Meihir, the Witch of Kakar, pushed her long fingers across the palm of the boy Zaifyr. Her rough nail ran through dirt, following the lines on his skin until, pushing hard at the base of his palm, she said that he would die at the age of twenty nine. He was not yet five. Meihir, in contrast, was an ancient woman, the tiny bones braided into her hair yellow with age, the remains of a family long gone. Yet, for her age, and her fragility in size, the witch wore the thick hide of a white bear as if it weighed nothing and spoke clearly and strongly, even when announcing the death of a child. On that day, as she foresaw the deaths of nineteenth children in tragedies, her voice did not stumble once.
In the City of Watchtowers, Zaifyr watched the sun set before him, a brown bottle of beer slick with moisture in his hand. In the mountains of his childhood, snow had fallen year round, and stone bears, crafted by Hienka, the Feral God, had roamed the valleys and roads. Hienka had made them before his hibernation, before the winter swept over them for thousands of years, until ten years after Meihir told him he would die, when it would stop, suddenly.
“I'm going report to Heast. You coming?”
“No.” Zaifyr flicked dirty water off his hands, drawn out of his hair. “I'm not planning to go anywhere.”
The saboteur eased to the ground next to him, dropping axes and leather jerkin as he did. The hole they had crawled out of lay behind the pair, the soldiers spread out wide around them. “You think we smell?”
“I don't smell a thing.”
Without replying, Zaifyr pulled a copper chain from a pile of charms beside him and wound it around his left wrist. After Meihir's prophecy, his family had wrapped charms around him, each one painstakingly made and blessed with the small magic they had. His mother assembled the chain he tied around his wrist; his grandfather melted and beat the pieces through his hair; his father made the studs for his ears; and his grandmother engraved tiny blessings on each, some no more than a letter, others a word. In this, he was no different than the other children of Kakar that had been promised an early death. Nineteen was the most any witch had proclaimed and soon the charmed children were friends, isolated by the other children who did not play with them, and by the men and women who refused to teach them skills that the village survived on. There was only one blacksmith in Kakar, and Zaifyr, though he had shown an interest in the trade early on, could not be that. His father's pale blue eyes had not blinked when he told him that. You can hunt and track and marry one of five girls, girls you know by charms threaded through their hair and on their body, but no son, you cannot follow my footsteps.
You are a fighter, his father said when, with tears in his eyes, he had asked what he could be. Keep your sword straight and make sure it doesn't drop. Fight until you cannot fight no more.
As the sun sank, liquid orange and melting over the Mountains of Mireea, Zaifyr saw the sun in Kakar, cold, brittle, and the eclipse that had obscured it when his god had awoken. The town had organised the charmed children to walk to Hienka's cave hours after the midday darkness. The thin figure of Meihir led them up a narrow trail, her bent figure a frail question none behind her could ask. There were more questions when they found the stone bears, thirty seven in number, sitting in rows before the cave.
Zaifyr and the other children had moved cautiously through their ranks after she entered the dark, empty mouth of the cave. He knew the bears, just as everyone did, for they padded paths from village to village, impossibly alive and unpredictable; but now their violent mouths were closed and they were still, returned to their original stone. Tentatively, he reached out, not the first to do so, but not the last, a skinny youth then that neither set the lead nor followed. When he touched the side of one, he jumped back immediately, thinking that it would turn its solid bulk towards him, but nothing happened. Zaifyr's thin hands reached out again, and again, the stone bear did not move.
Inside the cave, Hienka was gone.
I am thinking I will call the book the Godless, but it may change. I'll write it and by the time I'm done with it, the agent will have hopefully sold the book she has, and I'll see how things shake there. If that book doesn't sell, then I have another book I am writing, yes?
The choices you make in life are sometimes strangely logical.