Remaking Natyre #1
He appeared one blinding day, washed out so he almost blended into the grey and sitting atop an uncarved headstone when Thyra came to visit the dead. To its left was her great-grandfather's resting place. To the left was his father's. Her mother said grave in between belonged to the great-granduncle no-one knew much about, but there was no name nor symbol to mark the stone.
Others said the grave was empty, and she sincerely hoped it was. It was bad luck to step over a grave. Sitting on its head was unheard of. And yet the young man looked comfortable, smiling at her as though she were a passerby and he the stall-minder. She might have mistaken him for one of the simple-minded folk who took refuge in the palace, except his grey eyes, brushed lightly with green, were dizzyingly deep.
She skirted him as she paid her respects. He watched. Finally, he spoke. "How old are you now?" Not who she was, or even how old, but how old now like he'd known her years before.
The answer slipped from her lips before her mother's caution could bite them shut. "Eight soon."
He looked up. The whites of his eyes seemed to blend in to his greyed skin. "Three moons?"
"Ahh...yes." But how had he known?
His smile was a little wider now, but so different to her parents: dimming his eyes instead of lighting them like the kerosene lamps. "How would you like to see something special for your birthday?"
"Special?" she repeated. Her mother's chiding voice echoed in her mind. But if this strange man knew her birthday, he couldn't possibly be a stranger, right?
"Magic," the man confirmed.
She started. "Magic is..." But she couldn't tell the truth, because the events of nearly two hundred years ago was a secret her family kept close.
"...the cause of Natyre's tragedy six hundred years ago...and then four hundred years hence."
"You know of it?" She covered her mouth, eyes wide. She'd said nothing, but... "Can you read my mind?"
"No." The man turned away from her. "That's one thing I never cared to learn."
"Oh." He still sat on the stone. She knew it unmarked, and if he knew the truth he knew much of the world, and yet he still sat on the tomb-marker. "Sir, it's bad luck to stand on a grave."
"Over a dead body," he corrected, now looking honestly amused. "And this grave is empty, if that is your concern. As for the dead bodies, there isn't a square of land in Natyre under which the ash of the dead don't rest."
She squeaked and jumped a little, but if that was true there was no safe place to stand. "Then we're all cursed!"
"No." His smile grew more sardonic. "Only those who use magic are cursed."
She knew this too. She'd heard it from her mother, and her mother's father. And she knew the tone. The tone her parents used when they didn't want her to ask more. But she did. She always did, often before she thought better of it. "But then why do you still?"
Silence made the air heavy, like a hot day in the thick forests that surrounded Foret. Finally, the man sighed. "You'll understand one day."
She pouted at that. An adult's way of saying she was too young to know right then. If it weren't a stranger, she would stamp her foot. Instead, she lifted her chin. "By using magic, one forfeits their right to happiness," she recited. "By using it continuously, one forfeits their right to peace, and then life itself is the final price and by then there's nothing left."
"Did your parents teach you that?" he wondered aloud. "It's slightly different to what I recall, but correct in principle. However..." He closed his eyes. "Do you simply remember, or understand?"
"I understand!" Of course she understood her lessons, and it was insulting that man insinuated otherwise. But he was not concerned by her outburst, simply sliding off the tombstone without a single garment out of place - and she noticed only then what odd garments they were. Robes - which were odd in the age of short tunics and pants - and they were layered as well. "Are you cold?" She'd quite distracted herself.
"In a Foretian summer?" Again, amused, though he frowned thereafter. "No, but the sun burns."
"Oh." She rarely had that problem. Only when visiting Angelos, because they had to cross the flat desert to reach the castle. It was safer than the mountain path, her mother said, repeating the words of her grandfather before her. He was one of the people who'd gone through the mountain and lived to tell the tale, but he gave credit to a spirit guide and those sorts of guides were long gone, and it wasn't worth the risk otherwise. "Have you been to Angelos?"
"I have." He didn't elaborate, only tracing the stone lightly a moment, before pulling away. "Fate detests this irony, it seems."
"Hmm?" She tilted her head, confused. "What irony?"
"The one whose grave this stone marks will outlive the stone," he replied. His hands slipped into the folds of his cloak. "I'll take my leave of you now, Heir Thyra."
"But no-one talks like that now." Thyra's face scrunched. "Are you a spirit guide, like great-grandfather's stories?" His lips twitched, and she checked herself. "Oh, I didn't mean to presume you're dead or anything like that."
He gave a bark of laughter. There was an odd hollowness about it, and she remembered it for a long time thereafter. "Quite the opposite." Though she didn't understand that either. "You'll still come in three moons?"
"I shouldn't." She played with the hem of her dress. It was beginning to fray. But she was curious, and the man gave more questions than answers to her. "If I don't forget," she decided. It was the way of most things: the questions they couldn't forget burned until they sought the truth. Memory was the test of many things.
But she was young and, like most children, inattentive. It quite slipped her mind that the stranger had called her by her name: a name she hadn't mentioned before him, and that she'd called him "heir" as well.
Heir to what? she wondered. She asked her mother that and she stiffened, dirt hugging age lines black in the sun. But then she lifted the basket of herbs to her chest and marched on inside, and Thyra hurried after, as fast as her shorter legs would carry her.
Inside was dim and lonely, but cooler than the outside and it would have been comforting if her father sat with the grinding stone except he still hadn't returned. "Papa's not back?" she asked.
"Papa said he would be gone for a few days," her mother replied, though her eyes lingered longer at the empty chair as well. "Come. We must both work harder without Papa here."
The grinding wheel was too heavy for Thyra, so she filled a brass bowl with water and sat with the basket instead. The bowl had magic runes carved both inside and out but it was the maker who'd used magic in its creation, and the bowl simply held that power now. Or so she'd been told, when she'd asked why she wouldn't be cursed for using such things. They didn't use magic actively, but much of what they did involved it in some form or other.
"Who told you that you are an heir?" her mother finally asked, breathless and scraping out the ground eucalyptus leaves.
"A man I met." She almost didn't want to say, because she would be scolded for talking so long with a stranger. And yet... "He knew my name. And my birthday. And he wore a robe. He was so strange!"
"Yes..." her mother sighed, spreading the ground eucalyptus on rice paper now. That was an easy task: methodical, and distracting. "He does seem strange at first."
"You know him?" The lemongrass slipped from her fingers and drifted apart in the water. "Oops."
"Pay attention, Thyra." But it was a light scolding. Her mother was distracted too. "That man is..." She trailed off and smoothed the green paste out more. Thyra knitted the lemongrass together so it would be easier to ground. "He may want to test you."
"Test me?" Thyra's eyes grew wide. "For an apprenticeship? Already?"
"Do you want to be a magician?" was her mother's stern reply. Thyra covered her mouth. She didn't want to be cursed. But that man had known all sorts of strange things and was it magic that gave him that? "It will be your choice in the end, of course."
"To learn magic? I don't want to be cursed and I have no reason to want something I can't otherwise have..." She stared at the lemongrass knots, still soaking. The water was only pure because of those faintly glowing runes. She'd seen someone drink without that. He'd died a few weeks later, white worms crawling out of his ears and nose. "But we need magic, right? Like...the water."
Her mother held out her hand for the lemongrass. "You will need to make your own decision about that." She nodded at the brass bowl. "The person who made that bowl was past the point of hope."
"Oh." She stared at the clear, still water, and the soft runes that blurred on the underside. "But what kills hope?"
A smile flickered across her face. "I asked that too, at your age."
"Oh," said Thyra again. "Did you fail?"
Her mother ground the lemongrass, her knuckles white against the grey wheel of stone. "I didn't pass."
"Isn't that the same?" She pulled the cocoa leaves, one at a time, from the basket and let them float.
"No, not really." And Thyra wondered why her mother had to try that hard to smile. "If we succeeded at all we did, life would become quite boring. Though I suppose he has to disagree."
"What does that mean?"
But her mother didn't answer her.
Part of a mega-series, which I've temporarily dubbed "The Claws of Magic", which stretches over about 600 years and three countries (Natyre being one of them) and the sea between them. "Remaking Natyre" is looking to be a trilogy atm, set roughly 200 years after the events of the "Digging Around the Claws" series (my July camp project, which is also a rewrite of one of my old fanfics). To that end, it contains spoilers about the Digging Around the Claws series, so if you stumble across this after July 2016 and you've already started reading that and you mind spoilers, I'd recommend not following Thyra too deeply. :D