Chapter Two

A day like any other, except that it was sunnier than most.

Raechil stirred from her deep sleep, unhurriedly, feeling refreshed and joyous, as she did every morning, emerging from a pleasant dream or contented oblivion. 

Gradually she awoke properly and came to, stretched, and removed some strands of hair that had strayed into her eyes. 

And slowly the joy of the new day bled away. 

After all, joy was sin and Raechil did not want to be sinful.

A beautiful peaceful morning was dawning, sunlight streaming in through the spaces between the slats of the shutters, between the black iron bars over the windows. 

She lay for a moment more, waiting for the bell to ring, the first call to prayers. She usually woke just a few minutes before. Then her father would unlock the door. Her slave would come in and Raechil would need to rise, wash and dress, and go down to the family chapel — and then to breakfast. 

But the bell did not come. 

She must have woken early.

Rolling over, Raechil sat up and then sprang out of bed, bounding to the window, peering out through a chink into the golden glare. The green and yellow and brown fields rolled off in every direction, large tracts with many slaves at work, even at this hour. Beyond were groves of olive and orange trees, further away woods and copses in the haze. 

She watched the slaves for a while, weeding or digging or clearing out irrigation ditches or tending the groves, all done so quietly as this hour. But then she yawned and turned, sat down back on the bed.

She was ready now for the bell to go, contented sleep had been chased away. Her room was gloomy and dreary in comparison to the dazzling brightness, but she did not dare open the shutters. That was not permitted in case one of the slaves, or anyone else, should see her, observe her, sully her.

The walls of the small chamber were bare and whitewashed, the monotony only broken by black wooden panels dotted around. 

The one over her bed her read, ‘YOU GROW IN SIN EVERYDAY’ (how could that be? she used to wonder, when she still took heed of them), another declared ‘REDEMPTION IS GAINED ONLY THROUGH VIRTUE AND CHASTITY’ that one was all right: Raechil had never been anything but virtuous and chaste), then there was ‘LIVE WITHOUT PAIN, DIE WITHOUT SALVATION, and ‘DEATH AND HELL ARE ALWAYS WITH YOU’ (she had always loathed those two), and another ‘THE ESKASSKA ALONE WILL BE SAVED’ (why? she would have liked to ask her father, or the priest, but she thought such questions were unlikely to be welcomed). 

The words were in virulent red paint, that once had shouted at her from the walls. Fear of everlasting torment. Yet Raechil was not even aware of the panels anymore, they had always been there, no doubt they always would be. 

Life was to be lived.

The room was otherwise sparsely furnished with drab angular furniture, well made but without ornament, just a hard bed, a washstand, a table, on top of which was a sewing box, an uncomfortable chair, a small altar with a large book beneath it, finally a chamber pot. She did not need to relieve herself. The floor was laid with bare stone flagstones that were cold in the winter but, Raechil had found, a delight to stand on with bare feet on hot days.

Dull, waiting like this. 

She stood up and peered at the door, as if to will the bell to go, her slave to enter. Raechil would have been content to dress herself, but the Caucus had decreed, only a month or so before, that dressing was work and only slaves worked. Raechil, along with the members of her family, was one of the Chosen, the Eskasska, so they did no labour, she certainly did no manual work. Only poor people and slaves worked. Slaves did not even have souls, in fact, no black people had souls. They did not go to church. And they did not go to Miasmar, to paradise, when they died. Raechil would go to Miasmar, if she was redeemed and led a good life. 

Her mind wandered.

She wondered what she would do in paradise, what anyone did in paradise… was it like life on Earth only with laughing and smiling and not having to wear the Constract and getting to eat honey when you wanted. Or was it just the same… if so, why would anyone want to go there? The priest preached a lot about Hell and rules and scripture, yet never had much to say about how you passed the time in Heaven. 

Maybe they would get to eat honey straight from the comb as often as you wished. Raechil had once tasted honey and thought that very fine. Her mother had decided anything so lovely was diabolically sinful. 

Raechil was hungry.

Someone clattered down the corridor outside but did not stop, though the noise broke into her musings. She went and retrieved the large thick book, her Bible, the Holk an Harnakos, the Word of God, from the shelf beneath the altar, placing the tome beside her on the bed. She opened a page at random, in case her father or mother entered her room unexpectedly. 

Why did the bell not ring?

She was bored. Her stomach rumbled. She wanted to get dressed and go down to breakfast, but that would not be until after they had prayed together. Then the priest would finish with the sermon, she hoped it would be short. Why did the bell not ring…

Raechil sighed. Her mother had told her to read the Holk an Harnakos and to pray and contemplate during any spare moments. Her parents seemed very certain what the Holy Book proclaimed, but Raechil, who actually knew the texts very well, was never certain how they could be so sure. There was quite a lot of happiness and joy, as well as punishment and death and torment.

She needed to contemplate to be able to confess and to repent, of course. Her mother believed that Raechil always needed to confess, everyone needed to confess. 

Raechil found this difficult, difficult to find misdemeanours serious enough to warrant confession, but without being wicked enough to merit proper punishment. She had not, to her knowledge, ever done anything that warranted repenting and confession, not since she was a young girl, and even then only childish naughtiness, and usually only because her younger sister had told her parents what she had done. Raechil’s most heinous crime was taking fallen plums fresh from a tree that, although they had cost her a beating, had been delicious. 

And then Raechil had whiled away many happy hours as a younger child shooting her bow: for many days and weeks and months that was all she did, quietly, trying not to attract attention. 

After all, there was no contact with anybody else. Even then she had known enough to try to appear not to enjoy herself. She had become quite skilled, until her parents consulted with the priest and had decided archery was sinful. 

Or had they decided that the enjoyment she got from archery was sinful? Very confusing! Presumably if she had not liked archery, she would have been permitted to continue. But they had punished her anyway, told her to confess.

Confessions were supposed to be confidential, but Raechil did not trust or like the odious family priest, suspected he informed her father of everything she said, so she kept her confessions simple and trivial and only broke the most minor of the rules or Periapts. Commandments, of course, must never be broken, especially when confessing.

There were, of course, so many rules and Periapts and Commandments in the Holk an Harnakos, the infallible holy book, as well as many interpretations by the Caucus of what was meant by all these. 

So many, that these had been collected into a large separate volume, known as the Periapts of the D-Harna, which was still growing with new appendices added month by month. Some Commandments were Periapts, but none of the Periapts were Commandments. 

The books of the Periapts were not available for consultation by most people, except by priests, and Raechil did wonder sometimes, when she was feeling especially wicked, that some of the Periapts actually contradicted the infallible teachings in the Holk an Harnakos.

Likely she was currently breaking one of these Periapts as she sat there. Her mother never failed to find fault. But then her mother thought that Raechil was pretty, far too pretty, had described her appearance, more specifically her mouth, as lustful, lewd, even carnal. 

Raechil did not know what that meant. 

Her mother had then told her in righteous dismay that Raechil had the lips of a girl who liked a man. Raechil, of course, had never actually seen her own face or mouth, as mirrors were one of the many banned items. And she had never liked any man that way

Could you, Raechil wondered, be pretty and modest… lustful and lewd and carnal around the mouth, yet still modest and chaste and goodly? And had not the One True God made and shaped her mouth?

Perhaps modesty was the rule, or one of the rules, she was currently flouting. She was only dressed in the Constract, a leather undergarment, which she frankly detested. The Constract was uncomfortable and made her sweat, made her smelly, made her skin wrinkle and flake and go unnaturally pale in hot weather. The garment covered her shoulders, upper arms, and torso, and also her buttocks and between her legs, where the leather made her itch. Only two small holes through which to piss and to defecate. 

The Constract was a chastity garment, worn only by her sect, or by the young woman, anyway, the D-Harna denomination of the much more popular Xenic religion. Straps wound round to her back, where there were four metal locks. Her father had two of the keys, her mother the other two. This seemed ridiculous to Raechil, but then so many things did, perhaps she would understand when she was older.

Raechil knew that the Constract was an important part of her faith, but she still loathed it. She could not see the need, she was never with any men or even boys, so how was her chastity at risk? The only time she could remove the garment was when she bathed, which she was only allowed to do every few days, or daily when she was menstruating. 

And then, of course, when she was married. Then her husband would be given the keys — Simion would be given the keys — and the Constract could be cast off any time when he wished. That made her shudder.

But her bare arms and legs did show, while her hair was loose about her shoulders, so perhaps she breached the Periapt on modesty. Or was it a rule on modesty. She remembered that not being naked was not a Commandment. Although there was nobody to see her in this half-dressed fashion with her head uncovered. Did modesty count if there was nobody to see? After all, you were born naked so you could hardly be very modest then. Could she parade naked if there was nobody about? Naked as the day she was born…

She began to smile, slightly, very slightly, just using half her mouth, only a twitching of her lips really. But she knew that smiling definitely was against the rules. She needed to think of something else.

And the smile died before fully formed.

Raechil was to be married, in fact was betrothed to Simion an Simion, a worthy man, or so her parents declared, who owned a large farm near Matasuk far to the south and east in Dandamata province. He was forty years her senior, he had already outlived two wives. Raechil was not wanting to be married to any man, certainly not one as old and harsh as her father, definitely not one who was as hard and severe as her mother. 

That was in a several months’ time, however, when she was eighteen. Then she would have to go through the Paskarl, when they would shave off all her hair — all of her hair! — before her wedding. There was something else, something awful and painful, but her parents had not told her what that might be. No doubt quite, quite horrible, but could anything be as horrible as being touched by wrinkled old Simion?

She sighed again. And turned such unpleasant thoughts from her mind. 

Thinking about things seemed to be tiresome, perhaps she should pray or contemplate. Contemplate what?

She looked at the altar, then at the Holy Book, then she yawned again and played with her hair. She liked her hair, tresses the colour of copper that fell in soft glossy waves about her shoulders. She did not want her hair cut off and her head shaved, she certainly did not want anyone shaving her down there

She had seen her elder sister, Manta, well, not Manta anymore, now she was known only as Gan Hamgrist, the “wife of Hamgrist”, with her head shaved on the day of her wedding. Manta looked awful and had cried and cried and cried. But then there had been a lot of blood on her legs and the skirts of her wedding dress. Raechil shivered again.

Such grim thoughts were concerning but profitless. Still months to go before she needed to concern herself about that. Raechil had discovered that the best way not to worry about Death, the Paskarl, Hell and being Married to old Simion, was simply not to think about any of them at all.

Raechil frowned instead. Frowning was allowed by her religion. So she frowned some more, twirled her hair around her fingers, enjoying the feel. That at least occupied her, although she found a frown much more difficult to maintain than she had imagined, soon her face ached. 

Mayhaps she should practise more, although her mother never seemed to have any trouble… then, of course, she was married to her father.

She nearly smiled again, quickly looked around to make sure nobody was watching her, despite the chamber being absolutely empty.


Then finally, after what had seemed an age, a bell rang three times. 

Raechil quickly took the holy book in her arms.

The door of her chamber was soon unlocked by her father, but he did not greet her, he just looked around the door, quickly inspected his daughter and her room to make sure nothing was amiss. 

‘Good morning, sir,’ said Raechil.

But he was gone. Presumably everything was fine or he would have muttered something and given her a punishment.

A maid, a young black slave girl some years Raechil’s junior, entered the chamber, curtsied before her mistress. Raechil nodded ever so slightly. She liked her maid more than anyone else in Creation, even if her slave did not have a soul.

No words were spoken. No words were permitted. Indeed, Raechil did not know the girl’s name. If she had to address her, she called her “maid” or “slave”. Slaves had a very tough time, thought Raechil, though at least her maid did not have to wear the Constract, nor did she have to attend services seven times a day, one for each of the Messiahs. But then her slave was not going to Heaven. Raechil wondered where black girls went when they died.

Raechil stood up while a basin with fresh cold water and soap was brought to her. She washed herself — the Caucus had decided that washing was not work — as well as she could within the confines of the Constract.

Then the slave brought her dress. The baggy garment was fashioned from a thick fabric, brown in colour, scratchy in texture. Her slave helped her. The dress fitted Raechil like a sack, covered her from her chin to her toes, so only her head and her fingers showed. With the dress was a pair of bulky boots, that still looked dainty on Raechil. The garb was hot and heavy to wear, especially when the weather was warm. And this was a fine summer day.

Raechil wondered if she would be allowed to bathe that evening.

  Her dress was completely plain except for an emblem embroidered on the front, the D-Harna Wheel of Life: a circle divided into four quarters, with a smaller circle in the middle. The left quarter of the larger circle was white, the bottom quarter green, the right quarter red, the top quarter black. The small circle in the centre had the representation of a yellow fire, the symbol of Harnakos, the One True God. The white quarter represented innocence, the green quarter growth, the red quarter pain, and the black quarter, with a silver star, death and redemption.

Raechil smoothed the heavy fabric down over her breasts and stomach, picked at a loose stitch, pulling off the thread carefully. She bit a nail which was a little ragged, as her slave tied up her hair, then covered her head in a scarf, so that not a single tress or ringlet or strand was visible.


Raechil stood there, ready but waiting for the bell to ring once again, the signal to go to prayers in the family chapel. 

Finally the bell peeled.

She nodded at her slave with an unconscious and fleeting smile, brief but warm, then left the room. The slave girl watched her go with a sad smile of her own.


Raechil descended the stairs, entered the chapel with other members of her family. 

Like the rest of the house, the chapel was austere, shorn of virtually all embellishment. The far end was raised, a simple altar with the Circle of the D-Harna above it, the only colour in the chamber the four quadrants and centre of the symbol. No benches or pews, they stood or knelt or prostrated themselves on the floor.

As the sun streamed in from a high window, her father and mother were already there, both wrapped in black, in gloom, in oppression, solid shadows in the blazing and dazzling light. 

Raechil’s father was Garnussil an Gallam, Gallam being the family name. He was a tall, upright individual, well respected in the community, both as a good D-Harna but also as a moderate man in all things, at least in comparison to some, or so he thought. He was notably lenient with slaves, did not believe in stoning of pregnant women for adultery until after they had the baby, only beat his own children with his hands, he did not approve of whips or scourges. 

Garnussil was many years older than his wife, had bristling eyebrows that could jut forward like an accusation at a moment’s notice. Raechil’s mother, who was simply known as Gan Garnussil, the wife of Garnussil, was only slightly less tall and upright than her husband, a thin, wiry woman. She had a face like a hammer, flint chips for eyes. Her face held a permanent furrowed frown, so much so Raechil wondered to herself, occasionally, whether the wind had changed and had left her that way.

Raechil’s younger sister, Cleppa, entered sometime after Raechil and all the others had gathered, looking rushed and slightly dishevelled, a few hairs emerging from her scarf. That earned a flash of anger from her mother plus an expression from her father that did not bode well. Raechil’s expression was studiously blank, she was glad that her sister was to be the focus of her parents’ wrath.

The service proceeded as ever. Garnussil was rich enough to afford his own priest, a man who looked like a younger version of him. Raechil hardly heard his words, making the correct responses when necessary — kneeling or praying or standing or chanting — although she was experienced enough to attend to the thankfully short sermon that ended the ceremony. Invariably her mother or father would make some observation, to ensure that Raechil had been listening and had absorbed the sermon.

The service ended, as it always did, with the D-Harna Wheel of Life:


Born in Innocence

Grow in Sin

Live in Pain

Die in Redemption


By the grace of our Lord Harnakos, God of Everything.


Raechil chanted the words with the others but was glad the service was over. She left the chapel before her parents, for once, as her sister was receiving a dressing-down from Gan Garnussil.

‘I wish you could be more like your sister Raechil,’ said her mother. ‘Or like your eldest sister, who is as good and as dutiful a wife as any of the D-Harna. Or your brothers…’

Cleppa began to protest that her slave girl was at fault, that she had been tardy in arriving that morning, that the Caucus had ordered that she could not dress herself. Always a mistake to make an excuse, at least in Raechil’s experience: better to admit any fault and take the consequences without protest. And it would also get Cleppa’s slave beaten. Raechil liked her own maid and would not have got her punished for something she had done herself.

And her father began a torrent of righteous anger.

Raechil winced and hurried away, not even a flicker of a smile on her lips. Raechil did not like her younger sister. Cleppa was a teller of tales and before puberty had got Raechil into trouble. Raechil had learned over the years to conform, to do what was needed, however irksome. Things had, however, got worse for Cleppa since she had herself crossed the border into adolescence.

Raechil entered the dining room, another sparsely furnished chamber, with only a long polished table, more angular chairs as well as a sideboard for serving food. Again the walls were bare except for more of the worthy panels and their glaring red writing. 

Raechil stood at the back of her chair without sitting as others of the household trooped in. Her stomach gurgled but she stayed motionless.

She had to wait for some time.

Her parents finally arrived, her father’s face thunderous and red, her mother glowering and casting her eyes over all and sundry. Cleppa was not with them and did not appear at breakfast. Raechil assumed that she had been banished to her room for the morning, or even the whole day, without food.

Raechil kept her eyes down and stood completely still, as motionless as a statue, waited until her parents were seated at either end of the table, before taking her own place. In their present mood her parents were even more ready than usual to punish any minor indiscretion. Raechil mouthed the grace faithfully and respectfully, then waited until her parents started eating before beginning herself. The rest of the household was similarly careful. The meal was eaten in silence, talking, even about work or redemption, was simply not permitted.

In truth breakfast was a plain meal, just a thick porridge and then heavy bread with a milky cheese but was the highlight of Raechil’s morning. Despite this she did her best not to appear to be enjoying the food, picking at it, making sure that there was some left at the end of the meal. She also ensured she finished at the same time as her parents. 

Gluttony, envy and greed were sins, but then so were sloth, wastefulness and indolence.

When they had all finished, Raechil and the rest of the family returned to the family chapel for a service of thanks.


During the morning Raechil was permitted to take some exercise, although not to go outside the confines of the house itself, of course: that was strictly forbidden. The preserving of her chastity and unblemished reputation was paramount as no man of the D-Harna would take a girl for wife unless she was undoubtedly and incontestably pure.

The four wings of the house were arranged around a central courtyard, a cloister running around its edge. There was a spring in the middle, the source of water for the house. The cloister had pairs of plain square pillars to hold up the roof, but the sun shone onto the grass in the middle, through the pillars on the west side. The cloister was warm in the enclosed airless space, even in the shade. The tinkle of flowing water into the stone basin was restful. 

The central space was, along with lawn, planted with practical and culinary herbs and plants, some in flower, vines trailed around trellises against the walls and pillars. 

Compared to the drabness and uniformity of the rest of the building, the cloister was a wondrous scented garden. Raechil’s mother always wrinkled her nose when she walked by.

Although she was alone, Raechil walked around the cloister at what appeared to be an even pace, although she was faster through the shaded area, slower when she came out into the sun. Though hot in her heavy gown, she craved the feel of the sun on her face. 

She would have loved to have touched and smelt the herbs: sage and thyme and bay and rosemary and lavender. But this had once betrayed her, her mother had smelt lavender on Raechil’s fingers and had beaten her. Raechil still had no idea what rule she had broken, the kitchen staff used herbs all the time and they were not punished.

So she continued her walk around the cloister, enjoying the sun and the flowering plants, the soft flow of water, but she kept out of the scented plants.


All things should be done in moderation, however, so after half an hour or so she returned to her mother, before her mother came looking for her, asked dutifully what tasks she should now perform.

Her mother inspected her, could find no fault in her appearance. Raechil's dress was plain but clean, every hair of that unruly head was contained within her headscarf. Raechil held her glance for what she judged a proper time, then respectfully dropped her eyes.

The older woman sighed. Raechil was so pretty. A clear healthy complexion, bright blue eyes, a neat nose, straight teeth — but those full and lustful lips. 

How had she, Gan Garnussil, given birth to a girl with such a lustful mouth? There had certainly never been anything lustful about her, although she had dutifully given birth to four girls and, far more importantly, three sons.

Raechil remained immobile, not a trace of defiance or disrespect or boldness.

Her mother frowned. Something was just not right about this daughter, although on this occasion, even on any occasion over the past few months and years, Raechil had given her no reason to find fault. 

Raechil appeared to be the model daughter, a tribute to her parents, to the Gallam family. Indeed, looking back, she had even been a relatively good toddler and child, certainly less mischievous than most.

The older woman continued to study her daughter. What was it, she wondered? What was it that concerned her? Then she shook her head. Must be that lustful mouth! She had heard tell that the Caucus was intending to bring in veils covering the face for all unmarried girls, to be worn as soon as they entered puberty. 

The Patriarch, head of the Xenic faith, had not yet agreed to such a measure, as such a Periapt was contrary to the custom of many other parts of the empire. Should it be made one of the Periapts, it would certainly be introduced for Raechil.

Anything to hide that disgusting lewd mouth. But nothing could be done about it there and then.

Raechil waited obediently.

‘Well, girl,’ her mother said, unintentionally coldly and harshly, ‘you must practise your embroidery in your chamber until prayers at midday, then study the Holy Book — the passages on marriage — until evening prayers, and then before bed you must bathe after exercise around the cloister.’

The girl kept her eyes down.

‘Thank you, Gan Garnussil,’ she said. ‘May I have your permission to go?’

‘Yes, daughter, go now.’

Raechil walked away, feeling cheerful at the thought of a bath and shedding the Constract for a while, but none of this showed.

Her mother watched her, shook her head. Then the older woman turned her mind to her younger daughter, Cleppa, and a fitting punishment for her tardiness and her insolence.


Raechil returned to her chamber to find that it had been cleaned, her bed made, the floor was so polished that it gleamed. The shutters had been opened, but there were several screens of fine gauze across each window so that nobody, certainly not a male, could see in.

Raechil went to the table and chair, opened her sewing box. Diligently, she set to work on one of the new panels. The inspiration was a story from the Holk an Harnakos, about Selmarar, the Dutiful Wife, who proved faithful to her erring husband, Gruinagas, no matter how extreme and unpleasant his behaviour, not least taking nine other wives and having a child with his own daughter. Selmarar had, it would seem from the scripture, a life of torment, and her only compensation, thought Raechil, was outliving her husband.

That part especially appealed to Raechil, she anticipated the creation of the last panel that was to show the funeral of Gruinagas. She knew the embroidery was to be taken to her betrothed Simion. 

Luckily neither her parents nor her betrothed were wise or imaginative enough to follow her line of thought. 

For the first hour or so Raechil worked quickly and skilfully. She had arranged the embroidery into nine panels, experience had taught her that her mother would expect her to complete one panel each day. About an hour now to midday prayers and lunch, so she finished the panel, looked at her handiwork.

The panel showed the wedding of Selmarar and Gruinagas, surrounded by their families and with olive and orange groves in full flower behind them, all in a simple rectangular frame. The work was well executed and detailed. No accident, perhaps, that Gruinagas’s face looked like a skull and, if inspected closely, the family members all had horns sticking out from their head. Just an accident, of course, as the flowers of the groves all looked like little horns and formed the background of the panel.

Raechil nodded in satisfaction, and then began the frame and outline of the second panel, which depicted the married couple returning to their farm.

Then she stopped, yawned and stretched. She had now completed enough of the work that the rest of the time until midday, a little less than an hour, was hers. If her mother entered, Raechil could show her the completed panel, even that she had begun work on the next one. 

Raechil listened for a moment, then rose from the chair. She took the Holk an Harnakos from its place beneath the altar, opened a page at the story of Selmarar, put it on the bed.

For the rest of the time she daydreamed, although her thoughts most often strayed to lunch.


The midday bell rang three times. Raechil tidied away her sewing, made her way down to the chapel, entering just after her parents. The service proceeded as usual, although Cleppa was not present, so presumably her punishment was to include missing lunch. Raechil then followed her parents to the dining room, taking her seat after they had resumed their places. She mouthed the grace, and then waited in anticipation for the food.

There was a vegetable soup, which was actually rather tasteless but she enjoyed it nonetheless, accompanied by herb bread. This was followed by a casserole of beans and leeks, which could have done with more salt and would give her wind. There was a large closed pot of salt on the table, yet nobody touched it or even looked at it. 

As ever Raechil, under the watchful eyes of her mother, left some of her meal.

When her parents were finished, they went back to the chapel for a service of thanksgiving.

Raechil then returned to her room again, located the passages on marriage, read them all thoroughly two or three times. This took a while, though Raechil read quickly and absorbed the stories and the morals and the lessons which mostly seemed, as she had already observed that day, about obeying your husband no matter how absurd his requests or perverse his behaviour. By the second hour after midday, Raechil was sure she knew the passages well enough to please her mother.

Raechil sat at the table with the book, but she became increasingly bored. There was an age yet until evening prayers and the last meal of the day, then they went into the small city of Antok to the church there and where they attended a full service. This lasted more than an hour, but it at least meant getting out of the house for a while.

The girl reread the passages once again, extracting parts that would be of use, but having completed this again, she sat back and sighed. She studied the page, seeing patterns in the letters and the words, sometimes a face or a skull or a long white gully flowing down. She scanned lines of text for any phrase or sentence that was ambiguous and could be misinterpreted, especially if this was in some amusing way. 

In one part it described how a man mounted his wife, yet on another page also said he mounted his horse. Raechil had an absurd vision of the fellow putting a saddle on his wife and riding her around his farm.

But she soon became bored even with this.

She sighed again, rose to her feet and stretched. Her bottom had gone numb on the hard wood of the chair, so she walked around the room a few times to restore circulation. As she passed the window, she stole a look out as the breeze made the screens billow at the edges.

Little, it seemed, had changed, except the sun had climbed higher into the sky and was now heading westwards. The fields and groves and the slaves were all still there.

The bell for four o’clock sounded.

Raechil hated the afternoons.


Eventually the bell for six sounded, by then the room was full of shadows.

Raechil sprang to her feet, smoothed her dress and closed the book. She went down and once again joined the family in the chapel, again her sister was not there, again she followed her parents to the dining room.

The highlight for Raechil was always the evening meal, the most substantial of the day, though the portions were actually quite small. More of the vegetable soup that they had had at midday, but this time there were also  dumplings. Raechil enjoyed those, and the herby bread. Then there was a moist loaf of nuts, olives, lentils and peas with boiled potatoes and butter, which was also good, and then a thin slice of a fruit and nut cake topped with toasted almonds, which was something like Heaven. And instead of just water there was pressed oranges, cold and refreshing.

Raechil was feeling, albeit secretly, effervescent.


After the service of thanksgiving, Raechil had to wait, along with the rest of the household, to make her daily confession to the priest in the small booth. 

The booth was divided in two, the priest sitting in one half, divided by a screen with a fine mesh. 

Raechil did not like the priest, although she had never been certain why: something about the way he looked at her. In the booth, she could smell him, feel the warmth of his odorous breath. Often his breathing would seem unusually loud, he would gasp unexpectedly, he also asked her many strange and even, she felt, inappropriate questions. Not that she told anyone about his strange behaviour as nobody would have believed her.

Over the years she had learned to confess to straightforward offences, certainly ones that the priest could not find some parallel in the Holk an Harnakos. He liked referring to the passages regarding the chasteness of young girls and the debauchery of sinners.

Raechil had already, of course, worked on the subject of her confession. Just the fleeting desire to add salt to her vegetable soup, which she assured him, had never happened before.

The priest hesitated, trying to think of some story to admonish her behaviour, but she had foiled him again. She was told to recite the prayer of the D-Harna one hundred times, soon she was free.


The family then got ready to go into Antok, to the daily service in the church there. Raechil washed in her room, and, with the help of her slave-girl, ensured that she was presentable.

The trip was not as distracting as it might have been. Raechil only got to go a few steps into the open before entering the large horse-drawn carriage. All the family was there, including Cleppa, whose eyes were red with crying. Thick shades were drawn over the windows as they set off for Antok.

The journey took about half an hour. There was no conversation, the only difference as time went by were the sounds and smells coming from outside. Loud voices and the hubbub of people, the stink of sewers and waste as they entered the built-up area. Eventually they came a halt in the courtyard of the church, out of sight of any of the townsfolk. Raechil had been to Antok virtually every day of her life, yet she had no more idea what the city looked like than she did the dark side of the moon.

They climbed out of the carriage, Raechil jumping down. Many D-Harna were in the courtyard: men, women and children. Few words of greeting, however, passed among them, except between the menfolk who nodded at each other or occasionally passed a word or two regarding agricultural prospects. 

Raechil ensured she did not look at any male. The women had a separate entrance and worshipping area that was out of the view of the main part of the church, that being an area exclusively the domain of the men. Some sects of the Xenic faith permitted women nuns and even priests, but not the D-Harna.

She followed her mother and sister to their box in a prominent position of the area reserved for females. There was no talking at all.

Drifting through the ceremony, Raechil afterwards remembered nothing of it, not even the gist of the sermon, reckoning that any wrath would be reserved for her sister, so she had no need to attend. 

Her eyes were open, she mouthed prayers and her part in the liturgy, she stood and kneeled and stood again and stood and kneeled and stood and stood and kneeled some more and chanted and chanted and chanted again. 

The droning of the priest, whom she could not see, during the sermon seemed endless, she began to count to pass the time. Her first effort left her at around 5,000 before she lost count, she began again but this time she floated away before reaching 3,000.

Eventually the D-Harna Wheel of Life.


Born in Innocence

Grow in Sin

Live in Pain

Die in Redemption


By the grace of our Lord Harnakos, God of Everything.


Then the service was over and they were on their way home, again without a word being spoken.

Raechil returned to her room, and then went to the gloomy cloister to take half an hour’s exercise. Nearly dark outside, a cool and refreshing breeze wafted through the pillars, while the water tinkled away, sounding louder now that the house was quiet. She walked seemingly mechanically around the cloister, but in truth she was engrossed in the scents, stronger now as sunset approached.

Then she went to the bathhouse, in one of the wings, as the bell for the eighth hour rang. Her father and mother were there, by the door, as well as her maid. They went into the chamber, where her slave helped out of her heavy dress. Her parents took keys and unlocked the Constract, then they left, fastening the door behind them.

Raechil’s maid helped her out of her boots, her scarf and the hated Constract. Raechil stood there, naked, glad to feel the air about her body. A large iron bath was sunk a few feet into the floor, Raechil climbed over the side and into the water. She lay there in contentment without moving. The water was warm, not hot but perfectly pleasant, a subtle smell of lavender rising into the air. Raechil sighed in contentment.

Her slave helped her wash, lathering her back and limbs and chest and neck and abdomen with soap. Lovely, that, just the feel of another person’s hands upon her, the only physical contact she ever had, from as far as back as she could remember. Her maid washed the soap from her, then moved on to her hair, applying a subtlety-scented shampoo, then gently rinsing her hair with fresh water from a separate basin. The water again was heated.

Raechil was appreciative, although perhaps she should have asked her maid how the water had come to be so warm, she seemed to remember this indulgence was against some rule or other. But then she was not allowed to converse with slaves, so only proper that she said nothing.

The bath was all too brief, alas, she was only permitted a few minutes. Raechil stepped out into a towel, allowed her slave to dry her. The slave then applied some talcum powder, before helping her mistress back into the Constract. Although her hair was damp, Raechil was dressed again in the scarf and even her boots.

Then she waited dutifully for her parents to unlock the door. A sudden mad whim took Raechil, so she embraced the slave girl and kissed her affectionately on the cheek. The slave returned the hug for a moment, then broke away as the door was opened.

Raechil turned her back to the door, as her parents locked her back into the Constract. Her slave helped her on with her ponderous dress, and they left.

Raechil turned to her parents.

‘Goodnight Gan Garnussil,’ she said respectfully to her mother, with a bow of her head: ‘May Harnakos watch over you.’

‘Goodnight daughter,’ said her mother. ‘May Harnakos make you worthy.’

Raechil followed her father to her room, entered the chamber with her slave.

‘Goodnight Garnussil,’ she said respectfully to her father, with a bow of her head. ‘May Harnakos watch over you.’

Her father grunted and shut the door.

Her maid lit a candle and then helped her out of dress, scarf and boots, and then tucked Raechil into bed.

‘May Harnakos watch over you,’ whispered Raechil softly.

The slave girl nodded very slightly, blew out the candle, turned to the door a strange look on her face, an expression, perhaps, of affection and concern. 

The door was opened a moment later, but by then the caring expression was gone and the slave girl stepped out. The door was shut and locked. 

Raechil was alone, the chamber growing darker as the sun sank in the far west. Raechil was content for it had been a decent day. 

The bell for the ninth hour tolled. She settled down and soon had sunk into an easy sleep.

A day like any other, except sunnier than most, but now nearer Raechil’s eighteenth birthday and her marriage to Simion an Simion.


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