Legede looked in the mirror, pressing down under his eyes, analysing his crow’s feet.
He sighed and pulled at the skin besides his eyes, temporarily making them disappear. He let go and the wrinkles returned. He was holding a tin of cream, which he wiped onto his face, smearing it delicately around his eyes, his mouth, his forehead. He sighed again and put on a silk robe, walking up to the parapet. He tied the belt lightly around his waist and leaned on the low grey sandstone wall.
The Bay of Kouria stretched out before him, the lights of the city twinkling in the twilight. In the water yachts and fishing vessels swayed gently in the winter breeze. The air was wet, warm. Already he was starting to sweat after bathing. Smoke from the west was drifting to the city, bringing a faint sulfurous stench with it.
A hand wrapped around his wait and his wife hugged him. “Looking forward to your sister coming tomorrow?”
They were waiting in the vestibule. Legede, his wife, and three of their household servants. Legede’s daughters were shifting, one of them uncomfortable, the other bored. He moved a hand, indicating they stand still. “They’ll be here soon.”
Before long a pair of figures walked up to the walled enclosure. They wore black robes, their faces hidden beneath heavy hoods.
They stopped in front of the assembled people and lifted their hoods. Standing there were Legede’s sister and her husband.
He gasped audibly as he saw her face. Fresh scars ran down her cheeks, which were marred, as though flesh had been torn from them.
He swallowed and forced a smile. “Marime. It is good to see you.” He opened his arms and she walked into them, her mouth curving into a semblance of a smile.
They went inside and spoke at length. It had been years since they’d seen each other. At the age of 18 Marime had dedicated herself to the teachings of the Kada Shana and had gone to live in a commune where she could better devote herself to the deity.
After the others retired the siblings remained together in the central courtyard. Plates of fruit adorned the tables near their chairs.
They sat in silence, water trickling in the gardens beyond.
“I have missed you Legede.”
Legede smiled and regarded his sister. He tried to look beneath the scars. She was old. Her hair was turning grey. Her eyes were sunken. She was thin. He could not bear to look upon her.
She took his hand. “I am still your sister.”
“What do you mean?”
“You look at me as though I am a beast.”
He looked away.
“Kada Shan - ”
“Stop. With Kada Shan. With the preaching. This is not who you are.”
“Who am I?”
“My sister. My beautiful sister. Only you’ve mutilated yourself.”
“Yes, out of my love for Kada Shan.”
“No. It’s perverse. I’ve seen men reduce themselves to scar and bone, with nary any flesh left on them. They cannot walk, they cannot lift their arms any more. Is that what you aspire to? What good is it? What good is any of it?”
“What good is your preening? What’s the point? You will die like any other. Your drugs and creams might prolong your life, but inside you are decaying like any other.”
“It makes me feel good.”
“What is good about it? Everyone in this land, they spend every penny they have on grooming themselves. It’s for nothing.”
“And what you are doing is any better? You will kill yourself.”
“Most others understand it. Why don’t you?”
“I... “ Legede shrugged, “I just don’t think you should be throwing your life away like this.”
“It is the will of Kada Shan, and I do it willingly.”
“So that’s it, I have to say goodbye to my sister before she mummifies herself for a religion I don’t even care about.”
“I hope that through my actions you might better understand the selflessness that Kada Shan teaches us.”
“People look at you and see freaks. They think - look at those poor people, not only do they not care about their bodies, but they willingly damage them. What could be more foolish. They pity you and say that you are stronger than them, but in truth they think you’ve given up on your lives and gone crazy.”
Marime stood. “We will board the ship to Nalshen tomorrow and I do not wish us to part on such terms.”
“Go, I have nothing else to say to you.”