From Under the Waterfall
Source: The Damer Eberclere provided it
Significance: It signified that Corrie was a non-person
…the dull-spun dress of a nullard.
Corrie was in trouble. She’d swum under a waterfall to the calm place beyond to get a little respite from her brain-damaged brother Ethan, for whom she was responsible while her parents went for a walk. When she swam back, she found Ethan gone, the camp empty and everything changed. She’d moved to another world called Sisterin, a strongly matriarchal society where women ruled and everyone was expected to contribute. Those who could not or would not take up a crede, (a job, vocation or craft) were termed nullards. They wore drab clothing which made them stand out among the brilliantly clad Sisterins, and were given condescending, and sometimes disdainful, charity. If clearly disabled, they were treated with reasonable kindness, but if not they were as welcome as a wasp at a picnic.
Corrie became the responsibility of Athen Bard, a bright boy who, despite being a boi and not a gell, as the Sisterins put it, had a three-colour crede. That was about as high as he could ever rise, even though his mother, Mem, was a dama who ruled her own damerie. Corrie obviously knew nothing of the society and had no crede. She was clearly able-bodied, and so was an anomaly; a female with a lower status than the boi who cared for her. Since she’d arrived in Sisterin covered with insect bites and wearing only her bathers and a bracelet, the only clothing available to her was a nullard’s dress.
When Athen first met her, he had no idea who or what she was, but he saw she was in distress.
I came to another dilemma. It would be very wrong to leave a gell unclad and in such discomfort, but she could not wear the bard dress unless she were a bard. "Your crede?" I asked, but she didn't understand.
I gave her the rough wool cape from my pack, for anyone may wear these, even a nullard. And I gave her wrappings for her feet, and had to show her how to put them on.
When it devolved that Corrie was unqualified for any crede clothing, Athen’s mother, the Damer Eberclere provided nullard’s dress. Corrie had to accept. To make it even worse, the Sisterin folk spoke a variant of English and Corrie could barely understand them.
The damer jerked her head at Aleezubuth, who stumped off and came back to fling an armful of fawnish-coloured cloth at me.
"Go," said the damer to me. "Teek it es go."
So I scrambled the cloth into my arms. As I bent down, the sheet came off. I was so angry I stepped out of it and stalked out of the room just as I was.
…I scrambled into the nullard clothes. From the disgust they'd all shown, I would have expected the things to be prickly or filthy or ragged, but they were quite wearable. The tunic was a soft dull-coloured cotton, there were sort of loose harem pants to go underneath, footwrappings and a plain cape. I still had scabs here and there from the stingfly bites, but at least they didn't itch any more.
Corrie had great cause to be grateful to Athen, who looked after her uncomplainingly. When they eventually parted, she would always remember him very fondly, especially since he was the mirror image of her brother. Seeing Athen’s talents and qualities made her determined to try to help Ethan achieve whatever was possible for him. There’s nothing like being a non-person for a while to make one appreciate what one has.