They're helping me to get my life back. I've lost most of it. There is a woman called Venla who took it away from me when I was a boy - strange to be saying that, for I feel like a boy still, or again, even though my body tells me I've grown into an old man.
I was born in Tal-Crun, a speck of a village in the wide plains. Leva thinks that it must have been about fifty years ago, because they named me Athal after the king. My mother was the midwife and I was her last child, with seven or eight older brothers and sisters, a useless and wayward boy in their eyes, always underfoot.
My mother was semte, and she saw the gift in me when I was very young, no more than nine or ten years of age. I had started seeing people in a different way that frightened me, as if they were there twice over in the same place, once in their own body and once made of bright light. I knew that it would be useless to tell any of my brothers or sisters, they would just laugh at me, and I had a hard time getting hold of my mother for long enough to talk to her, but when I finally could, she took one look at me and immediately sent my eldest brother to Valdis with a letter. Someone came and took me away, because my mother had no time to teach me.
I ended up in a frighteningly large city living with a woman called Cynla. I thought her quite old at the time, but she must have been much younger than my parents, still in her twenties. She told me I had been sent to her to learn how to use my gifts. I suppose I did learn, for there are a lot of things I can do, like when I showed Raith what home is like by taking her hand and thinking it to her. This is part of what I lost, and for now I can only do most of those things if I do them without thinking. Leva tells me that in time I may get almost everything back without having to learn it all over again. She and Raith have been helping me remember a lot already; Raith is sharper but she loses patience when I'm slow, and Leva is more patient but sometimes perhaps too gentle, and I think I need both of them.
I spent the next few years at Cynla's house, learning, until the day of my trial came and I had to "deal with the world in the face of the gods" as Cynla called it. This is where the really lost part of my life starts, and it hurts to even tell it. I was trying to hold my own against the element of Air (something Raith tells me I'm no good at) with Cynla standing watch, when there was a sharp pain, a bolt of blinding white light, and a sudden double image of Cynla crying out in anger against herself, and that is where the first part of my life ends.
Next, there are all those years that I worked in the warehouse. This is the time of slow thinking, of using my body in work and my mind barely at all. I had a companion for most of that time, a man my own age and as tall and strong as I am, his skin as dark as mine is fair, his hair as curly as mine is straight, but otherwise we were much alike, though I think the reason that he can't think very well is in the way the gods made him, not because of any accident. I could never remember his name and just called him 'buddy' or 'mate'. I know now that he is called Hamkari, and that he is from the far South across the ocean.
A woman - Venla, it seems, though she tried to make me think that she was Cynla - came to see me from time to time and gave me money, a bag full of silver shillings every feast day, and that and our wages kept me and Hamkari comfortably fed and clothed, with enough left over for candles (I used to be mortally afraid of the dark, not now any more, now there is light within me) and to buy ourselves and our mates a cup or two of good wine and a seed-cake on our day off. I came to know over the years that her visits and the money had something to do with whatever was taken away from me, but my thinking was not clear enough to understand.
On her last visit she was not alone: there was a man with her with scary eyes like a snake. He looked right through me, right inside me. He touched me and did something that made my skin crawl all over. They seemed to belong together, as if he was part of her. I've never been so afraid in my life as I was of that man, not even of the dark, and the nightmares I still have are all about him even though I know he can't hurt me now.
This was close to the end of the second part of my life, because it was not long after that day that Leva and her friends came and took me to a house that I almost recognised even then, and that I now know is Cynla's. They told me that I had been ill for a long time and that they were going to make me better. The first few days at Cynla's house are all muddled in my mind: there was fighting, we were all huddled up in one room, I was confused and scared and didn't know why I was there and what was happening. The only thing I was absolutely sure of was that I could trust Leva, that I was safe with her and with anyone she asked to stay with me and take care of me, even if some of them were too bright for me to look at until Leva taught me how to see.
I'm not sure what exactly happened to make me whole again. Leva insists that I did it, not she, but it must have started at some point and I know that I could not have started it by myself, not the way I was before. Suddenly there was this space inside me that I knew had been missing, a room in my mind, all full of rubbish and cobwebs and in need of a good cleaning-out and much repair, and she helped me with it and I took it for myself. It still needs a lot of work, but I can live in it now. Here it is: a small well-lit upstairs room with a scrubbed floor and a new roof that doesn't let the rain in, with a window looking out over the plains where I was born, where you can see the wild horses gallop.
They told me I was a journeyman when I was finished with it, and everybody thumped me on the back and for a moment it seemed that no time had passed since my trial with Cynla, until I saw my old hands and realized that I was a fourteen-year-old in a fifty-year-old body and that it was Venla who had done this to me, Venla who had come in and wrecked it the first time. The man in me was so angry, and the boy in me was so overconfident, that I would not let anybody keep me from stepping out of the safe room when she showed herself and shouting at her to come and get me if it was me she wanted.
She tried to get me, of course, and she came in the shape of a hawk and clawed me in the face, narrowly missing my right eye. The blood streamed over my forehead, and I could barely see Leva's friend Jeran strike out at the hawk-shape with a shining sword and wing her, and she flew away at a limp.
I'm safe now. I'm going to learn again, to try and regain what I've lost, to make up for what I missed. I'll never be what I promised to be when my body was as young as my mind still is, but I'll be myself again. That is all the revenge I want now: that Venla did not get me after all. She is now for others to take on. I'm not a fighter, never have been, never will be in what is left of my life. Anshen will have me the way I was intended, and that should be enough.