The First Mark
by Jennie Ivins
Mela stood on the edge of the massive plateau staring out at the dark horizon. The ground far below appeared flat and even, but the sound of breaking waves in the distance broke the illusion. The sun would rise soon over the water and send its golden light into world once again. And Mela would be there to see it. Mela had to see it.
The cold spring wind whipped past her into the ancient forest at her back. The first birds were already awake and gracing the trees with their sweet songs. Mela heard something scurry into a bush at her side, but she didn’t turn to investigate. The sky fey, Sunil, had told her to watch as he left and to continue watching until the first rays of sun breached the surface of the ocean. Mela had been standing rooted to her spot for hours, determined to finish the last wish of her former master.
Another gust of wind blew up from the Flatlands brushing a tear from her eye and tossing her dark hair about her shoulders. The wind didn’t seem to care that the fey were gone. Neither did the forest or the birds. Mela brushed the cold tear from her cheek and added a ragged sigh to the twisting breeze.
“No one cares,” Mela said still staring at the horizon, “that’s why they left. People think they have no use for essence magic; they’d rather rely on technology to save them. But wild, untended magic is a dangerous thing, and the only beings who knew its secrets have finally abandoned humanity. We are lost, and yet the wind continues to blow and the birds continue to sing, as if nothing has changed; as if we can carry on without them.”
Sunil hadn’t told Mela why she must watch the sunrise. He hadn’t told her where the fey were going or what she was to do now that they’d left. Part of her hoped the sun’s light would cut through her body like Sunil’s last words had done. That the first light of spring would be the last she’d ever see, and that her spirit would stay forever watching the horizon and waiting for the fey to return.
The thought sent a shiver down her spine. Mela shifted her feet and felt the frost covered grass crunch under her boots. It was cold and her mind’s wanderings weren’t helping her repel the icy air. She rubbed her arms to warm herself, but the wind bit through her shirt as if trying to thwart her efforts.
The sky was starting to lighten and Mela could just make out the waves of the sea crashing against the sandy shore. She had thought that she would be too far off to smell the salt air, but even at this great distance she could hear the rhythmic crashing of the waves and the smell of the ocean drifting up the side of the plateau, giving the forest an otherworldly feel. It seemed the lighter the sky became the more clearly she could sense the ocean. The sounds and smells of the sea mixed with the deep earthy tones of the forest were tossed together by the ever present breeze. Mela had the urge to close her eyes and take in the sensations without the distraction of the view. But Sunil had given her an order and she could not tarnish his memory by disobeying him. So she waited. Waited for the sun, for spring, waiting to complete her final task.
How can I go on without my master? Without the essence? Mela thought, as another tear rolled down her cheek. My whole life was learning the balance and understanding the ways of magic and the fey and how to use it to help my people. Now I have nothing. Nothing but the sunrise and the wind.
As if in answer, the wind blew straight up from the cliff face, startling Mela from her thoughts. She almost looked down to see where the wind had come from, but stopped herself just in time.
“You won’t distract me from my task,” Mela said to the breeze. “You are a trickster, but I won’t be fooled by you. The essence of the wind has no power over me. Go bother someone else!”
One last gust of wind blew past Mela into the woods and then the breeze fell silent. The whole world suddenly seemed tense as if the forest itself was holding its breath. Then a small bit of the horizon sprung to life and the golden rays of spring’s first sun leapt up from the sea into the sky. The light was blinding and Mela had to concentrate to keep from blinking. She took a single step forward and recited the verse Sunil had taught her.
“The sun has risen from the depths and touched the sea and sky. And with this I give one last breath and bid the fey goodbye. We stand alone to keep the day and push away the night. Grant us one last boon oh sun and bless us with your light.”
With that Mela closed her eyes, letting the warmth of the sun cover her face and chase all traces of winter from the air around her. She realized quickly that the warmth she was feeling was far greater than it should have been. And that the heat seemed to be coming not from the sun before her but from inside her very being! She opened her eyes and saw the world covered in the glow of magic; the essence floating out of the forest and into the sky before her carried by the playful breeze. Sunil had not abandoned her completely; he’d given her a parting gift. He’d given her the gift of magic!
Mela took one last look at the rising sun, and then collapsed to her knees with a great sigh of relief. She would continue in her master’s footsteps and would save her people from the world and themselves. She again had a purpose, a link to the essence, and more importantly she again had hope. Smiling Mela picked up a dried leaf and let the wind carry it from her hand, watching as the blue-green essence magic blew it off into the distance, over Flatlands into the sea beyond.
by Jennie Ivins
Kadri sat on her parents’ front porch, kicking her feet over the side of her mother’s rocking chair and grumbling to herself. The summer air was hot and thick. The light breeze that normally whistled through the trees around the farm was strangely silent that afternoon. In the distance, clouds were beginning to gather and it seemed the whole world was waiting for something.
Kadri barely noticed. She liked storms and normally enjoyed sitting on the porch, listening to the rain beat down upon the roof and watching the lightning carve slices out of the sky. But today was different. Today she was being forced to sit there; once again excluded from things that she wasn’t ‘old enough’ to be a part of.
Not like Mela and Nika, she thought grudgingly. They always get to do everything. And Nika’s not a real grown-up yet either. But her sisters were inside helping their mother and Kadri was banished from the house. Kadri threw an acorn she’d been holding, and bounced it off one of the railings into the grass. It’s just not fair.
The sound of a fast-approaching horse momentarily distracted her and Kadri looked up just in time to see her father’s cart pull to a sudden halt in front of the house. He jumped down almost before the horse had completely stopped and rushed around the cart to help his passenger down. Kadri stood up and waved as her father helped the old woman from her seat.
“Good day Mistress Reet!” Kadri said with a smile. “How are you today?”
Mistress Reet was the town healer and had always treated Kadri like a young lady, rather than a little girl. But today all Kadri got for her troubles was a quick wave and a smile before her father ushered the woman into the house.
“Papa?” Kadri said, grabbing her father’s shirt sleeve before he could follow the healer inside.
He turned to Kadri with an aggravated sigh. His face was flush from the heat and he didn’t look very happy. “What do you want Kaddie?” he asked, looking into the house as he spoke. “I’m very busy right now. Why don’t you go play in the barn with your kittens?”
Kadri screwed up her face into a scowl. “Please Papa! I’m not little anymore. Mela and Nika are helping, can’t I help too?”
Her father’s face lightened a bit and he gave her a quick smile, kissing her on the forehead. “I’m sorry Kaddie, but not today. Go play my little one.” Without another word he walked into the house, closing the door behind him.
Kadri’s shoulders slumped as she marched solemnly back to her chair. “Stupid Nika. Thinks she’s so smart,” she said, scooting back up in her seat. “Why does she get to do everything? It’s just not fair!”
“What’s not fair?” her brother Teryl asked as he came around the corner of the house. He spotted the cart parked haphazardly in front and stopped walking. “Papa’s back already?”
Kadri nodded but didn’t look up or give any indication she was interested in talking. But as usual that didn’t keep Teryl from continuing anyway.
“He must have flown into town if he got back that fast!” Teryl said, rather impressed.
“So?” Kadri put in as grumpily as she could.
“Here now, what’s your problem this time?” Teryl said climbing onto the porch and sitting on one of the railings.
“Papa and Mama won’t let me in the house,” she answered with a pathetic sigh. “I wanna help, but they keep saying I’m too little.”
“You are too little, squirt,” Teryl said, looking up at the gathering storm clouds. “You’re barely eight summers old.”
“I’m exactly eight summers old!” Kadri said jumping to her feet. “And Nika’s not a proper grown-up either and she’s in there helping!”
“Mela is much older than you are,” Teryl said. “Besides, what would you do if you were in there?”
“I’ve helped birth sheep before,” Kadri answered proudly, “helping birth a baby can’t be that much different.”
Teryl let out a laugh which he quickly stifled when he realized his sister was serious. “Kaddie, people babies are a lot different than animal babies.”
Kadri walked over, leaned up against the railing and looked up at the clouds without answering. The storm was still a long ways off, but the clouds were steadily rising from the forest, forming a mountain of white that seemed it would topple over if it got any higher.
“You think the rain’ll come before the baby does?” Teryl asked absently.
The storm cloud flashed in the distance, sending a cascade of light from one end of the massive formation to the other. But no rumble followed. It was still too far away.
“That storm looks angry,” Kadri said, staring intently at the sky.
“That’s silly,” Teryl said, swinging his feet, “storms can’t be angry. They’re just clouds.”
“Well how would you know?” Kadri said turning to her brother.
Teryl shook his head and was about to answer back when the front door flew open. “Kadri where’s Pedr and…” their father started. “Teryl!” he exclaimed. “What are you doing just standing around like that? Get Pedr from the orchard and get those horses into the barn! Double quick now! Before the storm hits!”
“Yes sir!” Teryl said, jumping off the railing and tearing off into the apple orchard.
“Can I help with anything Papa?” Kadri asked hopefully.
The sky flashed and a low rumble of thunder sounded in the distance. At the same time through the half open door, Kadri heard her mother moan. This time when her father left all he did was pat her head. He didn’t even smile. They don’t even care that I’m out here.
A moment later she heard a small tap on the wooden steps. She peered over the railing and watched as here and there big drops of water plunked lazily down from the sky making perfect circles on the dry ground.
The clouds were much nearer now but there was still no wind. Kadri could almost swear she saw the storm drawing closer, but if it was, then it was moving on its own. The wind seemed to have abandoned the valley.
Her brothers, running in from the orchard, interrupted her train of thought. Kadri waved to them as they got close, but both were too busy to notice. She watched as Pedr climbed up onto the cart and drove it off to the carriage house while Teryl jumped on the back, kicking his feet as they turned the corner. Maybe I could help them with the horses, Kadri thought as they pulled out of view.
She started towards the steps when a huge bolt of lightning shot from the sky and hit a tree so close the farm she could hear the wood splitting as it fell. Kadri let out a surprised cry and jumped back against the house, plastering her body to the front window. I’ve never seen lightning hit that close before, she thought, her heart skipping beats inside her chest. Maybe I should go inside and watch from my room instead. Her hand was on the door latch before she remembered she’d been exiled to porch.
The sky flashed again, and Kadri instinctively pressed her hands to her ears, muffling the sound. But this time the lightning stayed in the cloud, its rumbling seeming to cross from one end of the valley to the other. I don’t like this. I’m going to talk to Papa. I’m sure he’ll let me in with the storm so close. Another flash and Kadri opened the door, now unconcerned with the consequences of her disobedience. The thunder rolled just as the door opened and in the same instant she heard her mother cry out again.
“The baby’s crowning,” she heard Mistress Reet say, her voice floating in from the bedroom.
“Papa?” Kadri called through the open door. But her words were lost as another clap of thunder sounded from behind her. Hang it all! I’m not standing out here any longer! She ducked into the house and pulled open the drapes in the front window. Another bolt flew from the sky, striking the large oak tree in the middle of the farmyard and setting the topmost branches ablaze! Kadri opened her mouth to scream, but it was her mother’s voice she heard instead.
Kadri had never heard anyone scream like that in her whole life. Afraid to stay by the window but too afraid to move, Kadri could only watch as the flames on the oak tree spread lower with each passing second. The fire burned red and blue and seemed to sparkle in the growing darkness of the storm. Kadri was sure as she watched it that it would consume the whole world if something didn’t stop it soon. I’ve never seen fire like that. I have to tell Papa. She started to turn and call her father’s name, when the rain came.
It came like a curtain, pushed forward as if by an invisible hand. The water quenched the fire and turned the dry earth dark and muddy. It fell so hard that fire barely had a chance to send up smoke as its multicolored flame was quenched by the pounding rain. It was then that Kadri heard the baby cry and the rain whip past the window as if that simple sound had caused the wind to return to the still valley once more.
Her brothers rushed in shortly after, soaked to the skin and dripping all over the front room floor.
“Did you hear that last strike?” Teryl asked has he stripped his wet shirt and threw on the floor by the door.
“I was afraid it hit the house!” Pedr replied, removing his boots and throwing them on top of Teryl’s shirt. “Is everything okay in here? Did the baby come?”
Kadri looked back out the window at the burnt leaves at the top of the oak tree. “The baby brought the rain,” she said in a faraway voice.
Their father walked out of the bedroom. His hair disheveled, his face wet with sweat. He paused when he saw his children and gave them a relieved smile.
“The baby is here,” he said, his voice tired but happy. “It’s a girl. Would you like to go see her?”
“Can we?” Kadri squealed, every bit of the storm forgotten.
Her father nodded and Kadri bolted past him into her parents’ room with a huge grin on her face.
The rain was tapping steadily on the window and a light breeze blew the curtains back and forth. Mela and Nika were helping Mistress Reet wash something in a basin and their mother was lying in bed holding a tiny bundle close to her heart.
“Mama!” Kadri cheered as she ran into the room.
Her mother held one finger to her lips, but her face was aglow with smiles. Kadri slowed her pace and tiptoed the last few feet. The tiny baby was snuggled in a soft blanket, her little fists balled up tightly against her chest. A thin wisp of blond hair lay across her forehead.
“She’s kinda funny-looking,” Kadri said with a giggle.
“You were funny-looking too when you were born, my little one,” her mother said affectionately.
“I’m not little anymore Mama,” Kadri said with some pride. “I’m a big sister now, and I can do all the things grown-ups can do. Just like Mela and Nika.”
Her mother gave her a knowing smile. “Is that so?”
“Yes,” Kadri said with a nod.
The baby yawned and stretched, startling herself awake. As she did, Kadri pointed at her chest.
“Mama!” she said, pointing at the baby. “She got a heart on her chest!”
“Yes she does, sweetie,” her mother said, soothing the baby back to sleep. “Mela says it’s a gift from the fey and she will bring us all good fortune.”
“She already did,” Kadri said with some authority. “She brought the rain.”