Shrisaelte and Dani
by Christopher Edmund Nelson
Table of Contents|
parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Shrisaelte runs away from home to escape a marriage arranged by her well-meaning father. Dani escapes from service in the army of a tyrannical king. Shrisaelte and Dani overcome hardship together and strive to resolve the conflicts between their origins and their destinies.
Once, many years ago, in a land far away, there was a fisherman named Iemoras. He had three daughters, and the oldest was Shrisaelte. She was beautiful, and she knew it, and Iemoras knew it, but when she came of age, she wouldn’t take a husband. Each time a suitor came to ask for her, her father would see to his worth, and finding him to be a fine man of good standing, would present him to Shrisaelte.
No matter what, she would look once and say: “No, father, that is not the man I will marry.”
So it was that first one and then the other of her younger sisters were married, and she was still living with her father. Iemoras became impatient. He had let his daughter have her way for love, thinking it was just a matter of time; but when she was the only one left and still showed no interest in anyone, he became impatient.
One day, he took her aside to talk to her. He looked straight into her eyes and said, “Shrisa, I want you to marry. It has been too long. I will give you nine days. If you have not told me in that time what man you will take, I will choose one for you.”
She was much distressed. There was no one she knew who was right. She didn’t know where her future husband was, but she knew she would need more than nine days to find him. She spent those days trying to think of a way to gain more time or change her father’s mind, but she thought of nothing. At last the nine days were over, and her father wanted to know whom she would take.
Shrisaelte merely cast her eyes down and said nothing. Iemoras waited long for her response; he loved his daughter and hoped she would choose for herself. But at last the silence was too long, and he spoke to her now with authority.
“Just as I said I would, Shrisa,” he said to her, “I will now find a good man for you. It has been years since you came of age, and it is time you married.”
She looked at him, and tears were in her eyes. “Yes, papa,” was all she said.
So Iemoras went around to the other people, and he went into the village, and he learned who the good men were. And he picked one, a responsible man of good employ. He went to this young man. He offered his daughter’s hand. The man knew of her already, as many did; he knew of her beauty, and he agreed.
When Shrisaelte met her husband-to-be, she said nothing, but her father was not discouraged, for he knew they would grow familiar over time. In the meantime, while she waited for her wedding day, Shrisaelte’s soul was dark with sorrow. Each night, as she lay awake, she whispered to the Watcher, asking for guidance, but she received no answer. Each morning, the cold new sun that shone on her found her feeling quite alone and afraid.
The day drew near. At last, Shrisaelte could bear it no longer. She resolved to run away. She went about her business sulkily all day, and when night came, she lay awake and waited for her father to be asleep.
Once she knew she was the only one awake, she tried to will herself to leave. But her body stayed where it was, for she was frightened of leaving her home and her family. She lay there for hours, trying to get herself up, knowing what was coming if she waited too long, and in the early morning she cried herself to sleep.
She was exhausted the next day, and her father worried about her. She would not answer any of his questions; she merely glanced elsewhere and looked sad. She waited for dark. Her heart sank with the sun.
The hours passed that night, one after another, and she could not will herself up no matter how hard she tried or how much she reminded herself that she could not stay. She fell asleep, finally, and right away she had a dream. She dreamed she was flying. The ocean was beneath her, and as she flew, she saw islands grow before her.
There are more lands than these, a voice whispered to her, and she thought it must have been her own. She knew that she was searching for something, but she didn’t know what. She only knew that as she flew she became more desperate. The sun set quickly. Soon all was purple twilight, and she had not found it.
There’s not much time.
The light went out. All was dark. She opened her eyes and found herself in her father’s house. The moon shone through the window. She knew, suddenly, what she must do. She got up, quietly walked to the door, and went outside. She stopped for a moment, uncertain. As the daughter of a fisherman, she knew how to sail, and for a moment she considered taking her father’s boat wherever it could carry her. But a whisper of a breeze touched her cheek, and she turned her head toward the shoreline, and it seemed to her that her true future lay along that shore. She went to the beach, hoping to follow it as far as she needed to go.
Her dream had been short. There were still a few hours of night, and she walked all that time. The sun rose, and still she walked, determined, stubborn, but by midmorning she finally realized how weary she was and collapsed on the beach.
She had only gone a dozen miles or so, but the land around her was already unfamiliar; to her, the distance might as well have been a thousand miles. She had no idea where she was, and suddenly it occurred to her that she did not know where she was going.
Shrisaelte considered turning back, then. She could make it home by evening. Her father would punish her when she returned, she knew, but that wasn’t what kept her from returning. She was exhausted and not sure she could continue.
Still, she would have tried had she not felt one thing more strongly than she had ever felt anything before: her destiny was in front of her, not behind. She knew there was no going back. Home called to her, so much that she longed to return, yet she knew she never would.
So she cried. And the sun climbed higher, and she was thirsty. She got up and walked a little more, ignoring it, but soon she decided she must find some water. If she found a house, there would surely be water there; even so, she was afraid to approach any people lest they demand to know where she was from. She did not want to risk being taken back. Although she felt more parched with each minute that went by, she resisted the urge to ask for water.
By the time the sun was halfway down the sky, she could stand it no longer. When she saw a house, she went to it. All fear was gone; all that was left was thirst. She thought she would never reach the door, but she did, and suddenly she didn’t know what to do. Somewhere between beginning to raise her hand and knocking, she froze. She was standing there, tortured by thirst and fear, when the fisherman who lived there came back.
“Good afternoon,” he said to her, and she jumped in surprise. Slowly she turned. He didn’t wait for her to speak. “And who might you be?”
She could hardly speak. She opened her mouth, and only a single word came out.
She felt weak. He saw it and walked forward. Before she could sink to the earth, his arm held her up while the other opened the door. She pushed away a bit, so he merely set her gently down with her back against the wall and went inside. When he returned, he had a dipper of water. She took it and drank as quickly as her strength would allow. The man took the dipper and refilled it, and this time she handed it back with a bit of water still in it. She closed her eyes, and he talked to her.
“The water comes from a spring up in the hills here,” he said, “if you were wondering why I didn’t take it from the rain barrel. Delicious?”
She could barely speak, so she nodded. The man saw how weak she was. He fetched her a blanket and watched her as she slept.
She woke up not an hour later. He saw her eyes flutter open and asked her her name.
Afraid she would be sent back to her father, she thought quickly. “Prihsemil,” she answered, for that meant ‘little wanderer.’
He sensed something in the way she answered, but he did not press the matter. “Prihsemil,” he said. “And for what are you journeying with no supplies? You must have come from miles away, and not even carrying water?”
When the man saw she was reluctant to answer, he went back inside. He returned with a filled water skin.
“There,” he said. “Token of good faith. I notice you’ve no food either; stay a bit, and I’ll have dinner for us.”
The man went inside. Shrisaelte was weak and slept a bit more. Her belly awakened her.
A light burned in the house, and the man was indeed making dinner for them both. She smelled it. Fish, onions, garlic, peppers, and other things, she was sure; her belly strained to pull her indoors. She didn’t go in, all the same. It was too risky. And unheard-of. For surely the man lived alone, and for the two of them to sup together that way... And even if he was just a kind man, this could mean the end of her journey. Dinner now, home tomorrow. And she wouldn’t go home.
She nearly cried again as she left the house, it hurt so to leave that food behind. But she left, taking the water skin.
The hills drew near as she walked. Twilight turned to dark swiftly, and then all was illumined by moonlight. The waves were silver as they crashed. It was beautiful. But she was hungry, and she was cold.
Then she saw a shape on the beach. She thought little of it at first, but the closer she got to it, the more it looked like a body. Soon she was sure it must be. Was it dead? She shuddered and slowed. Still, though, she approached, for fascination gripped her, and she felt she must know.
The body moved, answering her question. It moved weakly, slowly. She got close and saw it was a young man. He appeared unhurt, but he could scarcely move, and his speech was hard to understand.
“Water...” she heard him say. She took the water skin and straight away lifted his head so that he could drink. As she touched his skin, she could feel that he was burning with fever. Though he was nearly insensible, at last he drank, and immediately he retched the water up. She made him drink again, this time more slowly. This stayed down a while. She knew not what sickness he had, but it was clear he had drunk of the salt.
She tended him through the first part of the night, though she herself was miserable with hunger. It seemed he could drink no amount of water but it would come out again, but she kept forcing him to drink, for she knew that otherwise he would die.
She slept uneasily for a couple hours; in the early, dark hours of morning, he became sensible for a bit and noticed her. “You...” he said, though his voice was weak. “Where am I?”
She didn’t know what to answer, for she had never been so far from home. “Who are you?” she asked instead.
“No one,” he answered. “I am no one. You... Why are you here?”
“I found you. I’m taking care of you,” she answered. After a moment she added, “My name is Shrisaelte.”
She wasn’t sure why she gave him her name. Perhaps it was because although he was covered with dirt and sand and was sick, she could see that he was quite handsome.
He shivered. “Cold...”
She realized that she, too, was cold. She knew a little about how to start a fire. She looked around for fuel. The driftwood near the water would do no good; it was too wet. Within a few minutes of scavenging farther in, however, she had found enough. She was sure the Watcher had led her to it. She made her thanks and piled the wood up a bit above the high-tide line.
She realized that, though he had come up the beach a bit, the tide had nearly reached him. The two of them together found enough strength to get him a few more feet, and then she tried to light the fire. She failed on the first attempt and on the second and third as well. She searched for better kindling and found some dry grasses nearby. After trying with this for several minutes, she finally succeeded in making a fire.
Even with the fire, he shivered. She had never wished so much for a blanket; she moved close to him, for his body was quite warm. She lay there in the dark, cold and hungry and trying to keep him comfortable.
Copyright © 2014 by Christopher Edmund Nelson