Anaun was gathering all of the things she would need. Lavender for calm, rose petals for fair, clear spring water for soothing, clay to prevent rigidity in thought, and on and on. All of the gifts that she would need to leave to ensure her daughter was given all of the blessings from the gods.
She had been collecting items for a month. Ever since the Old Woman told her she was carrying a girl. She would leave the gifts and say the prayers and then wait. A fully blessed daughter was the goal of every household. To have a daughter who was obviously born without the gifts being made was a great shame. A difficult daughter was a burden. No husband would want her. No family could contain her. What good would she be? This was truth.
Everyone knew it.
Well, almost everyone.
Her friend Joi was not fully blessed. It was apparent from an early age. Joi would speak out. Against anyone. Even the men in her family. When she had first heard Joi argue Anaun had been shocked. Not just because Joi had done it, they all had at one point, truth be told, but that she had not been corrected. Her mother had even nodded in agreement. Her father had addressed her as he would a boy and engaged the argument. There had been no punishment.
When it happened again Anaun asked her mother about it. Why were they doing this? Her mother said that Joi was born without blessings and that it was her mother's fault. She had forgotten the gifts and not said the prayers during her pregnancy. Her mother had been so flighty and absentminded that Joi was made wrong. Then she told her that Anaun should always strive to be an example for Joi and they would hope she could overcome the deficit. Joi would never had the advantages that Anaun did. The blessings of the gifts.
So Anaun had maintained her friendship with Joi. Trying to be a good influence on her, but pitying her all the same. How was she ever going to realize her life's potential without the gifts? To be a good wife. A mother. A calming influence on her husband. Poor Joi.
When they were teenagers and Anaun was being courted by the boys hoping to be her future husband she told Joi she was sorry that she would never find a mate. Joi was puzzled. Why did Anaun think that she wouldn't? Well because she wasn't fully blessed. She hadn't received the gifts. Anaun had reached out to comfort Joi. She had told her that it was okay, because they, the whole village would take care of her. No matter how difficult she could be.
Joi had laughed at this, and then told Anaun the most shocking thing. Her mother hadn't forgotten to ask for the blessings. She had done it on purpose. She believed that girls should have the same opportunities as boys to be themselves. Their true selves. Not blessed with pliant personalities meant to be a reflection of the men around them. In fact her mother didn't think the gifts and the prayers were what made the girls blessed at all. That is was backward to think that women should be demure, and compliant, and soft. And for that matter it was backward to think that boys had to always be in charge. That they couldn't be soft spoken and more interested in quieter pursuits. Boys and girls should be allowed to be what they wanted to be. Not what the town said they had to be.
Anaun's mother told her that Joi and her family must have had a fever disease at some time and not to listen to their ramblings. And maybe it would be better if Anaun did not spend anymore time with Joi after all. And so Anaun stopped her friendship with Joi. Because she was a reflection of her family and this is what they believed. She had received the blessings after all.
That is what she had told herself when she stopped her friendship with Joi.
Not that it was because the boy that Anaun wanted to marry had found her boring and Joi interesting. That would be a selfish reason. And why would she want to be courted by a boy who believed the crazy ideas that Joi's family believed? And did he really even believe them or was it that though Joi was difficult she was also beautiful? When her outward beauty faded, and it would fade sooner than most because Joi did not hold beauty in as high regard as she should, when it faded he would lose his patience for her challenging ways. Anaun knew that to be true.
So it was definitely not because Cleave had chosen to court Joi who had no gifts rather than Anaun who was fully blessed. It was because it was Anaun's family's wishes for her to not spend time with Joi. And when Braun had chosen her she had gone with him to start a family. Even if he had not been who she had longed for, her family knew he was strong and sure and safe. She knew that she had ended her friendship with Joi because first her family and then her husband wished her to. It was not because Joi had somehow tricked Cleave in to loving her. It couldn't be that because Anaun was fully blessed with the gifts and would not think unkindly of someone so disadvantaged as Joi.
And no matter the laughter she heard coming from the house of Joi and Cleave and their already full nursery she knew Joi was disadvantaged. No matter that Joi was beginning to be sought out for her advice in not just home matters but for her head for business Anaun knew that she was struggling. No matter that Joi still had nothing but kindness for Anaun though she had cut her cold. No matter that Cleave looked at Joi as if she hung the moon even though the three children she bore had thickened her waist and added tired shadows to her eyes. No matter that her eldest daughter already had the spark that Joi herself had when they were younger. That Joi still had. No, she was disadvantaged without the gifts and this Anaun was sure of.
Anaun continued gathering the gifts for the birth of her first daughter. She would be a reflection of her family. Of the fully blessed Anaun and her dutiful, if a little dull, father. As it should always be.
Anaun placed the items on the altar and began the prayers.
Then she stopped.
She looked at the collection.
She thought of the words.
She prayed again.
Let this child be blessed by the gods. Bring her all of your gifts. Give her the abundance of choice. And let her choose joy.
She swept the altar clear and gathered herself to leave. Let her choose Joi.