Saturday, January 26, 2019

Nana Athene's Casting

"Nana Athene?" I ask, sticking my head into the elderly Strigine's room. She's not really my nan, of course. If she were, then I'd have an owl-like beak, snowy white feathers, and wickedly sharp talons rather than my dull human features. But she raised me and feels more like family than my parents or actual grandparents did when they were alive.

She looks up from the string in her talons. Its wrapped in a simple net like when humans play Cat's Cradle, but it's not a game. Her patterns weave spells. She doesn't say anything, of course, not being capable of human speech. Neither does she sign as that would involve dropping her spell partway through.

"Why are you casting?" I ask, feeling that's probably a more important question than my original desire to ask why she wasn't downstairs celebrating the naming of my infant daughter.

Her eyes slant up and she clicks her tongue.

I wave my hand. "Yes, I know, you can't tell me now. Sorry."

Silently, I wait as she wiggles her talons. When I was little, I would sit for hours watching as she created simple spells for simple things. A spell to summon a breeze, a spell to evoke the scent of fresh rain, or a spell to make the leaves whisper my name. So many little things. Or occasionally a not-so-simple spell for a not-so-simple thing, like when she sat up all night weaving the night my brother was born, helping my mother through the pain of labor just as she helped me mere days ago when Atessa was born.

As her talons dance, the string begins to glow. She hums, adding a vocal element to her spell. That makes me nervous. She only hums for the not-so-simple spells. Naming Days, like all ceremonies, can attract unwanted attention from being we'd rather not be seen by. Did something latch onto Atessa?

Downstairs, my daughter howls.

Instinct takes over and I sprint down the stairs. "Atessa!" I shove past the concerned faces of my fellow parishioners to find my husband holding the child as she does her best to scream him deaf. Lark presses her against his chest, hand patting her back as he jostles her and makes soothing sounds. He's new to this fatherhood business, but not so new that he has no experience calming her.

I halt in the doorway of the room, which is more crowded that I find comfortable. "What's wrong?"

"It's that feathered witch," a neighbor asserts. He folds his arms and glares at me. "Everyone knows her type is no good."

"Now, Hielm," his wife Vora says as she places her hand on his bicep. I've always liked Vora enough to put up with her asinine spouse, but I'm starting to second guess that. "I'm sure the Ashertons wouldn't keep anyone who would hurt their little girl."

I narrow my eyes at the man. "Athene has been with my family since my mother was a child. I have no fears that she's a threat to my daughter." And I know I should leave things at that, but I go on anyway. "Something I cannot say about you."

"Me?" he sputters. "What do you think I'm going to do?"

"You brought hate into my house. Demons feed on hate."

Hielm rolls his eyes. "Are you accusing me of summoning demons? Priestess Jeslyn! You should come hear this. The woman is harboring a hooter, yet she accuses me of inviting demons!"

Just as I'm about to start screaming about the use of racial slurs in front of my daughter, my husband swoops in to hand Atessa over to me. As I take the shrieking bundle, grateful that I can bury my face against her and avoid looking at my neighbors, he tries to defuse things. "I think everyone here has had a long day and tempers may be running a bit short."

"Yes," Vora agrees quickly. "And it's very nearly supper time. I think Hielm and I should be getting home. The staff will have our meal ready soon."

Lark says something along the lines of being thankful they came and hoping to see them again soon. My beloved is much better than I am at socially polite untruths.

As Lark ushers our neighbors away, the priestess approaches. "Sweetie," she says to me, "let's go to a more quiet room."

Although it's my house, I allow the priestess to lead me down the hallway and into our little library. As soon as we went the room, Atessa stops crying and snuggles against me like she's exhausted. Which she probably is. It must take a lot of energy to yell loud enough to crash the heavens.

There are only two seats in the library. Normally, I'd invite my company to sit first, but I'm too tired for niceties. Besides, I've known Jeslyn since we were in school together. She watches me sit and takes the other chair.. "That man..." She shakes her head. "I guess he wasn't listening last sabbath when I went on for a full hour about respecting all intelligent creatures because the gods love us all. Somehow, the people who need sermons tend to be the least likely to hear them."

I smile wanly. "I think he may have heard but not understood."

"Perhaps next time I should use more sports metaphors." She leans back in her seat and closes her eyes. "What is Nana up to tonight?"

Shifting to make my hold on my daughter more comfortable, I refrain from shrugging. "I don't know. She'd already started, so she couldn't tell me."

"Maybe Hielm really did summon a demon."

I chuckle. "I doubt he's smart enough to figure out how."

"As your priestess, I should tell you that the gods don't like for us to be mean to each other." Jeslyn smiles. "But I think you may be right."

A comfortable quiet settles over us. Atessa drifts into sleep, and I'm about to follow her when Jeslyn suddenly gasps.

My eyes snap open and my gaze goes to my friend and priestess. "Jez?"

She's pale as she holds a hand up and signs for my not be be worried. "A vision," she says with her fingers.

I lean forward but don't say anything. There's probably a reason she's signing rather than speaking, and I don't think it's concern about waking the baby.

Her fingers continue to wave and my blood chills. "Something is outside," she signs. "Take the baby upstairs."

Careful to be quiet, I do as I'm told and hustle my daughter up to the nursery. Nana Athene still sits by the window, her talons flying with speed as she weaves her spell. Behind me, Jeslyn enters the room. She puts a hand on my shoulder and gestures to the corner before going to stand by Nana.

The old Strigine nods without breaking her concentration and Jeslyn begins to pray to the Guardian in the ancient language of the gods. I don't speak enough to know what she's saying, so I follow the cadence as I pour my energy into boosting the prayer's power. Nana's talons change their pace until they are moving in time with Jeslyn's rhythm.

A clap of thunder sounds from just outside and the entire house trembles in response. Atessa begins to scream again. Should I take her somewhere else?

Lark rushes into the room. He pauses long enough to take in the scene, then comes to put his arm around me. He brushes his fingers against Atessa's little head and she calms a little.

The prayer picks up speed, Nana's talons doing likewise. My heart races as I struggle to stay calm for my daughter.

A mighty wind batters against the house. A shutter rips off, smacking against the siding as it goes.

And then quiet. The prayer halts. The wind ceases. There's nothing but a gentle wisp of sound from the string gliding along Nana's talons.

I clench my daughter tight against my chest as a shadowy form takes shape in front of me. It's large and shaped a bit like a bear, but when it moves, I realize it has eight legs. It rears back like it's going to strike at me.

Lark jumps in front of me, his arms spread protectively as he yells for me to run.

"No!" Jeslyn counters. "It will chase you! Stand still."

Whimpering, I huddle around my child and try to think what to do.

Nana's chair creaks and we all turn to look at her, even the the shadow creature. She rises to her feet, her talons still working furiously. Her beak opens wide and she shrieks.

The creature roars back, its voice deep and awful.

Atessa wails, but Nana and the creature are so loud that even while holding her, I can scarcely hear my child scream.

Nana stops shrieking and throws her string. It wraps around the creature, growing tighter as he thrashes. He begins to shrink, still screaming.

The air in the room pops from released pressure and the shadow creature vanishes completely. Atessa falls silent and I look down to check that she's alright. She blinks at me and falls asleep. Weak and silly with relief, I smile down at my little girl.

Nana's chair creaks again as she sits down. By the time I get my gaze to her, she's closed her eyes and slumps to the side. It takes me a moment to realize she didn't fall asleep too. "She's not breathing," I whisper. But from their expressions, my companions already knew.

Lark wraps me in his arms, letting me sob as Jeslyn prays for the Strigine's soul to peace with the gods.

"Lark?" I ask with a sniffle after I've calmed some.

"Yes, my love?" He looks down at me with so much adoration I nearly start crying again.

"I know we just named her, but..."

Understanding shines on his face as he nods. "Jeslyn. We'd like the gods to meet Atessa-Athene."

The priestess gives me a watery smile. "I can arrange that."

And so we have a second naming ceremony, right there in the nursery where my lifelong caretaker gave her life for my daughter. I'm not certain, but I think Nana's spirit stays around long enough to see it. And.... I don't know, but maybe Nana's not going anywhere. Maybe she'll always be here to watch over Atessa-Athene. That's what I'm going to tell the girl anyway, when she's old enough to hear the story behind her name.

The above image is The Old Owl Woman by Hillary Luetkemeyer, who is on Deviant Art as hibbary. It was offered as a prompt on my Wording Wednesday group on MeWe.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Exorcism of Ophelia

The human's pain is delicious.

She sits on the edge of a meadow, perched on a wood fence and playing a melancholy air on a long-necked lute as a bonfire of paper burns before her. The cows that usually graze here keep their distance, repelled by the same things that attract me. She's been coming here for months, feeding me with her affection for a companion who is missing today. The affection was sweet, nearly cloy, but her hurt is savory. And although I find that I, unfathomably, dislike the idea of her suffering, I'd be hard pressed to say which emotion I prefer the taste of.

The new scene offers something the old ones never did: curiosity. What she and the other woman did here was obvious and easy to follow. Sometimes they chatted. Sometimes they played music. Sometimes they made love. All of these things makes sense; they're things humans do with great frequency. But now, I'm confused. The papers that drift from the fire show the marks of music. It takes great effort to compose music, so why would she burn her work? I try to tell myself that it doesn't matter, but I can't seem to walk away from the questions.

Thinking to better understand, I take a form I think she will find pleasant. It's the appearance of a dark-skinned woman I knew centuries ago, but I don't think she would mind me using it. My new body is impossibly soft, weaker than my true form. How do they stand being so vulnerable all the time?

On legs that feel as though they may crumble beneath me, I leave my concealment. I have walked many paces toward the woman before she looks up to notice me, and when she does, she looks away again as though my presence in no way affects her. I thought my form was attractive, but perhaps her pain is too extreme for her to notice.

"Hello," I say as I reach her side. I lean against the fence beside her, folding my dark brown arms and attempting to appear nonthreatening. I remember now that the woman who looked as I do now was a warrior, which means I'm more muscular than this woman may like. I'm certainly more muscular than her lover. I'm not certain why the comparison makes me anxious.

Her eyes glance at me, but she remains silent as she continues to play her mournful tune, a strange, unfeeling expression on her face. If her agony weren't filling me with so much energy, I could almost believe she felt nothing.

"It's a pleasant evening," I try, having observed that it's the sort of thing humans talk about.

This time, her eyes don't bother shifting my way. They're locked now on the fire, staring at it with no small amount of intensity.

"It's a nice fire," I say.

That gets a response. "Is it? Maybe. But will it work?"

"Work?" I too look at the flames. "What is it meant to achieve? To keep you warm? Is the summer air not sufficient for that?"

"It's not meant to warm my body."

"Oh." I frown a little. "Is it meant to warm food? I see none."

Her eyes narrow ever so slightly. "No." With a sigh, she removes her fingers from the lute strings and drags her gaze to mine. Her green eyes radiate pain, but also hold an odd calm. "It is meant to cauterize my soul."

"That's very poetic," I respond, not stopping to think about the words.

She glowers as though convinced I'd said the last to mock her. I hadn't, but rather than allowing me to explain, she confides further. "Today Ophelia della Faunte became Ophelia Diego when she married a man who doesn't even know he stole her from me. So today I have cut her from my heart. The fire is to staunch the wound."

"Figuratively speaking?" I clarify.

The faintest hint of what's either amusement or exasperation breaks through the mask on her face. "Figuratively speaking." She looks back to the fire.

"And why these papers?" I ask. "Were they simply at hand?"

"No..." She shakes her head. The parting of her lip makes me expect more, but she merely closes them again and makes an odd gesture of dismissal toward the flames.

"Then why? Why throw away so much work?"

"They were hers." The woman clamps her jaws shut, her lips trembling and unshed tears crowding her eyes, and it is some moments before she is able to continue. "I wrote them all for her. So they need to perish."

"I see," I say. And I think I do. "Would you forget her if you could?"

A breeze travels through the meadow, one that smells like my brother. He will be here soon, drawn by the human's emotions just as I was. I should go, defer to him to the eldest, and allow him to devour the woman. But a possessive feeling such as I've never had before envelops me at the thought.

"No," the woman says, complete unaware that she is now in danger. "I need to remember the lesson she taught me. That you can't trust pretty words and hidden kisses, at least not when they go against what society expects. Because people are stupid little sheep who will always do as society expects."

I'd love to discuss this with her, but my brother is moving quickly. "Tell me your name," I whisper. "Please?"

"My name?" She blinks at me. "It's Ilissa."

Silly humans, always so free with their names. "Your full name," I prompt.

Ilissa pauses. "Why?"

I'm not sure if she'd believe the truth. Or that she'd trust me if she did. But I can't think of anything else to offer. "If you give me your full name, it will make you mine. And then others of my kind won't be able to hurt you."

"Your kind?" She shifts, tensing like she's about to jump off the fence and flee from the crazy person.

Not far away, my brother's presence fills the meadow. If the cows hadn't left before, they'd stampede now in the their urgency to get away. Heat blasts from behind us as the smell of sulfur rolls across the grass.

"You don't have much time to decide," I tell her, my words rushing out quickly. My heart races with what I take to be excitement, or maybe fear. Being unable to taste my own emotions makes it hard to know for sure which ones I feel. "I can cauterize your wounded heart, but the being that's coming now? He'll burn your heart to ash, and you along with it. And I don't mean that figuratively."

She hesitates, as well she should. She doesn't understand what's happening.

"Look behind you," I say. "Just for a moment. Longer might drive you mad."

I think for a second that she's going to laugh at me, but she can feel the heat on her back and that might be what prompts her to do as I urge.

Slowly, her head turns.

The scream when she sees my brother pierces the evening. I reach out, grab her head, and keep move it until she can't see him anymore. The poor thing is sharking so hard I'm worried she'll break her fragile little body. Her fear tastes rancid and sour.

"I can save you. All I need is your name." I wipe at her tears with my thumbs. Why do I care so much about this one dumb creature? Why does the thought of her demise make my insides squirm into painful little balls of agony? Is it the same reason I come to this meadow so often? Was I drawn not just to her emotion but to her? "I know I'm asking a lot, but I swear I will keep you safe. I'll never harm you. He most certainly will."

"You said your kind." Although her tears keep coming, her voice is calm. "Does that mean you're... Are you like that thing?" She speaks the last word with all the revulsion a human voice can muster.

"I'm similar," I admit. "I'm less... We take on the aspects of the emotions we consume? My bother feeds on battlefields. I prefer to feed on lovers."


With a grunt of annoyance, I move my arms to grasp her arms and give her a shake that makes her drop the lute. "Listen to me Ilissa, we can talk about all of this in as great a depth as you want. But he's less than a minute from ripping you away from me." I stare into her eyes, wishing there were someone I could pray to for help, but my kind were shunned by the gods ages before I was conceived. I draw a breath, then do something very, very rash. I lean close and whisper into her ear. A jolt of electric magic passes between us, but I'm not sure if she felt it.

"What?" she asks.

"That was my name. I am bound to you now. But that's not enough to protect you."

Her eyes grow wide. "I am Ilissa," she whispers back. "Ilissa Cammeara Ornegan."

The magic zings again and Ilissa takes on a faint glow. Behind us, my brother roars with annoyance. He's less coherent than I am, more a ball of anger than a thinking being, so he doesn't yell at me or lecture before he vanishes. My hands fall to my side in relief.

Ilissa lets out a breath as my brother's heat suddenly dissipates. In so doing, her eyes notice her body. Holding a hand out, she stares at it. Or, more likely, at the rose and amber aura around it. "What is that?" Her gaze flicks to me, then stays there. "You're glowing too. You weren't before."

I swallow. "You're not fully human anymore."

"What am I then?"

My heart hammers in my chest. "My wife."

She jerks, startled. I guess that wasn't the answer she was expecting. "Wife? Not slave?"

My head shakes vehemently. "No. I gave you my name as well. We are equals."


I nod. "Oh."

"That's..." Suddenly, she laughs. The sound cuts through the evening and brings a smile to my face. I'd worry she's going mad, but her emotions taste of relief and joy. "When I told my parents I was gay, they nearly disowned me. I can't wait to tell them I married a demon."

"Well..." I smile ruefully. "Demon's not quite the right word."

She shakes her head with a grin. "I don't care. That's what I'm telling them."

"You're taking this all really well," I observe.

"Would you rather I didn't?"

I shake my head. "No. Your happiness tastes better than you fear. And... I've decided I like it more than your pain, too."

"Good. Then you have incentive to keep me happy."

"I do," I agree, smiling widely.

Ilissa jumps off the fence, picks up her lute, and turns to me. "So, do we honeymoon on earth or in hell?"

"It's not really hell."

She shrugs. "Question still stands."

"On earth," I decide, wondering what, exactly, I've gotten myself into. "I've always wanted to see Salsis."

"So have I!" She loops an arm through one of mine and looks at me expectantly.

And not having any idea what else to do, I magic myself and my bride to the City of Lanterns.

Above image is Half Her Heart's Duet by Cynthia Sheppard.
It was offered as a weekly prompt in my Wording Wednesday group on MeWe.

Friday, January 11, 2019

My Love Returned

I was amongst the first to see the ship sail over the horizon. Atop the hill behind town, I put down my pen and stared, not quite daring to believe my hopes. From the sail, there was no mistaking that the ship was one of ours, but just because one of the queen’s vessels was approaching didn’t mean my beloved was. A more excitable man would have leapt up and ran to the pier to demand of the lookout whether this was The Golden Voyager, but I was always cautious and also well aware of how long it would take for men from the ship to reach shore. They had to sail into the harbor, which would involve waiting for the chains to lower. Then they would have to wait their turn to board one of the barges, because the ship was too large to dock at the pier itself. My beloved was not of high enough rank to get an early boat, so there were hours yet before he could possibly make it to me. Whether it was his ship or not wouldn’t matter until near dark.

There was no finishing my poem. The elk I was trying to capture with words didn’t care about the ship, but I was too distracted to work. I flipped the page of my notebook and scrawled something new.

Part hope, part fear.
My longing is physical,
As is my uncertainty.

He’s been gone so long.
Is he still him?
Am I still me?
Is there still an us together?

The words weren’t particularly good, an incredibly rough draft indeed, but they were accurate. “Yishharu,” I breathed, making a prayer of my beloved’s name. I begged the Fates to let this ship be his if he still wanted me, but not his if he did not. For if he’d decided our relationship was a fleeting relic of childhood, that it was time for him to find a woman and father children, then I didn’t want to know yet. Better to continue to live with the fantasy of his love for me than to face a cold reception and lack of desire.

And thus did I sit for hours, watching the approach. Was that Yishharu I saw on deck, rushing from place to place? Or could that be him standing by the helmsman? Or maybe it was he in the crowsnest, looking at the shore and wondering if the figure on the hill was his darling Kikeru?

The tide rolled in, bringing the ship closer. She made anchor as the first of the barges headed out to meet her. The pier grew crowded with lovers, with parents, with children, all waiting for their sailors. The ship had to be The Golden Voyager. So many wouldn’t be waiting if it were a different ship. Yet I held back, too timid to join them rather than holding back, embracing only my nausea. I told myself there was no point in rushing anyway, that Yishharu was so junior he would be one of the last off, if he was even allowed to leave at all. For all I knew, he had drawn the watch for that night and wouldn’t be ashore until at least the next afternoon. And thus did I try to deny the obvious truth that I didn’t rush forward because I was too frightened.

Hope is a strange thing though. Strong as fear is, hope can be stronger. Fear comes into the fighting ring with more power, but most of its intimidation lays in pure bluster. Hope burns slower, seems meeker. But hope has a stamina fear lacks and is left standing when fear faints from fatigue.

Fear fought to keep me on the hill, but hope took me gently by the hand and led me down to the water.

I found Yishharu quickly, drawn to him as though I were a fish he had hooked. He met my eyes across the fading crowd and my heart raced as I tried to decipher what I saw in his gaze. Not breaking his focus from me, he said something to the sailor he’d been talking to. That man smiled at me, then smiled even wider at the woman clinging to his arm. I knew her; she worked at the bakery and spoke often of her husband. She’d found out she was pregnant with their first child just after the ship left and had feared she would give birth before he returned. He’d made it just in time.

My body trembled as I kept moving forward. Worrying about other people’s lives could only distract me so far. Yishharu moved too, advancing no faster than I was.

We stopped several feet apart.

“Kikeru,” he said softly, his voice catching partway through. “I didn’t think you were coming. I… I thought maybe you’d…”

In a heartbeat, I flew forward, letting my lips against his stop the words. “I’m sorry,” I whispered between kisses. “I didn’t know if you wanted me to come.”

He pressed against me, his body hardened from months at sea but still fitting against mine perfectly. Somewhere someone muttered about the appropriateness of our display of affection, but I felt no embarrassment or concern. My Yishharu was back, and he was still mine. Miracle of miracles, he was still mine! And I was still his.

My beloved pulled back, taking my face in his hands and staring into my soul with the piercing blue eyes I had missed so much. “I will never stop wanting you.”

Heart dissolving into happiness, I smiled for him. “And I will never stop wanting you.”

Yishharu sailed with The Golden Voyager several more times, until we had saved enough money to buy some land and a few goats. We live in the hills now, with a large window overlooking the bay. Sometimes as we sit hand-in-hand at our window and watch a ship come in, I think about his first homecoming, about how strong my fear was. It seems like a ludicrous worry now, when after decades he still looks at me as though I hung the sun. He is my heart, and I am his. I should have known it would take more than mere absence to come between us.

Above image is taken from a fresco on a wall in the ruins of Akrotiri on the island of Thera (aka Santorini).
It was provided as a prompt on my Wording Wednesday group on MeWe.

This tale of a sailor's homecoming hit me a little close to home. I dedicate it to everyone who has ever waited for their beloved to return from sea.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

By Snow and By Flame

Although I’m behind Yvette, I don’t deceive myself that she is unaware of my presence in the clearing her tracker has led me to. Even if the tracker hadn’t told me she’d been here for at least an hour, I could tell that from the amount of snow gathered around her. A red bird sits calmly on her hand, so besoothed by Yvette’s aura that it doesn’t do more than glance at me before turning its rapt attention to her.

“Yvette?” I say quietly. The name cuts through the chilly air like a spring breeze. Which is ironic since Yvette is a Winterbringer. She lives her life in snow and ice, never seeing summer. Considering the thickness of her silver fur, that’s probably for the best, except when she doesn’t stay where she’s supposed to be.

“That tree had bloomed,” I chide. “You know that means you’re to stay away.”

Ignoring me, Yvette chirps to the bird.

I sigh and draw closer. “Don’t make me use the snowglobe, Yvette. I don’t want to do that to you.”

Her body jerks with what I suspect is a snort and she looks over her shoulder to me. Her eyes are the clear blue of a winter’s sky, a shocking jolt of color on her otherwise grey face. She doesn’t speak to me aloud, not having the facial structure needed for human languages, but projects her words straight into my mind. *Trapped is trapped, my friend.*

“Really?” I fold my arms and give her a solid you’ve-got-to-be-kidding look. “Trapped in something so small you can’t wiggle isn’t any worse than having an entire glacier worth of palace to wander?”

*I don’t expect you to understand.* She turns back to the bird and a whiff of magic comes off of her as she cups her free hand and moves it to under the creature’s beak. The bird chirps thanks and bends to take whatever food Yvette has summoned to her palm.

“What?” I ask. “Because I’m perfectly free? Because I can go absolutely anywhere? Oh, wait! I can’t. Because if I get too far from your furry and melodramatic ass, you’ll freeze half of Sansaw and no one will be able to eat because all the crops will have died.”

*I didn’t make you my keeper.*

“No. But clearly someone has to do it, and since I’m this county’s Guardian, that’s me. I blame my mother for giving into her more primal urges and consequently birthing me. If she’d had the sense to be attracted to women rather than men, it might never have happened.” My hand is on the snowglobe in case I have to throw it, but I walk up to Yvette without drawing it from my pocket. “Seriously, Yvette, how would you feel if the summer spirits kept creeping in at midwinter to melt everything?”

The hand with the bird stays still, but the rest of Yvette jiggles with laughter. *Are you claiming I disrespect them? They are the same spirits that light hearths to keep my cold at bay.*

“I know full well you don’t actually want everyone to freeze to death.”

The Winterbringer sighs. “No. I just… It gets lonely on the glacier.”

A pang of guilt hits me. I’m suppose to visit every morning, but today’s trip was delayed until afternoon. “I’m sorry. I should have called.” I put a hand against the fur on her shoulder. “I was with Maisey. She had the baby this morning. It’s a girl.”

*Oh!* Yvette sits up straighter. The bird startles and flies away, Yvette’s heading turning as she watches it go. *So you have a niece?*


*And you’re an aunt?*

“That’s generally how that works.”

Stillness covers the clearing. *And you will bring the child to see me?* Yvette asks, not bothering to hide the yearning she feels.

Assuming the girl lives, she will inherit my mantle of Guardianship over the county and its spirits. Unless, maybe, I go insane and have a child of my own. “I will. My sister wants the Blessing to take place as soon as she’s able to walk up the hill.”

*It’s been too long since there were children on the glacier.*

“Hey,” I protest lightly. “Maisey and I aren’t that old.”

*Nor are you that young.* Slowly, Yvette climbs to her feet. Looking down at me, she pulls her lips into what passes as a smile in her kind.

“Well, not compared to you.”

*No. Few beings are.* Snow crunches underfoot as Yvette pads to the edge of the clearing. New flakes fall around her, littering the ground as she moves onto uncovered turf.

“You’re going the wrong way,” I tell her, grasping the snowglobe tighter.

*Am I?* She keeps going, heading very obviously away from our mountain and its glacier.

“Uh, yeah. I parked by the road.”

*You did not listen to the the bird.* Sometimes Yvette pretends to forget little details like humans not being able to talk to animals.

I frown. “What did the bird say?”

*That there’s a fire in Alisville.* She glances at me as she continues into a pasture and covers its grass in frost. *Not a natural one, but one caused by a Firemote.*

“Well, crap.” A fire started by a Firemote can’t be stopped by normal means of water and dirt; it requires a counter magic to tame.


Sighing, I put my arm in front of her. “It’ll take all day if we walk. We need the truck.”

If eye-rolling was something Winterbringers did, Yvette would roll her eyes. It isn’t though, so she limits herself to a zenful nod before changing direction and heading to my truck.

As soon as she’s settled in the bed of the pickup, I climb into the cabin and slide open the rear window so she can hear me if I say something. I don’t see any smoke or other signs of fire, but birds aren’t usually smart enough to make things up, so I put the truck in first gear and start driving. “Okay,” I say over my shoulder. “As far as anyone knows, that bird is the reason you left the glacier, got it?”

*I think we have established that I am not young. I hope it is also understood that I am not stupid.*

“That you are not,” I agree as I come to a stop at a T intersection. If we turned left, we’d head up the mountain toward the glacier and my hometown of Iceburg, but we turn right instead. This way leads further downhill to a strip of agricultural land and eventually a desert.

I expect to make it to town before facing off with the Firemote, who I assume is still rampaging through Alisville. He surprises me, though, and I find him walking out of town, a stretch of fire behind him. He’s powerful enough to make stone burn, but my trust in Yvette keeps me from fearing him as I hop from my vehicle and help the Winterbringer down onto the road.

The Firemote looks a lot like Yvette in structure, but his fur is a spectacle of oranges and reds. His chest puffs out as he comes to a stop ahead of us. Leaning his head back, he lets out a roar. A blast of super-hot air slams into me as though I’d just opened a furnace door.

Yvette meets this display with a puff of amusement. She doesn’t do anything other than look at the Firtemote, but he gradually lets go of his tension and aggression, falling into the ethereal calm Yvette emmits. His head sags forward as though he is somewhat ashamed that he was being such a jerk a moment ago.

*You should apologize, my fiery cousin.* I hear Yvette think toward him. I don’t hear his response because she’s the only one projecting toward me, but I hear her counter. *It is good that you didn’t burn the crops. Or the school. Or the children inside the school. I thank you for that. But we must undo the damage you did cause.*

“Psst…” I tug on her arm. “Ask him what set him off.”

A new voice appears in my head. ::He can hear you, mortal.:: The new voice is like thunder, not the gentle zephyr of Yvette’s communications. I’d ask him to turn it down, but he strikes me as the sort of person who couldn’t be quiet if his life depended on it.

“Sorry,” I mutter. “Um… So, what upset you so much?” Even the hottest of hotheaded Firemotes don’t just start rampaging on their own.

::They are drowning my glorious domain! Where once were burning sands are now egregious puddles of water!::

It takes me a second, but I figure out what he’s talking about. “That sounds like a new irrigation project. They’re trying to make more farmland.”

::IT’S MY HOME!:: The words bash into my head, sure to leave a headache in their wake, and flames lick the Firemote’s feet anew.

“Okay!” I hold my hands up. “Okay. I’ll talk to them.”

::It was the hold of my uncle,:: the Firemote informs me, pain showing through his broadcast. ::But his flame receded and it became mine.::

Ah. That explains why I’ve never met this particular being before. “You’re Hessle’s nephew? The one from Ulanda?”

The Firemote nods. ::I am called Kendrick.::

“Alright, Kendrick.” I resume the trek to town. “I’m Seliah. And I’m going to need you to look incredibly sad about what you’ve done. And to stay calm, because the farmers aren’t going to like it when I tell them they have to undo all their work. But they will do it. The Covenants say they have to.”

He nods, doing a good enough job of looking like he’s filled with regret that I skip the lecture about how he should have brought his concerns to me before lashing out at folks. Of course, he’s not the only one in the wrong there. The people in question should have applied for a permit to build their new irrigation system, then waited for me to do a study of whether that would impact local spirits. If I’d been making my normal rounds, I would have noticed them building it, but I’d been keeping close to my sister for the last month. They probably knew I was distracted, and that’s why they built it so quickly.

I’m prepared for a big argument when we make it to town, but I’m again surprised. Melissian, the mayor of Alisville and my on-again-off-again girlfriend, waits in the square with a row of people standing with bowed heads. In the center of the group stands Ingram Filler, which I should have expected. His hands are cuffed together and he glares at me as I open my door.

Mel is talking before I get my feet on the ground. “I told the jackass to cease two weeks ago. Told him that he didn’t have a permit and probably wouldn’t get one. And he swore to me he was stopping until he got a permit. Layed off the people he had working with him and everything. But then he finished it himself with just his kids.”

Beside the still-glowered Ingram, his two teenaged children shuffle like much younger kids called to explain why they didn’t make it to the bathroom in time to prevent wetting themselves. While I hold their father in contempt, I feel bad for them. Ingram’s known for his temper, so standing up to him would be a lot to ask of folks not yet old enough to move out.

I ignore the Fillers for now, though, and instead ask, “Is there a priority for stopping the burning?”

Shifting mode, Mel nods. “Yeah, I’ll direct these two if that’s alright.”

After a glance at Yvette assures me it is, I say, “Fine,” and let them get to it. The damage is much less extensive than I had feared. I guess even while angry, Kendrick realized burning innocent people out of their homes and businesses wasn’t something he needed to do and so he limited his damage to government buildings. He’s not a bad spirit, and as I watch him work with Yvette I start to think he’s going to be a good addition to our little county. His uncle had kept to himself and never caused trouble, but Kendrick burns not only with fire but with a youthful vigor that can only help Yvette.

That night, after the fires have been put out, we agree to eat with Mel and her council. “Well, would you look at that?” Mel whispers partway through the meal.

“Hmm?” I look up from my roast chicken, then follow the direction of her nod.

Across the dining room, Yvette sits listening to something Kendrick is saying in the language of the spirits. The tilt of her head and the expression in her eyes… If she were human, I’d say she was in danger of falling in love. And the animated way Kendrick waves his hands in accompaniment to his words combined with the intensity of his gaze as he looks at her makes me suspect she might not be alone.

“Well…” I draw out. “That would be an interesting match.”

Under the table, Mel grabs my hand and squeezes. “Wouldn’t it just?”

Above image is by Cindy Grotz
(Cindy doesn't have a dedicated art page - YET! - but does regularly post public images on Facebook.)
It was provided as a prompt on my Wording Wednesday group on MeWe.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Dragon's Assistance

Skelana looks up at me with pride, a twig of shrubbery clutched in her scaly white jaws. Poor silly dragon. She thinks she’s helping me, but the twigs she keeps bringing are from the wrong kind of shrub. Matron sent us into the forest for speargreen specifically and isn’t going to be pleased if I present her with an assortment of other things. Still, I’d rather face my superior’s annoyance than disappoint my dragon, so I smile in thanks, take the twig, and place in my basket with the speargreen I’ve collected. I make sure to keep Skelana’s offering confined to one side so they’ll be easier to remove when I make it back to the Sanctuary, which may help limit Matron’s displeasure.

“Come on, Ske-ske,” I tell my companion. “I think we have enough.”

Skelana thumps her tail on the snow, gives her head a shake, and bounds back to the bush she’s been harvesting. I narrow my eyes at it. Now that I’m paying attention, it’s odd that it’s there. Furhorn usually browns for the year before the first snow hits, so what is this bush doing being green at midwinter? I walk over, eyes alert for any clues.

Look as I might, I can’t find any sign that this plant isn’t a normal shrub. You know, other than the obvious fact that’s it’s awake when it shouldn’t be. Skelana breaks off three more twigs before she’s content that I have enough, and I’m starting to wonder if she knows something I don’t. That’s silly though, isn’t it? I mean dragons are smart, more so than dogs or cats, but they hardly have a human level of understanding.

Shaking off the feeling that something is off, I start back toward the shrine, finding the road quickly. It’s oddly quiet consider that it’s a market day, but it is nearly noon. Maybe there’s no traffic because everyone who is going to market is there already and no one is leaving yet. There are marks from traffic earlier in the day, so that must be it.

My route passes three houses, and normally there’s activity at them all. Not so much as a puppy barks at my passing, though, and my unease grows.

I turn at the path to the Sanctuary, Skelana close at my side. Usually she flies ahead when we reach this spot, but today she sticks to my side like a calf following its mother. I look down at the dragon, growing more certain that she has knowledge I lack. What is she sensing that I’m not?

An eerie silence covers the compound when we reach the Sanctuary. A dozen people live here and all of them should be active. But there are no sounds at all. I stop outside the workshop. It sounds as though no one is working, even though Latvi told me last night he expected to dedicate the day to finishing the table he’d been commissioned to make as a wedding gift for a merchant’s child in town. I go up the stairs, but hesitate on the landing. My breath pauses and my heart races as I place my hand on the door. Dare I go in? What am I scared of finding?

Pushing past my anxiety, I open the door and enter.

The room is cold from the fire on the hearth dying, but not so cold as it would be if a fire hadn’t burned earlier in the day. I take that in as I look around the room. Carving tools are out, laid on the work in progress in a way that tells me Latvi was working today, for he never leaves his tools out at night. But where is he now?”

“Latvi?” I call, even though if he were in the room I would sure see him. Unless, maybe, he were hiding under the table… Feeling silly, I kneel to check.

A sob escapes as I see my friend sprawled on the ground. “Latvi!” I rush to his, my fingers flying to his throat. A faint pulse answers and I let out a sigh of relief. “Latvi?” Putting a hand on his shoulder, I shake him gently. He lets out a small snore, but stirs not.

Skelana calls to me from the door, a sound that would be called a roar if she were one of the massive dragons of pre-history but is more of a mew in a creature her size. I look to her and she jerks her head as though saying there’s somewhere else I need to be.

“You’re right,” I tell her. “I need to get help.”

But when I make it to the main building, I start to think that I might be the help. In the front room, Shevus and Mily are passed out over a gaming table. In the library, Servus, Madsie, and Carene slumber around a reading table. By the time I get to Matron’s study, I feel numb, so numb that finding her passed out over a tome on her desk can’t upset me.

My dragon slides quickly into the room, jumps up onto Matron’s desk, and looks at me as though trying to show me something.

WIth a curious detachment, I round Matron’s desk and look over her shoulder at the book she has open. My eyes widen on the writing there. “A Blessing to Combat a Sleeping Curse,” I read out loud.

Gently, I move the book out from under Matron and read the ritual. It’s easily done with one priestess and most of the components are things we keep a solid store of. I run my finger down them, and I think that if my blood could get any colder it would freeze when I hit the last ingredient. “Furhorn,” I whisper, staring at my dragon.

With one of her would-be roars, Skelana tosses her head back the way she does when she’s waiting for a treat. When none is forthcoming, she butts her head against mine, turns, and exits. I follow her, disbelievingly, to the storeroom, where I gather the other ingredients. I turn to go, but then stop and check the drawer that should hold our furhorn. It’s empty.

I stare at my dragon. This is beyond a coincidence and well into the realm of uncanny.

Skelana meets my eyes and a thought appears in my mind. “Goddess works in mysterious ways,” a female voice says with a sense of humor coating the words.

And I don’t know… Was that the voice of Goddess Herself, or was it Skelana? Was I chosen to work a miracle or have dragonkind just been hiding their true intelligence from us? Laughter flows into my mind in response to the thoughts.

The dragon breaks eye contact and leaves me to catch up to her on the way to the Chapel.

Image is "Yule Dragon" by Anne Stokes.
It was provided as a prompt on my Wording Wednesday prompt-a-week MeWe Group.