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viernes, 1 de diciembre de 2017

The Bird of Prey and the Sun

“Anyway, it's like with bikes,' said the first speaker authoritatively. 'I thought I was going to get this bike with seven gears and one of them razorblade saddles and purple paint and everything, and they gave me this light blue one. With a basket. A girl's bike.'
'Well. You're a girl,' said one of the others.
'That's sexism, that is. Going around giving people girly presents just because they're a girl.”
(Good Omens)

For Eileen.

The Bird of Prey and the Sun:

Sat in the gloomy twilight Mara counted the seconds as she leant nonchalantly against the wall. She was surrounded by fellow offenders, who shared her fate for various crimes.
The last rays of the evening’s light crept through a grate in the ceiling, finding their way to the cell’s rusty door.
Suddenly the door was flung open and a naked girl came crashing in, her knees and elbows scraping against the rock.
Mara watched her, the girl didn’t seem to fully comprehend where she was. In a pitiful state, she retreated into a corner weeping like a lost child in the woods.
After crying for a few minutes, she got to her feet, tried to compose herself, picked up a whitish piece of clay and started scribbling something on the rust of the door. She seemed erratic, like an apparition or an otherworldly visitor.
And everyone watched her, wide-eyed: someone to blame was now among them.
Mara, however, only had eyes for one thing, which was what this stranger was writing:

Freedom is an evolving project: when we reach one rung, we fight to get to the next, because only in this way can we guarantee our rights in a world of discord. Freedom of course has its limits, and in many cases, they come in the form of four damp walls and the echo of the word, guilty before the law.
Amid such censorship we women are like shadows at nightfall, the imaginings of muses or witches, not even requiring shackles. For this reason, we must reflect on the power which they have always denied us and we have never demanded.

Until very recently, and despite her young age, Aisling had been the owner of a printing press and had always shouldered the burden that came with being a woman: the mere refection of those men who had so generously protected her, and who had allowed her to express an opinion about her own reality. She had always been “daughter of...”, then “wife of...” and now “widow of...”  –so young, childless, orphaned by the plague two months earlier– and therefore vulnerable and defenceless, which in turn meant dispossessed and silenced.
Indeed, Aisling’s printing press had been closed down by the authorities, who felt it necessary to put an end to the free distribution of seditious and immoral ideas. She had then been detained, sentenced and imprisoned. Throughout the length and breadth of the kingdom an aggressive campaign of expropriation was taking place so that the new status quo would be monopolised by that aristocracy allied with the crown.
The fine china, conviviality and crystal glassware had been replaced by the unbearable stench of faeces and urine, and the agony of a body never before maltreated by others.
And in those absent moments of disquiet Aisling, chalk in hand, would set about writing that short fragment of her most recent work, The Bird of Prey and the Sun. She could, however, barely hear herself think above the increasingly intense and agitated murmur behind her. The gestures had become more violent, the grunts, more guttural: all eyes were now fixed on Aisling among a cacophony of unrecognisable words. And her suspicion began to give way to fear.
These little beasts, naked just like her, stood barely higher than her waist, with the largest among them reaching chest height, but they had strength in numbers which left her uneasy. She had never seen them in such a feral state, without masters or authority. The vrashaia were like vermin: hairy, ferocious, with large pointed ears, claws –appropriately extracted in most cases– and primitive ways.
One of them pointed at the wall where Aisling had been writing, pushing two of the cohort backwards, as it and they continued to shriek at each other, and then positioned itself between the human and this mob of creatures, arms extended, as if to stop them passing. Another, the largest of them, seemed to stand alongside this guard of sorts.
–Guards! –Aisling shouted when her patience finally ran out–. Guards! –she quickly glanced behind her, noticing that one of the creatures which had been repelled by her protector was now bleeding from a cut to the shoulder–. Guards...?
–You’re safe, I think –her protector told her, with a fairly high-pitched, gentle-sounding voice. When it turned around to look at her, Aisling realised that it was a female: her face had soft features and the hair covering it was fine and very short, in fact, she then realised that they were all females–. My name is Mara and I’ve always been in chains –she declared, with an unexpectedly light-hearted air–. Did you get locked up for writing that?
The young human tried to process what was happening, but her ten years or so of observing social convention and proper manners meant she was unable to muster much confidence.
–Yes... –she managed to say, incredulous. In any other situation and in all likelihood, a vrash speaking so spontaneously to a human would have resulted in severe corporal punishment.
Venn sevshek leesrisgven hima tükale vrashö –Mara said to the rest of her cohort.
Na fe spella sevshka, Mara! –she shot back one of the vrashaia in disagreement, and others howled messages which sounded far from friendly.
Niesa skenair! –Aisling heard many of them say contemptuously.
Si nemr nase fe spellra seda kalashirel malel –cried Mara, authoritatively–, nemr rraglanne sevshkür lo venne parsä nikava fe, kasärrai attan sarhen! Enai vrashaia, umanaia, niesa leesrüvra, nim dem hara giulevra! –she stated, pointing a hand at the human and raising another to her chest as if referring to herself–. Akalla?! Shavenne: na spella shelaan vennava tahäria si vennei aiashlei na naala!
Sörgürrha varenn nagash ned nella oga tükalei aiashlei? –asked a voice, which was Iiölani, the one who had stood alongside Mara. And nobody could have lessened Aisling’s absolute shock at what was said next: nagash ned nella, on uttering this insult, each and every one of those creatures were condemned to death.
Na fe nagsha ned nella! –stated Mara, aggressively–. Would you die for your words? –she offered the translation with an innocent smile.
–Y-yes stuttered Aisling, caught between doubt and caution, remembering that she had after all been arrested for expressing her ideas. The tension seemed to ease slightly, although small pockets of heated discussion continued.
–That's good to know: I’d say there are some who want you dead, human. Her over there, for example –said Mara cheerfully, speaking quickly and pointing out the one whose shoulder she had injured–, but I’m fairly sure someone powerful too, you’ll see... I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there aren’t any guards on patrol around here. There is, however, something in your favour.
–Tell me, then –said the human, still uncertain–, what are my chances?
–I’d say that you’re the sort of person who knows how to listen to others –Mara told her encouragingly, she then took her by the hands and led her into the furthest corner and continued in a whisper–. I am thinking about my people here, our hearing is very sharp: all those times that you told your wet nurse that your underskirt only reached your ankle, we kept things secret –Mara raised the corner of her mouth with a mischievous smile, but in smiling back Aisling did not appear quite so amused.
–I’ve got no use for an underskirt, so change it for men’s breeches –said Aisling, somewhat drily–. What I mean is... when I’m dressed –she added timidly.
–You’re a girl. You’ve never worn one? –asked Mara, with surprise.
–Yes, but only because, when I was five years old, everyone around me seemed to know what being a five-year old girl was meant to be like.
–And it wasn’t like that –agreed the vrash. Mara wanted to build bridges, sometimes she thought that her problem was that she wanted to build and cross them right away, but it’s unfortunate to find yourself on the other side of the abyss, quite alone and suddenly realise that all the people on the opposite side are wielding torches. However, bridges are the first to fall, which is why it’s important not to be on top when that happens.
–I am a human... –Aisling shrugged her shoulders–. When I was five all I wanted to do was eat honey on toast and run around in the woods.
–Is that what humans do?
–Well... it’s what I used to do –she said, unsure of herself.
–Me too –Mara smiled again, dreamily–, that is... at least if you’re flexible with the word toast –another smile, one of those that conveys immense calm–. You know, many vrashaia hate you and would like nothing more than to see your heads on a pike, well... on a pike per head, I guess. Luckily for you we’re not all the same, which is exactly why some of us understand that you’re not all the same. Hating an entire group is easy, hating each individual, one by one, is even more stupid –after saying these words, she raised her voice again–. But you write for us. And we’re screwed, no matter where we come from, yes?
–We’re screwed, indeed –agreed Aisling, including herself in the group of recluses.
–We aren’t! –shouted a vrash called Mirel from among the group.
–Yes, we are! –insisted Mara strongly–. We’ve been condemned to die at a forced labour camp, ioban ss rrotar!
–Ok, yes, we are! –Mara looked for a meaningful response from the group of vrashaia–. It’s just that... I can’t stand agreeing with a human... –explained her counterpart and with that almost all of them burst out laughing, including Mara. She didn’t mind hiding just how much the situation pleased her.

And, to a certain extent, the plan had worked: as at that moment any tension seemed to have been completely defused, even if Aisling evidently remained uncertain.
–Don’t take it personally –said Mara–, we’re just a little tense, but only because we’ve been at each other’s throats a few times today.
–Aren’t you a woman of action, las? –said Mara looking up at her.
–No… not so much.
–What’s your name? –that question took her by surprise, perhaps because, now feeling safe again and therefore among inferiors, she was shocked that a vrash would speak to her in such a direct manner. Nevertheless, she tried to focus as she noticed Mara’s animated impatience, which reminded her of the reality of prison life:
–Well, Ashling, I know someone who’s going to help us, do you see the opening in the roof?
–Yes. I can almost... almost reach the bars –said the human as she stretched her fingers.
–Ok, ok, sit down she said, gesturing her over–. Listen, the plan is for all of us to escape, and I’m assuming you’re interested... in this plan –she specified.
–The alternatives aren’t all that appealing Aisling admitted.
–Fantastic –said Mara, rubbing her hands together–. This is what we’re going to do: a good friend is going to drop us a screw, plenty of rope and a dagger, I’ll open the door before the changeover and we’ll move quickly with everyone following my lead –she didn’t change her voice tone as she spoke at dizzying speed, her eyes fixed on Aisling, knowing full well that everyone could hear her–. We don’t want to run into the guard or his swords, let alone his crossbows or muskets, so, if we do see anyone, you know what to do, we’re all “hellos”, courtesy and smiles. Think about it, eighteen smiles, that’s enough to warm anyone’s heart. If for any reason that tactic doesn’t work, we’ll have no choice but to face death without dignity and run like mad while I try to make the dagger look threatening, I don’t know, maybe in proportion... –she tailed off, looking down at her lowly vrash body–. But, as long as everything goes well, either we’re not caught, or I only have to kill a couple of guards, then we’ll climb down a cliff using the rope we’re expecting and at the bottom there’ll be a couple of anaemic rafts waiting for us, which I’m sure are big enough for eighteen prisoners to escape in, I know, I’m a genius, but don’t thank me just yet –Aisling tried not to laugh–. The first to use the rope are Alta and Fael, the little girls you can see over there –she said pointing them out with a sweep of her arm–, these are the rules. Some of the girls don’t have claws as their masters had them removed, for others this happened when they got here. The few of us who managed to keep them had to work miracles to hide them, cutting them, of course, and only because we knew that we would end up in prison, the quarries or tied to a stake. In any case, even though we’ll have to climb, we’ll go down last, in case things get ugly. If any of you try any funny business when we’re up at the top, you’d better make it quick, because if not I’ll kill you myself, and don’t even think about touching the girls. Ashling, stop looking at me like that –pleaded Mara–, I’m only explaining all of this because, ultimately, someone has bribed the guard to stop patrolling this area, I guess hoping that you’ll be found dead at change over, all of which means, like it or not, you’re helping us, and that means all of us –she stated, firmly, tugging on an ear–, the human is helping us. And like you said, you don’t have much of a choice, yes?
–How do you manage to speak so quickly...? asked Aisling, impressed, and then attempted to carry on.  Your people...
Mara heaved a deep, somewhat strained sigh, before interrupting.
–You've got everything here –she said–, from girls who were mistreated by their masters and who tried to resist right through to murderers: they’re not friends, we’re just here.
–Hey, I only went out to do some shopping! –exclaimed a vrash who went by the name of Aul.
–What’s clear is that many of you have been locked up for the only crime of your condition –said the human.
–We don’t need your pity –berated the tall Iiölani, in an accent so strong that Aisling struggled to understand her.
–Your destiny is either one of subordination or punishment –insisted the human, trying her best not to look unsettled.
–Just like yours –Mara responded, irritated–, except that your cell is a golden one and comes with breakfast. That... –she had a good look around–, well, clearly not anymore.
–I’d already bought the carrots, believe me... –muttered Aul.
–Somebody has to stand up for the less fortunate –Aisling insisted.
–Solidarity is like the horizon: every part of it is at the same level. But your proposal is just another form of conquest –said Mara.
–I see what you mean –Aisling continued–, you’re saying that this help which I’m offering is in no way different to the way a man helps a woman in order to deceitfully trick her into servitude.
–Is that what I mean? –Mara took on a startled expression–. Hey, look... this is so fucking simple, can someone fight for others? Well I’m delighted that you’re asking me –she answered herself theatrically–. The problem with fighting for others is that, in the end, you end up fighting for ideas and not people: we don’t want others to suffer and ideas cannot die, they offer security, so they turn into the perfect excuse to tell others what and how to think: people become chained to words, yes?
–I was just walking down the street and, boom! I end up here. To hell with those carrots!
–But you don’t have a chance, Mara –Aisling went on–. We masters have forced you into the role of slaves... little more than animals. Rivers of still wet ink have been written convicting you of your sins, as well as excusing us of ours.
–For the beasts, lashes; for witches, flames; for the enemy, the sword –said Mara–. Separating ourselves from those we kill is no more than an excuse to believe that we are not monsters.
–Morality is no more than a refined form of intolerance –concluded the human and the vrash laughed in response before answering:
Ashling, I still don’t know if people are good or bad, only that they move in different circles and I don’t belong to any of them.
–I don’t know about people interrupted Iiölani–, but humans are a bunch of sons of bitches…
–And in truth, do you really think that you’ll convince them to see you in a new light, with words alone? –Aisling was speaking to Mara, but couldn’t just ignore Iiölani, despite not having understood everything she said.
–No chance –admitted Mara with a smile–, but we’re free, yes? –she said laughing.
–And we have our dreams! –shouted someone the others called Shiaril.
Täänai, täänai! –cried another, called Iaashen.
Si miatter satah! –added Mirel, the human didn’t know what she’d said, but many of the vrashaia burst out laughing.
–And hunger! We’re hungry! –said Alta in her high-pitched childlike voice, some of the vrashaia, including Mara, fell about laughing.
Mara paused for a few seconds before continuing:
–Anyway, let’s get back to how we’re going to climb down that cliff, which, believe me, is not your friend –she said turning to the human–. We’re talking about a descent in the middle of the night... Even in the worst of conditions, my people see very well in the dark, but there’s no way you will land when you want to without using a grappling hook, even a poor quality one, so you’ll go down with the children and look after them –judging by the grunts and exchanges in that incomprehensible language, not everybody agreed with the idea of a human being in charge of two young vrashaia–. And, as for you lot –she said turning to the rest of the group–, I don’t want to hear any more about it –Aisling knew she was witnessing something quite special, Mara had no qualms about giving a human or anyone else orders–. Let’s make a deal: after the escape I don’t have anywhere to go and I need clothes, just that and a bed for one night. Do you have a house? Can we go?
–We can. As far as I know, my house has been searched by the military, and they’ve probably looted it too, given the reason why they locked me up was so that I would be illegally executed. In any case, what’s left of my house is in the village of Bré, which means we’ll have to walk through the woods in this sorry state, the crossing won’t be so simple or all that dignified.
–Oh, well... whatever you say. We’ll get to Bré through the woods, we should be there by dawn.  It should be warm enough for us not to freeze to death in the night.
–Once we’ve escaped, I’ll take the little ones with me said the young human.
–You won’t be able to stay in your house for long... the green of Mara’s eyes began to glimmer among the shadows.
–I know a man... –Ailsing began to say–. My uncle Aedan, will look after us. He lives near Dun Bealach, in the Gailimh region, where the laws are different… 
–...and you certainly can’t just pick someone out as your own as if you were choosing a pair of shoes to go with your hat. The little girls will be able to go wherever they want.
–My apologies, until a few seconds ago I didn’t even know you had your own dreams.
–Are you being sarcastic? –Mara looked her over, narrowing her eyes in amused suspicion–. I like you, but let’s not get carried away.

Aisling looked at the two little ones pensively: there was a certain size difference between them, the bigger of the two was helping the younger one along seemingly with some words of encouragement, the smaller one wore some bandages loosely around her torso and her arm was in a sling.
–What on earth would anyone punish children like this? enquired the human, unable to help feeling sorry for them.
–They picked up a toy in the garden outside their house and played with it, terrible, yes? –Mara said to her, looking at the youngsters–. The toy belonged to their master’s son.
–Alta and Fael will be the first to go down –asserted Aisling.
Mara decided to elegantly avoid her human habit of giving orders and assume that she was in charge, and continued speaking:
–You’ll have to help Fael, she was the one they found playing with the toy and they beat her and gave her three lashes, she’s just a little girl, it’s amazing that she’s endured so much. Now she’s very weak though and her arm and a couple of her ribs are broken, I’m not sure if she’s going to make it. Luckily, Alta was only with her, so they just gave her a couple of lashes, she’s older and recovering really well, she’s strong and is really healthy. Let’s pray for calm seas. Can you swim?
–Good. I’d rather die than be in a damn prison Mara snorted, aware of exactly what she was proposing.
–I don't know why you're putting so much trust in me Aisling confessed.
–This is why –responded Mara, turning to Fael and Alta and bringing them over to Aisling. Fael, in particular, looked scared witless and almost tearful, she was a very little girl–. She’s afraid too, Fael –Mara told the tiny vrash–, do you remember everything you cried about when you arrived? They’ve been bad to her too, you know? –she said with a maternal tenderness–. Come and speak to her, come on, she won’t bite.
A few seconds passed and Fael calmed down a little.
–Why were they bad to you? –asked the child plainly, once she had overcome the fear which gripped her.
–They didn’t like what I had to say: I criticise the privilege of those who make us into their slaves –Aisling said hesitantly, realising that communicating with children might not be her strong suit.
–She tells people that what’s fair is for us women to have the same power as men and, for whatever reason, men don’t like that –explained Mara.
–You speak for women, all women? –asked Alta, in disbelief.
–For the vrashaia too? –little Fael asked, full of wonder.
Las –answered the human, although it wasn’t true. Until that afternoon the vrashaia hadn’t meant anything at all. And furthermore, she could not speak on behalf of all women: she could not go on her way with a certain fixed idea of women, mainly because that was the mentality which she had come up against herself. Perhaps she was too young for such ideas but, as far as she could tell, those who seek the truth usually bring light into the darkness, while those who have found it tend to gather their firewood so that they can burn someone else.
Ashling is a fighter –added Mara, who hadn't been able to stop thinking of all the things she wanted to suggest, since seeing those words on the wall, words which she could have helped write, she definitely would reshape and strengthen certain ideas–. Take a look at what she’s written, do you understand?
The girls shook their heads, but looked up at Aisling as if admiring a hero.

Translation made by Raphael M. from https://en.mytranslation.com

Pictures respectively belong to:


Sharandula (Elena Berezina)