Tuesday, September 1, 2015

SAVING SONG - Sarah Taleweaver

She walked alone through the Wood, and it drew back before her. Tree branches rattled in revulsion as she passed, and grass beneath her feet withered in her heat. Misty forms among the treetops, light as breezes, peered down to watch her pass, but they did not swoop down to tease and torment her as they once might have. They knew better.
            Where did she go? She knew not. She cared not. She’d given up on such questions long ago. Her father’s Path stretched beneath her feet, and she let it take her where it would: through the Wood, through mortal villages and towns, through the occasional Faerie demesne. All were the same in her fire-dimmed eyes. None gave her what she sought, just as her father’s Village had not. Nowhere could she escape the shame chasing her.
            Only the fire kept the shame, the memories, at bay. The images and voices burned, hidden among the flames that filled her. Yet they would not, could not, fall away into ash.
            For how could fire burn away fire?
            Yet still she wandered, searching. She had heard something, once, a snatch of melody. It had sprinkled water on her fire, making her shame painfully clear for a moment- and yet, without words the song had sung of release from that same shame. She’d heard it but once before she flamed with anger at having what she hid exposed. And yet, later, she wished she had not. Nothing, not even her father’s promise, had ever given such hope as that one hint of song. So, she wandered and searched and hoped to hear it once more.
            A cool breeze- strange in the Wood’s eternal stillness- brushed past her. And on it rode the melody, a bird’s song that whispered of hope and something else forgotten. The dragon-girl stopped, raised her head and stared as if she could see the song. Eyes red with fire blinked slowly. The song . . .
            It whispered past again, and the dragon-girl snarled in pain. Each note was horrible, a knife in her soul, cutting at the deadness there. But at the same time, each note was beautiful, a star turned into music. And even the pain was relief, in a way, after years of fire-filled nothingness. She felt almost . . . alive.
            But the memories burned bright, and the fire rushed up to try to choke them, filling her mind with flame and smoke so she could barely hear the song. And, the fire reminded her, she could not listen for long, for the song brought her shame into sharp focus. And that only brought pain more unbearable than the fire. At least, in her oblivion, there was no pain.
            Or was there? The dragon-girl clenched her fists, trying to think through the fire’s poison. Was the ache of nothingness not pain as well? A pain that turned everything else to emptiness and flame? Was this half-life worth living?
            No. No, it was not. The fire was not enough. But was the song?
            A fourth time the song passed by, and she made up her mind. Into the Wood, off her Path, she leapt, fighting past fire and common sense. A new Path opened up at her feet, familiar though she could not place why. She rushed down it, driven by something deeper than the fire.
            Sooner than she expected, the Path drew her out of the Wood and into the Near World. Her steps slowed as she realized where she walked, but still she followed the Path until it stopped atop a barren hill. Below her lay the ruins of what might once have been a city or a fortress: shattered walls of burned stone, crumbling ash, and bones, some fire-blackened and others picked clean and white.
            The dragon girl swayed. “No.” Shame and memory rushed up, hotter than the fire. “No, not this place.”
            She drew on her fire and it burst within her, trying to burn away the images, the voices, the scent of death. She writhed, then stretched and morphed into the form of the dragon. Tattered wings drove her into the air and then down upon the ruins. She poured out her flame upon them and tore apart what remained of the walls and ground bones into dust that mixed with the ash. Yet when she finished, her shame burned hotter than ever.
            She sank to the ground and dwindled to a girl amidst the ash. This time, when the song whispered past once more, she nearly did not hear it, but then she lifted her head to catch the words in the piercing notes.
“Beyond the Final Water falling,
The Song of Spheres recalling,
When fire of the past cannot be quenched,
Won’t you return to me?”
            The dragon-girl curled up, eyes clamped shut so she could not see the destruction around her. “I can’t return.” Her voice was rough with flames and disuse, and black with despair. “I betrayed everyone; how would they take me back?”
“Who did you betray?”
The dragon-girl growled. “You know.”
“Tell me.”
What did it matter, if she told him? The knowledge beat like her burned-away heart once had. The flame had gone too low to hide the memory of her shame. “All of them. My people. The ones I was supposed to protect.” She opened one eye to see the thrush sitting on a nearby stone. “You.”
“What did you do?”
“Why do you care?” The dragon-girl shut her eye again. “You should hate me.”
“Yet I do not.”
The dragon-girl did not answer.
The thrush flew to a stone closer to the girl. “Do you wish to escape your shame?”
“That’s what he asked too,” the dragon-girl muttered into her folded arms. “At least he didn’t lead me back to the shame’s source.”
“Fire cannot burn away fire. The only way to escape what you have done is to face it.”
“That’s not an escape.” The dragon snarled. “I should roast you. You can’t help me.”
“I can, but only if you allow me to. Will you let me? Or will you cling to the fire?”
The dragon-girl sat in silence a long while. The thrush waited patiently. At last, she spoke, not looking up. “I was a Knight of Farthestshore. You know that. I was a guardian here. Supposed to protect the people of this city- they didn’t know the danger they were in. But I didn’t like my assignment, so I ignored it. And then when the danger came . . . I wasn’t there. I came back and found a battle raging. The people I should’ve protected being slaughtered. And there was nothing I could do.
“And then . . . then the Dragon was there. Maybe he’d brought the danger all along and I didn’t recognize it- but he said he’d give me a way to escape what I’d done wrong. Said he’d give me power to set things right. So I took what he offered. But I burned too much. And this is all that’s left.”
She could see it, hear it, if she let herself. Her flames, eating the city, devouring all within, whether mortal or faerie. The screams, the crack and crackle of flaming buildings. The scent of ash and burning flesh.
“So.” She opened her eyes and challenged the thrush with her stare. “Can I escape that shame? Or do you punish me for what I’ve done by offering me false hope?”
“The hope I offer is not false.”
In the space of a thought, the thrush became a shining man still sitting on the blackened rock. “Your shame is great, but what you have done can be forgiven.” He stood. “Let the dragon die, and your shame will die with it.”
“Let the dragon die?” the girl echoed. “You wish me dead?”
“Only that you may be saved. Only that you may live.”
The dragon-girl curled into herself, averting her gaze, digging claw-like fingernails into her arms. “Is there no other way?”
His voice was gentle, sad. “There is not.”
She curled still more. The fire rose jealously within her, urging her to flame and flee. To go on as she had and hope that, in time, the shame burned away and the emptiness would be enough.
She knew the hope was false. She knew she could not go on as she had. It was a living death, and this her only chance at true life or death. Yet to die . . .
“I cannot do it myself.” She knew this was an excuse. “I have not the power.”
“I know. You must let me do it.”
She rocked back and forth, wrestling between the urge to run and hold on to her sorry half-life and the desperate desire to be free. At last, she uncurled, sat straight, and closed her eyes. Through choking flames, she forced out the words: “If there is no other way . . . do it.”


            She walked alone through the Wood, and it let her pass. The tree branches rustled, whispering to each other. Misty forms among the treetops, light as breezes, peered down to watch her pass, but they did not sweep down to toy with her, for they saw the Path she walked and knew better.
            Where did she go? She knew not. But she knew on whose Path she walked; he had set her on it himself after he freed her. It was, she knew, a Path she should have been walking for years, but that was all right. She would make up for lost time, wherever the Prince’s Path led her.
            In the back of her mind, a vague memory of burning shame, of the pain of death, of flames trying to hold her fast. But far more clear was the freedom she felt now, the relief of leaving the fire behind, and the song that had saved her and now filled her mind.
Beyond the Final Water falling,
The Song of Spheres recalling,
When new life beats within your heart,
Won’t you follow me?

VOTING: If you would like to vote on this or any of the other fan fiction submissions, send me a list of your top three favorite POEMS and your top three favorite STORIES. (aestengl@gmail.com) Voting is for fans of the Goldstone Wood series only.


Savannah P. said...

You did a great job with this story, Sarah! It's beautiful :). ~Savannah P.

Meredith said...

Magnificent and beautiful, Ms. Sarah. I loved that the young woman was a Knight of Farthestshore before her transformation. It really brought home the theme that servants make mistakes but we can seek redemption. Thank you so much for this story. Wonderful work.

Jonathan said...

I really liked your story, Sarah. Your writing was magnificent and you did a really good job with presenting the theme. The way that you had the ending tie-in with the beginning was very nice.
I'm curious, though, is Taleweaver a pen name?

Anonymous said...

Wonderful Sarah! I loved how the end was like the beginning, but good and hopeful and faithful! Fantastic. Very good story. And I agree with Meredith about her being a Knight of Farthestshore but falling but being saved again!
Beautifully done!

-Rebekah K. Lawrence AKA Stargazer

Sarah Pennington said...

Thank you, everyone! I'm glad you liked it! It's an idea that I've been toying with in various forms since I read Heartless (maybe even longer- the fist seeds were planted by the Wingfeather Saga, I think).

@Jonathan: Yes, Taleweaver is my pen name. My actual last name is somewhat less cool.