Zaff flinched only a little as the knife cut into the fleshy part of her shoulder, slicing under the skin just enough for Martha to ease the cool metal key into its place. She did not turn to watch the careful precise way Martha sewed the wound closed, with nearly invisible stitches so that the scar would be only a ghost of a ridge. She kept her eyes on the metal key on the table, and the ragged edge that filled in the spaces of the key now nestled in her flesh. She tried to memorize the coastline of its edge. Only one key would fit the one in her arm. They were designed so that matching them together would be a perfect, unquestionable identification. But should a key ever be presented to her, she would want to be very certain of it before taking the knife to her arm. She would hate to remove it for nothing. It would be difficult to put back by herself.
She looked down at the tiny baby girl in her arms. The baby was still between worlds; red-faced, and only half awake. Swaddled in as many blankets as they could spare, she was warm in Zaff’s arms, oblivious to the dark night outside, the cold air seeping into the rough hut, and the tense faces around the blazing fire. Zaff did not love it—not yet anyway—but she assumed that she would, someday. She could not imagine spending years in constant contact with it without coming to view it as a part of herself and loving it, by extension at least. Perhaps the little one would be adorable in its babyhood, would astonish her by its love of life, and capacity for learning. She was not insensible. There would be good honest reasons to grow to love it, eventually.
What she felt now for it, mostly, was pity. Pity for the life she knew the little one would have. A hard life without a history in a world that valued family history above all else. Zaff knew the pain of having no history. The woman she had called Mother had been a holderkeeper too. For all of her fifteen years Zaff had known that roots were not her inheritance. All she had ever known for certain about her history was that she had come from somewhere else – somewhere where she was not wanted.
She felt a tug as Martha leaned close to bite off the end of the thread, then the pressure of a cloth wrapped around the wound. Zaff inched closer on the wooden bench to the fire in the hearth, toasting her back while she still had the chance.
“Listen, Zaffiery girl. Check this. Every day. Change the cloth till it heals. Every day,” Martha said. “If evil spirits take you, you are no use to the babe.”
Zaff nodded. No one said no to Martha. Villagers said her steely eyed stare could make a wild wolf whimper. The baby stirred. Zaff shifted the little one in her arms, giving it her little finger to suckle. The baby sucked lustily a few times then dropped off to sleep, its little mouth falling open in a peaceful O. Zaff smiled wryly. Caring for the baby would be the easy part.
© 2017 Christine Pinto