Chuwa’s Judgment

I took a stone from my pocket. It was meaningless, the kind of pretty thing she would have liked. It was also a life. I put the first of many on the shelf upon which we had laid Chuwa’s necklace of stones and shells.

I lifted his head, heedless of the greasy blood matting it, dragging him to the cliff’s edge as he struggled.

“Please! I have done nothing!”

“This isn’t about you!” In my anger, I threw him to the ground, and for a second it looked like he’d go over. He clawed at the rock and managed to hold himself back from the edge. “This is about Chuwa. Your tribe’s raid took everything from her. Her beauty. Her innocence! Her life.”

“But Chuwa is–”

I cut him off with a stomp on his fingertips. “A child’s name?” I had a flash of cruel inspiration, and saw a way to hurt him. That’s right. Your people ruined a child. They cut her face, beat her. That was how they began.”

Even through the blood smearing his face, I could see him pale in horror. Good. I knelt on his head, pinning him against the stone – not that he had anywhere to go – as I described the horrors to him. I didn’t realize I was twisting his hair in rage until a bloody clump tore free.

“But that’s not me! All of our tribes raid! I am a farmer, I’ve nothing to do with what our warriors–!”

As he spoke, I stood, and I felt bone give as I kicked him in the jaw. I had to raise my voice over his screams to be heard. “It doesn’t matter! I will end your clan. I’ll come back again and again, until there is nobody left!” Another kick, then another, and then he was sliding, tumbling past the brink. Then he stopped screaming.

I turned to walk away from the cliffside. “I killed him, Chuwa. The first of many. Judge him.”

Chills overcame me, then. I had killed a man. I staggered, unconcerned with being strong as my stomach twisted. I almost made it to the treeline before I threw up. Then again and again, as if my very spirit had swallowed poison.

My wife greeted me as I returned home. I had washed my mouth out, washed the blood away. I had even managed to bring meat home, crossing paths with a boar on the way. “Gavos. You brought meat!” She took it from me, and I watched her as some was cut away for dinner, the rest taken to preserve for later. I spent a moment admiring her shape, her curves. Then there was the swell of her belly. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.

“I killed one.”

Her stirring halted, her shoulders stiffened. “You… aren’t talking about the meat.”

My expression didn’t change. My emotions were exhausted, and I had no masks left to show her. “No.”

I took a stone from my pocket. It was meaningless, the kind of pretty thing she would have liked. It was also a life. I put the first of many on the shelf upon which we had laid Chuwa’s necklace of stones and shells.

She watched this, quiet, but only for a moment. Then her stirring resumed, and her dull, dark eyes turned away. “And now?”

“I rest, and prepare myself for more. I go back and take another, and another. I kill until they are gone.”

She glared up at me then, and I saw hate in her brilliantly blue eyes. “Good. Let every one of them know how it feels to lose…to lose–!”

She never finished telling me what loss they should know, but I understood. Her face crumpled, and she howled in grief, throwing herself at my chest. I held her through her sobbing and her crying, my chest growing wet under her eyes. She needed strength, but I was so tired. I relied on exhaustion instead, and stirred her pot as I held her.

Finally, she seemed to quiet. “This child, too, will be our revenge. A Sawaku child given to us, and we will–.”

“No.”

She looked up at me in confusion, clearly expecting me to want that revenge as much as she did.

“We do not hurt the innocent. We do not raise our child a slave. It is not Sawaku. It is born to the Talam tribe, raised to the Talam ways. This is our child, a Talam child. Promise me, Sasua.”

So many expressions crossed her face, then. Guilt, hate for the Sawaku, shame, hate for me, disgust, love for a husband, grudging affection for her unborn child. She had always been so expressive. “But…it’s…”

“It did not hurt you. You can’t hurt them this way.” An idea came, a motive her injured heart might understand. “Hurt them by raising it to hate them. Steal this child’s love from them. ”

She nodded, tears falling down her cheeks quietly. “I’ll try. ”

“Good. You work on that, I’ll kill them all, and together we will end them, my love. But first…is this burning?”

She started, whirling, and took the pot off the heat. “Sorry! Sorry. You were killing for me, for Chuwa, and I can’t even have a proper dinner for you.”

“Hush. Let’s eat.”

“You should let me cook something else.”

“Sasua. Sit with me. Eat with me. I won’t put your work to waste. Besides, everything you make is good.”

She wiped her eyes, shaking her head. “Liar.”

I leaned over her, touching my lips to her brow.

The stew was dry, and had too much salt. When I was done, I scraped the last drops out of my bowl with my spoon, before letting her take it. She smiled at me as she took the bowl, and I knew she saw right through me. She saw the blood that I’d washed off my hands, and still, she smiled at me. It was the first smile I’d seen from her in a while.

I ran my hands through her soft, clean hair, a contrast to the bloody mat I’d gripped while killing a man. It felt cleansing, almost, in the same way that sheathing a knife quelled the urge to kill with it. For her, I’d bloody my hands. For her, I’d even remember to be human again.

The Choosing of the Gods

The request for this prompt was merely “define this character”. I decided that her outward appearance of strength would not be what defined her.

I peeked through the tent flap and caught a glimpse of movement in the distance. A lookout. I shrank back to wait, then peeked out again. They would not stop me, of course, but neither would they leave me to myself. Finally, the way seemed clear. I rushed into the shelter of trees and darkness to the holy spring, the only place that was mine. Any other would be driven mad to walk here, they said. Perhaps it was true.

I looked into the water and beheld myself, painted in the patterns that marked me as the God-Chosen. I did not feel God-Chosen. Paint stained the water as I touched the surface, and it was like it washed the strangeness out of me. Suddenly I had to be clean. I scooped water, scrubbing the paint away. I rubbed my face and neck until my skin felt raw, and the paint bloomed into the water, carried away by the spring’s flow.

Finally, I saw my face reflected in the moonlight. This young girl, who was she? Not the God-Chosen of a tribe. The elder God-Chosen — my mother — said that the gods spoke to me through the spill of runes from my hands. But did they? My hands felt like a girl’s hands, clumsy and unsure. I heard no voices, and I made no promises as she had done. Perhaps it was for the best. The gods were capricious, and had used false words to toy with her before.

I touched the water as if laying my hand upon a friend’s brow, addressing my words to the reflected moon in the night sky. “My name is not Hesralta God-Chosen. I am Sryilla Tusfelt. I am a girl. And I am lonely.”

“Your mother was not lonely, at your age.”

All sound ceased but for this voice, and as I whirled I found the entire world was at rest. Windblown leaves hung in the air, insects sat embedded in the air like a stone set into jewelry, even the dust that my movement unsettled had frozen around my feet. “Who are you?”

She ignored my words. Naked and pale, she sat on a rock to watch me. Her brilliantly silver hair floated and streamed as she moved, as if she were underwater. “Your mother was satisfied with her position. She lived in accordance with her rank in the tribe. She told people what to do. She used the respect that was afforded her.”

My eyes widened, and my blood ran cold. I began to fall to my knees, bending to press my face to the dirt, but in a flicker she stood before me, and a cold slap stung my cheek. Her tone was gentle, a counterpoint. “Do not bow and scrape. Stand, speak. Alone among humans, you do not ever bow to anybody.”

I recovered from my shock and stood straighter, my mind awhirl. “You are Luwana? You are . . . the moon?”

She did not look at me as she went to the holy spring, sinking into the water with each graceful step. “I am.”

“You say my mother was confident in her role. Is that why you spoke to her, and only now speak to me?”

Luwana turned, her eyes narrowed. “It is why we never spoke to her. Your mother has never been God-Chosen. You are a different concern. You question your place, your worthiness, you never claim more than you know. Your name is no longer Sryilla Tusfelt. Nor are you Hesralta. You will return to the tribe and declare yourself “Nayralea God-Chosen”. Come. Bathe.”

I had not come to do more than wash off the ceremonial paints. But when the moon calls, you do not hesitate. I let my robes slide off my shoulders and stepped into the waters, shivering at their chill. Luwana turned and held me, drawing me deeper. “Shed your ties, little mortal.”

I felt the pull. Somehow, I knew what to do, but I looked up to her, ashamed of the fear I felt. “Will I be alone forever? I hate this. Nobody wants to be near me. Everybody is afraid of me. I could choose anybody I wanted for a friend or a lover, but it would only be because the God-Chosen asked it. Can’t I ever just make friends?”

She stood in the water with me, her eyes searching me. “You would reject our gifts?”

I shook my head, mourning what I was about to lose, and took a breath to dive beneath the water. Her hand on my throat caught me. She did not strangle me, but her grip was so firm it might have been rooted in the bones of the earth itself. “I am not done with you. If our choice saddens you, why accept your fate?”

I looked into her silvery eyes, then down. Her eyes shone right through me, and looking into them was too intense for more than a moment’s gaze. “My people need guidance. I have a duty to them. I always have.”

She watched me, and I feared that my answer was not good enough for her. But her gaze softened, and she pulled me in hugging me close. “It will be okay. You won’t always be alone. Now, find your way.”

I nodded and dove into the water. I had stood in water a few feet deep a moment ago, but now I swam deeper into the darkness. My arms burned and my lungs began to ache, but I swam deeper; I knew if I turned back I wouldn’t find a surface behind me anymore. Finally, the waters lightened around me, and I broke a surface, gasping for breath. Anybody else would have changed their position in the world, swimming so far. Somehow I understood that every stroke had changed me, instead.

“Nayrlea!” Luwana was there, hugging me again. A naked man with bright, cold blue eyes watched from the shore.

“Luwana . . . I made it.” I slumped in her arms, muscles trembling. My eyes turned to the man watching from the shore. His eyes roamed me, and my face burned under his gaze.

“You made it. Let me introduce you to Al Kutb .”

I had to fight the urge to lower my head; the guide-star had come to see me Chosen. “I am honored.” My voice squeaked, and my face burned hotter.

Luwana raised her hands as if calling, and moonlight answered, weaving a thin robe around me. “Stop staring, Al Kutb. You’re embarrassing her.”

He looked at Luwana, and the way his eyes roamed her was clearly not innocent. “You know where my real interest lies. Looking at her is just appreciating good artistry.”

“Hush, Al-Kutb. Mortals are present. We must have some secrets, even from our Chosen. Come, we have a gift for you, Nayrlea.”

Luwana took my hand and led me to shore, where Al Kutb held up his hands, opening them to reveal a small white mouse. “This little one is soul-bound to you now, Nayrlea God-Chosen Tuwalt, ”

Luwana moved past me, irritated. “I thought we agreed on a cat!”

His glance at her was amused, his smile smug. “But she squeaks to like a mouse.”

“She’s beautiful.” I stood up straight, fighting the urge to bow before the gods. “She’s beautiful! I thank you, Al Kutb.”

Luwana seemed a little mollified, and Al Kutb seemed even more smug, if such a thing were possible. “You have the honor of naming her. Trust her. She will guide you as I guide the ships. She will teach you who your true friends are; and who truly loves you, too.”

I looked down at the mouse in my hands, who leaned up toward me. I lifted her higher, and my lips pulled into a smile as her tiny paw touched the tip of my nose.

Luwana’s voice came to me gently. “You are the spiritual leader of your tribe now, Nayrlea God-Chosen Tuwalt. We will guide your visions and the spill of any rune from your hand. Go in peace and honor.”

I looked up, and leaves were drifting through the air, crickets were chirping, my dress was mere cotton, and I was alone but for a mouse. “Wait! I’m not ready! I’m . . . I’m not special, I don’t know what to say!”

A squeak made me look down; the mouse was peering up at me, as if to ask what happened next. “I’m supposed to know what to say. Am I supposed to know your name? Perhaps ‘Whisfayn’. You are supposed to show me who is friend and who is foe, you are a gift from Al Kutb, and it means way-finder in the old tongue. Do you like it?”

The mouse sniffed at my palm, then began to climb my moonlight shift. I helped her to my shoulder, and I started on my way home. I looked at the pile of robes by the water, and decided to leave them behind – they belonged to a different girl.

I wondered what I would do, what I would say. Things began to seem very complicated. Somehow, as ordinary as I felt, I would have to declare myself truly God-Chosen, and declare my authority to supersede my mother’s.

I hoped my mother would not resent me. I hoped I would not have to declare her false. I hoped I would not be declared heretic. For a moment, I had convinced myself that with the support of the gods, everything would be okay. Now, I suspected it would not be so easy.


Nayrlea God-Chosen, formerly Hesralta God-Chosen, formerly Syrilla Tusfelt returned to her people, the first to have been presented as a successor to the gods, and accepted. She returned in moonlight that became her robe, accompanied by a star that became a mouse. Her mother had chosen her daughter, but chose well, for she was twice-chosen by powerful gods, by the moon and by the guidestar. Today, I go to the choosing. When I die, my writing of my predecessor will add a page to our written traditions, as having been the successor chosen for the gods to accept – or reject.

Also added to our traditions will be these writings of myself. I will not be accepted. I wear the paint and throw the runes, I return from the holy spring sane and whole. But I didn’t want this life, and the Gods have never spoken to me. My runes foretell only what chance decides to agree with later. They will see my heart, and know I am not devoted enough.

Yula wants this choosing badly; it was her mother’s, and Yula thinks she should have been named to succeed her. She said a harvest goddess once spoke to her, after all. After I am rejected, she will probably have it. I am glad that the time approaches to choose someone, though. Nayrlea God-Chosen has been ill, and to guide us takes much of her strength.

I leave this as a record for the Gods and Our descendants. May they remember Nayrlea God-Chosen, may they remember her named successor, and if I may be so bold, may they remember Yula. She is headstrong, but I love her.

My final words to those who would call us ‘ancestors’ are this: question yourself. Answers are within you, but if you do not know those halls, you will only get lost when you seek them. Question yourself, know yourself, and the answers will welcome you.

I am Nosamo the Successor, formerly Nosson Rilnr. I now go to be chosen. Or not.

Young Steel

You’ve decided it’s time you taught your granddaughter to use a sword.

My granddaughter came up the path, as she did every Monday and Thursday. It warmed me, to still have visitors; the hike into town had grown difficult for my old bones, though perhaps it was just the townsfolk. So many bled for them, and they seemed intent on forgetting it. Not my granddaughter, though. She was blooming into womanhood, but still took the time to visit an old man. She always asked for the old war stories.

Today, though, she came up the walk with a new hairstyle. Over her shoulder, hiding one cheek. It was pretty. But the look on her face was shaken, nervous.  Familiar.  “Amanda. Always a pleasure.” I hugged her, as always, then brushed her hair behind her ear before she knew what I’d done, showing the bruise on her cheek. “Were we going to talk about this?”

“No.” She was direct. She didn’t argue or make excuses.  I liked that about her.

“Well then . . . you like the old stories, right?”

She looked up, hesitating. She knew I rarely told her the real stories. I told her about where we went and the things we achieved there, but not the real grit of it. There were war stories, and there were the ‘old stories’. “Will you tell one?” Continue reading “Young Steel”

Wings of Burden

Image Prompt: Water by WLOP

Original

Image: Water by WLOP (DeviantArt)

I looked into the water with a sigh, feeling the chill of the water soaking into my shift. The water adhered the fabric to my skin revealingly, though the ripples on the water distorted my form. I crouched closer to look at my shape in the water. It was artistic, nature. This art was the highest and purest kind, born from the interaction of natural principles. Below my reflection fish swam, venturing closer with my stillness.

And then there were the wings.

Continue reading “Wings of Burden”

Dire Gifts

The elf queen, hearing that yet another young hero was slain during a heroic monologue, decides she’s had enough. She gives her last magical weapon to the grizzled, no-nonsense human guard and says it’s up to him to slay the great evil.

Dire Gifts

Original

“Dammit! Damn it all, another man dead while bragging to the enemy! Another blade lost! What do these idiots think dire blades are, Efran?”

I had not moved during her tirade. She would blow herself out and calm down. She never spoke to me, though. She spoke to her guards all the time, but never to Kirin, or Efran. I was surprised that she knew my name. “I don’t know, grace. But really, what are they? They’re not a birthright or a destiny. Just a rare and powerful tool.”

In her frustration, and being alone, she had laid across her throne. Her head laid on one arm, her knees hooked over the other. Now though, she flipped over, kneeling in the seat with her hands on the arm, and her ocean-blue eyes on mine. Her gaze was uncomfortably intense. Continue reading “Dire Gifts”

Gentle Slayer

The Brave Knight has been kidnapped against his will by the Beautiful Princess, now it’s up to the Scary Dragon to go rescue him.

Original

I awoke in bonds, hanging from my wrists. I lifted my head, taking my bearings; the inside of a cabin, perhaps a peasant dwelling. No tapestries, no trophies, no portraits, the furniture all made of unadorned wood. The wood wasn’t local, and though plain, the craftsmanship very good. A silver cross on the wall. Perhaps not a peasant’s home, but a tradesman’s, or a priest’s. Simple, but not poor.

My armor, which I had been wearing while out riding, lay piled on the table along with my sword belt. I twisted to look behind me – I had been tied to a support column, and there were cuffs of metal on my wrists, secured by a tightly fastened bolt. I could cry out, but would anybody hear me? I heard no horses or carriages, no sounds of human civilization.

Best not to alert my captor yet, if I could help it. I crouched, bracing my feet on the floor, and pushed back against the support column as hard as I could; perhaps I could break it. I strained against it with no luck, then lifted away, and slammed my back against it. “Don’t bother dear, the house is very sturdy.” I snapped my head up, and a familiar face came out from deeper within the house.

“Princess Ravencort? Karina? What the hell is going on here? Quickly, get over here and loose these shackles.”

She looked at me, a little surprised, then giggled, a sound like pure crystal. “Oh, Prince. Don’t fear. I kidnapped you.”

Continue reading “Gentle Slayer”

Retirement Plans

Um, no. How about we don’t, and say we did…

Artwork by Tomislav Jagnjic (ArtStation)

I stared up at the living mountain before us. We rode atop a ridge, and we could look at the spiral emblem on its ‘face’ without craning our necks too far. When we got close, we’d have to climb its body just to attack the top of its toe.

“So . . . that’s the thing, huh?”

Jamon looked on with me, nodding once. “Yup.”

Continue reading “Retirement Plans”