Upon the Throne of Embers

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My life was a joke, my past a mystery, and my village an infirmary.

Poor people of all kinds — the ill, the homeless, the hungry, the prostitutes — lived here, each one cynical, cowardly, and dangerous as wolves.

One must be in order to live to see another sunrise.

And then there were the bastards, spit upon by those who believe themselves to be above everyone else (despite being poor — just like everyone else).

“Son of the prostitute” and “brothel-brood” were the lovely nicknames given to me (and I’m sure to others) by these gracious people. They did not care to find out exactly why I was living only with my mother — if the father is out of the picture, then one must take responsibility for everything judgmental hurled one’s way.

Nor did they lift a finger to help my ill mother, too busy with their own situations to care an iota for an assumed slut.

“Every man for himself” is our motto.

Welcome to Vulgen Village. We are the clanless, the powerless, the worthless.

As I trod through the mud-dung mixture that made up the paths through Vulgen, I brooded over these facts. Flakes of dried mud from the grime in my hair fluttered down through my line of sight.

In all actuality, I was a mystery. Nobody knew where I or my mother had come from, until she stumbled into the village twenty years ago in labour. 

My hair was always a shade redder than everyone else’s, my eyes were a queer  mix of light blue and light green, and I stood a full head taller than most people my age. 

My mother told me I inherited all the best features of my father, which was both a blessing and a curse. Because of my bright red hair, people would stare at me and covet my locks, so I had to smear mud in it merely to avoid unwanted attention. Because I was so tall, I had to slouch to better fit in, else the children would point and mock or I would hit my head on the hanging sign of Biohr’s Tavern.

I passed a few more run-down, dilapidated houses and pawn shops — all built from rotting wood and crumbling stone — before my house came into view. Once I neared the small hut, a fit of dry coughs burst from the door-less opening at the front of the house. I picked up my pace until I stepped inside the dark house, where I could see the frail, fragile form of my mother, Fernya, was sitting against the wall, shaking with each cough.

Her matted red hair, just a shade duller than my own, stuck to her forehead and fluffed out in random patches. Torn rags clothed her thin, bony frame, exposing the top of her sunken chest. She shivered and made a vain attempt at covering her exposed skin.

“Mother,” I breathed, dropping to my knees beside her and pulling her into my arms. I rubbed her shoulder to warm her, feeling her forehead with the back of my hand. “Your fever has worsened.”

Fernya looked up at me with weary blue eyes — glazed with illness — which crinkled in a smile. “Only a little — I shall live.”

I shook my head, brushing some of her fiery, curly hair away from her face. “I will go into town tomorrow to get you the medicine you need. Just give me your leave.”

“But you have no money,” she protested. “How will you pay?”

A small smirk crossed my lips as I whispered, “I never said how I would acquire it, only that I would get it.”

“No.” Fernya’s face hardened, and she pushed herself away from me, struggling to stand. Her sapphire eyes blazing, she scolded, “You will do no such thing, Rúan. I’ll not be able to live with myself if my son was hanged for stealing medicine for me.”

Standing also, I retorted, “And I won’t be able to live with myself if my mother died from illness because I did not steal the medicine she needed.”

“I have spoken — you are not to go into town tomorrow.”

“I will see that you get your medicine, Mother, even if I must drag you there with your hands around my ankle!”

Fernya huffed and, crossing her arms over her bosom and looking away, mumbled, “I must remind myself that you have not just inherited your father’s best traits …”

“It is good that I didn’t.” Tearing a hand through my filthy hair and sending clumps of dried mud falling to the floor, I whispered, “I still need you … if not for me, I’d have lost you to illness years ago …”

My mother looked back up at me, her expression softening as she reached to brush a delicate hand across my cheek, releasing a choked sob. “My son … my only son … how priceless you are to me, a widow. With you goes my entire world if I should lose you.”

Then she began to weep, tears streaming down her dirty face and creating trails of peach down her pale cheeks.

Feeling my own tears well up, I enfolded her in a hug, stroking her hair.

With you goes my entire world if I should lose you.

We need each other like the earth needs sun, like a babe needs milk, like a flower needs soil.

“I love you, Mother,” I murmured softly in her ear, “and I promise, I will take care of you until my dying day or yours.”

Just exactly how I do so might be questionable.