Walks Before Greatness
by Kate Marshall
Ainara's mouth could not be blacker if she'd been suckled on a lump of coal. Even
her teeth were black, and her tongue. But her skin was cave-fish pale, so white
you'd think it could not bear the light.
It was a sign: she would be great.
When she was seven she went about with a king-killer snake as a wreath about her
neck, and was never bitten. A year later she walked from the forest with an
honor-guard of spotted wolves, who licked her fingers and melted away. She could
twist her hands in the air and loose the clouds, or puff her cheeks to call a rain.
I was born breach with my hand tangled in Ainara's hair. My people called me
Tanith, Walks-Before-Greatness. Each morning I stepped out from the house our
mother built of bent bones and mud, lifted dust-brown arms to the sun, and sang. I
sang every dark-eyed child awake, every dog, every cow and bull. I sang welcome
to the sun, and to Ainara.
I might have hated her. The tales our grandmothers told were full of brothers who
turned axe or club or flint-tipped arrow against one another, or sisters who laid ears
flat to the ground to hear the serpents speak of poison. My sister was great, and I
was only the one who walked before her.
But I did not hate Ainara. I was sure our tale would not be added to those. I loved
her. I would have dyed the path before her with my blood if she asked me.
I was so sure we would be different.