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Hanging Threads

July 27, 2014

I’m a little sad that this short story didn’t go anywhere, but then again in some ways it feels more like the prologue to something larger than it is a stand alone tale.  I don’t know, I thought it worked well on its own but I guess short story markets didn’t think so.  Anyway, it’s set in the same world as ‘Monstrous Races,’ and while I could probably send it out to a few more places, I think it’s best to just put it in the trunk at this point.  I will also mention that there is a third short story set in the same world, though I’m still waiting to hear back from a magazine about it.  Fingers crossed there.

Hanging Threads

Mark T. Hrisho

It was the first time Hamud had entered the room since the screaming began.

Now the spacious room was almost silent. The only sound was the quiet rustling of wind passing through drapes. Hamud’s nose wrinkled as he caught the scent of orange peel and cardamom. It was a foreign scent in this place but it instantly brought him back to the city of Zamakorand. A city he hadn’t seen in nearly five years.

A strong gust blew through the open windows, bringing the smell of sea salt and sewage. They overwhelmed the scents of his homeland but they did nothing to blow away the blood and sweat that had seeped into every corner of the room.

Hamud stepped up to the tall windows and looked out across the sprawling city. His eyes scanned the bay, pausing to watch ships as they glided across the water’s surface. Had it really been five years since the old warrior arrived at the mouth of the Tyrn with his charge?

#

Hamud had never liked the water.

Zamakorand was a city of the plains. In the warmer months, the thin green streams that wound through it transformed into muddy ruts in the earth and, except for the rainy seasons, they never rose past a man’s knees. During those wet months, people spent as much time as they could in their homes, huddled around fires that kept them warm and dry.

Water brought rust to steel and turned even the most well maintained roads into treacherous footing.

As a warrior, Hamud and water were simply at odds.

It was Fated.

Yet, he had stood on the rolling deck of a ship for three months with seawater soaking his clothes. Winding its way between his skin and armor. This too had been written by the Fates, for Hamud’s life was bound to that of his charge: Igres eber Fira Elahn.

Like her mother before her, Igres eber Fira’s role in life was to help cement the business relations of her father, the great trader Fira ebel Abni Elahn. Her mother, Nezki Yo’Huk, had been an Urkoshi Princess, born in a yurt in the wastes far beyond the city of Zamakorand under the watchful eyes of a witch well versed in the Urkoshi’s primitive magics. While Nezki Yo’Huk’s father only saw a child that couldn’t lead war parties or speak at clan councils, the witch saw a girl blessed by the Great Boar or whatever pagan spirit the tribe worshiped.

Nezki was groomed to be married to a great merchant in one of the trade cities. She learned from tutors captured from the countless routes that wound through the wastes between Zamakorand and the lands beyond. Scholars, merchants, and slaves were all her teachers, preparing Nezki for the day when her father found a use for her.

That use was Fira ebel Abni Elahn, a man with vast sums of gold and a love of fast horses.

The trade partnership between the two men was bound by Nezki Yo’Huk’s womanhood and the birth of Igres eber Fira. A child who, much like her mother, was only seen as someone who could not conquer the lands her father dreamed of. She too was taught by the greatest minds that passed through Zamakorand and the countless lands beyond.

Hamud had watched her grow. She learned the skills that were required of a woman with her means. Igres eber Fira could sing, and dance, and speak more tongues than there were stars in the sky. She read books by the dozen, could recite the Three Epic Poems, and knew how to divine the Will of the Fates. She possessed so many skills that Hamud felt embarrassed when he was appointed her bodyguard.

He was a simple slave, chosen at a young age to master of the arts of war. Nowhere near deserving the honor of accompanying such a beauty wherever she went. Yet, there he had gone, always two paces behind Igres eber Fira.

When she was to be sent south, it was Hamud that would accompany her to ensure her safety.

That was why he had stood on the deck of a ship for three months, his eyes always watching the foreign dogs that crewed it. They stunk of sweat, rum, and the sea. Such men could not be trusted with a woman as great as Igres eber Fira Elahn!

It was why one morning his charge had awoken to find three men dead at Hamud’s feet. Each one a scoundrel unfit to breath the perfumed air that surrounded her let alone share her bed as they had planned. He had broken their hands first, as a warning that they did not heeded. Even with the world shifting beneath his feet, Hamud had gutted them all with his blade before they could lay a hand on the door of his charge’s cabin.

He had apologized to her for the mess but, patient and kind as always, Igres eber Fira had forgiven him.

The Fates were cruel to condemn a woman as brilliant as Igres eber Fira to a life as the wife of a Southern merchant but she accepted it with a smile on her face. The young woman had laughed with delight as they first pulled into the bay at the mouth of the Tyrn.

The sun had shone on her dark brown skin, and the wind rustled through her plaited hair. She pointed out the landmarks she had read about to Hamud, explaining how they would visit each one with her husband-to-be.

In five years, they had seen that and much more.

#

The city of Kenden was awash in the fading orange of the sun’s light as Hamud walked through its narrow streets. His soft shoes didn’t make a sound as they touched the cobblestone and the shifting of his armor was muffled by his robes. Even after five years away from Zamakorand, Hamud couldn’t wear the ill fitting clothes of Southerners.

An urchin’s eyes followed him as he crossed a street and the child let out a trilling whistle.

Hamud’s hand traveled to the well worn hilt of his sayif, the curved blade he had carried for decades, while his eyes drifted two paces ahead..

That was when Hamud remembered he was traveling alone.

The whistle was not meant to alert the urchin’s masters to a mark, but to warn them of the dangerous stranger traveling through their territory. With a sigh, the old warrior pressed on, his fingers coming to rest on the belt at his waist, carefully drumming against it as he tried to think of anything but Igres eber Fira.

Her husband was a good man at least. Perhaps the only man Hamud had ever met who could actually appreciate the woman he had married. Much like Igres, he was the son of a rich merchant who was looking to forge a stronger relationship with powerful men far away from his home. They didn’t love each other, not in the way that the bards sang of it at least, but Hamud could see that Igres’s husband wanted her to be happy. He took her to all the sights she had read of, and showed her much more than she had dreamed of, and Hamud was always two paces behind the pair.

Hamud blinked to clear his eyes as he crossed a wide square that he had walked through many times before.

His eyes watched as young couples walked past the elaborate fountain at its center, remembering how Igres and her husband had shared so many intimate moments in front of it. Hamud had always trailed farther and farther behind them when they entered the square. He’d walk along the edges, where old men sat in cafes drinking large cups of coffee and small cups of liquor. They’d laugh, their faces red from the drinks, and argue about this or that forgotten bit of gossip from years before. Hamud often thought about joining them.

He could never speak the language as well as Igres but he could order a cup of coffee without much trouble. They’d laugh and talk, and he would just enjoy the company, perhaps chime in from time to time about his youth in Zamakorand and all the places he had seen since leaving it behind. Hamud watched them now, from across the square, most likely arguing about something that had happened years ago and he realized it had been a silly dream.

Hamud had lived here for five years, but Igres eber Fira had still been chiding him to speak in the Southern tongue when they were in public.

His feet carried him past the lovers’ fountain and to the open doors of a Southern church. He frowned up at the sun that smiled down at him, but before he could leave a voice stopped him, “May I help you?”

Hamud turned slowly to see a smiling young priest, his clean shaven jaw still thick with a baby’s fat. “I… ” he stumbled over the foreign words, “am fine.”

“Forgive me, you just looked a little lost.”

“I know where I’m going.”

“My apologies once again, I didn’t mean to say you didn’t know your way around. I meant that you looked like you might want to talk to someone.”

Hamud frowned.

“I was about to pour some coffee, if you’d care for some.”

Hamud nodded and followed the priest through the Church and into a small office that smelled strongly of roasted beans. The young man poured their coffee, and for a long moment the pair just sat, drinking in silence.

“I don’t know what I am doing here,” Hamud finally admitted.

“It is just a drink, my friend, nothing is meant by it.”

“No. I mean here, in this city. My charge is dead and I am…” he muttered beneath his breath, searching for the word, “undone?”

“Oh, I’m very sorry for your loss.”

“It is alright. It was Fated.”

“True, all is according to Lorheem’s divine plans, and we can take solace in the fact that she is in his Temple of Light.”

“She is dead.”

“Yes, and in a better place now.”

Hamud took a deep breath.

Igres eber Fira was dead and there was nothing he could have done to prevent it. All of his years of training and diligence had been for naught. In the end, he could not stand against the Fates.

“We must remember that Lorheem does not give us challenges we cannot overcome. While times of grief may seem dark, His Light is always shining above us.” The priest’s soft hand patted Hamud’s own. “If you would like, we can pray for your friend.”

“She was not my friend. She was Igres eber Fira Elahn and she was my master and my charge. It was my duty, charged by the Fates, to defend her until my last breath. Now she is dead and I am still breathing.”

“If you have faith in Lorheem, he will show you the way.”

“Lorheem is but one star in the sky.”

“Perhaps, but without Him, we would not have life. Our world would be dark and cold.”

Hamud’s eyes drifted past the priest and through a window behind him. The sun had finally set and high above the city, the stars were dotting the sky. His eyes darted from one to the next as he made out the shape of Havar the Boar, the Fate that some scholars believed the Urkoshi worshiped when they spoke of a Great Boar.

It had been so many years since he recognized a Fate in the sky above him, that he had stopped looking. Havar was not where he should be, chasing Ome beneath the moons, but he was there, singing the stories of great hunters and warriors. Hamud finally spoke, “The Fates Above are so many that no man could ever hope to count them.”

“Perhaps but the Light of Lorheem…”

“Pales in comparison to the thousands of stars in the sky. I am sorry but I must go. Thank you for your hospitality.”

Hamud handed the man his half-empty cup and walked out through the Church. He kept his back to the smiling sun above as he crossed the square, while his head tracked Havar across the sky. The old warrior couldn’t see Ome but he saw others, and for the first time he recognized Fates that he had only been told about as a child; Berdin the Smith, Fre the Thief, and Djik the Seducer.

The Southerners were blind to the Fates, praying to Lorheem the Daystar who held dominion over the world and the moons, but they were always there writing the stories of the mortals in His realm. Hamud’s thread had been bound to Igres eber Fira’s for so many years that he had forgotten his story connected to so many other places and so many other people.

#

It was late when Hamud finally returned to the room where Igres eber Fira had taken her last breath. The room no longer smelled of blood and sweat, and the winds were calm. Orange peel and cardamom filled the bodyguard’s nose as he walked across the stone floor to a small crib.

The wet nurse was asleep in the chair next to the crib but from within, Hamud could hear the soft coos and rustling blankets of a newborn child. He paused as he looked down on a child who would, for the first time in three generations, be able to fulfill his father’s dreams. The boy had his mother’s dark skin, and despite his diluted Urkoshi heritage Hamud could spot two tell tale tusks protruding from his lower jaw. Still, he knew that the boy would be raised in the Southern style.

He would grow up learning of his Father’s lands and God. When he was old enough he would wear tight clothes and swing a straight longsword. He would never know the elegance of a curved sayif or the harsh summers in Zamakorand. Yet, staring down at him, there was no denying that he was the son of Igres eber Fira, who had despite being born and raised in Zamakorand been undeniably the daughter of Nezki Yo’Huk.

With steady hands, Hamud lifted the boy out of his cradle and carried him out onto the wide veranda where he had often watched Igres stare into the sky with wonder. For years, he had never understood what she was looking at but now he knew. The child wriggled in his grasp but Hamud knew that he could not drop the boy. He was bound to his charge till he drew his last breath.

Hamud smiled down at Igres eber Fira’s son and then looked up to the sky, “Child, let me tell you of the Fates…”

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