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Call Me Marigold

I will never be trapped again.

By Kassandra CherryPublished 2 years ago 10 min read

The cell door clanged against the wall, and the priests, my “brothers”, threw me in. My arms scraped against the cold stone floor when I tried to protect my face. I pushed myself up as quickly as I could and ran back to the door, but it slammed shut in front of me.

“Let me out!” I slammed my fist against unforgiving wood. “You can’t do this! You don’t have the right!

“I have the only right,” said the older man on the other side. His wizened face crinkled into a beatific smile through the bars in the small window on the door. “Do not worry, my child. I do all of this for your sake. You will understand when we have cast the demons from your body.”

I spat at him, since I couldn’t reach to punch that idiotic, condescending look off of his face. “Screw demons! You’re just mad that I found out your little scheme, that you can’t control me. Just wait until everyone finds out that you--”

Father Beryl waved his hand, and my throat seized up, squeezing my words shut. “The poor girl… utterly delusional,” he commented to the brothers while I choked for air. “A fast before the exorcism tomorrow should do her some good, I imagine. No one is to see her before first light.”

The sliding door on the little window closed, and I was finally released to gasp for breath once their footsteps retreated down the hall. I tried pounding on the door again and screamed curses and for help, alternatively, but either no one was there to hear, or whatever guards there were didn’t care to answer, even to shut me up.

Alone in the dark, throat hoarse and raw, I turned instead to take in the dank cell. Stone walls and floor, the same material as the temple. There was a single cot, a chamber pot, and not anything else. I wouldn’t even be able to see if it weren’t for the moonlight coming through another small, barred window almost above my eye-level. I drifted over to it, for lack of better things to do. The window was set to the ground level, meaning I couldn’t see anything but grass, orange wildflowers, and the night sky.

I was set to fast, so there would be no food… and no water until after the “exorcism”, or whatever it was they were going to do to me. I shouldn’t cry and waste the precious resource, but the tears wouldn’t stop coming. I grit my teeth, dug my nails into my palms, bit the inside of my cheek till it bled, but I couldn’t help it. Damn it… Damn it, and damn them all to the deepest of hells! Let Father Beryl and all the rest see what real demons are capable of. What use will their “prayers” be for them, then!

I laid against the wall for a while, staring blankly out of my only gateway to freedom as my emotions poured out. It was a familiar pass-time. I wasn’t allowed to go down to the village, in my youth. A blessed soul couldn’t risk becoming stained with the sins of the masses, after all. I was confined to my room, every time there was a festival or anything even vaguely exciting, and prayed with the cleric until sundown before being left alone to fast in contemplation. My big brother didn’t care about all that, however.

“Come with me,” he said one night, sitting in a tree right outside my window. “I’ve got something to show you.”

He winked and held his hand out to me, and I took it. My brother taught me how to sneak out of the house, how to make it look like you were asleep in bed with your pillows, what trees or places on the walls were safe to climb, and where all the creaky steps in the manse were. He took me down the hill into town, to the lights I’d only ever seen from afar.

They were so much brighter up close - lanterns of all colors, some in the shapes of horses, goats, and bulls - hung all over the streets and stalls. There were games and snacks, prizes and jewelry and toys, all things I was never allowed to have. What I loved most, though, was the music. Minstrels played on the street corners, singing songs of love and fellowship, of the great knights of Roan, of heroes and villains, victories and tragedies. I was enchanted by it. I loved those songs. I wanted to be in those stories.

I wanted to be part of this magical, joyous world, full of color and life, so much that I cried when my brother had to take me back home. I always came back, though. Every year, every festival I could manage until they took me to the temple.

Once, one of the bards noticed me, dancing by myself and singing off-key as they played. “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” They said with a crooked smile and a raised brow. “Trying to steal the limelight, or to scare off my audience with your caterwauling?”

I’d pouted at them, more for stopping the music than anything else, and crossed my arms impatiently over my chest. “It's not my fault if people lose interest in you. I’m just having fun,” I said imperiously in my little ten year old voice. “If you're worried, just play louder and better than anyone else. That’s your job, isn’t it?”

“Oh, just play louder, is it? And what do you know about being a bard?” They said, cocking a fist on their hip. Music continued to play around them as the crowd dispersed to listen at other corners, but the bard didn’t seem to mind. In fact, they seemed amused.

“I know that it's magic!” I said with excitement, all bluster and noble pretense evaporating instantly. “You pluck the strings and sound comes out, and you wave your hand and those little lights dance around, and-”

The bard held up a hand. “Okay, I’ll grant the lights are magic - fair. But it's not all that easy. It takes practice and skill to put on a show, you know. And social sense, to realize when you’re upstaging others.”

“I know!” I’d said, completely oblivious. “I practice and pray lots every day to do magic, and read scriptures and fast - it's a lot of work!” The bard looked dumbfounded, but my past self was too wound up and nervous to notice as I said, “But your magic is different. You look like you’re having a lot of fun playing with your magic… What can I do, to learn what you do? I’m a really good student, I promise!”

The bard looked me over quietly for a moment, and I nearly started bouncing in place over the scrutiny. It was different from when Cleric Ravenna stared me down, pinning me in place. In fact, they seemed worried. “What’s your name, kid?”

I hesitated. Brother always said not to give my real name out when I was away from home, in case it ever got back to the temple that I’d been out and away where I shouldn’t be, so instead I said, “It's rude to ask someone else’s name, before giving yours.”

The bard smirked a little, and they knelt down to pluck an orange flower before holding it out to me. “You can call me Dandelion,” they said.

Dandelion had taken some time that festival to sit with me and teach me a little about how to play the lute, and about how to use my voice. Your voice was the one instrument you could always take with you, they’d said, and they encouraged me to practice all I could while I was at home. The next time we met, Dandelion taught me a little about using magic the bardic way, but I’d never gotten the chance to see them since. Once I’d had my first blood, my blessed parents shipped me off to the temple, and I had never been able to leave since.

I wiped at my eyes, wondering what had gotten into me, that I was remembering Dandelion of all people when I was about to be exorcised, or worse. My gaze drifted out the window again, and I noticed the flowers… the same kind as the one Dandelion held out to me that day - marigolds.

What was it that Dandelion had taught me about wielding magic..? ...Magic was intent. They used their songs, their music, to shape that intent and guide it into doing what they wanted. I hadn’t been able to use my magic at all since I found out… Since I had lost my faith, prayers had rung hollow in my ears and I couldn’t do anything, not even to save myself… but what if..?

I stepped back and sniffed, trying to clear my nose, swallowing against my raw throat. If I could somehow just… sing, and get the bars to move, if I could push the bed over and crawl out… Magic is intent. I just needed to shape it.

The song was harsh. Off-key notes scraped out of my mouth with half-remembered lyrics from a lifetime ago, but I put my all into it. All of the faith I put into my most fervent prayers, I now poured into the one thing I knew could save me, if I just believed in it. A world of music, heroic tales, of freedom and light!

The bars snapped off of the window, like they’d been cut through with a saw, and I leapt at my chance. Luckily, the Father must have pulled the guards from my room to keep them from hearing my poison, or they would have come barging in by now.

With the bed under me I was able to get enough of a grip on the outer wall around the window to pull my thin frame through. At least all that starvation was good for something. I lay sprawled on the grass for a moment, just breathing, before picking myself up and starting to run. I couldn’t afford to sit around marveling at the situation. I had to get out of here, and fast, before anyone could catch me. I would never be trapped again.

I stripped the outer layers of my robes as I ran through the forest, after managing to climb up and over the temple’s outer walls. I didn’t have any money to pay the poor guy whose clothes I stole off of the line, but I made a mental note to come back and repay them, someday. That couldn’t happen, if I couldn’t make a clean get-away now.

Dressed as a commoner, I found a passenger carriage on the outskirts of town. “Whoah,” he said as I dashed past, wild-eyed and chest heaving. “Where are you off to, in such a hurry?”

“Uhh… North Umberland,” I said at random, not even giving my answer any thought.

“Well, you’re never going to make it there on foot,” the driver said, “especially not at your pace. Need a lift, sister?”

I flinched at the term, paranoia rising. “Don’t call me that,” I snapped, before smiling apologetically. “And no, don’t worry. I couldn’t pay you… except in stories, or songs.”

“A bard, are you?” The driver shrugged. “May as well, if that’s your trade. It can get frightfully boring on these trips with no one to talk to.” The man opened his carriage door, clearly indicating that I get on. “What can I call you, miss?”

I hesitated. I couldn’t give him my real name, in case it got back around to the temple where I had been and where I had gone. Instead I got an idea, spying a patch of dandelions on the side of the road, and I smiled to myself. “You can call me Marigold.”

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