Anne Nowselski and Brian MacDonald

Brian MacDonald
Inspiration Piece

The Bone Coin
By Anne Nowselski
Response

Mida had found the bone coin in a secret slot of the small desk of the room. She should have left it here, and for a while she had been able to ignore it. But as the days went by, her curiosity over took her and she put it in her pocket, pulling it out often to look at.

It was the size of a large silver coin and fit in the palm of her hand. The edges were smooth from age, and there was a small hole at the top for a string. The surface was snowy with an etching in the bone of a kind of cat. When she held it to the light of the window slit, she could see slender scratches for whiskers on its broad face. It had the pointy feline ears, but no tail and the paws seemed especially large.

Most days she leaned over the desk with the bone coin laid out and she stared at it, as if she were reading tarot stones and the story of it would be revealed to her. The cat eyes were thoughtful, as if they too wondered at the blue eyed girl staring at it. Mida knew it was wrong, but she often imagined the person who had owned the bone coin. Who had lived in this same cell as her and during the long lonely days, she would talk to the coin’s owner.

“My horse is brown with one white foot, as if he had dipped it in milk. I call him Milky sometimes because of that,” she had said once. The sound of her own voice surprised her in the quiet of the prison, like a loud echo.  She had thought someone might have heard her, but no one answered. No one ever answered. Distant cries came from beyond the thick cell doors, particularly at night, or a voice might call out in loneliness, but she never heard any other voices.

The guard, Eloi, who had burly thick arms like tree trunks, brought her meals three times a day, but never talked. His heavy foot falls were familiar rhythms, especially if a crying became too disruptive, then she could hear him come and there was a heavy thud, and then silence.

She had seen a wolf once when her father had taken her to market. It had been in a wooden cage that was barely enough room for the grey body to turn around. The fur was matted and flies buzzed around its tired and runny eyes. She had begun to weep for it, telling her father how cruel it was to cage an animal like that. Her father had brought her close and pointed at the string around its neck and the ivory coin attached. “This is a Mudanci,” he had explained even as she tried to squirm away, “It is not an animal.”

Her cell felt like that creature’s cage, and her mind would drift back to the image of the Mudanci. If she had allowed herself, she could have just sagged into a corner and waited for whatever fate awaited. But she had not wanted to give up, not like that creature had. Every day she walked in the tight circle of her cell, calmly, as if she were strolling through the house gardens. She plucked the straw from her hair after she had slept and stuffed them back into the corner for her pallet. She watched the sky change colors through the narrow window that a squirrel could not have gotten through, counting the days that went by.

And she spoke to the bone coin for company. Imagining the girl who had owned it, for she thought with confidence, the strange cat had a dainty feminine look in its eyes. If she concentrated well enough, Mida could distract herself for hours thinking of this other life. She got comfort from knowing someone else had been here, even if it had been a Mudanci.

The sun was spilling pink rays in her window when she heard Eloi’s heavy foot falls echoing down the hall. It was too early for the evening supper, she thought as she listened sitting on her stool. As she waited, she heard another sound, a light whisper, like the rustling of leaves across cobblestones. Then the noises stopped right by her door, and there was a metallic clank.

Abruptly, Mida stood, smoothing down her aged and stained riding dress. A visitor had never come and her heart fluttered at the hope of who it might be. Her father to take her home perhaps? Or the Sagen to—

The door opened and Eloi’s scarred face squinted into the darkness of her cell. She recoiled, as he always made her nervous. He never spoke, only watched with great wide eyes as if he were expecting something. But then a tall elegant woman pushed her way into the tiny cell, gently shoving Eloi to the side with a dark hand. Her dress was a pale blue, like the sky and with a dark velvet pouch hanging from her belt. Her dark hair was piled neatly on her head. Mida could smell a whiff of fresh lavender when the woman came in.

“Lady Mida,” the woman nodded as she sniffed her nose and squinted her eyes.

Mida was now very conscious of how she must look. Her face must be smudged beyond recognition, and her hair must be a wild mess. The dress was practically new when she was brought, but now the pale green fabric was soiled and stiff. Her hands, she saw with dismay, were caked with grime, so she hid them behind her back.

“I am Sagen Govinda. And you have been here quite awhile now, I think. I also understand that your name was given by the apothecary, what was his name?” She asked as she glanced at Eloi, then back at Mida.

Neither of them spoke, though Mida was thinking of that tiny shop and the sweet musky smell that permeated the air like a cloud of pollen. Even now, so far away and many months later, she could still smell it.

“Well, it hardly matters,” she shrugged, “You’ve been accused of buying a  constancy draught that helps the Mudanci hide from us. But there is a way to clear your name—“

With a gasp, Mida felt the breath she had been holding escape her lips that had begun to tremble.  She could be free. The thought was too much and she felt her eyes watering with tears.

The Sagen flashed a beautiful smile, “It will all be over soon, my dear. Your family has written to us and—“ her dark eyes flickered to the desk and squinted as though reading something unpleasant. “What is that?” She snapped, and then her long dark fingers were reaching out and picked the bone coin on the desk where Mida had left it.

The blood rushed to Mida’s cheeks as she held herself back from lunging and trying to snatch it out of the woman’s hands. Her eyes darted, and she felt Eloi’s stare on her as she tried to think quickly of what to say. “Oh,” she whispered “Oh, my, that was here when I came.” She tried to shrug, but felt awkward and stiff.

Eloi was silent but the Sagen’s smile faded into a serious frown. “These things are very dangerous,” she cautioned, “They are evil medallions for the Mudanci. To aid in their transformation.” She turned the coin over, “A lynx,” she whispered as she passed it over to Eloi.

“I’m not a shape changer,” Mida yelped.

Sagen Govinda nodded solemnly, “We’ll see.” And then she opened the velvet pouch and pulled out a dark rough stone.

A renewed flush of dread silenced Mida, but she forced herself not to wince.

“You have nothing to fear from the Truthstone,” the Sagen assured her, but then added with a grin, “Unless you are a liar or a Mudanci.”

Just hearing the name of the stone made her tremble. A Truthstone was the surest way to find Mudanci, as it forced them to shift into their animal form when they touched it. The stones were rare, though, and Sagen Govinda must have paid dearly to have it brought here.

As the Sagen held out the stone which was about as big as her hand, Mida tried not to shrink away. Months ago, the apothecary had offered her a small vial of dark liquid, thrusting it into her hand, even as she protested. His eyes had been kind and understanding. “It’s free,” he had whispered, “Come back any time.” The Sagen before her now had a face that was nearing a snarl as she pressed the Truthstone forward.

Mida longed to hold the cool black stone in her hand and speak the words, “I am not a Mudanci!” It was a beautiful and bright image like a spark in her mind. But just as these thoughts formed, a darkness would descend, like a candle that was nearing the end of its wick. Deep inside, she knew she could never say those words.

Thrusting the stone, the Sagen touched her skin by her collar bone. Immediately, Mida felt the familiar tingle crawl up her spine like a cold panic seeping into her body.  She stumbled backwards, trying to curl into herself as the room became strange and hazy. The sweaty dress became loose on her thin frame and she watched her horror mirrored by the Sagen who was quickly becoming larger.

She slipped into the darkness of her clothes and she wanted to imagine she was merely dreaming back at home. But she could still feel the soft fur along her small arms and the odd teeth inside her mouth. And then there was a twitching behind her, and she knew the long tail with the black tip was there. She wanted to weep.

“Get rid of it,” Mida heard the Sagen hiss.

Her tiny heart was pounding and she quickly fought her way with tiny claws into the light of the dim cell. She looked up at both people who towered over her now. Eloi reached down as if to pluck her up by the neck, like a disobedient puppy. Without thought, she jumped up with powerful hind legs, clearing over him to the little slit window.

“Stop it from escaping!” the Sagen cried and Eloi lurched upwards.

Mida scraped through the narrow opening. Her golden body emerged into the red dusk and for the first time in weeks she breathed in fresh cool air. She could see a long way off over the grassy plains that were gold red in the setting sun. She might never be able to go home, not now that they knew what she was, but maybe she could be free in the plains where many of the springhares roamed.

Her thoughts went back to the bone coin, and the Mudanci who had most likely died in the prison. As she stared down at the ground, it seemed very far away and she felt dizzy. She regretted not being able to get the bone coin from Eloi. She would have to leave it though she felt as if she were abandoning her. Mida turned back to the setting sun and leapt.

———————

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One Comment

  1. Chris
    Posted June 10, 2016 at 5:05 pm | #

    Anne, I just read your story it’s very interesting. And creative thanks for sharing it.

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