After the first two Gods there was a moment’s pause. A space to catch one’s breath. I stood, hands on my knees, trembling with the effort of the freed Gods’ Tens. I hadn’t realized, when practicing, that it was absolutely necessary to pause here.
I straightened and stripped the sweat from my body with my hands, the motions so practiced, so smooth... Now I needed them for real. My body was running with sweat and it was my offering into Mella’s hand. I raised my voice and the ancient, wild work song burst out of my lips, though who knows what my music master would have thought of it. It didn’t matter.
I wrung out the headband as well and dropped the sodden cloth into the okas Goddess’s hand and it was as though I could see the sweat shimmer as She took it up.
Mella, Nursemaid... Though my body continued the smooth dance for the Goddess, my mind stuttered to a halt. Nursing. The images cascading through my mind were none of them good. My father, nursing next to me. My father pushing me off the slave woman’s breast as though I were a rival child, not realizing I hated it.
Tears burst out of my eyes and I sobbed even though I continued speaking the words of the hymn. I could not stop. That would be disrespectful but I could feel my steps becoming wooden and cold and removed from Mella’s sight. I sobbed and paced through Mella’s Ten and the last moment, the last movement I raised my eyes to Hers and found myself caught.
I see my mother in the darkened Marble Palace room, dancing in moonlight and singing; singing to me inside her. I see her put me... the birthmark dancing on my cheek as I suckled... to her breast and how hard her hands went when she gave me to my father. I cannot say anything but the truth here. He wrested me from her.
Mella goddess... Helpmeet. Gardener. Mistress of herbs, medical and not. Risae’s Supplier. Nurturer. Goddess of Abundance and Goddess where the tiniest cultivated space grew... from a pot on the windowsill to the green herb fields that Her husband sewed and reaped. The Goddess of the planted grain and the milled grain. Her dominion is in service to Selinae. Green grain, milled grain... spinning but never weaving. Maker of raw materials. Supplier.
Goddess have I given? Have I understood enough? Mella, Goddess of the little grains, the small herbs? Have I...?
The sweat soaked headband that I'd placed in Her statue’s hand burst into flames before me, exactly as it had in Virani-e`s second Ten Tens. The white hot flare nearly drove me back a pace but I held my ground. I must not move from this golden tile until I stepped into Oas’s Ten.
A pause and a shocked gasp from the watchers as the headband burst into white fire and was consumed in a space of five breaths. Gold, liquid from the threads, dripped from her hand onto the gold tile below. I was holding my breath. Was this where I died?
She takes up my heart and weighs it in her hands, looks at the hardened and rotten places on it. Then I see Disarsha, her hair unbound and trailing around her in glory, pace down to the Goddess. I see myself as a babe, as a toddler, carried in her hair and laughing. Weeping on the night my father made her disappear.
I see myself offering rites to the dead, to Binshala, who stands at my back, unseen. She loved me. They both did.
I loved them.
My mothers’ in spirit, when I did not even know I had a mother. My nurses. Aitza, so they are not Mella’s but nurses, so they are. Nurturers. I see shadows of the living who love me now. Virani-e. Minchaer. Zinchaer. Akminchaer. Grandfather. My mother.
For every step, every motion of the Ten Tens, there were alternates allowed. Only one, mostly. I dropped to my knee before Mella and raised my hands to my temples.