In Shandel’s village, the girls – the ones who were not yet old enough, the ones who had not been chosen – they spoke of going down to the river in nervous giggles, the way they would sometimes speak of a future husband, or a woman they thought particularly clever or pretty. The grandmothers, the old women, the ones that chose, spoke of it in slow tones, like an honor, or in brusque ones, like a chore. The women who had gone down and survived did not speak about it at all.
It was a surprise to many when the black bean came to Shandel at the harvest fair. She was quiet, so quiet some thought her simple. She was strange-looking, such that people would sometimes look at her mother sidelong, for while nobody questioned a first child who looked a bit strange, pointed ears or glowing foreheads, Shandel was her mother’s third child, though the first to live past infancy, and furthermore, her mother had never gotten the black bean in her dish. She had a gentle touch, and followed the village doctor around like a shadow. If she was not simple, perhaps she would be the next doctor. None of these things were normal in the one who would go to the river.
But the bean was passed by chance. Chance, even if the old ladies were very good at putting the bean where it needed to be. And because the village held true to that, they did not look very closely at the old ladies, who were as confused as the rest of the village. Only Shandel was not surprised, and those that noticed that assumed once more that she was a little simple, a little slow. Especially if they noticed her smile.
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