I drew near and two of the soldiers dropped from their saddles and unsheathed their cavalry sabers. They had white-lacquered bucklers on their arms which shone in the sun emerging from the dust clouds, white trimmed in gold. Their armor was made of lacquered paper, although I didn’t know it at the time. You may scoff, but properly made paper armor will stop blade or bullet, is light, is simple to make. As my current captors will tell you, they have used paper armor in Lonireil since ancient days. It was many-layered, folded, beautiful. They wore white breastplates and tall masks with tall slits and their pale eyes burned through fiercely.
These two rushed at me, swords glinting. “Who else is here?” the man beside the strange, lacquer-faced woman said. He pointed at my parents with a riding stick. “Who else?” His voice was slippery, the accented words missing their heads and tails.
The two soldiers brandished their blades at me and I stepped back, but when I saw the fear in my parents’ eyes as they gaped at me, I dropped the meat in the dirt and raised empty hands, balancing the hide with my knife wrapped up in it between my shoulder and my head. By the house, Dasinur bellowed at the raised voices and swung her hairy head about.
“My children, my babies,” my mother said. “No one else. I’ll get them. No one else is here, only my young ones.”
“No one else,” my father agreed. “Please. We have farm goods and little more. These things are for you.” He gestured at the baskets of grain and poppy they’d brought out. “Take them, please.”
“Three others.” The voice that came from the lacquered woman sighed out from the red opening of her mouth in the smooth, shining face. She had waves of black hair that looked untended, lank. The pale eyes – they were almost white, blue-white irises in a dark circle in white orbs behind a mask that was not a mask, it was her face. Those eyes were her eyes and the lacquered, smooth, shining visage was her skin, but wrong, so wrong. They looked out as from inside a shell. “Three children. No more,” she sighed. “It will serve.”
“Dismount,” the commander said. “Secure the domicile and surrounds. Send word to the next nearest squads.” Two of the riders broke away, one going west, the other east. Indeed, in the distance to the east I could see the flash of what might have been white armor, another group of soldiers. “By order of the Eminence of Lonireil, these lands and this home are seized. You are citizens of Lonireil now, and we will billet here until needs we move forward.”
“Billet?” My mother stepped back toward the house, her arms outstretched in her deep blue robes as if to shield it. Two of the soldiers made to pass her. She stood in their way while my father gaped. They seized her and threw her down.
I lunged and roared. Lord Salat teaches that we must protect the weak. But, I was foolish and unschooled, then, in violence. If I were then as I am today, I would have fallen on the twenty of them like a wave on sand. I would have unmade them.
As I think on it, the lacquer-faced woman might prove a challenge even today.
The two menacing me lashed out. It is lucky I held the hide on my shoulder. A careless blade fell on the hide, but the blow knocked me down and the other’s killing stroke missed. They set to me with the hilts and with their boots and in the space of a breath it was over and I lay bloody and wheezing. My father ran to me and they knocked him flat. My mother lay where she fell, weeping, and in the space of two more breaths the two soldiers entered our home and came back out and tossed my brother and sisters into the dirt like refuse, where they cried and crawled to my mother.
“Is this resistance that we must suffer?” the commander asked from his perch above us. I, my eyes clenched and my insides a knot and my head pounding, hammering, from back to front in searing waves, could only look up. I held my tears at the back of my throat with all the strength I had left. “Need there be more violence?” the commander asked again.
“No, no take what you will. Please, don’t hurt us,” my father said.
“We will confiscate your goods. You grow mezakh?”
“Yes. It is yours, please, eat.”
“And poppy?” We sold and traded poppy for our meager income. It was enough to buy what we needed, beyond mezakh. The two crops were our lives.
“It is yours.”
“We will take your goods. A caravan will come tomorrow or the day after for the poppy. You will be housed while we billet here. We will provide you a tent,” the commander said.
“Tent?” I could hear my father’s tears and I hated him. My own tears strained for release but the hate beat them back. I hated him for giving what we had. For not fighting. It was his charge to protect us, was it not? Was he not a man? I did not understand, then, what I do now. Why did I hate him and not my mother? Why did I hate him more than the Lonireilians, the war-makers, who did this? “What will we do if the winds return?” my father asked.
“We are the winds,” the Lonireilan commander said. “We command them.” Beside him, the lacquer-faced woman sighed, and the sound was the sound of the knife wind.