Meeting Life

The girl with red pigtails and a blue dress crouches by a dead rabbit. Her schoolfriends know her as Jori Hawes or, sometimes, ‘the weird one’. She is not yet Jorininki Castroflame, not yet a member of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca.

But, although she has yet to understand it, she is a necromancer.

She touches a finger to creature’s ear, surprised at how soft the pale fur is. The knowledge that it died recently is in her mind, but she doesn’t know how it came to be there. The ground is covered with fallen leaves and the air is damp and full of the scents of apples and woodsmoke. And, now, it also contains a sound just below the edge of hearing.

The sound stops and the rabbit shivers, and so does the girl. The animal jumps up and bounds away into the trees, while Jori falls back as though pushed. Dampness seeps into the fabric of her dress and caresses the bare skin of her calves.

‘Hello,’ says a voice. It reminds Jori of an open fire. Warm and comforting. And slightly dangerous. She looks up, and there’s a woman standing at her side. She’s dressed in impossibly bright white robes, a hood pulled over her head. Her skin, when she turns her face, is black as night but for the pale pinpricks scattered across the bridge of her nose, like stars.

‘Hello,’ said Jori, because she cannot think of anything else to say, and her mother has always encouraged her to be polite.

‘Do you understand what you did there, child?’ says the woman.

Jori looks in the direction of the disappeared rabbit. ‘No.’

The woman nods. ‘Life can be a gift, or it can be a curse. Either way, it is not something to bestow lightly.’

Jori looks at the fingers that touched the rabbit’s ear. ‘I didn’t mean—’ she says.

Eyes lock with Jori’s, and the girl stares, unable to look away. A light flares in the woman’s eyes, a distant explosion.

‘What’s your name?’ asks Jori.

‘I’m called lots of things. It doesn’t matter which you choose.’

Jori considers this. Lots of words scatter and tangle in her mind, but one floats to the top, onto her tongue. ‘Life.’

‘That,’ says the woman, lips twitching, ‘will do.’

‘I don’t understand.’

Life reaches out and places her long-fingered hand on Jori’s. It should be comforting, but there is a hardness there. A suggestion of sharpened iron. ‘No. It would be concerning if you thought you did.’

‘Why are you here? I mean, I suppose you’re here because of,’ Jori gestures at the woods again. ‘Did I… did I do a bad thing? I didn’t mean to. ‘

The girl finds herself counting heartbeats in the silence that follows. She gets to twenty-three. ‘Good,’ says Life at last. ‘Most humans don’t ask enough questions.’

‘They don’t?’

Life’s lips twitch again. ‘They don’t.’

‘What do you want from me?’

Life looks into the distance, still gripping Jori’s hand. ‘It won’t live long, even now,’ she says, apparently ignoring the question. ‘Its body won’t be able to sustain it once your influence wears off.’

‘Oh,’ says Jori, feeling a twinge of sadness. ‘Then what’s the point?’

‘You’ll have to decide that for yourself, child. Time is… both an unfathomably big thing and also, sometimes, a very small thing. Look one way, and nothing seems significant. Look the other and everything could pivot on tiniest fraction of a moment. The difficult bit is deciding which way to look.’ Life takes a breath and Jori finds herself wondering how much she really needs it. ‘You have a power that humans are not meant to have. Were never meant to have. Do you want it?’

Jori thinks about this. Then she thinks about the words that came before. ‘Why,’ she says eventually, ‘would I want it, or not want it?’

This time Life actually laughs. She lets go of Jori’s hand. ‘Oh, very good, child,’ she says. ‘Well done.’

The girl watches as the woman, or rather, the woman-shaped being with dark skin and white robes, disappears like smoke on the wind. Then she gets up and brushes down her dress.

She is not yet Jorininki Castroflame, not yet a member of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca. But she will be.

And she will never stop asking questions.


Author’s notes
More Jori. Because I like her.


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© Kat Day 2019

Charcoal and Ice

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, shivered and wrapped her cloak around her body. The fabric was turquoise. She’d never favoured the traditional black.

‘So,’ said the King, indicating the body in front of them, ‘bring him back.’

Jori stepped closer to the corpse of Malek Angevin. His skin, once a warm brown, was now ashen, almost grey. His eyes were closed, arms by his side. The King’s aides, since dismissed, had packed ice around his body. Easy to do, given that he’d helpfully collapsed in his own icehouse. She inhaled the crisp, metallic air and her breath clouded in front of her face when she exhaled again. ‘He died an hour ago, in here?’

‘Yes,’ said the King, ‘he came in here for some sort of foodstuff apparently. Heaven knows what. Probably something for that wretched animal.’ He added, glaring without heat at the brown cat currently winding around Jori’s ankles. She bent and scratched its head, letting her professional awareness flow over Angevin’s body.

He was dead, there was no doubt. His heart had stopped—it happened without warning sometimes—but she thought he could still be reached, largely thanks to the King’s orders not to have him moved. The King liked to play the role of buffoon, but the truth was that he had a mind sharp enough to fillet the steaks stacked on the wooden shelves in the chilly room. He employed experts, and he paid attention. He had an experienced, and extremely discrete, physician on standby, and she had been quickly informed of her very urgent appointment.

‘You understand, Sire,’ she said cautiously, ‘that bringing someone back to full consciousness isn’t always possible? Even if the death is recent.’ And she had never done it, although she wasn’t about to admit that. It was rare that the conditions were right. Usually the body was too badly broken, or its organs too damaged by illness or age, or too much time had passed and the spirit was simply gone.

The standard necromantic trick of raising the long-dead was different. That was merely pushing a little energy into the right place. A simple matter of animation. The things that rose had no ability to think for themselves. Once she let them out of her mind’s grip they fell back to the ground, puppets with their strings cut. She had worked that dark magic for the King on both small and large scale, several times.

He had never asked her to try this before.

The King looked at her, eyes as icy as the blocks stacked around the room. ‘Can you do it or not?’

She dared to avoid his question. ‘May I ask why? You’ve lost plenty of good people before.’

He stared at her and for a moment she thought he would snap that it wasn’t her place to question his motivation. Then he seemed to deflate, looking away from her to Angevin’s body. When he did speak, his voice was surprisingly soft. ‘I need my Vertex Minister back, Castroflame.’

Something about his tone and use of the title tugged at her. Her mind whirled.

He turned his head to look at her again. Jori couldn’t help noticing his fists were clenched at his sides.

‘No one lives forever, Sire,’ she ventured, quietly. ‘His heart stopped once. It might again. Even with the care of your physician.’

‘Dammit! Get him back!’ The King pushed his hands through his blonde hair, a gesture she’d never seen him make before. ‘Do, do…’ he stuttered over the words. She could almost feel him changing tack. ‘There was an expensive election. I gave the people a vote. It was decided. The will of the people was done! I will not have it undone by an inconvenient death!’

He stopped speaking and silence spread uneasily through the small room. The only sounds were his ragged breathing and the wet noises of the cat cleaning itself.

‘I had the right man. In. In place,’ the King said eventually, eyes turned away.

Jori reached out and touched his arm. It was an action that went against protocol, but they were alone and the King was, after all, just a man. ‘I’ll try,’ she said.

‘Thank you,’ he said. Her hand dropped as something in his demeanour changed. The mask that had slipped falling back into place. His voice became crisp and formal. ‘Hurry up and get on with it. I may not have your talents, but I am aware of the theory. The more time that passes the more difficult this becomes.’

She nodded. ‘Best you wait outside, Sire.’

To her relief, he didn’t question or argue. She watched until the heavy door closed behind him, then she shook herself and reached into her leather bag.

She rejected the pouch of salt, knowing what it would do to the ice, and instead opted for charcoal. It didn’t matter, really. Salt was traditional, but power was more important than props. Ten minutes later, she’d created a sequence of sigils around the body, and a larger, unbroken circle around that, the black standing out sharply against the frosty granite floor of the icehouse.

She stared at the black symbols for a few long moments, gathering her focus. Then she glanced thoughtfully at the cat.

Jori stepped into the circle and closed her eyes.

All humans are inherently close to death. She had more power than most, but this part actually required very little. She wasn’t trying to go far—it was like looking through the window before you decided to throw your shoulder against the door.

Jori felt a jolt, not unlike the sensation of jerking awake as you start to fall asleep, and she opened her eyes.

Everything looked much the same, except for a slight purple hue, as though she was looking through tinted glass.

Malek Angevin sat up. At least, something of him sat up. A dark shadow remained on the ground, a man-shaped, oily pool that glinted in the dim light. He looked down at it, and then up at Jori, eyes wide in question.

‘Your heart stopped,’ she explained.

‘Ah,’ he paused. ‘My father died the same way,’ he added after a few moments.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Jori.

He sighed. ‘You’re the necromancer.’

‘I am. And you’re Vertex Minister Angevin, and the King wants you back.’

‘Malek,’ he said. ‘No point in formalities at this point, is there? And I suppose he would. Terribly inconvenient I imagine, my death.’ There was a trace of bitterness in his voice.

‘I won’t force you,’ she said.

‘But you could.’

‘I could,’ she agreed.

‘It felt… peaceful,’ he said wistfully, looking down at the oily pool.

The cat jumped carelessly over the edge of the circle and into Malek’s lap, which seemed to be solid enough, for the cat at least. He scratched its ears. ‘Hello, Cinnabar. I’m sorry you never got your dinner.’

Jori looked at the animal. ‘I voted for you,’ she said to Malek, not really knowing why.

He laughed. ‘Thank you?’

‘The King said he had the right man in place.’

He looked at her. His eyes were translucent. She could see faint lines of shelving through them. ‘Did he now?’

Jori bit her lip, wondering how much to say. ‘I think… I don’t think he meant just… politically.’

Malek raised an eyebrow. ‘Not like him to make his feelings clear.’

She felt a pang of relief that she hadn’t entirely misjudged the situation. ‘Well. You were dead. Are dead. Sort of.’

He sighed. ‘It won’t change anything.’

‘Perhaps not.’

‘I suppose you’ve had a lot of conversations like this.’

‘No, not really. Usually they’re long gone by the time I get involved.’

‘Special case, am I?’

‘He went to a lot of trouble to make sure of it.’

Malek rubbed Cinnabar’s head again. The dark man-shaped pool on the floor began to shimmer, glittering white and red. A soft humming sound started up. Or perhaps only became loud enough to hear.

‘It’s your choice,’ said Jori. ‘I don’t know what lies on the other side, truly. No one does. I know what’s here, though.’

‘Oh? And what’s that?’

‘A man who has found his priorities suddenly clarified, I suspect.’

Malek gave a small laugh.

The humming sound became louder. Ripples flowed across the surface of the pool, creating patterns where they hit the edges and rebounded. Jori looked at it, thinking. ‘Life is a fire that burns and scars us from the moment we’re born,’ she said eventually. ‘But it’s also bright and warm, and it gives us the chance to see and feel.’

He looked up. ‘And will I be truly alive? Not some kind of… zombie?’

‘No. Your body is undamaged and well-preserved. The King has a healer on standby. Think of it as more of a second chance.’

Malek looked wistfully and the rippling pool.

‘I suppose someone has to feed my cat, eh?’ he said with a weak smile.

‘Absolutely.’

‘He pretends not to like her,’ said Malek, nodding at Cinnabar, ‘but I caught him stroking her the other day.’

Jori smiled. ‘Still,’ she said, ‘I’m not sure you can count on the King to take on cat-caring duties.’

‘Ha. No. This is going to hurt.’

‘Yes. Sorry.’

He set his jaw. ‘Like you said, price of life. Pain.’

She pressed her lips together in agreement.

He sighed. ‘Very well, necromancer. Do your worst.’

Jori threw her metaphysical shoulder against the door.

The King pushed past her when she used her somewhat less powerful physical hand to open the door of the icehouse. She let him, but found herself blocking the path of the physician. ‘He’ll be fine for a few minutes,’ she said.

The healer, who was after all very discrete, smiled thinly. ‘I don’t approve of necromancy,’ she said, glancing over Jori’s shoulder. ‘But… well done.’

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, returned the smile, somewhat more warmly. Then she pulled the hood of her turquoise cloak over her head and walked into the dusk.


Author’s notes
I meant to write a creepy story about my favourite necromancer. I accidentally wrote a slightly soft and fluffy story instead. Oh well. Stories are what they are.


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© Kat Day 2019

Proud

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, pinched the bridge of her nose and turned over the page in the grimoire she was studying. It was bound in human skin. It smelled funky.

She muttered words to herself, trying to fix them in her memory. She left careful pauses, of course— it wouldn’t do to accidentally summon the undead hordes— but she had to know her spells. There would be a battle tomorrow, and Lord Alstaz would expect things to work.

The words slid away from her, slippery as freshwater eels. A ball of black anxiety settled in her stomach.

The magical garnet of Ifera set in the heavy gold bracelet on her left wrist glowed red and emitted a cheerful chiming sound. Jorininki sighed and tapped it.

A voice spoke. ‘Jori, is that you? Can you hear me? Hello?’

‘Hi, Dad.’

‘Can you hear me?’

‘Yes, Dad, I can hear you. Are you okay?’

‘Oh, that’s good. We’re fine. How are you?’

‘I’m fine. Look, Dad, I’m kind of busy here… big thing tomorrow, you know. Is it urgent? Can I call you back tomorrow evening for a proper chat?’ That is, she thought to herself, if Lord Alstaz hasn’t thrown me into his dungeons because the undead hordes turned out to be three tatty skeletons with missing bits and a couple of zombie rabbits.

‘Yes of course, darling. But before you go. Um,’ her father paused.

‘What is it?’

‘I know you’re busy, I expect you’re working. You work so hard. Very important stuff. I know I couldn’t do it.’

‘Dad, you have no idea what I do.’

‘No, no, I know. Protecting a kingdom. It’s a lot of responsibility. I can’t imagine. Me, I’ve been a farmer my whole life. I don’t know anything about politics—’

‘Dad, I really am busy…’

‘Yes, yes, of course. Anyway. Look. We were at your aunt’s funeral on Tuesday.’

‘I know. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it.’

‘No, it’s fine. Everyone understands. They all asked after you. It just made me think, you know, it does, doesn’t it? A funeral. Everyone saying things they couldn’t say, you know, before.’

‘Mmm-hm,’ said Jorininki, turning the page back on the grimoire.

‘Well, I just wanted to tell you that we’re very proud of you, Jori. Very proud. You’ve achieved so much. You work so hard. We love you very much, your Mum and me. That’s all, really.’

Jorininki pushed the heavy book away before the tear could splash onto the yellowing paper. ‘Oh, Dad.’

‘I don’t say it enough, I know that. I wasn’t brought up to talk about these things. It’s different these days. Anyway. I just wanted you to know that even if I don’t say it all the time, I do love you.’

‘I love you too, Dad.’

‘That’s good, that’s good. Well, bye, bye, sweetheart. Don’t work too hard. You need your sleep.’

‘I’ll do my best.’

‘All right then. I’ll talk to you tomorrow?’

‘I promise.’

‘Bye, bye.’

‘Bye, bye.’

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, smiled as the red light of the magical garnet of Ifera blinked out.

Then she wiped her eyes and pulled the grimoire back towards her, the words now seeming that much easier to remember.


Author’s notes
It’s a trope of fantasy fiction that the parents of heroes and bad guys are dead. This piece came about after I wondered: what if the evil necromancer still has a Mum and Dad, who like to chat to their daughter every now and then? (And what about grandparents, that’s what I always want to know — maybe that’s for another day.)


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© Kat Day 2019

Wish Missed

Fariha soared through the sky, her glossy feathers drenched in gold light and violet shadow. The sun would soon drop below the horizon. It was her favourite time of day, not because of the sunset — she had seen many sunsets, and she had grown rather bored of them — but because it was a time of change.

Change was interesting.

Two eagles glided on the thermals ahead of her, working together to hunt. Fariha could feel their prey below, a rock rabbit, ears twitching as it sensed danger. The eagles separated, the female hugging the cliff edge while the male soared in the light of the dying sun. The tiny creature stared at it, transfixed. It was not blinded by the light, but it was distracted as the female eagle circled behind and prepared to dive. Fariha watched, fascinated, and then hissed a word. The rock rabbit suddenly turned and let out a high-pitched, shrieking, chucking sound, many times louder than its tiny lungs ought to have been able to produce. The female eagle, spooked, missed her target and rolled into a ball of feathers and screeching frustration.

The rock rabbit, shocked by the sound it had just heard itself make, froze in place and was bitten by an opportunistic puff adder.

Fariha cawed with delight and soared higher.

She continued to drift on the thermals, skimming over the boundary of a small town. Houses lay below her, whitewashed U-shaped buildings that curved around small gardens. At this time of day, most people were beginning to retreat indoors, but something below snagged her senses. Longing. Clear and sweet as the note of a bell.

Humans who wanted things were so much fun.

She tucked her wings and began to descend. She found the girl quickly enough, sitting in a small garden, fingers working a lump of clay. She wore a dress of muted greens and browns, her dark hair tightly braided. Her face was smudged with dirt.

Fariha landed, clawed feet scratching the hard earth. The girl looked up and then scrambled to her feet, eyes widening at the creature before her with gold earrings and human-like eyes and a nose-bridge that stretched and curved into a brutally sharp beak.

Fariha folded her dark wings around her body and said nothing. She wasn’t tall, but neither was the girl, and they gazed at each other eye-to-eye.

‘Who are you?’ asked the girl, after a moment.

‘Fariha, goddess of the winds, mistress of machination, sovereign of schemes, arch of artifice, at your service,’ said Fariha, sweeping one wing in front of her and dipping her head.

The girl stared. ‘My father told me stories,’ she whispered.

‘Did he indeed? And what did he tell you, child?’

‘That the bird goddess Fariha is… clever.’

‘Hah. And appreciated flattery, no doubt? An astute man. There are some. What is your name?’

‘Elissa, and I am pleased to meet you,’ said the girl, nodding her head. ‘But if I may ask, why are you here?’

Fariha looked around. The house to which the small garden was attached shared walls with both of its neighbours. The doorway was dark, and spoke of damp coolness. The air in the garden was heavy with the scents of late-blooming flowers, long shadows stretched over the gum trees and red yucca plants. A small, wooden stool lay overturned at Elissa’s feet. She had not dropped her clay.

‘You have a pretty garden,’ said the bird goddess.

‘Thank you. I have worked hard to make it so,’ said Elissa.

‘But your house is very small. Perhaps you dream of something richer. More opulent. With servants to bring delicacies and cool drinks?’

‘Not really,’ said the girl.

Fariha clucked. ‘No? Then…’ she twisted her head to the south, where there was the beat of distant music and lights were beginning to mark the darkening sky. ‘Perhaps the party? You yearn for the music, and dancing and song? The hand of a handsome prince?’

Elissa giggled, then clapped a hand over her mouth. ‘No!’

Fariha’s brow creased. ‘All young girls want to go to the party, surely?’ She looked Elissa up and down. ‘The dress is easily remedied. And the hair. And I’m sure there’s something around here that would do for a coach…’ Her eyes stopped on a lizard skittering up one of the whitewashed walls. ‘Certainly, attendants would not be a problem. And shoes, yes, I could make the most beautiful shoes,’ which, she mused silently, would pinch and stab and fall off at the most inopportune moment. She had heard the prince had a thing for shoes.

‘No, please,’ interrupted Elissa. ‘I don’t want to go to the party. My sisters went. They will tell me about it when they return. I would rather stay here.’

Fariha buried her fists into the feathers at her waist. ‘Well, then, child. I felt your longing, and it was strong. Tell me, what is it that you want?’

‘Honestly, there’s nothing,’ said Elissa. She paused. ‘You must be tired. Would you like some tea?’

‘Tea?’ Fariha found herself disconcerted. Usually, when she found a human who wanted something, she offered it to them, and they took it. And more. Their avarice tangled them like fish caught in nets, and she took great joy in watching them flap and flip and try to squirm out of the predicaments they created for themselves. They never offered her anything. At least, not until it was far too late.

‘I’ll make some,’ said Elissa, darting through the dark entrance of her house. She returned a few minutes later with a pot and cups. The scent of cardamom drifted across the garden.

Fariha sniffed cautiously. A beak was not the most conducive thing for drinking from a cup, but if she allowed the liquid to cool a little she could pour it into the bottom part of her bill and swallow it from there. It smelled deliciously sweet.

‘I think,’ said Elissa after they had both taken cups, ‘that you came to my father, once.’

‘Perhaps. I have seen a lot of men, in my time.’

‘He was a good man, my father. My mother was pregnant. Her time was near and he had only one thought on his mind. He wished for a healthy child that would live a long life.’

‘And you’re here, I see.’

‘Yes. But he never wished anything for my mother. She died a week after I was born.’ Elissa looked up from her teacup and met Fariha’s gaze. Her eyes were challenging.

Fariha shrugged. ‘That was not my doing. Human childbirth is a difficult business.’

‘You could have saved her.’

‘I could have. I wasn’t asked to.’

‘He blamed himself. ‘

‘Again, that is not my doing.’

Elissa looked down. ‘No. I suppose not. He loved me, of course. He was happy that I was healthy. But I know that in his heart, he always wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t taken that wish. If he had refused it.’

‘If you’re asking me for the answer to that, I don’t know it. I can move a thread in the tapestry, but I cannot tell you how the pattern would have looked if I had not done so.’ Fariha paused, fixing the girl with a beady stare. ‘Unless, perhaps, that’s your wish?’ Yes… she thought, and the knowledge will burn inside like you a parasitic grub, eating its way through your flesh until it utterly consumes…

‘No,’ said the girl thoughtfully, ‘I think it is better not to know.’

Fariha huffed. ‘Well, then. What is your desire? I felt something. Tell me.’

Elissa laughed, and looked at her ball of misshapen clay. ‘Probably that I wanted my sculpture to actually resemble something.’

‘Is that all? That’s simple. I can make you the best sculptor in the world. People will weep to see your work.’ And the King will find you, and insist you make endless models for him, until your nails crack and your fingers bleed and they are so calloused that you can no longer feel anything, and…

‘No, no!’ said Elissa. ‘No. If I am to become good at modelling clay, I shall learn the skill for myself. With practice. If I acquire it by magic, it will be as though it’s someone else’s work, and what would be the point of that?’

Fariha looked at the sky with irritation. The sun was gone, leaving nothing more than a bloody glow across the darkened horizon. Soon, it would be night, and her power would be gone for another day. ‘You waste my time,’ she hissed.

‘I’m sorry. It was not my intention. There is nothing that I want. Take your leave, if it pleases you, of course.’

Fariha screeched. ‘You bore me, child! I hate being bored.’ The bird goddess spread her wings wide, so that the tips almost touched the walls of the tiny garden, filling it with black shadow. The teacup fell to the ground with a crash as she flexed her talons, long, wicked things that dug deep into the ground, and stared at Elissa. ‘Such lovely, soft skin. I promised your father you would live a long life. I never promised you would live it painlessly. Unscarred.’

Elissa took a deep breath. ‘You need me to ask for something?’

The two stared at each other for a long moment.

‘Do not think of tricking me, child. You cannot wish me harm.’

‘No,’ said Elissa, breaking Fariha’s gaze and looking up at the sky, now a deep indigo marked with a single pinpoint of white, light. ‘But perhaps there is another way.’

Fariha’s black eyes glittered. Time seemed to stretch and stop, and snap.

‘I wish… you were not bored. And would never be so again.’

There was a sound, just on the edge of hearing. Clear and sweet as the note of a bell.

Fariha began to laugh. She flapped her great wings and leapt upwards, still laughing, and the sound turned into cawing as she soared into the endless sky.

Somewhere far below, a girl picked up a lump of clay and began to work on it, so that it resembled something a little like a woman.

Or perhaps a bird.

Or perhaps, a reminder.


Author’s notes
This story was written for another Mythmaking event. The idea behind these events is that a group of storytellers write and perform stories inspired by museum artefacts that have no stories of their own. In this case, we know these small, female-form, ceramic figures are about 4000 years old and were widely traded, but that’s all — no one knows who, or what, they represented, or why they were significant. The event took place at the Ashmolean Museum, was organised by Brian Mackenwells and Charvy Narain, and was totally brilliant — look out for more in the future!


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© Kat Day 2019

A Tower of Cards

I’m building a tower of cards.

Layer after layer, resting on those below.

Supporting those above.

Surfaces shimmering with lambent light.

At the base is Temperance, wings outstretched as she stands,

one foot in water and one on land.

In the middle is the Magician, creating at his altar.

And at the top is the World: naked, and watched.

Why build so high? they ask.

Because, I say, I want to reach the Star.

What if one of these cards is creased? What if it’s frail?

Yes, Towers sometimes fall, I say.

But I think,

I’ve built this,

to prevail.


Author’s notes
This is a drabble that accidentally poemed. But it is still exactly 100 words long. And it RHYMES. Well, in places. Please don’t give me a lecture on tarot meanings 😉


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© Kat Day 2019

Spears and Marbles

Eria wriggled her fingers and let them drift across the wooden countertop. It was warm in the shop. She looked longingly at the door.

Obligingly, it opened, letting in a draft of ice-tinged air.

A man ducked under the lintel and stomped in, snow falling from his boots. His body was huge, almost too big for his tattooed head. He wore armour made of dark leather padded with sheepskin. A battle-axe hung from his belt.

‘Hello,’ said Eria, ‘how may I help you today?’

He looked at her. ‘Where’s the old man?’ he grunted.

‘I’m minding the shop for Master Winga.’

‘You’re a child.’

Eria ran her hands down the front of her dress as though brushing away dust and nodded thoughtfully. ‘I’m older than I look,’ she said.

There was a sound from the back room. The man narrowed his eyes.

‘Master Winga will be several hours, at least,’ said Eria. ‘You can wait, of course, but I am more than able to help you.’

‘Give me that spear up there,’ said the man eventually, tipping his chin upwards. She turned to follow his gaze. The spear had been hung horizontally and ran almost the full length of the back wall. Its head was diamond-shaped, forged from reddish metal, and behind it sat wicked barbs which would make it impossible to remove from a wound without catastrophic damage.

‘Big fight?’ she asked.

‘Dragon.’

‘Have you got any identification?’

‘Huh?’

‘That spear is a dangerous weapon. I can’t sell it to just anyone.’

The man pulled out a leather pouch turned it over so that its contents spilled across the countertop. The gold glinted in the light. ‘Here’s my identification.’

‘I’m sorry,’ said Eria. ‘I need to see some paperwork. Have you got a dragon-hunting licence?’

‘A what?’

‘A dragon-hunting licence.’

‘No! What is this nonsense? I am the Warrior Philip Elfweard and–‘

Eria made a tiny snorting noise. He glared at her.

‘Give me the spear, impudent child, or I shall take it for myself!’ he thundered, drawing his axe.

‘Why waste time asking for things in the first place if you can just take what you want?’ she asked calmly, catching his eyes with hers.

‘It is– It is not–‘ His voice faded. She saw smoke and flames and tasted metal and salt. Underneath it all, though, was the scent of lavender, a song, and a child’s laughter.

Eria had a knack for seeing things in people’s eyes.

She reached into the pocket of her dress. ‘I think your daughter will like these,’ she said, holding up her hand.

Eyes still locked on hers, Philip reached out and took one of the objects she held. It was a perfect, green sphere with a graceful swirl of gold in its centre.

She blinked and his eyes snapped to the marble he was holding. It sparkled as he turned it. ‘How did you know I have a daughter?’ he asked, after a moment.

‘Lucky guess,’ said Eria, lightly. ‘I made these myself,’ she added. ‘I’m good with glass.’

He nodded.

‘I won’t sell you the spear,’ said Eria. ‘The dragon doesn’t deserve to have her eye pierced. And you,’ she continued quickly as she saw him start to speak, ‘don’t want to be so badly burned by her flame that your daughter screams every time she looks at you.’

‘The reward…’ he started, but tailed off as he stared at the marble he was still holding.

‘There are greater rewards than money.’

#

Eria waited for a several minutes after he had left before she turned and walked into the back room. She untied Master Winga from his chair and removed the gag. He spluttered and cursed, but she laid her hand on his arm and caught his eyes, and he calmed soon enough.

She left the old man’s shop and stood outside the door. She shivered and stretched, breathing in the chill air and bathing in the red-gold rays of the sunset.

After a moment, her skin began to shift from human softness to something harder and glossier. Wings burst from her back, the joints in her arms and legs clicked and snapped into new positions, her neck lengthened.

A gout of flame shot from her jaws and hit, with extreme precision, a nearby rock. It melted into a glassy puddle.

The dragon dropped from the mountain edge and caught a thermal, hovering in the clear air. She watched the tiny figure walk down the mountainside for a few moments. Then, finally, she headed home.


Author’s notes
I really want a set of dragon marbles.


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© Kat Day 2019

By the Edge of the River

Athanasia sat heavily in her chair, her joints creaking along with the cords of the seat. She took a few deep breaths, and the room settled back to silence.

The labour had been a long one, and there had been rather more blood than she would have liked, but the child was strong and its mother would, if Athanasia was any judge, recover well. She had assisted in many births over the years. Even the ones that went smoothly – and they often didn’t – were a little frightening. Standing at the boundary to life itself, doing everything she could to make sure that the child would be welcomed to the world whole. And that the mother would stay on the right side.

Athanasia tucked some loose strands of grey hair back into her braids. She was relieved, if tired. Her arms and back ached, but that was surely to be expected after a long night with little sleep. She felt a little short of breath, too, but she probably only needed rest. She closed her eyes.

***

When she opened them again, she was dead.

She knew it, because she found herself on the bank of a great river. The water was green yet remarkably clear, putting her in mind of the pale green bowl filled with peaches and pomegranates in her quarters. A bowl that, she realised, she would neither see, nor touch, again.

The air was still, and filled with a faintly sweet smell. Silver things flashed below the surface of the river, moving too fast to see. She stood on smooth, pale stone and looked across the water. The river stretched as far as she could see in either direction. In the distance, Athanasia thought she could see a small boat, although there was little against which to judge its size. It might, she supposed, become a larger boat as it drew nearer.

She put her hand into the pocket of her tunic and found a single coin. The metal was cool on her fingers. She let it fall back into the folds of the material and sat down to wait.

Athanasia had no family left of her own, and her thoughts drifted to the new mother and child she had left behind. Had the child been feeding well? Had the mother regained her strength? And there had been another woman with a baby due, she had thought, around the next new moon. She sighed. There was nothing to be done about that, now.

A sound made her turn. She had been entirely alone a moment ago, but now there was a young girl, bare-footed, dark hair falling in messy twists around her face. She looked up at Athanasia with bright, wide eyes. Tears streaked her cheeks.

‘Oh,’ said Athanasia, instinctively crouching down and reaching out. The child put her arms out, in that way that children do, and Athanasia lifted her and held her against her chest, noting that she felt too light. The child rested her head on Athanasia’s shoulder and continued to cry.

‘Shh,’ said Athanasia, rubbing the child’s back.

The girl pulled back. ‘I want to go home. I don’t like it here.’

Athanasia tried to make her voice soothing. ‘I’m not sure you can,’ she said.

The child wriggled then, pushing her legs and arms against Athanasia so that she was forced to put her down. ‘I want to go home!’ she repeated.

‘I know, but, I think you have to go on the boat,’ said Athanasia, pointing across the river. The boat was nearer now, and it did indeed seem larger.

The child stared at her defiantly. ‘I like boats,’ she said, eventually.

‘I’m sure it’ll be fun!’ said Athanasia, pulling her face into a smile and hoping that it would be.

The child nodded, and ran to the edge of the river to watch. Athanasia bit back the urge to tell her to be careful because, after all, what was there to be careful of, now?

She rubbed her cheek, and then realised that others had arrived. A young woman, her belly distended but empty, a man with a dark hole under his left shoulder and a stump where his right leg should have been, a woman with elaborately-styled white hair, her body and face unmarked.

Athanasia had spent her life helping others, and she found she could not stop now. She greeted the arrivals, offered words of comfort, and helped them to the edge of the river. Some were confused, and some were angry. A few wept. She did what she could, and took small joy in being useful.

In time, the boat arrived. It was the long, narrow kind, designed to be propelled by a boatman wielding a pole, and indeed there was such a man. He was tall and broad-shouldered, and he wore robes the colour of glowing embers. They matched his eyes.

He stepped lightly ashore. The child Athanasia had first met looked curiously up at him, and then scampered into the boat, darting back and forth until she had decided where she wanted to sit. Athanasia smiled, and helped the one-legged man to also step aboard.

The ferryman’s face was dark beneath his hood. His voice, when he spoke, reminded Athanasia of thunder and freshly-turned earth. ‘Thank you,’ he said, looking at the orderly chain of people. ‘It is usually more… difficult.’

Athanasia nodded. The last of the other passengers climbed aboard and sat, waiting.

The ferryman looked at her, and then at the boat. She didn’t move.

‘What is on the other side of the river?’ she asked, quietly.

The ferryman shrugged. ‘It is not for me to say.’

‘Will those that I’ve lost be there?’ she asked, looking across the expanse of green water. She could see only shadows on the other side.

‘Perhaps.’

‘Perhaps?’

‘Death is a big place. I only take souls from this edge to that. I cannot say what is beyond the point where I leave them.’

Athanasia paused. ‘Why do you do this?’

His eyes glowed in the depth of his hood. ‘Someone must.’

‘What would happen… if you didn’t?’

He shrugged again. There was a moment of silence between them. Then he said, ‘will you come aboard?’

Athanasia crossed her arms. ‘I don’t think I will.’

‘Then you must stay here, by the river. There is no way back.’

‘I understand. But you cannot tell me what is on the other side. And perhaps if I stay here, I will see some of the people I’ve left, in time.’

‘I cannot say that is so,’ he warned. ‘Not all souls pass this way.’

‘Nevertheless,’ said Anthanasia, ‘I think I can be useful here, and I would like that. It is always best to make the most of what you have.’

The ferryman’s eyes glowed again. ‘Very well,’ he said, after a moment.

Athanasia watched the boat as he pushed it away from the bank and she waved at the little girl, who was holding the hand of the young woman with the empty belly. Athanasia smiled and turned around. Already there were others to greet.

***

And there she remains, on this side of the river, comforting those whose time has come, and helping them to be in the right place at the right time.

It is said that there are some who arrive at the wrong time, their presence too faint as they hover between this world and the next. Some even find their way back, and have told a story of a woman who waits by the river to greet those who must cross, and when the ferryman asks if she will cross, as he always does, she always refuses, her arms folded across her chest.


Author’s notes
I wrote – and read! – this story for an event called ‘Mythmaking: A night of new stories for old objects’, organised by Science Communicator Brian Mackenwells. The idea of the night was to take objects about which we know very little, and which currently have no mythology, and give them new stories. There were seven of us, and we were each allocated one of three objects. Mine was a ‘Cycladic female figurine‘. These are very old – over 5000 years old – and were often buried with the dead, although some have also been found showing signs of repair, suggesting they were also used in every-day life. In this story I tried to tie those ideas together by creating a character that might go on to be represented by these figures. I hope I succeeded!

The other acts were:
Robert Holtom
Calum Mitchell
Holly Bathie
Jack Brougham
Charvy Narain
Laura Theis

And they were all amazing! I really hope there are more events like this in the future.

I also want to say a quick thank you to the talented Matt Dovey, who helped me out when I had a beginning and a end but was struggling with the middle!


Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com
If you like my work, you can support my writing by buying me a coffee at ko-fi.com.
© Kat Day 2018