Granted

Glenn Riviera lives in Cirus, a wild and hostile land of the Wind in the world of Twyne. Here birds are revered as enhancers of the wind and some Faris are Granted that ability too. Glenn only wants to be free but soon she is tied on a purpose that cannot be avoided ...

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4. Axes

G

The shrill whining fills my ears and every bump reverberates through my arm. I diligently whet the blades of my twin axes, honing the metal to absolute perfection. My own nightly ritual. I sigh and savour the feeling of the toned, smooth wooden handle as I grind the stone along the sharp metal. Acutely aware of the scathing looks that my mother is casting in my direction, I lift the left corner of my lips in a lopsided smile. She used to frown deeply when she looked at me, as if I were a unsolvable puzzle that she couldn’t ignore. But that was before I “shamed us all” as she put it. Now she barely glances my way, if only to disapprove of me with her scornful eyes or to ask me with strained, frosty detachment to complete a favour for her. Usually, I pay her disdain of me no attention and calmly do as she asks. However I cannot help but rile her occasionally, if only to see the constant rage she holds towards me teeter and boil over. Umber on the other hand is her pride and joy. The long forgotten youth returns to our mother’s wan face when her eldest daughter walks into the room. Now, I hear Umber approach me where I sit on the floor.  Still sharpening my blades I watch her fur-lined boots stride into view.  My dark hair shadows my eyes as I continue to smile slightly and examine her shoes.

“Glenn,” she says over the moan of my activities. “That’s awful loud.”

Deliberately I cease and tip my face towards her with a suggestive look.

And…

But I’m only teasing. Umber is the most good-hearted person I have ever known and I make an effort to ensure she’s happy. She’s the only reason I am still here.

 “Well, seeing as you do it every night, maybe you could give it a rest now?” Umber’s open face proves that what she says if nothing but a genuine request. I peaceably set down my tools.

Hands perched on her thin hips she flicks her golden tresses over one shoulder and smiles her winning smile. Swiftly she returns to the stew which bubbles over our small fire. As I watch, Umber begins to hum. It’s a merry tune, full of happy little lilts and melodies and she sways in a dreamlike way. She’s always jovial – wherever she is, whoever she’s with. I feel the deep certainty again of something I’ve known for a long time. She’s happy here, content with her life in this small village and the narrow minded people who live in it. She would carry on and do what she does today tomorrow and every other day, remaining perfectly and absolutely satisfied. Another yard in the chasm of difference between us. I think – I know that if I stay for much longer I may just jump out of a tree and forget to spread my wings. But I’ll stay until I can be certain – certain she will be safe. That will be soon, I’m sure of it. One of these days her undeniable love for Yanic and his complete devotion to her with bring them together for life. Then I’ll be gone.

Far, far away…

I rise fluidly, eying the dwindling basket of fire wood sitting in the corner and grab my hefty lumber axe before kicking open the decrepit door to our ramshackle hut. I hear the familiar displeased hissing of my mother as I enter the night.

Outside, the flickering torches, mounted on the walls of the huts that are scattered in an orderly disarray that is our village, cause the my shadow to dance across the snow. It skips over the unblemished surface, stretching into shapes so unlike mine, then jumps back behind me. The cold rushes in with its icy fangs bared, ready to plunge them into any of my unprotected flesh and poison me. But it skulks away soon as it discovers that I have long been immune to its painful venom. Too many nights freezing, starving and close to death in the forest. Casting my eyes around I can see no threatening shapes or shadows lurking in the dark, so I continue round the back of our hut. Its small – so small I would almost say it makes me claustrophobic if I was able to feel that way about anything. The snows deep already even though it’s only been snowing since sun down, but my feet move with an inaudible whisper through it. Just something I have developed over time – a required skill. Rapidly the snow fills my prints as I walk round to the wood pile that is sheltered by the slanted wall of the hut. Grabbing the driest looking log, I kick the snow off the sturdy stump that I use as a block and sit it on top. Experimentally, I toss the weighty axe from hand to hand and give it a swing before raising it above my head and hurling it down towards the waiting log. The sound of my axe splitting the wood deftly down the middle is swift and absolute. Nothing follows but the insignificant clatter of the two halves falling aside. It’s a comforting sound. Tossing the two pieces of new kindling in the basket I repeat the exercise several times, savouring the sharpness of the sound and the familiar ache of my shoulders with every smooth swing. Soon the basket is full, though, and I must return inside.

*****

Our night meals passes and as always our mother thanks Umber for the meal but neglects to stretch her thank yous to the hunter of the meal.  Our father who has only just returned from the Meet Hut, where he supposedly discusses village affairs with the other elected leaders, kisses Umber fondly on the head. Then he ruffles Narks dirty blonde hair before settling into a regular conversation with our mother. Nark hops up with a mischievous glint in his lilac eyes and carefully tiptoes over to where I’m sat. Considering he’s thirteen winters (he was Granted the Spider Conen two winters ago) he is only about Umbers height, which isn’t very tall at all. They share the same cream skin, corn hair, pale eyes surrounded by long delicate lashes. I’m taller that our father and the opposite to them in so many ways. It doesn’t bother me though – not too much. My little brother gives me a small secretive smile and, with a quick glance over his shoulder, sits down across from me. The corner of my mouth twitches in a partial return before he whips an object from beneath his shirt. It’s the axe handle he and I have been working on for some time now and I can see he has been smoothing over its shape on his own. We would have had it finished eons before now if it weren’t for our superstitious mother. She totally objects to me teaching Nark anything due to my apparent failure six winters ago and she fears I may did my deathly claws of waywardness into his young mind. She doesn’t loathe me – she just can’t control me, so she is forever cautious. Now, she wildly grasps at her last impressionable child, not realising that every day he drifts further from her frosty influence with small acts of defiance.

So here we sit, evading her aversion, Nark asking questions in hushed whispers.

“Hey Glenn,” he says in an eager but restrained voice, “next time you go hunting can I come?” His pretty eyes are wide and imploring even in the dull firelight. “Myrad said he could make me some wings and then you could teach me?” He continues in a hopeful tone “ you know, I’ve already learnt a few tricks messing around, but you could teach me how to really feel the Wind … and fly because they say that you’re the best, even though no one ever taught you, even though they don’t like to admit it and …”

Nark was rambling successfully now, once again trying to persuade me to teach him.

Interrupting him, “it ain’t tricks,” I say bluntly. I regard him closely as he pleads silently, his face filled with fervent determination and I find myself once again repeating my excuses.

“It’s cruel place out there,” I tell him flatly, “and it ain’t like I can watch your back all the time, you ever killed anything other than vermin before?” I raise one eye brow at him when his mouth opens but no sound comes out.

Finally Nark locates his voice and indignantly stutters “that’s not fair, all I need -” he worriedly looks behind him before continuing in a steadier voice, “all I need is for you to help a bit, anyways Glenn I can take mighty good care of myself.” I consider his desperate request and his lips which are pressed tightly together, because really everything he wants depends on my decision. He only pretends to be annoyed. Teasing, raise my chin and give him a penetrating stare through appraisingly lowered lids. On seeing me do this Nark huffs, struggling to retain his anger, and ward off the imminent smile, which results in contorted lips and a creased nose. It only takes seconds for him to melt and quickly avert his eyes from mine. I smirk crookedly and give the slightest nod of my head. I guess it can’t hurt to show him something before I leave him. Nark – another reason that I’m still here. Catching the minute movement through his impossibly long lashes, he whips his face up to me beaming so open and wholly good that I frown slightly. It worries me and almost repels me, it’s something I can’t understand – why would you expose and make yourself so dependent on someone else? Myself I can trust, always. But to trust someone else is to throw yourself into their hands, and eventually get dropped.

“So you will,” Nark says slowly, his previously overjoyed face creeping towards a triumphant grin. Wisely he waits for a second nod from me and then he launches into an insufferable torrent of bragging. Calmly I wait until I decide he’s done enough before shapely elbowing him in the ribs, cutting him off and causing him to clasp his side as he rolls around. Eventually, still gasping outrageously, he rises to his hands and knees and splutters indignantly “That wasn’t needed!” A sound of total disbelief erupts from the back of my throat as I stare pointedly at him. He opens his mouth to argue but I silence him with my hand and pick up the axe handle to inspect. I don’t say a lot and I get by just fine saying much less than everyone else. A long time ago I justified that talking is no good to me as I can lie so easily that there seems little point in forming the untrue words in my mouth. Hiding among Faris is something else I have just acquired and used far too often. Now my face is constantly schooled into neutrality or vague hostility and my voice is stone cold and grating. My surface is far thicker than others.

A movement across the room sets bells ringing in my head. In a flash I look up to see our mother staring, with a mixture of pure horror and revulsion, at the pair of us. I stare at her stonily willing her to let us be. I don’t want to fight. However, as her expression transforms to one of absolute dread, she rises and begins to hasten over. A feral growl resonates from my chest as she comes to a terse halt behind Nark, who turns alarmed to face her. She doesn’t look at him – she can’t – her icy gaze is fixed on a point just over my left shoulder. Nark turns away with an expression of guilt. I almost choke; what’s there to be guilty of?

Oh … me.

Our mother breathes deeply and levelly, but I can see the frustration simmering beneath the façade.

“Come now Nark,” she says, “you must sleep soon.”

Nark glances at me and then back at the floor between his legs. He blinks furiously.

“But I…” he starts but is unable to finish.

“Darling, I’m sure your sister has things that need attending,” she croons but even Nark doesn’t miss how she spits out the word sister with great disgust. He flicks his eyes to me once again before seemingly steeling his nerve.

After a breath her murmurs “I want to stay here, please.”

“What?” her question is shrill and outraged.

Nark presses his lips into a line before looking up directly into her face and repeating “I want to stay here.” Of course she heard the first time, anyways.

“I said now,” she utters in a deathly quiet voice and with that she snatches the axe shaft from his hands and tosses it in the fire. Instantly it’s hungrily consumed. A small sound escapes Nark and he jerks forward as though he might save it. Slowly he turns to me, his mouth open slightly, his eyes conveying the blame – on me.

Anger sparks like the flames on the wood inside me and rapidly grows to an inferno. I feed it and let it grow. Our mother stands looking triumphant as Nark rises and stomps into the sleeping room. My fists clench so hard it hurts, and my teeth grind together to stop me from growling again. Purposefully I get up. I step towards the evil hag and even the fire seems to recoil. Suddenly the woman’s triumphant smile turns to one of shock, and soon after terror. I tense my arms. But the I stop. Something behind her catches my eye – Umbers pleading amethyst eyes. Her whole face is awash with sorrow as she begs to me silently. The fire dwindles, I only have seconds. Before it can take hold again I desperately dash from the hut and into the night. I thank her for the thousandth time.

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