-Fernando, Fiona, Freddy, Felix
-Farthen Festival, Fortnight
-fight, fire, flame, fear, family, florins, fate
"The Flames of Farthen's Eve"
The folks at Farley's always said he had a gift. That's what they would call it.
"You're so talented, Fern!" They would gush. "The fire is like clay in your hands, you can make it do anything!"
A bitter smirk curled his lips as he sent a few stray flames skittering toward an unassuming corner, where they would fester until he gave the word. He would make the fire do things tonight, things these people had never seen before, things they wouldn't be prepared to stop.
The market square ahead of him hummed and clattered with activity. Most merchants had their booths already secured, prepared for the Farthen Festival beginning tomorrow. Normally, the celebration lasted a whole fortnight. Fern smiled to himself. With any luck, these folks wouldn't even see it begin.
As he made his way through the alleys, he reflected on how this town remained the most familiar to him, out of all the cities he'd performed in. Yet this town, out of all other towns, held that special magic that returned him to a small boy of eight years old, running down the narrow, twisting streets, down alleys barely wide enough for him.
He didn't have a prayer of fitting in them now, but the fire could. He let the small, glowing bundles roll like living embers into the spaces.
The quick slap of feet caused him to turn, a splay of flames in his palm.
The big round eyes in the tiny face before him held the glint of reflected fire.
"Pretty flowers!" The tiny person gushed, her mouth gaping in awe.
Fern clenched his fist, squelching the gleam and the fire.
The little girl wilted without the light, and she scurried away back to the square without another sound.
Fern stood rooted to the spot. It wasn't the first time a big-eyed little tyke had been drawn to the flame like a moth to a candle. Most children huddled behind their terrified, resentful parents, trying to withdraw themselves as far away from the flame as they could.
Not Fiona. Nothing he could do ever fazed Fiona.
Fern hesitated the merest fraction of a moment, tiny wisps of flame in hand. He knew exactly what she would say, what she would do, if she were there. He could just picture her, standing in the street just behind him. Watching.
He would turn, and meet her gaze.
"What are you doing, Nando?"
Only she understood his name. Everyone else could only manage as far as "Fern", and besides, Freddy Farley told him that nobody used names like "Fernando" anymore.
The flame puckered and hissed, the heat of it nipping at the quick of his nail. Fernando dropped it and sent it on his way.
Fiona wouldn't stop him. She probably believed the news he was dead. He remembered spreading that rumor himself, just to keep her from searching.
Almost the same way she fought to keep him from searching.
She would try to outsmart him at every turn. Her persistence made him regret ever confiding in her.
"Please, Nando!" She would beg from the mouth of his tent, the minute he opened his eyes. "I want to help you find your family!"
"No, Fiona!" He would growl. "Your place is here with Farley and the others."
She would fold her arms and stamp her foot. "You know good and well that they're just as much my family as yours!" She would chide him. "Maybe our families were friends."
"No!" Fernando would push past her to go warm up for the day's fire-juggling. "You're not going with me! I have to find my father alone."
Find him? More like face him. Fernando smiled a little bit more as he sent his little "sentries" into a blind corner. He'd had so many questions when someone finally told him that the misplaced memories in his head truly belonged to his life as the son of Felix Fidelius, the chief of Fetherwynde. A chance meeting with his old nurse, Fannie, brought his past to light, and she painted such a forlorn picture of the whole family that Fernando had all but jumped at the chance to break away from Farley's troupe. According to Fannie, the friendly, jovial Freddy had all but stolen Fernando off the street the last time they performed in Fetherwynde, so the next time they neared the town, Fernando vowed to return to his family and never to leave them again. Fifteen years he had remained with the troupe, watching, tracking, imagining the look on both his parents' faces (for surely they both still lived!) when their lost and long-forgotten son came running up, a fully-grown man. Then one night, he seized his chance.
He had almost finished. In a few minutes, he could begin.
The road to Fetherwynde wasn't altogether long or treacherous. He arrived in due course, and found the house of the Chief Magistrate. Striding inside, he made straight for the only room in the house from which he heard voices, and presented himself to his father with the words, “I’ve come home!”
The smile on his face disappeared as the memory soured in his head. His father had stared at him, actually gaped, more fear on his face than elation. The young man at Felix’s right hand had actually deigned to sneer at him, “Who the blazes do you think you are?”
Fernando had been forthwith removed from the house, and by skulking around and listening close, the chilling truth had unfolded: he hadn’t been lost that day. Felix had sold him to Freddy Farley for the grand sum of fifty thousand florins, because even then, Fernando had begun displaying the hallmarks of a born firemage, and the pompous magistrate was afraid of the stigma such an unnatural occurrence would bring to the Fidelius name. Fernando had disappeared from the streets of Fetherwynde for the second time—but it wasn’t an accident, and he wasn’t really gone. Five days later, here he stood, on the edge of the city, eyes focused intently on the spires of the Fidelius family home.
“Fumetas,” Fernado whispered.
A flame jumped up on the western side of the palace, followed by another close by. The furious firemage watched in delight as the “flowers” he had planted sprung into full bloom. Alarms rang, crowds began shouting as they ran about his feet like so many frenzied ants. Fernando laughed inside as he fairly floated among the shadows. Happy Farthen’s Eve to you all, he thought.
The reproachful voice stopped him as easily as a wall. The ground beneath his feet became soft, and Fernando doubled back, turning to face the speaker.
“No…” he grunted. “I told you not to follow me!”
Fiona stared at him. “I didn’t,” she answered, turning and twisting her hands. “They sent for me, because of what you have done.”
Fernando felt the ground behind him sink away, forcing him to step closer to her, and farther from freedom. He could see the Federals with their iron chains gathering behind Fiona, waiting for him to tumble feebly into their grasp.
“No!” He let both of his hands ignite, sending the men scurrying away in fear. Only Fiona stood firm. She splayed her fingers, and a fine dust like mist spread out from them, building between herself and the flames till an entire wall of sand smothered the flames. He glared at her, preparing to call up the hottest blaze yet.
Fiona’s chin trembled, and he could see the tears in her wise eyes. “Fernando,” she begged softly, “Please don’t do this! It isn’t you!”
“What isn’t me?” Fernando snapped back, spreading his hands beyond the boundaries of the sand and levitating globes of living flame above his palms. “This isn’t me? Of course it is! You know I’ve never been anything else!”
The soldier cowering behind a tree shouted something at Fiona. She sobbed in earnest now. “People are dying, Fernando! Tell me you are not so cruel, to leave so many innocent lives to such an unjust fate!”
Fernando threw back his head and laughed. “Unjust fate? You want to talk to me about unjust fate? Try being sold like a common steer because your own father couldn’t stand what you were! Try living your whole life thinking that you were one thing, finding out the truth, and then finding out that who you were is exactly the person nobody wanted! You think I don’t know anything about unjust fate?” The ground rumbled as Fidelius Tower collapsed in a well of fire. Who held the power now, Felix?
Fiona lifted her chin and advanced. The ground softened again under her influence, but Fernando baked the ground beneath him with fire to make it hard again.
“You will stop this!” she declared flatly.
“Never!” Fernando replied.
Fiona set her mouth in a grim line. “So be it,” she answered.
The fight between the firemage and the Earthmage didn’t last very long. Fernando immolated his whole body and spread flame over every inch of the area around them, but time and again, Fiona diffused it as easily as she had when Fernando would lose his temper at Freddy in their younger days. At the last, Fernando dared to release a flood of fire directly at Fiona herself. Instead of retreating or even merely staying put, Fiona ran—right into Fernando’s outstretched arms. Flinging her arms around him, she unleashed a torrent of sand around them, snuffing out the flame and tearing Fernando’s skin and clothes with thousands of tiny cuts. When the flame died, so did the whirlwind, and Fernando collapsed, bleeding heavily. The spark had all but gone completely out of him at the strength of Fiona’s attack.
She remained, as the hesitant Federals advanced with their shackles, ready to take the firemage into custody. Fiona cradled his head in her lap, weeping softly.
“I’m sorry, Nando,” she said. “For your childhood, for your father, for your family, for your city… I’m sorry… Forgive them… Forgive me…”
|This story was inspired by this image, credit goes to JasonEngle|
Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series: ( * Continuations of Suggestion Box installments)