Don’t Tell a Soul

by kbonikowsky

“Do you wish to talk today, my lady?”

I whispered the words, leaning in to show her my face. Her tired eyes opened and focused. She gestured for the cup in my hand, and I helped her upright. She drank the honeyed goat milk and nodded.

“Are we alone?” she asked, unable to see farther than my face.

“Yes, my lady.” She had requested me to listen to her orality. She was dying and tradition dictated it was time for her to pass along her history. I was honored, because she had never spoken of it, as far as anyone knew, ever.

She shifted her hips and cradled her cheek to the pillow, and began in a wooden tone.

“When I was 14, I was summoned to the palace to see the king. My mother had prepared me to expect a betrothal. There was talk of an alliance with the Danaii. At that age, my mind was filled with gossip and silly songs. I was excited by the idea. I wasn’t so scared then. I didn’t know.” Her mouth tightened with bitterness, but she continued to talk.

“But it wasn’t to discuss marriage that my father had me summoned. My brother…” and at this, she spat the words “…it seemed, had gotten himself ill. My father thought it was humorous that he was asking for me instead of the court healers, but he was the crown prince and my father encouraged his frivolities. He told me to go to Amnon and do whatever he wanted. I was dismissed.

“Amnon was in bed when I arrived with my women. I’ll never forget what gown I was wearing that day, because it was blue and I’ve never worn blue again.” I looked toward her wardrobe and the monotonous dirty white that hung from the knobs. She continued.

“And the sleeves were embroidered with pomegranates. It was belted in purple. I think I left that sash there, in his room. I never saw it again.” Her voice caught and she scratched it with a clicking noise. Her inflection soured.

“He was supposed to be sick, but when I saw him he appeared in high spirits. No fever. No pain that I could tell. He dismissed everyone with the excuse he wanted me to feel comfortable to serve him without the servants around to interfere. Then, he made me play at baking while he watched. In my naivety, I thought he was simply hungry.” Her face hardened. “I guess he was.”

“My cakes were not very good, and the heat of the oven had me flushed. He paid little attention to my food and reached to loose my collar. He said I looked too hot. I had never been around Amnon before. I thought maybe he was just affectionate by nature, and allowed the intrusion. But his hand…” She crossed her arms at the memory of the trespass and stopped talking.

“My lady, you don’t have to tell me the details.” I said, trying to be kind.

“Okay.” She readjusted her weight and said dully, “He ruined me.”

“I know.” I reassured her. The whole kingdom knew. There were many rumors of the exploits of Amnon. I suspected she wasn’t the first virgin he’d raped, or the last.

“He kicked me off the bed when he was done,  and told me to get out. I was aghast. I had comforted myself through the ordeal with the acknowledgement that marriage to my half-brother would not be so bad. I would be allowed to live in my homeland and be close to my mother and brother. And so I asked him if he would speak to our father to settle the dowry that very day.” She spoke in a staccato lilt. “But he didn’t even look at me. He threw my clothes at me and pushed me out the door.”

She rolled on to her back and pressed her palm over her eyes. Her mouth opened in a gash of misery. An unuttered wail swelled her chest, and her body shuddered in memory.

“I wasn’t allowed to make a scene. My mourning rags were burned and replaced with normal attire. The king, when he heard the gist of what had happened, sent word that I was to keep quiet. Even your father, after questioning me on the specifics, told me to keep my humiliation a secret. Only, its hard to keep a princess who has been taken off the auction block a secret, eh? With my virginity gone, I was useless to the king.”

“Please. Don’t tell a soul.” Her last words to me. She was my aunt and my namesake: Tamar.