Before the Lakti betrayal,
And their swords clashing,
And their flaming arrows flying,
And their siege engines rolling,
The Bamarre built the cities--
Our towers upheld the sky,
Flutes day and night playing,
Wind’s whisper praising.
The sun’s eye opened wide.
MANY YEARS BEFORE I penned these lines, Lady Klausine leaned over my little bed. I was just a year old and asleep.
"Her name is Peregrine?" Lady Klausine shifted the green tassel on my baby cap, which had hidden half my face. "A long appellation--"
"It’s because she’s always moving"--my mother squeezed her hands together--"peregrinating. So,begging your pardon, we call her Peregrine--Perry."
"I wonder you didn’t name her Hair, she has so much."
Lady Klausine’s Lakti guard, her Lakti maid, my father, my mother, and even my sister laughed dutifully. My parents’ and my sister’s green tassels swayed, the tassels we had to wear to mark us as Bamarre.
"Do you think her hair will stay that color?"
My hair was and is a shade between auburn and black, although my parents had locks the dark brown of damp earth, and my sister’s hair is the tan of old parchment. The three of them had curls, but my hair has always been as straight as silk thread.
My father squinted. "The red may fade."
"Have you more children?"
"Only Annet." My mother pointed her chin at my sister, who was nine years old, small for her age, and painfully thin.
"How unfortunate no other relative was here to warn the goodman against foolhardiness." Lady Klausine fell silent.
Years later, I speculated about this quiet moment. Did she decide then, or earlier, as soon as my father stammered out his reason for stealing from her garden?
Would she have wanted any child? Or did my small fingers wrap themselves around her longing? Perhaps my curling eyelashes fanned her desire.
Or did my hair, as straight as hers, and the firm set of my mouth suggest a resemblance between us? Practical considerations always weighed heavily with her.
She ended the silence. "Soon you and your goodwife will leave town. I’ll find a place for the two of you, but your daughters I will keep. The elder will--"
"My baby!" my mother cried.
My father pressed his body between Lady Klausine and my bed, but the guard tugged him away and held him.
My mother wailed and called vainly for a fairy to come to our aid. My sister clung to her mama.
I rolled over and burrowed deeper into my dreams. Finally, my mother ceased screaming and my father stopped struggling. They couldn’t have succeeded in keeping us. Power was all with the Lakti.
Lady Klausine continued. "I suppose the sister is not given to peregrinating?"
My father shook his head. Annet was as steady as a good donkey.
"She will be her sister’s nursemaid. Hers will be a better life than you could have reasonably expected."
No one answered. Lady Klausine couldn’t guess what a Bamarre father wishes for his child.
She lifted me out of my bed. "Good night, Goodman, Goodwife. Rejoice that it did not go worse for you. Come, Annet."
My sister balked.
"Move, girl." The guard took her elbow.
She shook him off. Our mother whispered into her hair, "Please care for Perry as I would."
She didn’t say, Love Perry as I would. Perhaps she knew not to demand the impossible.
Lady Klausine carried me through the iron gate, which my father had climbed to commit his crime, down the torch-lit cobbled garden path, through a long castle corridor, to the empty nursery. I didn’t waken. Despite the purloined fruit I’d been fed, I was a scrawny thing and mustn’t have been heavy--but had I weighed as much as a young ox, Lady Klausine would have managed. The Lakti, as I learned again and again, were strong and resolute.
Annet followed with the guard and the maid. In the nursery, Lady Klausine lowered me into a gilded crib that had been kept ready for fifteen years. Its linen sheets were fine and clean, but the mattress was as thin as my old one had been and the blanket no warmer. Lakti children enjoyed the trappings of wealth but not the comforts.
I didn’t whimper, merely continued my sleep.
Lady Klausine smiled her serious smile. "Peregrine is a Lakti in nature if not birth." She dismissed her guard and, in a low voice, gave instructions to her maid, who left also. When both were gone, she bade Annet attend her at the window alcove.
"If she isn’t supplanted by children of my body"-- Lady Klausine still harbored hope--"and if she proves herself worthy, your sister will be our heir. If you prove worthy, too, you will stay at her side after she no longer needs a nursemaid. You’ll be as safe and secure as a Bamarre may be."
Either the light was too low for Lady Klausine to make out Annet’s expression or my sister hadn’t yet perfected her sneer.
"You must never tell Peregrine or anyone else she was born a Bamarre. Never, or you both will suffer. Be kind, but do not coddle her."
The maid returned with a bundle. Lady Klausine herself replaced my threadbare diaper with new cloth, slipped a linen baby gown on me, and exchanged my cap with its green tassel for a bonnet. She must have been gentle, because, half-awake, I accepted her hands without complaint.
She straightened. "I’ve posted guards at the door and window. I expect my daughter to be well in the morning and you in attendance." She swept out, followed by the maid.
My sister stood over my crib. She must have hated me. Our father wouldn’t have stolen from the castle garden if not for me. An older child can go without, but a baby has to eat.
Annet would soon find mothering and fathering among the castle servants, most of whom were Bamarre. That night, however, she had no comfort. I imagine she wept, and her tears woke me and started me wailing. When she finally picked me up, I doubt I got much solace from her arms.