I watched Helene with her parents through the celebration. They stood frozen against the heat of the blaze, statues amidst the frenzied dance of loss and life. Her parents each kept a hand on her shoulders, which now thin, though they never had before. Their concerned gazes wandered periodically from their daughter to one another. I did my best to ignore the emotional chatter the fresh bond was feeding me from Helene’s mind.
My own mother’s voice slid into my ear. “You’ve bonded.”
I tipped my head slightly in a nod, not ready to worry about the implications.
Mother offered me no judgment. “She won’t know. Don’t tell her.”
I turned to face my mother. There was no need to ask my question. The conflict in her eyes told me everything. I’d assumed bonding was a skill all women could learn, that because it only happened between women it could be done by all women. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I whispered. I reached for the familiar warmth of my mother’s hands.
“I should have,” she said.
We stood with each other in silence, both opening the bond we shared. Her concerns dripped into me one at a time. Mine flooded her. I had yet to develop the control my mother had. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I could develop such patience and restraint. My mother had begun teaching me to forge this connection when I was very young, and she was pregnant with my sister. My sister had four years less experience than me, but her emotional control was much stronger.
“Tell me,” my mother began. “Did you think it through?”
I shook my head slowly. The immediate wave of contrition that rolled through my mind to hers made the motion unnecessary.
“Oh, Bria. Always impulsive.” Her voice was a bending reed’s melodious whisper.
My father, anything other than oblivious, laid two fingers on the nape of my neck and muttered a familiar Deserter phrase. “The reason will present itself.”
Mother nodded, thoughtful, but I could feel she was afraid for me. I’d bitten off more than I could chew. I was afraid for me. A bond could be a sacred reciprocal union, a willing forge of everlasting understanding between two consenting parties. It was meant to be a window between the minds of the bonded, but what I had forged was a two-way mirror, and it felt like a horrible breach of Helene’s privacy.
The fire danced shards of darkness and light over my mother’s small features. Her black hair was twisted under her chin. She fingered the ends and considered Father’s words as if hearing them for the first time. She lifted her head and held my eyes. “What happened out there? Show me.”
She’d never asked anything like this of me before. My mouth went round as a fish’s. A fish in a fishbowl. How appropriate.
“Bria, under different circumstances . . .” she began.
We were cut off by the call for any who wished to Dedicate themselves in front of the Fire of Life. A hundred pairs of eyes turned toward us. My sister and brother stared into the fire. I dropped my gaze, uncomfortable, but jerked it back up when a surge of determination flooded through my bond with Helene and her thoughts became clear.
“No!” She was going to throw herself into the fire. It wasn’t unheard of, to join the flames that consumed the body of one’s spouse, but this? Without thinking, I opened wide the gates of our bond and let the truth come to me. Helene and Alan were more than promised, they were knotted. She’d lost more than a lover, and if I’d been more experienced with bonding, I would have known it even before I began the process based solely on the strength of her response. I would also have known not to fling open a bond while one member of it was resolving to jump in a fire. She could easily take my life with hers.
But Mother and Jana were with me. They’d felt my panic and taken hold of me, just as I was taking hold of Helene. She’d already taken the first bounding steps toward the fire. A few more and she could leap into its center and burn like Alan. I could see the licking orange flames through her eyes, feel the air against her body. Almost there. I slammed my will against hers. No! I heard. Her or me? It didn’t matter. Helene stopped one step from the fire, her parents already pulling at her with worried fingers. My sister and mother held onto my mind as I tried to wrench it back into my own body.
“What’s happening?” I asked before falling into my father’s arms.
“Home,” I heard Mother say. She’d closed herself off to me but I could feel the fear writhing against the edge of her mind. Jana stayed with me, a silent, reassuring wall, until I drifted into sleep, and maybe longer.
Click here for Episode 3 of The Docks.