Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Holiday Cheer

The one thing that pained him about Sadie was how expressive she was. Even without saying a word, Charles knew when his ten-year-old wasn’t enjoying the meal prep. It came across in the way she kept her head ducked and inspected her task with care before she actually started it.

“Why so glum?” he asked and she looked up from where she’d been carefully crimping a pie as instructed.

“What’s glum?”

He laughed. “It means you’re unhappy. Something bothering you Sadie-bug?”

She considered it while she turned the pie one last time. “We’re making a lot of food,” she said.

“Yes,” he said.

“But it’s just you and me,” she said and looked at him. There was trouble in her earth-toned gaze. “Not even Uncle Marshall this year.”

It surprised him. She was a social butterfly, as evidenced by the fact that at ten, her list of phone numbers was more than double his and her weekends were rarely ‘free’.

“Well, it’s a holiday for family.”

“Uncle Marshall is family,” Sadie said.

“Yes, but he has other family.” He had to be careful about that. She was by no means an unintelligent child and if she started asking how closely related they were to her ‘uncle’ she was going to uncover a whole other set of problems.

“Family we don’t have?”

Time to head off that conversation. “Honey, what’s going on with you? Why are you so concerned with it?”

She shrugged a little as he came to sit in the chair next to her. “It’s just, this is supposed to be for families, right? So…where’s the rest of my family? I don’t have grandparents or…or aunts or anything. Just you and Uncle Marshall.”

Expressive as her body language could be, getting actual information out of her verbally sometimes felt like panning for gold. It was all in the tiny things.

“What’s that ‘or anything’ you’re so concerned with?” Charles questioned. Sadie didn’t look at him. She’d finished crimping the pie, and the fork she’d been using showed him only a warped reflection when she turned away. “I can’t fix a problem if you don’t tell me about it.”

Another moment of silence. “Where’s my mom?”

That was a blow and Charles had to inhale a little. He’d been hoping she wouldn’t ask, even while he knew eventually Sadie would. Explaining what had happened with her mother was an involved tale.

Even for a ten-year-old that could and did pick up on things she shouldn’t have.

Especially for a ten-year-old that had told him before which kids in her class weren’t getting enough lunch and which ones were being hurt at home.

He must have taken too long to respond because she sighed. “You’re not going to tell me, are you?”

“Hold on, a minute,” he said. “You surprised me, that’s all. Come on, turn and face me.”

Sadie obliged but he could tell by her face she wasn’t happy about something.

“You’re smart enough and old enough to know that sometimes moms and dads don’t stay together,” he said. “And sometimes when that sort of thing happens, there’s a lot of nastiness involved.”

“They get divorced,” Sadie replied, almost matter-of-fact. There was an underlying question in her tone that indicated she wasn’t sure where this was going.

“That’s only when they get married,” Charles said. “I…I never married your mom. I asked her a couple of times, and we were going to, but we ended up not.”

“Then where is she now?”

“Well,” Charles said and had to pause before he exhaled slowly. This was the one thing he hadn’t ever wanted to tell Sadie. “The truth of it is honey, your mom fell in love with someone else, and she decided he was a little more important to her than you were,” Charles said.

He could tell she was processing it, but the look of shock on her face broke his heart. “She didn’t want me?”

“She…no. She decided she didn’t.”

Sadie was silent for a long moment. “I’m going go play in my room,” she said.

“Okay.”

His heart squeezed, painted as she wandered towards her room and closed the door softly. He couldn’t do anything to alleviate the pain of knowing that at least one parent had abandoned her.

Reminded of the whole mess, Charles sighed and looked over the dishes still in the middle of prepping. He knew there were others in the fridge, waiting for tomorrow when they would start cooking. These were the ones he wanted prepped ahead of time—the cheesecake, and the pies, mostly, but also Sadie’s favorite cheesy potatoes.

He took time putting everything up. The pies were stacked on wire racks, repurposed from their usual cookie-cooling days so he could more on the shelf. The casserole sat on the shelf below that, covered in tinfoil already. The turkey and the ham were similarly ready, though both still packaged up and waiting to be prepped for tomorrow.

There was plenty of other items—fruits and veggies to be displayed as snacking foods, potatoes for more mashed. Eggs, cooling from this morning and waiting to be deviled or mashed into egg salad.

In fact, the only thing they seemed to be missing for tomorrow’s feast, was ice cream to top the pie.

Ice cream, he decided, and maybe something to cheer up Sadie. It wasn’t much, but maybe she’d perk up once she was able to look over the holiday decorations.

“Sadie?” He knocked on her door softly and it took her a moment to open it. He could tell she was still upset and smiled. “We forgot something when we did the shopping.”

“Like what?”

“Can’t have apple pie without vanilla ice cream on top, now can we?”

It was such a tiny smile. “I need to get my shoes.”

The drive was a short one, and with a holiday station turned on, Charles was glad to see a little more cheer as it spread over Sadie.

Finding the ice cream wasn’t hard to do, and Sadie ranged down the aisle a little while Charles lingered near the ice cream bars. He knew they really did have enough food at home for the rest of the week, but an ice cream sandwich sounded like a perfect reward for all the work they’d put in to prepping today.

From the corner of one eye, he saw Sadie as she opened a freezer door to reach up for the ice cream. It must have been farther back on the shelf and he saw her step back, the door slapping shut in defeat.

Time to go rescue her from a too-high shelf, he decided.

Someone else had seen her plight though. He couldn’t have been more than fourteen, but grinned as he opened the door and fetched it down. “That the one you need?”

“Yes. Thank you!”

“Alec, I already told you no.”

He knew that voice and turned, startled to see someone he was certain wouldn’t have been in town: Marshall’s sister.

“Hi, Lila,” he said.

Lila blinked and looked at him before she laughed. “Hi! I didn’t even recognize you for a minute. I see I’m not the only one leaving the holiday shopping to the last minute.”

He laughed as Sadie came over, her prize in hand. “Yes and no. We got most of it done the last couple of days, but needed just a couple odds and ends.”

“Who’s this?” Sadie asked and Lila laughed.

“I’m Lila. I helped Charles with the landscaping for the restaurant.”

“You’re the one who put in the gardenias! Hi! I’m Sadie.”

Charles laughed as the boy sauntered over to half-glare at Charles. “This is my girl.”

Lila beamed. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sadie. This is Alec.”

The boy responded with a faint nod. “’Sup?” It earned him a faint sigh from Lila and Charles laughed.

“Thank you for helping Sadie, Alec,” he said.

“No problem.” He said and half-smiled at Sadie. “She almost had it. Just needs another inch or so.”

She beamed and looked at Charles. “How long is going to take for me to grow an inch?”

“With my luck? You’ll grow an inch the week after we get you a new jacket for winter,” he said.

Lila laughed. “That’s how it always works,” she said. “We’ve got just a few things left to get, so we’ll get out of your hair.”

He noted the shopping list in the front of the cart, how short it was. A tight budget, perhaps? Or just a very small celebration. His gaze traveled to her hands, noting the lack of a wedding band.

“You know,” he said and glanced at Sadie. “Sadie and I are doing the holiday with just the two of us. You guys are welcome to join us.”

“Please do,” Sadie said. “Daddy made four pies and both turkey and ham.”

Lila laughed and glanced at Alec, who shrugged. “I like pie,” he said noncommittally.

“Then…I think we’d love to,” Lila said. “If you’re certain. It’s just Alec and I this year as well, but we don’t want to impose.”

“You’re not imposing. You’re invited,” Charles promised and glanced at Sadie. “Besides. Sadie’s right. I may have gone a little overboard on cooking.”

Lila laughed. “We can probably help with that.”

Maybe it wasn’t her mom, but Charles smiled as Sadie grinned, immediately launching into a detailed accounting of everything they already had and asking how Alec liked his turkey—what kind of gravy did he prefer? Did Lila like apple pie or cherry?

No, he couldn’t replace her mother. But maybe, just maybe, he could prove to Sadie that there were more people who wanted her around than the one who’d abandoned them both.

_________

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this short story you can find more over on my short stories page. Alternately, you can get exclusive stories and early access by supporting me on Patreon. 

Happy Holidays!

Posted in Stories

Short Story: Gingerbread

“The end.”

“Momma,” her daughter said. “There’s not really a house made of candy in the woods, is there?” Concern made her eyes wide.

A laugh escaped. “It wouldn’t last very long if there was, now would it?”

“No.” Her son cut in matter-of-factly. “All the animals would come and eat it.”

“Indeed they would. There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s only a story meant to pass a little bit of time between supper and bed. Which is where the both of you need to be.”

“Already?” Her son’s smile faded into a pout.

“Already,” she said and stood up. “Kisses and then into bed. I’ll tuck you both in shortly.”

They sighed but accepted a hug and a kiss. Already she could tell her son was sleepy, his steps shuffling over the floor. He might protest bedtime the most, but he rarely stayed awake more than a few minutes passed it.

She tucked him in first and wasn’t surprised when he was almost immediately asleep. “Good night my gingerbread boy,” she murmured and then crept over to his sister’s bed.

Her daughter lay awake, staring at the ceiling. “You’re sure there’s no house made of candy?” her daughter asked and she chuckled as she sat on the bed.

“I’m sure. Did the story scare you too much?”

“I’m not scared. Not much.”

She laughed and bent down, pressing a kiss to her daughter’s soft hair. “I promise. No houses made of candy and no greedy bakers looking to gobble up sweet children, either. Besides. You know I’m a baker. Do you think I could make a house out of candy?”

Her daughter smiled and relaxed a little. “Maybe,” she said and rolled over. “Your baking is always so tasty.”

“And that’s why it never lasts long around here. Good night my gingerbread girl.”

She slipped out, looking at them for a few minutes before she closed the door.

A sigh escaped as she moved to the kitchen. All too soon it would be time to get up and start the morning’s baking.

For now however, she moved to the ancient brick oven and looked in at the ball of dough she’d left rising.

“Perfect,” she said as she pulled it out. “You don’t need to be all that sweet, but just a little bit of cinnamon and some sugar.”

She worked with care, her hands folding and pulling the dough into the perfect shape. Skill and practice made it possible to form ears and a tail

Finished, she smiled as she opened her cabinet for one last tiny bottle. It was nearly empty, and to anyone else it looked like plain sugar. There would be just enough left to sprinkle over a single baked good.

Just enough for a cinnamon roll.

The last few sparkling grains tipped out onto the cinnamon roll before she eased the sheet into the ancient oven to bake.

Her boy had wanted a pet for so long and her daughter had loved seeing the butcher’s cat.

The problem was, she had to be careful what she allowed them to be exposed to. As her son had pointed out, some animals would happily gobble down candy and sweets. She knew more than a few people would.

A faint meow from the oven and she looked in seeing the cat as it began rising properly and turning golden brown. It would still be a while, but in the morning she would have a perfect cat for her sweet children.

“A cinnamon roll cat for a gingerbread boy and a gingerbread girl.”

___________

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Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: The Spinning Wheel Trade

The worst chore for Crystal was undoubtedly spinning yarn. It always made her fingers hurt and more than once, she’d found a spontaneous knot in already carded wool which proved to be a seed or stone or some other item which shouldn’t have been there.

She wasn’t sure which was worse, the way her hands itched and burned, or the fact that there was always something that shouldn’t have been in the wool. Her brothers could card it, comb it and sort it three and four times and Crystal would still have small items to pull out of it.

They’d tried cotton one year. It had been worse. She still had a scar on her palm from the broken knife blade that had somehow been hidden in it.

For the what felt like the hundredth time since starting, Crystal had to pause and reach for the comb to help pluck out whatever she’d discovered. A leaf, she realized. At the least, it looked like a leaf.

Yes, it was a leaf. A little crushed, but a leaf. Hoping no one was around to see, she sniffed it. Mint.

She dropped the leaf in the small basket next to her where it joined the other odds and ends she’d found. By the time she finished her spinning and had enough wool to take down to the old woman, she’d have half-filled the basket.

“Excuse me?”

Timid and soft, the voice drew Crystal’s attention from her yarn. The timidity in the voice matched its owner well. Juniper. The old woman’s apprentice.

She stood there, eyes wide and fearful as she studied Crystal, a basket over her arm. “Yes?” Crystal asked. As always, it seemed her ribbon was falling out.

“I…I brought you some tarts. As a thank you for the blackberries.” A faint smile curled on Juniper’s lips as she spoke and Crystal paused.

Few people thanked her for the things she gave them. All too often she found them whether she wanted to or not. People were used to her handing them odd little things, only for them to be missing items or things they needed for supper, for work, for other endeavors.

“A thank you?” It almost felt foreign to Crystal. People didn’t thank her for the items she gave them.

“It only seemed right,” Juniper said and bent her head. Crystal hated how small she sounded. “You didn’t have to give me the blackberries, so I thought I’d bring you something.”

Slowly, Crystal stood, leaving her spinning as it was and came down the porch steps. She was a little taller than Juniper, she realized and smiled a little as Juniper hesitantly uncovered the basket to reveal the tarts.

Blackberry tarts.

“Thank you,” Crystal said, and Juniper smiled as she lifted the plate out to hand them over.

“I…well, you’re welcome.”

“Do you want to come in?” The words came out of Crystal’s mouth before she could fully think them through. She knew what the house looked like—there were dozens of things on shelves wherever she’d left them, probably dust in the corner because there always seemed to be something. Laundry on the line. There would be at least one rabbit escaped from the hutch.

“Oh, I…I don’t want to impose.”

It was too late to rescind the invitation and Crystal had been taught sharing gifts was polite.

Even if she didn’t usually get a thank-you for the gifts she gave others.

“It’s not. I’m inviting you in. At least have a tart with me.”

Juniper hesitated and then nodded. “All—Alright.”

It was such a tiny smile, but on Juniper’s face, it made almost everything brighter. Crystal held the door for her, but as they walked in, she almost wanted to exclaim some emergency and run away. Shelves full of the odds and ends Crystal had found covered the one wall, trinkets, broken pieces of pottery and other random items.

It wasn’t the pieces themselves that mattered, most of the time they were only little things. Rather, Crystal knew they were still holding into something else. A little magic, which she herself couldn’t do anything with.

She could hold magic, but not use it.

Juniper’s gaze however, traveled up and down the shelf and Crystal found her tongue once again moving.

“They’re just interesting finds. Things from the field.” Or from the yarn she spun, from the bushes she helped trim, from the basket she brought home from market, from who knew where.

“They’re very interesting,” Juniper agreed and reached up to fix her hair, sighing when the ribbon slipped out again. “Sorry.”

“Nothing to apologize for.”

“I did interrupt your spinning,” Juniper said and Crystal smiled.

“That’s always interrupted,” she said. “It takes a while to get anything spun for me.”

“Oh. I—mhmm.” She dropped her head a little and Crystal set the plate down.

“You were going to say something.”

“Oh, it’s just, I’ve always enjoyed spinning. I’d be happy to help or show you some things if you’d like.”

“It’s not that, it’s just the wool and…” she trailed off, not wanting to have to explain she was fairy-blessed, gifted to always find something she could use.

“It’s your blessing, isn’t it?”

The outright question startled Crystal and Juniper dropped her head again. “I’m sorry, that was rude.”

“It just surprised me. Not that many people know about it.”

Juniper smiled. “The old woman, she told me.”

Crystal knew exactly who Juniper meant. And if she’d told Juniper, there had to be a reason behind it.

“Then, would you mind helping with the spinning? I can bring more blackberries, or something else if you need it.”

Juniper’s gaze moved to the shelf. “Actually,” she said and reached out gently to pick up a tiny brass ring. “I need a ring for something I’m working on. I’ll trade you for this.”

Impossibly, Crystal’s heart skipped a beat. “Absolutely,” she said.

“Then let’s have that tart, and then I’ll get the spinning done,” Juniper said and slid the ring into her basket.

The tarts were sweet, and Crystal made tea. The conversation grew easier and she learned more about Juniper. She’d been an apprentice for three years. She had a younger sister, now off to university.

Their tart finished and Juniper began the spinning. Several times as Crystal moved near the door while she worked around the rest of the house, she thought she heard Juniper humming as she worked.

It was evening fall by the time her brothers came in from the fields and both she and Juniper belatedly realized the time.

“Thank you, again,” Juniper said as she tried and failed to tie the ribbon back into her hair. “If you want help with the spinning again just let me know. I’ll—oh, I’m sorry, I’ve got to go!”

“Of course. And thank you for the tarts.”

Juniper waved as she scurried away and Crystal leaned against the doorframe, lips pulled into a smile.

A hand landed on her shoulder and she looked up to see Jasper, grinning at her like a fool. “Help with the spinning?”

Her cheeks tingled a little and she scrunched her nose as she tried to shrug his hand off. “She asked if I wanted any, and it made it easier to get some other things done.”

Jasper barked out a laugh. “Somehow I have a feeling you’re going to need a lot of help with all that spinning.”

Cheeks burning, Crystal turned into the house. Supper needed to be seen to. Although, she had to wonder if this was what Godmother Dawn had been intending when she’d told Juniper about Crystal’s blessing. It almost felt rude to steal a Godmother’s apprentice for a little help with spinning yarn.  


By A.J. Helms

If you enjoyed this short piece, consider checking out my short stories or my books! This piece also connects directly with my short Season of Preparing and is in the same universe as Crimson and Gold.

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Bloom

Jeremy sat with his knees drawn up to his chest, staring at his grandmother’s garden. He heard the screen door creak open and then a sigh from her. “What’s wrong, muffin?”

He shrugged. He didn’t want to say it, but he knew he couldn’t lie. Something always kept him from uttering even the tiniest lie.

His grandmother settled next to him. Her hair only had a few grays in it, the only sign that she was fifty-five. Otherwise, she looked almost young enough to have just been his mother.

For a moment, they were quiet before she inhaled. “You know, I never could get those daffodils to survive long enough to bloom.”

“They need dryer soil and more sunlight,” he said. He knew that from talking to them.

“Do you want to help me move them then?”

Maybe. It would give him something to do, something to keep his hands busy so he wasn’t brooding.

But he wasn’t sure he wanted to either and shrugged.

“Is this about your parents?”

Annoyance and anger sparked up. “They don’t want me,” he said.

“Jeremy, they—”

“They gave you papers saying that you could make any choice you wanted or needed to. They don’t even know what school I go to. They didn’t know I’d joined the debate club. Most of the time they just send me to go get dinner on my own when they have a date night or some stupid trip and I have more of my things here than I do at home. I didn’t even pack anything this time. They’ve been home less than a week and they already decided they had to go somewhere else. They don’t want me.”

His grandmother paused a moment and inhaled as she looked at the garden before she looked back at him.

“It’s a little harder to explain,” she said.

“I don’t need it explained,” he answered and poked at a knot in the wooden railing next to him. “I figured it out. Why do they even bother taking me home if they’re just going to turn around and drop me off again anyways?”

“Because they do love you,” his grandmother replied and Jeremy snorted. “That’s something you do need to understand. They do love you. They’re just…”

“They like the idea of having a kid but not the work.”

His grandmother sighed and looked down at her hands, where they were callused and scarred from years of work.

“You know, I had your mom when I was barely eighteen,” she said. “And I tried so hard to make sure she had every opportunity.”

“I know,” Jeremy said.

“But, for whatever reason, she had you when she was barely eighteen herself. Some kids aren’t ready to have children, and as much as I don’t want to admit it, your mom is one of those kids.”

“She’s not even here.” Jeremy put his head down. “And she hates the weird stuff I do.”

“That weird stuff is magic,” his grandmother said. “You and I both know that.”

“Yeah, but try telling either of them that. I get told I can’t have magic because that would make me a Caster and I’m not supposed to be a Caster.”

“People are supposed to be a lot of things.”

“Like supportive parents,” he muttered it to himself mostly, but his grandmother chuckled.

“Yes,” she agreed. “But they aren’t always what they’re supposed to be. And that means that even when they’re not expected to be something, sometimes they are.”

Logically, it checked out and Jeremy knew it.

And yet, it still burned him. He knew what the plants were in need of, could feel the power in streams and the occasional windstorm.

Rather than answer, he grunted and put his head down.

His grandmother chuckled. “I’ve got to get those daffodils moved,” she said. “Do you want to help?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“That’s fine. I have cookies cooling inside if you decide you don’t want to help, and I’ll be down in the garden if you do want to.”

He had to smile as she stood, going down the steps. “Thanks,” he said.

“Only for you,” she said and kissed his head. “Don’t eat too many cookies. I’m making chicken casserole tonight.”

 “Spicy chicken casserole?”

“I could be talked into it, but it does take a little bit of work and I really do want daffodils this year.”

He laughed and jogged down the steps. “They just need a little more sunlight,” he said. “I know the perfect spot for them.”


by A.J. Helms

If you enjoyed this short, you can find more on my short stories page, or by checking out my published books. Thanks for reading!

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Where Fate Ends

The horses snorted a little as the cart drew to a stop and Briom glanced at the boy next to him. There was still a chance to change his mind, he realized.

Reminded of why he was doing this, Briom’s resolve hardened. “We’re here,” he said.

His face serious for being only eight, Davise slid out of the seat easily. Briom waited a moment longer before he joined the boy on the ground. There were only three steps up to the door, but he was careful, waiting for Davise to go up them first. He knocked, the fine material of his thick cloak opening to reveal the heavily embroidered belt he wore and the thick chain around his neck.

It took a moment for the door to open, though the face behind it didn’t look even remotely surprised. Her dark brown hair had been pulled over one shoulder, and one brow quirked up.

“Hello,” Briom said.

“Well come in then,” Liria said and stepped back.

He motioned Davise in first, and then followed. Liria shut the door behind them. “Mind the glass,” she called and lead the way to the back. “I just put the kettle on.”

Most of the front room was taken over with shelves dedicated to books, but the central shelves were full of detailed glass sculptures. He marveled at these for a moment before stepping through the short door and into the kitchen. “Go, sit,” Briom said and patted Davise’s back gently to encourage him to do so.

Liria smiled. “There’s a cushion on the one in the middle,” she said.

“Thank you,” Davise said politely, and moved to that one, climbing into it and smiling as he settled into it.

Briom couldn’t but smile at that and inclined his head at Liria. “You look good,” he said.

“You mean I look better than the last time you saw me,” she said.

“That’s—well. It’s been a few years.”

“Briom, you haven’t seen me since I was a teen,” she said.

A rare laugh escaped him. She was right and he had to shake his head. “Yes,” he agreed.

“Who is she, Papa?”

He looked over and smiled a little. “This is your Aunt Liria,” he said. “She’s got magic, just like yours.”

Davise’s eyes widened. “You mean with the ice?”

“Indeed!” Liria said. “Specifically, it’s called cyclical magic, and our particular kind deals with the magic of winter. More—ah, forgive me. I’m rambling.”

The kettle whistled and Liria turned, moving to pull it off. “Let me make it,” Briom said and Liria looked at him and he smiled. “It’d be an honor.”

Her gaze narrowed slightly but she nodded. “Very well,” she said.

He smiled a little as he made the tea. He kept careful track of the cups as he added the sugar, he knew his son would like, and a dose of something extra. “Do you take sugar, Liria?”

“Oh, no, I can’t stand the stuff,” Liria said. “Some rather unpleasant memories associated with sugar.”

His son frowned a little as the tea was set in front of him. “What do you here?”

“Oh, for Reverie? Not too much. Mostly just teach.”

“Mostly?”

“Yes, mostly. Occasionally I’m a little bit of a merchant, storyteller, mediator.” Liria considered it. “That list of titles really has come down. Disappointing.”

“What do you mean it’s come down?” the boy asked.

“Oh I used to have dozens of titles. Let’s see, there was being a scholar, and a professor, tiny bit of a thief but really that one I’m not terribly proud of, adept, messenger, traveling merchant, adventurer in generally.”

“You’ve gone on adventures?”

“Oh plenty,” Liria said and sipped her tea. “Let me see, where to start?”

Briom was silent, letting Liria entertain his son with a story. As she told it, Davise began to nod, tired from the travel and from the additive in his tea.

It was only when his head nearly hit the table and he jerked awake that Briom chuckled. “Bed, I think.”

“Are we sleeping in the carriage?”

Briom didn’t answer right away, only glancing at Liria, who inclined her head slightly. “No,” he said. “We’ll stay here the night.”

Liria smiled as Briom stood, coming over to guide the boy over to the small room off the kitchen. The bed was made, he saw and Liria pulled the covers down. “Sleep well,” he murmured as Davise tumbled into bed.

He stepped out again, closing the door softly and resting against it for a moment.

Liria’s hand was gentle on his elbow. “You know by leaving him here, he won’t be able to leave. He will be Reverie’s next protector.”

“I know,” Briom said and turned away. “But our father is sickening, and I can feel it sinking in. You said you never found a way to break the curse on the home.”

“No,” Liria said and turned away, going to the kitchen table. “It’s worse. There is no curse on the home.”

“What do you mean?” Briom said.

“It’s not a curse, it’s the price of magic,” Liria said. There was a tiredness in her voice as she said it. “Magic extends its price until fully paid. Someone who owned the home before our father used a spell at which point likely killed the original spell caster. Since the spell was cast, the price needed to be paid, if there was no familial or emotional connection to carry out the cost then it would have settled into the area.”

“Then if we moved the family home it would no longer affect us?” Briom asked.

“That’s where things get tricky,” Liria said. “The Baron made it our family home, and when he did so, it could very much mean that the price of that magic will follow our family no matter where they go.”

Briom sighed and had to sink into a seat. “Can you—you’re an expert in magic. Isn’t there something you can do?”

“Unfortunately, not. The price for magic can’t be changed. It’s nonnegotiable, and situations like this are exactly why any magic user needs to be so careful with their spells,” Liria said.

He put his head in his hands with a groan. The silence fell around them for several moments before he exhaled and looked up at her.

Liria was right, he hadn’t seen her in years, though he was grateful she hadn’t mentioned exactly when he’d seen her last. Though watching as she fought their father and a powerful binding spell was something that still haunted his nightmares.

“I can feel it,” Briom said finally and looked up at her. “Father’s gotten sick, so a lot of his responsibilities are mine and I can feel it. Like some lurking beast around every corner. It’s…it’s not like Father yet, but it’s there.”

Liria nodded slightly. “Well,” she said. “If this is truly what you wish, then I’ll look after him, but I do hope you know what you’re dooming him to. He will be Reverie’s next protector.”

“I’d rather doom him to a long life at the edge of this miserable forest than a short one as the next Baron of Storms,” Briom said.

She smiled slightly. “I suppose that’s that then,” she said. “Well, the other bed isn’t much, but I suppose I can at least offer it to you for the night.”

“No, I need to be going. He should sleep until about midmorning.”

“Then I’ll wake you with the dawn,” Liria said.

Briom looked at her. “You can’t be serious,” he said.

“I’m really not much of one for jokes. Outside the realm of my talents, really. Lies, half-truths, stories, those I can all tell. Jokes really do escape me.”

He was silent for a long moment before he nodded. “Very well,” he said. “But I won’t rob you of your bed.”

“Oh hardly,” Liria said. “I’ve known you’d bring your son to me for years. I have two guest beds and I have mine. You’re just going to have to make do with the second guest bed, that’s all.”

“How long have you known?” Briom asked.

“Oh, let me see, I think…twenty six years now?”

“He’s only eight,” Briom said.

“Fate has a funny way of working out like that,” Liria said.

Briom frowned. “You’ve had your fate read?”

“Multiple times, actually. This was just one certainty that never changed. There are others.”

“Like what?”

Liria smiled, a little sadly. “I’ve already told you,” she said. “He can’t be Reverie’s protector if he’s the Baron of Storms, and he can’t be the Baron if he’s Reverie’s protector.”

The realization of what she was saying punched his gut. “He’ll become protector when you die,” he said.

“Yes,” Liria said. “That’s years from now. I have a few adventures left in me and you have your fate to live out still.”

“Do you know my fate?”

“I’m many things, but a Fate Reader I am not. If you want to know where your fate ends, that’s something you’d have to ask someone with a different kind of magic than what I or your son possess. Neither of us can tell you.”


by A.J. Helms

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