A String in the Pattern

A Breath of Frost

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The stirrings of awareness were muddled warmly as if drowned in a wine of no after affects. Dots of light creaked between the struggle of heavy lids and lashes trying to part. Her eyes did not wish to participate in her thoughts. For the longest time, all she could do was look at a spot of light as golden as a tiny sun through what seemed like old, lead glass: wavy and blurred. She took a deep breath of cool air that smelled like...nothing. No trees or grass or dirt or scent or perfume or...it was an odd thing to note, what nothing smelled like. It seemed--flat. The air was flat and her eyes finally focused on the dancing, soft point of light. A single candle.


Her limbs felt heavy with sleep even as her mind awoke, processing the place where she was. It seemed nothing more than a simple stone room with rough cut square bricks that fit together in perfection. There was a table of wood, with a single wax candle that bobbed and burnt ruddy color across the stones.


She was a-bed, tucked deeply in what she thought might be swan feathers and covered in plain grey, but thick, puffy and warm covers.


Finally, she was able to rouse a twitch or two in her fingers. Soon to follow, her arm. She thought she should, perhaps, be alarmed to find herself in a room with a stone, a candle and a-bed with no memory as to how she got there.


She found she felt...calm. Rested. Nearly floating and bobbing along akin to the candle! She tried to push her elbows into the mattress and beneath her a bit to sit up more. That is when a voice from her right startled her.


"Ah, you're back," it said. Distinctly male with a richness to it she couldn't place. She turned wide eyes to seek out the source of it and saw a man in dark robes seated with an air of patience in a chair by her side. She had absolutely no idea why she hadn't seen him before the table, the candle and the bed.


This should bother her. She meant to ask about it, but instead she said, "Yes. I s'ppose I am at that."


There was no indication that the man in the robes was looking at her. She couldn't see into his hood. He reminded her of a monk...some sort of priest. Perhaps that is why she felt so calm and safe? The air of someone amused was sensed. Perhaps it was the line of his shoulders or the way he lifted his hands in an obscure gesture she couldn't identify.


The amusement faded to something else. Something that pulled the shoulders beneath the dark robes taut and proper.


"Do you know who I am?" The words were spoken with weight. A solemnity she didn't understand.


She took a few seconds to squint very hard at him. At his hands. His robes. The hood. Down at where she guessed his feet were covered and back up again. She could feel her forehead grow tight as her brows collected themselves over her nose in a wrinkle of concentration as she tried her best to recall if she did or not. After the silence stretched what seemed days, broken only by the hiss and splutter of candle, she shook her head and eased back into the pillow.


"No, I'm sorry. I don't think I do. Are you someone I should know?"


He seemed very still. Not that he moved around a lot in the few moments that passed between them, but even more so than a stone slab as he considered her question.


"No." Simply. "No, I am not. And that is good."
"Is it?" She even heard the way her voice arose several notes in confusion.
"Yes," replied. He didn't elaborate at all. So she decided to think about it for a while.


"You said I was back. Where was I, before being here?"
"Dead," the word he spoke held a particular gravity fitting to such an announcement.
"Oh."


The sputter of the candle came and went several times as she couldn't find anything else to say about it. Until: "But I'm better now, am I? I mean, I don't feel very dead anymore. Was I very sick?"


The way he held himself after she asked that question translated a myriad of subtle emotion that she simply didn't understand. It could have been laughter, anger, sadness or more.


"You...are better now. It is better now," he started, holding his hand up to stop her from speaking further. "Know this. When you leave here, you will not remember again. You will not remember me, this room, or this conversation. It will never come back. You will never be what you were before; that was my mistake and my burden.


"I am fixing that which I have done wrong. Understand, there is only so much I can do. There is no daylight without the dark, no life without death, no summer without winter. Everything is a cycle that even I, cannot break. You are part of that cycle--that pattern--as much as I am and all of us are. But I can do this one thing: I can make you a smaller string of that pattern. I can make you part of it, not the one who wove it. I can give you all that you deserved, and more--back to you. " He lowered his hand.


Neither of them said anything more for a very long time. Her eyes--her blue eyes--settled on him as heavy as bricks in chains and stayed there with nary a blink or a turn away. They studied him and tried to look through him, pull him apart perhaps.


After a time, the candle had burned half-way into itself, she sighed. "I s'ppose that's also good, then."


She did not see it, but she heard the smile in his voice. "It is." He leaned forward and caressed her white hair.


"Sleep, daughter. Sleep now, and awake in peace. Know that you were loved above all others."


She closed her eyes and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
 

A Breath of Frost

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Overboard


It was her teeth chattering fit to sound like an entire grave of bones being rolled down a hill by drunkards that woke her. Her chin and jaw wouldn't stop its quivering. At first, a single point of ruddy light came between her stinging eyelids. It blurred and wavered as what felt like salt leaked into her eyes, stinging and watering them. Blinking them hard, feeling them redden and water rolling down her cheeks she tried to call for someone. Anyone. Her shivering was so violent that the best she could do was huff like a child blowing up a balloon that wasn't there.


"By the gods, bless. Yer awake," a gruff and gravely voice loudly proclaimed by her right. She turned her head toward it and saw what quite possibly may have been the ugliest old man alive.


He had a bald pate ringed by grey hair that was cut just short enough to stick out in all directions as if spooked by itself. A long series of scars ran from the left of his brow to his cheek, broken only by a worn and faded eye patch that had seen about as many good days as his nose: broken several times, flattened, crooked, and never reset. His right ear was missing a sliver of itself along the top, and the lobe had a ragged hole in it large enough for one of his own meaty, busted knuckled fingers to fit through. His clothing was splotched and stained, his back twisted and humped. He was missing three fingers of his left hand and there was fresh gravy on his sleeve.


"Wot've I been tellin' yer fool gerl about playin' on the docks? Wot've I said? I said--'Mora, dun run'. I says, 'Mora. Don't sit there. Don't stand there. Mora, get out from under that barrel 'afore yer brains are bashed'. I says, 'Mora. Mind y' well wot happens around ye, good n' sharp. Don't go on the docks at night. And look--look wot ye did!" His gruff voice became louder and louder until it was a hairsbreadth away from bellowing.


"--I went out on the docks?"


He slapped the tiny table near him and made the candle jump. "Aye! An' ye dun got yerself tipped arse over ankles into the water, tha's wot. "


As she blinked, the darkness that made a halo of black around the candle gave way. She was on a crooked cot strung together with twine. The wood of the cot matched the wood of the small room--weathered gray, some of it wet-rotted. It smelled and stank of salt, fish, and distantly something else she couldn't identify but certainly wasn't roses.


"M' Sorry. I won't do it again."
"GODS DAMNED RIGHT YE WON'T!" He roared. When she winced, he coughed and lowered his voice but pointed a finger at her. "Y' listen to me, now--"
"M'sorry, but who are you, again? I don't....I don't seem to remember."


He stared at her, one muddy brown eye going wide as a saucer as his face drained of color and his finger stuck in the air for heart beats.


"Y'dunno who I be? Y'dun remember old Thom?"
She tried to burrow down into the sour smelling blanket further to get a little warmer. She shook her head slowly.


"Wait here. Dun move a damn hair on yer arse, y'hear? Wait here."


He was up and bandy-leg rushing out the door. She meant to tell him she didn't really feel like going anywhere. The wind seemed to sound cold and chilled and her damp hair almost frozen above the blanket. Instead, she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
 

A Breath of Frost

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Healing


The healer old Thom brought was a stout woman with mousy brown eyes and curly hair clipped back into a bun at the back of her head. Marrium had been working along the docks as long as Thom could remember. She shut the door to Mora's little room, and considered Thom in a look he'd seen a million times.


"M'fine," he snorted. "Tell me about her," jerking his chin toward the room.


Marrium washed her hands thoroughly, wiping them on a clean cloth and began packing her things.


"As far as I know, there's nothing wrong with her."
"But--"
"Not a bump, scrape, sore spot. Her eyes are fine; responds well to light and can follow my finger... her balance fine. She doesn't seem the least bit foggy despite not being able to remember anything. Doesn't seem the least bit slow, she knows her name and what day it is. Doesn't feel the least bit sick or dizzy. If you want my professional opinion, old man, she's fine. "


"But she don't remember nothing?"


Marrium sighed. "You could take her to one of the clinics..." She offered. "The ones in the city."


Thom turned his head and spat. "I'd sooner wear a dress and dance with the dockmaster than do that."


The healer's mouth turned a flat, disapproving line, but spread her hands in a gesture of placating. She knew this argument well and knew better than to press it.


"What should I do?" He muttered.
"Surround her with her things. Live life as it was. Give her as much as a normal life as you've been doing, Thom. I'll come by the next few weeks and check on her again, should you like."


"Aye," he said finally. "I would. Thank ye, lass. I dunno how I'll repay--"


She dipped her head then shook it. "You know better, Thom. You owe me nothing." She picked up her bag before he could be stubborn about it, then made her way to the door.


"Take care of yourself, Thom," she said softly, then left.
 

A Breath of Frost

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Rivers are rivers unless they are not. Then they became troublesome.


Mora wasn't sure what kind of river this was. It flowed like one, licking around her feet greedily and soaking her britches half way up. The bottom of it felt real enough, too. The water was lazier than an old fat-cat right by a fishing boat on a sunny day at the docks—but it felt wrong. The river felt...


Hungry, she thought. The river felt as if it wanted to eat her up, then perhaps the strange, flat earth that surrounded it then more than that. Sad? Sad, too. The hunger was sharper than anything, but under it all lingered the dull, musty smell of spent tears and too much time longing. She tipped her head aside and tucked a few cloud-soft strands of thin white hair behind an e—wait a minute, she paused. She wasn't wearing her hat. She always wore her hat. Unless she was sleeping. Unless she was...


Dreaming? Was she?


A furtive glance around with flooding awareness said, yes. Yes she was. Because while the river (a sulfurous greenish red thing that sleep-snake twined around her feet) flowed snippets of shadows, as if half finished and half drawn people were sketched quickly then snatched up, became apparent. No where in the dark sky was there a single star or sun or source of light...yet the river was not dark. The dead earth around it was easily seen. Mora could see far enough into the distance to see a black mountain rising. The land was so flat that she thought perhaps, it would be an hour or two walk toward the mountains itself—rising up like angry basalt fingers toward the sky.


Clochán na bhFomhórach, said a voice as sweet as cold wind. Mora whipped about trying to find where the words came from. And why...why...why the words she didn't understand seem so familiar. When she turned back around to face the mountains at the end of the river she gave a half-bellow, half screech at a figure standing before her that wasn't there before.


"You should not be able to see this," it said. Startled right off her feet, she felt herself falling backwards into the river. She only had a few moments to note the figure was robed head to toe and in the deep of its cowls swirled living stars.


He seemed as startled as she was and reached forward with hands covered in sleeves to grab her wrist. When he touched her, Mora felt the universe had given birth in her head. Sprinkles of light, a roar of a thousand voices crying, dying, singing, laughing, loving, hating, screaming.


Too muc
Too much too much too
please
what
Shhhhh, said a voice and then she fainted.




____________________________


"She shouldn't have been there," said a pinched voice.


She sees old woman with a red string!


"Yes, I know," said the man...Yes...man with the galaxies for a face. "She should not even be able to see us."


The old woman said nothing. Then: "The irony here," the old woman finally began reluctantly. "Is that there is a place that needs to be filled—"


"Absolutely not." Angry.


"She has experience!"


"No."


"It is obviously calling to her."


"No."


"We need someone to fill the place and soon. Else the dead—"


"No." The voice of a father to a child. A father pushed to the very limits of his patience. The galaxies in his deep hood appeared to have all been devoured for a split second before springing into light and life again.


"Father," the old woman said. And in response to his unfathomable anger, it was such a simple word of love and light and patience and understanding.


Do galaxies sigh? It seemed they did. He did.
"I will think on it."


He reached forward and touched Mora upon the brow.


____________________________






Old Thom watched as the lines of a long day of hard work wore suddenly from Mora's face. It grew peaceful and so young. Without a care.


He wondered what dreams she dreamed.
 
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