It was the twilight of the seventeenth century, and the dawn of my life–or lives.
The Story Of My First Lives, by Karin Bishop
Chapter 9: In Which I Bid Farewell To The Inn
Ilka was very concerned over my disappearance and pestered me to tell her; she had imagined a romantic tryst with Tomas and had been prepared to lecture me that I was far too young for that sort of affair. After checking that nobody could overhear, I told her most of what had happened at Mama Nusa’s. To my surprise she said I should definitely go live with Mama Nusa; Ilka said she loved me like a sister, and would miss me bitterly, but the inn was changing for the worse and I would be better off elsewhere.
Ilka also was extremely angry with Tzigane and Tomas. I wasn’t clear why, other than Tzigane had tricked me into providing the oral service, and after all, I thought, she had also instructed me in the details. Ilka discovered I had no conception of the sexual nature of the oral service; I had thought it was truly medicinal, so to speak. Ilka asked how much I knew about sex and what occurred between adult men and women and found that I had some basics but there were large gaps in my understanding. I was even ignorant of the ways of animals, as I had never spent time on a farm and very limited time in our stables; all of my life had been spent within the four walls of my family’s inn. Ilka began to tell me of the ways of men and women. As she explained the true nature of the oral service to me, my eyes widened in horror and shame and I realized the depth of cruelty of Tzigane’s trick, as well as the complicity of Tomas.
As luck would have it, Marta knocked, arriving with some torn aprons that needed quick mending. I was glad to see my other friend, and she immediately saw that I was upset and Ilka explained as she quickly mended the aprons. Marta reassured me that I was a good girl and that it was a handy trick to know about men, but that I was far too young to be involved in anything sexual, or even romantic. She relieved me of my shame and said that it would be best to avoid Tzigane and especially Tomas and act as if nothing untoward had occurred.
Marta could tell by Ilka’s manner that there was more to tell, and I told her of my experience with Mama Nusa. As with Ilka, Marta told me in no uncertain terms that I must take the opportunity. My enemies at the inn were mounting, she said. The Ganzes, especially Franciska, wanted me dead or at least utterly defeated. Tomas wanted me as a sexual slave. Tzigane and the other girls were now lording it over the rest of us in the staff, and, finally, the inn itself was in league with criminals.
I had to agree with their assessment, but Marta then went beyond to the heart of the matter. She hugged me and reaffirmed her love for me, and then quite matter-of-factly told me that I could never live as a male. She said it simply wasn’t in me; she had never known me as the young master of the inn but as the deposed boy, from that time until Franciska imposed her order transforming me into the seamstress Juliska. In her opinion–and Ilka solemnly nodded her agreement–it was obvious that I was never designed for life as a male. A pale, thin, sequestered scholar or monk, perhaps; but in the fullness of the world? Marta shook her head sadly and said I would have been miserable, and then most likely end up beaten to death.
Ilka said I was a naturally feminine, pretty young girl. Her greatest fear for me was that I would reach a male puberty in the next year or so, and become bigger and rougher and coarser. She often prayed that God would see fit to turn me into a girl. Marta admitted she had prayed like that, as well, and was surprised that I never had. I didn’t admit to my girlfriends that I was never as devout as people thought me, as I was using the Bible to do parallel translating to improve my languages and keep my mind sharp.
But I had never had a thought of becoming a girl, much less asking God to change me to one. Up until the moment Franciska declared that I was henceforth to be Juliska, I was reasonably content as a boy. Certainly, when I was younger I wore the girls’ clothing that Franciska fitted me in when we played together, but at no point did I feel that I was a girl. And after the declaration of girlhood–for such I must think Franciska’s order to be–I continued to feel that I was Jules, a boy, forced to masquerade as Juliska, a girl.
Yet at some point over the last two years, some indeterminate point, I had crossed over, so to speak. I never consciously set out to imitate the girls around me; there was no attempt to fool anyone into thinking I was female. Over time, immersed in their talk and their laughter and their lives, I took on similar traits. I now spoke as a girl, with the liquid melody of female speech so different from the blunt roughness of the males. I used my hands delicately, stood as a girl, and walked with a bit of a girlish sway. It wasn’t mimicry; I had acquired the traits. They were part of me now. If I thought of males, I truly felt that Tomas and Mr. Ganz were opposite to me and the rest of the girls. And I was considered to be one of the girls by those girls; we routinely bathed together, swam together, and I was familiar with the older girls’ monthly bleedings. All that I possessed that set me apart was a little finger of flesh, and it remained tucked between my legs, secured by my undergarments.
Although the interior mind is a mystery to others, it seemed to me that I thought as the girls did, too. I understood their joys and sorrows, and while Tzigane’s trick was cruel, I understood her and the girls like her and Franciska. I understood and felt supremely comfortable with Ilka and Marta, while the world of Tomas and the stables and the village boys was alien to me. Male thoughts and dreams of conquest or valor were completely foreign to me. I know that I dreamed as a girl; that is, full of the stories and songs the girls told, of dashing princes and flowing gowns and fancy balls. I was completely familiar and comfortable with girls’ breasts, as I saw them daily and in my work as a seamstress, and I often found myself wishing that mine would grow–but then I’d remember that …somewhere I was Jules, and a cloud would darken my day.
Marta and Ilka were correct; in almost every way I was a young girl of about ten, going on eleven. By rights, soon I should start my monthly bleeds and my breasts should start blossoming. I suddenly realized that I wanted that in a strong way, even more than the vague wishes I’d had. I realized that my two girlfriends were urging me to become, in fact, what I was in truth. Their wish for me to fully join them as a female, and yet to separate from them by living with Mama Nusa brought a pain I hadn’t known since my mother died. Marta and Ilka truly loved me and only wished for the best for me, and I for them.
At our lunchtime break I looked at the girls in the rooms with a fresh eye and mindful of Mama Nusa’s dire predictions of life for me at the inn. Then I became worried that her offer may never come to be, but Franciska suddenly appeared in our midst–something she did rarely these days–and demanded I leave my food and come with her. I was summoned to the parlor, where I found Mr. and Mrs. Ganz and Mama Nusa. As Franciska took her place at her mother’s side, I realized that I could not recall the last time I had been in the parlor. Certainly, since my mother’s death …but when? And in what capacity? So fully had my life become involved as one of the girls in the rooms that I was mindful of Mama Nusa’s dim assessment of my chances of functioning as a male.
The was also the matter of my appearance before the Ganzes. Franciska was familiar with her handiwork, of course, in the transformation of Jules to Juliska. Mr. Ganz had seen the girl I had become, when I appeared in Tzigane’s place to administer to Tomas. He had looked at me long and sadly that first day, nodded and accepted Juliska. Standing before Mrs. Ganz in the parlor, I could tell that she was already aware of my change of station, showing no surprise at my appearance as a young girl. I was certain that Franciska gleefully shared with her mother the tales of her petty cruelties; I knew now that the same evil blood ran through both Ganz females, if not through their husband and father. I sensed two emotions from the woman. The first was contempt. It may have been for how fragile I appeared, or how fragile had been my hold on my sex and my position–so easily altered by her daughter’s whim. The other emotion was triumph. It was in her smile. I was the last Schneider; a reminder of the tenuous claim of the Ganz family’s ownership of the inn. Hers was the victor’s grin of disdain for the fallen foe; the sneer of the conqueror with a foot on the head of the vanquished. I realized with new clarity the truth of Mama Nusa’s dire assessment of my chances for continued survival at the hands of the Ganzes.
Mrs. Ganz spoke with distaste of my presence at the inn as being a long-suffering burden for her. I was barely passable as an apprentice seamstress, she said, and it was difficult to suppress a smile, as she herself was at that moment wearing an embroidered vest that I had made. Mrs. Ganz said I ate more than the other girls and constantly started fights and there had been so many complaints about me …all lies, of course, but she was creating a new truth for herself and those in the room. Mama Nusa, of course, stood silently and without expression. Mrs. Ganz said that Mama Nusa had asked for a girl to serve her, and that Mrs. Ganz was going to give me to Mama Nusa. She sneered that I would find Mama Nusa’s humble hut a far cry from the luxury I was used to at the inn. With a sniff, Mrs. Ganz declared that perhaps that servitude would teach me humility, instead of pretensions of equality with my betters.
That my parents’ former cook would make these statements was outrageous and yet so ludicrous that I think Mama Nusa and I both fought to keep from laughing with derision. Certainly, I couldn’t look her in the eye for fear of laughing, but kept my eyes on the floor as a dutiful servant should. Mr. Ganz made a few weak tries that I wasn’t so bad, and it must be hard having to dress like a girl. Franciska cut her father off–making it plain that she valued his opinion not a jot–and declared that I was surely not a boy, so why shouldn’t I wear skirts? I stood in submission as the lies filled the room until Mama Nusa declared with a sigh that I would do, but she didn’t want me running away back to the inn. She reminded them that some might declare that Jules Schneider still had an inheritance in the inn, and stated she’d only take me if a document was drawn up, a contract, formally severing me from the Ganz family and their inn. For some reason it was declared that Franciska would draw up the contract, dictated by both Mama Nusa and Mrs. Ganz to the other’s approval, which Franciska then copied so each party would have a copy. I was told to sign them but asked that I read it first, which caused more abuse to be hurled at me. Mrs. Ganz said it was typical of my horrid nature but I ignored her as I read the document, wondering why Mama Nusa wanted it written thusly but trusting her implicitly.
I signed the contract copies and then was roughly dismissed from the room and ordered to gather my meager belongings and wait in front of the stables. I detoured through the kitchen and found Marta up to her arms in bread dough; I hugged and kissed her and told her that I loved her and goodbye but she knew where she could find me. She smiled through her tears and wished me Godspeed. Another stop at our sewing room found Ilka hard at work on some sheeting, and I repeated my hurried goodbye. Ilka kissed my forehead and told me to be a great woman; she only wished she could see me all grown up, resplendent in the fine gowns she knew were my future. I almost couldn’t see for the tears as I rolled my clothes in a bed sheet, and awkwardly carried my Bibles and belongings to the stable. Tomas gave me a look of longing and then dismissal and went back to flailing away with a mallet on an anvil. A shudder went through me of what my life would have been like as a boy in the stables.
Mama Nusa stood waiting by her pony-cart and nodded solemnly for me to place my things in the back and get on. She told me to take a last look, a last breath, and say goodbye. Then she climbed in the cart and we plodded off to my new home.
Chapter 10: Concerning My New Circumstances In The Forest
Thus began my life with Mama Nusa. I had a small, bright room of my own twice the size of mine at the inn. My duties were plenty and varied, both physical–such as drawing water and working in the garden–and intellectual. Mama Nusa was barely literate but knew that books and documents held great power, so she had been collecting those she could over many years. Books were highly expensive and rare, but here and there over the years she’d gathered a dozen, and many, many scraps and bits of paper and parchment and even a few scrolls. She was certain great knowledge was locked away in these, and part of my job was to unlock the secrets and teach her. I also began teaching her to read and write German and Hungarian, or Magyar.
The books were a Godsend for me; I was blissfully happy and took no notice of the time when studying. Mama Nusa would have to call me to another task to break the spell I was under. I continued sewing but at nowhere the amount I was used to; I learned cooking and as an adjunct to that, I was taught rudimentary healing. Medicines, poultices, and the like were her stock in trade, but Mama Nusa was also occasionally asked for items such as love potions and did all she could to suppress any beliefs that she was a witch. She was a healer, a noble profession, at one with both Nature and God, and I considered myself extremely lucky to have found myself living and learning with her.
Mama Nusa’s questions could now be answered, of course. I chose to live with her and reject any thoughts of inheritance, of either the inn or the Schneider name. Her second question was also answered by me, proudly telling her that I felt female and could not imagine even attempting a male life. I wished to live my entire life as a female, and die an old woman, and anything that Mama Nusa could do to help me on that road would be my most fervent wish. She eyed me for a long time and then explained why she’d demanded the contract from Mrs. Ganz. She truly felt disaster looming for the inn and wanted me not only safe but untainted by any connection with it. She wanted the Ganzes to know, absolutely, that they had no claim on me or my life from this point forth. That would further dismiss me from the Ganzes’ minds; Mama Nusa had little doubt that Franciska would turn her attentions elsewhere and I would be soon forgotten. She also wanted to impress on me that with my twin decisions to leave my inheritance–such as it was–and leave my birth sex–such as it was–there was no turning back, but only life forward, as an orphan girl. And as an orphan girl apprenticed to a healer isolated in the forest, I could truly be a new person. I could truly be reborn.
It was decided between us, over those first few weeks, that Juliska had been a name thrust upon me by Franciska, a name of shame. There was no thought of becoming Jules again, of course, but I was free to choose my new name, and at last I settled on Juliana. I would determine a last name later, and, indeed, in the weeks that followed I thought long and hard about this. My original family name, Schneider, actually meant ‘tailor’, something that I’d learned to do as Juliska. I thought of choosing Ná«herin as a surname, which meant ‘seamstress’, or even Nadel, which meant ‘needle’ but Mama Nusa pointed out that being the seamstress at the inn was now behind me; why not look forward?
I found my new last name among the scraps of papers Mama Nusa had collected. There was a portion of a Bible that contained a family’s records, and they had all perished, but the family name was Grunewald, meaning ‘green forest’ which was where I now lived with Mama Nusa. Henceforth, I would be known as Juliana Grunewald, apprentice healer.
First, though, came a turning point in my life. After several weeks with Mama Nusa, helping and learning as much as I could, Mama Nusa sat me down one night and discussed my future, not only as a healer but as a female. Was I sure? she asked. Completely, I answered. Was I certain about both choices? Absolutely, I said solemnly. There would be pain, she warned, and there would be sorrow, and there would be joy. And I could never, ever, return to boyhood. Was I certain now? Absolutely, I said again, standing and taking her hands and swearing a vow to be the best girl I could for my entire life. Mama Nusa said in that case, it was time that we began my transformation, but first we’d have a ceremony and then begin and never look backward.
We began the next night, which was a warm night at the end of the summer. Mama Nusa had me make a small bonfire in a clearing in the deep woods. She carried a loaded sack; I didn’t know what it contained. I was wearing a light summer skirt and blue top as I built the fire, watched by Mama Nusa. Then she told me to strip completely naked. I was startled, but even more so as she began removing all of her clothing. She stood by me, aged, wrinkled, saggy, but proudly, defiantly female, and beautiful in my eyes. I realized instantly the importance of this, as I compared my thin, small body. I was white and hairless and completely vertical in my chest and hips, with the tiny dangling finger of Jules hanging in shame. I wanted to cross over to the womanhood of Mama Nusa.
She took some jars from her sack, placing them carefully in a row. She stood before me then and ritually asked me three times if I wished to become female. Each time I affirmed it. Then she took a light blue salve from one jar and gently smeared my forehead, the center of my chest, and across my navel and declared that my mind, my heart, and my womb would be as one and I would be whole. I would take life’s experiences through all three at once. Wiping her hands on a cloth, she tossed it into the fire where it burned in colors. Taking a green salve from another jar, she lightly touched my nipples, navel, and reached between my legs to touch me behind my little male part. She declared that my breasts, womb, and vagina would be as one and I would be whole. Again she cleaned her hands on a cloth and tossed it to burn brightly on the fire.
I stood proud and naked before her, smeared with blue and green. Then Mama Nusa gave me a look almost of pity and took another jar with a white salve. She rolled it on her palms, warming it, and then came and placed her hands over my nipples and began massaging into my chest, where my breasts would be. She completed her massage and placed her hands together as if in prayer and I prayed silently that my breasts would grow. Another cleaning cloth and another color added to the fire, and then she produced a small knife. Locking eyes with me, she murmured that my blood would flow, and took my tiny root in one hand and flicked the blade up the tip. It felt cold and then the pain came. She took some blood on her fingertips and flicked it into the fire.
I stood proud and naked before her, bleeding gently. Then Mama Nusa walked around the fire and stood facing me, holding her arms up as if saluting me, or welcoming me, her fingers moving back and forth. I understood her meaning and began a little dance in place, wishing I had my skirts to swish, and as the energy built inside of me I suddenly ran forward and leaped over the fire into Mama Nusa’s waiting arms. She hugged me and whispered fiercely, ‘Welcome, my daughter’. I was racked with sobs of joy, of exhilaration, and of exhaustion.
Chapter 11: In Which I Grow As A Girl And Horror Comes
Every day I had more to learn, more to do, and every day I began and ended with a cup of a potion Mama Nusa created, herbs combined with essence from mares. She never slipped; I was always Juliana to her, and she seemed pleased the day I discovered my new surname. It was the strangest thing; I could still feel the parts of my body where Mama Nusa had applied the salves, and it made me conscious of those areas, especially my chest. As the seasons changed I sewed winter garments for her by the fire as she would tell me stories of her past, stories that taught me through her life. As she would receive calls for her services at any time, I was ready to go with her at a moment’s notice. I assisted her with treating wounds, disease, and births, which were my favorite because I was never so close to full womanhood as when I pulled a baby from between a woman’s legs.
The winter was hard but quite bearable, and I got to spend one day each with Marta and then Ilka as they had their workless days and convinced Tomas to ride them out to Mama Nusa’s. She would keep him busy with chores and sweets while my girlfriends and I would share our new lives with each other. And, to my sorrow, the dire future told by Aliz and Mama Nusa seemed to be coming true. I begged each of them to find another livelihood, somewhere, anywhere …but they could not imagine how and were terrified of being on their own. We ended our visits with tears and hugs, and always a last lingering look from Tomas as they returned to the inn.
And spring came, and summer again, with another two visits from Marta and Ilka, and Marta was so sad and Ilka had bruises that she didn’t wish to speak of, and even Tomas looked more gaunt than I remembered. I, too, had changed, but I felt shamed to be glad of it in light of my friends’ misery. My body was responding to the daily potions, as well as the white salve that Mama Nusa had given me to massage my chest. I was finally blossoming; my nipples had hardened and lifted small breasts with them. I was starting to develop a waist as well, curves where I had been flat. I felt more feminine than I would have believed possible, and realized the full truth of Mama Nusa’s warning that I could never return to life as a male, nor could I conceive of it. I was fully on my way.
Mama Nusa and I were kept busy that summer delivering babies and curing fevers; often a visit to a village resulted in assisting several lives out of this world and several lives into it. That fall we had a small outbreak of plague to deal with, full days and nights of exhausting work saving as many as we could. Afterwards we had days of rest and I cried uncontrollably as Mama Nusa stared into the fire, her arm around me. As winter came, a simple trip to a village became more arduous and we often would stay overnight, the hospitality provided by our hosts as thanks for our services. I was getting a reputation of my own now as a girl destined to be a great healer, and I was known only as Juliana. Thus it was that we were told devastating news by villagers who had no inkling of my previous existence.
The Ganz family had done so poorly in operating the inn that they became more involved with the smugglers and criminals. There were no more nobles as guests; there were no more travelers as guests. The inn was known as an evil, corrupt place of prostitutes serving desperate characters, and then disaster struck. Somebody had betrayed somebody; my own inclination would be to believe that Mrs. Ganz got too greedy but perhaps I was being uncharitable.
Over time I learned the terrible details. The smugglers or whoever they were attacked the inn. That is to say, they were already inside, perhaps staying as guests or partners. However the Ganzes may have crossed them, the retaliation was swift and brutal. Mr. Ganz was shot in the face, dying instantly in front of his family, and Mrs. Ganz shrieked and was beaten while Franciska was raped and then run through with a sword and then Mrs. Ganz’s throat was cut. Tomas put up a valiant struggle, killing two of the men until he was cut down and beheaded. The smugglers then had total control of the women and began going through each room looking for valuables and then raping the girls. It escalated; it was unclear if there was a leader or whether the men went amok. The raping went on through the night and into the day; all the women were used; when they fought they were killed instantly and when they grew tired their throats were cut. One girl, one of Tzigane’s friends, managed to slip out in the night. She had been raped repeatedly, badly beaten, and was bleeding from stab wounds. Knowing the area, she made it to the main road where a traveling coach found her. She told the details of the attack before dying of her wounds. When a group of men from the village went to investigate, they found the inn burned to the ground.
The impact of the horror was devastating. I sat, numbly, exhausted from weeping, for days, tended to by Mama Nusa. I, the apprentice healer, needed healing. The loss of my beloved Marta and Ilka, and the nightmare of horrors they’d suffered was unimaginable. I could only pray that death had been swift and painless, but it was a thin hope. Little by little I regained some composure, and was startled when Mama Nusa announced that she had made a pact with a lady in the town to train me. I panicked, thinking I was being sent away, and begged Mama Nusa to keep me with her. She smiled and thanked me and told me that I was still living and training with her, but that she felt I needed to learn some ways of the world.
There was a Lady of Quality in a nearby town, a widow cast down from her finery through her husband’s follies. Mama Nusa tended to the widow’s aging complaints when in the town, and had struck a bargain that in exchange for Mama Nusa’s ministrations, the Lady of Quality–who was named Mrs. Má¼ller–would give me lessons in manners and help me learn the civilized ways of the larger world. I suspected that Mama Nusa also arranged for these lessons to help get my mind off the horror at the inn.
I began that week; we rode the pony-cart into the town and for the first time I was aware of how different my body felt; my breasts had grown to the point where they would move on their own and their jiggling due to the pony-cart was new to me, and most welcome. Once in town, I was introduced to Mrs. Má¼ller. She was stoutish and wore clothes of former glory that were older than my memories of courtly dress worn by the visitors in the days of my parents’ inn. She spoke German with a different accent and inflection which I learned was a higher class, and she spoke a more refined Magyar as well. Over many weeks she drilled me on forms of address, proper curtsies, dining etiquette, and even the rudiments of dancing. Mama Nusa would do her rounds in the town without me, and we’d ride home together and I’d tell Mama Nusa what I’d learned and we’d practice the dances, collapsing in helpless giggles when we got things wrong. I’ve always thought that in spite of the sorrows of the smugglers’ attack, these were some of the happiest times Mama Nusa and I spent together.
End of Part 3
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