Until There Was Nothing Left To Cut

Slowly, lock by tumbling lock, she let her hair glide down her shoulders. Rich, black, mane-like, it snuck its snarly bristles into her bare chest and into the raw shin of her back.

Inside the locked, shuttered, mirrorless store-room, with shrouded caskets on every side of her, she shrank still, shrank instinctively within herself as she stepped out of the black frock with its one white frill on the collar.

She knelt upon the faded black cotton, the razor blade a silver glimmer in her pudgy fingers. There ought to have been some pathos to this moment, she thought desperately, some thrill, some deep overwhelming emotion …

When Slumber took the first few strands of hair and yanked them until her head throbbed right down to her left temple and she could feel the pores of her skin ready to pop. She laid the razor against the root of the pain and struck it away. And the cool hardness of the metal was a balm to her keening new-shorn flesh.

She watched the first few strands slide off her thighs and coil up on the black cotton frock with one end swathing the white frill … And then her shingled hair began to fall around her thick and fast, like a cloud reminded of its destiny by the first plopping drop of rain.

Now she was panting a little with the pain, and her eyes glittered cruelly, feverishly. With every strand of hair she hacked off, the desperate triumph in her eyes was stoked to a blaze again.

Until there was nothing left to cut. The hair down her neck was not hers any longer: merely an irritant to be jerked off. The rush of about her weightless head, bobbing on her neck like a child’s balloon at the end of a thread made her look down suddenly at the sliver of steel in her bloodless fingers; and as the pain in her sore skin subsided, she began for the first time to survey the dark maelstrom about and upon her with the beginnings of panic.

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Winter

The rich, ripe corn spilled out of its austere sheaves, the bright yellow cobs brushing gently along the shoulders of all who trod the narrow cart-road. They stretched away to the Eyrlyndyne in a myriad waving, whispering rows, simmering green and glorious gold. Scare-crows leered in vain. Upon their straw-heads, their stick-arms, their stump-legs – nay, even in the malignant eye-sockets and the crooked mouth the indomitable chirpers fluttered, pecking complacently at the spoils of their latest foray. At every thud and rustle they rose cackling and squawking and shrilling their outrage …It was lilting and swaying and rippling in the sun, like harps and bird-song and river-music, wrapt in one long sea of love and light.

Slowly, reluctantly, the crimson sun sank behind the snow clad peaks, darkening the world. Night stripped its fire, layer after layer, from the snow-hardened peaks of the mountains, from the mellower slopes coaxed into terraces, from the roaring river. Ripple by ripple, they faded, leaving their voices behind to haunt the new world beneath the velvet-mantled sky. The rhythmic whisper of the trees persisted, and the clamour of the water as it dashed itself again and again on stubborn rock. Diamonds scattered upon the black cloak of the night, the stars began to sparkle boldly, lighting the last of the flocking birds home.

High, beyond the ken of the Kani, the skies of the Ves ni Talori began to fret and rumble. Too long had they smiled upon the eager mountains straining every nerve to mingle with them, the lush valleys sparkling and radiant, the raucous river – they were astir now, and wrathful. Virgin snow effaced rock and tree, cave and shelter, erased brown and green and grey, leaving behind an unsmudged mantle of white. The Valuné found its pettish plaints choked under the onslaught, found its leaping and bounding waters stunned to still hard ice. The skies thundered and roared, launching their fury upon the cowering world.

To Caledorne, safe upon its broad-bosomed, chuckling Eyrlyndyne, the few gusts that seeped past its twice-curtained fortress of hills brought the veriest chill, the first hint of sky-sheathing cloud. Moonlight danced in and out of the wind-ruffled trees, beckoning and alluring, turning the placid gardens and fluttering cornfields into a forest of mystery where shadows and half-shadows chased each other in a sinuous, serpentine dance.