Flash Fiction: When They Called Her Home

Written for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: A Title and Two Lines

Word Count: 2,699

As I wrote I kinda strayed away from the title a bit and the ending could use more work. But it works.

The odd man remained silent, forcing a small, copper box into my hands.

I fumbled with the box, the metal warm against my cold hands.

“Hey wait!” I called into the crowd, my voice trailing off, the man had already disappeared into the crowd as quickly as he had shown up. My eyes search for some trace of him to no avail.

I was still looking when something hard slammed in my back, making me stumble.

“Don’t just stand in the middle of a busy road ya idiot!” And older woman glared at me and hitched her bag of turnips higher. I bet it was those turnips she had slammed into me. “Damn kids these days,” she muttered under her breath. She slipped into the river of people and disappeared.

I waded my way to the edge of the road, dodging several street urchins who had already learned not to try picking my pockets. They weren’t going to find anything worth stealing. I found a spot of calm next to the entrance of a spice shop, the sharp scent of cloves and pepper making my nose itch.

I let several minutes pass as I watched the people move past me. Busy people living busy lives. Always paying attention to only what was right in front of them. The next meal, the next job, the next street. It was one of the reasons I liked this city. Why I had stayed so long in one spot. Three years, three years I had lived in New Haplan. Minding my own business, just trying to make a living. And I had stayed too long.

My thumb gently stroked the top of the box, feeling out the gentle ridges and swirls of my family crest. A skull with a length of cloth coming from its mouth. A needle threaded through its eyes. A symbol that had been illegal for the past 100 years.

I gripped the box, the edges digging into my hands. I took a deep breath and looked down at the box. At the sight I was swept back into old memories. Memories of my grandmother and I sitting at her large kitchen table, the copper box sitting next to us, open and revealing several golden needles and a pair of silver scissors. The smell of lilacs surrounding us.

“Now Mina,” her voice had been soft, but I never had to strain to hear it, “You must always remember that our work is the bridge from the past to the future.” 

She said those words to me a lot. And whenever my mother wasn’t around, which was often in those days, She would teach me how to use those needles. She would teach me magic.

I fingered the latch on the front of the box.

“Make way! Make way for High Priest Lesden!” My head snapped up, my eyes finding the silver guards pushing their way through the crowded road. I jerked back to reality and quickly shoved the small box deep into a pocket of my heavy overcoat before dropping my head into a bow, fist over heart. The river of people stilled, and then rippled as everyone dropped into similar bows.

Gazing up through my lashes I watched as an ornate silver palanquin, heavily carved and hung with thick velvet to keep out the winter’s chill, bobbed above the crowd  Silver guards in their shining armor surrounded the palanquin, shoving people out of the way when they didn’t move fast enough.

I couldn’t catch a glimpse of the occupant of the palanquin. Not that I expected to. High Priest Lesden hated appearing in front of the common people. He even kept his holy day speeches to the minimum length required.

As his palanquin disappeared from view and the crowd began moving again, I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding.

Pulling my coat tighter against my chest, I slipped back into the crowd going the opposite direction I should have been. I couldn’t go back to the workshop  even though my boss had a paycheck for me. Not it was time for me to leave New Haplan, and quickly.

As I walked I made a mental list of what I could bring with me. The money hidden under the floor boards, my spare set of jewelers tools, I hated to lose the set at the workshop but it couldn’t be helped. It would be too risky to go back for them.

If some strange man was able to find me who knew who else knew where I was.

I shoved my key into my lock angrily, I had grown soft, and now I would pay for it.

I slipped upstairs and into my home for the last three years. It was a small place, all my roommate and I could afford with our meager wages. Thankfully my roommate was still at her own job. My cheeks grew hot. I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye.

I slapped a hand to my cheek and grabbed my old backpack. I’d been through this before, I could do it again. Hastily and without care for the clothing I was rumbling I began shoving as much as I could into the bag. My hands hesitated over the shelf where I stored the few personal trinkets I had acquired over the years.

A small statue of Dyne, the goddess of craftsmen.  A ceramic rose given to me by a former lover. A book on astrology my roommate thought I should read. It would be better to leave them behind. I turned my back on the shelf.

I spun around my small home, taking in one last look of home. I would miss this place. And my roommate, as annoying as she could be. I would even miss her constantly trying to push the newest herbal tea blend, designed to cure all ills. I laughed a little, the last one had kept her up for three nights straight.

I brushed my hand against the box sitting in my pocket. After a moments hesitation I fished it out. Before I could talk myself out of it, I flicked my thumb and opened the small copper box. The lid snapped open revealing two small pieces of paper. Notes from my grandmother? I glanced towards the half closed window and bit my lip. I probably had time.

With a thunk I dropped my full backpack on the floor and sat myself down at our small table. I set aside the box with its needles and inspected the two notes. One was larger than the other and looked worn, as if it had been folded and refolded many times. The other was small, just a single fold and the paper was very fine. I flipped open the small note to find just two lines.

Your kingdom needs you.

Sundown, the market bridge.

I eyed the gently curving script, whoever wrote it had very nice handwriting. My brow furrowed. The man from this morning? He had been dressed in mostly nondescript clothing but his hands were soft and calloused.

Your kingdom needs you. Could he be from the king? It had to be a trap. But how did they get my grandmother’s box? Not wanting to continue that train of thought I set the note down and picked up the other one. As I picked it up I caught of whiff of something. Almost like lilacs. Unfolding the note I almost choked as I recognized my grandmother’s handwriting. Wiping away tears I read the note.

Dearest Mina,

If you are reading this I’m dead and long gone. And what’s more, King Eldride, whom I have just stitched is likely dead as well. The one who has given you this book works for the king, you can trust them. Meet with them and do the task our family has done for the past 100 generations. Don’t let the bridge between the past and the future burn.

I love you,

Your Grandmother Sania

The note shook in my hands. My grandmother had stitched the King? But their magic was outlawed by the Church. How could she have been there 20 years ago when the old king died? Although it was right around the time she had disappeared….No. I shook my head. Not possible. There’s no way the Silver Guard would have allowed my grandmother to get anywhere near the king.

Carefully I folded the note and put it back in the box before tucking the box deep into my pocket. I stared at the other note, debating before shoving it into my pocket with the box. Better to not let anyone find it.

I grabbed my backpack and with one final look around the place, I left. Outside the sun was just beginning to set. I eyed the road, if I went straight there I could make it to the Market Bridge by sundown. I shook the thought away, I wasn’t tempting fate tonight. I turned in the opposite direction from the bridge.

The road was a lot clearer now. Most people were at work still or at home, eating with their families. I headed towards the Northern entrance to the town, the road would take me to Lisbenth. I’d stayed there several years ago, it was a good enough city, not as big as New Haplan but it would do for awhile.

As she walked down the road she couldn’t help but glance behind her every once in awhile, back down the road towards the Market Bridge. What if grandmother’s note was true? Could she stitch one mans memories to another’s, stitching the wisdom and knowledge of the past to another’s soul? She’d watched her grandmother do it in secret when she was younger. She remembered her grandmother did it to her old dog and a new puppy once. And after the new puppy already knew all of the trained commands the old dog knew.

Don’t let the bridge between the past and the future burn

 “Damn it all,” I clutched my backpack and spun around almost running down the street towards the Market Bridge. The sun had set a few minutes ago, would they wait? I was out of breath as I come upon the bridge, my breath coming in gasps in the cold air.

I slowed, looking around for anyone waiting, I walked towards one of the large bridge posts.

“I hoped you would come.” I almost shrieked at the sound of a voice, barely managing to clap a hand over my mouth to stop the sound.

I turned to find the odd man from that morning stepping out from the shadows below the bridge. He bowed low as he came into the light. He was still dressed in the same nondescript clothing as before now but now I could see that his beard was carefully trimmed and oiled, and his cloak was finely woven. And what was more, it was pinned with the golden eagle of the the Royal house of Ascalander.

“My name is Sir Jorin Fremin. I presume that you are the grandaughter of Sania Weviner, Mina Weviner?” I nodded, still out of breath. “Excellent, his highness will be pleased. Please, follow me.”

He strode into the night towards the other side of the market, leaving me with nothing to do but follow him. He led her to an old shop that used to be a booksellers but had closed town several months ago. I could still smell the scent of old books inside.

The front of the store was dark but a light burned in the back room. The man, Jorin Fremin, knocked softly at the door in a complicated rhythm. “Your Highness, I’ve returned and I’ve brought Miss Mina Weviner with me.” The door opened, light pooling in the dark shop. The man gestured for me to enter the room.

I grimaced and clutched the straps of my backpack. This was probably a bad idea. But for some reason I stepped forward, into the light of the room.

The room was small, only big enough for two men in leather armor and a man sitting at a small table. A large box sat on the table next to him. Jorin closed the door behind me, shutting me in the room with the other men.

The man stood as I entered the room. “Welcome Miss Weviner, I am truly glad you came.” He smiled softly and gestured for me to sit on the other chair. I stayed standing. I recognized the man, anyone would. He was Prince Gladde, the heir to the throne of Ascalander. When he saw I wasn’t going to sit he sighed and sat back down. Clasping his hands together he looked up at me, his eyes serious.

“I’ll get right to the point then, I am Prince Gladde as I am sure you are aware. However tomorrow I am to be crowned King.”

“King Eldride is dead?” I thought back to my grandmother’s note. She was right. 

 “Yes, he passed away early this morning.” The prince’s eyes were sad and he glanced at the box on the table. “Before my father died he put certain plans into place, plans to be executed at the moment of his death. Plans to find you and have you work your families magic on myself. I want you to stitch my father’s memories into my own.”

“You can’t be serious,” I sputtered. I glanced at the box on the table. I could now detect another smell under the scent of musty books. The scent of death. “I don’t know what you’re talking about you highness, magic has been outlawed for the past 100 years. There is no more magic.”

“Your grandmother warned us that you would likely deny what you could do, I’m surprised you even showed up. But I know who you are, and what you can do and despite what the church says I’m not about to let over 100 generations of knowledge be lost because it scares some priests!” His fist slammed on the table, making me jump.

“I’m sorry,” he said sheepishly, his pale cheeks coloring. “My father never allowed the priests to shove their prejudices into my head when I was young. Something I am extremely thankful for. Now then, I know you must be scared, and rightly so. But your country needs to. We can’t lose the past this way.”

Don’t let the bridge between the past and the future burn

 My grandmother’s words spun through my head.

“Your grandmother left instructions on how this works.” The prince stood up and grabbed the lid of the box. “It must be done within 24 hours, The hair, fresh from the scale is all that’s required. The body itself isn’t necessary.” He lifted the lid to the box, revealing the severed head of King Eldride. “I hate to think what the priests will say when they embalm his body but he insisted this would be the best way. Can you do it?” The prince looked up at me, hope and fear in his eyes. He wasn’t that much younger than I was.

Don’t let the bridge between the past and the future burn

 I pulled the box from my pocket and flipped open the lid. “Let’s do this then.”

I plucked a hair from the severed head, and threaded my needle.

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