Weight of the world

The lonely road you choose to travel on, it must seem awfully long

Several years later
Somewhere in the continent that was North America

And tell me everything, tell chain by chain,
and link by link, and step by step;
sharpen the knives you kept hidden away,
thrust them into my breast, into my hands,
like a torrent of sunbursts,
an Amazon of buried jaguars,
and leave me cry: hours, days and years,
blind ages, stellar centuries.

And give me silence, give me water, hope.

In the thin light before dawn I stand on the open road, looking down it, the endless length of asphalt pitted and cracked. I stand still long enough that there is a whine from my right hand side.

"Shh, Gaueko," I say absently, dropping my hand onto his head. I think that this is the right road. Once I would have known; but it is harder to remember, now, than it once was.

Sometimes now I think that human stupidity is a survival mechanism; that if humans remembered enough, felt more, they could not live. In the first months after I fell again, I was nothing but a screaming void. There are scars on this body - my body - from that time. Some I gave myself; some were given to me. I tried, many times that first year, to die. But always, always, I would find myself blessed with rescue. You're lucky, boy, said the man whose cart came between me and the horse whose hooves I had tried to fall under. I laughed for a long time; they said I was in shock, and gave me brandy.


After that I went from place to place in search of magic. Not to turn me back; I knew that I was bound in this body. Not just because of Management's magic, but because the universe, I have learned, is an appreciator of irony, and that al-Shairan should be a man is too great a joke. No, I went in search of death, and found none. Not for me, at least. I have blood on my hands from that time, when my despair turned to fury. I think about those deaths more than I have thought about the ones that came before, though they were so many. Perhaps it is because I know more of pain, now, than I did. I thought I knew it all; but I have found that it is much harder to bear in a body. I was a star, once; a falcon, a desert wind, a great cry. And now I am this.

I have not lost all that I am. I am weak, but I am still brilliant. I know enough that I could make myself a king, in time. There is no need for me to live as a vagrant. I could manipulate and kill and cheat and steal, and I could make men love me. I could. But I think I would not enjoy it, or not for very long, and I...

Since I have been a man, I have been sick several times, fevers and vomiting and common colds, but I think now I have caught the worst sort of disease man has. I find myself thinking of the future, and wondering if I am doomed to stay alive, if I may as well live. It is - hope, or something like it.

Which brings me to this road. It is a very long way south, and there is very little reason to think I should have any reason to find what I am seeking. And yet, and yet... For the first time I can remember, I am not thinking of death.

"Come, Gaueko," I say, shouldering my pack, and with the sun rising I walk out.
spring green

Some things must end so that others may begin

[The space between Faerie and the Iron World]

With Fiona and Adonis gone the sithen seemed very empty.  I waited for days for them to come back, but they didn't... and without them here the house began to seem oppressive to me no matter what glamour I used to make it feel more open and welcoming,  and so eventually I broke the charms and let the house return to the Iron World.

Two knights of Faerie were waiting for me on the porch. One knight of Spring and one of Autumn. They greeted me formally and said that they came from the Lady of Spring and that they were glad to see that I was well. I did not want them in my house but I could not leave them standing there either. They might be seen. And also I wished to know if they had seen my goddaughter. I both hoped they had and hoped they had not.

After we had exchanged all the usual news and pleasantries I asked what had brought them to my door and they said that my Lady had sent them to find me and that they were not the only ones looking. I felt both relieved and concerned. Who else was looking for me? And since they were looking there was a chance that they might find Fiona as well or instead.

I had always known that my people would come looking for me, my Lady especially. I had hoped that Feidelma might. But no the news the knights had brought had mentioned her in passing and it was not good. Perhaps it was just as well that Fiona was not here to listen to it. The knights had not mentioned her but it seemed that  they had been waiting on that porch a while and so they might have seen her and Adonis leave.

Very nearly did I ask if they had seen a girl with red hair, but I did not. Instead I asked who else was looking for me. They answered that knights of both Summer and of Winter, and furthermore, my Lady had instructed that my guests should do their utmost to find me before those others did. They believed that while their orders were to ask me to accompany them back to Faerie; it was quite probable that those others would not ask but instead demand and back it up with force should I refuse.

They did not know why my Lady so wished to bring me back to Faerie. We all could guess why the Summer Court might look for me. I had always known that when the time for the tithe came I would be missed. Feidelma could not cover for me for all time. But I could not have expected them to know aught beyond their own orders. My Lady is not so careless with her secrets, especially not with someone who is sworn to the service of her opposite. If I wished to learn why she was making  an alliance with the Lady of Autumn  such that said Lady would  lend one of her knights to  a search for me, then I must return with them.

I am glad that my god daughter is well clear of this. Her mother sent her away to protect her from these sort of games. So I smile and sip my tea and tell them that yes of course I will go with them. As soon as we finish the tea and I pack a few things to take with me. Keepsakes of my time here. I will miss Fiona and her father. And my little mage. And perhaps the rest of this odd little town, just a little. It has been interesting living here.

But I missed my home as well, and now at last I am going home.
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You and me, even after everything! You're the queen and I'm the king! Nothing else means anything!

Eight Years Later

My wife smiles.

She smiles like the sun breaking through the clouds after a storm. I never knew she could smile like that, not for years. But now, now that there is nothing to be afraid of, nothing she needs to worry about, no need to look over her shoulder for what may be coming after her or us...

Wanda smiles. Real and beautiful and full of the life I always suspected was right under the surface. She smiles and laughs and sings and dances in the sand along with our beautiful daughters.

Both which are walking home with me right now, their black hair shining in the rays of the setting sun. Rose manages to walk and read at the same time, her green eyes glued to the pages of The Canterville Ghost. Her younger sister River (only by three minutes thank you very much!), skips along beside me, singing to the sky that matches her blue eyes.

"Come on girls, your mother is waiting on this shipment." I nudge them good humoredly as we take the path through the dunes.

"We'd move faster if the bookworm would look up once in a while." River teases Rose in a sing-song voice, then laughs and races up the path ahead of us.

"I can move just fine," Rose murmurs, her eyes darting back and forth across the page a few more times, and then she closes it. "Do you think we got some good ones this time?"

Smile down at Rose and shift the box I am carrying to one shoulder so I can take her hand. "I do not know. I did not read the titles on the cans, I always let your Mother see them first." Give her hand a squeeze. "So let us get them home, so we can see what she thinks." Rose smiles up at me now, and after squeezing my hand back, she races after her sister.

Open to Wanda

I've got a few more days to go and I've got another crust of bread somewhere.

[Some years later]

There ain't no rest for the wicked,
Money don't grow on trees,
I got bills to pay, I got mouths to feed,
There ain't nothing in the world for free,
Oh, I can't slow down, I can't hold back,
Even though I wish I could,
Oh, there ain't no rest for the wicked,
Until we close our eyes for good.

Used t'be onna m'fav'rite songs t'dance to, back'n m'kootch days. Zann gave me a present last Christmas, a music player she'd got workin' anna disc she'd made 'a songs she knew I liked. It's sittin' onna cloth next t'me on th'sand, playin' quiet but still loud 'nough fer me t'hear. Takes me right back, hearin'is duz, annit's funny list'nin' t'it here'n now.

Don't never get tired'a seein' th'ocean, no matter how many times we come up th'coast. Spent th'early years'a m'life seein' nothin' but stone'n steel, smellin' nothin' but smoke, hearin' nothin' but machin'ry 'n breakin' glass...t'stand'ere, lookin' out over th'shinin' water, smellin' th'salt, hearin' th'waves, like a dragon breathin'. Remember Nanshe tellin' me't my element wuz water, an'I think mebbe when'm too old t'travel 'd like t'live somewhere near th'sea, somewhere I c'n always hear't, feel't.

Sadie's doin' a way better job 'n charge'n I thought she ever would. All th'energy she used t'put inta sneerin'n back-bitin's now goin' t'finances, organizin'. Seems like she's found'er niche. Know'ere wuz some't thought I'd take th'reins, back when we first started out, but I knew better. One week'a dealin' wit' th'money an' th'ruddy townies an'd be runnin' fer th'hills. No, 'm happy where I am, doin' what I do. 'm a far better witch'n 'd ever be'n admin'strator.

Genny'n Zann've both grown inta fine young women, strong'n sens'ble. Genny misses'er ma, I know, but she's also provin' a fine ma t'Nu, who's growin' like a ruddy weed. Already readin', pickin' up thin's 'bout'er his'try. Don't think't'll be much longer 'fore she's pretty much 'membered't all.

Find m'self thinkin' ovvit all more'n more 's th'years go by. That night by th'river, callin' th'storm wit' Hermia, that bright, joyful song ringin' m'ears's th'rain poured down. Course, what came after wuzza lot less happy. Don't know how much blood m'knife spilled, how many bellies'n throats't opened, ain't even sure how many ovvem wuz human. Saw th'sheriff go down guns blazin', saw a white horse run by witta bloodstained saddle, remember callin' waves'n foam up from th'river, drownin' summa th'beasts on land, trappin' others'n mud, roots...all b'comes a blur after a while. Woke up'n th'brothel, tucked under a blanket, mornin' sun shinin' through th'windows an' th'tower'n ruins. 't wuz done.

Take a last, slow drag on m'cig, breathin'n smoke'n salt. Yeah, I think lots 'bout 'at last fight...but I think 'bout th'rest too. We ain't been back t'Excolo since'en, annit's funny, after havin' lived'ere fer so long. Funny t'miss't. I miss Nanshe. Miss Simon. Miss Verdi an' m'twins an' Tess an' Glass. Miss a lotta people. And God fuckin' help me, I still miss Tez, even after ev'rythin'e put me through. An'I 'member meetin' "Caldwell" 'n th'tavern. S'funny too, thinkin' ovvit now. Di'n't really consider't then, but I understand now, I think. Y'take comfort where y'c'n find't, an' y'find people who understand whatcha been through 'n weird places.

Scoop wet sand from th'beach 'n bury th'cigarette butt. Th'silver case's still in m'pocket. Song's changed now...norm'lly I don't like songs I can't dance to, but'is one...ain't really gotta tune 'r beat t'it, but if'n I had t'pick one song t'hear't th'end, likely be'is one.

They drive along the pipeline,
They tango till they're sore,
They take apart their nightmares
And they leave them by the door.

Let me fall out of the window with confetti in my hair,
Deal out jacks or better on a blanket by the stairs,
I'll tell you all my secrets but I lie about my past,
So send me off to bed forever more.

Sigh heavy'n heave m'self up. Got work t'do 'fore sun goes down, lots'a stuff on th'beach y'can't get nowhere else. Shells 'n bones t'dig up, weeds t'gather'n dry. Always more t'do, an' ain't no one gonna do't but me.

Ain't no rest fer th'wicked, after all.

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Pale smile

I see the land of fading sun and rising mountains And I finally feel that I've found my home

[Some years later]

There is moss and flowers growing on the ruins of the tower now, and birds nesting in the rusted remains of the iron girders. I can see it clearly from where I live now, and the sight holds no fear for me now, not for me, nor for anyone else in the town.

That terrible day of the storm, the day creatures roiled from the mists and healing rain fell from the sky, I was not at the river, nor did I see the battle. But I did see what happened, for I opened Follow Me Boy's doors to the injured and lost. There were so many hurt that day, people stretched on every bed and couch and rug in the house, Sophie and Mrs. Danvers running off their feet bringing bandages and hot water. The front and back doors were propped open, all of the lanterns lit, letting both the rain and the townsfolk in. Most of the folk were well, in the end...but there were those that never returned from the riverbank. Reed. Mab. Others. Many folk were buried, and there was much mourning in the days that followed...but there was a lightness in the air now too, as though a great weight had been lifted from the town, as though a heavy cloud had cleared and allowed the sun to shine through again.

That was years ago. I have retired now, save for a few favourite clients, my savings more than enough for me to live comfortably. I have bought a little one-story house just off of Main Street, close to the cafe, and the bakery, and the library, close enough that I can walk to visit my friends. Since Lucien died there has been no more medicine, but I get by as I always did before, with the help of my cane, and I am so very grateful for the relief that he gave me for those few years. I miss him still, and I light incense for him every day, for him, and for Reed, and for Mab.

I have taught myself to embroider using my one remaining hand, by propping the frame on my arm and working gently. Mrs. Danvers comes by once a day to cook. She has grown older, but she still laughs as loud as ever, and she still insists on looking out for me. I have taken to calling her Wai Po, Grandmother, and she laughs and kisses my cheek.

Hermia and Hope bring their children to visit every week. I have begun teaching them Mandarin, and they are learning very quickly.

It is strange now, remembering how sad I was when Hope and Faith first told me that I would never see Shanghai again, how I wept at the thought that I would never see my home again. But now I tend my little garden, I read my books, and I look out the window as the sun sets over the town.

I am home, and I am content.

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It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done...

In the Moment

It feels like I've been fighting him for hours. And while I know better, it's hard to fight that feeling.
Hard to keep going, but I have to.

Up and down the bank we go- him backing toward the group, and then me pushing him back again. There are others here, giving everything to stand against the blackness that was always clutching the heart of Excolo. So many people here putting every fiber of their being into this one moment.

I don't think that I've ever seen anything more beautiful.

But then something changes- my opponent has been kind enough to put on a person suit for our dance, but his eyes are still fire. They flicker and then the world shifts for half a second and it is not the man anymore. I can't tell if he's rushing at me, or past me but I can't let him get to them. I have to protect them. If I've never done anything before in my whole life, I have to stand between them and-

it's cold

it shouldn't be cold, there's fire in front of me and i can see myself
see my sword fall from nerveless fingers
see, just as i can feel the massive paw in my chest and the teeth at my throat
feel the blood
that's my body, but now i know that i am more than that if only for a few seconds

and i can see the magic my friends have wrought and i can go to it, and i can push just there and
if i've never done anything in my life i can help them and
i can protect them all
i can protect EXCOLO forever
i can-

how long till my soul gets it right?

Two years later

Dear Ri,

I'm sorry we won't be coming back your way this year. Looks like we're just gonna stay farther south this winter cause we gotta stay away from Management's carnival. Maybe next year we'll make it? But Sadie says it's probly better to stay away from Excolo for another year or two anyway. Too much magic left over from all them spells that Syl and everybody done, and from what we done to break Management's spell right after.

Sadie's doin real good in charge! You know everyone was surprised when she stepped up but she's doin better than we thought she would. I still think she was real brave to take over like she did.

Anyway, we're goin along the Gulf coast this winter instead, and oh heck is it pretty! I'm sendin some pictures of the palm trees and beaches. I like the colors I got on the sunset. Maybe that one would work on the wall of your salon, cause you said you was lookin for new pictures to hang up. Maybe it'll make someone want their hair dyed in sunset colors!

I sent a picture of Nu too. Aint Nu big and pretty now? Everyone says that all babies grow that fast but it still seems like it's goin real fast. They're talkin now too. Not a lot of words that make sense but still, talkin. And they're runnin around so fast that if we don't keep a real sharp eye on em they'll be down in whatever river we're closest to. Nu loves finger paints, too, and that makes me happy.

Zann and Syl say hey, and they're doin real good. Zann fixed up the flyin swing ride so it's even better than before! The lights flash in time with the music now and the swings go even higher. Everyone loves it.

You asked about Momma, but she ain't written for a while so I can't say how she is. I miss her but I don't blame her for staying with them instead of comin with us. I guess she felt like she needed to stick by Management no matter what. Anyway, she is writing to me so that's better than it was at first.

You also asked if I met any gals. There was a cute one in the last town we was in and she even talked to me some but I was too shy to get her name. But I been writing letters to Sara, that gal I met in Anteros, and we're goin back there next month so I hope we can go round some when I'm there.

I miss you and the twins a heck of a lot. Give em both hugs for me, and Joy too. I hope your new assistant is doin real good. I know you're a real good boss.