In Plastic Armor

Knight

37, day thirty six

I wasn’t going to do Trifecta this week. I really wasn’t! Photo prompts aren’t really my thing. I love images, but they tend to inspire emotional reactions from me, rather than ideas. I get more inspiration to write from music than pictures, and more from ideas than either of those. There’s probably some deep-seated psychosis involved, here.

Anyway.

I went over there to read a few of the posts I hadn’t read yet, thinking that the time for submission had already elapsed. But look! There are still two hours left! I think I was inspired by the scarcity, in two different ways. The first is that there is so little time. It is only 33 words, but 33 well crafted words are harder to write than 500 shoddy ones. It’s part of why poetry is so difficult. It is much harder for humans to express themselves with fewer words. Heck, it is part of why writing is a more difficult medium of expression than spoken language. The second way that scarcity inspired me is that there were already 87 33 word posts about this picture. Surely among these many writings, every apparent avenue of elucidation has been explored? I needed to find something else. Here is what I came up with.

Note: I have been in an Epic mood, lately. Probably due to compulsively repetitive listening of the Annie Lennox Lord of the Rings Song. If you listen to that while reading these 33 words, it will help the tone immensely.

OR

   Photo credit: Thomas Leuthard / Foter / CC BY

In Plastic Armor

I cannot await til she presses her lips against me, and drains my lifeblood away. If my lady can read one more line of script from my sacrifice, then gladly I give it.

Six Tiny Little Tales

The Frog Prince

37, day thirty five

More stories in the vein of Five Very Short Stories. These are a tiny bit longer than those, but still short enough to be going on with.

Secrets Between Friends

“Just tell me!” said Alex. She threw one of her poker chips at Sam. “Whatever your secret is, I don’t care. We’re besties. We’re not supposed to have secrets.

Sam cringed. “Yeah, but this is a big one. You won’t want to be friends with me afterward.”

“Of course I will. That’s what it means to be besties. It’s non-conditional. So just tell me!”

“I never should have brought it up, but…”

“Out with it Samantha Shea!”

“I’m a werelion,” Sam blurted.

Alex rolled her eyes. “Listen, if you’re going to make something up, at least make it more…”

“I am!” Sam protested. “I swear on…Jensen Ackles’s underwear!”

“Prove it,” said Alex.

“I can’t.”

“Then you’re lying. I can’t believe you would lie to me. I told you about Tommy and the locker room after the lacrosse game, and here you are…”

“No,” said Sam, looking downward. “I can’t because I might hurt you. I can’t…I can’t always control myself.”

“Fine, fine, whatever. Sorry I brought it up. It’s your deal,” Sam passed Alex the deck. “Liar.”

“Fine!” Sam snapped. “You want to see? Fine! But if you get hurt it’s your fault.” She stood up. Intense concentration filled her face.

“What,” said Alex, “are you constipated or something? Do you have to…”

There was a loud crack, and Sam cried out in pain. She hunched forward. There was another crack, then another. Sam’s face distended and stretch forward. Hair erupted from her skin, and fangs burst out of her mouth. Alex’s jaw dropped open as a lion in shredded pajamas paced towards her. Lion-Sam looked down at her friend. She had never seen her like this before. The way her tender flesh hung on her bones. Irresistible. She leaned back on her paws, claws extended, and leapt.

A minute later, Sam stood over her best friend’s mangled body.

“Oh my god,” she cried out. She looked down at herself. Her clothes were ripped, and she was covered in blood. “What have I done. Oh Alex, I am so sorry, I’m…”

“Wow,” said Alex as her eyes popped open. “You really are a werelion.”

“But…” stammered Sam. “How did you…I…”

“I’m immortal. I can’t die.”

“You’re immortal? Why did you ever tell me?”

Alex shrugged. “I told you about Tommy. It was your turn to give up a secret.”

“Oh,” said Sam, considering. “Yeah, that’s fair. Whose deal is it?”

Pearls

The day Evelyn’s husband left her for one of his rock-climbing students she pulled off her wedding and engagement rings and flushed them down the toilet. She ripped the expensive dresses he had bought for her for birthdays and Christmases from her closet and cut them to ribbons with a pair of scissors. She gathered up the crystal wine glasses he gave her for their fifth anniversary and brought them to the third floor balcony where, and one by one, she hurled them out onto the paved backyard BBQ area. They shattered with a satisfying crash.

Next she turned to her jewelery box. She lit a fire in the fireplace. When it was tall and blazing, she threw in her gold necklaces and watched them melt. Then Evelyn removed her pearl necklace from the box, took it into the kitchen, and laid it on the marble counter-top. She picked up a hammer from her former-husband’s toolbox, and lifted it into the air. She paused. This was the first thing John ever bought her. Maybe this one…no. It all had to go. The hammer smashed down and crushed the two small pearls at the end into dust. She lifted the hammer back up.

Something in the powder moved. Evelyn watched in astonishment as two tiny things crawled out of the pearl-remains. They looked like they could be insects, only they glowed with their own light. One of them glowed black—if you can believe it– and the other very dark blue. Each of them leapt into the air and hooked together. They floated there, buzzing. Evelyn was always one to finish what she started, and she wanted to see where this went. So she smashed the other pearls, two by two. Out of each one, another glowing creature emerged. Each was a different color, all very dark, all luminescent. They hooked together, and formed a mouth.

“Thank you for freeing us,” fourteen tiny, buzzing voices as one. “Who is to die?”

“Come again?” said Evelyn.

“We are the death-sting. We have slain subatomic gods and felled branches temporality and collapsed quantum-parallel empires. You have freed us. Who is to die?”

She almost said “John.” It was on the edge of her lips, nearly before she could stop herself. If anyone deserved to die, it was that two timing bastard. But no. She didn’t want to be responsible for his death. She hated him right now, but there had been good times.

“No one,” she said. “But thanks for the offer.”

“Very well,” said the death-sting. It flew out through the window, and was gone. Evelyn walked back into the bedroom and collapsed onto the pile of shredded clothing. She had started destroying objects out of blind rage, with no real plan. But she had to admit, she did feel better.

Motivation

“And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the great news I am here to tell you tonight. Anything you can dream, you can be. Anything you dare, you can achieve.”

“Bollocks.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, it would seem we have a doubter in our midst.”

“Damn right you do.”

“Sir, do you not believe you can be anything you want to be, if you set your mind to it? If you dare to dream?”

“No I certainly do not. What if I wanted to be, say, the king of France? I certainly couldn’t do that.”

“That’s just your doubt, talking. That’s just that little voice that says, ‘I can’t.’ You’ve got to fight that voice, my friends! Fight it with everything you’ve got!”

“Are you bloody serious? You think I could be the king of France?”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m fifty-two, my only marketable skill is laying down pipe for sewer systems, and France hasn’t had a monarchy for almost two hundred years.”

“This is why you can’t listen to your doubt. Do you think Steve Jobs listened to his doubt when he set out to revolutionize the computer industry? Do you think…”

Bernard turned off the television, and the motivational speaker’s image blinked out of view.

“Bloody motivational speakers. Always trying to tell you that you can do the impossible. Load. Of. Bollocks.”

Djinn and Crumpets

Gerald Pickering was sitting alone waiting for the tube when he got a bit of a craving.

“Damn. What wouldn’t I give for some crumpets with butter and raspberry jam?”

A meter or so in front of Gerald, near the little trash bins, there was a magnificent burst of shadow and fire. Streaks of darkness shot up to the rafters, and heat seared Gerald’s face. From the chaos, out stepped a creature with skin the color of flame and great wings that stretched like sheets of raw darkness out of its back.

“So,” said the ifrit, running its spindly fingers through its oiled beard, “what wouldn’t you give for some crumpets and jam?”

“Well, I suppose I…” Gerald almost answered, then stopped himself. “Wait a minute, is this one of those tricks you types like to pull? Am I going to say that I’ll give you half of what I have on me, and then you end up taking my entire torso, or something?”

“I certainly should think not,” said the ifrit, looking affronted. “What kind of a thing would that be to do a person? And what use would I have for your torso? I’d have to lug the great thing about, now wouldn’t I? I just asked you a question, the same one you posed yourself. What wouldn’t you give for some crumpets and jam?”

“Well, my hands, I suppose. I wouldn’t give those up for crumpets no matter how good they tasted. Wouldn’t make it half difficult to eat the crumpet, now would it?”

“Very good,” said the ifrit. “Here you are then.” He handed Gerald some warm crumpets slathered in butter and jam, then disappeared in a burst of shadow.

Gerald took a bite and then considered. This all worked out rather well. Last time he got a crumpet from an ifrit, he’d had to give up any future possibility of ever becoming a rock star. He resolved to be more careful with his public declarations of desire in the future.

Lunch Choice

“Choose.”

“It’s not easy.”

“You have to choose one of them.”

“Alright. Thai food.”

“Thai food? Are you serious? It doesn’t matter. You’ve made your choice.”

“Why? What’s wrong with Thai food?”

“You remember when Pakistan was bombed.”

“Of course. It was all over the news.”

“He chose Indian food.”

“Oh, wait, can I change my– ”

“Your lunch will arrive shortly.”

What a Queen Must Do

On the day that Trellisandra was crowned Divine and Infallible Queen of the Thirty Seven Kingdoms and the Nine Realms, she issued only two edicts. The first was that all the frogs under her rule be gathered– unharmed– and banished from her lands. The second was that a story be spread to the far ends of her vast territory, that the prince destined to be the new queen’s true and only love had been turned into a frog by a twisted sorcerer.

The story was to be repeated, and whispered, by courtier and farmer and tradesman alike, until even Trellisandra herself believed it. There was nothing more dangerous to a new queen, she thought, than to have everything she could possibly desire placed at her feet, and to have nothing under all the sky for which to yearn.

Splashform

wave_hayama

37, day thirty four

The Daily Post has a particularly interesting prompt this week. There are several options–if you want to read the whole prompt, which is quite interesting, follow the link. But the one I chose is as follows.

  • Split perspectives. For the fabulous flash fiction experts, let’s see all the angles of your story. Write a couple of paragraphs from one vantage point, and then turn the tables — and walk in the shoes of another character. Tell us the same story from their view.

What I ended up doing with it is slightly strange, but there you are. Here it is!

Alan
12:42 PM

Alan watched in alarm as the woman slipped off the second floor balcony and crashed into the fountain below. He bolted to his feet and raced towards her. As he ran, the splash of her body the formed a ripple in the water. No, not a ripple. He saw it clearly, in his eye and in his mind, as it cascaded outwards, and his sandaled feet smacked against the tile floor. It was a wave.

He was six years old, surrounded by people floating in water. His mother was next to him, smiling as Alan’s father lifted his little brother Marcus up into the air. Alan giggled as the artificial waves of the tidal pool lifted him up, and up, and up, and then back down. All of a sudden the waves stopped. An alarm blared and cut through the hum of ambient conversation. Everyone in the pool went silent. Alan bit his finger in tension.

At the far end of the pool there was a loud rumbling noise. Everyone gasped at once, as a huge wave burst forth. Alan’s mother shrieked and rushed towards him.

“Get the children!” she cried out. “Somebody save the children!”

The wave crashed into them. They bobbed up, and up, and up, and back down. All around Alan, people burst into laughter.

“Oh man,” said the voice of a lifeguard sitting on a high chair nearby, “I love watching first timers freak out over the nine footers. Gets me very time.”

Alan bent down into the fountain. He grasped the woman’s torso, and pulled her up out of the water.

Alan
12:42 PM

Alan watched in panic as the woman slipped off the second floor balcony and crashed into the fountain below. For a moment, he cringed in shock. Then he took a deep breath, stood up, and marched steadily towards her. As he walked, the splash of her body formed a ripple in the water. No, not a ripple. He saw it clearly, in his eye and in his mind, as it cascaded outwards, and his sandaled feet smacked against the tile floor. It was a wave.

He was six years old, and surrounded by people floating in water. His father was next to him, smiling as Alan’s mother lifted his little brother Marcus up into the air. Alan giggled as the artificial waves of the tidal pool lifted him up, and up, and up, and then back down. All of a sudden the waves stopped. An alarm blared and cut through the hum of ambient conversation. Everyone in the pool went silent. Alan bit his finger in tension.

At the far end of the pool there was a loud rumbling noise. Everyone gasped, as a huge wave burst forth. Alan’s mother shrieked and rushed towards him.

“Get the children!” she cried out. “Somebody save the children!”

The wave crashed into them. They bobbed up, and up, and up, and back down. All around Alan, people burst into laughter.

“Where’s Marcus?” asked his mother in panic. “I had him in my arms, and then…”

“Oh man,” said the voice of a lifeguard sitting on a high chair nearby, “I love watching first timers freak out over the… oh my god is that…?” He dove into the pool.

Alan bent down into the fountain. He grasped the woman’s torso, and pulled her up out of the water.

Alan
12:42 PM

Alan’s senses snapped into focus as he watched the woman slip off the second floor balcony and crash into the fountain below. Calmly, but with determination he jumped to his feet and raced towards her. As he ran, the splash of her body formed a ripple in the water. No, not a ripple. He saw it clearly, in his eye and in his mind, as it cascaded outwards, and his bare feet smacked against the tile floor. It was a wave.

He was six years old, and surrounded by people floating in water. His mother was next to him, smiling as Alan lifted his little brother Marcus up into the air. Alan giggled as the artificial waves of the tidal pool lifted the two of them up, and up, and up, and then back down. All of a sudden the waves stopped. An alarm blared and cut through the hum of ambient conversation. Everyone in the pool went silent. Alan bit his finger in tension.

At the far end of the pool there was a loud rumbling noise. Everyone gasped, as a huge wave burst forth. Alan’s mother shrieked and rushed towards him.

“Get the children!” she cried out. “Somebody save the children!”

The wave crashed into them. They bobbed up, and up, and Alan panicked and swallowed water as he felt his brother slip from out of his arms. The moment his feet touched the bottom of the pool, he propelled himself forward. He got to the edge just in time to see Marcus’s head collide with the concrete lip of the pool.

“Somebody help!” Alan yelled. “My brother’s been hurt! Somebody help!”

Alan bent down into the fountain. He grasped the woman’s torso, and pulled her up out of the water.

“It’s a damn good thing you were here,” said the EMT 15 minutes later as her assistant wheeled the woman into the back of the ambulance. “This early, the two of you were practically the only ones in the building.

“Is she going to be alright?” asked Alan.

“She smacked her head pretty good. We’ll check her for a concussion and cerebral hemorrhage, but yeah, I think she’s going to be fine. She swallowed a lot of water. It’s another damn good thing you know CPR.”

“I’ve known it since I was a little kid,” said Alan. “Ever since…”

The EMT raised an eyebrow.

“Never mind,” said Alan. “It isn’t important.”

No Blog Post Today

 

Blog Post Not Found

37, day thirty three

It has finally happened. After thirty-two days of daily blog posts–sometimes more than once per day–I am finally going to miss a today. I regret to report that today  I am not going to be able to post anything on my blog. Not anything at all. If I do manage to post something, it will certainly be no more than sixty-four words. Chances are, I won’t even get that far.

I have to admit I am disappointed in myself.

Do you ever have days where your volition never seems to turn on? Today was three of those days. There were some reasons for it. I was waiting for something to happen that could lead to positive change in my life, but also to stress and difficulty. That thing never happened. I do not know how to feel about this. But the whole day, I felt like I couldn’t do anything until I had confirmation as to whether or not it was going to happen. The confirmation never came, and so I never snapped into full functionality.

I didn’t set any daily goals, so I don’t have any daily goals to fail. That is nice, but it doesn’t change the fact that I have one daily goal that was already set: putting up a blog post. But I just can’t handle it today. I can’t handle putting words together into interesting or engaging sentences. I can’t handle attempting to weave together strands of luminescent metaphor like spiders at the break of dawn weaving their refractive webs in the morning light. I can’t handle doing any kind of research. It’s like my parietal cortex, which studies suggest may be the center of will and volition in the brain, just won’t activate.

I apologize if I let anyone down. Or at least, I would apologize if I had the drive to even go that far. I’m sorry, but I just can’t do it.

A Soft and Secret Betrayal

A Big Stash of Bottles Found by Toronto Excavators

37, day thirty two
When I was a child I had a small beat up old tackle-box under my bed. It contained the most important objects in the entire world. There was a small spiked ball made out of gold-colored wire. At the end of each spike was a golden-orange jewel. The wire was cheap and flimsy. The jewels were rhinestone. There was a pewter medallion with unrecognizable symbols inlaid in copper. The box contained polished stones; there was moonstone, and moss agate, and opal, and many others. There was a small crystal bottle filled with pink liquid, and a pewter figure of a man with a lance riding an impossible beast.

The gold-wire sphere was called the Sun Orb, and even in the deepest darkness it could produce True Sunlight, of which normal sunlight is only an echo. When combined with my piece of moonstone, according to the laws set out on the pewter-and-copper medallion, it could open up Jacob’s Celestial Gateway.

My parents often took my brother and I to antique stores when we visited new towns. I rushed straight to the collections of antique knives, or the colored class bottles. I sifted through the old lamps and the dust-covered pieces of furniture. I breathed in the dust, even though it made me sneeze. Somewhere, hidden in the thick layers of collected particles, there were secrets to be discovered.

Both of my parents thought I liked interesting objects. It made sense. Both of them were visual artists, and though I displayed little artistic talent I had a clear aesthetic of the fascinating. They were wrong. I didn’t care about objects. I cared only a little about aesthetics. I loved old, or intriguing, or anachronistic items because they contained within them a promise. They were pieces of a puzzle. Every object I had in the tackle-box had a purpose and a meaning. They all fit together. When I solved the puzzle, it would unlock something very specific. Something I could not define, but would recognize completely the moment I saw it.

I was looking for magic.

I don’t collect objects anymore. I still like colored bottles, because I love the way light shines through colored glass. But I haven’t acquired one in years. Now, antique shops are just dreary places that make my dust-allergies flare up. Collections of old objects bore me. They might be pretty, or interesting. But they don’t mean anything. They don’t do anything. I love that people collect cars, or action figures, or antique clocks. But I don’t understand them. To me these things can never be more than mildly amusing. They are just inert shapes made of lifeless matter. None of them are magic.

It wasn’t until my late twenties that I realized that magic had betrayed me.

I don’t look for it anymore. I no longer study real-world esoteric practices. I don’t read ancient mystical texts hoping for the single sentence of power amidst the thousands of made up myths that will open the door to the secret arts. I still have an over-developed sense of wonder; I hope that never goes away. But now I accept it for what it is: humans using their magnificent minds to create meaning and majesty in an otherwise uncaring universe. There is a beauty to that, and I have learned to love it for its own sake.

But I remember when I was small, and I knew there was magic. I didn’t believe in magic, the way I believed in butterflies and televisions and that Einstein discovered the theory of special relativity. I didn’t really think my Sun Orb could create True Sunlight. But I knew the magic was there, all the same. I knew it as much as I knew anything.

I remember that so clearly. And there are those moments. My computer monitor always powers down right as I come back from doing something else. Sure, it might just be that I always take the same amount of time to do everything. Or maybe I’m just on one end of the random statistical curve. Someone has to be. I don’t want to indulge in magical thinking, but what if the universe is trying to speak to me, and I have lumps of skepticism jammed into my ears? What if, just maybe, that small child who was so ignorant and naive had wisdom that I have lost. Maybe magic didn’t gave up on me. Maybe I was the one who gave up on it. Maybe it is still out there, just waiting for me to find it.

Like so many other things, I will probably never know.

A Moment in the Overcast

File:Oberfallenberg 11.jpg

37, day thirty one

The sky is blinding white. A thick layer of fog clings tightly to the earth. It makes me ache because it is so beautiful. In the sunlight, in the city, in the middle of the day with cars honking and the scent of exhaust mingling with baked bread and food waste, I am a skeptic. I scoff at unmitigated displays of public sentiment. I see rainbow sand I think about the refraction of light. I maintain a healthy ironic distance from the things that I love.

In the overcast, or in the fog, or when the earth is covered in snow, I am a poet. A pretentious, unabashed, fanboy of the beautiful who can’t wait to gush over the latest episode. Sometimes I lie in the grass and stare up at the sky with tears in my eyes from its majesty. In a moment it will open up and spill out its secrets. They will soak into my skin and mingle with my blood. It will travel to my brain, and melt my mind into a pool of effortless joy and fathomless mystery.

Soon enough, the sun will come and burn it all away. I will regain my intellectual and my critical faculties. I will understand once more that the earth is just a ball of rock in a cold expanse that cannot care for it. It will dawn on me that humans are not carved out of conscious light, but thinking animals full of flaws. If I want the world to be full of joy, I need my reason, and I need to work to make it so. I will feel silly that I ever sank my toes into the moist soil and waited to drink up the rain.

For now, none of that matters. I willingly submit to this moment. Until it passes, a very short time from now, it is infinite.

The Purity of Sacrifice

File:Dagger IMG 5005.jpg

37, day thirty

 

Another story! I can’t stop! I really did not want to do a blog post today, but I wrote something anyway. Here it is!

 

The day I turned six years old my grandmother told me that on my thirty-first birthday, I was going to die.

“But why should I have to die, grandmother?”

“Because you are a Koriae,” said my grandmother in her dry, cracking voice. “It is what the women in our family do. It is what we have always done.”

“But you are ever so much older than thirty-one,” I said, not out of protest, but out of simple curiosity. “So is mother.”

“My blood is laced with silver. I bleed the moonlight from the sky to bring the winter, but I am not part of the sacrifice. Your mother’s blood is laced with clay,” she spat out the word. “She is part of nothing. But you, my dear, my precious little one,” she bent down, and ran a leathery finger along my cheek. “Your blood is utterly pure. Your heart is full of crystalline snow, and when it melts, the clearest of waters runs through all the vessels in your body. There is so little purity in the world, and the everything everywhere will desire it. Do you understand?”

“No, grandmother.”

“You will.” She smiled at me. Her teeth were rough and scarred and filthy, like she had been eating gravestones. “Believe me, you will.”

On the day I turned ten years old, my mother took my to the dressmaker’s shop and told me I could have anything in the whole store I wanted.

“Anything, mother? Anything at all?” We were desperately poor, and could never afford niceties.

She smiled at me, her eyes full of sunlight. “Your uncle Agron died, and he left us all of his treasure. So pick anything you want for your birthday, my princess. From now on, everything will be different.”

I chose a beautiful lavender and sapphire-blue dress that brought out my eyes. The woman at the shop said it was her favorite dress she had ever made. She said that she had not know it, but she had made it just for me.

When we returned home, my grandmother was waiting for us. She sat among piles of gold, a thousand times more than I had ever seen before.

“So beautiful, little one,” she said. “Do you feel beautiful?”

“Yes, grandmother,” I said as I twirled.

“Beauty does not always come at a price. But your beauty always will. Do you understand?”

“No, grandmother.”

“You will,” she picked up a handful of glittering coins and then dropped them. They clattered to the ground. “You will.”

On the day I turned sixteen years old, Lethan Stirias, the handsomest and bravest boy in the valley, asked me to be his partner at the Feast of the Dawning of the New Sun. He gave me a bouquet of flowers that glittered with all of the colors hidden by moonlight.

“Oh Lethan!” I cried. “Of course I will go with you. Are those moonblossoms?”

“They are indeed, my precious and beautiful one,” he said as I pressed them to my face and inhaled their glorious scent. “I scaled the Wailing Mountain by night, each full moon for eight full moons, to pluck them for you.”

“They are wonderful,” I reached out to stroke his beautiful face. He winced. “Lethan, what is wrong?”

“It is nothing,” he protested. “Nothing to concern yourself with.”

“Tell me, Lethan, or I rescind my acceptance of your invitation.”

“You cannot!”

I grinned. “I can, and I will. Now tell me.”

“It was Elurial.”

“Elurial? The smith’s son?”

He nodded. “Elurial, and others. I cannot be sure which one.”

“Lethan, have you been brawling?”

“It is not like you think. It was a fair contest, with rules, and…a prize.”

I stared at him. “A prize?”

“I was not the only one who wished to take you to the Feast. Nearly all the boys of age competed.” He brushed a lock of golden hair from in front of his face. “I won.”

I knew I should be appalled. This was hardly civilized behavior, and I was not a prize to be won. But I could not help but be flattered at all of this being done for me. Had any boy other than Lethan won, I would have refused him. The contest was held for nothing. Still, Lethan must have fought the hardest, to emerge triumphant. I knew I should scold him. Instead I leaned forward and kissed him. His eyes widened as if struck. I giggled. Then I kissed him again.

When I returned home in the dead of night, I snuck in through the back so as not to wake any of the servants. Mother would be cross if she knew how late it was. I need not have bothered. My grandmother was in the hall, waiting for me.

“You look happy, my little one,” she stared at me from her silk chair with her yellowed eyes. “Are you happy?”

I could hide nothing from grandmother. I never could. “I am so happy, grandmother!” I exclaimed.

“Sometimes happiness is all that it seems to be. But never your happiness. Do you understand?”

“No, grandmother.”

“You will,” she approached me, and plucked a bit of hay from my hair and tossed it away. As it felt to the floor, in the light of the lanterns, it looked golden. “You will.”

On the day I turned twenty-nine, I tasted the Wine of the Nectar of the Distillation of All Things. A single drop on my tongue was more sublime than the sum of all of the sensory pleasures of my life.

“It is divine,” I said in awe. “I thank you, young man. But why do you bring me this?”

“I have heard tales of your beauty, my lady,” said the man, with a cough. “And of your goodness. I had to see them myself, but I had to be worthy. So I bring this gift.” He coughed again.

“Are you ill, sir?”

“I fear I have caught the sickness that ravages this valley, my lady. I do not know if I will make the return journey. But it was worth it, to see your smile.”

“Was it, I wonder?” said a weak voice from nearby.

“You should not speak, grandmother,” I said. “You are not well.”

“Not well?” she laughed. “I am dying, little one.”

“Do not say such things.” I walked over to her and placed my hands on her cheek. Her flesh was dry and stretched over her frail bones.

“So many around you are sick. Yet you are healthy,” said grandmother. “Do you understand, little one?”

“I…am not sure, grandmother.”

“You will.” She coughed, and blood spilled from her mouth. Flecks of it stained her white satin bed sheets with crimson. And silver. “You will.”

I am thirty years of age, now. When the sun breaks over the horizon I will be thirty-one. I will not be there to see it. The land all around the valley is scorched. Nothing will grow, and no rain will fall. The garden in the palace my people built for me is full of earthly delights. I let everyone feast upon it, but it is not enough.

There are enemies lined up along the edges of my kingdom, waiting to strike. They are armed with sharpened sticks and rocks. It is the same for the soldiers here, who have vowed to lay down their lives to save me. All of the metal in a hundred leagues of this place has rusted. There is a single blade that is still pure, and still sharp. It is the finest knife, perhaps, ever forged by man. I hold it now against my breast.

Was this truly the only way for it to be? Must we have gone through all of this, to arrive at this point? I believe that we did. Curse me, but I believe it had to be, though I cannot fully grasp why.

I understand, grandmother.

Finally, I understand.