Uprooted - Naomi Novik Page 0,1
the chances are very low—he takes only a girl of seventeen, born between one October and the next. There were eleven girls to choose from in my year, and that’s worse odds than dice. Everyone says you love a Dragon-born girl differently as she gets older; you can’t help it, knowing you so easily might lose her. But it wasn’t like that for me, for my parents. By the time I was old enough to understand that I might be taken, we all knew he would take Kasia.
Only travelers passing through, who didn’t know, ever complimented Kasia’s parents or told them how beautiful their daughter was, or how clever, or how nice. The Dragon didn’t always take the prettiest girl, but he always took the most special one, somehow: if there was one girl who was far and away the prettiest, or the most bright, or the best dancer, or especially kind, somehow he always picked her out, even though he scarcely exchanged a word with the girls before he made his choice.
And Kasia was all those things. She had thick wheat-golden hair that she kept in a braid to her waist, and her eyes were warm brown, and her laugh was like a song that made you want to sing it. She thought of all the best games, and could make up stories and new dances out of her head; she could cook fit for a feast, and when she spun the wool from her father’s sheep, the thread came off the wheel smooth and even without a single knot or snarl.
I know I’m making her sound like something out of a story. But it was the other way around. When my mother told me stories about the spinning princess or the brave goose-girl or the river-maiden, in my head I imagined them all a little like Kasia; that was how I thought of her. And I wasn’t old enough to be wise, so I loved her more, not less, because I knew she would be taken from me soon.
She didn’t mind it, she said. She was fearless, too: her mother Wensa saw to that. “She’ll have to be brave,” I remember hearing her say to my mother once, while she prodded Kasia to climb a tree she’d hung back from, and my mother hugging her, with tears.
We lived only three houses from one another, and I didn’t have a sister of my own, only three brothers much older than me. Kasia was my dearest. We played together from our cradles, first in our mothers’ kitchens keeping out from underfoot and then in the streets before our houses, until we were old enough to go running wild in the woods. I never wanted to be anywhere inside when we could be running hand-in-hand beneath the branches. I imagined the trees bending their arms down to shelter us. I didn’t know how I would bear it, when the Dragon took her.
My parents wouldn’t have feared for me, very much, even if there hadn’t been Kasia. At seventeen I was still a too-skinny colt of a girl with big feet and tangled dirt-brown hair, and my only gift, if you could call it that, was I would tear or stain or lose anything put on me between the hours of one day. My mother despaired of me by the time I was twelve and let me run around in castoffs from my older brothers, except for feast days, when I was obliged to change only twenty minutes before we left the house, and then sit on the bench before our door until we walked to church. It was still even odds whether I’d make it to the village green without catching on some branch, or spattering myself with mud.
“You’ll have to marry a tailor, my little Agnieszka,” my father would say, laughing, when he came home from the forest at night and I went running to meet him, grubby-faced, with at least one hole about me, and no kerchief. He swung me up anyway and kissed me; my mother only sighed a little: what parent could really be sorry, to have a few faults in a Dragon-born girl?
Our last summer before the taking was long and warm and full of tears. Kasia didn’t weep, but I did. We’d linger out late in the woods, stretching each golden day as long as it would go, and then I would come home hungry and tired and go straight to lie down in the