Grandmother Ona Begins a Tale

I've been noodling away at my Heartbeasts story seed today- I got a lot more done in my head than I got on the page, because of course when you are making faces at an infant in a bath you can still be working in your head.  But it's something!

(This little tale-telling occurs not long after Ketsia has discovered LittleWing, so she's about six.)


“The Empire came to this country when I was still a girl- older than Eolyn, but still a few years from marrying age.  We knew they were coming: refugees ran before them like rats from a ship, and from their tales our king knew we could not stand against the Empire’s endless, gleaming armies.  And so he made a treaty, and we were absorbed peacefully into the Empire, trading heavy taxation for our lives and the right to keep much of our own culture.  Because we did not fight, our people were given the opportunity to become citizens, and quickly introduced to the pleasures and entertainments citizenship could provide.

“One such entertainment came in the form of gladiator fights, which showcased warriors from the many lands the Emperor had conquered.  I was never allowed to attend- my mother thought them barbaric, and she was right- but those who were allowed reported back to me on the amazing spectacle, their eyes shining with admiration for the raw power and beauty of the gladiators.  Now that I am older I understand the fights for what they were: entertainments, yes, but also a reminder, a warning: “We have conquered and subjugated these fierce peoples, and we will do the same if any of you decide to rise up in defiance of your king’s treaty.”  They were also, in their way, a means of recruiting young men for the Empire’s army: “Join us, and you too will be able to fight like this.”  In those early days enlisting was still voluntary, and one of the most direct paths to citizenship.

“The most impressive of the foreign gladiators belonged to a race of people known as the Dobhen, from lands far to the east of our own.  Unlike us, the Dobhen had fought- fought to the point of near eradication.  Those who remained lived in secret, and those who were discovered, were killed: or else brought to the pits to fight, which was often the same.

“Those who did survive did so because they had that rare gift unique to the Dobhen: they had a heartbeast.”

Ketsia, unable to contain herself, interrupted gleefully, “Like me and Eolyn?”

“Yes,” said Grandmother Ona slowly, “But think, child- even young as she is, LittleWing has teeth and talons: she can defend herself and you.  But CurlyTips…”

“Sometimes sheep have horns!”

“Well, she might someday have horns, but not yet, .  And even if she does eventually grow them, sheep are not generally known for their fighting prowess.  Especially not the ewes.  And so it was for those Dobhen flung into the pits; only those few who had a heartbeast, and only those fewer still whose heartbeast could be turned to fighting, only those precious few survived.

"Your grandfather was one of them.”

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