On the day when Amitola was born, there was a double rainbow hanging in the skies; hence the name she received from her tribe – Amitola means “rainbow.” The shaman foretold that the child will have two worlds to live in, and he was right.
In her first world, she lived happily until the age of 15. Her tribe was kind to her, despite everything. Only one old woman was obsessively purifying with incense everything Amitola touched or stepped on, but nobody bought into her panic. It was the birds that troubled her. Black birds that seemed to always circle high in the skies above Amitola’s head. Sometimes — just one or two, sometimes — the whole noisy flock.
Much later, when Amitola got to know the other world, she saw how her childhood could have been different. Wasn’t she a textbook example of a bad omen? She would not blame her tribe for shunning her away or even killing her. But instead, she cannot even remember being teased about the bird droppings that always covered her shoulders. “Omens are what we make of them,” was a cool-headed philosophy of her people. And so, far from demonizing her, everybody waited for their turn to host her on their land to improve the fertility of their crops. People don’t get wiser nor kinder than that.
If she wasn’t a true daughter of her tribe, she could be blaming herself for what happened. When pale foreigners came and killed all the men and took all the women, she could be blaming the black birds for the curse they brought upon her village. But she knew better than that. The birds were flying above her head for 15 years, and nothing bad happened. Then the giant sailboats arrived, and her world got destroyed. She knew exactly whom to blame — the giant sailboats and whoever had sent them.
Amitola was delivered into her second world when brute strangers separated her from her mother and brought her into a brothel. A fat pale man dressed in too many layers of clothes sat on top of the table and waved her to approach. He squeezed her chin and turned her face sideways, then he licked her neck with his flabby tongue and spit on the floor. He said something in his cackling language, and everybody laughed. He then threw her on the floor and put his leg on her back. And like that, he continued to drink and to cackle, tapping and fidgeting his foot from time to time.
Amitola tried to think about the birds circling above her, even though she could not see them through the ceiling. To them, it was of little importance what happened below, if it wasn’t something they could eat or something that could kill them. What was happening to Amitola down there was not any kind of an important event for them. And it didn’t have to be an important event for her if she looked at it from the far above. More birds joined the round dance; with each bird, she felt a stronger pull of the vortex forming by their wings.
She thought, “You will lift your leg now.” And the man did so immediately. Then she thought, “You will crash the jug with your drink on your head.” And as he did it abruptly, there was a lost and terrified look on his face. She directed him, now her obedient puppet, to escort her into a private room where nobody would disturb them and feed her a good meal. She had to take care of other women of her tribe, but the powers left her quickly. So she ordered the man to keep watch outside the door for the whole night as she slept, gathering her strength.
The following day Amitola summoned the black birds to circle again above her head and ordered her puppet to free all the women of her tribe. He stepped out the door with determination. After about ten minutes, she heard men shouting outside.
“What’s wrong with you? Let her go!”
Amitola peaked through the window. Her puppet, his jaw clenched, was drugging a woman by the hand while another man tried to push him away. Finally, the puppet was knocked off his feet and fell in the mud. The man kicked him a few times for good measure and took his woman back to the house.
“That would not do,” thought Amitola.
She went out of her shelter and told the first man she met, “You will bring me to the one who has the most power around here.”
That turned out to be a man dressed in a black robe who was performing some rituals when Amitola entered his house. If that was the power that strangers respected the most, that suited her perfectly. Carefully choosing her words, she said to the priest, “You will make sure that women of my tribe are safe and comfortable in this village and treated with respect.” He nodded, then fell on his knees in front of the altar and started to play. Half an hour later, he ran out of the house and rang a bell, calling the villagers to gather. He spoke to them in an urgent elevated tone, often raising his arms to the skies. The crowd rumbled, but soon the tribal women were brought forward, and one by one, they entered the priest’s house. As they passed Amitola, each one of them touched her gently with gratitude.
Amitola was grateful to the black birds and this strange power she could not explain. But she was also sad because she thought of more and more sailboats arriving and other villages that will be destroyed. Other women will have no one to protect them.
She found her first puppet still lying in the mud and told him, “You will bring me to the one who controls all of the sailboats.” Of course, she knew that she will have to cross the sea. What she did not know then is that the black birds will not be able to follow.
Amitola was standing on the deck of the giant sailboat and watched the black birds turning back to shore one by one. Before her powers left her, she made one last suggestion to her puppet-man, “I am a daughter of the most powerful ruler of this land. The one who marries me will have all the reaches of this continent in his pocket.” She could only hope that it would be enough for her to carry on with her mission in an unknown land of pale strangers.
At least it got her through the sea journey. Everyone in the crew treated her with respect. She would even feel comfortable in her private cabin if she could pretend for a second that she was on land. She did not suffer from seasickness much, but just the wrongness of it all got on her nerves. Humans were not meant to be dangling on the waves with no land in sight, each nude sunrise followed by a nude sunset. Terrified as she was to face her enemies, Amitola was relieved to see the land again and be grounded as humans should be.
She looked out for the birds, but none showed up. Instead, when the rumor spread of her arrival, gawking public started to flock around the ship, curious to see an exotic princess. She felt ridiculous as she was still dressed in her ordinary clothes, nothing even closely ceremonial. But nobody had to know it. She tried to copy the facial expression of the elders as they sat at tribal gatherings, never speaking but commanding respect solely with their presence.
It seemed to be working as day after day more and more poshly dressed men came to greet her, coming in bigger and bigger chariots with more and more horses, each bringing a gift shinier than the other. Amitola made sure to treat them all with coldness. She would take one look at them and say the only word she learned from strangers: “No!” But her heart was full of doubts because she didn’t even know where she was going with that.
On the third day, she had a different kind of visitor. A big raven landed on the tiny window slit of her cabin and stared at her tilting its head.
“Now, what do you think you’re doing?” he finally asked.
Amitola was not surprised. She always suspected that ravens could talk by the glances they gave her but were choosing not to.
“I am not quite sure.”
“See, that’s the problem.” The Raven jumped from the window on the table and started pacing along its edge. “What is it you want to achieve?”
“I want to stop the sailboats from coming to my land across the sea.”
Raven cawed like a normal raven, and Amitola realized that that’s the way they laughed at you.
“Do you think you can take a broken vase and make all pieces match together again? Maybe you think you can separate fresh water from a stream that has fallen into the sea or take back the breath that has left your mouth?”
“I just — I just thought I could do something since I’m the only one who could get here from my people.” Amitola looked at her feet, feeling quite silly.
“Your people must be desperate if they sent you,” Raven measured her tiny figure with a skeptical eye. “Anyways, I flew here to give you a word of warning. You should not reject the next delegation that shows up here because that would be the prince. And his mother the queen — well, let’s just say she does not take the critique of her son gracefully.”
“Is she powerful then? The queen?”
“Most powerful person in our kingdom. I mean, formally, the king is a ruler, but everybody knows where the real power is.”
“I see. Say, should I marry the prince?”
“That would be wise of you. But there is a problem. There is a reason why our queen is so touchy about him. He is a bit difficult to like.”
“What do you mean?”
“See for yourself. They are approaching.”
Amitola could already hear the noise. The sound of people cheering outside and the steps of many horses pulling heavy chariots. The door of her cabin opened, and a procession of people entered the tiny room. They squeezed by the walls and into corners to form a corridor for the prince to pass through. He stoked briskly towards her. He was dressed in shiny armor with a red velvet cape; a helmet with a closed visor was hiding his face. He stopped in front of Amitola and gestured to his servants to present the gifts to her. Some shiny things were brought to her feet, but she didn’t take one look at them. Raven was resting on her shoulder.
“Tell him to open his visor,” she asked the Raven.
Raven cawed the words in the local tongue. Amitola could see the fear in servants’ faces, some of them people backpedaling towards the exit. But the prince did not waver. He bowed lightly, lifted his helmet, and took it off, exposing a face that was only half-pale. The other half was red-brown and crawled upon his pale half in curvy folds shaped like a bird’s wing. Amitola smiled.
She turned to the Raven on her shoulder. “Tell him that I can see a very good omen in his face.”