Authors: Janeal Falor
MINE TO TARNISH
A Mine Prequel Novella
Copyright © 2013 Janeal Falor
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was never expected to marry well, as I wasn’t bred to have large quantities of magic in my blood. Yet my testing changed that. There was more magic than expected, and I was quickly sold off to a high-paying warlock.
It’s been the source of gossip all morning, and since the class matron is being reprimanded by the chaperone, my classmates can finally overwhelm me.
Have you been introduced?” the closest girl asks, the others leaning closer.
He didn’t deem it necessary.” I wish he would have, if only so I could gauge how cruel a warlock my new owner is.
What do you know of him, other than he's from another city?”
Nothing.” Unfortunately, I’ll discover more soon enough. In a short week, I’ll be engaged to him, followed by a wedding a month later.
Girls,” the class matron calls out, shrill as ever. “Enough chatter. Sit up straight and don’t speak. A woman is always proper.”
We promptly comply, not wanting the wrath of this short, angular woman brought upon us. Punishments from her cane are as sharp as she is, though I usually manage to avoid them. My back complains about not being able to relax, but it’s a feeling I’m accustomed to, even if I don’t care for it. Thankfully, mother isn’t strict about the Canon when we’re alone, so I only need conform at class and around Father.
“On what page and paragraph is that rule located?” she prompts.
Rules. It's all we learn about day after day. The Woman's Canon is engrained into us. Even so, I've never been able to memorize it like a woman should. Since it's the only thing we're allowed to read, I just don't bother unless I have to. Of course it's become the biggest reason I will never excel at class.
Clarissa raises her hand. “One hundred and seventy-two, paragraph three.”
The matron lifts an eyebrow, the only feedback she ever gives for a correct answer, which leaves us feeling more like it was the wrong answer. Of course, wrong answers are punished, so there’s little doubt. “The warlocks will be here shortly. There will be no misbehaving. While you wait, think on how you can improve your worth as a potential bride.”
As if there’s a way. No matter how strictly we follow the Canon, we can’t control how much magic is in our blood.
At that moment, the warlock chaperone begins snoring. My lips twitch, but I manage to hold in a laugh. I suppose the matron’s lecturing bores him as well. The matron looks as if she wants to take her cane to him, but she just stands there, waiting with perfect posture at the front of the room.
It’s always a guess as to when, exactly, the warlocks will arrive. Sometimes they don’t even attend, though usually at least one or two from lower-class families make an appearance. It’s one of the few opportunities they’ll have to prove themselves in helping train us how to behave around warlocks. Others with greater magical status and money occasionally come to decide if they would like to make one of us their future wives. At least that’s what they say. It feels as if they come to tease and torture.
I wait in silence, with my stiff back and aching head. The room is so hot, it feels as if my face paint will melt off. The couches on the other side of the room, where we go when the warlocks are present, are always the most enticing during this part of class. Truthfully, they’re inviting any time during the week, except when the warlocks demand we join them there. Our wooden chairs are not meant for the hours of sitting required of us.
About ten minutes later, the young men trickle in, gangly yet strutting. My back goes stiffer and my head aches more. Thankfully, none choose me, opting to sit with other girls. I’m not certain I would treat them as propriety demands in my current mood. Being sold has me jittery and somehow more agitated with society’s ways.
The other girls do well at keeping their gazes lowered while I can’t help but be naughty and sneak peeks. The conversation in the room is flat at first, the tenors of males somewhere between the ages of ten and twenty drifting about, but once their questions give permission for the girls to reply, chatter swarms the room.
It also means the lack of attention doesn’t last. My name is bandied about like leftover scraps of cloth. The girls vainly try to suppress giggles behind gloved hands as the warlocks lead them to me. The class matron won’t correct their behavior until after the boys depart, for which I’m usually grateful. Now I wish someone would hush them. Surely they’ve gossiped enough about me. Why can’t they leave me be? I keep my frustration bottled and lower my eyes.
Heard you’ve got a new owner,” Elton says. He’s a poor warlock with thin clothing and a thick eyebrow, always the one to poke, prod, and torture us the most.
Just relax. Becoming upset over something standard helps nothing. “I do.”
He and the other warlocks laugh, the girls behind them giggle. Why is it humorous to be bought and sold? I’m not a sofa or chair or common lamp. I may be female with no means to use the magic I carry, yet I’m still capable of thought. Just because I was born a woman and they were born men capable of using the magic in their blood doesn’t give them a right to treat me such.
Mother’s warning to keep these sorts of opinions to myself echoes in my head, especially the thoughts she in part helped place there. A few deep breaths later, I’m not any calmer. The angry words tumble from me. “You would never have gone for as high of a price as I did if you were a woman.”
Elton grabs my arm hard enough to leave a bruise and leans over until his face is directly in front of mine. “Did you just compare me to a woman?”
I grit my teeth as panic ebbs through me. Should have listened to mother. I shake my head.
“No, it sounded as if you compared me to a woman.” He turns toward the group, the girls no longer laughing. The boys leer with anticipation. “Did anyone else hear, or am I mistaken?”
Oh no, you heard her right,” one of the boys replies.
Just as I thought.” He yanks my head up by my chin. I keep my eyes lowered while attempting to pull away, but his grip is too tight. He makes a strange sound, something between a growl and a gurgle. I pull harder but before I can escape, he spits straight at my face.
The wet glob hits my cheek with a splat.
I can’t breathe. I can’t move. I can’t do anything as the spit runs down my face. Everyone laughs as I hold my emotions in. It takes everything in me, every bit of mother’s cautioning, every sense of the consequences, every speck of willpower, to remain passive.
Once the laughter dies off, Elton shoves me. I crash against the wall, pain shooting up my backside as his words fly at me. “Don’t ever do that again.”
The amusement over, they pull some girls back to their cushy chairs to entertain them while other girls are sent for refreshment or asked to fan them. Things I’ve done hundreds of times yet it seems extra vile at this moment as I slouch against the wall, bruised, with spit dripping down my face.
The class matron hurries over, but I ignore her as long as possible. I take the sleeve of my dress and scrub my face. I can’t bring myself to care that the paint must be getting smeared. The slime tainting my dress is overpowering. Perhaps I can cut off the sleeve and sew on another. There may be some material in the scrap pile left from when I made this dress. Sewing a sleeve on is simple enough. Thoughts on how to do it are more effective than the calming breaths, at least until I realize the class matron’s knuckles are white from gripping the cane so tightly. Haven’t I been punished enough?
“Get off the floor this instant.”
Don’t speak. Get up and come with me.”
The others are too focused on themselves to pay attention to us. It’s just as well. They already have enough gossip about me. I follow, focusing my thoughts on how to fix my dress.
Once we are by the door, no longer within hearing distance of the others, she says, “You will not embarrass our class further with your behavior. Your actions will be reported to your Father. For your sake, I hope he doesn’t report them to your new owner. I’d hate to see you tarnished before you’re even engaged.”
As if she really cares. Though a tarnished life may not be so terrible. No matter others say the tarnished are less than shadows. No matter they are spelled to be bald and barren with tattoos swirled and sliced across their faces. No matter society thinks they are nothing.
Tilda was most certainly a tarnished, yet as kind and caring as mother. I miss her. Of course, despite the kindness, I don't want to be forced into that life, even if it's not as bad as others believe it to be. My life already feels like I'm just a shadow. How much worse would it be if I was less than one?
As if the matron can hear my thoughts, she pulls out her cane. “Turn around.”
Dread creeps through me as I slowly comply, knowing that to disobey will make the punishment more severe. This is not a good day, though after losing control, I should have expected it would come to this. When the cane whacks my back, I bite my lip against the pain. How many more lashes will she administer with the warlocks here? Probably more than the usual ten.
Squeezing my eyes closed, I attempt to imagine a far off place. Somewhere warm and lovely and pain free. It never works, yet I still hope in vain that one day it will. This time though, I picture Tilda and mother. One of the few good memories I have of us all together. Father was out and left a male servant to watch over us. Mother convinced him to let us go on a picnic by a stream. I can still feel the fresh air playing across my face, but losing myself in a daydream shouldn’t happen when I’m being punished. Where is the next thrashing?
I glance over my shoulder. A tarnished I’ve never seen before is conversing with the matron. No sense letting the opportunity pass me by. I slide away from the corner, hoping to join the others and blend in with them so the matron will forget punishment is required.
Don’t even try,” her voice snaps, freezing me in place.
I glare at her.
“Come here,” the matron says.
I wish I hadn’t said anything to Elton. This is why I need to learn to follow mother’s advice and not speak my mind. I hate making her unhappy. And then I realize, soon there will be no making her happy or unhappy. Soon I’ll be in another town. If I’m lucky, my owner will let me see her on occasion. He’s never been to our town before though, so in truth, I may never see her again.
Class matron has been talking to me, but her words don’t break through the wall of pain building around me. Air is hard to breath. My sight is darkening. Why did mother not speak of our permanent parting? Why did I not think of it?
Hearing my name attached to my new owner’s wrenches me from my thoughts but isn't loud enough to attract the attention of others. I want to ignore her, ignore the use of my name attached to his, yet fear further repercussions if I do. “Yes, matron?”
“Did you hear anything this tarnished said?” She scowls at me. “Of course you didn’t. Always think you’re too good for the rest of us, disobeying rules and never listening when spoken to. I’ll be shocked if you’re not tarnished before the year is out.”
And then I can deliver messages here since you can never leave this place.”
Her hand flies toward me. Instead of flinching away, I thrust my cheek toward her. At the last moment, her swing widens, and her hand cracks against the tarnished. A red mark immediately shows on the tarnished’s pale face, between the dark tattoo lines. A red mark that should be mine.
The matron rubs her hand on her skirt as if just touching the tarnished contaminated her skin. She looks at me but points at the tarnished. “If your new owner wasn’t coming in a few minutes to inspect you, that would be you.”
Guilt consumes me as the matron hisses and stomps toward the still sleeping chaperone. It’s one thing to cause my own punishment, I've always felt it’s unpardonable to bring it upon another. The tarnished was simply doing as she was told, exactly as I should have been doing. Then the matron’s words sink in.
Nigel coming here? Inspecting me?
Trying not to think about meeting my new owner for the first time, I focus on the tarnished. Just saying simple words seems inadequate, but it’s all I have. “I’m sorry.”