And It Was Good Part 2
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Now let us move ahead a bit, child, for I have no wish to exhaust your patience nor this night with an attempt at explaining every new sight and wonder as I encountered them. I will attempt to summarize it all in brief.
Try to imagine my people, my home, my way of life. Quite primitive by any standard, yes? Now imagine if you will, the reaction that such a girl from such a world would have when confronted by a city, a true city as vast, advanced, and beautiful as Memphis during the reign of the pharaohs, or Athens at the height of her power. Avenues of fitted stone tile, grand buildings of cut stone and mortared brick. Great walls plastered in azure, crimson, and black. People wearing fitted leather, chamois, even woven wool and cotton. Great cultivated fields, orchards, and vineyards that stretched as far as the eye could see. Flocks and herds of domesticated beasts grazing as thick as flies on rotting meat. Such was the city I was taken to, and such was to be my new home. For such was Enoch at the pinnacle of her greatness.
Yes, child - Enoch - the greatest city of the Kindred, commanded to rise from the fertile bed of the valley by Caine himself and ruled by the tribunal of his first childer. It was to this great city that I had been brought, along with many of my people, to become servants and slaves in the households of what seemed to us to be dark gods of the night. I am sure you can imagine what followed our arrival. We were meticulously washed and cleaned, purged of parasites and infection. We were examined and re-examined in more ways than you can imagine, and many of my companions disappeared during this process when they were found to possess imperfections that could not be remedied. In the end each of us was as perfect as we would ever be. Our hair was cut, offensive body and facial hair was shaved away, and we were painstakingly taught how to maintain our own hygiene, wear the clothing they provided, walk properly, and respond to commands.
I - who had never known any but the spoken language of my people - began to learn not only a new tongue, but a system of writing and counting as well. To follow orders and find one's way through the streets of Enoch it was necessary to have at least a limited grasp of both, and my teachers were relentless. I learned numbers and letters, and the strange sounds that accompanied both.
This transformation covered nearly three seasons before I was ready to enter the house of one of the masters. When my time came, there was but one last bit of preparation yet to completed before I was fully ready.
The year in your calendar was now 8226 BC, and I was one step closer to the woman I am now.
Chapter Two: Crèche
The barracks room that had become my home during the long months of my training was one of the few in the slave complex that had open windows. This abnormality facilitated our learning to sleep through the light of day, despite the sun shining through these openings, often directly into our faces. Our masters-to-be had no use for servants that yawned and dragged their feet from lethargy in the darkened hours, and we all learned to adjust to the nocturnal rhythm of our new home, though not always quickly.
I awoke a few minutes before nightfall, just early enough to enjoy the rose and peach hues of waning daylight as they faded from the walls of the room. I lay on my pallet of woven reeds and straw and contemplated the dying of the light. My mind was filled with new sights, new knowledge, and often felt as though it would split my skull and spill out from its confines, so overfull did it seem. I had come to relish these moments of quiet before the evening began, they gave me the opportunity to reflect on my lessons of the days prior and try to establish some manner of mental equilibrium, a balance between what had been, what now was, and what might come to be. As the light faded I turned my gaze to the remainder of the room, quietly watching as the thirty other women and girls I shared this accommodation with stirred and rose. I listened as they exchanged greetings, testing on one another their knowledge of the new language we were learning. None of them slipped and resorted to our native tongues, for this was not allowed and would be punished harshly. We were to speak in the language of this city, or none at all, and it seemed as though both our ethereal masters and our more earthly trainers had the ability to hear through stone and see through walls. No transgression ever failed to be punished, no matter how secretive it had been in its accomplishment.
I rose from my pallet and returned the greetings that were offered my way, prideful in my command of our master's speech. If this was to be my life, I was determined to make the best of it, and had learned quickly - often surpassing my companions as we learned language, counting, and even household duties using strange implements and devices. I moved into the loose queue that formed next to the bathing trough and washed myself carefully when it came to be my turn. We had been cautioned that out masters despised the animal stink that clung to our living bodies, and bathing had become the first ritual of our evenings. After I was certain I would remove skin if I scrubbed a moment longer, I dressed in the soft chamois poncho and skirt I had made for myself during our lessons in sewing. With my hair drawn back into a loose plait, and sandals on my feet, I fell into line with my comrades and filed from the barracks into the courtyard to meet our teachers for our evening meal and the beginning of our lessons for the night.
Prepared food was another novelty that we had come to enjoy, and to learn to prepare. Each night we were instructed in the art of cooking, and we ate our own creations - often reluctantly. We learned of plants whose leaves and seeds added unimaginable flavors to basic grains and meat. We were taught how to grind spices and flours, bake breads and simple pastries, concoct brews that would ferment into beer and spirits, and even the art of making wine. Tonight like every other we arranged ourselves along the courtyard table and set to work under the watchful eye and careful instruction of our teachers. Tonight we were learning to prepare river fish stuffed with exotic saffron, pungent cilantro and rice. Despite my captivity, I found these new experiences to be glorious, and I attended my teachers diligently as we prepared our evening meal.
We had just finished dining on the fruits of our labors - regretfully for some of us - when there came an unusual interruption to our evening routine. Our teachers called us from the table, gathering us in the center of the courtyard and commanding us to ready ourselves to be presented to one of the masters. With pounding hearts we clustered into a loose revue and assumed the posture we had been carefully taught - heads bowed and to one side, feet together, and arms at our sides with palms forward and open. It was a unique stance of submission and acceptance, a clear gesture to our masters denoting both our station and our readiness to serve. By now we knew, of course, that our masters were not men as we were - though they resembled us closely enough. We knew of their power and their appetites, and knew well to fear and worship them. We had been taught to call them 'Children of Caine', and we had been made well aware of the services they might expect of us. So to welcome one of their number we stood - eyes averted from their glory, throats and wrists bared in submissive offering.
I cannot speak for the other women present, but I know I could feel the approach of the master, though his footfalls made no sound my ears could detect. It was as if the very air compressed itself away from him, pressing coolly against my skin with greater urgency as he neared. I shivered as I felt him draw nearer still, moving through the group of women in which I stood until he was fairly inches from me. I dared not open my eyes and confirm my apprehension, but I feared that the aching silence would see me scream from anxiety if it endured for even a moment longer. When I felt cool fingers touch my chin, I started violently, and only barely managed to catch myself from drawing away at that inhuman touch. My head was slowly turned toward the master by an insistent pressure from those fingers, and I heard a soft voice quietly command me to open my eyes. I did so with reluctance, and found myself gazing into the face of the master I had seen that first night on the bridge. His liquid gray gaze held mine for a long moment, and I feared that the quivering in my body would shake my chin completely free of his delicate touch. The moment seemed to stretch into infinity before he broke the silence with a single whispered word. "Camar." In the language of the masters it was the word for wine, or anything that was reddened in a similar fashion. I realized in an instant that he was referring to the unique color of my eyes, and that perhaps this had been what had attracted his attention on the night of our first encounter. He held my gaze for a few seconds longer, then lowered his hand from my chin and stepped away, sparing a brief glance to my teachers as he commanded me with a slight gesture to follow him. Not a further word was spoken as I obediently fell into step behind him, leaving the courtyard of the servants' hostel for what would be the last time.
When we emerged into the street, we rejoined the master's retinue and took to the tiled avenue, I found myself surrounded by the master's servants - scribes, bearers, valets, and housekeepers. Nothing was said at first as the group moved through the streets in the master's wake, they hardly even looked at me as we walked. Each seemed intent on watching the master's back, waiting for the signal that would indicate he had need of their service or an errand for them to perform. We passed several cross-streets before the master paused in an intersection, and with a few minute gestures and soft words he sundered the group, scattering his retainers to various tasks and leaving me there in the street with him alone. Again he seemed to regard me for several moments, and I felt the shaking return to my knees and stomach. With so many servants already at his command, each of them obviously adept at their allotted tasks, I could find no reason for his interest in me - unless it was simply for the strange beauty of my eyes, and I had already heard rumors that such ephemeral interests often resulted in the removal of the enchanting feature as trinkets - usually fatally. Just as I was beginning to have visions of my eyes plucked from their sockets to adorn this master's mantle, he broke the silence once more - this time speaking directly to me. "I shall call you Camarina, for the beauty of your eyes." He informed me, his voice a silken breathe that seemed to carry clearly, not deigning to compete with the noises of the street despite its lack of volume. I felt my heart pound in my chest with the release of tension. I was sure this master would not go to the trouble of naming me if it was his intention to end my life. I nodded once quickly, the simple responsive gesture we had been taught to employ, showing that I had heard and understood. He smiled at me then, a soft and achingly beautiful gesture that seemed to strike me directly in the chest. My breathe caught and my pulse pounded in my ears as the night seemed to dim around us and he seemed to take on an unearthly radiance with that simple curve of his lips. In that instant I was sure I had never known beauty before this moment, I knew beyond any doubt that the rest of the world was a pale and ugly thing compared to the glory before me. As I stood transfixed and enraptured, he continued to speak, and although to this day I cannot remember the order of his words, I recall their gist. He told me his name - Adom, child of Enosh - and he told me that I would become a servant in his house. He told me that I was blessed by this decision, for I would be coming to serve in one of the most prestigious houses in all of Enoch. He told me that his sire was the king to whom all the city bent knee, and that I was fortunate beyond words to have been chosen in this way.
I believed every word, as though I had been born with this knowledge imprinted upon my soul.
Following this profound moment, Adom's speech returned to something more approaching normal, becoming far more easily recalled. It was as though he had consented to again traffic on a more mundane and less god-like plane. He began to walk once more as he spoke, gesturing me into place beside and just behind him, and he often turned to favor me with that deific smile as I followed him through the streets. He explained to me that my duties would be to serve as a handmaiden to his second childe - Alamaria - who also occupied his household. He told me I had been selected for more than the unique pigment in my eyes - that my facility and love for writing and counting would serve me well in his childe's employ, for she fashioned herself to be a scholar. To my surprise he bade me speak as we walked, asking me of my homeland and my people. It seemed to me that we wandered for hours, never quite making direct progress to anywhere in particular as we meandered through the twisting, glorious streets of the city. I also noticed during this aimless stroll that Adom would glance at me from time to time with what almost seemed like regret in his eyes, if I were to dare attribute such a mortal emotion to one such as he. When finally we stood at the gates of the magnificent dwelling that was his home, he paused and touched my cheek in a tender gesture. "You have a beautiful voice, Camarina." He murmured, and this time I was certain beyond doubt that there was a quality of sadness in his tone.
The great gates were opened for us by two husky servants, and we passed through into a serene courtyard that was a garden composed by the vision of a sculptor. Pathways of powdered stone wove between displays and carpets of flowering plants. Tamed brooks and streams intertwined the pathways and beds, gurgling over carefully placed stones and bubbling beneath our steps as we passed over low bridges. I was enraptured by the exquisite symmetry and beauty of the gardens, staring open-mouthed at the vast array of flora that had been carefully woven into a tapestry of scent and color. Adom paused often, patiently allowing me a few moments here or there to take in the splendor of the display. In truth I have often felt that such gracious allowances are the true mark of the powerful. The gardens came to an end finally, of course, and we passed through a tiled archway into the antechamber of the house proper. Adom's home was as luxuriant and beautiful as the gardens outside, but I was somewhat more accustomed to the wonders of Enochian architecture, and by consequence more readily able to keep my wits about me as we moved further into the house. Enough so that I noticed and began to be disturbed by a characteristic response among the servants we encountered. It seemed as though each member of the household staff that passed us by cast me a look of apprehension or even pity. As we moved through rooms and halls deeper and deeper into the house, I felt these glances building within me a sense of nameless foreboding. Each pair of eyes I met told me I had something to fear in this house, a dread fate that was perhaps unique to me, but known to everyone I encountered. It was not to be long before I learned the reason for this sense of doom.
Just as I began to question whether we would ever reach a termination of this grand and seemingly endless dwelling, Adom paused before a particular archway and nodded to the servant that stood beside it. The servant stepped through the dark curtain that cloaked the room beyond and disappeared from view, only to reappear a moment later and deferentially draw the curtain aside for us to enter. I meekly followed Adom into a sumptuous room wreathed in incense fumes so thick it gave the impression of a morning's fog captured between the walls. Oil lamps and braziers cast mysterious halos of light through the cloying atmosphere, and I found myself squinting at my feet in an attempt to be sure of where I placed each step. I failed to notice the figure that rose through the gloom ahead of us, and I started badly when a low and smooth female voice spoke almost directly in front of me. I looked up despite myself to see the speaker, and was presented with a woman as dark as Adom was pale. Her skin seemed to be the color of dry earth, and her almond-shaped eyes glowed amber like the gaze of a wolf. Her hair was long and braided so many times that it seemed as though a multitude of tiny ropes sprang from her scalp. Her features were sensual and full, with rounded cheekbones and heart-shaped lips. I found myself marveling at her strange beauty as she spoke - I had never seen a creature with features like Adom's, and now I discovered that there was even more diversity to be found in the seemingly ever-expanding world. She addressed Adom, of course, and with such speed and complexity that I could hardly follow more than a general sense of her words. Adom responded in kind, and I realized that my command of the masters' tongue was not as great as I had believed, for they fairly lost me in moments. It became clear to me that Adom's speech to me earlier had been careful and affording, even simplistic, as one would address a child. For all that I had learned, and for all my pride in my efforts, I stood in this room feeling the full crushing weight of my obvious ignorance. When Alamaria turned and spoke to me in grammar and words I could understand, the careful accommodation of her effort stung my ego like a lash. Her words were a simple and careless welcome, almost a ritual afterthought of aloof grace. She told me that I would be prepared and presented to her again before midnight, to be properly inducted into her service. With my pride still stinging from these revelations, I merely nodded, and found myself escorted from the room between two silent servants that refused to meet my eyes.
This silence persisted throughout the ritual of my preparation. Every effort I made at question or conversation was met with a mute look and refusal to respond. My apprehension and curiosity over this mysterious treatment grew as I was quickly prepared. Little did I know how soon I would have the answer I sought, or how little I would want the knowledge when it came. I was bathed again, first in water, and then in scented oils that left me wreathed in strange and exotic odors. My hair was cut again, the largest proportion of its length shorn away to match the fashion of Adom's household. The calluses were rigorously scrubbed from my hands and feet until I thought I would scream from the pain. Walking and the handling of objects became a torture for several days following this treatment until my palms and soles healed, though they were treated with soothing and softening oils this night and every night for those weeks. I was garbed in a short dress of deep blue trimmed in crimson, as I had seen all the female servants around me wearing, and before I had recovered fully from the whirlwind of preparation, I found myself limpingly escorted once more into the presence of my new mistress.
Alamaria sat at a wide table with many scrolls and implements of writing and counting arrayed around her on the oiled surface. The masters of Enoch had originated devices that far surpassed in complexity later mortal efforts such as the abacus, and the secrets of making parchment, vellum, and paper were each known and well-used within this city's confines. For a long moment my new mistress seemed to contemplate me, and I could not discern whether her eyes held scorn or boredom - or perhaps a mixture of both. After several minutes she drew to her one of the heavy scrolls of parchment and carefully unrolled it, revealing a series of letters and numbers arranged upon it much like an alphabet primer. She commanded me to trace my finger along the columns of symbols, and to stop when I encountered a glyph I did not recognize - thereby revealing to her the extent of my education. My ego was further abused when I was forced to stop my finger before even a quarter of the symbols had been passed. Somehow this did not seem to displease Alamaria, she even seemed to nod somewhat approvingly as she inspected where I had ended my tracery. Letting the scroll collapse back into its roll, she drew forth another and opened it to my inspection. This document seemed to be an illustration of some kind, though what it detailed with its blobs and lines of color mystified me - a fact I was forced to admit when my mistress asked me to nod if I recognized what this scroll and its purpose were. I stood dumbly as she waited, until finally she shook her head slightly in annoyance and let the scroll recoil itself, curtly explaining that the depiction was a 'map' and that I would learn its purpose in time. As I digested this bit of mystery, Alamaria stood from her seat and circled the table to stand before me, lifting a cloth from a covered platter near me as she did so. The removal of the cloth revealed a small empty bowl and a cup beside it, the cup filled with a liquid whose scent stung my nose and eyes as it drifted to me. Alamaria stroked my hair with a languid gesture, commenting that my shorn locks suited my face. Her fingertips came to rest on the back of my neck and she seemed to glide closer, somehow seemingly becoming taller in the process until I was forced to look up at her as she gazed down into my eyes, her body practically pressed against mine with its coolness palpable to my skin through the layers of my cotton dress and her chamois robe. She spoke quietly, almost lazily, as her other hand rose to caress my cheeks and lips. She told me I would advance my education as her servant, that in time I would fill the gaps in my knowledge with secrets of a kind I could never imagine. She told me that there were secrets within these walls that even other masters did not possess, and as she spoke her caresses became a firm grip on my chin, and I felt my heart constrict with panic. She told me that these other masters had many ways of gleaning these secrets if they were given the opportunity, but that she was loathe to provide them with any more avenues to uncover her mysteries than were absolutely necessary. I was shocked and confused when her words ended and she lowered her mouth to mine. I had never experienced a kiss before this moment, and although it was not unpleasant - its purpose was beyond me. I felt her arm encircle me and draw me tight to her, even as her hand held my chin firmly beneath the pressure of her lips to mine. My confusion increased as I felt her cool tongue press between my lips, probing into my mouth and teasing my own. With little guidance save her actions, and even less desire to behave wrongly or arouse her anger, I attempted to respond in kind and match her strange movements with my own. When her deep kiss teased my tongue from my mouth to hers, I followed as best I could, trying to discern her desires and meet them adequately.
This intimate gesture remained pleasant for a few seconds longer - enough that I began to warm to the new experience - before I felt Alamaria suddenly pull my tongue deeper into her mouth with a painful force that could not be denied, and I felt her teeth seize upon that precious organ of speech. She bit down as though snipping a tender leaf, and my eyes flew open as I felt my tongue severed easily. I found myself caught in her amber gaze as I tried to struggle from her implacable grip, trying to scream with a mouth no longer able to form coherent sound. She released me as I began to choke on my own blood, and turned to spit my tongue into the small bowl on the platter beside us. I fell to my knees moaning with pain and horror, my hands at my mouth as my blood poured onto the floor from between my lips. Alamaria lifted the cup from the platter and knelt beside me, pulling my head back by a grip in my hair and pressing the cup to my lips. She commanded me to drink, promising me that the potion would end the blood and pain if I complied. Despite my terror and pain, her voice held a subtle note that forced me to obey, and I drank the numbing liquid, feeling it deaden my mouth even as its fumes burned through my nose. Alamaria offered me the cloth that had covered the tray, telling me to clean myself, and warned me as she stood that I would end my first night in this house with a beating if I fainted or vomited on her floor, or did anything else other than follow her directions to the letter. With tears pouring down my cheeks and trembling hands I accepted the cloth and meekly began to wipe my own blood from my face and hands, fearing that gaining that beating might be beyond my control. It came to me then what all the mysteries of the evening had meant - why Adom had seemed to speak of my lovely voice with sadness in his, why the servants looked at me as one condemned. They had all known what fate lay before me, known and kept their silence. As I endeavored to make myself presentable again, my mind staggering under the horror and betrayal of the moment passed, Alamaria returned to her seat with a small smile playing about her lips. Unrolling the scroll with the columns of glyphs once more, she used the bowl that held my severed tongue to weight down one corner, smiling up at me as her finger descended upon the first symbol that I had shown to be meaningless to me. I felt my stomach turn at the warmth in her voice and gaze, her appearance betraying nothing of the terrible act she had just perpetrated upon me - as though this vicious maiming bore no relevance to her conscience whatsoever. I learned in that moment a great secret about the Children of Caine, a secret that would take me centuries to unravel in its entirety, but that hinted even in that moment at the essential natures of these masters of the night.
"Now, child. Let us begin your education." She invited.
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