Nartha-hak in Her Own Words
One of the pleasures of writing in the first person is that every sentence can reveal something about your character. What follows are a variety of quotes from A Single Deed that provide insights into Nartha. To avoid giving away the plot, I’ve altered some slightly.
A note: washavoki is the orcish word for “human.” It means “dog teeth.”
In my childhood, misfortune clung to me like a strangling vine. But it grew slowly at first, and my earliest memories are happy ones. Then my world was so small that a tiny stone hut encompassed all its important parts.
I must have cried, for I recall Minra rushing to my side and gently stroking my face. “Nartha, Nartha, sweet little one, fear not,” she cooed. “Only love is here.” And it was so, for unlike me, she never learned to lie.
On my first night in the hall, I wasn’t only ignorant of the rules governing status, I’d no idea how they would affect my life. In that, I was a moth flying toward a spider web: I would understand its workings only after it held me fast.
While every word Minra said was true, that doesn’t mean she told me everything. She spoke carefully, and so did Huduk. If I misconceived the way of things, it wasn’t due to what they said. Silence isn’t untruth, though it may seem that way in hindsight.
When she saw that I wasn’t leaving, her words burst forth with the urgency of long-caged birds. They were quick and harsh. “Washavoki! Your mother mated with some washavoki. It had yellow hair and came to trade for sand ice.”
My new name moved through the hall, a breeze that stirred some tongues but left others still. Usually it was whispered—not to me but within my hearing. I tried to ignore it, but over time the sound became as irritating as the hum of a mosquito.
I didn’t fall in love, for a fall is sudden—a slip followed by a thud. Love came like the puff of breath that sends a star seed floating on the wind. It blew so gently it was a while before I realized that I was aloft and nothing would ever seem the same again.
When one is sixteen winters old, choices may not be easy but they’re simple. Angry and heartbroken, I wanted to act and did. No other options occurred to me, only the most drastic one. It was my nature at that time.
Later, Master entered the room bearing a small flame to help him see. “Come, Nartha,” he said, “I’ve work for you.”
When we were outside, Master said I was to dig a grave and led me to the place he wanted it dug. I followed him, shovel in hand, with Drake’s body slung over my shoulder. The ground Master selected was in a low, swampy place that was strewn with garbage and smelled of rot. There, the earth was damp and soft, so digging a shallow hole was easy work.
Master watched from inside a circle of light while I worked in darkness. But the dark hid nothing from me. I saw Drake’s sightless staring eyes, his silent half-open mouth, his bloodless face, and his fingers stiffly gripping nothing. Then some of Beatrice’s sorrow seized me, though I tried to fight it off. Compassion is weakness in a killer, and my goal was to become one. So I dragged Drake into the shadowy hole and covered his eyes with dirt.
Why do childhood’s wounds bleed forever? When Master locked me away for the night, I often heard my aunt’s bitter words and my cousins’ taunts. They came as clearly as if my tormentors were crouching on the floor beside me. Worse, their accusations made sense. If I weren’t tainted, why would the washavokis take me for one of their own? I might be repelled by Beatrice’s scent, but did I smell any better? Or any different?
Before Steffen led them away, he turned and looked me in the eye. “Come,” he said.
My ignorance made me helpless, so there was nothing to do but follow at his heels. That was the day he named me Dog. It was a fitting name, for I was a stray that could be had with a single word. I’ve told what happened next—one event leading to another until I was left alone to try my hand at stealing. And if I lost my life, what would Steffen lose? A dagger.
Needing to embrace my victim, I felt him die. He shivered as if cold and made soft gurgling sounds as I gently lowered him to the floor. As I did, his warm blood flowed over my arms. If he’d been a stag or a hare, I would have thanked his spirit for the body it was leaving. But I hadn’t killed for nourishment or a warm pelt; I’d killed to steal. So gratitude seemed out of place. I felt shock and horror instead.
Despite the time that had passed, I couldn’t get Nantok from my mind. He wasn’t just my first love, I was certain he’d be my only one. The impossibility of ever seeing him—or any of my kind—became more oppressive over time. As life grew tranquil, there was less to distract me from the prospect that I’d never again feel a loving caress. Love was only a memory doomed to grow ever more distant. Sometimes I’d wake with my flesh aching for Nantok’s touch. At those times my need would feel as powerful as thirst or hunger. Yet already, his face had faded in my recollection, and I dreaded the day when there would be only longing in its place.
The long journey to the ruin had aggravated my injured foot, and walking hurt. The night was clear, but the moon soon set, leaving only stars for light. With each painful step, I grew more annoyed by his bumbling attempt to lead the way. “You can barely see,” I said at last. “Before you get us lost, tell me where we’re going. Then I can lead.”
“I’m your keeper, not the other way around.”
“I can see in the dark. Didn’t your masters tell you?”
“They only said that you’re half orc.”
“Orcs see well at night,” I said. “But you can’t even see the rock in my hand. Did they tell you I used a rock to kill a man? It was at night.” I smiled upon smelling his fear.
“They’ll know if I’m harmed.”
“Perhaps they will,” I replied. “And perhaps you’re only saying that to save your skin.”