Given to the Earth

By: Mindy McGinnis

CHAPTER 1





Dara



It is in my blood.

It is in my bone.

It is in my being.

Before my mother became earth, she told us our names, her final thought becoming our first as my twin brother and I crawled from the pit that held our slaughtered people, our infant feet now the last on this land to carry the Indiri marks.

“Dara.” I say my name now, our word for “vengeance.” To the side, a tree shrinks from me. It knows my tongue, as do all things of the land. And like all things of late, it wishes me gone.

“Donil.” I say my brother’s name, the word for “family love.” Our mother knew us well, though she would never see our faces. No matter their meaning, my words are heard only by wild things and my horse, an animal that none in the Stillean stables could lay a hand on without losing a finger.

“Famoor.” One ear turns back to acknowledge that I have spoken, but otherwise the stallion ignores me, as is fitting for a proud animal named after the Indiri word for “unbroken.” That I sit upon his back is a temporary arrangement, and I would that he remember it.

When I fall, I do not wish for him to return to Stille, to stables and harnesses, the civilized world shaving away his wildness until he thinks not of foraging but of the hand that will bring the next meal to his wooden box, where he is protected from the rain and the earth, sealed off from all that calls to him. It was my own mistake, years ago, and I will not have it played out by any other, be they two-legged or four.

I left that behind me when I passed from the castle’s shadow, my former home. Stille will not welcome me again, not after I led the king’s beloved to her near death, a foolish choice, twice over. For both Vincent and my brother care for the Given, and she had called them to her as easily as the sea drew Khosa herself.

I would see her crowned with seagrass, but now she sits enthroned beside Vincent, the boy whose heart I cannot have.

The forest moves around me, the dying rays of the sun touching briefly on my speckled skin. I cannot look at my own flesh without marveling that I carry it, a dressing on my bones that only one other wears. As falling rain sinks through the earth to feed salium and igthorn alike, my spots have burrowed within, giving life to what is both beautiful and poisonous at my core.

I am one of the last Indiri, the violent half of the whole, the prideful carrier of deep wrath, which wants only to bury itself in the Lithos of the Pietra, even if it be my last act. The love I carry for my departed people is a song made with war drums, the name my mother gave me inked deeply on my being. I close my eyes against the bright flash of fiverberries, the sun warm on my eyelids as Famoor goes on without my guidance.

The Given would laugh to see me here, at this place I recalled for her from my third-great-grandmother’s memories. The ancient tree the Tangata cats use to sharpen their deadly claws stands as she saw it then, though larger now and marked with the use of many in their clowder, cats long dead.

I swear as I dismount, though I had expected to find as much. Many things can be said of the Given, but not that she is dim. Together we worked in the place she felt most comfortable and I entombed, stone walls rising to our sides and smaller walls, bound in paper, stacked beside us. That I am here now, reminded of the Given even as I banish myself from Stille in order to forget her—and how others felt for her—is both a prick to my conscience and a chink in my armor.

In her maps and books Khosa saw many things, as Donil does in the track of an animal, three days spent. These small moments she deciphered, trapped in time like a paw print in dried mud. There she saw the doom of our island, a rising sea that would never stop, the memories of the Indiri people helping to point the way.

I rest my head against the tree, and it tells me stories of cats digging deep, fibers carried away in claws, a small death each day, a dismemberment spanning lifetimes. If I were stronger, I could ask for more, push for the tree to give me the tale of Onwena, my ancestor, and how she fell in love at this place. In her time the sea was far from here; in mine I can hear it striking the beach, and carrying away the earth as it leaves.

But I am weak, and maybe the surf itself is to blame, earth taken and made infertile by salt. The tree could perhaps not part with the story, either, its lifesap leaving with the effort of telling. Underneath my hand, it shivers, and I see the tail of a Tangata above the waterleaf rue, a confident curl bending its stripes as it comes to tear bark from branch, skin from bone.

I nock an arrow and send it through the violet rue, drawing a harsh cry followed by silence. I follow where the arrow hit true and retrieve it, leaving the cat for the oderbirds. Famoor shies from me as I approach, the blood on my hands scenting the wind. I cannot blame him. I smell of death and the wild, violence and the wind.

“Famoor,” I say, recalling his name and its meaning to him, so that he may stand with pride at my approach. Unbroken.

Again his ear turns to me, and I allow a smile for this one living thing that would have me near it. But my mouth is not accustomed to the shape, and the smile falls quickly as I mount, cat blood mixed with earth falling from my boot heels. I spare it a glance before spurring Famoor on, this mixture that I am bound to be a part of one day.