To Walk Again

by Grace Nehls


          Viridian had left the window open in her room again. Necatia found it, curtains rustling when the occasional carriage rumbled past, the casement thrown wide, its white paint covered completely with her younger sister’s ink drawings; the pot of ink sat open as if she had been there just moments before.
          Shutting out the heat, Necatia set the ink out of reach, locating the calligraphy pens Viridian had stolen from their mother’s special collection. She paused upon leaving, her eyes trailing across the lower margins of the bedroom walls where she saw more doodling still, and not for the first time did she think her sister had too much time on their hands. It wasn’t Viridian’s fault she felt trapped, in the house, in her own body. Her hands and mind were the only things that did not hold obstacles for her. It was as if Viridian’s very thoughts were bleeding into one another on the wall, a pattern both creative and complicated. Just like her sister.
          “Viridian!” she called, stepping into the hallway. She entered the main room in the house that her family spent most of their time in. Books were stacked in corners, the small fireplace was a smudge of ash and brick, threadbare chairs surrounding it. The kitchen was the only clean part of the place; their mother was a stickler for an orderly place to cook. “Viridian!” Necatia squinted into the sunlight as she took to the cobbled street outside. The air smelled of woodsmoke. The entire city of Diarmund was preparing, cleaning the iron lamps bending like elegant women on the sides of the road farther down, dusting the cobbles and throwing water onto the stones to give them some semblance of cleanliness. Necatia couldn’t imagine the uproar in the palace.
          Tomorrow evening was the An Roghnu, The Choosing.
Every year all unmarried young women at the age of seventeen were presented to a group of noblewomen called the Cealgair. Many of the contestants came from as far away the borderlands of Diarmuid. A grand ceremony was held in the Cealgair’s honor at the palace that evening, and the group of women chose one person they deemed worthy to train to become a noblewoman. It was a beautiful prospect to all the girls in the city- they all dreamed of their names being called out by the Cealgair, to be the one that had a chance to marry into a wealthy family, and gain the king and queen’s approval.

          A wink of light glancing off metal caught Necatia’s eyes. “Viridian! Where have you been, I’ve been worried sick!” Her sister rolled forward, sundress crumpled, leaning heavily in her wheelchair as she maneuvered expertly in from of Necatia. Her eyes were bright with excitement.

          “I was looking at the list. They posted it on the Western Gates of the palace thismorning… our names are on it, Necatia! We can go to An Roghnu!”

          “That’s halfway across the city!” Necatia knew both their names would be on that list. They were both seventeen.

          Viridian grinned, wiping her forehead, pushing back the black strands of hair plastered there. “I can move faster in this thing than you think. It only took me a couple hours.” Necatia glanced at her sister’s wheelchair, then at her legs, long and pale in the sunlight. Useless. Her sister saw her glance and frowned.
          Viridian had been born without the use of her legs. She was lucky the lack of muscular function hadn’t spread past her hips, but it wouldn’t have mattered either way. Viridian would still be different. They were daily reminders of what Viridian could never have.

          Necatia cleared here throat. “I told you I wasn’t going to go,” she began.

          “You must!” Viridian accused. “If our names are on there we don’t have a choice!”

          “I don’t-,”

          “Why have you changed your mind all of a sudden? We had everything laid out…” Viridian’s voice turned soft, and she glanced around before continuing, “With our money combined we can buy that spell!” Necatia knew exactly what spell her sister was talking about, and she knew she was taking a risk by saying it out loud, even if they could hardly hear themselves shouting. Necatia jerked her head towards the door, and Viridian followed wordlessly. When the door was shut, her sister squirmed uncomfortably in her wheelchair.
   
          “I’m sorry, that was stupid of me,” Viridian began.
   
          “That was dangerous!” Necatia hissed. All the girls invited to the ceremony were forbidden to use magic. Necatia had heard rumors that the Cealgair brought special guards to check each eligible girl of even a whiff of magic upon entering the palace. They wanted no spell present that could increase the chances of one girl being chosen over another.
   
          “Well it’s true!” Viridian huffed. “I’ve been waiting for this all my life, and now that it’s finally here, my sister doesn’t want to help me. Tell me why you don’t want to go all of a sudden. We’ve dreamed of this night since we were children.”
   
          Necatia knew exactly why she didn’t want to go. It was true that Viridian and her had always played when they were younger, imagining Necatia as one of the Cealgair in a red cloak, and Viridian as the chosen one. But as the years grew closer, Necatia had secretly felt herself dreading the day when everything would be as they dreamed it to be, on the night of An Roghnu.To become one of the privileged in Diarmund was a big deal but once chosen by the Cealgair, it would be forbidden to leave and see home. What did the girl that was chosen think? What if she didn’t want to leave behind her life? What if she was happy where she was? Did she have a choice to stay, or was she forced to go? Necatia had never heard of any of the past young women chosen turning down the offer of the Cealgair.
          She was afraid that if she went to the party and she was chosen, that she would never get the choice to turn them down. Because she would, gods yes, she would turn down that offer, even if she offended the royal family and the Cealgair combined.
          Necatia also knew that her sister had been waiting for this night. It had taken years to save enough money, and even then Necatia had to pool some of her own to compensate for the rest, for spells were expensive and hard to come by. There was an old woman living not too far away from the castle who dabbled in magic, the only one in Diarmuid. It was simple magic she did, special creams for mending bones or broken skin, leaves that relieved fever and headaches, potions for long memories, draughts to make the skin glow. And there was a spell that would help Viridian walk again. It wasn’t a permanent spell, they both knew that, but it would give Viridian the ability to move her legs and feet on her own without the need of a wheelchair, as if she were walking like normal. It was all her sister could think about at night, a time when she could move around Diarmuid and not have to worry about the stares. A night without the conscious thought that she was broken. It was a huge risk to take.
   
          “Necatia?” Viridian had taken hold of her hand. Necatia jolted out of her thoughts.
   
          “I-,” Would she be so selfish as to let her own needs come before her sister’s?
   
          It was as if Viridian had read her mind. She pulled on Necatia’s hands, forcing her to bend down, and wrapped her in an embrace. Viridian hadn’t hugged her like this in years. It reminded Necatia that she was the only one who could truly understand her sister and why she did the things she did. Viridian had friends, but they were the kind of friends who spoke kindly to her because they pitied her.  I’m doing this for you, Necatia thought. I’m doing this because I know the yearning of this night is strong in your bones. 
   
          “You won’t regret it, Necatia,” Viridian murmured. She pulled away and glanced down at her legs. “Remember, I don’t care if I’m chosen. I just want to be normal. Just for one night.”
   
          “I know,” said Necatia. But deep down she knew Viridian had as much chance as any other girl going to An Roghnu as well. She may not have had control of her lower body, but she was still beautiful and smart, a light in a dark room. She had a chance, and that that’s what scared her the most.
   
          Viridian swung her wheelchair around and headed toward her room. She glanced back at her sister and smiled, so full of hope and excitement. She murmured, “Tomorrow evening will be the best night of our lives.”

 

Author Biography: Grace Nehls is an 11th grade student at the School
for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati, OH where she majors in
Creative Writing. She aspires to be an author. Besides writing, Grace
is a competition dancer, an avid reader, and is fascinated by the
mechanics of astrology.

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