This is in response to the Cheeky Monkey 10 minute challenge. Set before the events of Eyes of a Stranger, when Ashara is sixteen years old and has been First of her Clan for barely a year.
Just an FYI, in case this sort of thing bothers you: the story is rated M b/c of the implied rape. If you don't like that kind of thing, or don't want to read about it, then you might not want to read this. I just figured I'd give you a heads up.
She held the young girl tightly, as if by the force of her grip she could keep the child anchored here. Only fourteen years old, and already her brief life was near its end. No, I can't let that happen. Ashara felt tears threaten the corner of her eyes, but she roughly pushed them away. This girl had seen so much sadness in her short life, she didn't need to see it in death.
In the distance she could hear screams of pain from the small village, and had to force back the burning rage that tore up her throat. Good. Burn them. Kill them all. She wished she had the power to bottle their souls, to keep them trapped in a painful eternity, never to find peace. It mattered not that only a few were guilty. The rest had done nothing, had simply looked the other way while this girl, who had only seen fourteen summers was…no, she couldn't even bring herself to think it.
The girl's eyes struggled to open. Once they had been such a bright blue, twinkling with mischief and sparkling with laughter. Now they were shadowed by pain and confusion. She opened her mouth, as if to say something, but her breathing was coming through in harsh gasps. Ashara shook her head and put a hand to the girl's pale lips. "Shh, lethallan. Don't say anything, save your strength. We're going to heal you." But even as she said the words, she knew it was a lie. No magic could heal the girl. The shemlen had done too much damage.
Pulling the girl closer, she began to sing a half remembered lullaby from her childhood. She rocked the girl back and forth in her arms, holding onto her tightly so that she would know she was loved. But what good did it do, when the Clan had failed her?
After a time the song was finished, and Ashara slowly became aware of a soft croon, the whisper of a melody on the wind. She pressed a hand to the girl's chest, but couldn't feel the flutter of her heartbeat. She put her ear to the girl's nose, but couldn't hear her soft breathing. She was gone. Mythal was singing to Her daughter, lamenting the death of one of Her children. Falon'Din would guide His little sister to the Beyond, where she would know no suffering.
Ashara clutched the girl's bruised and broken body tightly as the tears she held back now poured from her eyes. She tried to hold back her sobs, but they choked forth. Why, why, why, why? She was an innocent; she had done nothing to deserve such a fate.
The screams from the burning village slowly quieted, and after a time Ashara heard soft footsteps approach her. She lifted her head to see her clan mates standing around her, each face contorted into a mask of hatred and agony. They had brought justice to those responsible, but the pain would linger. She saw Tamlen standing in front of the group, but didn't want to meet his eyes. He took one look at his younger sister, the little girl he had sworn to protect, and stuffed his fist into his mouth to silence his cries.
Ashara slowly stood up, gathering the girl into her arms. "Our lethallan has passed. We will take her to the Keeper, who will ensure that her journey is peaceful."
She led the slow procession back to camp, and behind her she heard soft keening from the women. She wanted to join in, to pitch herself forward, dissolve into tears and pour ashes over her hair. But if she crumbled in front of her Clan, who would they turn to for strength? This little girl had been beloved, each member felt her lose. So she led them in song. She couldn't bring herself to sing the song for uthenera, for this was not a natural death. So she sang the song that all mother's sang to their children.
"Hush now, my da'len;
Be still love, don't cry;
Sleep as you're rocked;
By my arms;
Sleep and remember;
My last lullaby;
So I'll be with you as you dream."
Her kinsmen took up the song behind her, singing to ease their pain over the loss of this da'len who had done nothing to deserve her fate. Ashara forced her sobs back, the girl needed prayer and peace if she was to have an easy journey to the Beyond.
But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't banish her thoughts. As long as I live, I will never forgive this. Mythal have mercy on their souls, for I have none.
lethallan - familiar term for kinsmen (used for female)
shemlen - insulting name for humans
Mythal - Goddess of Protection; Mother of the Creators
Falon'Din - Friend and Guide of the Dead
uthenera - waking sleep; used now as a song for those who pass away
da'len - little child
The song that Ashara sings is taken from the lullaby Moses' mother sings to him in the movie Prince of Egypt. That song always struck me as such a heartbreaking song, and I thought of it while I was writing this. Obviously I changed it a little bit to make it fit, but it's still a powerful song, in my opinion.