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Paragon Forgotten Chapter 1




Diviners claim the universe created both Paragons, male and female, from the cataclysm of two crashing stars.
- Creation of Mortal Earth

Cohthel

Most humans find closure when they visit the graves of family, friends, and lovers. The visitors arrive time and time again with flowers and trinkets to show the spirits they are not forgotten, that they have forever imprinted mortality with their ideas and dreams so their memories might live on forever. Visitors also stay a while and talk and pray with the dead as if they were still alive. Some bring entire families to visit the graves, making it a family reunion as lively and happy as if the deceased had never left at all.


Not me.


For me, graves mock my unrecoverable, soul-shredding loss carving me hollow with a dull, rusted blade. To visit a grave is to visit an apothecary and swallow your spoonful of poison: Thank you. I’ll come back for my next dose as soon as the sickness passes.


For that, I now approach my first visit unprepared and years behind. Should I have brought flowers? Prepared a speech? What should I say? Nothing, probably. Will end up staring stupidly, both hands shoved into the pockets of my tight, high-water pants for an enormous amount of time, question my existence, and leave. Probably.


I exit Malandore across the bridge, the mechanical dwarven-made pump house downstream grinding gears with a chungk-chungk-chungk as it pushes river water through the underground city aqueducts.


I won’t make it there anyway, so my lack of preparation doesn’t matter. Attempts to walk this road in the past have so far failed and I maintain hope there will be no difference now.


Except there is a difference. A life-changing difference. I opened my eyes this morning, expecting manhood, knowing where I wanted to apprentice, and all the answers to have arrived to me during the night and I’d be made whole. Then I expected them to arrive as soon as I opened the schoolroom door. Then I trusted I’d see glimmers of them as I sat in my school chair. I thought I felt them when Thaen’s father slapped me on the back and said in his deep baritone, “With your invisibility, you should be a ranger. You’d be invaluable.” And Thaen himself in less diplomatic tones, “You’re a knuckling sod-head if you don’t go ranger.”


But answers didn’t come to me then either, because I don’t want to be a ranger anymore than I want to apprentice in Government. So now I have a problem. While my classmates went out to attend their first day in their chosen apprenticeships, I remained behind, picking my nose, wracking my brain where to find the answer to where I want to apprentice. It didn’t take long. Comparing my life to Thaen’s the answer rammed into me as if this single thought had the power to shatter dams.


Which is why, deep in the marrow of my bones, I know I won’t turn around on the road this time. Will no longer refuse my spoonful of poison.


The trees around me look foreign and changed since my last attempts to reach the cemetery. Suspicious, too, as if talking behind my back as I pass. Humans visit the cemetery all the time, but I feel an uninvited stranger walking up to the map nailed to the wood board at the cemetery’s gate, searching for my family name of Faunt.


I’m content to stay forever by that map instead of acknowledging the anxious pinging in my gut about seeing Father’s grave for the first time in ten years. I half fear Father will claw out of his grave and accuse me of never visiting. I might have turned around then except for the shade of all my fears drawing ice down the back of my neck, reminding me: you’ll never choose an apprenticeship if you leave without visiting your father. It was the only explanation that made sense. Thaen had a father and knew where he wanted to apprentice. All my classmates had fathers and had chosen their apprenticeships three months ago.


I leave the map and trudge along the gravel path.


The failing sunlight bleeds over the gray headstones and crypts, trees among the rows fluttering crispy leaves, hissing wind adding cadence to the night which follows me to a wooden sign declaring “Faunt” as the family claiming this section. I search for my resistance to visit Father’s grave once more, but it escapes clear of my mental grasp.

With detached numbness, my gaze passes each headstone: Grandparents Faunt, cousin Lithsinia from stillbirth, Aunt and Uncle Forbecken killed by dark elves between Malandore and Yl Elyuon. My maternal Grandmother Tefell.


I look over the names again.


One more time.


Again.


“I lied, Cohthel. You’d make a terrible ranger.”


My knees buckle in fear at the scare seizing my chest as effective as a heart attack, thinking how appropriate it is that I already stand in the cemetery. But sixteen is too young to die so my subconscious kicks me back to life and I swing an ineffective fist at Thaen who spins out of reach as gracefully as a dance.


“And you can’t punch,” Thaen said. Spiked shock-blond hair combined with high eyebrows make the sixteen-year-old boy look perpetually surprised instead of the cool I-got-you he imbues into the tone of his voice. “Good thing you have me to teach you. You’ve got a long way to go to become a ranger. Unless you came to the cemetery because you want to be a cleric?”


“Did you follow me just to scare me?”


“I’m not that petty. No. I needed to test my sneaking. You never even suspected. Now, why are you here?”


“I’m just out for a walk.”


“To the cemetery? Specifically to your family’s burial plot?”


“So?”


“So? You stopped at the map and looked as if you had no knuckling idea where your own family’s burial plot is.”


I rock back and forth on my heels, not meeting Thaen’s eyes.


What have I done to be robbed of my chance of growing up with a father? Don’t I obey orders without question? Complete chores without Mother needing to ask? Am I not honest and kind and keep my promises? Thaen enjoys fighting and lies for personal advantage, pawning off chores and laughs when told what to do, so why have the Paragons blessed him with not only a father but brothers and sisters?


“I was looking for my father’s grave,” I confess.


“You don’t know where your father’s grave is?”


Mother never talks about Father, either, as if she too suffers the pains of his loss and separates herself from the lingering heartache having replaced him. Got rid of everything he owned. Clothes. The effects of his hobbies. Only left his painted portrait hanging on the wall by the door.


I squeeze my eyes shut with equal tension as both fists, preparing for Thaen’s nagging to drag out over the next month. When Thaen latches onto a passion, be it apprenticeships, conspiracies, or drama, he doesn’t let go until the opposing party tires of him. “No.”


“Undergod’s knuckles, why not?”


“Look, everyone deals with death their own way. Now you can pound off or help me look.”


Subdued, Thaen steps forward. His head moves side-to-side as he reads off the names. He squints at the first headstone despite the daylight. “Nope.” He steps right. “Nope.”

I take the left, but the brick line in the dirt ends my family’s plot.


“Wow.” Thaen says after ten minutes of digging in the grass in case it had fallen over. “You sure they buried him here? But he would have been. All humans are buried here. Wasn’t he near Yl Elyuon when he died? I’ll ask Ilthyn if humans are ever buried with elves. They might have buried him there.” Even for Thaen, his tone does not sound like he believes it.


“Well…” Thaen turns, spinning the mystery on its top in favor of one he understands, “what did you plan to do out here, anyway?”


I shove both hands inside my tight pockets and walk away from the Faunt family’s burial plot.


“What were you going to do?” Thaen nags, and unless I tolerate his persistence for the rest of my life, I give in.


“I was going to…to just…” Nothing obligates me to incriminate myself to my best friend about my undecided apprenticeship. “…Talk to him.”


Thaen bursts out laughing. “You what?”


“Don’t mock me.”


“Oh, I’m going to mock you.”


“Easy for you to blow this off. My mother won’t remarry and I want a father. You have a father and you already signed your apprenticeship—”


“Oh, knuckling stop it. What you need to focus on is why your father’s grave isn’t with the rest of the family. You really should have visited sooner.”


I prickle, but it doesn’t hold, irritation at Thaen’s mockery of hope chilling into questions.

His boots a half size too big plod next to me as we walk. “Maybe he’s somewhere else in the cemetery.”


“Ya. Maybe.” A deep seed smoldering in my chest opens a new reality, and I don’t know how to handle this foreign emptiness. Believing Father’s death even though I have never seen his grave, I still protest not knowing where Mother chose to bury him.


“I know it was ten years ago, but do you remember where you had his funeral?”


I stare at the dirt, picturing Mother crying into a handkerchief, my aunt and uncle nearby, myself looking at the casket — unable to remember what it looked like — lowering into Mortal Earth. What was the weather like? The season? Rain, snow, sunshine, wind? Did many kindred come or just a few? Did Mother force me to wear anything special? Did we have a ceremony? Where? Did kindred bring funeral gifts?


“No. I remember nothing about the funeral. I can’t picture any of it. But I was six.” Mother might have sent me to stay with family or a friend since I was too young to understand, but I don’t remember that either.


“Your mother would know, though.”


“Ya. She will.”


The somber tone of the discovery ceases conversation all the way back to the bridge and river marking Malandore’s border, the city itself settling down with the evening.

Pegasi and gryphons are either landing from flight or taking off for one final transport, and the gold R’th rocks affixed atop the lamp posts along the cobbled streets now glow against the failing sunlight.


Diviners, who translate the gods’ actions, credit the gold-glowing, naturally-occurring quartz rock used to light up houses and streets to a sort of gas called R’th found in veins throughout the world. Certain natural elements react to this gas, causing them to glow.


“See you tomorrow.” Thaen touches my shoulder in parting and leaves.


I walk into my house. The hearth crackles with fresh explosions of pine wood under the heat; turpentine juices cloying the room in a mild musk. My searching hand lingers on Father’s portrait for longer than my usual touch of praise, long enough the canvas feels like flesh, gaining warmth, and a steady, quavering tick tick tick from a pulse beating as if inside the paint, ready to claw out, or pull me in.


“Hiya, Jumpy.” Mother knits while she rocks by the fire, legs crossed and bare feet poking out the bottom of her lavender dress. She’s pulled her long blond hair over her shoulder. “How was your first day?”


“Still haven’t decided where I want to apprentice.”


“That’s okay. You still have six months to decide. There’s nothing wrong with general labor, either. That’s what most of my school group chose.” Mother doesn’t support apprenticeships. She thinks choosing one limits students: narrowing their skill into a single funnel instead of remaining open to everything else a general laborer learns. This lack of energy from her is partly the reason why I haven’t found my own energy to make a decision.


“Ya,” I concede without enthusiasm. I shove both hands in my pockets. “I went to the cemetery.” I pause, but she waits for me to continue. “To our family plot, but couldn’t find Father’s grave. I was six when he died and don’t remember his funeral very well, so I can’t remember where we buried him.”


Her gaze lowers back to her knitting and resumes rocking. “Your father died while working for the Trading Cycle Caravan, remember? Fell off the cliff. They never recovered his body. There was nothing to bury. I thought you knew, son. It was a while ago. I’m very sorry. You’ve been going all this time thinking he had a grave in the cemetery. We can erect a symbolic one in the family plot if it will help you feel better.”


“No, no, that’s okay. Ya, I must have forgotten they couldn’t recover his body. I was six. Alright, good night, Mother. Do you need me to do any chores before bed?”


She looks at the stack of wood next to the hearth. “We’re getting low on wood, but that can wait for tomorrow.” Warmth pools into her blue eyes. “Oh son, I’m so grateful for you. You’re growing up. And by all rights, it shouldn’t have happened this fast.”


Sensing Mother getting soft and awkward with me, I respond with a silent nod and shuffle down the hall before she says anything else. Or worse, hugs me.


Having abandoned sleep schedules during the summer, I don’t know why I still expect to wake up early enough to dress, eat breakfast, and make it to my second day of school early enough to talk with friends before they part for their apprenticeships.


As it is, when I open my eyes in the morning, I note the brightness of the sunlight through my window, and dressing as I stumble down the hallway — skipping breakfast — I launch out the door and sprint to the schoolhouse. I burst into the schoolroom, out of breath and sweaty, under the glowering gaze of my mentor alone in the room with me, her tiny glasses anchored to the tip of her nose.


Her silence elaborates her displeasure at me more than any word existing in the Eloshian language, because I already know what she would say: know that I’m late, that I still haven’t chosen an apprenticeship, know I lack manhood, and hygiene, that I know, yet still make no efforts to rectify my faults even being embarrassingly aware of them all.


I shuffle to the bookshelf and yank a book out, not even looking at the title before trudging to my chair and slumping down. The book thumps onto my table. The Medical Apprentice.


All my classmates out attending their second day in their chosen apprenticeships further convince me the Paragons should have timed my birth a generation earlier.

Mother’s generation focused less on ambitious futures and more on immediate solutions; comfortable with accepting general laborer in whatever would hire them the fastest. Then I would be one of many stuck in the classroom instead of singled out in a detested way for my apparent lack.


I flip through The Medical Apprentice without reading. A Medical apprenticeship interests me no more than Government or Science, but I thumb through those too, all the way up until I hear noises outside the window. I look up and witness Thaen in lockstep with his ranger father.


The pair stop. Thaen’s father slaps his son’s back, bearded face beaming with pride. Thaen accepts the adulation with a grin. That brief father-son connection drives vicious, hungry spikes straight through my gut. They separate. Thaen’s father walks out of the school courtyard.


The schoolroom door opens. Two heavy stomps from boots a full size too big on the wood floor announces Thaen entering the classroom. He likes big boots because they make him sound older when he walks. He marches in with shoulders straighter, his legs longer than yesterday.


He stomps toward me. “I will forgive you for being late this morning if you got out and apprenticed somewhere.”


I lower my gaze and don’t answer. Thaen has been training for the rangers under the suspicious tutelage of his older brother as soon as Thaen could walk, who marched over to the Enforcement representative yesterday and signed his ranger contract swifter than a salute. Thaen obsessing over ranger training since last year proves the result of what happens when a boy grows up with a father every day next to him.


Thaen’s already too-high eyebrows shoot higher. “Evermore…yesterday you said you picked Engineer.”


Though named “Cohthel” at birth, Father nicknamed me “Evermore”: his last gift before he left for the caravan and never came home.


I slump deeper in my chair, the same chair hundreds of other students had sat, the same chair launching them into vibrant futures of their choosing. Any lower I’d be under the cushion. “I changed my mind.”


“Brother, sit straighter. Stop slouching all the time. We talked about this. At length. You don’t need a father to pick an apprenticeship. You just need to pick!”


A cold sludge of mixed emotions pop goosebumps under my long-sleeved shirt. With hot self-consciousness, I sit straighter.


“Nah.” Thaen flaps a hand in my face. “You picked art. Theater.” He puts all ten fingers in his mouth and makes a face like a dreary festival disguise. “You already have a natural mask. No makeup or training required. Just throw you on stage for their next tragedy. Or, since you’re so knuckling good at climbing, cartwheeling, and flipping, you could be the intermission comic relief.”


“Government, actually. I’m going to become the next torc and decree that you will only patrol my toilet in the castle.”


“I’m going to be a ranger. Not a knightlord. The castle is their jurisdiction.”


I don’t know what jurisdiction means.


Three boys burst open the door, punching each other. Mianda enters behind them, her broad shoulders filling the doorway.


 The three boys ahead of her stop punching and stare. “That thing hasn’t left our class yet?” the darker-haired boy announces to his two sycophants. “That’s it. I’m asking for a transfer.”


“Oh, Burgand,” I say, “you’re so selfless, removing yourself from this class, but there is no need. Is someone bullying you and making you feel you can’t stay? Tell me and I’ll fix them. Because I, for one, want you here.”


Burgand’s unblinking stare and slack jaw hold a moment, then he snaps both and turns his back, mumbling to his two friends.


Mianda looks down at me, her hair pulled back into a short ponytail and dyed black to conceal her natural dusutri-yellow. “That poor kid, thinking I didn’t want him in our class.” She walks past me to the chair next to mine and sits. I taught her that I don’t care how old we get. I will always fight for her.


The sixteenth hour bringing the end of the school day prevents me from knocking myself unconscious with the ultra-heavy Government Apprentice book, so I walk out of there conscious and alive behind my friends.


Thaen pushes up close to me as we walk, lowering his voice as if revealing a conspiracy. “Did you ask your mother…?”


“Yes. My father fell off a cliff during his last caravan cycle. They couldn’t recover his body. Since there was nothing to bury, my mother didn’t have…” I squeeze my eyes shut. “Please stop laughing.”


“Couldn’t recover his body? You do know seadwellers would take offended notice if they found a body floating around their ocean realm?”


“Well, it happened. They never recovered his body.”


“Unlikely, but whatever. The question now becomes, why didn’t your mother erect a grave marker ten years ago?”


“Thaen…” I say his name, hoping to release a heavy burden with it, understanding the moment the nagging young man sparks on a growing subterfuge theory about Father’s lacking grave. “There’s no mystery. No one recovering his body equals no grave.”


“And no funeral, either.”


“We had a funeral.”


“You don’t remember having a funeral for him.”


“I was six.”


“You remember him giving you your Evermore nickname at six.”


The sharp memory flashes through my thoughts. Father knelt. “I’m going to call you Evermore, after the legend of Evermore and Nevercease who together conquered the world. Do you want to conquer the world with me?”


“Yes!” responded an enthusiastic six-year-old boy not knowing what that meant.

Though I remember little else from the growing brain of a six-year-old, I remember the impact of that bond and prided being my father’s son, would follow him anywhere, trust all his lessons as the secret answers to the universe and where I stand within the chaotic spin.


“Okay, Thaen, you’re right. I don’t remember my father’s funeral because he never died, which explains why he doesn’t have a grave. He’s still alive on Eloshonna avoiding both son and wife because he’s looking for the lost god Astorous and telling me he died is easier for my mother instead of telling me the truth. Happy?”


Thaen rubs his chin and the starter-beard making an obvious appearance. “Let’s say that story is true.” He lifts both hands — a gesture warning he will next get technical — “Your mother hasn’t done a good job convincing you he is dead. I can understand forgoing the fake funeral because the logistics of that would be too much asking a bunch of family to fake a funeral to convince a six-year-old who would be too young to understand it all anyway. But then she also skimps on a fake grave marker and never takes you along to visit his fake grave and then never fakes taking herself to the cemetery to visit the fake grave.”


“…What?” I look down the road, toward my escape from Thaen who will loop and loop through a problem until he figures out either a fake or exaggerated explanation.


“And ten years later and she won’t re-marry and still wears her wedding ring?”


“Like I said. Him walking around Eloshonna searching for the lost god Astorous is far too painful to admit so she’s faking his death to cut the sting a little.” We reach the turn to my house. I spin on my heel to head that way.


Thaen pinches my sleeve. “I’ll think about it some more.”


“Why wait? Come over right now and ask my mother why she’s been lying to me for ten years.”


He grumbles.


“Oh, that’s right. You won’t because she’ll prove it’s not subterfuge.” Thaen spent seven days three months back trying to figure out why dark elves come above ground sometimes. He settled with the theory that they were spying and counting how many kindred live above ground so later they could attack and take control of Eloshonna.

“Maybe…maybe my whole life has been a lie and I don’t exist, that I’m the side-effect of dark elf R’th erroneously thinking I’m a real human.”


Thaen’s blond, too-high eyebrows shoot up. “I mean…”


I leave him with a fresh puzzle and run along the street. Plumes of smoke curl like whispers out of brick chimneys, infused with burning coal, fresh bread, and memories of Father taking me to the bakery so early they’d cut a slice off the first loaves, hot and soft, out of the oven. Yesterday morning I salivated over the smell, but now wonder if the baker scorched the morning’s first batch. My gaze goes next to the burst of seagulls flocking into the air with indignant squawking as the high tide breaks gurgling waves below Malandore Castle.


The autumn sunlight shifts through the shadows beneath the trees as I run the footpath into the forest toward home, my long sleeves cutting the autumn chill. A small bridge arching over a creek cuts perpendicular to my trail. Forgoing the bridge, I sprint at the creek and launch off the bank, sucking both knees into my chest. I exit the successful rotation and land on the other side, shoving my hands back into the pockets of my tight, high-water pants.


I walk into the house, touching Father’s portrait inside the door with only a sliver of awareness of doing so, the remembered warmth of Father’s bright eyes, his laugh and ridiculous humor coursing through my fingers. I dump my school bag on my bed and go back outside where I’ve been stacking wood all summer. I reach for the ax, the wood handle warmed by the sun and smoothed by my hands over the years.


Setting a pine log on my chopping block, I spin it to the angle where the blade will cleave through the grain. Sinking both shoulders, I bring the ax up, over, and down with a clean crack. The two halves fall away, resin pores torn open release the wild, un-tamable smell of the earth.


I thrill over the thought of Mother’s eyes lighting like they always do when I finish my chores. I will not bear the sight of seeing Mother heft this heavy ax, the hem of her dress catching dirt and slivers of prickly wood as she sweeps around the woodpile. Father would have been proud that I…


I pause. Resume. Crack. Think of dinner, the thinning soles in my boots, will need to chop more wood later, and isn’t the caravan coming to town in a few days?


Caravan. The one Father worked for.


My falling ax stroke bounces off the flat head of the pine log, shuddering pain into both hands. I clench my jaw, looking at the side of the house. I painted the walls last summer, now due for a touch-up. I’ll climb on the roof and make sure the tar still holds. Mother complained of that squeaky board in the hallway, but nothing a hammer and another nail wouldn’t fix. So, so many chores, and I’ll have to do them all as the only man in the house—


“Undergod’s knuckles!” I huck the ax into the dirt and spin into the sun gliding west, running a hand through my sweaty curls. Knuckling Mother! I want a father! I’m fine…I’m fine and over Father’s absent grave, but a new sore replaces and chafes: because Mother has so far declined to re-marry, I grew through puberty without a father, forcing me to default asking Thaen those questions. Though a loyal friend, he isn’t a trustworthy information source because if he doesn’t know the answer, he makes one up and exaggerates the answers he does.


A huge reason I have yet to allow myself attraction to the opposite sex. I still don’t know how everything works and I’m not about to ask Mother.


Thaen’s father, Bohrim, gathered me into his fold, allowing me to at least grow up under that male presence I crave, but lately I’ve detached from his fold because he’s become increasingly demanding that I “take control of my future” and “should become a ranger, like my son,” and “eat, sleep, and breathe hard work to be good at your apprenticeship” and no one can sell me energy or motivation for a low enough price. I’d be even more wary of both if they were free.


“Jumpy?”


I snap my composure together and force a smile at Mother who comes out of the house, both eyebrows pinched. Anxiety sets to boil in my chest.


“Jumpy, I…” She looks at the house, then back at me. “I’m so sorry. I…your father’s portrait, it…” She doesn’t finish. Lets my imagination explode.


I dash past her, through the open door of the house. My hurried searching discovers Father’s portrait no longer hangs at its shrine by the door, but now rests on the floor, propped against a bucket filled with soapy water. I drop to both knees on the wet floor and snatch up the portrait.


“No no, no.” Hot tears blur my eyes in the same likeness of Father’s paint blurring together. The defined eyes, his smiling teeth, swirling into soapy liquid ruin.


Mother steps inside. “I was mopping and bumped it off the wall. Undergod’s demons! I set my bucket there and it fell in. I pulled it straight out…” Sorrow tears into her tone. Her skirt sweeps past me as she escapes down the hall and into her room, closing the door.


I brush a thumb over the wet canvas, smearing paint into further chaos. If I lay it flat in the sunshine, the bleeding will stop and the remnants of Father’s last and only image left to his life will freeze again.


I don’t take it outside. My teary eyes dry. Father lives no more in this painting than he does in the graveyard. Canvas and paint will not join in dance to make flesh and blood, no matter my wish and urgency. No. Flesh and blood belong to Mother, who fled to her room fearing my wrath. Paint and canvas will never replace Father. Nor will I allow it to replace Mother.


What was the painting anyway but pain over and over again? A false hope like unto a grave? Until this moment, I did not realize the painting held me back. I stand with the painting, approach the fire, and throw it in.


I watch its destruction with proper vigilance until the ash breaks and scatters like a handful of dirt thrown into a grave. I promise, in that moment, to strive choosing an apprenticeship before the month ends, with or without a father.


I knock on Mother’s door. “Mother, are you okay?” I load my tone with sincerity to show I’m not upset.


She opens the door a crack, eyes red and unsure.


“Mother, it’s just a painting. Father’s nickname of Evermore he gave me is more real than anything paint can conjure.”


“I know how much it meant to you.”


“You matter more to me than paint. That picture doesn’t replace Father any more than it replaces you.”


She opens the door wider. “Sometimes, son, I don’t feel I deserve you.”


I hate hugs. I load warmth into my smile instead.


We cook dinner together, and I slide into my role by grabbing the silverware and setting the table big enough for Mother, children…and Father before he left on his last cycle with the caravan.


“Mother,” I dish a heaping, steaming ladle-full of stew into my bowl, “have you chosen not to re-marry because you were afraid I’d feel like you were betraying Father?”


“Oh, Jumpy, no no no, I know you’d support me. I’m the one who would feel like I was betraying your father if I re-married.”


“It’s been ten years.”


“I’m not over his death yet.”


I seethe under her notice, exactly how milk doesn’t visibly boil but a thickened goop congeals on top all the same. I still don’t have a father because Mother’s stuck on a dead one? Oh, then she better knuckling answer every one of my nuanced questions about Father’s funeral.


“Since Father doesn’t have a grave, where did we have a funeral for him? I’m having a hard time remembering.”


“We had a small ceremonial gathering of friends and family here. You probably didn’t realize it was for Father. Probably thought friends and family had come to visit. Don’t eat too much. I made cherry cobbler for dessert.” Her infectious smile slams the gate to any more talk about Father. We finish dinner in silence, silverware chiming against the bowls sounding more like hammers on coffin nails.


She pulls out a game during dessert that she bought from the caravan three months ago. The authentic version (unintentionally) breaks bones as players aggressively race through a pattern on the ground with color-coded rocks the size of a dwarf’s head. Someone rolls a giant block of wood with a different color on each side, matching the color of the rocks.


Pegasi remain the only ones I know who love and play that game. Turns out they make a smaller, home-friendly, broken-bone-free version to be enjoyed on the kitchen table by humans with polished pebbles, a wood board, and bone dice.


Mother rolls the dice and places her pebbles.


“Wow,” I begin my interrogation, “it’s really been bothering me that the seadwellers are that bad at seeing a dead body floating in their realm.”


“Hmm? Oh, you mean when they couldn’t find your father?”


“I mean, they recover lots of other bodies, even the falkons who die while flying over the ocean.”


“Caravan Master Kitannia suspected a shark ate him.”


I roll my dice. Thunk, tap tap tap. I move a blue pebble to the blue pattern on the board.

“Ah.” Mother sits back. “I hate my luck. I’m all spread out on every pattern, but you’ve been able to gather most of yours on blue. You’re going to win this round.”


“Sharks must have gotten close to the cliff where Father fell off. I thought they lived further out to sea.”


“Why, yes, what? Jumpy…” She leans forward, blond hair falling on either side of her face. “Sometimes I forget you’re older now and soon to become a man, and you have a lot of new emotions stirring in your body…”


I crunch all ten toes inside my boots and grip the edge of the bench as she falkon-dives into an awkward lesson about puberty as if it were a clinging ailment I’d never gotten over.


“…so of course, your father’s death is hanging on. I know life is crazy and doesn’t have all the answers for us, but sometimes we have to wait. I’ll get a grave marker and we’ll put it in the family plot. I know that will make you feel better.” She smiles as if in those words she solved the racial conflict between the Kingdom and the Outside Realms as a bonus to my problems both real and hoping-for. “It’s very late. Tell you what, you win this round.”


I ponder a long time afterward about sharks and puberty and wonder of the correlation to a father with no grave and an at-home ceremony I can’t remember.






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