Saturday, October 21, 2017

Red in Tooth and Flame 5

And a handful of years go by, and Aseka spends more and more time at the shore, watching the clouds run west and the evening sky tugging at her heart, and she wishes she could go out there, get away, see something different, something new. One night at dinner, she shares her wish to leave home with her parents, an act more brave than anything she has done before. She senses the coming storm even as she tries to prepare to speak and she has to fight her own instincts telling her it's wrong for her to bring that discordant wind.

'It's twenty years too soon at the very least', says Father.

'No, it's time', says Mother, and then, with a tired, sad look at Aseka, 'we always knew we were never going to get to be with you for very long. There's nothing we can do to keep you here, though, is there?'

'No', says Aseka, wiping a tear from her cheek. She doesn't know why she's crying, she doesn't seem to feel anything.

'Will you wait until we can make you some things for the road, then? You are wise for your years, so wise, you can make it, you can do anything you want, but we can still help you.'

'It's a big world out there', adds Father, grasping both Mother's and Aseka's hands in his. His voice is so even and easy she thinks he must be holding back a great deal of feeling. Mother's arm trembles and Aseka struggles to speak.

But she agrees, and the storm draws back, and they tell her she'll always be welcome home, and it sounds like they're talking to a guest. She waits for over a year, while Mother corralls spiders to weave her a cloak out of silk and magic and love in her favorite shade of moss green, warm and soft and as good as imperishable. And then there is her walking stick.

First Father enchants a great long winding coil of iron. It's easier to beat magic into it when you don't have to worry about the shape, he explains, and yet he spends the year and more trying over and over before he gets it most of the way he wants it, with the strongest and most durable protective magic permeating the metal along with a particular charged contingency spell, one Father has not had to cast in centuries, which when he describes it gives Aseka nightmares for the next three nights, to be released in 'the hour of greatest need'. And then, before it's cold, Mother sets to work turning the iron into wood. It twists and grows into a slender ash with shallow roots, barren and pale and hot to the touch. Aseka helps making it grow, and over a month it turns fatter and darkens to near black and begins to spout leaves, thin and lifeless, but enough for the druids to feel the wood coming alive. And then Mother cuts its strongest branch and takes another month to turn it into a staff, a little taller than Aseka, thin and coarse and twisted, one end curved almost into a knot, washed in magic Mother promises she will understand as her skill grows. The thing sits in her hand as easily as a finger, a barely noticeable weight filled with warmth all the way through, and the magic in it is overwhelming at first, but she soon learns the difference between the spell she can use but not understand, the spell she can understand but not use and the inherent magic that just rests in the material, benign and watchful and protective.

A trading ship comes and leaves not two weeks before the staff is done and Aseka begins to truly question the limits of her patience, but then they spend another eight days enchanting each of Beatrix's arms – Mother pours her strength into them while Father pours his into making the spells stay there. And on the night after the last arm, even though they have talked at length about saying farewell tomorrow now that they're finally done, when she's drained of magic after the day's exercises, Aseka runs down to the shore and leaps on Beatrix and lets the octopus drag her off to the west, kicking her legs to go just a little bit faster though it makes no difference at all when Beatrix blows her water jet.

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