Photo credit: Miles Gifford
Making his way up the steps carved into the cliff, Marsai slipped off his sandals. Road shoes were no good for climbing. If he fell and died now, finally so close to home, how bitter his mother’s laugh would be.
He remembered the last time he helped his grandmother up these uneven grooves, before she decided she could no longer make the trip. We are born helpless chicks in the nest and we die that way, she had reminded him.
The murmured voices above stopped as he clomped his way upward, having forgotten how to walk a mountain. An explosion of ashkta-birds burst from his path, squawking their disapproval.
At the entrance to the aerie, Marsai paused. Three sets of eyes turned to him, squinting against the sun behind his back.
His mother looked away first, back to the arrow in her lap. His father’s smile was quick but sad. His sister scowled.
Marsai’s gaze caught on his grandmother’s empty bed. So, she had flown. He had been gone too long. Returning to the ledge, he plucked a hair, said the prayers to Ainadinn for her, and gave it to the air. His eyes swelled, but he willed them calm, a new skill too often practiced. There would be time for grieving later.
Inside, he set his sword and shield against the wall. They clanked in accusation, echoing back from the stone depths.
Whose voice would break the silence? His, in apology. How else could it be?
“I should not have left without telling you.”
His mother snorted, still not looking up.
“Without asking,” he knew she wanted him to say. He wouldn’t.
His father’s voice was soft but stern. “You leapt before you could fly.”
Marsai pushed down his anger and nodded. He hadn’t felt young then, but now? How quickly the world ages you. “It is over. Does that count for nothing? We won.”
His mother faced him then, lightning in her eyes. “We?”
“The Aerielle are free now.”
“We Aerielle have always been free. We didn’t need a rebel taen and his army to save us.”
Marsai’s voice could be soft and stern too. “We did.”
His father put one hand on each of their backs. “Let’s not let yesterday’s clouds darken this day.”
Marsai could see his mother chewing her thoughts, her lips twitching with it. He waited. He was better at waiting, now.
She sniffled, the only sign of tears she was likely to give. “Do you remember how to wrap an arrow, son, or have we lost you to the sword?”
Folding his legs, he sat beside her, grabbing a shaft from the pile. He grinned, to have it in hand, to be knee-to-knee with her again. “No, you haven’t lost me.”
“Hm. We’ll see.”
His sister passed him some cord, pausing to punch his thigh, hard. He deserved more than that, he knew, and would probably get it. He grabbed her hand, squeezed it. “I missed you, too.”
A seagull’s cry close by made Marsai jump, losing his grip on the cord. He hoped the others hadn’t noticed. He was home, that was all that mattered. Tomorrow would come a new wind. It would blow away what had happened, sweep it clean from his heart and from his memory. Soon, he would fly free again.
Word count: 550 — oops! This was written in response to this week’s Sunday Photo Fiction challenge, inspired by the photo below. The problem is that the story is supposed to be 200 words long, so clearly I over-reached this week, by a large margin. I apologize to SPF host Al Forbes and to all the other writers who worked hard to get their stories within a reasonable limit! Clearly this story refused to be half as long. I promise to be better next time! Click here to read the other stories.
Photo ©: Al Forbes