Here be dragons a fireli.., p.1
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       Here Be Dragons: A Firelighter's Tale, p.1

           Sionnach Wintergreen
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Here Be Dragons: A Firelighter's Tale


  Here Be Dragons: A Firelighter’s Tale

  By Sionnach Wintergreen

  Sionnach Wintergreen © 2016

  This novel is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

  No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by law.

  Please feel free to contact Sionnach Wintergreen via email at: everwintergreen@gmail.com.

  Visit Sionnach Wintergreen at SionnachWintergreen.com, on Facebook and @everwintergreen on Twitter.

  Check out these other exciting titles by Sionnach Wintergreen!

  Adult Fantasy Romance:

  Because Faery Godmonster

  The Inquisitor’s Gift

  Epic Fantasy:

  Another World’s Song: Book 1 of the Astralasphere Spiral

  Under the Shadow: Book 2 of the Astralasphere Spiral

  Fantasy Short Reads:

  Albynon the Dragon Hunter: Or Searching for Anodyne

  Evening’s Secret

  Here Be Dragons: A Firelighter’s Tale

  Istadnya’s Vow: A Prologue to the Astralasphere Spiral

  For Lisa,

  who liked stories like this

  and who always believed in me.

  Candle waited for the man to come back to himself, anxious to remove her hands from his. They were, like so many of the caravan merchants’ hands, plump moist things, softer than sow ears when compared to the barnacle-like calluses of the local fishermen. Touching them reminded her of brushing against some slippery creature when she waded in the ocean.

  He sat across from her, his pale hands palms down on her table, covered by her darker ones. His eyes slit open. “You,” his voice was low and hoarse from her Light, “burn hot, Witch.”

  “I do witch, but Lighting isn’t witchery.” Rain beat on the tin roof over their heads. She lifted her hands from his, suppressing a sigh of relief, and curled her fingers against her palms. “Not all witches are firelighters.” She hadn’t quite managed to keep the fatigue from her voice. Her ability to share Light kept a roof over her head, kept her free of the scaling lines and whorehouses, but selling her Light came with its own cost.

  Her client’s eyes, glassy but fully open now, surveyed her one-room flat as if he had not seen it before. Perhaps he hadn’t, burnt-out people seldom noticed much more than their own condition, and he had barely looked around before they began. Now, however, his gaze ticked over her things—the bundles of herbs strung from the ceiling, the feathers and beads on the nightstand, the bottles on her work bench, her knives.

  She saw it in his eyes, but she saw it too late. His hands awakened. She pulled away, but he caught her. His grip hurt her wrists.

  “Again,” he demanded.

  “We had an agreement. I fixed you. We’re done.”

  His grip tightened in answer.

  She tried to reason with him. This time, her voice shook. “I can’t give you more.”

  “Do it again, Witch, or I’ll beat you to death right here and cut you up with your own knives. I’ll feed you to the fishes in pieces and none will ever know.”

  She nodded, took a breath, turned her wrists so her fingertips brushed his skin. She found the Light dancing in his forearms. And pulled.

  He gasped as the Light withdrew from him like a tide receding. She took back everything she had given him and then seized more. She drained the murky Light pooled in ropey bowels and flaccid genitals, from the trembling arms so eager for violence, from the predatory lobes in the back of his skull. Fleeting Light flickered, like moths, against the panes of his wide-stretched eyes. She watched it shiver there, watched his face go gaunt as shadow replaced Light. Jaw still clenched, she freed herself from his grasp.

  A low, wounded animal sound scraped against his throat. She shuddered. “Go,” she whispered, rubbing her aching wrists, unable to look at him, “And return no more. What you seek isn’t here.”

  He rose from his seat and shuffled toward the door. She leapt up and released him into wet night, barring the door behind him. She sank against the door, hugging herself, trembling. It would be a miracle if he didn’t kill himself by dawn. Slowly, she gathered her wits, burned sage and lavender to purify her space, and purged herself of his essence, sinking the Light she had stolen into a potted ivy and bathing her hands with salt water.

  She did not sleep, but stayed drawn up by the hearth, watching the fire until the last coal darkened.

  ooo

  Roosters crowed in the thin dawn light. Although she needed to go to the market, Candle couldn’t persuade her limbs to move until the sun rose higher. She ventured out only of necessity.

  Headed toward the market, she almost dropped her basket. The man before her looked so much like her childhood friend. “Tern?” The late morning light, gilding wet shingles and crooked balconies as it slanted into the common yard, slid across his shoulder and jaw, turned the white plume of his hat to silver flame. Recognition flickered across his face. He smiled at her.

  Once, she had plotted a million terrible things to do to him if she ever saw him again. Now, she splashed through the puddles where the bricks had crumbled, heedless of her skirts, and stopped with a small hop right in front of him. Her lean brown arms fanned the air, as if she might embrace him or simply take wing. She did neither as bangles and basket slid toward her elbows.

  He stood like a statue, a stranger in his long coat and breeches, his feet encased in hard brown boots—a stranger with Tern’s gentle face. She hugged the basket instead. “What are you doing here?”

  “Visiting. They’re going to feed Mother to the Lighthouse this Summer Eve.”

  “Yes, I’d heard that. How did you know?”

  “Cuttle.” As long as she had known him, his mother had always been ‘Mother’, but he never called his father anything more familiar than a first name. “I wrote to him a few years ago. Let him know how to contact me….”

  “Oh, that’s good,” she said flatly, but managed to continue in a more conversational tone. “So, have you been to see him yet?” Her eyes dropped to the large sack beside him.

  “Yes. I was just there. First place I went after docking.” Following her gaze, he added, “I was on my way to your mother’s place, actually. Cuttle…that is, I thought it might be best to stay at an inn.”

  “You’ll have to go up Westside, then. There aren’t any more inns in this quarter. Momma died four years ago. In the heatwave we had that summer. Piper got the inn, but it overwhelmed him, so he sold it last year to some mainland merchants. They gutted the first floor and turned it into a pit—a whatdoyacallit—arena.”

  “Candle, I had no idea. I’m so sorry.”

  She shrugged, but the sincere grief in his face shamed her. When he was six and Ember had been taken to the Asylum, her mother had often cared for him. While his own skin had shunned him, her brown, foreign-born mother had maintained tribal notions toward orphans and the unfortunate, and no amount of gossip about curses on Cuttle’s family could keep her from minding his small son or plying her craft. He’d been a red-eyed, swollen-nosed little thing with a wheezy chest that seemed always on the verge of coughing up something. Candle, the same age, had first fallen in love with him then, watching with shy interest the pale boy who sat, uncomprehending yet patient, while her mother sprinkled him with dried herbs and shook chicken feet over his head. He looked just as lost now as he stared past her, ga
zing at streets he hadn’t walked in five years.

  “I’m sorry she couldn’t see how healthy you are—she would have been delighted. She would have wagged her finger at me, vindicated, and said ‘See, Candle? Magic takes time’.” He chimed in on the last two words of the adage with her, and they laughed. They had finished each other’s sentences like twins, once. Memories tugged at her heart and the corners of her mouth. Tern at seven, rescuing baby turtles on the beach; Tern at ten, pinching her calf beneath the waves, pretending to be a shark; Tern at twelve, drawing maps in the sand, pointing to imaginary islands where they would travel someday. “I was just going to buy some lunch and get a few things for dinner,” she said. “Why don’t you come with me?”

  He agreed, hoisting his sack over one shoulder, smiling his familiar smile, mirth confined to teeth and lips, his shadowy eyes somewhere far away. She clutched her basket and turned her back on him, suddenly crisp, leading him toward the common market at a march, regretting her offer, regretting that she had said anything, regretting that she’d ever seen him. Tern at fifteen, all clumsy hands and barley breath, his tongue probing her mouth.

  ooo

  They had tea with green lemons, day-old black bread, and honey out in the damp, grayish sunlight. What little gold there was in that oily light, Tern caught it. It glittered on the buttons of his coat, in his glossy hair tied behind his neck, on his short square nails, at the edges of his long
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