city under sea

fic: passing and feeding

So, three years ago (three! what have I been doing?) I asked for "5 things..." prompts, and then didn't write most of them. I've always intended to, but now that I'm focusing on the Project of DOOOoom, it seems like a good idea to take those prompts and use them to explore the characters/situations of the project. Since, after all, it could be considered an extremely alternate universe for the Stargate world.

Here's the first of those, although it turned out to be only 3, not 5. The original prompt was "juggling for something", as suggested by Therese.

Passing and Feeding

1.

He is almost six when his mother tells him she has a secret just for him and they tiptoe out to the stables. (Uncle Alidan waves as they creep by the open door of the smithy, but Iranan holds up his finger to his lips because this is a secret; his mother laughs, but won’t tell him why.) Once they’re safely hidden in an empty stall, his mother sticks her hands in her skirt pockets and tells him to guess what’s in them.

In the end he gives up (kittens?—no. Cake?—no. Old socks?—no. New socks?—also no. Hatching eggs?—no, but likely next week), and she, still bright-eyed and laughing from his guesses, tells him to close his eyes tightly and not open them until she says to. He does, pressing his hands against his eyes so he can’t accidentally peek, momentarily distracted by the patterns caught behind his eyelids in the dark.

After a small silence (stable silence, which means the many quiet noises of large, content animals) a rhythmical hushing sound begins, like pressed sand or grain. When his mother tells him to open his eyes again, her voice is steady again, not laughing; calm and focused.

He opens his eyes and his mother is doing magic. Well, not magic-magic, like when Uncle Alidan bends iron with his finger instead of a hammer, or his grandmother tells a tree to grow just so, but it is marvelous, and he can’t tell how she’s doing it. She has—

He tries to count the number of balls she has in the air and can’t; there are too many, and they move too quickly.

“A dear friend taught this to me when I was your age exactly,” she says, expression serene and eyes distant. “And now I will teach it to you, if you wish.”

Iranan wishes.

2.

After waiting (on horseback, as the ground was muddied and swarming with grim-faced men in armor, and it seemed safer aloft) outside the colonel’s tent for what felt like at least an hour but probably wasn’t, Iranan gave up on looking respectable in favor of distracting Omasahin from poking his head in where it wasn’t wanted or needed—as he’d often had to over the past five decades. Given the number of people who were also waiting, it seemed likely they wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while yet.

“’Ware,” he said, just loudly enough for Omasahin to hear, and flicked a pair of bundled socks across the gap between their horses. He followed this up a moment later with more socks and then an apple—and then everything else in his saddlebags small and heavy enough to throw easily.

They’d been doing this sort of thing for decades now, ever since Omasahin was eleven or so and finally able to handle more than three objects at once, so none of Iranan’s belongings ended up in the mud—though Omasahin had to twist awkwardly in his saddle to catch them all. He laughed as he did so, spinning each one back into the air with the easy grace of long practice. “Bored, cousin?” he asked, and Iranan laughed in return.

“No, but I feared you might be.” He guided his horse forward a step or two and swung a leg over her neck, so that he was sideways in the saddle, and then there was nothing but the thrill of keeping a dozen things in the air between the two of them. No fears about the safety of family or self, no doubts as to the rightness, righteousness of striking in defense of home and self rather than surrendering at the outset—just the rhythm of catch-and-release, and the easy comradery of close cousins.

This was broken when a voice said, from near his knee, “I wasn’t aware they’d started sending us performers to use as soldiers.” The speaker sounded bemused, not scornful, but Omasahin’s hands faltered for a moment; Iranan avoided the same only by virtue of longer practice and the tendency to relax rather than startle when caught out.

But he began replacing his belongings in his saddlebags as they came to his hands.

“They haven’t,” he said without daring turn to look, matching the other’s tone as his mother had taught him when he was young and thought it only a game. “We only seek to pass the time until we may present ourselves to the colonel, with letters of introduction from our great-grandfather, who commanded the colonel during the last war.” The last bundle of socks packed away again and his hands empty, he bent his head to see to whom he spoke—and understood Omasahin’s visible discomfort and uncustomary silence.

At his horse’s shoulder stood Aniladan, high commander of the united armies, who had served beside Iranan’s great-grandfather and was still mighty by anyone’s reckoning. His hair had gone silver from the deep black of his youth, and his broad shoulders begun to stoop, but he matched so closely the many paintings Iranan had seen of him that for a heartbeat the world around seemed to tremble, as if mere background to his portrait.

“Sir,” said Iranan, and knew not whether to resume his proper seat or dismount to kneel before him. “I did not realize—”

“And that is well enough,” Aniladan said, silencing him. “Come and walk with me, both of you. I myself will find places for you, for I owe your family many debts that cannot be repaid.”

3.

No way home, no way out, and the ocean hung heavy above, pressing tight against the glass ceiling as though waiting for the merest mention of a crack. The air seemed thick as water, so that each breath might presage drowning. All the few explorers sat silent and daunted, save Adharil. He lay upon the stone circle, cheek pressed against the carvings, and sang to it softly, as to a balking animal untamed.

Iranan sat and thought that the silence might kill them before starvation or the ocean had a chance. They were daunted, but not necessarily defeated, unless they decided themselves so. And as he had before, in circumstances closer to death, he began to juggle with what small objects he had to hand, losing his worries in the patterns of hand and ball-substitute.

For perhaps a quarter of an hour he occupied himself in this way, heedless of those around him, until he caught at a small round of cheese and found it wasn’t there—nor were any of the other things.

When he looked up and around him, he found that Indaron (sometimes called Ilavrin) had stolen them all and was juggling also, though with lesser skill; six items quickly dropped to four and then to three. But when Iranan collected again the cheese and his socks and a short sheathed knife, Indaron began the pass and feed until there were only the two of them and the game and an unspoken, unreasoned hope.
Thanks! I'm not entirely satisfied with the style of it (there's a switch partway through, and I'm not sure why or what to do about it), but for a ficlet, it's well enough.