When I Was a Child
By Deoridhe Quandry
I was a child when the first of the wooden buildings were added, building upward from our enormous marble halls with smaller, warmer, more welcoming dwellings. It was necessary, they said. The poor need housing, and what better place to house them than around the houses of the gods? Each small room could serve a person, a couple, a family – rooms piled upon rooms as the children grow and their parents build upward and backward, leaving the docks free for trade, travel, and commerce.
I was a teenager when the first of the pixies moved in. Small, lithe, fifty of them living where a single larger person might – Lucentia was reproduced in miniature in the town square, each tiny home filled by a nimble-fingered fae. They cleaned better than even the children of the poor, and could fly directly to the wealthiest homes. Their homes tumbled over each other like spilled building blocks in the heart of the docks, framing the entrance to the largest temple.
I was in my thirties when the magi came an audacious plan in their pockets. A crystal, larger than any of our homes, suspended in the heart of strange metals, eldrich sigils and ornate carvings. I never understood how or why it floated there over the water, tinting the blue sea red and lighting up the docks with a glow even on a new moon, but it also fed the lights which shown in thousands of lead glass windows thick with color, and discouraged all manner of crimes. It’s creators moved into the largest temple, to keep an eye on it they said, and gradually eyes turned from the gods and the marble halls we kept for them to the magi and the wonders they brought.
I was in my sixties when the last of the gods died, their halls passed on to the families with enough power and influence to deserve the space. Their servants crowded around them in tiny homes – living, laughing, loving, dying all within a mile of the crystal. Trade came from even farther places. Some of them came in the wake of wild storms with chartreuse and lavender lightning. Others floated up through whirlpools which threatened to swallow our fleet of fishing boats. Every few weeks, boats hanging below the bodies of dragons, or balloons of air, or enormous eggs of metal would moor themselves to the highest buildings, sleep a few nights in the guest house of the mayor, and leave behind wonders that went to the highest bidder.
Now I’m nearing my first century, and Lucentia has risen to legend in the minds of so many of travelers, the port where anything can be purchased for a price. I hear their whispers, see their stares, watch them as they block traffic out of distraction, or wonder, or intoxication. During the day, hawkers sell pearls as large as your eye, tiny glass dolls that speak and dance, grasshoppers trained to play Baroque music. During the evening, parties spill out of what were once places of reverence, temples to the gods, to dance and vomit under the stars. Few notice the ruins by the water’s edge, worn ragged by time and wind and power but perfect for me to rest my bones and reflect on the light which keeps me young.
I was a child when the first of the wooden buildings were added.
By Midnight Dae
Mrs Watts the cleaner studied the harbour as though mere force of will could change it.
“He’s not going to like it.” She sucked air through her teeth and shook her head in dismay. This caused the air to whistle through the gap in her front teeth. “What did you call those critters again?”
“Krill, Mrs Watts. Rather like shrimp.” Her companion on the jetty was Mrs Campbell, who was a retired librarian and was therefore known as One Who Knew Things.
“There’s a fair few of them. He won’t like it.”
“So you keep saying.” They stared at the normally dark water which now seethed a vibrant orange.
Dr Mandee had organised a mob of technicians who ran around getting in each other’s way and confirmed what everyone could see. The power was fluctuating wildly, daggers of dark energy shot through the heart of the crystal. A beam of light issued from the top of the crystal and disintegrated the roof of a fortunately uninhabited tower. People retreated from the water’s edge.
Amongst the huddle of scientists there was much gesticulating, shouting and muttering from various sub-groups, but no apparent solution. Lanterns exploded or faded all around the town, people dodged and shrieked. No-one noticed the cleaner in her little row boat as she fearlessly approached the giant crystal. Only when she reached it, did the shouting start.
“What’s she doing out there?”
“Get back here woman, it’s dangerous.”
“Get away from there, you idiot!” Dr Mandee was furious, she had no idea what to do and now she had an outlet for her temper.
“He won’t harm me,” said Mrs Watts calmly.
“That is THE ULTIMATE POWER,” screamed Dr Mandee. “It is pure energy, with enough capacity to move a small planet.”
Mrs Watts ignored her and reached out to touch the scintillating colours. There was a collective gasp but nothing happened. Then slowly the crystal cleared, steadied and the power returned to normal. Mrs Watts gave it one last reassuring pat and then returned to shore.
“We have an understanding. We talk every week, when I clean the metalwork.”
One of the younger students dared to ask, “But what was wrong with it?”
“Indigestion.” Mrs Watts smiled, “I knew just how he felt, I have the same problem with sea food.” She ambled on home and everything returned to normal.
By Saffia Widdershins
Tak clambered softly over the roof-tops of the upper city, using her hands for balance, testing the strength of the tiles. She avoided the chimneys – a good source of support in summer, but now the autumn nights were drawing in and poor insulation made many of them blister burning to the touch. It was getting cold, so cold that she would have liked to duck down into the alleys and the people jostling and shoving there.
But that would have meant returning home to old Bart with empty pockets, and empty pockets meant hard fists and a kick in the ribs as she lay crying on the ground.
Was it Tak’s fault that no-one had left their windows open for an easy slide-in, snatch and scramble?
She paused for a moment, lifting her head to listen to the racket in the street below, and beyond that, the drums, flutes and whistles of the band entertaining the lower city revellers who were dancing on the boardwalks that lined the harbour, or strolling between the gambling tables and the hotfood stalls set out for their entertainment and sustenance respectively. Tak leaned forward precariously and sniffed. She could almost imagine the aroma of pigs in a blanket, the rich meaty bite, the hot grease dripping on her fingers …
Her swaying motion was unbalancing her. Tak pulled hastily back. But, anchoring herself more securely, she continued to stare down.
There were lights in the two broken “fingers” as people called the small ruined temples. Lights of candles as well as faelight, flashing to and fro and dozens of tiny fae danced over the heads of crowds and dazzled with their displays of sparkling acrobatics. Sometimes the fae flew up among the rooftops. It seemed that watching humanity amused them sometimes although Tak – who had been close enough to see the cool contempt on those tiny pointed faces – thought it was not a kind amusement.
Now it amused them to dart here and there among the fine lord and ladies on the boardwalk. Tak could see the faelights make sudden swoops then soar again, and she guessed that there had been little tugs of hair, pulling flowers and ornaments from the elaborate, towering structures that both the men and women favoured, showing how far they rose above the common herd.
But even the nobility of Lucentia parted as the elf-lords moved among them. From her vantage point, Tak could see how the crowds parted in respect and a little fear as tall solitary figures made their way slowly from the porticos of the great Houses to the ruined temples at the edges of the water, to pay their nightly obsequies to the Jewel of Lucentia, where it hung vast and gleaming in its metal prison, trapped between air and water.
Legend said it held the spirits of the elven ladies, punished for rebellion against the lords long, long ago. It was true, after all, that there were no elven ladies in the city, nor, report had it, in the wide lands beyond. Only the elf lords remained, grim and unyielding, harsh and unforgiving in their rule, and indifferent to the human women whom they took to please them for a season and then discarded.
Women like Tak’s mother.
Tak watched the elf lords line the edge of the harbour, the jubilant crowds drawn a respectable distance behind them now. Dark shadows, outlined against the brilliance of the glowing jewel in the night air.
Someday, Tak was going to steal that jewel.