It doesn’t properly have an ending, because I could not make it come to an end.
Content warning – suicidal/depressed thoughts and intentions.
She went down to the river on what her gran called a bad day, a grey-clouds-in-the-sun day. She made herself get dressed because she would have to answer questions if she walked down the path in her shift, and she smiled at the villagers she passed, because they knew, by now, that if she could not smile, that she might need to be stopped, to be coddled, to be chivied back to her room.
Smiling felt like pasting a bright paper flower on funeral greys, but she did it anyway. She had learned how to step through life without touching too much, how to slide through the crowd and not really be seen.
If her Gran had seen her, her Gran might have known. But her Gran had found solace in her own way, and, today at least, did not see.
Kayla was supposed to go down to the river; she had drawn the lot, and her family had four daughter still living, including her. But they had lost Lize to the river the year past, and Kayla, Kayla was bright and smiled like the sunlight, like flowers all over and your name-day dress, and Kayla loved Tobert, with eyes like the sky.
So she went down instead, Jiranne with eyes like a storm and a smile that was never real. She took the back path, moving as fast as she could make her plodding feet go, and she knelt in the mud, staying clear of the altar. You could see the altar from the town square, if you knew where you were looking. They had built it that way, to remind them all of the price.
The unicorn surged from the river like he lived there, like he had been born from its current. He glared at Jiranne, and huffed out air and water droplets.
The ones they didn’t like, they savaged. It would be slow – but it would pay the price whether they liked her or not. “Take me.” One thing she could do right, because even failing would do it. “I am the price for the river, the price for the air. Take me.” She had heard the words every year, every cousin and sister and friend. “Take me, as the price for your works.”
The horn glinted wickedly in the sunlight. The stallion dropped to its knees. Was it supposed to do that? Was it supposed to… “Take me,” she cried. “I am giving myself to you freely. Please…”
The stallion rested its head in her lap, its wicked horn just barely missing her. It whickered, softly, and because there was nothing else to do, she petted its mane.
“Take me?” she whispered. The stallion huffed breath at her in reply.
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