Stamps Bonus Story
Be the Story
Luca was fifteen when his mother decided that they would leave the People and live among the white men again; “again” because she had come from them, although he’d spent his whole life among the People.
He soon learned that he didn’t like the white folks, and that the feeling was mutual. His mother had woven a nice tidy lie to explain his presence – my husband was killed when we were taken by the Indians. I was pregnant at the time - but it didn’t explain his dark hair, skin, and eyes, against her sun-burnt freckles and green eyes. No-one argued with her, though, because Sage White-Blade was a formidable woman.
But Luca sh’WhiteBlade was a skinny boy, an outsider, a brown-skinned bastard with no father to protect him, and that he could take on any attacker (or any two or three; he was, after all, a Mara’s son) endeared him to no-one; they simply started attacking him in groups of eight or better.
“I want to go home,” he told his mother flatly, ignoring the cracked rib – it would heal – or the split lip that made his words mangled.
“You need to be around your kind,” she told him, working a healing on him without comment.
“My kind?” He glared at her. “The People are my kind. These…” he spat out an epithet that, loosely translated, meant “not my kind of people.” “They’re nothing. And they don’t want me.”
“Your kind, the Ellehemaei,” she clarified, frowning at him. “You need to learn more about your history and your breed before your Becoming. I will not send you ignorant to your Mentor.”
In her frown, he read more than that, but she left it unsaid, so he didn’t push her. He got better at defending himself, and never pointed out to his mother than her white Ellehemaei friends, stern Mara and perfect Grigori, hated his half-blood self as much as the humans around them. At least they were willing to teach him some of the things White-Blade thought he needed to know; at least they fought him one-on-one.
He was sixteen when she moved them again, from the Northern towns near where the People lived to a coastal city three days’ travel away. Although she never gave him a reason, the Mara here were two dark-skinned old warriors, Spanish, they claimed, and, although she gave no story as to his birth here, the rumor that he was Baldomero Long-Stick’s bastard protected him in the way that the truth never would have.
Baldomero and Milena began teaching him the day they moved in, the four of them gathered around the hearth in the tidy cottage just outside the town. Milena told the history of their people in a style that was half tall tale and half rumor, embellished with gestures and props until the stories of long-vanished ancestors came to life in front of him; Baldomera taught him tricks and cheats that he would later be able to develop into full Workings.
The “later” began to worry all three Mara, though, as his sixteenth year went on and no Change came. “Sometimes it takes time,” Sage would murmur calmly, but it seemed to be taking more time that she thought was meet.
Milena, when asked, would ramble off into some long story about some boy’s Becoming, so that, by the time she was done, Luca had forgotten the question. Her stories were engrossing enough that he didn’t really mind, either. Baldomero would just take him outside and train him until he relented, unable to catch enough breath to ask.
Once upon a time, in a land forgotten by all but the tale-tellers and the historians (who are, after all, the same people wearing different hats), before the Children of the Law had taken that name, before any of those of the Ellehem had learned to hide, a boy dreamed of flying.
Very clever. But no, this boy was the son of a great warrior, and that great warrior had wings like an eagle, bright and beautiful and brilliant, that bore him up into the sky with no fear of melting. Like Baldomero.
Like Baldomero. Milena, who would never fly, would say no more about her own wings than that.
Months went by, and the stories, as pretty as they were, ceased to satisfy, and the town with its carefully-polite folk began to chafe, and the training began to feel like kid’s games. He could do more, he knew he could, but his powers were limited by the human body he still wore, and, since his body still repaired itself as slowly as any other normal human, the training Baldomero would put him through was still child’s play. Baldomero and Sage would go flying, going so high that they looked as small as nearby birds, so high they turned into specks against the sun, and he would sit outside with Milena and listen to her stories.
They aren’t true, are they? He’d demand, when he got particularly cranky.
They are as true as they need to be, she’d say sometimes, until once, she said, they are as true as you live them.
What’s that supposed to mean?
Be the stories, Luca. They are, after all, your stories.
“Be the stories.” So far in the cloudless sky that he had to squint to see them, Long-Stick and White-Knife glided through the sky that should be his. “Be Cú Chulainn. Be the boy who claimed the skies for himself. Because that is what the stories are for.”
His fingers itched to be touching the sky. His shoulders ached with the need of it.
“What the stories are for?” He’d thought they were to teach him history.
“To draw a path on the map, a trail in the sky for you to follow.” Her voice sounded more full of longing than he had ever heard anyone be. He hadn’t thought that anyone could want as badly as he did to touch the sky. He hadn’t thought he could ache so physically with the longing. “To show us where the light should be.”
She was looking off into some other world, some time when she traveled those roads. He gritted his teeth against the growing pain and listened.
“They have their faith, their churches, their God to turn to, to tell them what is right. We have only the Law, which concerns itself only with what is. Stories help up bridge that gap.”
He bent over from the pain, his sides aching, his back feeling as if had been flayed. Sparring hadn’t been that hard. Baldomero wouldn’t let it be that hard.
“And they serve as a memory. We live a long time, but even we die, and we have no written histories; we live in the stories that have been told about us.”
The gods pulled wings from the boy’s back, splitting his ribs and bending them out. The pain would have been unbearable, but there was nothing he could not bear to fly, so he bore it.
Eleven departed gods, he was being pulled open. His skin had peeled from his back, and his ribs were cracking open…
It hurt, gods, nothing had hurt that badly in all his short life. His muscles stretched and pulled in new ways, as he reached, reached for the sky…
…and claimed it.
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