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Notes from the Labyrinth
Unobtainium and Dragons' Bones
Post a Story for Haiti: "The Half-Sister" 
16th-Jan-2010 01:28 pm
Sidneyia inexpectans
Crossed Genres is running a fundraiser: Post a Story for Haiti. I am participating here with "The Half-Sister," which is the oldest of my stories that is not currently available either somewhere on the web or in The Bone Key. I would participate by posting something previously unpublished except that I don't have anything. If stories were cans of soup, my cupboard would be bare. So a reprint, especially of something that (a.) celebrates its fifth anniversary of publication this month, (b.) I'm very fond of, and (c.) got almost no attention (I don't remember finding a single review of this particular story), seems like ... well, at least it's something.

And on the subject of contributing to the relief efforts in Haiti, ursulav made me aware of something I had not known: rape was only made a crime in Haiti in 2005. Ursula also makes several other excellent points, including the fact that men's rights groups are protesting women's rights groups efforts to help Haitian women. So if you're trying to choose a charity, consider V-Day, which has a shelter already operating in Port-au-Prince. Médecins sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders and Partners in Health are other excellent choices, and you can check Charity Navigator for other ideas.

Thank you.

"The Half-Sister." Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet 15 (January 2005): 25-27.

I was cleaning the lamps when the stranger knocked.

I knew it was a stranger, right off, because whoever it was didn't know about the postern door that's the only thing in the front wall that opens. They'd knocked at the ceremonial gate that hasn't been used since Father reached his majority and won't be again until Gunther comes of age in another twenty years--if Father hasn't quarreled irrevocably with Gertrude before then and disinherited the whole pack of them.

I stayed where I was, up to my elbows in lamp-oil and dirt, while Nanna creaked her way slowly across the hall. Nanna's terrible arthritis does not change the fact that she is the ranking woman in the household. Gertrude hates that, but she loses the argument every time she starts it. Lane outranked Nanna, but it didn't matter, with Lane lying there like a dead thing in her bedroom, without even the strength to turn her face to the wall.

Nanna wrestled the door open, and stuck her head out to shout at whoever it was. I could hear a mutter of explanations and apologies, but all of the greeting formulas got carried away by the wind, so I was completely unprepared for the man who stepped into the hall at Nanna's gesture of invitation.

He screamed Southerner from head to foot, from his braided hair and long mustaches to the expensive but completely inadequate boots on his feet. They were soaked right through. I suppose he was handsome, if you go in for that sort of thing, though there was too much cheekbone for my taste--too much crag. Craggy-faced men always think far better of themselves than they need to.

He said to Nanna, slowly and distinctly, as if she were some kind of idiot, "May I see Madalane, please?"

I knew who he was. My hands--big, lumpy-knuckled hands, short-nailed and filthy--clenched so hard that the rag twisted between them tore. Nanna and the stranger both turned to stare at me; from the way his head jerked around, he hadn't even realized I was there.

I stood up, conscious of my shabby dress, the strands of hair escaping from my hairpins. "You should not be here."

"You must be Karlin," he said, as if I'd said something normal and polite. "Madalane told me a great deal about you."

If he thought that would make me like him, he could have spared his breath. "And you're Gerard. Lane hasn't said a word about you."

His face darkened in hurt and anger. But I continued before he could find words: "Leave. Please. Leave Lane alone."

"Lane can make her own choices, Karlin," Nanna said, her pale eyes sharp for once. "You will not make them for her." She turned and hobbled slowly out of the hall.

I stepped out from behind the table where I had been seated and approached Gerard. Prince Gerard of Hylfeneth, he was, and by Southern reckoning, Lane was his wife, although I wasn't sure whether their marriage was binding under Northern laws. It was one of the many things Lane wouldn't tell me.

"Please," I said, though the word was dry and bitter in my mouth. "Just go."

"I can't," he said, spreading his hands as if he expected me to understand.

"Haven't you hurt her enough?"

"Hurt her?"

"If she dies," I said, "it will be because you have killed her."

For a minute, I thought he was going to hit me, and so did he. But he changed his mind, and ran his hand over his face instead. "Karlin," he said at last, and if I could have liked him, I might have pitied the weariness in his voice, "I don't know why you hate me, but I don't think you have any idea of why Madalane left Hylfeneth."

"Don't I?"

"You don't know what we went through."

"You haven't sat with her every night for a month of nightmares. You weren't here when she came riding up the pass like something that had been dead for a week and was just too brute obstinate to admit it. You haven't argued with her over ever single bite of food she eats--and had to give the half of her meals to the pigs anyway. I have. So don't tell me what I don't know."

He looked as if each word was a separate nail being pounded into his flesh, and maybe he would have left then, maybe he would have gone and left Lane alone, except that a voice said, thin and shaky, "Gerard?"

We both turned. It was her.

I don't know how she did it. She hadn't been able to leave her room for weeks, even to escape from Father, but there she was, leaning in the doorway--white as a ghost but fully dressed.

"Lane," I said. "Lane, you oughtn't--"

"Gerard?" she said again, and then they were clinging together in the doorway, talking and laughing and crying all together in a horrible tangle, and I knew that she was going back. Going back to Hylfeneth, going back to him, going back to the life I'd thought and hoped and even prayed she'd renounced. I'd thought she'd begun to see me again, the way she'd seen me before some fool traveling peddler had infected her with dreams of Hylfeneth and she'd stopped seeing anything but the blood-red minarets and lace-spun bridges of the stories. I'd thought, when she came back, that the reality had cured her of the mindless dreams, that if we could just wait out the last throes of the fever, Lane would be back, my Lane who'd never laughed at me for being raw-boned and ugly and dark, who'd never called me goblin, who had shared with me things that this handsome hero would never understand. He didn't know the Lane I did. I'd thought Lane had realized that, too, but the radiance on her face told me I was wrong.

They were deciding to leave as I watched them. I could see it on their faces. They would go riding off into the clouds together, and Lane wouldn't have to face Father or explain herself to Gertrude or confront any of the remnants of a life she didn't want. She didn't even see me when she said goodbye, only her faithful half-sister--every heroine has one.

I don't know if there was something I could have said, some way I could have reached her. I lie awake nights, wondering. But there was nothing I could have told her that she didn't already know, and if what she knew was not enough to keep her here, then what use would any words of mine be?

She strode out ahead of Gerard, eager for the next adventure I suppose, and I caught his cloak and said, "When she dies, don't bring her body here."

I don't think he understood me, not really, but he understood something, because he nodded and said, a little awkwardly, as if he wasn't used to it, "Karlin, I'm sorry."

I shook my head. "She's made her choice."

He left then, following her as he would follow her anywhere, and I stayed behind, as I had stayed behind the first time she left. Stayed behind to keep the lamps clean and lit, to keep the household running, to keep carrying the responsibilities Lane had let fall.

I'm no heroine. I don't have a story. And Lane's story is not mine to tell, except for this: she made her choice.

© 2005, 2010 Sarah Monette. Feel free to link to this story, but please do not reproduce it without permission.
16th-Jan-2010 07:54 pm (UTC)
As the daughter of one of the founders of V-Day, I also highly recommend them as a worthy charity. They've already done so much good for women around the world, and they're not done yet.

Edited at 2010-01-16 07:55 pm (UTC)
17th-Jan-2010 04:03 am (UTC)
It sounds to me like those should be called "men's privilege groups." (Unless they also have some legitimate activities--?)

Anyway, thank you for the story. (I had already donated to MSF when the Yarn Harlot sent out the call, but now V-Day is on my radar for later in the year.) Very immersive-- I was drawn in within two sentences.
17th-Jan-2010 05:52 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it.
17th-Jan-2010 07:57 am (UTC)
Gerard is a prince? My first thought was, of course, of some sort of DoL Xover XD
17th-Jan-2010 06:08 pm (UTC)
Gerrard Hume spelled his name with three r's instead of two.

Otherwise, all I can say is (a.) I really like the name Ger(r)ard and (b.) I'd forgotten about this Gerard when the other one showed up.
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