Let's see... Where should I start... I know, a day I nearly forgot even happened from a life I barely remember anymore.
For as long as I could remember, I was alone. As far as I knew, even my parents were absent from my birth and the rats on the street raised me. I lived in a poor town that didn't know what to do with me, even if they cared.
I survived on handouts from a local church that acted as an orphanage with too many other children to count, but I managed to stay alive with what little they could give. The orphanage was where I slept, but that's all I did there. That was until the church and orphanage burned down.
Since I was never a brave kid, in fact, I was a coward, even if stealing crossed my mind, I would never act on it even if I was hungry, but a week after the fire, I was starving. I watched other orphans steal and either get away or get caught. While I admired their bravery and willingness to brave the steep consequences, I could never do it myself and since I was always quiet and anti-social, I had no one willing to do it for me.
I spent a few days around the market looking for someone I could steal from but never acted on it once I saw an opportunity. Even approaching the shops was daunting, let alone taking anything even from one of the unsuspecting patrons. In the end, I'd always end up approaching someone upfront and begging for food even though it never worked. No one had anything to give to a hungry orphan in a starving town. Remnants of scraps were all I could come by.
Eventually, between the grumbling and pain in my stomach, I finally became blind to my fear and approached someone with some intent to steal.
It was a man in a long coat carrying a small bag of something that smelled edible. I reached for it as fast as I could, but he was faster and caught my hand. Before I knew it, he was holding me in the air by the back of my neck like a stray cat and demanding to know who I belonged to. One of the shop owners nearby told him I was an orphan and he looked at me with a mix of disgust and curiosity. I just looked at him with apathetic eyes, blinded by starvation.
"I'll take it," said the man.
I didn't even have the mind to object as he walked out of town with me still in his hand. No one bat an eye as he did so. No one had anything to gain from it.
"What is your name?" The man stopped just within the tree-line of the nearby forest before asking.
Barely understanding the question, I shook my head. I had no name.
"Understandable. Are you a boy or a girl?"
I looked at him listlessly and he proceeded to lift the tattered potato sack I wore as clothes and rummage through what little fabric clung to my skin underneath.
"Well, aren't you a brave little girl, stealing from a big, scary man. Aren't you scared of what could happen if you got caught?"
I simply nodded my head.
"Good, you should be."
The next thing I remember was crippling pain from everywhere and being pinned to a tree for a long time. That and being fed something that my starving body was all too eager to swallow.
I awoke sometime later in a cage on a carriage with shackles clasped around my neck, wrists, and ankles. This was something I only heard of up until then. I had fallen into the hands of human traffickers.
From then on, my life felt more like a fever dream than anything else. I was sold and traded from captor to captor. I was forced to do things that I forced myself to forget and things were done to me that only my body remembers to this day.
Every once in a while I'd see an open opportunity to escape and take it. Despite my cowardly disposition, when I was on the run was the only time I found bravery. After all, that was how I survived the church fire.
Since I was meek and a coward, I was seen obedient to a fault and that made most people lower their guard around me. Once I was on the run, I wouldn't stop no matter how hard I was pursued until I was caught and punished.
I somehow survived for more years than I cared to count. Far more than I thought I would. All in one piece, miraculously.
The last time I was on the run was after being sold to a rich family as a maid slave. One of many I had been sold to for what was likely pocket change to them. My first task as a maid of the house was to familiarize myself with the layout of the mansion I'd be captive in and so I did, making my way between the halls and taking note of any particularly open areas that led outside or seemingly hidden escape routes.
I was accompanied by another maid who had been there far before me and a swordsman in black who was a guard. Possibly the only guard. The Maid was explaining my duties and obligations, but I didn't pay her any mind. The guard, however, smelled faintly of blood and wore a cheerful smile. He walked behind us with a presence that made me feel like taking so much as a wrong step would make me lose that foot. He held all of my attention.
After a tour of what seemed like the entire mansion, they led me outside and around the courtyard. Between the blurred mix of greenery, concrete, and the occasional garden, I saw a field far off in the distance near a dense forest that was dotted with what looked like headstones. They were all standard square stones with no sight of the usual grand statues the wealthy were so fond of. That made me wonder who was buried there.
Eventually, I was led to a cellar below the manor from the outside. It looked more like a dungeon than anything with chains and shackles hanging from the walls. Streaks of blood stained a stone table in the center with open shackles strewn across it. This was nothing I haven't seen before, but also something I was not hoping to experience again.
The maid brought me to the table, turned, and held out her hands. "Give me your hands."
I did so and she unclasped my shackles before sitting them next to the rest.
"You won't need these as long as you are here. Just make sure you behave yourself because if you don't, we will visit this room again. Do you understand?"
I nodded my head.
"Good. What is your name?"
I shook my head.
"Mute, are you? I think that would make a suitable name. Mute."
Mute. That was a common name forced upon me by people who called themselves my master. At least the ones who cared to bother. I never cared what my name was but I wouldn't accept one from one of them. If I was going to accept a name, it'd be one I was ready to die with.
We returned to the courtyard and went back inside where I was given a maid's uniform to replace my tattered tunic and I was sent to work under the tutelage of a different maid. The presence of the guard wasn't far behind the whole time even though he wasn't there. The thought of him lingered in my mind. Why was he the only guard? Would running away even do anything aside from getting me strapped to a table and tortured? If there was really only one guard, that meant he was good at his job, but that also meant I only had to win over one person to help me get away.
After a few weeks of diligent work, I was finally allowed to work without supervision. I made sure I stayed as close to that guard as I could as much as I could to make sure I knew where he was at least some of the time but also making sure I was away from him for long periods of time in case he got suspicious.
In my cowardice, I made no attempt to convince the man onto my side and instead, looked for an opportunity to make an escape on my own. That opportunity came on the night of a new moon. The sky was dark and storm clouds suffocated the stars.
That day, I was overworked since the lord of the house and his wife went on a trip and took half of the staff with him. Their grown children were still around so the rest that stayed behind still had to perform the same arduous tasks forced upon us from the start while picking up extra duties from the maids that were missing. I had fallen asleep by one of the many side entrances and awoke in the dark. No one seemed to pay me any mind and left me alone.
I slowly swept my vision across my surroundings and after confirming the distinct lack of presence, I took a deep breath and made for the woods. This was the perfect scenario that I only dreamed of. No one would notice I was gone for at least a night and I could get far enough to claim my freedom.
I held my breath as if I was underwater swimming to an unreachable surface. If there was any time to not mess up, it was when my freedom was handed to me on a silver platter. Branches whipped by and snagged against my clothes, but instead of pulling free, I carefully maneuvered around them as best I could to avoid leaving a trail of tattered clothing.
At some point, I noticed that I could no longer see the vague silhouettes of the trees, but the darkness still stretched onward. Now more confident in the distance put between me and my prison, I took another breath and ran straight into a wall.
My head bounced off a rocky surface and I fell to the ground as I looked up at a cliff that only looked like a blank canvas of black until I could see the faint grey of the dark clouds overhead. Rain was coming soon. It would erase my tracks, but it would have meant nothing if I couldn't get farther away.
"And she escapes, quiet as a mouse. Is that what you were trying to do?"
I hopped from the ground in surprise and saw the lone swordsman by the tree line with a lantern in his hand. Undaunted in my state of bravery, I balled up my fists and raised them.
"Oh, willing to put up a fight, huh?" He placed his lantern down and drew his sword. "Alright, you have a choice here." His blade gleamed orange from the lamplight. "Either you can come back with me and nobody knows about this or I can kill you here and now. Either way, you don't suffer."
I had been given this ultimatum many times before, but unlike many before, he seemed genuine despite his perpetual smile. A smile that also seemed all too genuine.
My knuckles popped from how hard I clenched my fists. I gritted my teeth, stared him straight in the eye, and said, "Kill me," accepting the possibility and hoping to spare myself from a much worse life. One I already lived, torture or not.
"Well said." As soon as his words reached my ears, he became engulfed in brilliant flames that leaped from him in all directions like a sunset, creating a deafening roar and a pressure that nearly pushed me back. "I feel your passion and I accept this responsibility." He turned his wrists and pointed the tip of his blade directly at me. "Before you die, tell me your real name. I'll put it on your gravestone."
My mind flashed back to the cemetery I often saw from the courtyard. Were they all slaves he spared with his blade? Was he really so compassionate unlike so many? Was that why he could smile the way he did?
"I don't have one." Never dropping my stance, I tensed my legs and shifted my weight, ready to run.
"I see." The blaze surrounding him condensed until it looked like a thin veil cloaking him in light. "The candle that burns brightest, burns the hottest fastest." The flame disappeared and suddenly, it was daytime. "I'll see you in nirvana."
His legs barely shifted and I knew I couldn't run from him as the sky grew brighter.
My hands dropped and my mind cleared. This really would be the end of me, but at least it'd be the end. His words replayed in my mind and I settled on a thought. "That would be a nice name. Nirvana. That's the name I'll die with. I like it."
Merci pour la lecture!
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