Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What Shasta Believed -- The Matter of Aravis

[Originally posted at Ana Mardoll's Ramblings, though really ought to go with this post.]
[Content note: child abuse]

Shasta believed himself the son of a fisherman.  He believed that sons worked hard for their fathers without reward or praise, never complained, always obeyed, accepted punishment without protest, and loved their fathers without condition.  He believed he was a bad and broken person because he could not love the fisherman, Arsheesh, no matter how hard he tried.  He believed he was worthless because Arsheesh often found fault with him, and beat him frequently.

He believed that he would only ever have one friend, the donkey that pulled Arsheesh's cart, laden with fish, south to the nearest village most afternoons.  He believed there was nothing strange about a fisherman never taking his son to sea or teaching him to fish.  He believed it unremarkable that in all his life he had never heard a word uttered about his mother.

He believed that he had been born in Arsheesh's house and that he would die there, having never gone father from the house than the mile or so away that the southern village lay.  He had only been to the village once or twice, and it made him believe the world a squalid place, for all that he saw there were men in clothes as plain, ragged, and dirty as Arsheesh's own.

Or, at least, he believed that most of the world was squalid or boring.  To the east was the ocean, which meant nothing to him as he was never allowed on Arsheesh's boat.  To the the south lay a village that simply had more men like Arsheesh, to the west was rocky land that was mostly barren, except for the occasional small plant or sprout of grass beside the trickling creek.

But to the north . . . to the north there lay mystery.

The western waste transitioned to grassy land to the north, it was here that Shasta took the donkey for grazing, but he was never allowed to go too far north.  The land gradually rose into a hill, blocking any hint of what lay beyond.

Arsheesh never answered Shasta's questions of what lay to the north, which only made him more curious.  He had been told not to ask, he had been beaten, he had been given platitudes so twisted and incoherent even Shasta knew that Arsheesh wasn't really trying.

The one Shasta remembered best was, "Oh my son, do not allow yourself to be distracted by idle questions.  For, as one of the poets has said, 'Application to business is the root of prosperity, but those who ask questions that do not concern them are steering the ship of folly towards the rock of indulgence.'"  Shasta didn't even know what all of the words meant, but he knew that the opposite of a root was not the steering of a ship.  A branch, perhaps, but not steering.

Shasta believed that Arsheesh was hiding something from him.  He knew that something lay to the north, for once, and one time alone, a traveler had come over the hill.  Seeking shelter for the night, he stayed at Arsheesh's house.  As was always the case when another man stayed at the house, Shasta slept that night with his friend the donkey, but before he did he listened by the doorway to hear what the traveler from the north might say.

The traveler had told stories of people who lived in gleaming palaces who never worked, sat on soft cushions, ate foods that defied belief, commanded armies, fought wars, had thousands of slaves to do all of their work for them, and so much more.

Shasta didn't believe any of these things were real, but he wondered what must lie north of the hill to allow the traveler to even imagine such things.

So it was that when Shasta worked alone during the day, when his indoor work was done, when he had run out of things to say to the donkey, finished with his inside tasks, and set himself to the endless task of repairing and cleaning Arsheesh's nets, that Shasta looked to the north and imagined what great secret might lay over the hill.  He believed that Arsheesh was keeping some great secret from him.

As with so much Shasta believed, he was wrong.  Arsheesh neither knew nor cared what lay over the hill.  The road led south, not north.  The best waters for fishing were almost due east, why he had chosen to live at the creek instead of with others.  He'd never had cause to go north of the hill, and he had no interest in what might lay there.  He did, however, have an interest in keeping Shasta from wandering too far, so when Shasta asked he gave dull non-answers if his mood were pleasant, and beatings when it was not.

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