Monday, October 15, 2012
Genre: YA High Fantasy
My fate was woven from dripping wax.
Incense burned on every street corner, while laments wailed for the dead, and those stamped by the plague. Livestock aged and died within weeks, and crops shriveled like the women who tried birthing life. As lightning slashed its sword through the night, so did my familial mob, carrying herbs, tonics, and staffs ablaze. I was the root of the evil, they said, and they had come to purge the city.
Practicing with the oak-hewn spear that my eight-year-old arms could hardly carry, I did not know of their plans. I did not know that my self-taught defense would become of utmost importance. Then I journeyed home by way of dying candlelight, and I knew that my relatives came seeking the dark shield of glory.
Our Oracle, Rhea, stood at the forefront. When she spoke, rooms trembled like blades of grass. When the embers of our hearth blazed with decrees, she read them with authority. When she trekked through the rotten brigs of our mast-less city, the stares of men possessed a salacious edge. A voluptuous woman with a stentorian voice and pharisaic attitude, she held her staff like it was an extension of her body, carved of the finest cedar, an eagle at its pedestal. Without a single word of acknowledgement, she motioned for me to allow their entrance.
My would-be murderers, sigils decorating their naked bodies, trailed into the house after her. Almost thirty people blurred in my vision, and among them, a traitor whose presence was poison to my veins. Father, bearing his dirty apron and slouched posture, perpetual fixtures on his small, wiry frame--he held the bird cages, four chains in all while his eyes avoided mine. Mother was absent, and my sister too, one of the unfortunate sleeping in an earthly tomb.
Someone lit the wax towers on my table until they wept orange and yellow. The shadows the candles cast on the walls crept like the pervading whispers of those present; they saturated the house with the untold monstrosity of our rituals. The stink of days-old excrement permeated the kitchen, a blessing for their actions. Apron snug on his bare chest, Father deposited the cages by Oracle's feet, kneeling in servitude before scuttling in retreat. His form melded into the dark circle without offering the explanation that I deserved.
I remembered the fire on his face when we washed the red from my skin. The solidarity in his embrace that bound my bones with strong-armed courage. The smell of dough which clung to his unshorn beard, warm and sweet. And I knew that he had deceived Mother. There was no emergency council meeting. He had planned to exploit her lack of interference.
His betrayal was the most monstrous shadow.
Oracle tap, tapped her staff to cease the whispers. In the absence of action, the intruders noted my every breath, my every shake. I straightened my back, though fear was my crutch, its knobs thudding my shoulders.
"We are gathered here today to pay a bloody tribute for our city's cure. Lenaea"--she paused until everyone glared, their gazes as hot as the flames behind me--"daughter of Andrea and Petros,"--she indicated Father, who shrank from the attention--"and prisoner to the light, was destined to live a half-life. My mother's mother decreed this ruling at the conjoining of the moons, when Lenaea entered this world and all was revealed. We call on the Others now to distribute their judgment."
Oracle released one of the birds from its cage. Immediately it pounded its wings, searching for freedom. For a moment, it seemed a mighty beast, flapping feathers with an inky sheen, and a beak of some proportion. Then the truth was revealed: it would never find peace. An arrow pierced its throat before it flew five feet. Father carried a bow in his apron pocket, and knew precisely where the death mark lay. I stared into the candlelight to stave an outpouring of tears. Even if I survived, they too would cage me until my wings broke.
Energy pulsed in the room, a palpable heave of murmurs, menacing laughter, and torches at the ready. I could smell their excitement, their sweat palpitating like a heart-drum for the violence they craved. My fellow citizens, the women who worked in the mornings and voted by night, and the men who raised their children and baked bread with love, had clustered together, a circle of faces that no longer accepted mine among theirs. The table dug into my skin, reminding me that this was real. I could not wake from this nightmare. When Oracle closed her eyes and lifted her hands, prayers began.
"Grant my daughter strength, Healer."
"And mine courage, wisest of all."
"Mastermind of the senses, I am your slave."
I blocked their prayers from my mind--I was a captain of the vessel that sailed for enemy shores; I was a phalanx of the fifth that ran my spear through life; I was nothing when Oracle gasped and shouted, her nails diving into the bird. I fisted my hands, for I knew what was coming, and I could do nothing to prevent the unseen from unfolding. My life would plant its roots within the foundation of our city, and heal the sickness while I lay crucified.
As if he longed to see that vision, Father edged closer. My stomach churned when I noticed the eagerness tainting his face. With my broken nails, I clutched the table; it was solid but sure, a buttress of support.
While Oracle rummaged through the bird, reading the future in its entrails, I tasted the stench of fresh blood and incense, and the noxious perfume of their collective anticipation. Rhea made noises--distraught, disappointed, doubtful--I could not read them well. I knew little beyond the thump, thump dirge of my heart, and the murmurs of a mob thirsting for my death.
All conversation ceased when Oracle let out an agonized cry that reverberated through the thatched house. The flames danced, their fingers reaching for the sky. Every candle caught fire, a flash of sunset smudged light that flared and steadied, as sound as the stone pillars of our theater. The features of those surrounding me were brought into clarity, alight with astonishment.
The fire had introduced another change: one in me. Power thrummed through my veins, gifting me with a strength I had never experienced. Each flex of my muscles and each twitch of my eyebrows pushed the wings of fire closer to the surface. I wondered if the others could sense it, this magic flowing through my blood, whispering to me of the flames' secrets.
Then Oracle smiled, sharp teeth and shadowed holes. I no longer doubted that she, at least, knew what had happened. A precocious child, I had never believed in her prophecies until that night. I resented her, for I did not understand these mysteries. Most children wanted to be told they were destined for something greater, something special. I did not. That was a double-edged sword waiting for when I least expected its twist.
This power was a rapier of force.
"My children," Oracle said, "we are alone in this decision. I could not read the Others' message, so I recommend no course of action."
As if in response, the flames roared.
On my sixteenth birthday, Mother decided to chance fate. A new writer was visiting Antigone, she said, a noble woman who used her talent to create a masterpiece, and we were to watch one of her plays.
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