0

500 Themes – 8

8/500 | Friendship
Neir

A finger wiggled in Neir’s ear, sending a jarring shudder through his body, from his neck to his pelvis.  He slapped at his ear, then coughed, choking on a faceful of water.  Somehow, none of it got into his mouth, and he realised that the sensation of wetness on his cheeks was new.  His face had been dry.

He shook his head, blinking madly.  There was light, flickering as if from a candle or lantern, but it didn’t seem to come from anywhere in particular.  Not that it mattered overmuch.  There was nothing to see.

The space he found himself in was not wide enough to span more than his body one way, and a little over half the span of his arms the other way.  Though he was not remarkably tall, he could not sit fully upright without resting his head against the roof.  Water lapped at his feet, forming a small mock beach.

Neir lay on his back, propping himself up on his elbows.  “That was some luck,” he said to himself.

“Oh, I wouldn’t quite call it luck.  Not I.”

He slipped, the skin on his elbows scraping against the rock.  His earlier injuries reopened, spilling blood on the ground.

Something shiny popped up out of the water, and soon revealed itself to be the top of someone’s head. It had a full cheeks and bright eyes that were too large and eerie to belong to a human. As the head rose further, a neck followed it, and he saw flaps of skin shudder closed. “You aren’t lucky at all. I mean to eat you.”

Neir laughed. “You don’t.” As the creature pouted around sharp white teeth, he put his hands on his hips and grinned. “If you did, you would have already nibbled on me at least.” He sat down, more carefully in deference to the slippery terrain, then touched his wound gingerly. “It seems lonely down here. I’d say you have food enough in the water with you. I would take a fight, real work. And unlike those fish, I can talk.”

“It seems as though you might never stop.”

Those teeth went on flashing, but the face was human enough that Neir saw humour ahead of malice. Even so, he kept his limbs close to his body.

0

500 Themes – 7

Listening to: Tex Beneke – A Wonderful Guy
via FoxyTunes

Whenever this song comes up on my playlist, I have to sing it.  I cannot help it, and I don’t know why.  Even if I did have a guy I felt this way about, I would never express it this way.

7/500 | Family
Ez

Concern shone in the honey-brown eyes of Ez’s stepfather, but his face, sunburned and preternaturally young, remained smooth.  Ez, not the type to sulk or brag about an injury, kept his hands resolutely at his sides.  Even though the blood drying on his nose itched terribly.  It had not been a fight among men, but he had walked away after.

He had done so at a limp, but walking was still walking.  It was important.

As usual, his stepfather clapped a firm hand on his shoulder and drew him inside.  Not quickly, as one hurrying to cover a shame.  He was simply accepting his son into the home.  It would have made Ez smile if it would not have been childish and unmanly to do so.

Stepfather never asked questions.  It seemed a fair arrangement between himself and the world, for he never gave answers either.  Ez went to the washbasin and scrubbed carefully, trying to choose among the many questions in his own mind.  The of them differed in many ways, and that was their chief difference.

“Am I special?” he asked after his face was clean and pink again.  The noble image of Hennekyde was emblazoned in his every thought.  Certainly only someone remarkable would attract the attention of the gods’ champion.  If the answer was no, then Ez must have imagined it.  A safe, if odd, daydream.

A brief silence, which was then broken by, “You are my son.”  Stepfather sat in his chair, his jaw set.

The tentative hope died before it could even flicker.  It was not just the iron claim of a proud parent, not in Ez’s case.  He forgot his burgeoning pre-adolescent pride and sat on the thick arm of Stepfather’s chair as he had done when he had been far more boy than man.

As if by reflex, Stepfather relaxed into the smile that was only for Ez.  His shoulders slouched, and he reached over to ruffle his son’s unruly blond hair.  The gesture built a dam in Ez’s chest, trapping his breath.

He submitted to it like a kitten.  “But that isn’t so, is it?”

To his surprise, the question had no immediate effect.  He had broached a subject never before touched upon in the confines of their home.  Yet Stepfather continued to smile, and did not remove his hand.

“Family is not like anything else,” he said, after a moment’s contemplation.  “If a friend betrays you, he is never your friend again.  That trust is forever flawed, incomplete.”  He did not ask if Ez understood.  He knew that Ez had never had a friend.  “But family is always family.”

“What about blood?” Ez asked, subconsciously scratching his upper lip.

“Blood does not make family.”  The sternness in Stepfather’s voice edged on the frightening.  He moved his hand to rest his palm on the small of Ez’s back.  “Marriage does.  I married your mother, and you are as much my son as hers.”

Ez’s eyes and cheeks burned.  His nose dripped, regardless of his sleeve.  He didn’t want to do more than hear this.  But there was more to be said.  “I still have other blood, though.”

If this reply disheartened Stepfather, he did not show it.  He nodded grudgingly.  “Manhood has come early to you,” he said at last.

Laughing sharply, Ez blew his nose into the filthy cuff of his shirt.  He looked down at himself, gesturing to the visible arguments to Stepfather’s declaration.  “I’m never going to be a man,” he protested, unsure if it was a bemoaned fate, or a defensive argument.

“You already are.”  There was a strange brightness in Stepfather’s eyes.  “It is no simple thing attained merely by living a set number of years.  Not for you.”

Heart simultaneously sinking and flying, Ez moistened his lips, easing the dry, cracked skin.  “Why?”

“Your mother made me promise to tell you only when you asked,” Stepfather said quietly, turning away.  “It’s all to do with your father.”

Resistance hardened Ez’s youthful features.  The word ‘father’ meant nothing to him.  That was for other people.  He had his stepfather, and that was all he wanted.

However, by that same token, he was his stepfather’s son, dutiful and trusting.  Holding onto the news of Hennekyde for after, Ez listened.

0

500 Themes – 6

Listening to: Eileen Ivers – Whiskey & Sangria
via FoxyTunes

Whiskey and Sangria.  It’s not quite wine and roses nor beer and pizza, but there is a similar sentiment, I feel.  At 2:00am, anyway.  Oh, and just as a note, unlike many stupid fantasy names with random apostrophes, there is actually one in this girl’s name for a reason.  There is a glottal stop between the m and o, sort of like in the Võro word for dogs.  Although that particular word is neither here nor there.  I’m tired.

6/500 | Love
Dam’osa

It would last forever.  Stolen kisses in the daylight, sweetened by the risk, burned in her memory even as she renewed the act and the meaning under the softer, more forgiving light of the moon.  Forever was not long at all, she feared, but it felt almost long enough when he was beside her.  Whether the skies were clear or cluttered with the dark clouds of the rainy season, she felt the same.  This was rarer, it seemed to her, than the warmth in her chest and belly.  Moods in the village moved with the skies.  They were meant to do so.

Yet a wife was constant.  Dam’osa was not even a new bride, nor did she dare expect to be.  She had thought this would free her, yet here she was shackled in heart to a man.  He was beautiful, of course.  All of the men were.  Before she had come to know him, she would have said he was not possessed of an exceptional face or temperament.  His wife might have argued otherwise, but wives were dutiful and proud, as well as constant.

He murmured in her ear, and she smiled.  The wicked curve of her lips rose the skin on his neck.  She had always adored a shameful secret, had always yearned to collect and horde her own.  Almost too young for her first, she harboured yet a second.

Should she tell him?

Teeth grazed her bared shoulder, teasing the skin with imaginary violence.  If they had wasted time with words, she would have told him to put his tamed fangs away.  She might have even laughed in her sultry way, called him a burly pudding.  But the ferocity that he could display stole her breath, and the moment passed.

Time, in turns agonising and precious in the daylight, felt crystalline and solid in the night.  Dam’osa lay in the damp grass, letting her weakened legs dangle in the high lake water.  Rough fingers traced lines through the mud on her skin, none of them so delicate or fine as her hair, though even that was weighed down with the clay of the bank.  He was so blissfully unaware of so much that she could not help a loaded smile.

“Does it please you so?” he asked, his tone affected and pompous.

Her hand, so tiny compared to his, gripped his thick wrist lightly.  Perhaps she would tell him.  Forever was not long, after all.  Anything could happen at any time, and it would be far better to end it on her terms than his.  Besides, there was never so much joy in a secret than in telling it to one who wished to hear it least.

Fingers splayed over her middle, she motioned for him to lower his ear to her face.  As soon as he had done so, she imparted her second secret.

The night’s serenity shattered as though smashed with a hammer.  He wrapped his hands around her neck and squeezed, like a farmer battling the neck of a tough old hen.  The nails of his fingers dug into her skin, pressing so hard that the skin broke and bled.  Dam’osa clawed desperately at his face, her own strength lessened by shock.  He dragged her into the water and thrust her face below its surface.  Held her there.

Somehow, she managed to break free of his grasp.  She rose out of the water, gasping and choking on air and water, trying to run.  The lake resisted her long-legged stride, slowing her.  He overtook her with frightening ease, handsome face purple with rage and fear.

Again, he shoved her under the water, striking her head against a rock.  Consciousness left her, and water filled her lungs as her blood coloured the lake.

~

Ick.  That wasn’t how I thought it would come out.  I guess that’s what happens when I just write on the fly in my blog draft.  I promise the next one will be less… gross.

0

500 Themes – 5

5/500 | Happiness
Fenglori

Insignificant pleasures had a way of stacking.  Fenglori could take a week of idle amusement and find that at its end, he felt no pressing need for more.  It was almost worrisome, or would have been, if he could lower himself to worry.  To someone of his ilk, a week was no time at all.  Worse, it sounded like satisfaction, which was itself akin to boredom.

If there was one thing he could not abide, it was boredom.  Particularly in himself.

“Death first,” he said, or would have done, had his attention not already shifted.

The heavy rain masked his view of the city.  Drops of the hurried water clung to his eyelashes, weighing them down so that he appeared dozy.  Rather than wipe them away, he plunged deeper into the thickening weather, out into the city thoroughfare.

A passing carriage failed to navigate a pothole and splashed mud on his right side.  In the old days, he would have delivered a savage kick to the wheel, revelling in the splintering of wood and the subsequent howls from horse and driver.

However, such times had passed.  Fenglori had developed a taste for the new.  Therefore, mud still clinging to his cloak, he leapt onto the carriage and climbed inside.

A gentlemanly curse and the gasp of a lady punctuated his arrival.  He paid equal heed to both of them, scraping muck from his person and then dropping it to the floor in small clumps.  “What a large mouth for a lady to possess,” he said, with the same inflection he might have used to comment on a dull occupation.  “Does it perturb your young man unduly?”

The young man, moustachioed and portly, jabbed his fashionable cane at Fenglori.  “See here!  Lady Acrossica is my sister, and I’ll not have you–”

“Cor,” Fenglori drawled, slackening his jaw.  “Is that so?  What a scandal, courting your close kin.  I ought to sic the holies on you.”

Mouth twisted in a disgusted frown that accentuated its size, the apparent Lady Acrossica stared at him.  He stared right back, cheekily meeting her eyes directly.  This clearly upset her, yet she did not turn away.

Mildly intrigued, he deafened himself to her lord brother’s blustering and focused on the lady.  Her hollow cheeks flushed, the colour showing through however many layers of powder her ladies in waiting had robed her in.

Nothing sufficiently odd struck him though.  He blinked, breaking eye contact first.  The Lady Acrossica set a hand on her brother’s arm, like a blacksmith assessing the heat of mostly cooled metal.

Fenglori reached for the door, his quivering ever so slightly, checking for… something.  He could not define it, but the air tasted different.

“Have you a place to stay?”

He nearly started, and the sensation was delicious.  Her voice was not dainty or bell-like, but it still held some of the quality of a child’s.  “No, indeed I have not.”

“Glory!”

“Hush, brother.  I am speaking to this brash young gentleman.”

Lord Acrossica’s mouth clopped shut.  His beady eyes burned into Fenglori’s left earlobe, twitching behind his monocle.  “Might I inquire regarding your reason?”

“I wish to know what this disguise conceals.”

Ears perking up like a brace of alerted rabbits, Fenglori smiled curiously.  Every bit of him innocent as a babe holding a half-brick.  “Disguise, my lady?”

She fluttered her fingers, then rested the tips against one another, forming a little temple of her hands.  “Call it a woman’s intuition.  There is more to you than you appearance divulges.”

Fenglori scratched his cheek, allowing flakes of dirt to rain on his shoulders.  He had heard of this specialised intuition.  It was dangerous.

But ‘dangerous’ also meant ‘fun’.  He grinned.

0

500 Themes – 4

4/500 | Regret
Neir

There was no turning back now. Things had been said, and truth be told, he was unbothered by the leathery taste of remorse. He tread any potential sign of it beneath his bare feet.

In all his years, brief as they were thus far, none had ever accused Neir of indulging in preparation.  Instead, he adjusted.

A thorn struck his foot, digging in deep.  True to his nature, Neir fell straight-away, as ever unprepared for the eventuality with which he had met.  His shoulder connected with the pebble-covered ground as he cursed the air blue.

He sat up slowly, his childish face twisted in a gargoyle’s grimace.  Along with the initial thorn, he now sported a dimpling of small stones in his arm.

“Seems curses travel faster than the priests say,” he chuckled.  Blood came freely as he removed his unwanted travelling companions, but he possessed cloth enough in the shirt on his back.  He tore off strips and bound his arm and foot, and then returned to his solitary trudge, hobbling but otherwise undaunted.

If he had stayed, there would have been a stool beneath him, and a line of cows to tend to, no chance of moving his knees for some time.  Neir folded his arms behind his head and grinned as he limped along.  A bug flew into his face, catching in his teeth.

Coughing and spitting profusely, he trod too hard on his foot and then gasped, swallowing a small, meaty part of the insect.  As he began coughing anew, tendrils of doubt crept into his limbs.

It started at the knuckles.  Neir’s hands were calloused, no more or less than those of anyone else who had lived his or her entire life in Brecken Lee.  They were a village known for working hard and knowing little.

This, of course, had been the problem.

He looked up at the sky and mouthed to himself what had been said to him.  There is naught for you out there. What he had said in reply seemed almost immaterial beside that.  There was none as could match his granny for vitriol.

One last hack, and he was on his way again.  “Naught for me, eh?  Half right, Gran.”

The road wound into a tight turn, taking him to a river, running fast and low.  It teemed with fish, the silvery creatures jumping to taste the air and seemingly competing with one another for duration, height, and frequency.  Neir watched them for a few moments, hands on his hips, smiling with his mouth shut.

There was almost a pattern to it, an easy come and go that the fish collectively entered into, even as the current carried them on out of his sight.  His belly sounded the call, and he waded in.

Fishing was a job for men in Brecken Lee.  Neir himself had not been a man long enough before his departure to have done it properly, but he and the other boys had sneaked out on occasion and learned to imitate the bears.  He hiked up his short trousers, twice watched the cloth fall back to its place about his knees.

Shrugging, he waded in, splashing as little as possible, eyes on the leaping fish and their pattern.  He held out his hands and crouched.

An enormous fish, scales gleaming in the sun, rose out of the water like a bird taking flight.  Neir swiped at it, and then felt it slam into his face with astonishing force.

The blow sent him stumbling back, his feet desperate for purchase on the slick river bottom, his arms pinwheeling.  He had enough time to think that falling was a dreary business before he felt the ground bid farewell to his feet.

Yet, instead of a sharp rock stabbing his already sore bum, he felt the sensation of falling much farther.  Water surrounded him, swallowing his head and encompassing him, like his grandmother’s pious, suffocating love.

He fought hard, flailing and kicking against the inevitable.  The last thought he had before blacking out was that milking cows wasn’t so bad after all.

0

500 Themes – 3

Listening to: Aphex Twin – Didgeridoo
via FoxyTunes

3/500 | Anger
Athril

The ringing crack of a calloused hand on a smooth cheek stood still in the air, like an invisible floating island. Athril’s skin stung with the force of it, but she refused to  shake the soreness from her wrist.

“Take your horse and go,” she said, barely able to move her teeth enough to make the words legible.

Wodynis, typically unfazed by the blow, let his eyes coast up and over as he shook his head.  Sighing, he lowered his gaze back to hers and quirked an almost undetectable smile.  “Always the professional.”  He lifted a hand and flicked his fingers in a brief, yet intricate gesture, conjuring a rose.  “Haven’t you even a single thought for the sweet words I–”

He stopped himself, his bright eyes dimming somewhat.  It was a ploy that Athril had deconstructed long ago.  Yet that had somehow been the appeal of it.  She blinked, using the innocuous action to clear her head.  “My only thought is for your departure.”

“In my experience, you rarely have one thought.  Narrow-minded focus is only a part of this disguise you wear.”

She nearly flinched, habit interpreting his relaxing shoulders as a sign that he would reach for her hair or face with a gentle hand.  “This is not a game, Wod.”

“Now that is a shame.  A world where Athril Tielt has no heart for a game.”

“Speak not of hearts, vile serpent.”

“My own heart lightens to hear you turning my own words against me.”  He winked.

Athril stepped back, closer to the door.  “They aren’t your words.  Your playwright wrote them for you.”

A strange light entered Wodynis’s face, changing the colour of his face and eyes to a foreign pallor.  He twitched the rose between his fingers.  “I beg your pardon?”

“It isn’t my pardon you ought beg,” Athril snapped, feeling her ire rise out of the ashes of uncertainty.  A thorn pricked one of Wodynis’s fingers, tearing the skin.  “Games are one matter, but cheating people is quite another.”

Unaware of the blood ribboning thinly down to his wrist, Wodynis snapped off a rose thorn with his thumbnail.  “Who is it that you believe I am cheating?”

The air around them began to feel heavier, but somehow unfulfilling.  Athril tried to breathe deeper without letting him know it.  She glanced down at the rose, half-forgotten suspicions suddenly fogging her mind.  “Your audience,” she murmured.  It was mostly a lie.  “They all believe you to be a true poet.”

“Who is to say that I am not?”  The near lie should have reassured him, but he had come to know her too well.  Dangerous lines creased his face, his shoulders tightened, sharpening like dagger points.

“I am.”  Her own show of confidence belied its wavering stability.

Another twitch of his fingers, and the rose was gone, replaced by a wicked-looking knife.  Too small to be a dagger, it was a lady’s weapon.  Athril’s gaze flickered between it and his eyes.  They seemed darker somehow–no longer the merry brown of rock kestral’s back, they had become the near black of wet leather.  The muscles in his neck were taut, the rigidity in his jaw not quite reaching the empty smile.

Then the tightness eased as he blinked once, with the slow languor of a tired child.  Athril relaxed, moving her hand away from her own weapon, a bog oak bollock dagger with an ouroboros carving.  Succumbing to fits of temper was not Wydonis’s way.

Emotion spilled into his smile, a mixture of amusement and sadness.  The silent fury was gone.  “Who made you believe that I am not what I say?”

Clutching her arm, Athril turned away from him to face the horizon in the east.  “When you asked for my interest, we had an agreement.”

“A promise,” he corrected her.

Out of the corner of her eye, she could still see him watching her.  She wished he had left when she had told him to leave.  A slap had been too subtle.  “We agreed not to lie.  But you’ve lied all along.  Bannock Bair is the poet, you are merely a face and a voice.”

His eyes widened, his lips parting in the same motion.  “You’ve met Bannock?”

Chin parallel to the ground, Athril grunted in confirmation.  “Aye.  He showed me papers in his own hand, words you spoke only the next evening.”

“That’s impossible.”

“Only a fool calls the past impossible.”

“No, my dear Athril Tielt…”  The sadness in his smile grew until it weighed down his lips into a bewildered frown.  “Not a fool.”

She turned to face him, a question half-formed in her mouth.  Wydonis’s little blade pierced her chest, driving through muscle and bone.

His face was nearly unrecognisable through the sadness as tears slid down the quieting red mark on his cheek.  “Not a fool,” he repeated, removing the knife before placing it in her still hand.  “A trickster.”

0

500 Themes – 2

Listening to: Koh Ohtani – Lakeside
via FoxyTunes

2/500 | Fear
Ez

Air came slow and hard to Ez, inflating his lungs to capacity but not quite exiting.  He clutched his knees and stared at the weeds between his feet, blinking through the sweat in his eyes.  The bricks of Dame Tanner’s home burned into his back, bleeding the heat of the late afternoon sun into his skin through his damp tunic.

He began to ask himself a question, but he didn’t have the breath for it.  However, his answer came in the form of footsteps on the other side of the Tanner house.

Terrified, he clamped his mouth shut and prayed.  His ears burned from the heat and the strain of listening.  There were four pairs of feet now, no longer running, but scuffling about, kicking up dirt and pebbles.  Four was a relatively low number, but it meant eight fists and as many kicking feet.

Ez swiped at his forehead and eyes, risked a small, silent gasp of air.  That many got in the way of one another.  He could handle it.  His stepfather would have told him to be brave.

He straightened, bolder in his breaths.  They became slow, less shaky.  Shoulders squared, he walked away from the back of the Tanner house and headed for the middle of the village common.

A goat rammed him in the gut, sending him flying back.  Ez hit the ground without ceremony, too surprised even to yelp.

Larger rocks and stones dug into his back, but he was unable to stand.  The goat had clopped over to rest a hoof on his chest.  He pressed up against it, muttering as he did so, but it could not be moved.  It glared down at him with the same stupid malice of any of the village goats.  They were all bred for stubbornness, and this one looked no exception.  Its horns were as long as Ez’s arms, even curved at a position similar to an elbow.  They were dark and ridged, like parallel lengths of carved wood.

“Get off,” Ez pleaded.  The other boys would certainly notice a goat standing on him.  Worse, it was not a very defensible position.  He grabbed the goat’s leg, but it pressed down harder.  He bit back a cry.

The goat blinked at him, tilting its head.  A charm tied securely to its left horn swayed with the motion, two tiny bells at the end tinkling softly.  An impression of words entered his mind–like thoughts, but accented somehow.

Momentarily forgetting the bruises from his fall and the press of the goat’s hoof, Ez stared up at the goat in awe.  “You’re in the tales,” he whispered.  “Hennekyde, one the gods’ champions.”

It nodded with a regal air.

“Why are you here?”

The answer burned through his thoughts, like a match through paper.  His nose felt funny, and then warmth spread over his upper lip.  He reached up and rubbed it; his fingers came away bloody.  The charm tinkled again as Hennekyde turned to face the horizon.

Ez’s face drained of colour.  “I can’t do something like that,” he said, his voice hoarse and cracking.  “Not without telling Stepfather.”

His brain burned with fiercer intensity, as though he had stuck his head in an open flame.  This time he made no effort to cover his cry of pain.  Then the goat removed his foot and stepped back, its head bowed apologetically.

“Exactly,” Ez said quietly, holding his head as he sat up.  “I’m not old enough to perform heroics.  I need his blessing in order to leave the home.”  He managed to kneel, the way he had seen his stepfather do in front of the ancestor shrine in their home.  “Yes, I’ll return.”

He got to his feet, bowed once to Hennekyde, and then ran towards his house, cutting straight across the village common.  For the first time in memory, the other boys didn’t scare him.  Even when they caught up.