I remember the day as clear as the dockside bells. They were clanging and clonging all along Linkstone Harbor as I joined the army of ragged longshoremen taking their leave for lunch. I had half an hour until the foremen came looking for me. Somehow in that short time, and on an empty stomach besides, I had to find an herbalist. They were the only ones who could help you, I’d been told––the only ones who could concoct the draughts of bloodless birth that could save you. Salty spittle from the sea stung my eyes as it never had, and the vast brick-and-brown-plaster city, sloping steeply up from the waterfront as it did, seemed to be sliding down on top of me. I was nearly in a panic.
I dashed between the open storefronts of Harborside Row, stopping whenever I saw someone selling plants and medicines. But no herbmonger would help me. They told me I was wasting their time, and that I could never afford their wares, anyhow. This did neither of us any good. Your time was short, and I needed to find help that day. I heard the first vulgar bellows of the dock bosses calling us back to work.
Then, I had a desperate idea. The Magrim would help us.
In children’s rhymes and nursery stories, magicians often wore bright smiles and pointed hats, but the Magrim of Linkstone bore no such cheer. They were a shady lot, stalking around the city’s squalid cellars and back rooms, using their powers to run smuggling rings and protection rackets. But they were also known as solvers of unsolvable problems. Where scornful merchants and stony-faced bureaucrats failed, the Magrim stepped in, becoming unlikely friends of workers in need. Of course, their prices were steep, and often measured in methods other than gold. But you were worth that to me.
I dodged past a shouting fruit peddler and through the door of an indoor meat market. The smells of sweat and smoke battled in my nostrils. If you’d been here, you’d surely have cried. I nearly did myself. I could barely see as I pushed through the dim room towards a corridor in the back, where I knew by words and whisperings my goal lay. The hallway went down a short flight of stairs, and ended in what appeared to be an office.
Behind a desk sat a birdlike woman in a beige overcoat, with a flat brown hat cocked over her eyes. She seemed to be poring over a long sheet of figures, her right hand plucking the beads of an abacus, her left jotting down numbers I could not see. Servants bustled in and out from back doors with more papers, pulling from and adding to a pair of neat piles at the corner of the desk. My father told me when I was young to never approach a Magrim magician unless you had business to propose. The slow, terribly patient way the woman looked up at me told me why.
“Now what can I do for you?” The Magrim’s voice was crisp and even.
I thought of how I should speak about you. You were worth all the meager gold and copper I had, but I dared not tell the Magrim this.
“I need help. My wife is heavy with child, and the midwife thinks she will die in childbirth.” It all spilled out too quickly. “There has to be something you can do.”
A servant brought the Magrim a thick cigar, which she lit with a click of her fingers and smoked slowly. I sensed that she knew your life was in her hands.
“If you tell me where and when,” the Magrim said, “I will be there at the appointed time.”
I was so relieved I nearly wept. I had saved you from the brink of nonexistence!
“Of course, there is the matter of cost.” The Magrim was not finished. “I need you to promise me some things. First, I need two silver Standards up front, and another when I am done. Second, our arrangement must be completely secret.”
“It’s yours, it’s all yours!” I said, as I emptied a pocketful of coppers onto the desk. The Magrim looked down at the little heap of coins. It was not nearly enough.
“And make sure the child does not fall in too close with our dear Prince,” the magician added. “I don’t need to be bringing more of his people into the world.”
It was the first time the Magrim had flinched from her collected demeanor. I hastily agreed with her, not even knowing what she meant. You were all I cared about, and you were safe. You did not need to be one of the Prince’s underlings. You would be a Prince yourself.
The hour came late at night. You could wait no longer. I was pacing anxiously in my low garret room, my wife doubled over in pain on the straw mattress, the round besmocked midwife bustling around preparing tinctures and elixirs, when there came a rap at the door. My wife continued to groan, but the midwife went still. I opened the door to see the Magrim from the meat market standing over me.
I could not find the breath to thank her as she came inside, swept off her hat and stepped towards the bed with the aid of a curved wooden cane. My wife looked up at her with a helpless kind of fear. I had not told anyone the magician would be coming.
“Don’t be afraid,” the Magrim said, “I am not here on death’s business today.”
The midwife, stunned, stepped aside as the Magrim knelt down beside my wife. I heard a low murmuring that I thought might be noise from another room, but I quickly realized, as the volume rose, that it was the magician speaking. I expected to hear words I did not know, but I understood her clearly.
“Get out here...you stubborn little thing,” the Magrim sung with the lilt of a sea-chanty. Around her clasped hands, a smoky green light gathered which irritated my eyes, disturbed my memory. My vision seemed to cloud. I thought I saw the midwife slide ghostlike to stand in from of the Magrim, her hands extended towards you as you struggled closer to the world.
From my father’s ramblings, I learned that I had been born in an alley. My mother had been a prostitute, and he a pay-by-day hired hand for when the trade caravans rode into town. Coppers came hard. I’d lived in a blur of inns, hostels and boarding houses as my father worked for vittles, bringing home a different bottle and a different woman every night. The guests became my caretakers, teaching me my letters and numbers, feeding me with stories of knights, magicians, and the Prince’s court. I was captivated. I memorized the names of the heroes, and told the tales to my father when he came home. He would listen to me, laugh along as if he were enjoying himself, and then hit me, saying he needed to rest and that I should not bother him.
I made a promise to you then that I would do better. That you would be one of those heroes someday.
And here I sat in a place that, though small, I could call my own, watching your seamstress mother, her hired midwife and a Magrim Magician help bring you to me. The stories were flickering to life!
“Come on out, child, no one’s trying to kill you,” the Magrim chanted, and my vision blurred anew as my wife let out a horrific wail. I heard her heavy breathing, saw the green light from the Magrim’s hands engulf the room, and thought to myself that I would not fail you. I could not fail you. The very energies of history were on your side! “Get out here, no one’s going to hurt you,” the Magrim said, and I screamed along with my wife this time as I imagined her pain. Our voices melded into a ghastly chord that surely would have awoken my father’s bones had they not been cast out to sea.
“Come on out. Here we go!” the Magrim shouted.
And there you were. The midwife caught you by the head, cut you free from the afterbirth, and handed you to me. I held you for my wife to see. You were a mottled, purple thing, but when you cried you gained color. I looked into your eyes, hard brown like mine and my father’s, and tried to imagine them looking out at me from under an armored visor, or from beneath a crown. You blinked. My face glowed as if I were standing before a roaring fire. I looked up, catching the eye of the Magrim for a brief second. I saw her reflect a fraction of a smile on her own face. She got up from her knees, and twisted her hand around the crook of her cane.
A blue-white bolt flashed from your forehead to where the Magrim’s hand rested on her staff. I jumped, and nearly dropped you, but you were unharmed. The magician staggered backward and slammed into the wall. I had never before seen a Magrim look afraid.
“This boy might have a touch of my skill!” the magician said. Her tone was no longer dismissive, but reverent.
It was as if the story were telling itself! I looked at you, my face still glowing, and then at my wife. To my dismay, she looked not happy, but doubtful and disbelieving.
“How...how can you be sure?” My wife had somehow found the energy to speak. I gave her a mortified look, but her eyes had turned to the magician.
“I have seen cases before,” the Magrim said. “Make sure to look after him. It is not common.”
I stared back at you and felt a surge of determination. You would prove your mother wrong. She would nurture you to greatness, but you wouldn’t need her. You wouldn’t need me. I only hoped that someday you would spare us.
Had I a crier’s voice, I’d have told the world about you. I watched you grow from a helpless babe into a toddling young boy with the sort of brightness about the eyes that I could only envy. I was constantly on the lookout for any hint of your powers––an unexplained spark of fire, an object moving without being pushed––that might have elevated our existence above the dirt squalls and stale bread that were our lot. I saw nothing. The details of our lives remained the same: Work was hard, food was scavenged or stolen, and coppers rarely clicked together. It did not help that the Magrim were breathing down my neck more than ever.
Sometimes I feared that you weren’t special after all. That you would never wear a spellwriter’s coif or a king’s crown. I tried to dispel these thoughts and remember that you were indeed a prince among peasant’s sons, a boy with uncommon talents––I had seen so with my own eyes! But doubt grips with strong fingers, and sometimes, in my lowest moments, I put it to words.
“Would you stop talking about your kid for just one damn second?” said the burly Darjei, who worked the docks with me. “This place has a devil of an echo, and the guards are out.”
We were in a sewer pipe below the city, on one of our palace runs. It was a cavernous, gloomy place, made passable only by a narrow ridge just above the line of filth, on which we walked single file. Each day after feasts, the vast kitchen that served Linkstone’s nobility and their guests at the Prince’s tables had cartloads of food it did not use. If one could navigate the pipework––a good distance uphill, mind––and reach the palace before they threw the food in, the rewards were bountiful and cheap.
“No guard would ever come down here on their pay,” I answered, “and besides, the Prince’s Police do not intimidate me. Someday my son will command them, and they won’t dare attack me.”
Darjei stopped and gave me a look of disgust.
“Look, letting the Magrim come poking around to keep track of your son isn’t a sign that he’s special,” Darjei snarled, “it’s a sign that you’re a fool.”
“If there’s one thing not to talk about, it’s those magicians,” said another dockworker who had come along, the sharp-tongued Wylan. “They’ve got ears down here if anyone does.”
We kept moving, trying not to let the smell bother us. You had better be special, I thought, if only to keep me from having to come here.
It must have taken us an hour to climb to the palace. The pipe eventually leveled off and narrowed, and suddenly we came to a rickety plank platform. Two soldiers of the Prince’s Police were posted on the platform, guarding each side of a bolted wooden door.
“You’ll be here for the food, then, I expect,” the nearer of the two said. “What’ll it be?”
Wylan and Darjei pulled out their coinpurses and counted out a considerable collection of coppers into the guard’s waiting hand.
“I see you want the good cuts this week,” the guard said. “Someone’s hungry.”
With the clattering turn of a key the door opened and the guards retreated inside, leaving us alone on the platform.
“What an indignity,” Darjei said, “to have to smuggle food through pipes of shit just to get it to my plate! Thank Gods I’ve only a few more weeks of this.”
Wylan’s face curdled like milk, as it always did when Darjei started bragging. “And where is your highness going next?”
“To the civil service!” Darjei said. “I’ve gotten myself a position at the Prince’s Harbor Company. No more of this lousy pay-by-day work. I’ll have a full wage, paid on time every week. And if you two are smart, you’ll join me.”
I tried not to laugh. The Harbor Company churned through poor souls like Darjei. Every week, I would hear about another stevedore entering the civil service, who would come by and say his smug farewells as if he were better than us. But two months later, he’d be back out on the wharf, having to face up to everyone he wronged. Unless you could get a skilled position, like a scribe or an overseer, the civil service discarded you like bones.
“Here’s some pickings for each of you.” The guards came back out, bearing heavy cloth sacks of food. “Bread, cheese, all the rest. Check it if you don’t believe me.”
We each shuffled through our sacks and were satisfied. Then the second guard, who was not carrying food, revealed another item: a long leather tube which rattled as if it contained something.
“And this is for you, per our arrangement,” he said to me. I took the tube, uncapped it where it opened at the top, and slid out a scroll taken from the royal library. On the Growth and Maturation of Magic in Young Boys.
“Perfect,” I said, sliding the scroll safely back inside the tube and reaching for my money.
Darjei gave me another disgusted look as I paid the guard. We said our stern farewells and went back down the dark pipe, hefting each a burden.
“You and your fucking reading,” Darjei said. “You’re lucky you didn’t get us locked in chains with that nonsense.”
“Now hold on,” Wylan cut in. “If you’re going to get us civil service jobs, why not try to get him in as a scribe? He’ll move up quickly, and can make sure we don’t get tossed out.”
Darjei looked reluctant, but I could tell he liked the idea. It was good enough, at least, to give me serious pause. Scribes worked under intense scrutiny, but were paid well both in wages and joint-stock kickbacks, and had some chance of climbing the Company’s ranks.
I thought of what might happen to you. I was seriously tempted, but then I recalled what the Magrim had said before you were born. And make sure the child does not fall in too close with our dear Prince. What would become of us if the Magrim found out I was on the Prince’s very payroll?
It occurred to me then, brilliant and dreadful: if you were so special, then why couldn’t I be as well? What was stopping me from wearing coifs and crowns just as you would one day? If I could not have the powers of sorcery, I should at least have the powers of oversight. To hire and punish whomever I pleased, to handle mounds of silver, to have some small part in making sure the great rolling leviathan that was the city of Linkstone kept on rolling smoothly.
“I guess I could do that,” Darjei said, then turned to me, “what say you?”
“It sounds better than wading through shit for vittles,” I replied, as Darjei himself might have.
“And there goes a Magrim,” I said to you, pointing out one of the magicians stalking down the street a ways distant. “They don’t like the Prince. They want to rule Linkstone!”
You made a scandalized face that I wish could have been preserved in a portrait.
We were walking along the harbor, four months after I started my new job with His Majesty’s Civil Service. The work was grinding, but the rewards came quickly. On my first wage day, I’d been handed more silver than I’d ever seen in one place my whole life. That day, I had proudly walked into the meat market and bought the juiciest cuts I could find.
And as I learned, you learned. I finally began to make sense of the city I lived in––its history, its rulers and its power struggles. I explained to you what I could, for you would surely need this knowledge when your time to rule came.
“And this,” I said, “is the Lower City.”
I made a sweeping gesture pointing out the wharf and the many shops that ran along the esplanade. The sun was falling, casting a bright orange sword on the western sea. The brown plaster storefronts caught a warm glow, the color of tangerines in fruit stands, turning the rickety buildings into august towers in the gloaming.
“Is that where we live?” you asked me. You were learning your words well!
“For now,” I said, then turned your attention away from the harbor. The city climbed up and away from the waterfront, the winding streets and alleys leading to the foot of a sheer granite wall that marked the limits of the Citadel. Behind the wall rose a limestone palace, which grasped heavenward with flying spires and buttresses. Like the buildings below, it caught a glistening share of the sun’s evening rays.
“That is the Upper City,” I said, “and at the center of the Upper City rests the Prince’s Palace. You and I will live there someday, where with your powers and my influence, we will be the leaders of Linkstone.”
You looked up at me agape, your tawny hair and brown eyes agleam with the blazing red of sunset.
“Are you sure?” you asked.
Slowly the evening died. We wove our way home in the semidarkness, dodging past shuttered buildings to the boarding house where we still lived. Only for a little while longer, I thought to myself.
“Off to bed now!” I told you when we came inside. You dashed away, and I went over to the corner by my pallet, where rested the long leather tube with the scroll in it. I pulled it out, and rolled it to a spot I had been poring over for weeks.
...most boys will begin to show their prowess at 3 years, with clear development by ages 4 and 5...
I don’t know if I expected you to suddenly levitate, or try to cast fire at me, but I had been feeling doubtful all day. Even though I’d seen proof, for some reason I expected more.
“You know, the words aren’t going to change the longer you look at them.”
I had not noticed my wife come in from the other room. She gave me a look that was both sympathetic and angry.
“I’m just reading,” I said, trying not to plead with her. “I’m just reading.”
“You have a note on the nightstand,” she said stiffly, “why don’t you read that?”
I laid the scroll down and saw a folded sheaf of paper where she’d indicated, neatly tucked into a six-sided shape. I pried it open, and saw the looping scroll I dreaded:
We understand that you have begun work at His Majesty’s Civil Service. Felicitations on your new endeavor! We have been watching your son intently through this transition, and are concerned for his well-being. We are owed ten silver Standards for his protection. Please pass the needed sum under your door, marked for our collection.
I tried to ignore it. I tried to look like I was reading without care, rather than with wide, shocked eyes. I glanced towards the door, then down at the drawer in my nightstand where I kept my coins. I flung it open and counted through my silver. All my silver! My whole life I’d scarcely known what that metal felt like, and now the coins were splashing through my hands, cool as water. Yet it wasn’t enough. I counted only seven Standards and fifteen coppers.
“Are you putting stories in his head again?” my wife said, talking about you. “The things you tell him are crazier every day.”
“I was just reading!” I said.
“And now you’re about to give more money to those Magrim monsters,” she continued. “Did you ever think it might all just be a trick? That they just made it look like he was special to ensnare you?”
I threw the coins forcefully into a brown pullstring purse and flattened them out. I laid the purse on the note, placed both on the ground, and forced them under the crack beneath my door.
“How powerful are we now?” my wife yelled. “That’s food for a month, gone. You told me we’d be out of this place by now.”
I stood up from where I was kneeling by the door and grabbed her shoulders.
“Don’t you think I know that?” I implored, almost tearfully. “Don’t you think I remember what I promised you?”
After a long moment, our eyes unlocked. We looked up at the dusty brown ceiling, and around the cobwebbed crate of a room that we called our home. I remembered the rush of warmth I’d felt toward her as we’d surveyed it for the first time, thinking it the first stop on some grand journey of ours. Somehow, I could not get angry at her.
Instead I thought of you. How you had shown me a sign that might have burst me out of this box, and then tantalizingly cut me off! I did not need you. If you wanted to mutter spells for your whole life, then be that your lot. I would be the one to rise and rule, and I was well on my way.
There was a fluttering, and another six-sided note slipped under the door. I picked it up and unfurled it:
My study at the Harbor Company House was dark. My desk was bare but for one candle that lit the room. I had scarcely any idea what to do with the space. The very idea of having two clean chairs for my guests was outlandish to me, yet there they were, basking in the candleglow.
Darjei and Wylan came in, looking confused. They each took a seat.
“Well,” I said. Barely even a word, but as I clasped my hands, their backs seemed to snap upright and their eyes darted to mine. I knew exactly why this bothered me, and it was because neither of them would have done that half a year ago, when we were all still dockhands pinching coppers.
“I’ve called you here to address a concern I have,” I continued. “I’ve been worried that you have both become a bit...despondent in your work of late.”
Darjei and Wylan maintained their decorum, but could not hide their puzzlement.
“What do you mean?” Darjei said, in a submissive tone that made me want to grind my teeth. “All the work has been done on time.”
“But attitude is important, as you have spared no chance to remind me.” I said. “We cannot look a bunch of dullards on the job.”
“I don’t remember...ever saying that to you.” Darjei said evasively.
I thundered my fist on the desk. “What has gotten into...or rather what has gone out of you two? You’re like husks these days! And you’re making me look bad. How am I––how are any of us supposed to get ahead when we can’t even take the daily trouble to look like we’re alive?”
Both of them were visibly stunned, but neither moved nor said a word.
“What happened to cursing the dock bosses behind their backs? What happened to plotting our future over a drink?” I yelled. “It’s still me. You’re both still you. What’s going on here?”
“We’re just trying to keep our jobs, sir.” Wylan said. I might have forgiven him, but it was that last honorific, so deferentially applied, that put me over the edge.
“Well your fortune’s run out! Leave my sight and never enter it again!”
There was a horrific pause, slow like poison leaking down a blade, as they and I realized what I had just done.
“Wait, what are you saying?” Wylan said. “We didn’t do anything––”
“I don’t care,” I said. “Get out!”
There was another moment of pause as I looked at both of them, and they looked back at me with no hint of recognition on their stupefied faces. Then, with a low grumble, Darjei came to life.
“You ungrateful ass,” he growled, bringing himself to a boil. “Have you lost hold? I gave you this job––I handed you the bloody keys to this room, and this is how you use them? You have no power over me. I will leave here, but not by your command. Not on my life.”
I let out a great, breathless, pitiless “Ha!” of both fury and pleasure.
“Just let us be,” Wylan said, “no need for this craziness. Let us leave in peace.”
“And you had better, or I’ll get the Prince’s Police to help you,” I said. “This is my study. This is my fiefdom! And soon it will be my city. The Prince and the Magrim be damned!”
Darjei’s look of anger became one of fright, as did Wylan’s. They stared around at the blank walls, as if expecting to see eyes and ears.
“You can have this wretched study,” Darjei said. “You don’t even know what you’re doing with it.” He practically carried Wylan to the door and shut it with a flat echo behind them. I slammed my head into the desk in rage.
I don’t know why I did it. My mind raced through reasons and rationalizations, but none of them could capture the anger––the furious flash of lightning!––that had made me send my only two friends in all of Linkstone back to their lives of toil. Maybe it was for you. I guess I just could not stomach having them ruin our rise to power.
There was something wrong with them. They were lifeless agents of my enemies, and with their dismissal I exposed them. Yes, that was it! I reached into my desk and pulled out one of the only items I kept there: a flask of rum. With a single swallow I drained it, relishing the burn of the warm liquor on my throat. I walked calmly across the room to the door, hurled the flask as hard as I could back at my desk, and closed out of my office in silence.
It was a long walk home that evening. The tall limestone palace twinkled indifferently in the moonlight above me, and the ocean crashed hungrily on the pier below me. I felt surrounded on all sides. I had to get back to you. I had to see the spark of magic, the glint of crowning gold in your eyes. Oh my son! You bane and redemption of my existence! Nothing in my life was the same anymore, and I needed you. I knew who you were. I knew what you would become.
The garret was quiet when I came in, and you were sitting there at the base of my pallet. I heard my wife snoring in the next room. We locked eyes, and I saw that you looked confused. I crept toward you, taking an unlit candle in a dish from by the door and holding it out to you.
“I’m gonna need you to do something for me,” I said, the candle dish shaking in my hand. “I’m gonna need you to do a trick. That’s right.”
You scratched your chin.
“You see this candle?” I said. “Without using flint, I want you to light it for me.”
I had to see it with my eyes again. The flash of blue light, that hallowed moment where, for once, I was free. You only gave me that look again, puzzled and inquisitive.
“Use your powers,” I said. “You know what I mean. Focus.”
You screwed up your face and stared as hard as you could. Your little arms extended wildly towards the candle. I willed it to work, but the wick stayed inert. No light came from the dish in my hand.
I started to panic. I scrambled to find my flint. “Try it again,” I said. “Try it again.”
“Nothing’s happening,” you said.
“Try it again!”
I found my tinderbox in the drawer of my nightstand, but I could not steady my hands enough to get a spark. The rum was hitting me. I finally produced a spark after nearly a dozen tries, but the wick did not catch, and the flints popped from my hands and spilled to the floor. I swore and fell to my knees with a painful crash, scrabbling for them.
All this had woken up my wife. “What are you doing now?” she said, as she saw the tinderbox on the floor.
I begged you with my eyes not to speak.
“He wanted me to do a trick,” you said.
“Not this again!” she said, lunging for you. I dove across the floor to stop her.
Something in my head doesn’t want me to remember what happened here, or what I said. Perhaps I blacked out from the rum. I must have cursed quite loudly, for I remember a harsh ringing in my ears at about the pitch of my voice. Maybe I struck her. You were still sitting there––that I remember––saying “Stop it stop it stop it” but otherwise remaining calm. You didn’t even shed a tear. Maybe I ought to be proud of you for that. Otherwise, I have no memory of that mad frenzy, barring a cut lip and a scrape on my knee. I laid there, tired and drunk, my vision flickering and my mind half-aware.
But nothing clears your head like a stern knock on the door.
Everything went quiet. I crawled around from my prone position to face the door, not even daring to rise to my feet.
“Who goes?” I said, though I knew.
“The boy’s guardian,” the Magrim answered, her voice dry but compelling.
My door swung inward as the magician let herself in. The lock, bolted, apparently had not seen fit to protest. The magician tipped her hat as if she might be calling at dinner.
“You low-level bureaucrats are the worst irritations,” she said in a bored mutter. “Late on payments, an improper parent to boot––and they’re letting you run the city?”
I sensed a change in the magician. The wall and doorway behind her began to shimmer, as if seen through a smoky haze. None of this was reflected in her face, which remained waxy and expressionless.
“I need some collateral until you’ve made your payments, and it doesn’t look like you have much,” the Magrim said. “The boy will come with me.”
You were as stunned as I was. The magician’s words crashed on my mind like a ship missing its dock.
“Wait,” I said, trying and failing to subdue my panic, “I’ll make the payments. I just need time.”
“There isn’t any,” the Magrim said, as if she were checking a sum on one of her balance sheets.
“Then take me instead!” I implored. I was nearly hysterical.
“Don’t be silly, I need you to be able to work off the money.” the Magrim droned. “Come on, son. I shan’t harm you.”
I looked to her, and then to you. There was a brassy glint in your hardwood eyes. I felt a surge of strength in my legs, and I stood up. Darjei and Wylan might have abandoned me, my wife might think me a drunkard and a madman, but I was damned if I would see you escorted away from me by anyone but the guard of kings, taking you to your rightful throne!
“No,” I said.
The magician almost looked sad as she rolled up her sleeves. “I’m afraid so,” she sighed. “You’ll have to have a word with your friends at the Harbor Company if you want things to change. But forthwith, he comes with me.”
I almost did not notice the Magrim rise off the floor. She spread her arms wide, and the smoky air in the doorway seemed to envelop her. Suddenly, with a howling blast of air, a great ethereal bird of prey bore down on me in my own home, feathers the color of charcoal and wings stretched across the room. It swooped past me, driving me aside like a windborne leaf, and seized you. In flight, towering over me like the stone walls of Linkstone, there was nothing I could do to stop it. You were there, and then not. The bird dissolved into a cloud of smoke and fled out the door. I thought I saw the hem of a tan coat brush past the threshold before the door slammed shut.
You were gone.
My knees gave, and I collapsed onto the floor. I could not move for the shock. All I can remember doing was sobbing. Right there on the floor, hands curtaining my face. Some dark part of me did not miss you, the chief obstacle to my power, but my conscious mind quickly strangled this thought.
I realized you were all I had in this damnable city, with its accursed palace, its blight-ridden power struggles, and its buildings that leaned over me as if to crush me.
I was aware, after a while, of my wife climbing onto me from behind. I thought she might be ready to throttle me, but instead she collapsed pitifully into my side, arms splayed around me and eyes teary red. I turned to her, and between us passed an understanding such as we’d never had. We both knew I’d have to leave my post at the Harbor Company. I’d have to go find the Magrim and pay some steep bribes to get you back. We might have to sell the garret. I supposed it might be some kind of adventure, but then I realized it would just be more bickering with bureaucrats, another trek through the bowels of Linkstone that needs no telling. Now that I’ve reached the point in my story where we’d all learned our solitary stations in this city, there is nothing more to say.
I will see you again. I promise.
©November 2016 Louis Palmerino
Louis Palmerino is a Manhattan based writer. This is his first published story.