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Zënaide – by Hannah
Zënaide squeezed her eyes closed. Word battles raged around her in the court room, debating whether to declare her guilty or innocent. I didn’t do it, and they have no right to say I did, she thought fiercely.
A loud bang drew Zënaide out of her thoughts. As their leader’s son, Micreanis, drew back the red curtains hanging on the large balcony, the court room silenced. He stepped towards the crowd, and greeted the court warmly.
“My people,” he began, “I am sorry my father cannot be here to hold this important trial. I am confident I can handle it, though.” He smiled, then turned and took a large white folder from a guard behind him. He opened it, and began reading aloud, “‘Zënaide is accused of murdering the Sacred Flower, as she was the last one to be with it and touch it before my father found it wilting. She was with her friends Hyreo, Illiea, and Terowin, seeking knowledge for a school project,’” he paused, eyeing the three he spoke of. “Am I correct?”
The three friends nodded almost simultaneously. Micreanis pressed on, “Thirty-six months ago, Zënaide’s… father, so bitterly ashamed of her, threw her into the streets. He perished two nights after she left. No one, with the exception of me and Zënaide, know why. This has led to similar belief that this young woman–“ he nodded to Zënaide, his gaze fully on her “–is a witch.” His mouth closed almost abruptly, and he sat down.
Zënaide nearly lost complete control of herself, which is a rare occasion. Her father… she couldn’t even think about him without causing deep fury to sweep itself through her bloodstream. My father abandoned me. The memory banged in her head; she struggled not to relive it again.
Despite her best efforts, the memory flooded her thoughts, crashing through everything until only it remained.
The birds sang in the bright golden sunshine that day, warming their cold, aching wings. It was the first real day of spring. As Zënaide entered her small cottage, she heard screams and shouts from the back rooms. In spite of her panting and exhaustion due to her run from school, she bolted down the hallway, reaching the kitchen just as her mother’s new baby was ready to be born. Zënaide’s father, Denolú, so consumed in birthing his child, didn’t hear her enter. His focus concerned only this woman and their baby. Zënaide knelt beside her mother, clutched her pale bony hand, and willed her to live.
Finally seeing her, Zënaide’s father reached to her. She expected him to embrace her, murmur comforting words, something soothing, but he didn’t. He grabbed her shirt sleeve and threw her away from her mother. “Leave this room, young woman. Get Gernae water, a towel, and two poppy seed pills.” When Zënaide didn’t move, he shoved her. “GO, Zën!” Running fast, she left the kitchen the way she had entered, turned left into the bathroom, and retrieved the items from a cabinet. She ran numbly back to the kitchen, stopping when she felt Denolú’s hands grasp the pills. After a moment’s hesitation, Zënaide’s father whispered, “Thanks, Naide. Now leave, this isn’t something for a fourteen year old girl to see.”
“Yes sir, Denolú. You’re welcome.” Zënaide left, casting long glances at her mother’s nearly limp body.
Zënaide reentered when her father called her, though she knew she could return. She had been standing outside the door frame, not missing a single thing Denolú did. The cries of pain had subsided, now only a soft whimper replaced them. “Oh, Gernae, please stay with us,” Zënaide pleaded, clutching her mother’s hand again. The baby, a girl, lay writhing on a small white sheet a foot from its mother. Its cries, frail and pathetic, quietly subsided as the family sat watching, not doing a thing. Gernae sat up suddenly, hugged her husband tightly, then lay back down and whispered, “Take good care of each other.”
Bursts of “No! Don’t leave” and “Why?!” filled the kitchen. Zënaide, heart-broken and weary, looked to Denolú for support, but his gaze was far from love as he watched her. He stood, grabbed her neck, and dragged her to the front door.
“You killed her,” Denolú hissed in Zënaide’s ear, “This is your fault. If you would’ve gotten home earlier, you could’ve saved her” He hit her head sharply, then threw her into the yard, turned back to the house, and slammed the door.
Zënaide felt eyes burning into her skull, just as piercing as the hit from her father. “Zënaide?” Micreanis’s voice boomed above the nervous murmurs. “What do you say about these accusations?”
“W-what accusations?” Zënaide croaked, the memory still throbbing in her mind.
Micreanis closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. “The ones about you being a witch,” came his voice, clear but strained.
“I-I… I don’t know what I think.”
“It is time for the mid-session break,” Micreanis changed the subject abruptly. He banged the gavel down. “I call recess.”
The rush of excited people out the eastward doors left Zënaide dizzy. The flashing color, angry words. She knew she couldn’t handle the next part of the trial. She wasn’t hungry, either. She stayed put in her chair, her mind empty and blank. Zënaide felt a tug on her hair, drawing her out of a daze. She turned to see Terowin grinning widely. “Hey,” he said, “wanna eat? I’m sure I could find a seat or two next to your friends.”
At Zënaide’s shake of her head, he left her alone. Looking after her undernourished cousin, Zënaide felt sympathy rise within her. He looked skinnier than usual. She brushed away the feeling away, breathing out a sigh as she gazed around the empty courtroom. The ceiling towered high above her, and the floor was littered with trash of all sorts. A tear trickled down Zënaide’s flushed face.
Categories: Critique Group