Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Higher Powers choose a young, innocent farm boy to be their weapon of war. They put fire and magic in his veins and send him off to stop the Great Evil. And he does so, at the cost of an eye or a hand and quite a few friends.
But then the war’s over, and the Higher Powers can’t have someone with that much power just traversing the land. So they tear the magic and the fire out of your veins, they heal you up and restore you missing hand or eye, and they ship you home to your old farm to live out your life in a plain shire. And you’re always cold, because there’s no more magic inside you to keep you warm.
But at least they let you keep the sword.
* * *
I’ve got a small farm, a Ma and a sister. It’s summertime now—whenever I go outside, I try not to wear a cloak or to shiver in the absence of fire within. The Higher Powers tore it out of me, but they made me a weapon and taught me their tricks. Sometimes I can access a space between spaces and tease the fire. Not enough to pull it into the world. But enough to keep me warm. But it’s hard to concentrate on something like that and till a field at the same time.
Most of my time is spent staring at maps. Ancient maps some of the neighbors had collected from old scrolls. I always wished there were more maps. I would track my path from this shire to the small town of Bailiwick—I remember getting there and thinking that was quite the trek!
And then I would trace where I went when I was being chased by the Riders. But most of the maps don’t match the land I remember, or the mountain city is labeled Barad Yuen instead of Rivenrock. Such things shouldn’t frustrate me, yet they do—even though I can’t quite understand why.
I would overhear gossip as I tilled my fields—rumors about what happened in all the different battles. I wanted to correct the children, but it was better to let them have their fantasies. Sometimes I would hear about things we did when I was off on my own quests.
I was a good soldier. That was good enough.
One morning my Ma awoke me one day, but she went about it the wrong way. She pushed at my side where the Great Spider’s pincers had pierced my flesh. The Higher Powers had removed the wound but not the memories.
So when my Ma pushed at my side to wake me up, I reached for my the sword by my side and swung.
By the time I realized there was no spider, I’d shaved three hairs off her forehead. She stumbled back and I dropped my sword. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Ma, I’m sorry.”
She was wide eyed and I don’t know if she knew that she wasn’t blinking. “It’s all right,” she said in a tone that implied it wasn’t. “I shouldn’t have woken you.” She rose to her feet.
“What is it, Ma?”
“I was just thinking,” she smoothed her dress, “Do you remember when I told you the horse was to stay in the town stable? It was only to be used when we had to ride into market?”
I nodded. I knew what she was going to say, but it would be easier if she said it herself.
“I think you should be allowed to ride out as you wish. Visit the markets or other towns as you wish.”
“Yeah?” It was all I could say. I was still shaking. Still thinking of the Great Spider and my Ma’s three strands of hair. I wasn’t sure if she couldn’t see my trembling or just didn’t want to notice.
“Yes. I’ve felt for some time you should be able to do this.”
“Have you?” I asked. Venom seeped into my voice. “Retcha convinced you, didn’t she?”
“No. I just thought you deserved it.”
“Right,” I said, sitting up in bed. “I’m sure Retcha had nothing to do with it.”
“I’ve made you two breakfast,” Ma said, “It’s in the other room. Will you come and get it?”
“Just let me get dressed, Ma,” I said.
She left without another word.
I came into the kitchen for breakfast soon after. Ma had made lemon cakes, roast onions dribbling with gravy and honey-roasted chicken.
I had taken a map from my room to examine and traced the landscape as I ate.
“Davion,” Ma said, “Please don’t spill on the maps. You promised the neighbors you wouldn’t make a mess of their maps.”
“I won’t make a mess of it, Ma,” I said. I was dimly aware she was sitting across from me.
“I want to talk, Davion,” she said. “Please put down that map for a minute.”
I put down the map, if only to avoid an argument and looked at her.
“Have you decided what you’re doing to do? Now that you’re back here—now that that whole mess is over?”
Mess. The word echoed in my head. Was that what she thought that was? A war against a Great Evil? Just a mess, I suppose. But I didn’t voice it. I just told her, “No.”
“Don’t you think it’s time?”
She didn’t mean it to sting, but it did. I tried not to take it too personally. She didn’t know. “I just hadn’t thought about it,” I said.
“The Higher Powers have a plan for everyone,” Ma said. “None can sit idly by in Their land.”
I clenched my fists and spoke through my teeth. “It’s not Their land.”
“We are all in Their land. We must all make the best of our circumstances, Davion.” She had the right of it. If I wasn’t in Their land, I’d still have the fire and magic. I wouldn’t be cold and focusing on keeping my teeth from chattering. But Ma seemed to notice the look on my face, and placed her right hand over my left.
But I pulled away, my hand tingling with the memory of the sorcerer who had burned it to ashes. “I’m sorry,” I said. “This must seem so strange to you. I didn’t always have this hand.”
“I’ve worried about you too much, Davion,” Ma went on as if she hadn’t heard. “I understand what you’re going through. I know how weak Men are to the Higher Powers. I’ve prayed months since your return that you would get better. I pray for you all day long.”
I picked up the small knife she’d given me for the honey roasted chicken. “Do you know how they pray to the Higher Powers in Greyfallow? They skin goats alive and then burn it as it screams. It’s rare their prayers are even answered, but they take that chance because they’re desperate.” I leaned across the table. “You don’t have enough goats, Ma.”
I turned to leave, but she said “Retcha is worried, too,” and I stopped in the doorway.
She wasn’t going to bring my sister into this. “She’s not worried.”
“She thinks you’re losing your passion. You don’t have any goals anymore. You’re just floating through life.”
“If that’s what you think, Ma, then say so. Don’t tell me your worried by pretending it’s Retcha who thinks all this. Now,” I said, “Is that all?”
I started to leave, but she spoke again. I made the mistake of turning around and seeing the tears rimming her eyes. “Do you love me, Azoc? Do you love your Ma anymore?”
She reminded me of the apparition the Temptress used to conjure to try and stop my advance to retake the city she’d conquered. But I had shattered her apparition. I would shatter this one, too. “I don’t love anyone.”
I shouldn’t have said it. She couldn’t understand how cold I was. No matter how hard I tried. I had only hurt her.
She kept crying. On and on it went. I went over and knelt beside her to hold her. “I didn’t mean that,” I said. “I was just angry.”
She kept crying.
“I was just angry. I’m sorry. Do you believe me?”
She kept crying.
“Please believe me, Ma. Please.”
And the Higher Power must’ve let me access the fire in my veins one last time, for I must’ve conjured an apparition–because she said yes. She believed me.
And I felt nauseous. She believed my illusion. And I would have to keep lying. I would be lying for the rest of my life.
I decided I’d go the stables that night and ride the horse into Bailiwick. It had seemed so far away, long ago. But with all I’d seen since then, it would be a short ride.
I’d have to bring my cloak, though. Even in the kitchen holding onto my Ma, I was still shivering. And I couldn’t even tease out some fire for warmth.