For the Scheherazade Project, on the theme of you, the killer. The theme calls for “(hopefully) fictional stories about you killing somebody else. It could be accidental. It could be deliberate. It could be a complete stranger. Or it could be someone that you’re intimately familiar with.”
Some prefatory remarks are in order. The speaker in this piece is a fictional character I created some time ago for a collaborative work between a friend and me, which I very much hope we’ll take up again. While fictional, Kadu, who later becomes Yksin, holds a lot of me in her, or I hold a lot of her, or both — enough that for years I’ve used Yksin as a username in various venues, & enough that I can call this a “fictional story about me,” of sorts. I wrote a narrative account of the events described in this piece three years ago, but in third person. The writing below is entirely new, describing the same events, but from Kadu’s (“my”) own perspective. This is the only time, actually, that I’ve written her in first person. Adrienne Rich once said that the formalism of her early poetry was like “asbestos gloves” that “allowed me to handle materials I couldn’t pick up bare-handed.” Fiction has a similar shielding effect. Especially, for me, when written in the third person. But the gloves of a first person POV are a lot less impervious to heat. This hit it me a lot harder in the writing than I thought it would.
You can’t absolve me. Leave off trying, please, just let it go. I’ve heard all this shit before. All the excuses and justifications — it’s just shit. Let it go.
No. No one else. You’re the first. She knows, of course she does, it’s the official reason I’m outlawed all through the Empire — but me, I’ve never talked with anyone about it before. Unless maybe to the gods, if any even exist. No, the gods never said a damn word to me — it was me I heard all that shit from. How many times do you reckon I’ve thought about it, anyway? Can’t even say it’s been times — you can’t separate it out like that. It’s continuous. It’s always there in my mind, always, and my mind has served up those excuses time and again, and they never work. They’re shit. I’m guilty. That’s all.
The fuck of it is he’s not even the real reason I’m outlawed. That’s just the official reason, the one they put in the wanted bulletins. And… well he… his name was Sask. Sask. He was just, gods, just a servant, maybe a slave… but of course I wasn’t much more than that myself. Just a soldier, yeah, in the Imperial Army, but… so stupid. She saw me and she fancied me, the very crown princess herself fancied me, and I was stupid enough to think I was lucky. At first. Then I figured out… I was something less. A toy, and she was just gonna play with me until she broke me. That was the whole game, you see. To break me, little by little. Make a hole in me and empty me out. That’s how she plays with her toys.
I wasn’t the first, you know….
Once, when I still thought I was lucky, somebody — actually it was ha’Jar, iha’Iag’s cousin — listen to me, I’m still calling them by their titles, like they really are somebody. So… try again. Jar, her name is — Jar saw this soldier and you know, she stopped us there, where this soldier was working, so she could talk with her. She was laughing. No, not the soldier — Jar was, laughing at how this woman flinched, so scared of her. She thought it was funny. That’s what they’re like, her and iha— her & Iag, I mean. That whole lot. Royalty, hell. Jar was laughing, playing with this soldier’s fear, just a simple private soldier, but empty, you know? Hollow. Like all the spirit had leaked from her. So hollow that even the way she was scared of Jar, and she was scared all right, just rang empty, like echoes in an empty house. Nothing lived there. Then we rode away. I was infantry, but I was so special and I was so lucky, and lucky special me, Iag had me trained in horsemanship, advanced fighting techniques, right — so yes, I was riding that day, and we rode off, and Jar says to the lieutenant, but she said it real loud so I knew she wanted me to hear, she says, That’s one of Iag’s old toys. And she laughs, so funny.
I wondered then why she wanted me to hear. Took me awhile to do the reckoning. I was so stupid. But when I did figure it out, I remembered that day, and I knew why she said it so loud. She wasn’t warning me, exactly. More like taunting me. That’s what’s gonna happen to you, Kadu, that’s what she was saying. That’s gonna happen to you, and I’m gonna laugh at you just as much. I’m gonna laugh at how you flinch when I even just notice you. That’s what she was saying to me. I figured that out, and I figured out the training, the advanced sword technique, all of that, it was just so Iag could feel more challenge as she took me apart piece by piece. She liked that resistance, it was so fun for her to overcome it and pare it down, bit by bit, until it was finally all gone. Then, when she’d completely broken me open and poured my spirit into a flagon and drank it down, she’d just send me back to my unit, and every once in awhile she’d ride by, or one of her retainers, just to have a laugh and remember how she’d hollowed me out. Yeah. That was what was in store for me. That’s what Iag had planned for me.
She still does. Catching me is just another part of the game.
So yeah. I’m just… a toy. A big nothing. To them, at least. But I reckon — I deserve better than that. See, that’s what I’m saying. Sask, even if all he was, was hecho’Vichelu’s servant or slave, whatever he was, he deserved better.
He was just trying to save his life that night, just like I was. And what did I do? He was innocent. So was I. But not after that night. Not ever, ever again.
Even so, even after his blood… his blood all over that veranda, oh gods… even after that, that’s not why I’m outlawed. Not for murdering him. The real reason is because I ran away from her. That’s what she thinks my crime is. I ran away, before she could do that to me. It was just convenient for her that I killed him, so she could have them put murderer on the bulletins, and regular folk would see me as a criminal too.
Yes. Yes, that’s what I am. Murderers are criminals, aren’t they? I’m a murderer, aren’t I?
Well yes. Of course she would have killed him if I hadn’t. Didn’t I say that? She might be the iha, but she’s a murderer, she’s a criminal. Worse than I am. All of them are, the royals, a lot of the nobility too. But that doesn’t make me not a murderer.
No. You can justify it all you want, that just doesn’t cut it. Didn’t I say lay off it? Okay, I’ll tell you why. It’s because… because of….
It’s because of how he… he looked at me. That night, on the veranda, it was dark, but I swear I could see into his eyes. It doesn’t make sense I could see his eyes — I was behind him! I had my knee in his back, I was holding him down and my knife at his throat! But I could see them, I swear it, and they were like… they were like my mother’s eyes, just before… when I was little, and the captain’s soldiers — she was pleading — his eyes were like that, and then… then his eyes were like hers were after her pleas ran out and there was no life in them anymore. Like my father’s eyes, too, they killed him first. I don’t know how I remember that. I was only, I don’t know, three years old? Four? And the captain took me? And loved me? That’s what he claimed. After he had his soldiers do that…?
That’s what his eyes were like, Sask’s eyes. That’s how I know I’m a murderer.
He pleaded with me… he said, don’t run, please, she’ll kill me if you escape. Oh, he knew that about her. Our sovereign iha. But she’d do a lot worse to him before the kill. He wouldn’t have to die if I stayed. But then, I knew what would happen to me. It was him or me, you know? Him or me. I guess I gave him that small mercy, that I was his murderer, instead of leaving him for her. I just… slit his throat. Quick and clean. And his eyes went dead. Like my mother’s and father’s.
Oh the blood. It spread under him, but it’s like it entered me, a kind of lukewarm hollowness, it entered my guts and spread like a stain. Can you smell it? I can.
I had to hide his body, just enough so hecho’Vichelu’s incompetent night guards wouldn’t spot him right away next time they came around the house. I had to hide him just well enough that I could get away first. His clothes were very fine white linen, it was bright in that dark night, even they wouldn’t have missed that if I left him where he was. And they were carrying lanterns. So I rolled him on his back so he wouldn’t bleed even more all over the porch, and I dragged him, I used his body like a sponge, his own fine white linen clothes to sop up his blood because it was black but it would be red as soon as they shined any light at all on it. There was still a stain, a big long paintbrush stain, but it wasn’t all in a shiny black puddle. I dragged him across his blood… hid him behind that planter wall, those exotic plants from Greater Teguma that Vichelu kept, all the water he wasted on them in that arid climate. Showing off his wealth. But thank the gods we were in the provinces — it was just as the war was starting, and Iag was guesting at his estate. I never would have escaped from any place that was really hers, or without all the confusion of the war starting. I think that’s what had interrupted her with me — an emergency meeting about what was happening on the border.
I didn’t have any real coins, just the wood pieces they give us to use in commissary. That’s all the funeral I could give him. I closed his eyes. One token on each eyelid, and one between his lips. It wasn’t enough. It never can be.
… No. I won’t ever give myself up, not to them. I’d murder you, if I thought for one minute you’d put them on to me. I would kill you, don’t think I wouldn’t. I’d carry that guilt too. But never, never, never, no… not to them, not to them, not ever to them. They can’t judge me. They could never give him justice.
But you…. If you yourself… if you were the judge. You’d give him justice. You could judge me, you could even be the one to put the noose around my neck, and slap the horse so it’d run out from under me and leave me dangling. If you would do that.
But you won’t, will you? You give me mercy. It confuses me. I don’t deserve any.