I’ve had the idea for this title for a while, and I finally wrote a story to go with it, though I’m not sure if it fits as well as I wanted anymore. Oh well.
Just a disclaimer before you read: it mentions and describes some abuse, so if you don’t want to read about that don’t read. But if you think you can struggle through it, it does have a happy ending. It’s also rather Christian, so again, if you don’t want to read it, I understand.
Also, if you want to give critique, I’m happy to hear how I can improve. 🙂
The Magician’s Rabbit
Ilyna sagged to the ground and laid her head on the rotting wooden wall. Through closing lids she could see only darkness.
Blinking, she forced herself to stay awake, and in the distance, a pinprick of light entered her vision. Sitting up, she watched it, not the wobbly flickering light of a candle that cast shivering shadows on the walls, but the steady, warm light of a lantern.
A figure held the lantern, clean face illuminated with the whitish light. It was a boy, dressed in beautiful clothing that could only mean he was from a rich family.
“Hello,” he said, reaching out toward her. She moved back, pressing herself against the wall. “I know what you want. I can help you.”
Ilyna stared at him, not daring to breathe, not daring to believe.
“I’ve come to take you away from this place, to somewhere safe.”
“I—” She stopped and looked at her bare feet, dirty, small. “Chendo would never sell me.”
The boy smiled and it was the sweetest smile she’d ever seen. “You’re free now, Ilyna. Your price has been paid.”
“I’m…free…?” The words tasted odd in her mouth.
“Yes.” He reached out his hand for her to take, and this time she stretched her fingers out, reaching, reaching…
Ilyna jerked upward at a slight noise, trying to orient herself from the dream and the harsh night wind blowing through the cracks of the wall. Searching the darkness, she found no light and breathed a sigh of relief that Chendo had not seen her sleeping.
Standing upward slowly, Ilyna walked forward, fingers tracing along the wall, her other hand out in front of her, fumbling through the air. Finally her hand touched the old shelf in the corner, and from across the dark barn, one of the white mares made a soft noise and pranced for a second.
“It’s alright,” she told the horse, running her hand along the shelf until she found the bucket. She pulled it down from the shelf and left the barn, running to the well by the light of a thousand little stars. Ilyna used the rope to bring up a bucketful of water and then ran back to the barn.
Water splashed against her legs as she ran, dripping from the long cracks in the side and bottom of the bucket, where it had been stepped on by one of the mares months ago. Chendo had been so angry that day… All you have to do is put the bucket on the shelf, slave girl! Is that too hard for you? Are you too high and mighty to just— Stop screaming, you idiot girl!
It always seemed to take so long to get enough water for all the animals with the water spilling everywhere, but after an hour or so by view of the moon, she was putting the bucket away. The food would be easier.
After separating sections of hay and distributing them to the animals, Ilyna searched along the shelf and found the small bag of seeds for the little yellow birds. She grabbed it and held it close to her, moving to the birdcage. The birds pecked at her fingers as she put the food in, already red and raw from using the rope in the well so much.
Biting her lip to not think about the pain, Ilyna turned back to the shelf. As she stepped down, she stumbled over herself, falling. Reaching out to catch herself, she released the bag. A second too late, she realized what she’d done, the seeds raining down around her. She could hear them skittering along the ground, far away to every inch in the barn.
It was all Ilyna could do to keep from sobbing. She would not sleep tonight, and Chendo would still expect her to perform tomorrow.
She began to pick up the seeds, one by one, starting at the corner of the barn and moving outward inch by inch. Chendo didn’t care that she couldn’t see a thing in this darkness, so she made sure to be careful, though part of her just wanted to give up, curl in a ball, and cry herself to sleep.
By the end of the night, Ilyna’s tears had dried and the seeds were picked up. When the sun’s pale light hit the horizon and peeked through the cracks between the walls of the barn, she took the acrobats’ three white mares outside and tied them. Again to the well she went and washed the horses, and herself, while she was at it, brushing their coats until they gleamed in the sunlight. With stiff fingers, she braided their manes and tails, and brushed her own.
At noon, she’d disappeared, before the acrobats came for their horses. She changed into her stiffly starched rose-colored dress, with a thousand different frills and layers. She twirled around once, wishing she would never have to go to the circus, wishing she could be the kind of girl that would wear this dress.
But she did, and she wasn’t. Slipping in through the tent behind the stage, she met Chendo there. “Ugly,” he told her as he circled around her. She looked at the ground, at her small feet now clothed in brown slippers. Never look me in the eyes, slave girl. Never.
After inspecting her for a few more seconds, Chendo shoved her away, which meant he couldn’t find anything specific to criticize. “Stay here until I call you out and don’t move an inch from that spot. Do you hear me?” He leaned in close and she tried not to shudder. “Not one inch.”
From her spot she could see glimpses of Chendo on the stage, and of the audience. They loved him when he danced, and even she couldn’t look away. He was mesmerizing, able to twist anyone’s emotions, as if he were spreading some sort of magic through the air, magic that made even her want to love him.
When his two songs ended, and the clapping had died down, Chendo cried out to the audience, “Now, I will dance with my lovely daughter, Isabella!” Your name is Isabella now, do you understand? Your name will never be Ilyna again.
Ilyna ran to Chendo and threw her arms around him. He grabbed her and grinned, spinning her up in the air so that for a second, she believed he did love her as if she was his daughter.
The music started and the dance began, the two of them capturing up the audience in the magic of the dance. Ilyna took each delicate, lifting step as carefully as she could, but she felt weak and tired, as if nothing was holding her but empty air, and as soon as her body figured it out, she would fall.
It was one little trip, one little step, and Chendo tried to smile and keep going, but they both knew it had broken the spell. No matter that the rest of her steps were perfect, no matter that she danced better than she ever had before afterward. The audience were no longer part of the dance, and he knew it was all her fault.
The audience applauded at the end, and for once, Chendo let her stay and curtsy the whole time. Maybe he knew that she wanted to run away to the moon and the stars, where a little breeze would blow and she would be so high no one could ever catch her.
Chendo took her to the barn, and her heart felt like it was about to explode from being squeezed so tightly. He pulled the red dress and the brown slippers off her, leaving her standing barefoot in only her raggedy, dirty slip of a dress, arms wrapped around herself.
She watched as he walked toward the mares’ stalls and took the long whip off the wall. It was used to scare the horses into obeying.
It scared her, too.
The whip cracked in the air and she knelt on the ground, forehead in the dirt, waiting. The pain came a second after the sound, searing along her back. She bit back the shout in her throat as tears leaked from her eyes.
“Do you know what you did, slave girl?” Crack. “Do you know?” Crack. “You ruined the show!” Crack.
The scream tore out of her, even though she tried to keep it in, the sound filling the barn. Chendo kicked her. “Get up, girl. Get up!”
Ilyna rose to her knees slowly, then dragged herself to her feet, wavering in the air, waiting.
The whip snapped. Her face burned.
Her hands rose to her face and came back with blood. Chendo had never hit her in the face before, never. Never where her rose dancing dress couldn’t cover…
She fell to the ground, but Chendo didn’t make her get back up again. The whip snapped again and again as Chendo screamed. Slowly the pain blurred into numbness, and then her eyes closed against the world and she felt herself flying.
When she opened her eyes, she saw the light again, and the boy standing there, from her dream. Only this time she realized there wasn’t a lantern making the light…it was him. He was glowing, brighter than bright, and when she looked down at herself, she was glowing too, wearing a white dress that felt like sunlight on her.
Ilyna rubbed her face. No blood. No pain. She looked at the boy. “This is a dream. I know it is.”
“No,” he said, holding out his hand just like he had before. “This is heaven.”
“What does that mean?” she asked, hesitant to reach for his hand if it would make this all go away.
He smiled at her, and it was the sweetest smile she’d ever seen. “It means you’re free, Ilyna.”
Biting her lip, she reached out toward him, stretched out her fingers…and he was warm and real, and he held her with hands so soft that they felt like the feathers on the little yellow birds.
Holding the boy’s hand, she walked with him, and when she looked around her she could see the moon and the stars, and a little breeze blew a whisper on her. “But who bought me?” she asked.
“Our brother. Do you want to go meet him?”
She stopped. “I…I don’t know.” What if he was just like Chendo?
The boy gave her another one of those sweet smiles and pulled her along. “He was whipped too, you know.”
She looked up at him and felt her fears start to melt away. He would know, then. He knew what it felt like, and that’s why he had bought her. “Is he a slave then?”
“No.” The boy pointed in front of them, where Ilyena could see more white light, brighter than the sun. She squinted and saw a man standing in the middle of all the light, arms outstretched, waiting for them to come to him.
“No,” said the boy again. “He is our Savior.”