“How do we start? I guess the beginning would be best. If I skip details or miss things you think are important then, tough, this is not a documentary. Same applies to things I dwell on too much. Anything you need explaining make a note, anthropology is not the subject here. It’s a longer story than you might have thought. Get it all, we can discuss it later.”
Like everyone else I assumed I was born. No idea what happened next. Sometime later I was found. No memory of anything else. There was no mystic rune sword or arcane birthmark to say I was the secret son of a king like in the fairy tales. I was just a pale young child abandoned and asleep in a forest, found by a man passing by on his way home from somewhere else. Surely not just random chance, I had been left in a place where I could be found and taken in.
The family made me one of their own, a new-found son to replace a cherished soul they had lost some years before. When the family had been assured that the feral child they harboured was in robust health I was given the name of the lost son and carried the hopes of a father still deep in grief. In the house at the boundary of the village, on the edge of the trees, I joined two sisters, Rebekah and Hannah, and three brothers, Pishon, Hiddekel and Perath, and everyone worked to welcome, educate – and tame – the small fierce thing that I was. I wanted so much to make these parents proud of me as I grew up in that little world. I suppose it was inevitable that I would end up feeling like a disappointment to them, how can you live up to the perfect ones that die before their time?
The land was wild and it could be a harsh place in winter, but the beauty of the summers more than made up for the hard times. I still miss the land and the air of separateness about the place. Up above the tree line I remember the sky going on forever, lying on a bed of heather watching the stars come out. Magnificent isolation, there at the end of the world. That was what it was, World’s End, I mean. I’m from the last lands of the Western Isles, brought up with my back to Fortress Europe and facing the openness of the great ocean. The land provided everything we thought we needed, and it bred a hardiness into its people.
In a psychological return to the Middle Ages the feudal model had been the norm for centuries following the collapse of the decadent West. People knew their place and were told they felt comfortable in it. A contraction of the mindset peculiar to the Western Isles but most pronounced in the fundamentalist enclaves of Alba where the village elders enforced adherence to strict religious tenets that had grown, garbled and re-interpreted from half understood beliefs that survived the Great Fall.
As a child I was taught that our God given mission was to repopulate the land with the faithful, that everything beyond the horizon was weak and depraved. Only the foolish entered the ruins of the forbidden past. Such mad adventures were left to the overlord’s specialist troops.
One effect of the regression, and possibly only to be expected from the conditions and the religious control, was that society returned to a split along gender lines. There were the men and then the women and children. The men came first in all things, the pick of the food, rights to land and property – including women and children. Until a boy had proved himself a man, by killing in the hunt, or marrying, or fathering a child (I was to learn there could be a subtle differences between those) he was not recognised as a person in his own right.
Women were second class; they got their status from their husband and the number of children they produced for him. Children could be doted on and excused for many omissions as they represented the future of the village. Male children, especially, were given a certain scope for discreet experimentation on the basis that such a thing was only a phase and would pass if not taken too far and no one drew attention to it. Whatever female children felt was of no import to anyone, a condition they were raised to accept as normal, their value was only in the potential for the next generation.
Anyone who could not or would not contribute to swelling the population was not wanted in the villages. They were regarded as something of a void as far as the elders were concerned and they would be surrendered to the Laird to be used as the Leviathan saw fit. Males would be sent to become soldiers. Females would be their whores as the machinery of state soaked up the unwanted in the population. It was a form of social control and, in the main, it worked. Women could return home if they carried a child to term, the new life being evidence of their service to the state. I believe that most chose not to return; that they preferred life with their random new husbands and the new social mobility to be had from living in the expanding cities, independent from the villages that had rejected them.
However backward it might seem to you, that was my home, the culture that made me.
I tried as hard as I could to fit in, to be ready do what was expected of me. For my father’s sake I made the effort. I joined my friends in sneaking into the forest; hoping to catch a glimpse of the older adolescents making out, practicing the skills that would make them adults one day. Every generation must have congratulated itself on its cleverness and stealth even as they soaked up how they were expected to behave.
Me, I noticed that the strange sensations the others admitted to in these ‘secret’ expeditions were not focussed on our female quarry but on their striving suitors. I kept my feelings hidden, said little, and made certain my gaze was averted as my closest friends moved on to a more, ah, practical exploration of physical responses at seeing the sex act. There was no way I was even going risk talk of a ‘phase’ that I might be going through. I knew there was no phase.
As I grew tall, taller than the other boys, taller than my father even, I knew that their life was not for me. There was no place in that society for a boy who realised he did not want to be a man.
Apart from my height there seemed to be little going for me as far as the opposite sex was concerned. Thankfully, I was too thin, too awkward with myself for any of the village girls to want to take much interest in me. A certain shyness and a scholarly air helped put me to the back of most girls minds. Though a girl might occasionally have called me ‘sweet’, no one in the local collective of villages had wanted to expose themselves to the scorn of their friends at being reduced to trying the skinny white boy.
Had I been able to believe what I had be taught in the Kirk I might have been content to follow the Imam’s wishes. A life of faith would have given me opportunities for learning, and would have reflected well on my family and let me avoid the increasing pressure for an acceptable sexual identity.
Instead I fretted and worried and turned my fears inwards. I controlled my body by keeping it thin and, when the urges got too strong, I discovered the addictive but dangerous release to be had in cutting. I lost myself in watching the slow drops of blood welling up from the incisions that gave me such a thrill. I adopted long clothes in all weathers, hid my skinny self and the evidence of my activities, and hoped for some miracle to release me as I wrestled with my conscience to find a way out of my predicament without being even more of a hypocrite.
Speaking up was not an option. Every now and then my father would ask me what was worrying me, but I just couldn’t bring myself to be honest about that crucial thing I thought separated me from everyone else. From so much hope I saw him withdraw from the truth he must have guessed but dared not say. My mother’s approach was more direct; she sent Hannah into my room one night. I think it would be best to draw a veil over that sad episode. Of course there was no way I could do anything with her, I’d been brought up as her brother, what kind of sick fuck did she take me for? Well, at least that was what I said between sobs of revulsion as I pushed her away from me in the dark.
Even as I said it I felt guilty about the vehemence of my rejection. I knew I wasn’t her brother but the thought of being touched in that way – oh, I felt sick. It was like a reflex, a deeply visceral response to being exposed to something dangerous. When she had gone I could only think of the greedy look on her face when I’d seen her pleasuring one of the older boys from the next village. I hadn’t wanted to lie with her like my friends said they did; I‘d wanted to be her and feel the warmth of his hard body beneath my hands and, well, that thing she was doing to him had haunted me for many nights afterwards.
My older brothers had women and families of their own, they had moved out. As the eldest Pishon, and his wife and children, lived with us as they would inherit it as their home in time. There was only myself and Hannah to be married off and it seemed obvious that it would not be long before she decided which of her suitors to settle for – or biology made the choice for her.
It was only a matter of time before I was found out and the other consequences of our restricted culture would be brought against me.