Born to a destitute woodworker who wanted a son to carry on the family business, Talia grew up with one phrase on her lips: “If I had been born a boy.” If she had been born a boy, she would have been cherished, supported, and launched into the world with her father’s legacy. As only a worthless girl, she toils all day long to earn her handful of inferior grain. Far away in the heavenly palace, Queen Vina receives a mysterious coin necklace from Nicodemus, teller of stories. Compelled by the throbbing heartbeat, she scours the earth to come across Talia, enslaved to a family who never wanted her. Rather than admit her motives, Vina purchases the girl with a sack full of gold. Furious, betrayed, and homesick, Talia endeavors to share her misery with the entire palace. Vina, afraid to confess her love, allows herself to become trapped in the role of brutal slave owner. Talia, bred to expect nothing but misery, faces the first choice of her life. Will she accept love, even if it comes from an unlikely source? Or will she reject the one who offers her everything?
If I had been born a boy, I would have followed in my father’s footsteps and become a tradesman. Because I was a girl, he sold me instead.
“No,” Vina corrects me when I bring up the story, which is not often. She doesn’t like the facts, and I dislike her pretty lies. “Your mother agonized whether to let you go, but she knew you would be better off here. She wanted to give you a better life.”
I would call Vina on her mistruths, but she claims I still reason as a child. All of my protests to the contrary serve to prove her right, at least in her mind. Only when I agree with her does she admit I am a full-grown adult.
“You’re happy with me, aren’t you?” Vina makes me sit next to her at the formal dinners she hosts most nights, and she dresses me in rich silks with real lace. If I tell her no, she sends me to my room as punishment for what she calls my petulance. If I resist, she gives me one of her lessons in obedience. Some are painful, others pleasurable, and all serve to narrow my world and make me focus on her. How could I not, when she owns me?
“No,” Vina corrects me when I call her my owner. “I set you free, and I gave you the life you never could have had otherwise.”
When I turned nineteen, no one wanted to marry me. My mother fussed with my hope chest, if it could be called that, arranging the one cotton handkerchief as if it could attract a suitor.
“Let me stay with you,” I entreated my parents, and I won. I always did. The house needed new walls, and I wielded the power tools. Small of stature and still a child, I could carry them to the electric outlet on the neighbor’s property. As an adult, Father would have faced fines for stealing electricity.
“You’ve turned her into such a tomboy no one will want her,” Mother chided Father, and the truth stung. I could have cared for my parents into their old age, but they wanted me gone.