Flash Fiction Project: Falling

The new entry in my Flash Fiction Project introduces Orwyn. While destined to become a major player in the world of Gbahn and Archipelago, here he is only a frightened young man on a boat. (A slightly edited version of this story now appears as the prologue in the 2015 revision of The Sea Between the Worlds.)

A Gbahn and Archipelago story

He almost fell when he stood up in the boat. He almost fell into the water and drowned. Wide, deep water, as far as the eye could see, wide enough that he could imagine there was no homeland behind him, no refuge ahead of him. The water would surely soak through the planks of the boat, seep through the cracks between them, and pull the boat down into the depths. Orwyn could do nothing to stop it and he wasn’t sure whether he was afraid or relieved.

The sun was blinding. The sail that caught the wind in a tall triangle did not cast enough shadow for Orwyn to hide in, and he felt his skin burning. His lips were already cracked and split, his hair windblown and caked with salt. He itched, and he could not reach any part of himself to scratch. Not that it mattered. He was cursed, that’s what they all said, and to be cursed apparently meant to be sunburned and itchy.

At first he tried to scratch himself with his hands, clumsy and blunt as they were inside his gloves. The men in the boat had put them on him, wrapped the cuffs tight and secured them with buckles so Orwyn could not get them off. Then, when the heat and the sun and the vastness of the sea had driven him mad, when he would do anything to get away from them even if it meant throwing himself to the sharks, Orwyn had stood up in the boat and tried to capsize it. The sailors had lunged at him, caught him and tied him to the thwart where he sat, his arms at his side and his legs made fast to the bench. He couldn’t scratch at all now.

If only he had thrown himself a little bit farther. When he drifted in the heat he dreamed that he had actually fallen over the side, that he was still falling through the waves and currents of the water.

Voices shook him awake before he could reach the ocean floor. “Dirty weather up ahead.”

Owyn’s eyes cracked open. The sun was missing, and a gray sky shed something like cool onto his tortured skin.

The other sailor laughed roughly. “Shame we can’t take the gloves off this one. He could freeze us a wall of ice and keep the storm away from us. Or pick the boat up out of the water and float us in the air up above it. Hey!” The rough man turned and kicked Orwyn’s shin. “Can you do that, magician?”

Orwyn wanted to say no but his voice did not work, stopped up with pain and fury too hot to shout out.

Hours – days? – later the storm broke. The sailors shouted and scurried over the boat, tugging at ropes and the sail and the rudder and all manner of things that Orwyn didn’t understand. Each time a wave lifted the boat Orwyn imagined it would toss him out, despite his bindings, and he would fall. But he only fell back into the trough of a wave, the boat with him.

Then some gust of wind tore a rope out of a sailor’s hand, too fast for Orwyn to see until he felt the wet lash around his arm. He was sure a shark had bitten him until he blinked enough to clear the rain from his eyes and looked down at his arm, his hand free of blood, and free of its glove. The rope had caught the buckle and ripped it loose.

This was his chance. Now, while the sailors were too busy to see him or stop him. He could unravel the ropes that secured him with a touch, jump up from the bench, thrust his hand out at one man’s back and stop his heart between his ribs. With a wave of his arm he could turn the falling rain into a torrent that threw the other man into the water, helpless and numb, arms flailing at nothing as he fell.

Can you do that, magician? Orwyn had no idea. And the thought died as soon as it crossed his mind. He could not imagine anyone falling without remembering his sister falling. He could not imagine touching anything with his bare hand without remembering the tree he had touched, the tree she had climbed into, the tree she had fallen out of. All the heat went out of him, all the rage, every thought of anger and revenge. His bare hand hung cold and limp and he stared at it as if it were powerless. Because it had been. His sister had fallen from the tree and he had pressed his hands to its trunk with all the power he had, to wrench its limbs around and catch her in its branches. But he did not catch her. They said magic was a curse, but they did not know how he was truly cursed.

© 2013 Michelle M. Welch


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