OSTRACIZED • by Lindsey Duncan

I was minding my own affairs — engrossed in weaving a tapestry — the day the citizens of Paranae cast their votes and drew lots for city governance. You would think there would be some pattern to which offices were chosen by acclaim or by random draw, but the process remained opaque to me.

A knock came at my door, and I rose. Carefully, I set aside the trailing threads of a silver strawberry from the North Wind’s wedding banquet. My tidiness was just one of the reasons I excelled at my craft.

Attention to detail was another, and those I noticed when I opened the door were telling. The man smelled of cedar incense — tree sacred to the God of Justice — which meant he had been in the voting hall. The purple dye-print that edged his tunic indicated he was an official, but the ill fit also pointed up this was a recent post. That his hands twitched as he saw me told the rest of the story.

“What offense do the new representatives of Paranae say I have committed?” I asked. “Why should they not send someone more senior?”

His eyes widened. He might have marked my guesses for prescience. They were not: anyone who looked and deduced from what they saw might have made the same statement.  “Mistress Asilithe?” he asked.

“I am called that, yes,” I said.

“By popular vote,” he was trying not to stammer, “you have been banished from the city, not to return until ten years have passed.”

I stared. I had not guessed this. “How… no one knows me to banish me, surely? Has there been a campaign of slander on my name?” How would I not have heard?

“It is a mystery to me, mistress,” he said. “I only know that the vote was cast and the voice of the people was heard. I hope you will not protest the decision?” His expression was hopeful.

I sighed, sensing my pleasant corner of the world withering. “I will not.” I knew better: my name would be pronounced across the city, and anyone who knew my face would shun or report me.

The official peered past me. “The tall figure in the back, with the terracotta curls,” he said. “She looks very much like you.”

I laughed. “I use personal experience to make my tapestries look authentic.”

“Not as if any but the gods would know,” he said. “I may help you pack? That’s not against the rules, and you have until sundown.”

“Thank you, but I can manage,” I said. I didn’t want to show my feelings in front of him.

He bobbed his head hurriedly and legged away. I took the loom apart in my own fashion, with a low sigh of regret. Paranae had been good to me, a lovely refuge from other duties. I wasn’t sure where I would seek sanctuary next.

I spoke to the birds to determine if they had heard anything of the reason for my banishment. None knew so much as a whisper of foul words against me. It was as if the clay shards on which the names were written had simply tumbled into my misfortune of their own accord.

Before leaving, I visited other weavers, leaving them gifts: the silver thread to this one, my second-best spindle to that. All thanked me profusely and promised to remember me. I told them that devotion to their craft was the best remembrance.

I left just before sundown. It would take four days to reach the next town, where I might hire passage on a boat and float downriver to the sea — a tiring, slow journey, mired in pitfalls for the average person.

After some thought, I risked a swifter route. I called the winds to retrieve me and stepped through the clouds, moving through divine landscape where I could travel at will. I chose my destination at random, another city, another place of obscurity…

“I thought that might roust you out of hiding,” a familiar voice rumbled.

I turned with exasperation to face Tanuth, God of the Skies and King over All. When young mortal women say they find him impossibly handsome, they are muddled by the shroud of divinity. It’s a low trick, but does well for disguising a bit of paunch and sunken eyes.

“There might have been someone Paranae actually needed to cast out,” I said. “However did you manage it?”

“I asked your brother for a favor, of course,” he said. “Now will you please come home? Even the cupbearers are talking.”

“You wouldn’t have that problem if you didn’t complain about my absence so much,” I said.

When he growled, lightning flashed, and somewhere, it rained. “I need my wife back.”

“I’m afraid I can’t,” I said. “I’m working on a tapestry for Tanur — your city, I believe?” That was true, of course: I had just begun to design it in my head. “A tapestry of prosperity that would increase the fortune of the city a hundred-fold… if it were completed.”

He looked surprised. “I thought you were angry at me.”

Livid, I thought. His philanderings and petty insults were too frequent to easily forgive. “Nothing time won’t heal. But to construct it properly, I must be amongst the mortals for whom I am making it.”

Tanuth frowned.  “So — you want to finish this tapestry. Then you’ll come back to the Mount?”

Of course, it would take a very long time to find the right colors, even longer to set the loom, and it would be slow weaving when I unbound most of my work every night…

There was a mortal woman who tried this tactic once. She managed twenty years.

She has nothing on my ingenuity.

“I swear on the rivers of the afterlife,” I said.

Lindsey Duncan is a life-long writer and professional Celtic harp performer, with short fiction and poetry in numerous speculative fiction publications. She feels that music and language are inextricably linked. She lives, performs and teaches harp in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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