Ashspring sat on the high wall looking out over the docks
and the poor section of the city. She
could just hear the music dancing on the southern winds as the pink reflections
of the sunset bathed the whitewashed walls.
She could smell the salt on the air mixed with the rancid bitterness of
fish guts rotting on the docks. She
liked the smell not so much because it was pleasant as because she had grown
accustomed to its gritty undertaste, a permeating sense of her world that
colored even the most pleasant Mediterranean sunset with almost imperceptible
This was her home,
not some storybook tale she’d once so utterly believed in and now cursed for
its deception. Her father paid dearly
for the whitewash he had used to paint over the truth of his house. He paid even more dearly for the perfume that
hid the stench of his misdeeds. He’d
spent his life believing that it was the past, done and forgotten. Now is
all that mattered. Now he had respect,
wealth, pride and honor. Honor.
Ashspring spat the word out like a fermented fig.
“I was young once, like yourself, and so full of myself,”
he’d whispered to her. The rattling of
his lungs betrayed the effort of each breath.
Ashspring had dipped the white muslin in wine sweetened
water and wiped the spittle from his lips.
“Am I so full of myself?”
“No, not so much,” he’d replied. “But I, I held the dragon between my
legs. Fire blew across the seas, back
then. Across many seas.”
Ashspring rose from her father’s bedside, and carried the
bowl to the window. “Is that what you
called me here to tell me? A story of
dragon fire across the sea? I think I’ve
heard that tale before.” She poured the water out the window and
watched it disperse into droplets carried out to sea by the breeze.
“Not this one.” Her
father’s tone had grown suddenly serious.
Ashspring remembered how dark the room had appeared when she
turned. It was not dark as a room when
the light has faded from the windows, but dark as if all light had been sucked
out of it. She could barely make out her
Ashspring picked at a broken tile that framed the mosaic in
the wall. Her anger still simmered as
she remembered that chill conversation.
The tile came loose from its grout and she stood up and hurled it across
the docks where it bounced twice before plummeting into the sea.
“A whore? You
summoned me here to tell me about your debauchery with a whore?” Ashspring had tried to leave but her father’s
hand had grabbed hers. His hand was
cold, but his grip firm.
“Not just any old whore.
A shamaness, one beloved of her God.
The God that has given you your education and status and wealth. “ He had gripped her hand harder pulling him to
her. He was hurting her and she
struggled to pull free. “She bound me
to her with a child, my son.” Her
father lightened his grip on her hand then and laid back, wheezing. The exertion had cost him. “She gave me a choice,” he’d whispered. “But such a choice no man should have to
Ashspring’s curiosity overpowered her aggravation as her
father had known it would. “What
choice?” she asked.
“The life of one child or the death of another.”
Ashspring had looked at him then but she no longer saw her
father. He was an old man with sunken
eyes and chalky white skin. Nor did she
think he saw her. Not anymore. Now he only saw death. “If I stayed with my son, my seed would dry
up and the dragon would never breath again.
Or I could return home, marry the woman my family had chosen for me, and
Crom would grant me a wealth, success, and many many children. But no sons.”
“It seems a fair exchange.”
“And so I thought, for many years. But now I am dying and none will live who
bare my name. I would see my son. I would give him my name.”
“But your bargain….”
“I am old, my seed is dry.
There is nothing she can do to me now.”
“Crom would not deny my son his heritage.”
“You don’t know that.”
Her father’s casual dismissal pierced her heart with an icy cold.
Her father grabbed her hand again and pulled her to
him. “Bring me my son. Bring him, before I die.”
Ashspring had sat on the high wall all day waiting for the
sun to warm the icy chill from her bones.
And now the bright orange ball was sinking below the horizons. It was not safe to remain here at night. Bands of thieves roamed the streets and she must
not be caught among them. Yet she
lingered. Though she would have
preferred the day had never begun, now she feared its end. Tomorrow she must sail to find her father’s folly
and bring him home to destroy them all.
Or she could refuse and watch as Mitra cursed them all for defying her
dying father’s wishes. A choice no
woman should have to make.