Sometimes my Flash Fiction Project does exactly what I hoped for – give me the chance to flesh out some characters whom I’d like to know better. I created Wyndwrath, the main adversary in the Gbahn and Archipelago novels, and gave him this menacing-looking scar, but at first I didn’t know how he’d gotten it. Now I know.
A Gbahn and Archipelago story
This was the end. The old man was dying.
Wyndwrath could not call the old man his father any more than he could remember the name the man had given him. It was necessary, of course, that distance. He had been shocked as a child when the men in black robes came for him, when his father had turned him out and let the men take him. He understood it now. He had now been one of those men in black robes, many times, collecting boys who showed promise. They were always so difficult at that age, fourteen or fifteen, and a clean break was necessary to remind them that their old lives were at an end.
“Do you remember when I found your robes?” Wyndwrath murmured to the old man. Paper-thin eyelids fluttered – the man was still awake, though he could not move from the bed where he lay. He had not moved or spoken since being brought to the tiny cell of a room, but Wyndwrath thought there was still time. “I did not know how strange it was then for a Cleric of the Order to do as you had, to live on his own, to have a child. My magic hadn’t even manifested then. What would you have done had it not? You’d have had to lie to me about what the robes were.”
Wyndwrath ran a hand across his face, over the thick tissue of an old scar that divided his ear and crossed his cheek. It was a tic, a sign of worrying, and he lowered his hand. He was not a nervous man. He also didn’t like talking about being a child, and the old man was not responding to his words anyway. If he wanted to make the old man talk he would have to speak of something else.
“It is for the best, of course. Your lessons prepared me for what I would experience in the Order. They also showed me how much further, how very much further, I could go. See this…” He raised a hand, gloved in black as it almost always was now, and grasped at a thread of the air. A corner of the blanket that covered the old man’s chest folded downward, as if tossed by a breeze through the window. The old man’s eyes opened, and he fixed a red and hazy gaze on Wyndwrath.
“What? That couldn’t have been me. My gloves are still on. Magicians must have their naked hands upon the thing that they would move. You taught me that. You taught me to build mountains with a hand on the dirt. You taught me to flood the shoreline with waves well before the tide rolled in. You taught me to push at the air and turn back an attacker before he could lay a blade on me.”
A muscle in Wyndwrath’s cheek tightened against the scar tissue but he kept himself from touching it. “Some of those lessons took time to learn. But I hold no grudge against you for injuring me. It was so very long ago. And look what I have learned since then.” He took hold of the air in earnest now, wrapping his fist around it, feeling it resist him through the glove that should have prevented him from moving it. He pulled and the line of air snagged the blanket, dragging it down from the old man’s chest.
Beneath the blanket the old man wore a thin nightshirt, so thin that the outline of bones was visible in his chest, his collarbone, his shoulders. So old, so frail. He was no longer the man who had turned Wyndwrath out after two years of training, steeling himself against the boy’s cries. He was no longer the man who held knowledge the boy couldn’t dream of, who withheld it from him as the boy wept tears and blood down his severed face, begging his father to heal the wound.
The old man’s lips were moving now. Wyndwrath had to drop the thread of air and step closer to hear him.
“It’s a trick.”
Wyndwrath’s scarred ear twitched. His clamped his hand into a tight knot and stilled it at his side, and after a moment he was able to steady his voice as well. “Are you so certain, old man? Perhaps I have grown greater than you. Perhaps I have learned to change the boundaries of magic. Perhaps I have even mastered that which you told me could not be done – to heal a wound as if it had never been made.”
The old man gasped for breath. Wyndwrath frowned and leaned closer. The man could not die now, not yet. But he was not struggling to breathe. He was laughing. “Is that what you want? You were always over-proud. Breaking into the chest where I hid my robes because you wanted to show me you’d figured out my secret. But it can’t be done, boy. You can move elements. You can’t change them. You can move water but you can’t change the tide. You can stop bleeding but you can’t undo a cut.”
“You’re lying.” Wyndwrath seized the man by the collar of his nightshirt, feeling the fabric tear through his gloves. “Tell me how to heal a scar!”
The old man laughed again, one long wheeze of breath. Then his eyes closed. This time they did not open. And though Wyndwrath pressed his hands on the old man’s chest, though he stripped off his gloves and ripped the tear in the nightshirt wider to touch the withered skin over those frail bones, he could not make the old man’s heart beat again.
© 2013 Michelle M. Welch