Nora was the youngest matchmaker in her village and in all of the surrounding villages. She was also the youngest person anyone still alive could remember being appointed as a matchmaker.
She had passed all of the tests on her first try, completed her internship by the time she was sixteen and been approved and authorized by the king when she was seventeen. She took her job very seriously and no one dared question her when she made a match.
Nora decided she wanted to be a matchmaker when she was 5. She and the other neighborhood children would play house together when they had finished their chores. One parent was always supposed to supervise, but they were often left by themselves on the dirt patches that acted as lawns in front of one of their homes.
Everyone else seemed to be more interested in what happened after the match had been declared, but not Nora.
"I want to know how they decide on the matches!" Nora said.
"No one wants to be the matchmaker," her best friend, Giuliana, had told her, almost as though she was warning her. "They want matches."
Giuliana might as well have said, "Be more normal, Nora."
Probably because her friends were so opposed to her being a matchmaker, Nora decided that she would be one.
It wasn't hard. Usually, the position had to be specially appointed by the king himself since there were so few volunteers. The tests were easy enough. The internship was a joke. The process of getting authorized was essentially just showing up.
It paid well enough; Nora was able to support her mother and her little brother off of her income. The issue was that no one wanted to be accountable for a match gone wrong.
Nora didn't care about that because she knew none of her matches were wrong.
The position of a matchmaker hadn't been around for very long, but everyone seemed to agree that it was the best option, even if it often resulted in unsatisfactory consequences.
Each village was required to make five matches a year. The deal had been made fifty years ago by the current king's great-grandfather. He had decided that it was worth it to appease the Tariat. The deal had not been renegotiated since.
There had been whispers of rebellion for as long as Nora could remember, but no action had been taken.
"If we all fight at once, we could win," her father whispered. Then he disappeared.
"We could go west, hide in the mountains," Silas whispered. "We know the terrain. We could survive." Then he disappeared.
"It seems the smartest option," Nora's mother said. "It seems fair to me." Then she continued baking bread every day and selling them for $4 a loaf.
Nora sat in front of her deck of cards. Each one had the picture of a village member's face on it. Underneath the image was the villager's name, birth year and any special talents. The one she was looking at now belonged to a girl she had gone to grade school with named Annabelle.
Annabelle's card showed her image - pretty blonde hair, brown eyes, no smile present, not even the hint of one in the corners her mouth. She looked small but strong. Tired but determined.
Nora chose Annabelle for the next match.
One of the many reasons no one wanted to be matched with a Tariat was because of their appearance. Many people in the villages could go their entire lives without seeing one and, based off of the rumors they heard, they were content with this.
The Tariat were tall and strong. Their teeth were much too long for their mouths, protruding over their bottom lips. Some of them had holes in their cheeks from where their teeth relentlessly scraped away at the skin in their mouths until there was none left. Their breath smelled like rotting meat. Their skin was too green to seem human, despite the legends saying they were. None of them had any hair anywhere on their bodies. In fact, the thing Nora hated about them the most was their lack of eyebrows, making their black eyes look even more piercing.
Nora wasn't afraid of them though. She knew they wouldn't hurt anyone as long as she continued to make five matches a year.
"How can you do this?" Giuliana had asked when the news of Nora's authorization had gone public.
"Someone has to."
"Not you." Giuliana was crying. Tears streamed down her cheeks steadily. She tried to wipe them away before Nora could see. It didn't matter either way.
"You remember we used to play this when we were children?" Nora asked.
"We played house. We didn't play matchmaker."
"I played matchmaker though. I made the matches and then everyone else played house. This is what I've always wanted. It's meant to be."
"It's evil is what it is."
Nora received the information from the Tariat once every 73 days. She never received a picture, but she received the prospective match's stats.
Weight: 450 lbs.
Other: Ogden wants a match to make his family happy. Ogden hopes to bring his match back home to meet his puppy, Josh, and his goldfish, Alice.
Annabelle might not be happy with this match, but keeping Annabelle happy was not the priority. Nora's job was the keep the Tariat happy.
Two days later, Annabelle approached the designated location. The Tariat changed the location once in a while for safety concerns. They had already met at this spot three times before, so Nora was sure this would be there last time meeting here.
Nora sat on a metal folding chair she had placed in the shade of the only tree around.
Annabelle looked at her. Nora nodded reassuringly and gave her a thumbs up.
"Are you sure I'm in the right place?" Annabelle asked, raising her voice so Nora could hear her clearly.
"Just wait," Nora called back.
Less than two minutes later, Ogden could be seen in the distance, approaching the spot where Annabelle stood. She shuttered.
Only Ogden was visible to the two women, but Nora knew that the rest of the Tariat were waiting out of sight in case anything went awry.
Truthfully, Ogden was not the ugliest of the Tariat that Nora had ever seen. His skin was only slightly discolored, his cheeks still intact.
He did, however, have a weak spot on his stomach. It looked like a collection of large boils, providing an easily-accessible, already weakened and painful spot. Nora wondered if Annabelle saw it, but she knew better than to say anything.
The match began on time. Ogden charged Annabelle. She held out her sword, pointed directly at the weak spot on his stomach.
Good, Nora thought. Maybe she stands a chance.
Annabelle missed, her sword flailing around in the air as Ogden sidestepped her.
Nora wondered if Annabelle had forged her own sword.
The match didn't last long. Ogden quickly wrestled the sword out of his opponent's hands and used it against her to stab her feet first, ensuring ensure she could not run away, then fileting her side. It was a classic Tariat move.
Ogden picked up Annabelle's lifeless body, twisted her head off with his bare hands and threw it in Nora's direction. He smiled at Nora and nodded a thank you. Nora nodded back.
She picked up Annabelle's head in order to safely deliver it to the Warranty family and began heading back towards the village.
She had 70 days before the Tariat sent her information for the next match.