"You were sold to him?"
Sold? Sold? That old pain made her cough. Her throat was closing up as if a rope had at last been placed around it. She thought of a freedom so close, a freedom stolen.
"Where is your child?"
"They put her outside with the other women when they heard you were coming."
"Excellency? It's so that Excellency can talk with the prisoner."
The Superintendent was talking to her again. Something in his voice made her look closely at him. Before he had only been a tall man with black, black hair, black eyebrows, no beard, black clothes. Now she heard something in his voice. He was speaking to her, asking questions that were not orders or commands that had all the answers already. These questions said, There are things I need to know. Can you help?
Help me, Master!
When he left, so quickly she thought she had dreamed the whole visit, it was hard to stop the rooms spinning. This time would be different from all the other times, all the other visitors. She knew the guard was aware of this because he did not come back. There would be no quick counting of coins, or the rough laugh he gave as the visitor ran to wash himself. The shadow of death had come into her life once again and announced that, for the final time, she had run out of all luck.
And what a lucky girl she had been as a girl. All those years ago, in a place these people knew nothing about, she had been the luckiest girl. Now she was locked between walls in a country where real murderers walked free with the right to real buttons, and fancy dresses, and cream neckties, waistcoats on Sundays.
Sometimes she imagined that swine Van der Wat and his family pronking off to prayers at a neighbors farm with their pious stout faces served up on the platter of their holy words like vet little piglets snorting in the Lords trough. Sometimes she imagined them sitting before a visiting Minister and scratching themselves as fleas nibbled and scuttered away under their woolens and muslins.
There is a valley far, far away, they sang, swaying and swaying away as one with the rest of the congregation, while secretly trying to shift against their clothing for the tiniest bit of relief. The hymn ended and they had to sit, Van der Wat so stiff and righteous in daylight and public, beside his fishbelly wife, and their greedy children.
* * * * *
For a whole day no one came near her. The next day, she was not allowed out of her cell. When the other women left for the yard they jeered and laughed at her, every one of them but Rachel who came back with one of the younger guards to offer to take Meisie out on her back.
While they were binding Meisie to Rachel's back, Sila spoke quickly.
"I do not know when they will come for me. You must get news to my friend Spaasie. Tell her she must fight to keep them from sending Meisie to Van der Wat."
"Have courage, Sila."
"Courage is one thing, Rachel. The law here is another."
Sila kissed the top of Meisie's head.
"Kom!" The young guard was jumping from foot to foot.
After that, no one came. Once, through the dull plug of her damaged ear she thought she heard Meisie cry. She called out. Nothing. She sensed the guards. There was a new urgency in their lowered voices. Sometimes someone passed by the bars set high in the door, but she did not bother to look. She kept her face to the wall. Very little time remained now. Although, it was not as if she was losing a life she had. A long time ago she would have thought that any life was worth living, that she had to hold on to the tiniest amount of living and find in it the same sweetness that she found in a simple flower growing on a grens or even in a crack at the doorstep to the big house into which she had first been taken as a meid, just a child who should have been with her own mother. But this could not be called a life. For three years she had been on the path to death. Now she was standing on death's doorstep.
Excerpted from Unconfessed by Charles Frazier Copyright © 2006 Yvette Christiansë. Excerpted by permission of Other Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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