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Brigit's Flame: October Week 3 ("teeth")

A Desert Ballad

She was a woman who moved like a child. When she came out of the desert that night, it was with shoulders hunched, a nervous smile, eyes pleading for succor.

She came for the caravan of the Shashigai. The storytelling clan were camped above Tuklos for a day and a night. Tomorrow they would leave this stretch of desert as windswept and empty as it had been the day before.

She had been watching the man for four moons now, every time her husband's caravan passed near his. Like all the Shashigai, he was a consummate tale teller. People flocked around his fire to hear the sound of his voice. They plied him with spiced meat and rare dried fruits. He accepted them with the grace of a man familiar with foreign luxuries. His skin was burnished brown darker than her own, his black hair cropped close. He traded banter with the men and tipped his leather hat to the women, but his wicked laugh made people shudder and glance nervously away from his glittering eyes.

He called thoughts in her she barely dared touch, of hunting and flame and wild races over moonlit sand. He could call the jiko, the spirits that threatened to possess her.



And so she denied her family and her husband and his jealous gossiping wives, and sent secret word to this Shashigai to meet her.

His name was Tjazev. He told her this as they paced each other up the cliff path, each watching the other out of the corner of their eyes. Now he faced her across a faded woven mat, all the fires of Tuklos spread far below them at the base of the cliff.

“Where are your teeth?” he asked.

Her breath caught. She wondered whether he meant what she hoped.

Without waiting for an answer, he reached into his bag and began pulling out leather-wrapped packages. He unwrapped the first and laid it on the mat between them. It was a bronze knife, its tip curved into a wicked point.

“It's beautiful,” she whispered.

He brought out another, this one iron-grey, with thin bands around the handle. Another, so tiny it could fit into the palm of her hand. Another, sharpened on both sides, the spidery imprint of the craftsman's mark tracing up the center of the blade.

She stilled her hands, knowing too well it was forbidden for her to touch.

He caught her wrist and placed one of the knives into her palm. Her fingers closed around the hilt. She had never touched a knife before that was meant to be used on something other than dinner meat.

You're holding it like you want to drop it,” he said.

She shook her head mutely, wishing she were alone so that she could hold it for real.

He guided her to test the blade, brushing her finger sideways across the edge. Sharp enough for easy blood. She felt it and then guiltily laid it back down.

Which one do you like?” he asked.

She reached out, tentative and then sure, and picked up the iron one. It was cold and heavy; the hilt fit perfectly inside the curve of her hand. She swallowed the desire to stand and flourish it, to plunge it into the sand as if to pin down the corner of the mat against the storm she felt in her heart.

He was watching her.

So would her sister wives, if anyone had followed her up here.

I have doubts about you,” he said. “You hold yourself back.”

No use trying to hide from someone who knew her. “Yes,” she said, then felt her throat close up. Shame filled her. Not like this. Not in front of him. She gestured helplessly, her words lost in panic.

Tjazev was a shadow, a pair of eyes stalking prey. “So say it another way.”

I have a way,” she said in a flat voice. “Now I just have to do it.”

Her body fought her with shame, as it always did, paralyzing her muscles. She slashed it aside, jerked her hand forward. The shame swept back in again. She should just do it, not waste time on this agonizing step-by-step dance.

She pulled a scrap of weaving from her own bag. She ducked her head as he traced its colored threads and decoded their meaning. Tan for the desert. Black for the demons, the speritu. Orange for the woman sitting alone, clawed hands grasping nothing. And green for the jiko who stood over her, knife bared.

They've been keeping me trapped. First my father and then my husband.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “They forbid me to change.”

You are stuck,” he said.

She sat staring out across the fires of Tuklos. But Tjazev braced his elbow on a boulder by the mat, palm up and out, an open invitation.

She turned, put her hand in his, and braced her own elbow. Her right fist was still clenched around the knife at her side.

They wrestled. She felt the strength of a forearm much thicker than hers. Physically, he was stronger, but she didn't like fake battles. “You're not trying,” she said to him.

He smoothly pushed her arm flat onto the rock.

So she couldn't have the luxury of an equal competition. But damned if she would let this moment pass. She focused through the strain and while he held back, pushed her arm upright again.

Use your teeth,” he told her, again and again, as she narrowed her eyes and schooled her face into stillness. “Use your teeth.” No telling how long it would last, but she was not going to stop. After a while, still bearing down against her shaking arm, he reached over with his free hand and turned the knife until the blade was facing up, right where his hand would come down.

She drank in that energy, poured it into her arm. Eventually he let her win. She could push down hard, cut his hand open on the razor edge. The blade sang to her. But she held herself in check.

They watched each other's eyes, wary in the moonlight.

What do you want?” he asked her again.

She could call the jiko, she thought, satisfy the hunger in the air. But it would be too easy. She wouldn't feel it. His silence gaped wide in front of her. She had to do something.

Stand up,” she told him.

He stood. “There. You see. I did it,” he said. “You told me to do it and I did it.”

Lost again, she watched him hand her a victory. She didn't want him to give in. She wanted him to fight her.

You know that you could kill me. That knife is sharp enough. I wouldn't even feel it.”

She stood without speaking, one part of her mind tracing the curve of his ribs, picking a spot, while the other noted the intensity of his desire. He would lead her by the hand into killing him – was this why he had accepted her call to meet him? He would lead her into power, yet keep all the power for himself.

She stepped forward, seized his arm with her free hand, and wrenched him sideways. Caught off balance, he stumbled, and they both went down hard into the sand. His fingers wrapped around her wrist with the knife, and they were grappling, sinew against sinew, the blade flashing a handsbreadth from their faces. His body was heavy and solid against hers. No chance there. She twisted away, rotating her wrist to bring pressure against his fingers. He let go only long enough to wrap his arms around her and bring his weight to bear against her scrambling resistance.

Still he was holding back. She knew, because she feinted, a quick darting movement well within his reach to stop her, but he did not. He snatched at her knife hand again, heedless of getting cut, so she guarded it for both of them as they fought, turning the edge away whenever it came close. He got his fingers around hers, prying them off the handle, as she squirmed and kicked him and tried to pull away.

The thought of losing it sapped her strength like poison. He took the knife from her and she sprawled on the sand, breathing hard, her hair hanging down around her face. Staring at him, watching him, gaging him – and thinking of all the times her husband had defeated her the same way. She didn't know what Tjazev wanted. Defeat meant that she was ready to be attacked, pinned, ordered. She had a rape contingency plan – call the jiko, let them possess her, until it didn't hurt – but the plan had fled her mind now. All she could think of was the picture that forced itself again and again into her awareness. The further she pushed herself, the stronger that image of curling up into a frozen ball, letting her mind go, letting him do as he liked with her.

She let it creep into her voice and escape in a small cry. He turned on her and she cringed. “Your teeth. They are yours,” he said. “Take them back.”

It broke the stillness. She leaped for the knife and bore down for real, no longer caring about the open blade. His hands slipped on her slick skin. They rolled towards the rocky edge. She got his left wrist in both hands, twisted it behind his back, pried his fingers one by one away from the hilt. He pushed back against her, hard, then – faltering. Her lips curled back from her teeth and she ripped the knife from his hand.

He was on his back beneath her. She grinned, quick and fierce.

A sudden wind plucked tangles of hair away from her face. She thought of what he would look like with blood running down his arms. He lay on his back with arms spread wide, his body daring her to do it. His words echoed. What do you want?

She ran the point of the knife down his forearm. One finger supported the weight of the handle; the blade tickled the hair but barely grazed the skin.

Press harder,” he breathed.

She did, felt through the knife the resistance of his skin. To her surprise, it didn't leave a visible mark. Only seconds later did tiny beads of blood well up. With eyes closed, he took slow deep breaths of night air.

She drew long strokes down his arm, along the curve of his shoulder and bicep. The sky was electric and she was calm.

As if knowing her mind, he tilted his head back, baring his throat. Smooth brown skin, tendrils of hair – she lowered the knife and ran its tip from the bottom of his ear to the hollow of his neck. It made a thin line, barely visible against his shadowed skin. Breath escaped his parted lips.

He pulled her down beside him and kissed her. She did not feel it. She spent a few moments watching his body against hers, observing the sensations of tongue and teeth, before she drew back. His eyes questioned her.

I don't want to,” she explained. “Not unless I can feel it.”

Babies die,” he said softly, “from what you are doing.” To herself, he meant. Creating the wall. “How long has it been since someone touched you?”

She thought of her husband and his tent. She thought of the boys before that. Then the sensation came to mind of her birthmate, long since left behind, hugging her like she meant it, hugging her like she was real. “Since I was young,” she said.

He reached for the lacing of her tunic, teasing it partway open.

She fumbled his fingers away, shame flooding through her. “It is ugly,” she whispered. “I have scars, sickness in my skin. It bleeds if you touch it.”

He touched a fingertip to her lips to silence her. “Please, show me?”

So she pulled her tunic open, bared the length of her sternum down to the dip where it met her belly. Clear night air pricked goosebumps across her chest. He traced a finger along the bone, gently across the scars and healing places that marked her chest. She breathed deep. He placed his palm flat between her breasts. His hand was amazingly steady, warm. A person couldn't fake that. And because he wasn't faking it, she could feel it. No desire to strike his hand away and hit him, to tear her skin open till it bled to stop the sensation. It felt good. It felt real.

She reached for his chest, and to her surprise felt him flinch away. He was afraid too. His body was heavy, round, not like the lean fighters who walked the paths of Tuklos and paced the caravans through bandit lands. Looking at him, it was hard to know the muscles that lay below the soft curves. She pressed her palm against the center of his chest. Electricity arced between them.

Kin,” she whispered, to the stranger who possessed her like jiko yet gave her teeth.

Her hand breathed fire to his heart as he answered, “Kin.”



Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
jimnightmare
Oct. 23rd, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC)
XD Ohly you could write knife fighting and make it sound like an actually romantic thing. Plz don't kill each other with knives, guys. I feel like I kind of suck at writing critique but I want to say that reading this was totally interesting with sort of knowing bits about both sides of the wall. And now I've got a lot of questions. Like who the heck is Tjazev? Is he the same as Wolf?
rephen
Oct. 24th, 2009 02:54 pm (UTC)
Oh, well woven. I really enjoy the knife-fighting, specially her overcoming her own uncertainty and questioning of his motives. Then she became strong and he very soft. Very beautifully written. I enjoyed reading it very much. Her dilemma of being trapped by her husband and her society structures also came across despite only hinted at. Well done. Very good work :).

Good luck at BF this week.
pyraxis
Oct. 24th, 2009 07:10 pm (UTC)
Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)
blythe025
Oct. 25th, 2009 07:22 pm (UTC)
There's a lot of nuance to this. And the knife fighting is quick paced and believable. Well done. :)
aquarius_galuxy
Oct. 27th, 2009 11:22 am (UTC)
Oooh, I like how this piece went, especially with the prompts of "where are your teeth?" because it made me think, and read on to find out what you were talking about. =p

I liked the descriptions of the knives, and how the woman struggled within herself to admit what she wanted. =P What would happen from here on, and what is Tjazev going to do about her? I like how you've portrayed him as round instead of athletic, less-than-perfect characters are so much fun. =P
(Deleted comment)
harlotbug3
Nov. 2nd, 2009 09:14 pm (UTC)
Edit 1
[This edit is late. I’ve excuses revolving around dead holidays and bad sinuses, but I used them up for my first edit. You’ll just have to imagine that the [brackets] represent both my red pen and my apology.]

She had been watching the man for [four moons now=camped only for a day and night], every time her husband's caravan passed near his.

[He traded banter with the men and tipped his leather hat to the women, but his wicked laugh made people shudder and glance nervously away from his glittering eyes.=nice detail to enhance the choice to describe his manner more than his appearance]

[And so she denied her family and her husband and his jealous gossiping wives,=try multiple sentences here. Is she referencing siblings/parents before spouse and co-spouses?] and sent secret word to this Shashigai to meet her.

Her breath caught. She wondered whether he meant what she hoped.

[]

Without waiting for an answer, he reached into his bag and began pulling out leather-wrapped packages. He unwrapped the first and laid it on the mat between them. It was a bronze knife, its tip curved into a [wicked=not sure if this word fits the tone of the story thus far. Maybe ‘merciless’ or ‘deadly’ would convey sharpness without conveying malevolence too overtly] point.


He caught her wrist and placed one of the knives into her palm. Her fingers closed around the hilt. She had never touched a knife [before that was=delete] meant [to be used on‘for’] something other than dinner meat.

She swallowed the desire to stand and flourish it, to plunge it into the sand as if to pin down the corner of the mat against the storm she felt in her heart.[This is good, but that odd type of good where I’m sure there’s a way to make it better, I just don’t know how.]


She drank in that energy, poured it into her arm. Eventually he let her win. She could push down hard, cut his hand open on the razor edge. The blade sang to her. But she held herself [in check=the descriptive tone is lovely and consistent, but it make this expression seem too modern.]


She stepped forward, seized his arm with her free hand, and wrenched him sideways. Caught off balance, he stumbled, and they both went down hard into the sand. His fingers wrapped around her wrist with the knife, and they were grappling, sinew against sinew, the blade flashing a handsbreadth from their faces. His body was heavy and solid against hers. [No chance there=too short, breaks the flow]. She twisted away, rotating her wrist to bring pressure against his fingers. He let go only long enough to wrap his arms around her and bring his weight to bear against her scrambling resistance.
harlotbug3
Nov. 2nd, 2009 09:15 pm (UTC)
Edit 2

The further she pushed herself, the [stronger that ‘more vivid’? ‘more real’? the] image of curling up into a frozen ball, letting her mind go, letting him [do as he liked with her= do you want something more subtle like ‘do as he liked[.] or more visceral like ‘do as he liked with her body’ I suggest you pick one.]

[He lay on his back with arms spread wide=you mentioned already that he was on his back, perhaps specify that he did not move, or that he did only to spread his arms, made a show of not moving]

His words echoed. [What do you want?=try italicizing in its own line without telling us that they echoed.]

She ran the point of the knife down his forearm. One finger supported the weight of the handle; the blade tickled the hair[s] but barely grazed the skin.

She drew long strokes down his arm, along the curve of his shoulder and bicep [separately or from one to the other? Sorry, but you’re making me hungry for more.] . The sky was electric and she was calm.

His hand was amazingly steady, warm. [A person couldn't fake that. And because he wasn't faking it, she could feel it.= ‘fake’ too modern a term] No desire to strike his hand away and hit him, to tear her skin open till it bled to stop the sensation. It felt good. It felt real.

She reached for his chest, and to her surprise felt him flinch away. He was afraid too. His body was heavy, round, not like the lean fighters who walked the paths of Tuklos and paced the caravans through bandit lands. Looking at him, it was hard to know the muscles that lay below the soft curves. She pressed her palm against the center of his chest. [Electricity-unless you mean a literal, visual arc, try a less modern energy or perhaps lightning instead] arced between them.

“Kin,” she whispered, to the stranger who possessed her like jiko[,] yet gave her teeth.

[Good job, but I’m sorry I found so little that could be improved. I’ll have to keep tabs on your work, see if maybe you do worse next time.]
jamais_toujours
Nov. 3rd, 2009 05:37 pm (UTC)
Edits
Hey, I'm your other editor for this piece. I'm really sorry that I'm so late, time got away from me.

The description in this piece is fantastic. From the very first sentence, you were creating the world of this woman. Her meeting with Tjazev is fraught with tension, and had me hooked on every line. I love how you described the knife fighting; it was graceful and fluid. The woman's constant awareness of how her desire is bound to her downfall is a lovely detail as well. My one criticism is that I would like to know more about the teeth and their significance. Other than that I don't see anything that I would consider changing.

If you have any questions about any particular part of the piece, let me know.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )