Fifteen Years Ago
Her father fell in love with a God of the Sea.
The god’s name was Osidisen, and her parents named Kissen and her brothers in honour of his attention: Tidean, “on the tide”; Lunsen, “moon on water”; Mellsenro, “the rolling rocks.” And, finally, Kissenna, “born on the love of the sea.” Osidisen filled their nets with fish, taught them when to ride a storm and when to hide, and brought them safe home with their catch each day. Kissen and her family grew up in the sea’s favour.
But the sea god didn’t bring fortune to the lands of Talicia. Eventually, the villages on the hills were enticed by a god of fire, Hseth, and her promises of riches.
Everyone wanted the wealth of the fire lovers. In Hseth’s name the Talicians burned their boats and felled their forests to forge weapons, heat brass, and make great bells which rang from sea cliff to mountain border. Osidisen’s waters emptied, and smoke rose over the land. Soon other, darker stories of violence spread from town to village: sacrifices, hunts, and purges in the fire god’s name, enemies and old families burned for the fire god’s pleasure.
One night, the night after Mellsenro’s twelfth birthday, when his fingers were inked with his name, eleven-year-old Kissen woke to smoke, strangely thick and sweet smelling. It scratched at her throat.
She came to, and realised she was being carried by men with cloths tied over their mouths, their faces daubed with coal dust, and bells shining in their hair like little lamps. Kissen’s limbs wouldn’t move, and her chest was heavy as if dreams still lay on it. The sweet smoke, she recognised it: a sleeping drug made by burning sless seeds, along with other scents she didn’t know. Below her house, the sea was lashing at the cliffs. Osidisen was angry.
She tried to speak, but her mouth wouldn’t work, her tongue sticking against her cheek. Her head flopped to one side, and she saw Mell too, his fresh-inked hand dragging along the floor.
“Mmmelll,” Kissen tried again, but her brother didn’t stir. The drug smoke was seeping through the shutters, through the walls. It hung in the air.
“Quiet,” said one of the men holding her, giving her a shake. She knew that voice, those smudge-green eyes.
“N-Naro?” Kissenna asked, her voice a little stronger now. The waves crashed outside, and the smoke stirred as some sea wind forced its way through the cracks in the wattled walls. She felt a fresh bite of salt air across her face, on her lips. Her head cleared a little. Naro glanced at her, panic in his eyes.
“They said they wouldn’t wake yet,” he said through his mask. “Hurry.” The other voice she recognised too. Mit, Naro’s brother-in-law. The masks were protecting them from the drug. “Hurry!”
They were carrying her deeper into the house, to the hearth at its centre. “What are you doing?” Kissen asked, her voice thick but clear. Her body still wouldn’t move.
They reached the hearth, a round stone beneath the thatch roof which opened to the sky so smoke could escape. Around the embers of their evening’s fire, a tangled cage had been set, in the shape of a bell, forged out of driftwood and metal. Her parents were already bound to its outer edges. Her brothers were being tied: ankle, ankle, arms, neck. Offerings. Kissen was the last.