By Linsa Dean
“Your highness, I’m afraid an issue has come to light regarding your daughter’s claim to the throne. It seems our beloved patron has sired an offspring in another country. The girl is set to arrive at the academy in a week’s time. I recommend we warn the princess of the potential usurper.”
Gold-flecked eyes stared down the kneeling man. The goddess hadn’t blessed him more than simply providing his great-great-grandfather. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees to meet the eyes of the priest. “I will tell my daughter. How did you find out about this bastard?”
“The planet Domhanmir is bogged in tradition. What was meant to create order is ultimately leading towards chaos. Monarchies and traditions of silent gods do us no good in keeping humanity afloat. The superstitions that gold eyes, of magic, are long lost or limited to monarchs, only encourages division.”
“Ms. Sihiri, may I interject to point out that you have gold eyes.”
“So do you and have you met a god-parent?”
“I suppose not. Continue.”
“Division between the classes, between the god descendants and the fully mortal, are leading us down a path to war and uprisings. Countries like Amagitou whose gods have not been heard from in a hundred years, whose monarchs are simply descendants from the last blessed one, are being abused by monarchs who claim Mushzing or demi-god status. Those claiming descendant status remain in power solely by the consent of the governed. Should public opinion change then their thrones are no longer secure.
“Recent studies in fields of magic and immortal abilities have concluded that even demi-gods lack enough power on their birthright alone to forcibly hold a title. Demi-gods born to non-patron immortals or to paragons have even less. At present, there are only three monarchs who have credible claims of having been blessed. All three have monopolized trade and sunk many smaller countries into abject poverty. There are five monarchs claiming demi-god status and all have admitted to not having blessed abilities. All rule countries at the mercy of the Big Three’s trade policies.
“On an economic and societal level, we can no longer rely on the flawed monarchy systems present in Domhanmir. The gods among us do not bless or sire, and it is plunging humanity into division and on the path to world war.”
Gold eyes stared into each other as the potential Honor candidate stood behind the podium. Without breaking eye contact the deciding professor tilted his head to the side, “It’s controversial but it fits your degree. Denied.”
Gravel crunched under Saph’s tires as she pulled into the small driveway of her home. She turned off her car and stared at the small house. Gold eyes and this is what I was able to get. Mom got a raise and now we live paycheck to paycheck. She knew she was lucky. People had it worse. But the raise should’ve happened years before she was born, and there hadn’t been one since. Two and a half incomes and one and a half stories. She threw her head against the steering wheel. What was I thinking, criticizing the whole world? Gods that was stupid. Of course, it was denied. Fuck that was my chance. She looked up at the attic window, she could see the curtains move in the breeze from the cracks in the window frame, at least it would be a cool night.
She dragged herself out of the front seat, manually setting it back to fit her mom. She grabbed her backpack from the passenger seat and locked the car with the key before trudging up to the front door. The key caught in the lock and she shifted her pack and shimmied the lock until it clicked open. She relocked it before slipping her heels off on the rug by the door. She took in the small house. True it wasn’t much, but she always took a minute to appreciate that her mother had tried to keep it clean and act like it wasn’t slowly falling apart. Saph sighed- becoming an Honor had been her shot to get a job that would pay for her parents to live without drafts and questionable siding. Secretly she was grateful that she hadn’t told them about the interview- or even the classes. Now they couldn’t be disappointed.
“Mom? Mother? I’m home!” her voice echoed slightly as she headed to her room to deposit her bag. Silence answered her. She shrugged to herself, the other car hadn’t been in the driveway and it was a bit early for them to be home from work.
She padded to the stairs and carefully climbed them, watching to avoid catching her tights on the rough wood. She opened the door to her room and set her bag down just inside. She hadn’t always lived in the attic but she liked it more than the tiny room she had downstairs as a child. Really it was almost like a large walk-in closet. The attic at least had room for a double bed, a desk, and a good sized bookshelf and dresser. She cracked her door so she could hear when the front door opened- it seemed the previous owners had decided to insulate the space between the attic floor and the main house’s ceiling- but not the attic itself. She didn’t really mind though. At least where they were in Vesmorgitou it didn’t get above about 80 degrees during the summer, and she loved the cold.
She quickly changed out of her business attire and into her favorite pair of jeans and an oversized grey t-shirt. She ran a brush through her wavy black hair and put a headband on. She grabbed a makeup wipe and tried to get the frustrating product off her face. She sighed in relief as she felt more like herself. Really what would it hurt to let people wear whatever they want to any occasion. This formality is stupid. She sat on the edge of the bed and rolled the cuff on her jeans up above her ankle so she wouldn’t trip on them and took a second to breathe. She lay back on the bed and stared at the exposed beams and wood of the roof. She took in the faint green stars stuck to it. Her parents had surprised her with the attic for her 13th birthday- something about being a teenager and needing more space and privacy. But they had gone all out for it. Glow in the dark stars covered the whole ceiling, with one patch over her bed shaped like a heart. Another patch over her desk was shaped in the spiral pattern associated with the goddess Niobe. Mom and Mother worshipped Niobe along with the country patron of Vesmore. Vesmore was honored in yet another plastic constellation of fractal spikes near the dresser- the darkest part of the attic. She’d once asked about how they decided on the placement of the constellations. Both had gotten a dreamy look on their face and explained that Vesmore’s fractal watched over the clothes that cared for Saph through the change of seasons. They had gone quiet for a moment before explaining that the spiral of Niobe just felt right in that spot. At the time Saph had rolled her eyes before changing the subject.
Now she stared at the spiral. Her understanding of the goddess of ritual and fire was that she was uptight and strict on following traditions. In other words, Saph wasn’t a fan. She wasn’t a huge fan of Vesmore either, though Vesmore at least appeared to bestow blessings regularly. Which was honestly why Saph didn’t like Vesmore. By giving blessings she contributed to the inequality plaguing Domhanmir. She followed the complex spiral of Niobe through the stars and thought on her day. As a child, she was one of the few students in the school to sport gold eyes. While adults may fear demi-gods, children simply see them as something abnormal. After her first day of level one, she had come home in tears. Her classmates had surrounded her while the teacher wasn’t looking and demanded to know who her godly parent was and if she would hurt them. Six-year-old Saph had never even considered herself different. To make matters worse she had made a split-second decision that Mother was the goddess- which was quickly proven false upon questioning from a priest’s daughter who swore the gods had glowing eyes.
She had asked about her eyes, her mothers simply said she was their blessing and changed the subject. As she grew older and schools became more crowded she noticed more and more gold eyes and flecks appearing in the crowds. With the silence of the patrons, it seemed that paragons and heroes were making their way into the spotlight. One of the biggest stars in the movies was rumored to be the child of the paragon-god Muse. Her eyes were known to glow during interviews, a sign she had been blessed. Saph guessed her demi-god power was a silver tongue though her classmates hotly debated that. To Saph’s knowledge that was the only famous demi-god to have been blessed and even know their parent. Some research was suggested that gold eyes were genetic and didn’t mean anything about a godly parent. Saph tended to favor that idea for herself. Her mothers never spoke of her father- though she had to have had one. Saph figured he carried the gene and it was shown to be dominant. B
She shook her head and checked her watch. She rolled off the side of the bed to stand and made her way back downstairs. She decided that if she couldn’t bring home more money then she would at least make dinner. She slipped around the corner and into the kitchen to find someone had set out chicken to defrost. She pondered for a moment and then dug through the kitchen to see what else was available. A few moments later she had procured four apples and two onions, a jar of pre-minced garlic, powdered ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, salt, pepper, and a jar of honey. She set about searing the seasoned chicken in some olive oil while chopping her produce. Before long she had the high-sided pan simmering away with decadent smelling chicken and produce.
She was just pulling some bread slices from the oven when she heard the lock jiggle and then open and the sound of familiar voices. She heard her name called in greeting from the two women. She called back her own greeting and resumed stacking the bread on a plate. She smiled as two tired-looking women entered the kitchen. The shorter of the two pulled Saph into a hug, “Smells wonderful. Thank you for cooking! We’ll get changed and be back in a few minutes!”
“No worries, Mother. You two go get comfortable and I’ll move dinner to the table. What do you want to drink?” She pulled away from the hug and reached for the cabinet holding their assortment of glasses.
The taller woman sat two bottles on the counter before cutting off Saph’s trajectory with an arm and smile, she pulled down three wine glasses, “We brought some wine home!”
Saph dropped her arm, and raised an eyebrow, “What’s the occasion, Mom?”
Mom shrugged. “Not sure- we just felt like it!” She bent down slightly and placed a kiss on the top of Saph’s head before turning to follow her wife to change into home clothes.
Saph rolled her eyes and began setting the table. She placed the pan of chicken and plate of bread on hot pads in the center. She carefully opened the first bottle of wine and poured wine into the glasses. She also made the decision to try and preserve the wine and grabbed water glasses for the three of them as well. She was just setting forks down when she heard the tearing of paper that meant someone was going through the mail. In an instant, she felt a crippling anxiety and sinking feeling. She caught a glimpse of an ashen-faced Mom walking back towards their room before the door shut behind her. She shook her head and tried to calm her stomach. She hated how she could guess when something was wrong. She hated how good she was getting at it. She hated how it was intensifying- leaving no room for error. She gulped a swig of wine from her glass.
She was meticulously fiddling with the placement of the silverware as snippets of conversation reached her through the thin walls.
“Did you know?”
“Of course not. Do you think I would have agreed?”
“No, I suppose not. I wouldn’t have agreed either.”
Saph took another swig of wine as the anxiety shifted slightly to resignation. She had no clue what had been in the mail, but Gitouniobe was across the sea. It couldn’t be good. She half laughed to herself- maybe she was a daughter of Niobe. She quickly dismissed the idea. No way she was the daughter of a patron- much less of a patron of another country. She drained her wine glass and sat staring at her plate as the bedroom door creaked open. She looked up at her parents as they entered. She made a split-second decision to ignore what had just happened.
Mom grabbed the wine bottle and refilled Saph’s glass before sitting. “Sorry about that, love. I hope dinner is still warm.”
Saph nodded and smiled, “Yea should be!” She tried desperately to lighten the feeling of the room. She felt it shift as a hesitant comfort settled.
Utensils clattered as they silently served themselves. Once everyone had a plate of food Mother spread her hands toward the miniature altar across from her. Without missing a beat Mom tipped a bit of wine into the well at the top, above the hearth. Saph nodded respectfully towards the unlit hearth and spooned a bit of the spiced broth into it.
Mother kept her eyes on the altar and musically recited their daily ritual to the goddesses.
“Lady Vesmore, you have blessed this country with your patronage. We thank you for this protection and blessing. We thank you for the stability your cycle of seasons brings and the chance for us to change as the snow melts.”
She reached for the lighter kept nearby. Saph didn’t see Mother’s hand shake as she respectfully watched the altar. She did process the shaking and anxiety in Mother’s voice as she continued.
“Lady Niobe we call upon you…” Mother was cut off as the flame of the hearth suddenly self-ignited. Saph jumped back slightly and heard her parents gasp. Mother pulled herself back together,
“And we thank you for our blessing. We thank you for watching over her.” The fire suddenly danced and shifted color slightly. Saph found herself trying to make sense of the flame.
“Though you could have told us the truth, you know.” Mom suddenly interjected with a slightly bitter voice. The fire danced for a moment before glowing bright gold and extinguishing.
Saph sat there, staring at the hearth, trying to process what had happened. Mother leaned forward and carefully tipped some olive oil into the well. She sat the clay jug back down and picked up her fork. The heavy feeling was slinking back into the atmosphere. Saph tried to eat and found even her wine feeling thick with dread. She mentally fought against it, tried to convince herself that everything was fine. Three bites, her shoulder relaxed slightly as the energy ebbed into the hesitant comfort of family.
Five bites. She felt the energy stiffen like a wall as she brushed mother’s hand reaching for her glass.
Ten bites, a swig of wine. The silence broken by metal on porcelain rattled her body. Every clatter of silverware felt like a piece of a wall shattering. Saph desperately wanted to make it through dinner. She felt that if they could finish dinner, whatever was trying to break wouldn’t be able to.
She tried to distract herself. All it did was make the sound of her own chewing too loud. She tried to shut out the tension. Twelve. Chew. Thirteen. Shit, this chicken dried out. Fourteen. Apples are mushy. Fifteen. Or are they supposed to be this way? Sixteen. I should have added more ginger. Seventeen. This piece of garlic is larger than the rest.
A voice cleared and Saph sighed as the energy shifted again to dread and resignation and determination. She could almost feel the look her mothers exchanged. Saph carefully set her fork down, leaned back in her chair, crossed her arms, folded her legs into the chair with her like a shield. She acutely felt every emotion of the day and her resolution to let things go snapped. She finally looked to her parents, frustration taking over.
“Alright, do I get to find out why we now have a self-starting fire?” Saph could swear she saw the altar hearth spark as she looked between them.
Mother’s hand shot to rub the bridge of her nose while Mom bit back a chuckle. Mother sighed, “If you two keep being snarky we’re going to get our house burnt down.”
The fire sparked again, and Saph raised her eyebrow. “Well I’m tired of being sick to my stomach with your anxiety. Care to let me in on what, I’m deducing, involves a certain goddess of fire?”
Mother took a swig of wine before taking Mom’s hand. They shared another look and then looked at the hearth, finally shifting attention back to Saph. Mother swallowed, “You know the assumption of gold eyes?”