This short story is part 1 of the Daughter of the Goddess series.
Patches clutches her worn blanket, folded around some stale bread and a few rotten apples, with both of her small hands. It’s all she has—save for the rags she wears. If she drops it...
She mustn’t. She must be good. Good girls are quiet and useful. She promises herself that she will be.
“Stop dragging yer feet like a dainty princess.” Mum grabs her hand and drags her down the path. “You ain’t some prissy little thing to walk along with ginger feet. The day’s a-wasting, and I mean to be home by night-come.” She tugs Patches’ arm so that it hurts, but Patches keeps her mouth shut. Good girls are quiet. “Right happy, I’ll be to have my hands free of ye.”
“Yes, Mum,” she whispers. She shouldn’t speak louder than a whisper. Good little girls don’t shout. Patches takes two or three steps for each of her mum’s, and still her short little legs can’t keep up. A farmer’s cart splashes mud. The rocks under her naked feet stab her. People stare at the little girl wearing rags. But Patches doesn’t bother with any of that. She’s as likely to be dirtier than that farmer’s pig, and rocks are nothing compared to mum.
And looking at people would only annoy her mum. She’s not supposed to be noticed. She moves behind her mother and hangs her head and watches her mum’s feet with their soft padded shoes drum a quick beat.
“Useless as a bug,” the mother continues. “Why, fer the life of me, I ever made that bargain to save yer life is beyond me. Nothing but a waste of space, you are. But a bargain with a goddess is for keeping. And you’s old enough.”
Patches listens. Quietly. She hates being useless. But try as she might, she’s never done nothing worth a lick of good. “I’m sorry, Mum.”
“As you should be,” Mum says. “Sorry I’s ever had you. That be certain.”
Mum pauses at the top of the rise, and Patches walks right in to her. “Don’t you be bumpin’ me, you whiny brat. I brotcha into this world. I can take ye out.” She grabs Patches arm and pulls her to her side. “And the world be a-thanking me too.”
The rise in the road overlooks more houses than Patches has ever seen put together in one place. So tall. As tall as trees. And all those people a-milling about like so many tiny ants marching about their nest. She wants to go home. Grammum wouldn’t be happy to see her—Grammum never wanted a useless girl like her—but it’d be safer. And when no one wants her, she could hide in a tree. The trees are always kind. They whisper sweet words. She falls asleep there, after her beating, listening.
“Dontcha be crying.” Mum tugs her arm angrily and slaps her face. “Ye should be thanking the goddess for sparing yer life and letting you be her slave.” Patches bites her lip and looks down at the stone road at her feet. She must be thankful.
“And dontcha be calling me that no more. I’m done with you.”
Patches nods her head, not knowing what to say. For “Yes, Mum” is all she ever says. Anything more is a-wanting a belt across her back. So Patches just keeps her mouth shut and follows. Down the hill. Through a gate. Into the crowded streets. So many people. Pushing. Shoving. The tears stream down her face. She can’t stop crying. She should be thankful. Good girls are thankful.
They stop in a big open place, and in the center, there is a tub where water jumps high into the sky and splashes back down. Patches peeks at it through her lashes. It would be fun to dance in the water. If no one were a-looking. She thinks of her stream at home with its bubbling chortle. It sings to her that it will give her joy. And it always kept its promise.
“They’re not a-wanting a slave at their front door.” Mum takes her hand and marches her away from the jumping water, around the corner, down a narrow street, to a small wooden door. She raps, and round face with rosy cheeks peers out.
“I’m a-sorry, my lady,” she says. “But we’re not buying nothing now. Come again tomorrow.”
Patches feels harsh hands push her forward. “I made a promise, and here she is. The goddess can have her.”
The brow of that round face bunches up in a dozen pretty little folds. Patches likes those creases and folds and the thoughtful eyes that go with them. She forgets that she’s not supposed to stare. It draws attention. And good girls don’t draw attention. Her mum’s hand pushes her head back down, and her hands shake, knowing the beating that’s coming.
“I’m not understanding, my lady. These are the kitchens. If you give your daughter to the goddess, you must present her to the priestess in the sanctuary.”
“She’s not worth such an honor. She’s to be a slave for the goddess.”
Staring down at the woman’s feet, Patches listens to her mum’s feet echoing down the empty street. She’s alone. A slave. Unwanted. Unworthy.
You can read part 2 here.