Chapter 17 - History
“Perhaps out of a sense of duty to her dead sister, my aunt raised me, but she hated me with every fiber of her being. She never allowed a day to pass without a reminder that if it weren’t for me, my mother would have lived. It never occurred to her smallminded heart to blame her sister for allowing herself to conceive, and not ending the pregnancy,” Rowan admitted with the edges of hurt, and bitterness in her voice. Marcus returned and sat some distance from them to give them privacy.
“I grew faster than the other children I saw from a distance. She didn’t allow me near them, and neither did their parents. The villagers shunned her for raising me, but I had a sneaking suspicion they used my presence as an excuse to avoid her. Her unhappy bitterness, her nasty temper and holier-than-thou attitude had alienated even the priest, long before I came along. She was one of those people with a list of grievances against the world and just about everyone in it,” Rowan told them, and this time neither of them could read her face. Alena learned only one thing from Rowan’s emotions, despite everything, she loved her aunt.
“My mother and aunt were half-sisters, and judging from snatches of conversation I overheard, her mother wasn’t much better than her. She turned everything into an argument in which she always ended up seeing herself as the injured party,” Rowan frowned at the memory. Both Alena and Marcus knew a few similar specimens.
“Dahlia watched me grow stronger and faster, and she made me work from the moment I walked, to keep me from doing evil. The stronger I became, the more she disliked me, and it never occurred to me that she feared me,” Rowan admitted.
“She beat me every morning and every night; said she would knock the badness from me. I didn’t understand her hatred. It wasn’t the way other people treated their children, not even children that were not theirs by blood. I learned the hard way why she feared me. I must have been eleven,” Rowan had to struggle for control, even after all these years. The memories in her head were still too vivid.
“You came of age,” Alena realized, and until then Rowan never considered that Alena must have suffered through something similar.
“It was just a chicken, but my aunt caught me in the act, and I would never forget the horror or disgust on her face. Her hatred and fear froze me in place. I stood like a lamb to the slaughter until she grabbed me,” Rowan shook her head as if she wanted to dislodge the memory from her mind, and her feelings were so strong Alena felt them like her own.
“I would never have hurt her. Dahlia was all I had, and despite the way she treated me, she was my only parent. I loved her,” Rowan’s eyes were bright with tears as she painfully admitted those last three words, as much to them as herself.
Rowan hesitated before she continued, almost as if she had to steel herself for what happened next and Alena felt a twist of sympathy in her gut for the eleven-year-old Rowan.
“Dahlia pulled me over a bale of hay and tied my hands to my feet with the rope going under the bale, so I was face down. I was so stunned and disgusted at myself that I allowed it,” Rowan rocked back and forth, but she never even knew; lost in the past, unaware of her surroundings. Marcus moved closer to them and listened intently to their conversation. He eavesdropped on her story and did not leave after realizing the pain and pathos the child must have suffered.
“I guess I never thought she would do me serious harm. I was too innocent to understand she suffered from mental instability, and that my actions combined with her fear pushing her over the edge,” Rowan shivered as she said those words, and it was an involuntary reaction to the images in her mind.
“I was young. My wounds didn’t heal as fast as they do now and until then, I never suffered a serious injury. Bruises, bumps, scrapes, cuts, and welts healed within hours, but what Dahlia did, my body did not heal,” Rowan became quiet, and they were almost too afraid to breathe, in case she remembered their presence and chose not to share the watershed event which reshaped her life.
“She retrieved the skinning knife from the cutting block where she slaughtered the chickens and cut me across my back, edging the blade beneath the skin like you would flay a fish. I’d seen her cut dead animals like that, but I was unprepared for her to do the same to me, and with the same lack of feeling or sympathy she displayed toward a cut of meat. She fetched ground rock salt from the floor of the animal pen and stuffed the wound with it like I was a roast. It burned like fire. She didn’t care that my blood poured from my body. She ignored my pathetic screams of pain along with my pointless pleas for help,” Rowan closed her eyes for the briefest moment, while she took deep breaths to calm herself. Tension coiled her muscles, and her fisted hands were white-knuckled.
“It was almost as if Dahlia had grown deaf to my voice. Her eyes seemed glazed, and her breathing uneven while her heart hammered in her chest, and she muttered the entire time. The words were in a language I’d never encountered before, and they made little sense. She got a blunt needle from the leatherworking kit, and she sowed the wound shut as if my skin were sacking, not living flesh,” Rowan stared at nothing. Her eyes blazed with the memory of those moments, and her breathing sounded ragged with repressed panic.
“She eventually directed her words toward me. She called me an ungrateful animal, a vicious monster, an abomination, a hideous creature from the darkness of hell, a blight, and I cried. Then Dahlia turned my head, so she looked into my eyes, and she told me she should have thrown me in the river that day. She said someone spotted her before she found the right spot. Dahlia cackled with laughter and told me not to worry; she would burn the madness from me. I had no idea what day she spoke of, and I never found out,” Rowan glanced at them, and she was less unaware of her surroundings than before, but her expression would haunt them both for a long time.
“Dahlia took the horsewhip down from the tack rack, and she beat me until her strength failed, before she stormed into the night, still cursing the day I was born,” Rowan pulled up her legs, and she placed her arms around them as if she were hugging herself.