I have been reluctant to talk about myself, about my past, with my new friends. I don’t know why. I haven’t done anything wrong. I am not my father; his actions are not my actions. Part of my reluctance is the painful memories. When I think about my brother, I still feel the grief as if I were once again a child in the caravan. Ahmad’s death hit us hard, but I couldn’t imagine that it would destroy our family.
In his later years my father became a rich man. His friends would slap him on the back, wink at me and say “Gold sticks to your father’s fingers; you are a lucky girl!”
I was happier when we were poor. The long dusty days of walking behind the wagon, my sister, Persia, and I talking and laughing. My father was a rug salesman, a traveling rug salesman — the lowest rung on the ladder. I remember the laughter and the singing. I was eight when my brother Ahmad was born. He was early — we were far from a town or even a village. It was a hard birth. I think in some ways my mother died that day.
As we made our way to the capital city, Ahmad died. Father said that Pelor had welcomed Ahmad back into the sky, but I wondered. Mother was nothing but a figure, asleep in the back of the wagon most of the time. We were within sight of the capital, a few days more of dusty travel, when Persia started complaining of pains in her stomach. I started crying at the blood, but my father assured me that Persia was fine; she was simply no longer a child.
I sat up that night and watched my father stare at the campfire. He was silent. His eyes looked empty in the dim light. In the morning I woke to see him and Persia packing a satchel with her clothes. “Where are you going? You are sick, aren’t you?” I cried.
She rushed over and assured me that Father was taking her to the city first. He knew of a wealthy rug merchant who would be happy to foster her for a few years. She said, “Now that I am a woman and Mother cannot teach me, I must go and live with this family.” Her eyes were wet with tears, but I could tell that she was excited to be going. I did not see her for almost 8 years.
My fathers business began to grow, seemingly overnight people sought out his stall and bought his rugs. As the saying goes, “he shook the sand from his slippers and gold coins fell out.” Mother did not improve, but nor did she decline. I floated down quiet corridors of our house, lonely for Persia and for the happy days on the road.
My fate was to marry some merchant’s son and have babies. I’d always known this and I didn’t know that anything else could befall me. The parade of prospective husbands began in my 16th year. They were of a kind to me — not that my opinion mattered. This was between fathers, this joining of dynasties.
On a day I was to be fitted with the beginnings of my bridal costume, I discovered the truth of my father’s wealth. At sixteen I was finding a seed of rebellion inside me. I slipped away from my chaperon, an ancient maid my father had gotten to help with polishing my manners. I was in a part of the city I did not know when I heard my sister’s voice. It was on the other side of a wall. I followed the curve of the wall with sudden hope that I could see Persia again.
The stones of the wall were old, cracked and dark with mosses. I slid my hand along them, barely breathing. This must be, I thought, the courtyard of the wealthy family! The wall ended in a door. I could not go any further this way and I was afraid to try to follow the wall the other way — I might be caught by my chaperon. So I knocked on the door.
A small door at about eye level slid open. A voice said, “Do you seek The Reaper, child?”
“I want to see my sister, Persia, please. She lives here!”
“Those who follow Nerull do not have sisters or brothers. We bring darkness to all.”
I couldn’t see the face that spoke these words and I was confused. “This is a church? It’s not a house? A wealthy rug merchant’s house?”
“Ah. Is it wealth you seek? We can help you there. Nerull rewards his children with wealth…… and other prizes. Do you wish to join us? Say the words and I will open the door.”
The voice was inviting and repulsive at the same time. I backed away shaking my head. I heard laughter as I ran back the way I’d come. It was a short matter to discover that the church of Nerull — worshipers of the god of death, darkness and murder — accepted acolytes and that sometimes the god granted a wish to the family of the child……. a wish for wealth.