They Are Life

You’re going to have me killed tomorrow, and still, you want to know.

Oh yes, there are some who believe there is magic in the world. Goddesses and gods supposedly walk among us. People use magic to explain things they don’t know, or can’t understand.

You can’t explain what I do. I am no goddess; so it must be magic that I do.

And my magic is white as bone, pale as death. A magic you have decided takes and drains life, rather than gives back life. You’ve decided what I do must be “evil.”

Other people use magic to explain tragedies. Why an entire race of people vanished when that wave from the sea rose. Yes, it would have been the same wave of which your grandparents spoke — the one which destroyed sea-coasts and trading and fishing villages — which drowned hundreds, maybe thousands, a number beyond even my ability to count. I heard one storyteller say that the dead numbered as many as the stars.

But those dead were not even the race of people of which I speak. They numbered maybe a few hundred — like your own. They were brown too; the same color as you, and me. Though their dark hair was fine, not curly like yours. They were a fishing people, living off the northwest coast.

Their only survivor told stories about that wave. She said that one morning the beach emptied: exposed fish burned in the sunlight, and a sunken fisherman’s boat, which had vanished many turns ago, stood dripping and skeletal in the sand. People from the village — this lost race, the only ones of their kind, the only ones who spoke their strange dialect — they wandered onto the damp sands, wondering where the sea had gone.

Then she came. The sea. They were all standing there, watching. A wall, but taller, tall as a mountain, and stone-solid. The sound it made was the tumult of a hundred thunderstorms coming down upon them.

It devoured them.

The last survivor had been up the mountain pass visiting her lover, a tradeswoman from another tribe, another race, who spoke a different language. As this woman came back to her village, she heard the wave. Saw her entire village, all of her people, gathered on the sand.

When the sea calmed, she climbed down from the mountain pass.

There were only a few bodies left, and some of them in parts. She buried each and every person she could find, singing over their remains.

It was the last time, to her knowledge, that anyone sang her people’s burial songs.

She died over a turn ago, with no daughters or sons to tell her stories, and her lovers had all died long before her.

So when I came, I told her what I told you and your people. I told her that wanted to learn, and to listen. I heard her stories. I captured her words in what I call writing, just as I wanted to hear your stories and write them down. This woman taught me her dead people’s language. She taught me their burial songs. And when she passed, I sang those songs over her.

I am no seer, no shaman. I am not a priestess.

But I know magic.

And perhaps you are right. Perhaps magic is on the side of the Ransal army. Perhaps that is the only explanation for how they have plundered, razed, and raped the world around them. Magic is the only way that they have learned the secrets of iron smelting. The only reason that their swords shred your bronze blades as if they were mere leaves.

How many of you are left now? A hundred?


Maybe too, you have angered your gods. I don’t know. Maybe my blood — the blood of a foreigner — can appease their anger.

But I don’t think so.

I tell you: magic is the words I am giving you now. Magic is the stories others have poured into me, like water. Magic is the stories I now try to pour back into you.

Magic is hearing a dying woman’s story and recording what is left of her language.

This is what I have been trying to explain to you, though I know it is hard for you to believe. I know, you think what I do is blasphemy. That I should not do this to words.

Words are living things, you say. They are not slaves. Words are thought and breath and air. Words are not solid, and rooted, like a tree. Words move. They bend and shift and break and twist and dance and laugh and play and fight and scream and love and moan and weep and sigh. They are not meant to be stamped in clay, carved in stone, or written on papyrus. Doing that to words, trying to make them rooted and solid — is a perversion. It is magic, you have said, but it is evil.

But those symbols I showed you — the ones I wrote on papyrus — yes — they are words. You saw me write them with my own hand. And I tell you they are living words, even set down. They are not slaves. They are moving, living, breathing. Words written are like echoes. The speaker herself is long dead, yet the echoes of her voice remain. All you have to do is read them, the way you recite your old stories, and they are conjured back to life.

Words in writing are magic.

Don’t you see?

They are life.

Kill me for being a foul blasphemer, if you like. The Ransal army will still march on you. They will still cut you and every one of your people into bloody pieces. Even the children. There will be no-one left to remember your stories, to sing your songs, to speak your language. And in less than a lifetime, it will be as if your race had never even existed. You will be extinguished, and forgotten.

So kill me, if it pleases you.

Kill me and see if it saves you.

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“They Are Life”