Shards of History 2:
By: Rebecca Roland
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, Native American
Publisher: World Weaver Press
Publication date: 6.9.2015
Maria returns home the hero of a war she can't remember. The valley burning under the Maddion's invasion, the fate of her late husband, the way she resolved the long-time distrust between the Taakwa people and the wolfish, winged Jegudun creatures - all of it has been erased from her memory. Maria hopes to resume training as her village's next clan mother, but when the symbiotic magic that she and the Jeguduns used to repair the valley's protective barrier starts to consume more and more of her mind, she's faced with the threat of losing herself completely.
A powerful being known as "the changer" might hold the solution to her vanishing memories. But the Maddion's new leader, Muvumo, also seeks the changer, hoping the being will cure them of the mysterious illness killing off his people. Meanwhile, Muvumo's bride hopes the changer can bring about a new era, one in which she and the other Maddion women no longer need to hold onto their greatest secret.
"Bring in the old man," he called over his shoulder.
Delkis came in, followed by the guards and the man, and Ankti trailing after them. With all of them in the room, and the boy laid out on the floor, it was crowded, and stifling. Jars of oil sat beside the white cloth, the pungent smells of pine and fir filling the air, and a pile of folded clothes beside those.
"Ankti, tell the man about the illness plaguing the Maddion. Let him know this is the result. Dead children and mourning mothers."
She dipped her head and began speaking in the trade language.
The old man ignored her. Instead, he shrugged out of the guards' grasps as easily as Muvumo could have broken a dried twig, and stepped forward. He kneeled, without any of the protestations of voice or body that the elderly often made, and laid an age-spotted hand on the boy's forehead.
Delkis started forward, his hand going to the short axe hanging from his hip, but Muvumo stopped him. Ankti's voice faltered, faded. She took a hesitant step backwards.
The old man spoke, his voice quiet but strong. Muumuu didn't understand the words, but they reverberated through him nonetheless, like a multitude of dragon roars echoing off the granite mountains. He sensed that the words were old, so old that nobody had spoken them in countless generations, so old that they carried power, that they connected this old man to the long crumbled bones of those who once understood them. Chills ran through Muvumo, and the pale hairs along his arms stood. He fought against the urge to flee the old man's presence.
Nobody else spoke or moved while the shape changer talked. Muvumo wasn't sure any of them even breathed. Finally, the old man's voice fell silent, and he rose easily to his feet.
He turned to face them. His skin was leathery, old, and nut-brown, with many lines creasing his forehead and fanning out from his eyes. And his eyes...they were brownish-orange, like aspen leaves in the fall, like dragon flanks when they breathed in and lit from within, and they were ancient. Muvumo felt like a child, like an infant, peering into their depths. They were filled with thousands upon thousands of summers, and autumns, and winters, and springs. They were filled with boundless knowledge, malice, grief, love, mischief.
One of the guards whimpered. He fled the home. The other guard gazed upon the old man, his mouth wide open. Confusion swept across Delki's face, one hand resting on the handle of his short axe, the other reaching toward the old man pleadingly. Muvumo couldn't imagine what his own face showed. Perhaps turmoil, because certainly that's what tore through him as he considered how he'd brought this being into his people's midst. What have I done? Only Ankti stood tall and straight, gazing upon the old man without a trace of fear. Muvumo had never seen her so. She was, in that moment, breathtakingly beautiful, and she alone stood strong against this changer.
Muvumo gathered his thoughts. He was still Most Worthy, and he was in charge, not this old man. "Anti," he said, startling her. She immediately dropped her head. "Ask this man--"
The old man raised a hand. "I can speak your language," he said, with only the slightest accent, "and many others. There is no need to treat me as incompetent, or deaf."
Under other circumstances, and faced with other men - ordinary men - Muvumo would have reprimanded him for withholding the fact that he spoke and understood the Maddion's language, but this man was beyond scolding. Instead, Muvumo forced himself to stand tall beneath that steady, unsettling gaze and said, "As you can see, my people are dying. Many have already suffered this boy's fate, and the rest of us will too, sooner rather than later. We brought you here because we believe you powerful enough to help us defeat this illness."
The corners of his mouth curled up. "You do, do you? This is why you barged into my resting place and hauled me away? This is why you shut me in a tiny cell like a prisoner?"
"I was...taken aback by your appearance."
"Yes," he said, one eyebrow rising. "Many are."
"My deepest apologies for your treatment," Muvumo said, nearly choking on the words. "And my deepest apologies for the haste, but as you can see, we do not have time to spare." He took in a deep breath. "Can you help us? Will you?"
The old man closed his eyes. Muvumo breathed a sigh of relief. Those eyes nearly glowed with their own light, as if he held the dragons' fire within him. But that must be a good sign, yes, this tie with the dragons?
The old man's eyes opened, once more turning that strange, fiery light on Muvumo. "It is always terribly sad to see little ones die," he said. "For their sake, I will help you."
Relief flooded Muvumo. He believed this man powerful enough to do so. And Muvumo's scrolls...every man and boy rom this day forward would read them. They would become so popular, so worn, that they would be copied every generation. His acts would live on indefinitely, and he would live among the most famous of those allowed to call themselves Most Worthy.
"But," the old man said, "first we must discuss the payment." He smiled, but it did not touch his eyes.
About the author:
Rebecca Roland is the author of the Shards of History series, The Necromancer's Inheritance series, and The King of Ash and Bones, and Other Stories. Her short fiction has appeared in publications such as Nature, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Stupefying Stories, Plasma Frequency, and Every Day Fiction, and she is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. You can find out more about her and her work on her website, her blog, or follow her on Twitter.