Shade was seven years old when she heard the story of the Irish selkies. “They are taken from the sea and become wives and mothers to Irishmen,” said the traveling social worker in a special storytelling benefit for children. “But if someone finds her coat that she had in the sea, she’ll leave her husband and children and go back!”
The social worker was a man, which might have been why he seemed mortified that a woman would leave her husband and children, but didn’t have any problem with the idea that a man could just steal a woman out of her home and force her to get married and have children.
“Doesn’t she deserve a life?” said a still, small voice inside Shade. “Doesn’t she deserve a choice?”
But she pushed the voice aside. It was the same voice that often told her not to listen to the holy men, the same voice that told her to speak up for herself when she knew she was being wronged, even if it meant talking back to adult men. It was a voice that often got her in trouble.
“Don’t you listen to that voice inside you!” her mother often scolded, brandishing the Book in her hand. “For I swear to you, it is the devil!”
She didn’t like having the devil inside her head and she so tried not to listen. But sometimes that devil was the only one that made sense.
When she was fourteen, her village was raided and Shade was one of twenty-seven girls who were kidnapped and brought North to the City to be sold.
Shade prayed for help, but when the voice inside her offered to give her the power she needed, she shrank away from it. “No matter what the voice inside offers you,” her mother had always said, “no matter what will happen to you, do not trust it, for its power is Corruption!” So she let the men take her body, rather than giving up her Soul.
At the auction where they were sold, some of the girls seemed to know things about some of the men, which ones were particularly cruel, which ones sold drugs, which ones liked hitting. There was one man there every girl agreed, once she’d heard about him, that she would choose to be sold to, if she had the choice and not they.
(But why would you want to be sold at all? asked the Voice)
That man, the respectable one with the kind face, the one who did not beat his women, the one who campaigned for positive change, that man was the one who won the bid for Shade.
He took her home and he was kind, told the staff at his mansion to treat her as a lady, and they all spoke well of him, because of how well they were treated. And that night, when he came to her, he was gentler than she had ever been led to believe a man could be when he came to a woman.
He never beat her. Sometimes he would raise his voice in anger and she wouldn’t know why and that still-small voice would tell her “It’s not fair, you should tell him!” but she would slap it away, she would remind herself of all the terrible men who had been at that auction who she might have been sold to, and the bruises, she kept seeing on the wives of her husband’s business associates, which they didn’t even try to hide. And she would remind herself how lucky she was to have been sold to a good husband.
She gave him two children, a boy and a girl. They tried to have more, but apparently, her body failed him. (And could it not be his seed, said the Voice, failing you?) She watched her son and daughter grow up, thankful first that they had such a loving father, but also that her son was so handsome and strong and most especially relieved when her daughter did not speak about a still, small Voice inside her telling her that all she knew was wrong. She did not think she would be capable of beating her own child as she had been beaten. She did not think she could bear for her daughter to be Possessed, as she was.
But once her daughter started to come of age, thoughts started to occur to Shade. Whom would her daughter want to marry? To which of her husband’s friends (or which of their sons) would she be given? Her husband was a kind and gentle man, but he didn’t seem to know any other kind and gentle men. Only villains. She thought I should find a man for her who is as honorable as her brother, but then she thought Whom will he marry? And then she thought how.
That was when the Voice returned in full force. It should not be your husband’s decision whom your daughter marries! was one of the more ridiculous claims, but underneath it was It is up to you to protect your daughter because none of these men will! And when she tried to counter about her son and about her husband, about how they were good men, the Voice inside her took no prisoners but declared That man paid money to your kidnappers so that he could own you as property.
There it was. The Truth she could no longer escape. Her husband was not a good man. He may be better than any man she had met since she was taken from her village, but that was not the same as goodness. And under his parentage, the Voice inside her twisted the knife, what man will your son become?
It was all too much.
What can I do? she asked the Voice. How can I help my daughter? How can I save my son?
I can help you, said the Voice. But there is a price.
She had always known there would be, yet she caught her breath at what the thought implied. What must I do? she asked the Voice, desperately trying not to add, not to even think, I’ll do anything!
You must forget everything your parents taught you. You must abandon your husband, perhaps even your children. You have a Power inside you that is too great for one man to keep locked away, and you have a responsibility to wield it. Join me. Give yourself to me and I will give you the power to destroy the men who once ruined you—the men who soon will ruin your daughter, also. But in return, I expect you to continue fighting for me, to seek out and destroy any men—or women, either—who would traffic children for profit. I can give you this Power, Shade, but in return you must wield it for me.
That night, Shade brought her daughter and son to her old village. When she returned, she murdered their father. For the next week, she worked her way through all of his friends, liberating their wives whether they (thought they) liked it or not, and then fought her way into the distance, not to rest until the evil she had always known but never heeded was wiped from the face of existence.