The following months were hard on Sosostra, but you probably already figured that. Do you remember my saying that winters in Dragon Valley were harsh, and very cold? Well, a bit of luck hit Sosostra, and an uncharacteristically warm winter befell Dragon Valley. It was freezing, and Sosostra wished that she had packed a blanket before the town had the chance to take that away from her, too, but at least there was no snow, and Sosostra was grateful for that.
When you have not much else to be thankful for, you take what you can get. As you will already know, stupid Sosostra couldn’t afford to be picky.
She still only left her little camp at night, and then only for things she desperately needed. Now that her belly was slowly growing she knew she couldn’t afford to starve herself, for the baby’s sake. She often went to the community gardens in the heart of town, to take fruits and vegetables to feed herself but just how much do you think she was able to take at this time of year? There wasn’t much that was growing at the beginning of winter, and Sosostra was beginning to feel the pressure.
The little fireplace she had built for herself soon become her most priced possession. If you could call it a possession, that is. It wasn’t much, but it was hers, and it was her only source of warm food. Every night – sometimes several times a day, too – she sat by the fire, roasting the produce she had taken from the community gardens. It wasn’t ideal, but after everything she had been through it was something, wouldn’t you say? Dear Sosostra knew it wasn’t much, but she was slowly beginning to carve herself a routine with what little she had.
During the day she would try to stay warm and occasionally she would go to the nearby lake to wash herself – if the temperatures weren’t so low that they had frozen the water – and during the night she went back into town for more fruit and vegetables. She knew that overall it was still a mess, but she also knew that she had it better than most beggars who were slowly dying and decaying on Dragon Valley’s streets, so even though it was a long way from what she used to have she was grateful.
Until she began to throw up.
It wasn’t an easy pregnancy, but I know by now that you’re clever. You figured that one, too. And given her conditions it makes sense, doesn’t it? Her clothes had suffered already and were torn and wearing thin in many places, but the aches pregnancy brought to her body were soon becoming a real problem. What little food she had she quickly threw up again, and there was nowhere she could rest her hurting feet and back besides the cold, hard forest floor.
Life had proven itself to be cruel to her, and Sosostra had no idea how she was going to feed a baby and herself. It was already challenging now, but once the baby was born? There were nights when she silently hoped that she might lose the baby, to save it from the cursed life the child was bound to have with its mother. She felt terrible, but knew that still-born or not, she was going to feel even worse once it was time.
After all, she could not give the child the life it deserved. She was hated in town, an outcast who was fighting to get by in the woods. Chances were good that the child would walk right into the same fate. No education, no friends, maybe no love, either.
Besides her own. Sosostra loved her baby, even though people would later think otherwise.
Hm? How do I know this? *sigh* All right, it is a fair question. Sosostra left her daughter a letter, and in this letter she explained everything – why she had done what she had done, her undying love for the girl, and the curse. And her hopes for her daughter. Of course, just like you didn’t believe right away that Sosostra was actually cursed, Hope took some convincing, too. Her life seemed good to her until-
Well, we’ll get to that. Just know that I know these things because Sosostra had left a letter. And not just her, all my ancestors left an account of what life had so cruelly thrown at them. This is how I know. The source of my knowledge.
It’s how all of us have known before me.
But back to Sosostra, yes?
As her pregnancy progressed, things got more difficult. It seemed to her that no matter what she did, there was never enough food, and there was never a soft enough spot on the frozen floor for her to rest her aching bones on. Some of you must be wondering why she didn’t just steal a soft blanket. After all, she did steal that tent, and it is a good question. But it’s not one she answered in her letter to Hope. I can only guess, and my guess is that once she had realised that she was pregnant, her morals had taken the better off her. Life was going to be horrible enough as it was for the child – she wanted to do right by her while she could, and theft was not a value she wanted her baby to inherit.
But sometimes life isn’t as simple as that, and this was definitely one of those moments. Because eventually her belly had grown so much that her already stretched out clothes couldn’t take it any more. She had no money for new ones and knew that no one in town would trade with her, so she had no choice in the matter. One night she broke into a shop, and stole some maternity clothes.
And even then her newly found morals kept her from stealing anything expensive.
Of course, surviving out in the forest as she did, her clothes weren’t the only things that suffered. Her once silky hair had begun to hang in dirty strands from her shoulders. Knots made it difficult to run her fingers through it, and even the clean lake water could only do so much.
There were only a few months to go before the birth of her child, and Sosostra was barely a shadow of her former self. Hidden away in the forest, clothed in rags and the appearance of a beggar, no one would have believed her words now. No one would have believed that once, she had been a fortune teller. Not a rich one, but thinking back to what she had had then it seemed to her that she must have been rich. A roof over her head, a warm meal ever day… Life hadn’t been so bad.
And now it was all gone. And she was about to throw a child into the same messy shit hole she had created for herself.
Unbeknownst to her – at least, I think it must have been around that time – a mark appeared on the back of her neck. A mark, a cursed sign, a tattoo, whatever you want to call it – it serves no purpose other than to brand us as outlaws. Unfortunate. Cursed, and our lives forfeit from the moment we are conceived.
Without a mirror Sosostra wouldn’t have known that it was there, but all of us have had the same tattoo since then. I know it started with her. She was the first one. She was the original target.
And then, one night, poor unfortunate Sosostra went into labour. All alone, without a friend, or a midwife, she went through hours of excruciating pain, only to doom a small innocent child to the same terrible fate.
Over the months leading up to this moment, Sosostra had had a lot of time to think. She knew there was only one way to give her daughter a chance at a good life. So she did the only thing she thought was right. She-
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, I-” A sob got stuck in her throat somewhere, and made it impossible for Sosostra to continue. It didn’t make a difference, anyway. The baby was too young to understand. “Your name is Hope, okay? Because that’s what I want for you! I have none left, but maybe you can-” Her voice failed as her eyes drank in all of the little bundle that was softly cooing in her arms.
Sosostra gave her a last kiss onto her tiny forehead, and stroked aside the faint wisps of blonde that were already showing on her little head. “You’ll be smarter than me, all right? And you’ll have a good life. Your mother is making sure of that.”
Carefully, she wrapped the tiny bundle in the piece of cloth she had torn from her own shirt, and made sure the baby was tucked in nice and warm before she began walking.
Wealthy women from another town were staying overnight in one of the holiday houses. They would be perfect. They would give her daughter the life Sosostra couldn’t.
“I’m leaving you this letter, okay? It explains everything. I have attached a note, so your new family won’t show it to you until you’re old enough.” One last time, Sosostra held her daughter tight, trying to swallow back the tears and the lump that was rapidly forming in her throat.
“I love you. Whatever you decide to do with your life, I’ll love you.”
My head, I-
Well, anyway, now you know. I guess. Sosostra left her daughter at the doorstop of people she didn’t even know. What do you make of that? Do you think she did the right thing? If she had known wh-
Oooh. I’m really dizzy. I’ll just sit down for a moment. No, don’t worry, I’m fine. I’ll just finish this bit of our history and then I’ll go lie down.
As I was saying, if Sosostra had known who she was leaving her baby girl with, she would probably rather have walked all the way to the next neighbouring town. But she had no idea. Once again, stupid, unlucky Sosostra had no idea what she was doing.
And I don’t think Hope ever complained? But I might be wr-