and make them see your pride. I am not really Spirit of the Desert Beast. Just let those superstitious males believe that for now. I am, indeed, from the stars, that I remember now. I am here to share your pain for it is known from far away. I am here to find out everything there is to know about this world. This means I will die just like you, probably soon. I will return to my world and find ways to help your people. And I will return again as a fighter. I will speak to the women and give them new ideas – dangerous, illegal, bold ideas. They will have to decide whether to listen to me and trust I’m speaking truth or remain in their condition. Would you like to see me again when I return home?”
“Hah…” She hesitates then whispers hoarsely, “You speak strange; like sex slaves train concubine. Good speak, many words you have. You say I allowed to decide for me?”
“Yes, you are allowed to decide. Tomorrow they may kill your body but you will find out that you are still very much alive – more than you’ve ever been. When your people come for you and if you want to see me again, ask them to direct you to a world called Altaria. It’s a very difficult world to reach, hidden in folds of space from prying evil eyes like Albaral. But you can find it if you remember some basic words from me.
“Tell them you are the friend of Antierra from T’Sing Tarleyn. If they do not understand, tell them you are the friend of Al’Tara whom you met on Malefactus. They will contact people from my world and will be able to send you there. Using my name as code-word for access you will be allowed to enter. There you can wait for me if you wish. Or you can learn what you want to, then leave and go anywhere you want. Anywhere.
“Remember to keep your name, Tiegli. You will not look as you do now and no one will recognize you, not even me. So I shall ask for you by name – and it will be a famous name for everyone will know who you are and where you are from; how you lived and how you died. You will be loved there. All my friends will be your friends and they will show you many wonders. That is my gift to you, Tiegli.”
“Your words, sweet; touch like lover – I had one, I know ; she killed maybe one, two year? I never have again. Much losing pain. Almost killed too, I so tired from losing pain that time. I know you be as say. I die bravely, oh yes sure. I die most happy, tomorrow. I go to your world and wait for you, yes? But you come back here, I no promise come with you. I not crazy woman like you. Can I go from you, die, no promise I return and your people they still keep me, not kill me?”
“Yes.” I manage to whisper with the lump in my throat and full, free tears flowing. “There are no conditions bearing upon you when you live on my world except you learn new things and accept that you will be happy. You can live there free, happy, as long as you wish. Then you can go anywhere you wish, choice is always yours alone. No one kills on my world. No one dies.”
She nudges against me, her small face tucked between my breasts. I feel the moisture of her tears. “Your world is beautiful place, Antierra.”
“No more so than yours can be – and will be in time. All worlds have, within themselves the power of choice to be ugly or beautiful. It is the intelligent, sentient and self-aware life on those worlds that determines which choice they will make. For you see, as women are slaves of men on your world, so is every world a slave of its ISSA life forms.”
“You have strange words; speak strange things. Much power. You be the Desert Beast giving passing dream of power to dying woman. I content. Sleep now.”
Too tired myself to ask any more questions, I let her sleep cradled between my thighs and breasts. But I cannot sleep. I feel her rhythmic breathing and the beating of her strong heart. I try to imagine her in a different environment. This wreck of a woman is no older than I, yet looks to be fifty. I move my hands slowly and deliberately over her body. I feel the many scars, some badly healed from lack of medical care. She would not have been a favourite of the medical attendants this one, so she suffered the more.
I gently massage a swollen deformity on her back, probably from a blow of that stick weapon I described earlier. Again, I feel the urge to just break her neck and save her from her final ordeal; it would be so easy, and seemingly so compassionate. But see, I can let her live to die and allow her to have another kind of happiness: a flicker of hope that I am as true as she wishes to believe and she has a future where she can be human.
I start that damning circular thinking again, trying to sort out my feelings, the old and the new. If I give in to bouts of compassion, or to the weakness of love, will I fail in my purpose? Or is it the other way around: if I do not allow any compassion to flow through me, and if I do not allow the pain of loving, either this friend I am about to lose or that enigmatic doctor whom I insist on believing knows more than he shared with me of love for a woman, will I become spiritually dead and lose myself in this maelstrom of mindless violence? Surely then I will have failed.
Ah, Tiegli, old child woman, how beautiful you are. I remember what possessions meant to me and so many others on Old Earth in what now seems like a never-never time. Yet here you are, naked, bereft of family or friends, scarred, abused, battered, ignorant of most things taken for granted elsewhere, living in pain and your entire wealth lies but in your name. Yet it is a wealth beyond any imagined by those who have made fortunes betting on your skills, your sweat, your blood and your life. How did your leader baptize you? In whom, or what? Did they use their own blood? Was it in the name of some goddess of long ago through whom they keep in touch for a tiny bit of humanity, of sanity? Was it in the name of their unborn and dead children and equally dead dreams? Who will teach me about that goddess? How will I find her? How will I bring her back to empower your lives before everything is destroyed? ‘All in good time’ I hear my mind intoning. And my immediate reply is, ‘How will I find “good time” on this world, in this place?’
Finally I fall into a fitful sleep troubled by a dream in which a pack of hairy red demons chase white angels whom, upon being caught, vanish as mist. The demons gather together on a high dune with their empty hands raised and howl like wolves at the false sun that shines only darkness upon the desert. Blood drips from their mouths and their hate consumes them. They fall upon the red sand, writhing as if flames were devouring them from the inside. Vultures swoop down and proceed to tear at their still twitching bodies. Then only the dunes remain but the real sun does not rise above them – there is no morning. Eternal darkness reigns.
When I awake I am alone in the cage. Soon the gates open and guards and handlers watch as we file out to relieve ourselves, wash and eat. Tiegli the Undaunted; “The Crone” no longer exists for us, though by muted sounds from the arena we know the fighting is still taking place – and will probably until late in the day or for as long as the complement of female victims they have allocated lasts. And we will hear the screams of delight from the packed crowd when the last gladiator falls. But I know that these women never think of a fallen gladiator as dead. Only if you kill yourself are you considered dead.
No gladiator is ever dead as long as another takes her place in a line-up, and on this world that seems to stretch to the end of time itself.
[end blog post # 9]