Quasi-Indefatigable Xenolith



Symantha Tells All

In my experience, "playing possum" is a remarkably decent way to look like you are asleep when you really aren't. I think I got into the habit of faking sleep when I was a child because my parents were so pointed about it. My brother and I, especially when we were younger and shared a room together, never went to sleep when told to. It seemed to work out well enough for our parents that we were quiet and in bed and the lights were out. Of course, boys being boys, we were going to be talking and jostling and basically failing completely to go to sleep, but when you heard footsteps approaching, whatever mischief we were doing was abandoned and we could be found curled into balls in our covers, "snoring". Sometimes, the bothered parent would feel the need to make some comment, but as time passed, it became pointless as just the act of walking about close to our bedroom door was enough to get the desired effect. I think perhaps my father pursued money and success just to earn himself a bedroom at the far end of the house so he needn't be disturbed by our nocturnal antics.

I found my nighttime experiences as a child served me well in my early years of marriage, as I discovered that my wife typically needed about double the amount of sleep I was accustomed to getting, especially when childbearing came along. She would be busy snoring while I sat there in bed, staring at the ceiling, my semi-creative mind chugging along with a thousand and one ideas, including elements of this story. It really gives a whole new meaning to the word "over-wrought". But, whenever one of our own children awoke in the night, I am embarrassed to reveal that I fell into my childhood habit of "playing possum" when I was very much awake but just didn't want to get up and do anything about it. It didn't really work as I found out that I had sleep apnea later on and that my even breathing in fake sleep never fooled my wife for a minute.

In Mulls' case, however, "playing possum" was going to win her a cornucopia of heretofore unknown information. Although she was a woman who seemed to have a potion for nearly every need, Symantha gave every indication of being the type that was loathe to use the things unnecessarily, as if they were difficult to make and therefore precious and only used in extreme need. The high matron had instead used a more accessible powder that must have been mixed into the wax of a candle that was set beside the girl's bed as she slept the night before. Though Mulls was groggy when she was secretly stolen away in the wee hours, she was conscious and aware of what was happening around her.

Symantha also was a little overconfident of herself and babbled a bit when she thought she was essentially alone. "How did she manage it, or did those fools at the school slip up?" She looked down at Mulls, playing with her hair as the girl's head rested in her lap. "I shall deal with them as soon as I am done fixing this mess."

It was hard enough for Mulls to stay awake, what with the hypnotic swaying of the boat they were in, the lingering effects of the drugged candle, the restful feeling of having her hair stroked, and the fact that she was faking her own unconsciousness. "To think that a perfectly fertile girl like you would end up as some midwife's assistant. Ironic for you and lucky for me."

If the girl had known that the life of a dame was getting jerked around from place to place, manipulated by Matrons that had not a care for personal preferences or desires, she would have thought a little longer before changing some letter on some clipboard. Mind you, she had secretly learned lately how the Matrons also played with the lives of Ladies like so many chess pieces in some listless game and Mulls might have made her original fertility test choice without the need of God jostling her arm at all.

"My precious girl," the matron cooed. "You will be my crowning achievement. The girl that births only Ladies!" She gently stroked a curl of hair way from Mulls' face. "Beautiful and graceful, yet easy to manipulate. The perfect Lady to mold as I choose..."

Well, the girl thought to herself, she got two right.

"...and your daughters..." Symantha let out an ecstatic sigh. "...your daughters will be the first generation of perfection. Ladies bred for docility to their matrons. The other Ladies will be eliminated in time, but you will be the mother of a new and greater Convocation." She drew in an excited breath. "The dream of Sabra will finally be realized and I myself shall have done it!"

Mullicynda's eyes would have widened if she wasn't working hard to keep them closed. Her old leather book had spoken of the seductress Sabra as the destroyer of the righteous few among Alaed and now she was apparently in the hands of one of this destroyer's disciples. She tried to calm herself so that the high Matron, still stroking her hair, wouldn't be alerted to her wakefulness and her revulsion: Symantha was proving herself an enemy to all that the girl held dear and to the Mariner that she had recently come to revere.

The older woman lapsed into silence, considering. There was the quiet chatter of the men on the fore-deck, obviously moving the boat in stealth, but if the girl concentrated, she could make out called orders through the heavy curtains that enclosed the tiny boat's cabin. There were also other voices off to starboard, from a distance, as if another party approached along the near shore or perhaps aboard another boat. "Our other guest has arrived," Symantha breathed.

It must have been another boat, for Mulls didn't notice any evidence of docking on a pier. There were bumps and scrapings on the starboard side, more muffled orders given, and the thump of something being dropped on the deck. The other boat must have moved away as the larger bumps were silenced and the movement of Symantha's boat smoothed to its normal sway. "I have procured for you a very special gift, dear girl, the secret ingredient that we lacked all those other times. He and you will create a new world!" The older woman's ecstasy was twisting Mulls' stomach, one's triumph sounding much like her personal slavery and the death of everything she might have hoped for. But there was also that raising of the hairs on the back of her neck that revealed that all was not lost, for God was here and working.

For the poor man dumped on the deck, there had been no special incense to drowse him for transport. A simple blow to the head and popping in a heavy burlap sack was his introduction to this venture. Whether the hit on the head damaged his brain or not was quite inconsequential to the plans of the high Matron that had orchestrated this union.

Now, Symantha is not going to be talking anymore about her plans, but I have no compunctions about doing so. Of course, Mullicynda will have to remain in the dark about such details, but you fine readers will not.

As the high Matron who is second only to the Matriarch, Symantha is privy to a lot of information that was passed on to her from the previous holder of that second position, which got her information from the previous one, and so forth. It is therefore hard to say exactly when all these poisonous elixirs, sleeping powders, and nefarious schemes had their beginning. Symantha doesn't have any true answer for that either, just blindly accepting that she is carrying on a long-standing, secret, and very important work that gives her an undeniable sense of power.

Besides her role as the provider of potions and such, she also heads a secret breeding program involving the Ladies, which we heard reference to about a moment ago. She learned of it from her predecessor not too long before Symantha used her newly acquired knowledge of elixirs to eliminate her teacher, which is actually something of the traditional if unspoken thing for second high Matrons to do. It has taken many generations of trial and error to arrive at the supposedly perfect mix of feminine attributes that were desirable, the abilities that the Matriarchal Council wanted to eliminate from the Ladies, like free will, determination, and the birthing of sons, and finally create a girl that seemed to have the right combination for duplication.

You must understand, through all we have learned so far, that Mulls really isn't a good candidate for the perfect Lady. Although she is beautiful and graceful, she has been hiding her true nature from view. In fact, Mullicynda is precisely the wrong girl for Symantha's purposes. She will prove a willing instrument in the hands of God for the purpose of destroying the Convocation itself rather than become a docile slave to it. I suppose that makes the girl very lucky to be in her present condition and the Matron very unlucky to have been blabbing everything. Of course, neither knows what events are stirring and the realization of any of this is still a bit in the future of our story, but I felt the need to tell you kindly readers of this so you might understand a few of the present movements of God.

The boat continues along its course that Symantha is happy to have put into motion, completely unaware that the underlying current is firmly in the hands of a higher power with his own undeniable agenda, which you, my most fortunate reader, will get to see played out over the coming chapters of this tale.

Next Chapter...

Copyright, Jason Nemrow. All rights reserved.