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A Year and a Month and a Day (sample)
The temple stood still and silent in the deep of night. Nan Kuwo lay still, barely breathing, awake in the Place of Dreams. She should not have been awake—the Place of Dreams had a way of making sleep come. But, nonetheless, she lay unsleeping.
Many years of hopes and four years of preparation had gone into this night; four years of gathering surplus and selling it for coin, of convincing her family and clan that she, of all their clan, while yet unmarried, should bring the clandestine offerings to the temple. She carried the hopes of her family and clan, as well as the blessings of the home priestess.
Once she was here at the women's temple, she had begged for the grace of one night in the Place of Dreams, her birthright as the youngest daughter of a youngest daughter. Very few women applied for that privilege anymore, for fear of being chosen to serve in the temple, against the wishes of family and the gods of the overlords. But Nan Kuwo let herself hope that she would be chosen. If only she slept. She rolled onto her other side, facing the outer door.
The sound of a footstep brought her alert. Someone walked close. The sweet scent of spring blossoms came to her nostrils, and she nearly sneezed.
"You are not asleep," an amused voice said. Nan Kuwo opened her eyes. The night was as dark as the black waters of the Swampy-Bottom River. She only saw the silhouette. A head, shoulders. Then a faint sourceless glow showed her the one who came. Not-man, not-woman. Nan Kuwo inhaled sharply. This, here in front of her, was the Goddess she had come to petition. Nan Kuwo rolled and pressed her forehead against the sleeping mat.
"Sit up. I do not ask for the obeisance that the invaders' gods do."
Nan Kuwo sat up. The Goddess's voice was rich, gentle, full of good humor. Nan Kuwo didn't feel reprimanded despite the correction in the words. She carefully maintained the silence imposed on her the evening before by the priestess.
"You may speak to me," the Goddess Who Is Both said, sitting gracefully beside the thin sleeping mat that Nan Kuwo occupied. "Even here, in the temple. What have you come to ask?"
Nan Kuwo swallowed hard, her mouth suddenly dry. "I think I am a Both," she said, the first time she had ever admitted it aloud. "And I am the youngest daughter of a youngest daughter, and my life should belong to you, not to the foreign gods who do not value daughters at all."
The Goddess sobered. "A Both. Very few of those are born, especially now, when the rites have been outlawed. What leads you to believe you are a Both?"
"I don't know," Nan Kuwo said. "But I remember things I should have no memory of—what it is like to be a man—and I have always thought I should be the other. I thought for a long time I was a Wrong, instead. A man born in a woman's body. But I would not—I could not abandon this." Nan Kuwo touched her breasts.
"There is a test, which does not fail, for one who desires the life of a Both. It is not gentle. If you are a Wrong, or not a true Both, you will die. If you are a Both, you will never be able to live as only a woman. Is it your desire to be subjected to this test?"
Nan Kuwo closed her eyes a moment. For this, she had schemed since she was six years old. For this, she had worked and maneuvered, all hidden and unsuspected. If she were confirmed as a Both, she would be outlawed by the overlords, hunted from every place except here, outcast from her family. And yet. She knew in her heart, in her guts, in her liver and kidneys, that she was truly called to the temple, and called as a Both.
"I will stand the test," she said, opening her eyes.
Cover design by Danica B. West, from photograph by Holly Stuart, all rights reserved.
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This page created 22 September 2011
Last update 21 March 2014