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Kristen Windfall


Shion
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“There are no saints in the world. We invent them as distractions from our heart’s pain, which must be dealt with, by gun, by blade, and cold, dead tears.”

~Writings and Essays By: Kristen Windfall

 

The cottage was bare in the eyes of most. Kristen did not know why it surprised the po-lice officer, or the temple appointed reporter, who had just left. Her father had been a zealot, even amongst paladins, and in some degree stricter than the priests of his Order, the followers of Vallia, god of justice. Yet, the tall, broad officer of the Eastern Republic Police Force kept glanc-ing about the one main room of the cottage as if riches may be buried in the walls, because how could anyone live like this, especially with a child?

 

Yet, to Kristen Windfall, this was all she had known of personal wealth. They had lived isolated on a fifty acre organic farm, which everyone called gardens. She and her father tended all of it, letting only a third of the grounds lie fallow, with the barest of technology. Only during the Harvests would the government workers come and reap the rewards of her labors. Their land was some of the most profitable in the south province of Greenstar (one of eight in the Eastern Republic), but it did naught, except a one percent portion, line the pockets of the clergy of Vallia. The possessions of her and her father were very few. There was a wooden bench, which when not in use she pushed against the far wall. There were two fires, the hearth in the main room, which now crackled low, and one in her father’s room, which lie empty, except for ashes. (She knew the priests intended to sweep up the ashes as soon as they arrived, consecrate them, and later auction them off as relics of a ‘saint’ upon Summer Solstice). She had opened the three windows in the main room to let the warm, spring air move the heat of the fire out of the cottage. Over the hearth was the plank they had used as a table for as long as Kristen could remember. A white, threadbare cloth rested, folded upon the top of the plank. She had stowed away the one kettle, two bread pans, and one frying pan, away in the tall cupboard by her father’s bedroom door. Opposite of that cupboard was the small hallway that split one way (the right) down into the cellar and the other went to the back patio, where she washed, every morning. Fortunately, the compost toilet, was in a small room off her father’s bedroom, and the two times of day she was allowed to use it was the only time she was allowed to walk through his small, bare bedroom to use it.

 

“We’re sorry, miss, but your father died this morning, 9:11 am near the old granaries. If he had failed, the whole town would have been without food for a month, until Leader could re-route supplies from the east. He took out all the monsters, though, but the explosions killed him,” explained the Easter Republic Officer. Repeating facts she had already heard gave him a purpose while he waited. He looked very uncomfortable in what he perceived as a shack with a demurred, adolescent girl, whose body already spoke of long hours of labor.

 

She was not emaciated, but her arms were muscular, her hands bore harder calluses than the forty-something man in front of her, and her plain olive toned face seemed used to long si-lence and little joy. She wore a plain brown skirt and a tunic of faded dark blue. Her dark hair was pulled back, braided and coiled into a neat bun that an afternoon of working in the gardens still had not pulled loose. Nothing of beauty or worth adorned her, not even spring flowers, Shit kid, he thought, do you ever get out?

 

Kristen raised her dark blue eyes and met the gray eyes of the officer; he seemed to balk as she did this. She spoke, a hint of bitterness, in her tone, as if the only month she had ever known had been November, always on the verge of decay, of death, but finding no release in winter, “He died with honor then.”

 

This man could not fathom what that death meant to her. A part of her was cold, terribly cold: the shell of the man baring the title ‘father’ was vaporized, and yet, he took out all the evi-dence of her seven year hell with him. The black boxes, which had sat in the corner set aside for meditation, were gone. Only the fresh, white cloth for meditation practice for that week re-mained, folded neatly. Even the brown stained white cloth, he cut, stitched, and set aside for his seventh day flogging had been recently shipped to the High Priest of Vallia, for this like many others had become so soaked with his blood one could no longer distinguish its original color. This officer had not watched as every, at dawn, her ‘father’ would remove a silver rod from the black box. He would remove his shirt and then look at the tool with an anguished expression. He would demand that she watch, as he unwound the gold cord about it: the Flail of Truth and the Rod of Discipline. From dawn to dusk, he allowed the magic flail to tear, rip, and burn his flesh. At first, he would cringe, as blood sprayed or oozed over the cloth, down his back, eventually splattering against his face and hands, and then he would cry. His cries, raking sobbing cries, crescendoed into screams, “I’m sorry Kristen! I’m so sorry!” Yes, every week for seven years, she watched this, and towards the end of his maddened, religious frenzy he called out, “Sandra!”

 

Sandra Windfall had been her mother, although, she had never really known the woman. She had been told she died of illness shortly after her birth. Her father told her little else, only that she was a witch, and that she was dead, a wandering soul, for she never accepted the Twelve Tennets of Vallia.

 

“Would you like some tea,” she asked politely, her face placid, for she was a “good” reli-gious girl, Servant of Vallia.

 

He shook his head. Kristen remained by the wall, ten paces away from the officer.

 

“What do you plan to do? We checked the records. Your father unfortunately was your last living relative. Also you turn sixteen in less than a year, November 3, I believe. By law, it is your choice to either try and make it on your own or be fostered,” he explained.

 

She had not considered what she would do with her new found freedom. She was quiet for a while and then replied, “Vallia will provide.”

 

The officer looked even more uneasy. He shrugged, sighed and handed her a card, “If you change your mind, the Office of Orphan Placement can help, here’s the address.” He backed to-ward the door. He watched her as if he wanted her to cry, act normal, ask for help. Yet she only nodded and put the card in her skirt pocket.

 

He spoke, again, trying to provoke emotion of some sort from her, “of course, if you had the pretty penny, you could be one of Todd’s Lackeys,” he chuckled. She looked at him blankly. Who was Todd? “You know, up north, at that weird school.”

 

She let a small smile creep up her face, which said, I would never think of escaping that far. She could act normal enough to escape the psychological examination, which any officer of the law, teacher, or parent could enact on a minor if they appeared suicidal or a danger to others.

 

He peered out the window, next to the door, and said, “Well, the priests are here.” He moved towards the door again and added, “Miss Windfall, do take care of yourself, and if you need anything, you know where the Office is, in the village.”

 

“Of course,” she opened the door for him.

 

He bent down and whispered, “They usually pay well for the family of martyrs.”

 

She averted her eyes uncomfortably. He walked out. The priests of Vallia, in their long, white and gold satin robes approached. She stepped aside and bowed. Somehow, she focused enough to keep from retching. So many men invading the space she slept the place she had lived for fifteen years.

 

“Rise, Miss Windfall,” said Father Lawrence, “many be the Blessings of Vallia upon your name. We have come in his holy name to preserve the common, the forgotten, and the holy artifacts of Patrick Alexander Windfall’s life.”

 

Kristen bowed her head and let the priest and his acolyte pass. Two paladins of lower rank stood outside the door, cloaked in black, mourning her father’s death, a single white rose pinned above the left breast. A white rose was for purity, for holy death, and innocence.

 

“His room, Miss Windfall,” called Father Lawrence.

 

“This way Honored Servants,” she replied and led the balding, rotund priest to the only closed door in the cottage. She opened it, her hands shaking. The long sleeves of her tunic hid this from the gathered servants of Vallia. She stood aside and four acolytes and the priest went within.

 

No one noticed her, for she stood by that door modest, quiet, her eyes cast to the plain wooden floor. One by one her father’s possessions were wrapped in white satin and removed. The ashes from the fireplace, his clothing, and the contents of the nightstand she had never touched. One by one, it all went away.

 

The afternoon sun was setting. The cottage grew cold, yet, she would not turn her back to them to renew the hearth fire.

 

From underneath the bed one of the acolytes, a young man with a shaven head, drew forth a wooden box. Now, Kristen looked up, for she knew it was the one possession of her mother’s left inside their home. It was a box neither she nor her father could open. She knew he had tried to burn it several times, before finally putting it under his bed and commanding her never to go within his room, without him, while he lived.

 

“Stop,” commanded Father Lawrence, “leave that lie, a witch’s box from that heathen wife, no doubt.” Everyone looked Kristen as if she were walking excrement they were forced to shake hands with. “Have you gathered the rest?”

 

“Yes, Honored Father,” answered the acolytes.

 

“Then our holy work is done,” said the priest. They all bowed and exited the room. Yet the Father lingered and he caught Kristen with his piggy eyes. “His house was willed to Vallia’s Service. We will allow you to stay until more appropriate arrangements can be made.”

 

“I am sure those gardens will guild, well, the Halls of the Three Gods,” she replied with soft spoken piety, although her heart meant otherwise.

 

“Our esteemed, High Priest will come for you in two days. We all pray a decision comes to you in your hours of mourning,” said Father Lawrence, as he walked towards the door.

Kristen answered, “Vallia will provide.”

 

“Of course,” he said and left.

 

She closed the door on them and stood shakily in her own dark home. Patrick Alexander Windfall was dead. She had two days to decide where to go and what to do. She pulled out three faggots and built up the hearth. There was no sense in being miserly with the wood or the food. She would not need it in two days. The simple task of preparing food began to calm her of the shock of having so many males invade her space.

 

Yet as her knife worked through spring onions, the knife came down dully, she could feel her insides shake. Her shoulders hunched over as she fell to her knees weeping. After all the pain and misery he had inflicted on her, he managed to make her tears worthless, as well, for who could or should ever weep for such a monster. In her mind, she could see the blood and tear streaked face whimpering, “I’m sorry,” as much as, the on image she had retained of her father laughing on a fine summer day. She cried, until, her own reaction disgusted her beyond admon-ishment. No matter what happened in the days to come, she was free. She would be safe, thought, she was alone. Her ears would not have to strain to hear the creaking of the floorboards of his bedroom, foretelling the unsheathing of that silver rod and the press of his weight upon her.

 

She wiped her nose on her sleeve and came to her feet. She finished making dinner. She sat on the floor by the fire, the stew in its worn simple clay bowl upon her lap. She ate, slowly, but not very much. She felt drained. She poured it back into the pot, added some water, knocked down the fire, and put the lid over it. She washed out her dishes and pulled out her sleeping mat. She had blown out the candles and locked both doors, before lying down. Her eyes grew heavy, for it was so quiet, and the cool spring air had cleaned the cottage of the incense and the musky smell of men.

Slowly, she drifted into uneasy sleep. Uncertainty clouded all her dreams. Where to go? What to do? She did not know. She shifted under her blanket. Closed her eyes, again, another hour passed, and she woke way too warm for her bedding: the soft touch of another’s hand upon her arms, the sweet smell of honeysuckle in her hair, the brush of pink lips against hers, followed her into waking. She cast aside her blanket, her heart racing, her face flushed, and the lingering sting of shame. “To lust after one’s own sex does not serve the path of the righteous for courage, for strength, and for justice cannot be served by it. To submit to the pleasures of the flesh, while not serving the greater good, is to become a beast of the earth, shamed, desecrated flesh,” the quote from the Sutra of the Shadowed Valley, Chapter 10 verse 15 echoed in her mind.

 

She folded her blanket and her mat, placed them on the bottom shelf of the cupboard. She lit a candle and looked at the small clock on the western window sill, 3:30 am. She sighed. She did not feel like sleeping any longer. There was no sense in dreaming about what one can’t have.

 

Kristen built up the hearth fire and opened a jar of peaches, canned from last year. She ate well of the bean stew and canned peaches. She was very full, when she cleaned her dishes and the kettle. 5 AM, a pale light brimmed the horizon, in the east, she filled the tea kettle and placed it over the fire. She drank her cup of tea, before walking out to the back patio. She stripped and filled the bucket with cold, well water, using the hand crank. She doused herself several times, before she finally felt clean. She patted dry and put on her old clothes, for she needed to keep one set clean for the funeral.

 

Not knowing what else to do, for she had never known leisure, she grabbed the wheelbar-row from the tool shed, her tools, and the bags of pea seeds for the fields. She moved a large rock in a dry sandy corner of the shed; the lantern revealed her most treasured possession: her journal, a gift from Mrs. Ravenhair, a retired teacher who lived in the nearby village, Garden. Within its pages, she could truly think and express all her thoughts. She slipped the worn, tat-tered journal in her pocket, complete with pen. She returned to the wheelbarrow and began walk-ing down the wide muddy path to the pea garden.

 

Each section was grown in blocks of vegetables, grains, legumes, and fruits, patch worked all across the garden. Companion cropping kept the soil very healthy and Kristen had only known one bad harvest in all her life, when a late ice storm devastated most of Greenstar. Even then, they were able to make up for all the losses. She had started a new raspberry patch that year, which she had had to split three times since then. Today, she planted peas. Yesterday, she had planted leeks and onions. If the Temples sold the land to a new farmer, at least this would be done and if it were left to waste the deer, rabbits and other animals would love her. It was like Mrs. Ravenhair had said, “Hard work rarely goes to waste.”

Her gardens were a work of sweat and love. For she felt a deeper connection as her hands dug with spade or trowel, or mounded the dirt, planted the seeds, irrigated the fields, or pruned the perennial herbs. In the silence, one could almost make out the different songs of each plant as it climbed towards the warm sun. It was just silence to everyone else, the harvesters, her fa-ther…She shook her head of dark wavy hair. The morning breeze blew through the tresses, which ended at the swell of her back.

It was near 8 o’clock when she reached the freshly tilled ground fro the pea beds. She set down the wheelbarrow, pulled out a rake, and began loosening the settled moist earth for the planting. She moved down fifty feet and then up two or three feet, then down another fifty feet, until the fifty by fifty patch was completed, which took an hour. She then pulled out the heavy bag of green pea seeds. Within an hour, she had planted it, scattering the seeds in each little block, and then lightly covering them. She left this patch and tapped a rectangular, gray stone on the boarder of the bed and the path, three times. Water burbled up through the ground, soaked the seeds, and receded. Some nature magic even Vallia’s followers tolerated, if it affected their bel-lies and pocketbooks.

She planted seeds until eleven, when she walked back to the house for lunch. If it were not for the lightness of her heart, she would not have believed the memories of yesterday. During her lunch, about one, she scribbled down her thoughts. As she did so, she remembered the old box, still in her father’s room.

Kristen swallowed back her excitement and trepidation. She suddenly felt hollow and cold, as she walked into the bedroom. She knelt on the floor, at the far side of the bed, and pulled out the wooden box.

 

Her fingers touched the carved wood. Her heart went in her throat. She had tried to open it before, many times, and the last time, the reverse-bladed sword of her father, the Sword of Punishment, sprained her hands. She never touched the box since she turned eight. Now, she felt the treasured item. She pried open the lid, it released the seal.

Within lay a note, written on white paper with the letterhead of the Easter Republic School and Orphanage, in black, burgundy, and silver, she carefully lifted it from the box, which sat in her lap. Her eyes studied the etched tree in black overlaid by a silver star and sword, under these a ribbon of burgundy. Beneath the logo, the note was folded, she pulled it open to reveal two slips of paper, underneath it read in fine cursive:

 

My Dearest Daughter,

I am afraid; if you are reading this that I am dead. I would also assume that your father is dead, as well, or you survived sixteen years with him.

I give you, now, the only inheritance you are likely to receive, a good education. Go to the School and I can guarantee you will not be disappointed.

One slip is a train ticket, the other unlocks a full scholarship that my long hours of hard work have earned. If all is still well in the world trust Todd Wallace. He had a few peculiar habits, but he knows his way.

I must keep this brief, my work demands much of my time and my enemies are many.

With all My Heart’s Love:

Sandra Windfall,

Head Witch of the Eastern Republic School and Orphanage

Kristen refolded the note and picked up the two slips of paper. One indeed was a train ticket from the Capital to the Eastern Republic School and Orphanage. She knew this ticket was special, for it was embossed with the “timeless” seal, which made them terribly expensive. For it bought a seat to be taken at any time at a fixed price, essentially reserving a seat without a date, no matter had passed; the Republic Transit had to honor it.

 

She sighed. She lived twenty miles from Garden and Garden was a little over two hun-dred miles away from the Capital. She wondered if this was her father’s last laugh, if she would become a ward of the state or the temples.

 

Yet, her heart hardened and she thought, Not this time. If it takes me a whole month, I will walk there. It is the only way anything will change. She spent the rest of the day planning and packing away rations for the journey.

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