The Loneliest Traid

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  • Published: 2 Apr 2017
  • Updated: 13 May 2017
  • Status: Complete
Love and death and war and Gods and blood and magic and dancing and rest and revenge and kings and fate.
Don't worry, within these three stories you'll know yourself,
And I will put you back together again.

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6. Dry as Bone, Warm as Flames

Her mother brushed her hair with hands like leather hides.  She purred and cooed, tossing back her head and smiling up, as bright as the torches, and kind as the love she was given.  Her hair was coiled and strawberry blonde, like straw that sprouted from greening skin and volcanic boils.  Her mother tied it back with bright red ribbon from a jam jar, and took a damp cloth to wipe her tears with.  Estha had began crying many moons ago and never stopped since, no matter the weather or state she was found in.  But each night, her mother scrubbed the grime from her skin and made her feel like she could shine again the next morning.  Though she had terrible dreams to match a terrible childhood, her mother held her as she slept, and sang a song so sweet it became etched onto her heart, remaining even long after her mother’s passing.

    “Darling, don’t look, don’t try hide your eyes.  Your chin held to Gods, your smile held to skies.  Born from embraces, made by the love.  Shine ‘til tomorrow and you’ll shine above.”

    “Moma?”

    “Yes, dear?”

    “Am I ugly?”

    Then her mother would run her matching fingers down her side, across her pebbled stomach, her swollen thighs.  Her touch would dip over her sunken ears and eye sockets and pull her in closer, lips worried between sharp teeth.

    “Who told you that?”

    “The other children went into the woods, and the pixie kids threw stones at them.  Everyone said it was because we were trolls, but I heard auntie said it was because we were ugly.  She was crying, Moma.”

    Her mother went very still.  When it was this quiet, Estha swore she could hear the entire burrow asleep.  Or maybe not yet sleeping, maybe listening into the moment where the child came of age and was told that their kind, from the beginning of time and seemingly forever, would be hated by all that came across them for their hideous faces and deformed figures, that the whispering girl and her mother would live in that burrow all their lives hiding from the world, for who could ever love a beast?

    “Moma?”

    Her mother took her by each hand and pulled her closer, staring her deep in the eye.  Even at twilight, the blue in her irises was as clear as the sea she was told that she would never get to see in her life.  Her mother did not smile, but instead rested a palm on the little girl’s face and held her attention like a lifeline, as if this would be the only truth the girl would ever hear.  The mother, in her heart, knew that that was right.

    “You are the most beautiful girl in the entire world, Estha, and no one will ever tell you that.”

    Estha frowned, but watching a tear slip from her mother’s cheek, she stayed silent.

    “You will spend your whole life with people telling you that you aren’t enough - but ignore them.  Keep walking, keep your eyes on the road ahead and you will never be lost.  You can do amazing things, darling, I believe you can.  Please, never let their words tie you to a place such as this.  When you are ready, leave the burrow and find meaning in this world.  You have a heart of solid gold, Estha, use it wisely and nothing will go astray, I promise.”

    She pressed her ear against her mother’s chest.  Her heart was so loud, it sounded like a drumming, or perhaps the knocking of a door.  It vibrated across her fragile body and stirred something deep inside her, carving a new path into her fate.

    “Will you sing to me?”

    She kissed her head, “Of course baby.

    “Darling, look now, don’t try hide your light.  One foot to the morning, one hand to the night.  Born from embraces, raised not to hide.  Like me, your heart home but your mind to the tide.  Go now my love, and love all you can.  Shine like tomorrow, find your promise land.  And if you grow weary, I rest by your side.  Darling, look now - for me, never hide.”

    She wrapped the blankets around her shoulders, her heart stilling, the energy now bundled into who she knew to be not only the most beautiful girl in the world, but also the one who would have to be the bravest.  For her, she wanted to cry - but she would let her sleep tonight.

    “Darling, look now.  For me, never hide.”

 

    She bit down, hard, taking out a lump as she went and spitting it back in his eye.  Her lips began feeling natural again, coated in thick, spurting blood.

    He slapped her harder but she was already coming back to life.

    Choice of words?

    “You wench, you’ll burn for that.”

    “Not wench, exactly.”

    “Shut it,” her torturer grabbed a torch from the wall and aimed it at her washed out face, her pale skin reflecting the light like snow, sizzling and bubbling like a cauldron.  She hardly flinched.

    “You… You…” he back away, the light wavering, flickering, cooling and giving her time to stitch back her skin.  Even from halfway across the chamber, he could see her scars binding like corset ties.

    “Not a wench, no.” she stood again, her ropes like net to her now.  She reached down and took up the skin she had torn from him, pulling out the last few drops of blood.  It wasn’t nearly enough, but perhaps that was all she needed to tear open a ribcage.

    “You’re a sinner, a cursed demon.”

    “Try again.”

    “Baobhan.” he stuttered.  The words rolled from his tongue like that of a hanged man.  The cellar smelled of rot, decay.  Scratches and dried blood decorating the door frame, the snapped handle.  There was nothing to see but chains and skulls, and the little half-dead girl they’d locked here not a week ago.  His corpse would fit in nicely, she figured.

    “You will burn.  N-Not by my hands, but the Gods watch.  They have flames waiting for you, sinner.”

    She smirked, and ran sharp nails along his collar bones.  The chainmail tore like wool, his skin prickling already.  Her teeth ached in her head, the pain spreading along her temples and down the back into her throat.  It was so dry.  She hadn’t even realised until the voices in her head begged her to swallow him.  Start with his jugular, rip it out, tear into his heart, pull him limb from limb.  Make it hard for his wife to find which mess was once her love.  

    But instead she shook her head.  He had made her too hungry, what between all the needles and hot tips and that.

    “What?” he stuttered up again.

    “Hm?  Oh, was I saying all that aloud?”

    He gripped at his throat in defense, so she supposed that she must have been.

    “My apologies, you’ve just driven me crazy in here.  I must ask, why am I not being put on trial?  What was the use of pulling me apart this way?”

    “Y- Are you not an enemy assassin?”

    She looked herself up and down, shrugging as she went along, “I suppose that might be true.  I was hired to find something, but not kill one of your kind.  Tell me first, what is this war - my employers skimmed the details.”

    He sat up slightly, pointing a finger in accusation, but she just buried her heels in deeper to his spleen until he was writhing, gasping.

    “Go on?” she said.

    “Why should I tell you anything?  As far as I am concerned I’d be better dead than telling your army of our-”

    He mumbled on for a moment, but she thought it wiser to hurry things up before their rucas called down more soldiers.  She pulled a numbing serum from her bodice.  Despite all of the claims and witch hunts, one of the few perks of presenting as wicca-blooded was that potions became dispensable, and extremely useful in times such as these.  She drew the sour stuff between her teeth and pressed their lips together, sealing it shut until each drop was swallowed.  She swiped a drop from her chin and pressed in against his tongue until his eyes rolled into his head.  She found that she like men far better this way.  It wasn’t that she only ate men, but they gave her more reason to.

    “What is this war, soldier?” she said.

    “Between the elvish folk and the jinns, miss.  Both kings have called in their best men into fight for their side.  We are on the brink of it now.”

    She nodded, slowly, peeling back the pad of his thumb and draining each digit dry while he was still trapped under her weight and half dazed.

    “Jinns?  Genies didn’t even fight in the great war, why would they start a battle now?”

    “They are the only few who practice white magic, and their king wants to begin taking the knowledge of witches, warlocks and wizards to use for his own gain.  To do that, he must have the permission of those who practice all earth based magics.  The desert regions granted permission, as do the ocean rulers, but the forest folk know that if jinns could make an army of black magic wielders, they would and there wouldn’t be a thing the four quarters could do to stop it.”

    “Sounds fun.”

    “I think I’m going to be sick.”

    “Not onto my boots, these are-” she stiffened, “New.”

    She stood, pulling his fencing sword from his belt and taking one or two of his golden piercings, if only to make her wasted time profitable.

    “And tell me, knight - if I were to look for a book of forest healing spells, three books to be exact, where would I find them?”

    “Library, by the King’s chambers.”

    She leaned down, biting his cheek and drawing out the last of her meal.  She felt the last of the truth serum hit her tongue, and left him unconscious in the piles of sick and bone that he had created.  He would live, but if his people found out about her truth spells and their man’s large mouth, he would probably not see light outside the gallows.  She was far too kind, she figured, sighing and strapping on his boots instead of hers, and taking the key from around his neck.

    “I will be payed twice over for this, I’ll make sure of that.  Blasted jinns, always snooping where they don’t belong.  They should have sent one of their fortune tellers, but no, may the Gods forbid anything happen to those who practice the white arts.”

    She rattled the door of a service stairs, but had no luck.  She looked around.  The castle’s kitchen fire was still warm, if dwindling, not to mention that the room was eerily quiet.  There were half gutted fish on the counters and salted entrails, several hanging from hooks, but no chefs.  She grabbed a trout, quickly draining it and throwing its ashes into the flames.  It took two more for her to realise how hungry she had been.  

    “Break into a castle and everyone is waiting for when you fall from the window.  Break out of their dungeons, and all of a sudden it’s time for the entire staff to have a half day.  Just my luck, honestly.”

    After the fire was more wishbone than coal, she stood and opened the only other door.  Before she had time to turn back, she was in the grand hall, but it was emptier than the kitchen, in fact.

    It was a beautiful palace, she understood why the elves could waste gold on piercings and vivid tattoos.  The walls were white clay, dripping with animated painting of their people’s adventures and legends that reflected the afternoon sun like coins and spearhead.  Stories of women who turned into trees, children who tricked travellers into wells, men who raised dragons like parents.  It was breathtaking, the most beautiful artwork in the world, and the kind that vanished when the sun set lower.  She smiled, tracing along the ridges in the columns, marking out the shadows of where the stories would once again appear this day tomorrow.  But by then, she hoped to be far away from this place.

    She walked up the marble staircase, as wide as a caravel, it echoed her existance up into what she imagined was every room and hall in the palace - but still no one came.

    “Something is wrong…” she said, walking past long triangular windows that let in the beginning of crowning stars, and exposed the mountain range on which her prison had been for the past few torturous days.

    Up another flight of smaller steps, around more corners than she had fingers.  The halls seemed never ending, and impossibly lonely.  She had once died, and come back to life a monster - it wasn’t often that she was afraid, but in the quiet of their house, she felt her breathing nearly seize to a stop.

    After a grand bedroom of oak frames and green silk sheets and towers of fine jewels that lined the floor like a pathway, she found what she had come all this way for.  A library larger than the bedroom, larger even than the hallway below.  Wall to wall, books of all sizes, states and languages.  Tales of Gods, elves, wicca, monsters, laws and myth.  It was more grand than anything she had seen in any life she had lived before.  Perhaps the greatest hidden wonder ever to be built on the planet.  She felt a pang of jealousy towards the forest folk who could use this at their leisure, those who didn’t go through days of travel and agony to get here.

    But before she could dwell, she spotted it on the table.  Noticeably smaller than any other book, wrapped in twine.  She lifted it to her eye level, but the smell of mildew was already overwhelming.  She wondered if this was it, what she had gone through all that hell for.  She shook her head, and popped the spell books into the pockets stitched into her undercoat.  She had come all this way for thirty gold coins, never mind what it was that she had nearly died for.

    However, something caught her eye.  A note on the floor that had fallen from the parcel, written on water-rippled paper and in straying black ink, it read,

    “Dear those who find these words, I hope they find you in the best of times and of ways, but that is not always as it is meant to be.  Please accept these woodland spells as a token, I imagine that would would want them in your keeping.  If I may beg, do not start another war.  Not for magic, I have never found something so trivial to be worth much.  I am in love with a wizard boy who would give his life for me, I know.  If war breaks out between elves and jin, I am sure that it would not be long before my love is strung up too.  If this means anything to you, you will spare us, and consider my people before charging on the jinn.  I hope these healing spells do well in your hands.  Kindest regards - D.”

    She pressed the letter into her purse, something about it seeming important.  Maybe it was the pressed flowers on the paper or the tear stains that wrinkled the corners, or the mention of such a forbidden and endless love.

    She turned from the room, it now seeming so much darker to her.  She had what she had come for, that was all she needed, wasn’t it?

    All tides load the same driftwood.

    “Watch out, watch out, move!”

    Before she could turn her head, the weight of the other girl had pinned her to the floor, the cranking footsteps of maybe one hundred angry soldiers fast approaching sending her heart starting again.

    “What the-”

    “Move, up, go!” the girl said, grabbing her hand and pulling them both to their feet.  They never stopped running - they couldn’t, but especially not with the stranger’s tight grip and gritty palms.

    “Where are you going?”

    “Out!” she called back, and kept running right out the palace doors.  She wondered how they had gotten down so quickly, but decided against thinking until the blood had come back from her legs.

    “Get back here, someone hunt that beast!” the men called from the palace doors, firing spears into darkness of the underbrush, but it was too late.  The two strangers were gone with their stolen spell book, and a heavy pocket of gold.

    “Wh-” she heaved, sitting against a tree stump when they were far enough away from the kingdom gates.  The air seemed so crisp now to the girl who had been trapped for so long, and she was thankful to take it into her lungs, even though her heaving, “What was that?”

    The other girl sat on the forest floor, her legs crossed and supported by her hands.  The night air was bright with fireflies and luminous fungi, but the girl’s head stayed down covered by heavy blue cloth - even when the sweat dripped from the crook of her nose.

“I’m sorry for bashing into you.” she said after a long while.

“It…” she stopped and sniffed into the air.  It was cursed habit, one impossible for the undead to break.  But this time, the scent of the girl’s blood wasn’t enough to tip her over the edge, to make her hungry again.  Despite her downcast eyes, the girl noticed this, and seemed to shift uncomfortably.

Without looking up, she said, “You’re a baobhan?”

“How could you have known that?”

“You have blood on your face.”

“I - Oh.” she rubbed against her sleeve, “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.  I should be off.”

“Wait,” suddenly she felt a sense of panic at the stranger leaving.  She was a strange thing, even when she was concealed.  Shorter than the largest toadstools, ginger hair peeking from her hood the colour of turned butter.  Her hands grabbed at her cloak, keeping it pulled tight around her stocky frame, and covered in sores as green as algae.

“What did you say about algae?”

“What?”

“What did you say about algae?  What is that?”

She covered her mouth, “Did I say that aloud?  I’m so sorry, it’s an awful habit of mine, I didn’t mean to stare, or - or to judge, it’s just that-”

“No, it’s alright.  They certainly weren’t keeping me in that tower for my looks anyway,” the stranger laughed behind her covers and it send her off for a moment looking for fairies, because it was doubtful that a creature so ordinary could make a sound so songlike and sweet.

“They were keeping you in the tower?”

The girl waved her hands, dismissing the conversation completely, but the story - even just the mention of it - made her feel the same anger she had towards the letter again, a burning feeling towards the rulers of the land they walked on now.

“Answer my question, and I’ll drop my cloak, is that fair?”

She nodded, “What is your question?”

“What’s algae?”

“Oh,” she sat forward, still as mystified by this stranger as she was when she was flattened by her earlier, “It’s a sort of plant that grows in the ocean.”

The girl looked up, her eyes catching the light all by themselves, “The ocean?”

“You phrased that like a question, ergo I get my wish before I answer you.”

The girl laughed, like bells or chimes in rattling snow, “You’re right.  Okay, please let me ask one more thing before you run off though.”

“Why would I-”

Beneath the hood was a creature she had never seen in her entire life.  Wrinkled and smiling and as green as flaming copper.  Her eyes were as blue as the horizon between water and sky, her lips cracked and holding two rows of teeth as bright as carved parts of the moon.  Something in her stayed as sweet as the laugh within her, even under layers of oil and warts and matted fur.  She was perhaps the strangest thing she had ever seen, and she held one hand in the other to stop herself from reaching out and touching her face.

“Wow,”

“An original reaction, please,” the girl said.

“What are you?”

The girl leaned back on her feet and pulled off the rest of her cloak, revealing her bright navy dress, and all of the bottles and bags it concealed.  She was clever, that much was obvious.  If she was a thief after all, it was no wonder that she had the entire palace out to find her.

“My name is Estha,” she began, “I’m a troll.  My people live in sewers and mounds of mud and that, hiding from people such as yourself.”

“People such as myself?”

Estha met her eyes, something twinkling within them, something far more dangerous than she could ever hope to be, “The beautiful few.”

She spluttered for a moment, breathless, but Estha wouldn’t drop her gaze until she was met with a response, and the look itself would drive her crazy, she knew.

“I’m a baobhan sith,” was what she settled on, “And my name is Ichais.”

“Thank you, but since I technically didn’t ask I get to ask one more question,”

“Which is?”

She leaned forward again, and Ichais saw exactly why the horizon could be seen within the creature before her, “Tell me about the ocean.”

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