Hummingbird skitted about the cornstalks, happily chirping her little ditty. The rustling of the sheaths added a slow rumble to the tempo of her song. Next, the crickets added their voices to the mix, and it wasn't long before all of Beauty was singing along with her.
Hummingbird soaked in every beat, hum and whisper offered up around her. Slowly she began to dance with the cornstalks, unable to resist the inviting swishes across the face and pushes of the back. With corn as her partner, she danced her heart out and cried with joy.
Flit, flit. Dart, dart, dart. Flit, flit. Dart, dart, dart. Flit, Flit. THUMP!
Hummingbird's dance was brought to an abrupt end as she collided with her new partner. She went sprawling. She laughed as she bounced back up, excited to see who was there. The smell of lilies met her nose before the face met her eyes.
"Hello, Hummingbird." A deep, soft, powerful and comforting voice greeted her.
"Oh, hello! Do you want to dance with us?" Hummingbird had noticed that Beauty had continued to dance and sing without her.
"Another time. I have something for you." He handed her a picture of a child. She took it and frowned. "What's wrong, Hummingbird?"
"It's a sad picture. I don't like sad pictures. I only draw happy, pretty pictures."
"Not everything sad is ugly, Hummingbird. You don't have to draw her, only to watch out for her and visit her. She is going to suffer many things and will need encouragement."
"You mean she is going to get a boo-boo?"
"She is going to get several."
"Why don't you keep her away from the boo-boos?" Hummingbird looked at him, almost accusingly. She watched him give what might be called a sigh as he bowed his head and took a moment to contemplate.
"I don't know the full answer to that question," He responded. "But I know it is better for her to experience the suffering than to be saved from it.”
Hummingbird frown again. "I don't understand."
"I don't always understand either, but I always trust. Will you watch her?" Hummingbird looked at the picture again; the frown deepened. She nodded her head. "Will you encourage her?" Another nod. "Good. Keep dancing, Hummingbird; you do it well." With a slight bow of his head he left her.
"Wait," she called out. "What's her name?"
"Where am I?" her pitiful, childish voice rang out. The men who were with her turned on her roughly.
"Don't ask questions," one of them responded, shoving her into a chair.
"But where am I?" She insisted. Her fear made her bold. Her anger made her reckless. She stood and shot back at him: "Why did you hurt Micah? Are you going to make sure he's alright? Where have you brought me? When are you going to take me back home?"
"Shut up!" A slap across the cheek knocked her back into her chair.
"That's enough, Jothram." A new voice entered the conversation. Joyel looked up. It was a third man. He was tall, slim, but powerful-looking. His bass voice added to his impression. "When a child asks you a question, you must answer them gently? Isn't that right, Gorath?" He addressed the other man in the room, mockingly. Gorath turned away and said nothing.
Joyel was emboldened by this third's presence. He seemed more gentle and welcoming. She felt her pulse relax. This was all a mistake and he was going to set it right. She didn't rise this time, but she repeated her initial question to him all the same. He crouched down next to her chair and matched his face to hers in order to match eye levels.
"You are in Miarnsol. In my home."
"Why have you brought me here?"
"Don't you like it here?"
"Those men aren't very nice. They hurt Micah."
The man glared at them. "This was supposed to be a clean job. You shouldn't have nabbed her with other children around."
"She's talking about her bodyguard," Jothram explained in defense.
"Ah. I'm sorry about that, Joyel, but it couldn't be helped. You see, he wanted to keep you from visiting us, and we so wanted you to come."
"Well, someone should take care him. He'll get sick otherwise."
"Listen kid - " Jothram stepped forward but was stopped by a look from the man still crouched next to Joyel.
"I promise you, Joyel, that Micah will be taken care of."
Something in his tone made Joyel feel uneasy. She was tired and her skin chaffed against the rope. "Take these off." She demanded lifted up her bound wrists; the man Gorath stepped towards her with a knife. He also was stopped. The crouching man stood up.
"No, she can take them off herself."
Joyel did not like the sound of that. She sat a bit straighter, stuck out her chin and stared up at the three men. "Untie me right now and then take me home. I don't like it here. I don't want to visit."
"Demanding little thing isn't she?" He turned to leave; the other two followed his example. Joyel was still tied and they were leaving her. Panic was starting to rise in her, forcing her to her feet.
"Wait!" She almost screamed. "Aren't you going to take me home?"
The third man smiled at her: "This is your home." And shut the door.
"Come on, girl. You'd better get up before he comes to see you. I have breakfast for you."
Joyel felt foggy. She didn't recognize the voice. Did she get a new nursemaid? She tried pushing herself off the bed but she couldn't; her arms must be asleep. Hands reached out and pulled her up into the chair. Joyel finally was able to open her heavy eyelids. Sun beamed in through the window but there was something strange about the curtains. She glanced around the room; everything seemed out of place. Why had she been moved to a different bedroom? She was about to ask the maid who she was and why she hadn't been told about the change in rooms, when she felt something odd on her wrists. She tried to move them but she couldn't. The slightest movement hurt as if skin was being rubbed raw. She looked down at her hands only to find them tied together.
That's when it hit her. She let out one scream. Then another, followed by a continuous stream of screams. The woman with her tried to calm her down, but Joyel took no notice of her. Someone barged into the room; Joyel barely noticed he was one of the men she had talked to last night.
"What is she screaming for?"
"I don't know."
"Well shut her up!"
Something like a growl came from him. He walked over to where Joyel sat and smacked her soundly. She stopped screaming. "That's better." He rubbed his temples and walked around the room, loosening himself up. "Well, since I'm here I might as well get on with my task of the day." He pulled a chair up next to her. "Joyel, my name is Anson." He might as well have introduced himself as Lucifer. In her current state, he appeared very much like the devil to Joyel, exciting and enticing but deadly and treacherous. "I trust you slept well." He waited for a response but got none. "I want to tell you about your new life. The life you knew as Joyel is gone. She’s dead."
Joyel took him literally. She screamed again, pain ripped up with sore throat as her high-pitched fear escaped her. Anson started yelling at her again but she would not stop. He struck her again but this had no effect on her either. The woman tried to intervene, but she too received blows and was sent out with orders to fetch something for him. Anson closed the door behind her and leaned against it, waiting for Joyel to finish. Eventually her screams subdued. She had no voice left. Tears became her next outlet and she wept freely. He waited patiently until she was finished, occupying himself with reports the woman had brought back to him. Finally there was nothing left. Joyel was empty. She felt hollow and believed she was dead. Anson waited a moment to make sure she was actually finished before continuing. Satisfied, he put down his data pad and again sat beside her.
"As I was saying, Joyel is dead. You, however, are very much alive, but you are being reborn into a new person. Think of a butterfly. For a butterfly to exist, the caterpillar must be transformed; no doubt it is a painful and frightening time for the caterpillar wrapped up all alone in that little cocoon, but after it is all said and done a beautiful butterfly emerges. So it will be with you. You came to me as Joyel; you will leave as Joy. You came as John Denevar's daughter, but you will become mine.
“You have before you choices - you can resist the cocooning or you can embrace it. A cocoon may seem restrictive, but think of how safe it keeps that little caterpillar until he is ready to face the world in his new-found glory. You can resist my adoption and choose to live as a prisoner. You will remain tied until you loose your own bonds; your door will remain unlocked but you must choose to walk through it into freedom. As my daughter, you will learn to trust me and obey me. This is for your own good; do not fight against it."
Anson stood up and placed a hand on her shoulder. It was strangely comforting. Joyel looked at him, bewildered by all that he had said. He smiled at her. The door opened and Jothram walked in. Her eyes went from Anson to him. He was tall, obviously muscular in a brutish, brooding kind of way. He returned my glance with a sneer.
"She's finally calmed down? She's got some powerful lungs, you have to give her that." He ran his eye over me again. "She's a pretty little brat, isn't she? She'll be a looker when she loses her childish form."
"That's not her purpose. Touch her and you'll regret it." Jothram balked at the severity of Anson's threat but said nothing. He stormed out of the room, leaving her alone with her new father. "I have to go now, Joy. Eat your breakfast. I'll be back to see how you are doing after my work is done for the day."
"She's in shock." He spoke to Gorath who was with him. "I don't have time to get her to snap out of it. Stay with her and make her eat." Anson glanced at the tray of food in Gorath's hands. "At least one of her meals." Anson left and Gorath placed the food down on the table near her bed. He observed her and was overwhelmed with sadness and compassion. This poor little girl was just like him: a slave of Anson's with no way out.
"Admira Joyel?" hearing her title brought her up, but her eyes remained cast on the floor. "My name is Gorath. I am your servant and will help you in any way I can." Their eyes locked. "Won't you eat something? I've brought you your dinner. It looks good."
"It smells disgusting."
Gorath smiled at her frankness. He could see why Anson took her: she was bold, stubborn, and used to having things her own way. "That's because it was made in the food generator. It has a funny smell but it's still good." For you at least, he thought to himself.
"What's a food generator?"
"It's how we supplement our food supply. It's like a replicator from the modernist space stories but not as sophisticated. That’s why it smells. Here try some."
"How can I? My hands are tied."
"You must untie them."
"How?" Joyel's temper flared and she jumped to her feet. "Why does everyone keep telling me to untie them myself? I can't. I can't!" With her last cry she thrust herself at the table, knocking over the trays off food. She began kicking the table, the bowls, trays: anything her feet could find. She was yelling again. Strong hands took hold of her but they were gentle and they drew her into an embrace.
"Hush Admira Joyel, hush." Joyel tried to struggle but she couldn't get free. Her body, faint from hunger and shock, gave in. She pressed herself against Gorath's chest and sobbed.
"I want to go home. I want my Mom. I want my Dad. I want to see Micah. I'm scared and I want to go home!"
"I know," was his only reply. He rocked her back and forth until she went limp from exhaustion. He led her back to her chair and asked her to eat, but Joyel just shook her head. He looked at her again, trying to think of what to do. Her matted hair caught his eye. It hung about her in clumps and knots. She was young, but her hair was long and thick. He searched the room and found a comb. "Admira Joyel, with permission?" He held out the comb to her and her eyes lit up. She nodded her head and he went behind her to begin slowly working the knots out of her hair. It was a long process but worth it. Her body relaxed with the comforting familiarity of a comb being worked through her hair. The more knots he got out, the more calm she seemed.
"Is your name really Gorath?"
"Yes. Why do you ask?"
"That man wants to call me Joy instead of Joyel. I thought maybe he changed everyone's name here." She was silent again. "How do you know how to comb hair?"
"I had a little daughter about your age."
"My father never combed my hair. He said he couldn't because he was a man and wouldn't do it right. Plus he was always busy."
"Your father is an important man, Admira Joyel. I'm sure he didn't have the luxury of spending as much time with you as he would have liked, so combing your hair seemed of little importance."
The idea of her father not having a luxury was strange to Joyel, as her whole life was surrounded by luxury. But she liked the thought of him wanting to spend more time with her than he had. Maybe he did actually want to but was unable to. Gorath finished her hair, found a tie and braided it for her. He replaced the comb, lifted her off the chair, and placed her on the bed.
"I think you need to rest. Why don't you sleep some, then I'll have some women come and give you a bath and some clean clothes. Would you like that?"
"Oh yes, thank you. I've never felt so dirty in my whole life."
"Is there anything else I can get you?"
"It’s silly, but I want my doll. Donna."
"I'm sorry Admira, I can't do that. Something else?"
Joyel considered a moment, sucking her bottom lip thoughtfully. "Do you have paper here?"
"Paper? We have data pads."
"No. I want paper. I want to draw on real paper with a real pencil. Can you get me some?"
"I'll try. Have a good rest, Admira." He ordered the lights to darken and turned to leave. Her little voice stopped him.
"What is your daughter’s name?"
His heart sank at the question. He spoke her name in a broken voice. "Tessa."
"Do you think she could come play with me sometime?" His head dropped and he put a clenched fist to his chest. He stood there silently for a long time. "Gorath, can she play with me?"
"I wish she could, Admira. But she's dead."
She was starving at this point. It had been almost two days since she had eaten anything but she could not bring herself to eat the food before her. There was some portion of meat on her plate, and what looked to be a vegetable and perhaps a pile of rice but it smelled hot like melting plastic and looked about as appetizing. She looked at the drawing supplies across the room, and she became famished. Awkwardly she picked up a fork, twisting her hands to get one free to be able to hold it, dipped it into her rice and brought it and both hands up to her mouth.
It was tasteless and had an odd texture but once that food hit her empty stomach Joyel felt as though she had never had a more delicious meal. She hastily dug into her food again but eating with bound hands became cumbersome. She threw the fork away from herself and flung her face upon her food devouring all that she could with her mouth and licking up anything she missed.
When she was finished the woman wiped her mouth, cleaned her table and set the paper and pencils before her. Joyel lifted her hands to her expectantly but the woman just shook her head no. "How am I supposed to draw with my hands tied?" she demanded.
"I don't know Joy but I'm not allowed to untie you. If you want it bad enough, you'll either untie yourself or find a way to manage with them tied."
She left her alone then, taking the tray of food out with her. Joyel stuck an irritated tongue out at her back. "Find a way to manage." she muttered with annoyance. She didn't know what was wrong with everyone here but they all expected her to magically be able to get out of her bonds. She tried to comply, twisting her hand s this way, than that way hoping to wiggle them free but nothing bugged. The fabric didn't even begin to fray. She was determined to draw. She picked up the pencil and moved it back and forth between hands and fingers to find a position that would work for her. She found that if she kept her drawing hand on top, she was able to 'manage' well enough. It took some getting used to but soon she was absorbed into her work that she forgot about her hands being tied.
She drew a picture of her doll, then the capital where her family lived, then a picture of her father and lastly her mother. She stared at her collection. The crudely drawn images stared back at her. She started feeling lightheaded and her breathing became labored. "Mommy, Daddy, come get me." She scooped up the drawings in her arms and clasped them to her chest. She tried crying but she couldn't. She started to panic as her breaths became harder and harder to take. She started to wheeze. Her drawings dropped to the ground as she frantically began trying to rub her chest which felt incredibly tight, like she was going to squeeze herself to death. She tried to cry out for help but she couldn't. She fell off her chair into a ball on the floor.
The doors opened and Anson walked in. He had been watching her on the surveillance camera and saw an opportunity. He gently picked up off the floor and held her in his lap. Her small body was struggling for air and against her panic.
"Calm down Joy. Everything's fine. Calm down, take deep slow breaths. Try, try to slow your breaths down. Here, breathe with me. In and out. In and out." His deep soothing voice counted a rhythm for her, which was reinforced by the rise and fall of his chest against her back. Slowly her breathing adapted to his breathing. She sat limp in his lap, breathing heavily and still rubbing her chest but she was more subdued now. He kissed her forehead, which caused Joyel to flinch, and gently rocked her back and forth. "Don't worry Joy, your father is here."