Decided for now I’ll share Vehan stuff both here and on newsletter as it’s written. If that isn’t working for anyone, let me know. There’s be a few more Vehan posts in the next week or too, as it’s a writerly ‘Ooh-shiny!’ at the moment and I have ideas for several more short pieces like this. No idea what long term post frequency will be.
Content notes: fictional slavery, bondage, hurt/comfort, assault reference, parental abuse reference
The woman was standing with her hands bound to the floor. The length of the rope would have been comfortable if she was kneeling, but she refused to kneel.
Henim had been told the woman became violent after testing, refusing to accept her placement as haoza. Ey understood. Henim had rejected eir placement as well, not realizing it was only a first step on a longer journey. A journey that might end today.
Henim had studied and learned for several years as an initiate of the priesthood. Eir grasp of the magics and crystal manipulation was strong. Now ey faced one last test.
And ey was angry. The woman was needing, hurting. She should be getting real help, not being a test for a novice, no matter how complete eir training.
Still, here they both were. Henim’s test was to help her accept her role as haoza or to determine that retesting was needed — that the crystal used to test her had failed.
Henim approached her, making sure she saw em coming. “Greetings, haoza.”
“Rodents eat your bones!” the woman yelled. “I am not supposed to be here! I am not supposed to be haoza!
“Let me go!”
Stopping out of her reach, Henim shook eir head. “You attacked the priest who did the reading,” ey said. Slowly, ey sat down on the floor.
Ey knew ey had read her right when her face filled with confusion. No longer faced with an authority figure looming over her, she didn’t know how to react.
“Why did you hurt the priest?”
“I… I…” Suddenly she was sobbing. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt him. Just… I’m… I’m supposed to be sen.”
Supposed to be, Henim noted. Some haoza wanted to feel trapped. This woman sounded like she already was trapped. “Why are you supposed to be sen?” ey asked.
“My parents are sen,” she said, “I shamed them in front of the whole city. It wasn’t my fault!” she started yelling again. “That priest was wrong!”
Henim’s heart went out to her, but ey didn’t reach for eir yet. While children followed their parent’s role half the time, it was far from guaranteed.
“Your parents shamed themselves, haoza,” ey soothed. “They had no right to push you into any role. You are not ‘supposed’ to be anything but yourself.
“I know you feel it — the urge to submit. You have been submitting to your parents all this time, trying to be the sen they wanted.”
“No,” she jerked back. “No, that’s not true. That’s not what…”
Fear filled her eyes now, instead of anger. “You’re wrong. You have to be wrong. I’m going to be sen! I promised them… I mean… I wanted…”
“What did you want?”
Tears now, trembling in her eyes. Henim clenched eir hands inside eir sleeves.
“I wanted to make them proud.”
Now ey reached out, reached up, and wiped the tears off her cheeks.
“Oh, my poor haoza. It is not your fault. Any parent should be proud of such a daughter. But you are grown now, and it is time to be yourself.
“It is only us here. Your parents will never know what you do. Let go of ‘supposed to’. ”
As ey spoke, the woman’s frantic breathing leveled out. She shifted back and forth a few times. “They’ll be angry.”
“They aren’t here. You have been so good for so long, haoza.” Henim cupped her cheek. She nuzzled into it, seeming unaware of what she was doing. “Show me yourself, beautiful one.”
With a slow sigh, she folded her legs under her and knelt.
“But it’s not just for now, is it?” she asked plaintively. “If I… you want me to go out there. And my parents will know…”
“They don’t ever need to, haoza.” Instead of protesting, she relaxed into the word now, leaning into Henim’s touch. “We can take you straight to your new quarters.”
She started a bit. “All of my things!”
“Were never yours. You knew this. Those things belonged to your parents. Now you will earn your own things. Things no one can take from you.”
“Not even my loom? The woman sighed again and nuzzled his hand. “My mother hated how much I wove…”
Henim chuckled and brought his other hand up to pet her dark curls. “I think I can find you a new loom. I’d like to see your weaving. It must be beautiful. Just like your hair.”
She sniffed and bent toward Henim. “It’s supposed to be sen’s hair. Haoza can’t have long hair. Especially with curls. Too much work.”
“Nonsense,” Henim said, with perhaps too much heat. The woman flinched, and Henim tried to speak more softly. “If you were mine, I’d have you with me all the time, so I could play with your hair. You’d kneel next to me while I worked, with your head in my lap, and I’d do everything one-handed because my other hand would be buried in your curls.” Ey chuckled a bit, acknowledging the double meaning of the words, and ey felt her shiver even as she pressed herself into em.
“Come,” ey urged, “Give yourself to me. Lay your head in my lap and submit. Give in to your desires.”
There was a hesitation. Another little sigh, and, bit by bit, the woman bent down and lay her head in Henim’s lap.
“What is your name?” ey asked after a few minutes stroking her hair.
“Aphshona,” she murmured. Then stiffened. “No.”
Henim’s hand stilled. “No?”
“That’s the name my parents gave me,” she said, “If I’m not keeping anything they gave me — I’m not keeping that.” Then, her voice took on a tinge of hysteria. “They can’t find me–they can’t punish me–if I have a new name.” She lifted her head and looked at em, pleading. “Right?”
Henim leaned over and hugged her. “Ah, beautiful haoza. You make me proud. Be who you want to be, and I promise we will keep you safe from them.”
She was quiet for a few minutes. Breathing, relaxing. “Shoneng. I’m Shoneng. I’ll keep part of that name because they helped to make me. But they don’t get to keep me.”
“No. Beautiful Shoneng, strong haoza. They don’t.”
Henim said nothing further. Only sat with her head in eir lap and fingers tangled in her hair.
At one point, she asked, scared, “I’m in trouble, aren’t I? For hurting the priest?”
Henim didn’t stop stroking her hair. “Only a little trouble.”
She accepted that and said nothing more.
Sometime later, ey stood and released her hands from the floor.
“Come. Let’s get you settled into your new life.”
It was only much later that night when Henim realized that from the moment ey had begun speaking with Shoneng, ey had completely forgotten it was a test. Eventually, ey realized that that was why ey had passed.
But by then, ey didn’t care.
I rather like Henim. We’ll be seeing more of em. Possibly more of Shoneng also.