A snippet from Atya
The silk nightshirt clung to her like a slimy second skin. Atya willed her breathing to match the gentle rhythm of the dancing leaves outside her window. Once her heart stopped racing she exhaled and wiped the sweat beads from her brow. The herbs did not work. Still the nightmare came with a vengeance. An owl screeched somewhere in the distance, another bad omen. Atya forced herself up on one elbow to feel the cool breeze on her face.Pulling off the soaked shirt she shuffled to the wash basin. Vara snored softly on her pallet, oblivious to Atya’s sleeplessness. Slipping into a pair of trousers and training shirt, Atya crept out the door and down the hall, careful to avoid the creaky boards as she had every night for many years. Sticking to the shadows, Atya made her way to the clearing beyond the forge.
“Pa-pa?” She listened for the electric ripple through the trees. It did not take long for the diaphanous image of her father to sweep into the clearing.
“Atya, at the ready!” Though lacking its volume, her father’s ghostly voice retained its severity.
A broken branch flew across the clearing. Atya leapt gracefully into a back flip but the thicker end caught her knee hard enough to alter her trajectory. Recovering as best she could, Atya fell into a crouch and withdrew a scrap of metal from the junk pile to cut down the next bits of debris.
“Yes, Pa-pa.” Atya grabbed a larger piece of scrap from the pile, shrinking behind it as a shower of stones battered the faux shield. She waited for the barrage to cease before peeking around the edge of the metal plate. A massive tree branch hurled toward her, Atya flung her makeshift shield at it and rolled to the side, cutting her hand on the smaller piece of metal she would not yield. Ignoring the sting, the young woman rebounded in time to stave off the next onslaught of pebbles directed toward the spot she quickly vacated.
“Again. This time do not speak. An attacker will not seek your acknowledgement.” Before her father’s ghost finished speaking, the crackle of a tree trunk warned her of its imminent fall. Atya sprang to safety as the dead tree landed with a thud. They continued in such a matter until the first rays of dawn colored the snow-covered peaks of Morine range.
Bruised and weary from training, Atya settled on a fallen tree trunk, watching her father’s ghost float to and fro as he was wont to do. “Pa-pa?”
“You are improving, Atya.” The ghost paused to look toward the house. “How is your mother? And your sisters?”
“They are well. Ma-ma stills sobs for you when she thinks we are sleeping.” Atya and Vara kept that knowledge to themselves. “Are you certain I cannot tell her?”
“No, daughter, our arrangement does not work that way. You and you alone witnessed the truth and made the oath.” The specter looked to the east. “I must go, Atya.”
“I know, Pa-Pa, I know.” Atya closed her eyes to fight the tears. He did not need to carry more guilt to the other realm.
“You could not have saved me, Atya. Do not carry my death as your burden.” His words, spoken a hundred times before, echoed through her head. As the first sunbeams warmed her face, Atya opened her eyes, tears flowed free and the memories came unbidden.
Seven years before“Pa-pa, how about using rubies?” Atya watched as her father dipped the blade in water to cool it. “They would match Commander Coulyon’s red cloak and –“
“Atya, Commander Coulyon does not wish his sword to be jeweled.” Castor had no sons but his second eldest daughter could pass for one given her crudely cropped hair and masculine attire. “It is early, daughter, why are you awake?”
“I came to learn, Pa-pa. I can do this.” Atya sat upon a work bench toying with a small dagger and swinging her legs casually, eyes trained on Castor’s every move.
“Atya, they will never permit you to run the forge alone. For all the games you play at being a boy it cannot change the truth.” Castor crossed the room and laid his finished work beside her. Firelight reflected off the blade and for a moment Atya swore she saw a shadow in the reflection. “You are young, Atya, this will not be enough when you are grown.”
“Yes it will, Pa-pa. I am not like Vara. Mother destroys all I cook, my weaving is pathetic, and I cannot sit still for lessons.” Atya frowned. There was more but it would not do to mention them now. “I know the metals and the stones. If you would let me work the fires I know I could –“
“Enough, Atya.” Castor laughed, a deep belly laugh that shook his large frame. “Indeed you should have been a boy. Very well, we begin your training by fire on the morrow. I will speak with your mother tonight.” He tousled her hair, still smiling broadly. “Run along, wash up and help with dinner.”
“Yes, Pa-pa.” Atya leaned up and pecked her father on the cheek. Before she could slip out the side door, the front entrance swung inward in a flourish. Atya leapt behind her father as three guards burst through the door followed by Commander Coulyon. Father and daughter knelt before him. Atya studied the polished boots of the troops, waiting for the Commander’s release.
Atya waited for her father’s weight to shift before she stood and slipped behind him. Peeking beneath her father’s elbow she studied the Commander. Not much taller than her father, Commander Coulyon appeared far more menacing. Atya could not remember a time before this Commander. Though she was but a toddler when Coulyon relieved the prior Commander of his duties, Atya knew the tale as well as any citizen of Leavai. After winning a victory in the west, Coulyon walked into the former Commander’s war tent and slit his throat before the council. After slaying three more men he was chained and delivered to Emperor Attan. Most men would have faced a week in the stacks followed by a slow, extremely painful death, but not Coulyon. In a surprise move, Emperor Attan promoted Coulyon. Since then, the people of Leavei knew prosperity but at a great price. Though always skilled in the ways of war, since Coulyon’s advancement the people of Leavei no longer knew the feel of peacetime. Now the ruthless Commander stood before Castor with a menacing look in his eye and his lip curled in a sneer.
“Is it ready?”
Castor pushed Atya back further, “Go on, help your mother with breakfast, I will be in shortly.” Atya nodded and slipped out the side entrance. Ignoring her father’s instruction, Atya hopped on a crate and peeked in the window.
“Commander Coulyon, I did not expect you this early.” Castor shifted to the table where the finished blade lay. “The blade will be ready this afternoon. I can have my eldest deliver it to your camp –“
“That does not work for me, blacksmith. I requested it today, I am here and I wish my sword.” Coulyon shifted. “I am very disappointed.”
“Apologies, Commander. I misunderstood. It will be done within the hour.”
“You do not understand. I want my sword now.” Coulyon flicked his wrist and before Castor could react, the three soldiers fell on him. When they withdrew, Castor fell against the table. Atya suppressed her scream, shock and fear cementing her in place. One of the soldiers took the blade, handed it to Coulyon and led the way out of the shop.
Atya stumbled off her perch and flew into the shop. “Pa-pa?” Blood saturated his shirt in three places. A sick feeling filled Atya’s stomach as she crept around to see his face. His eyes were wide open and blood trickled from his mouth.