Rain Upon Ivory's Journal, Part 1
“Whatever you do, Ivory, you must not tell your mother.”
I stared at my father, the lines of worry on his face deepened by the shadows, softened only a little by the candlelight. There were dozens of them alight in the chamber, but it was still dark, and the air carried a certain chill to it which made it feel darker still.
I nodded at him gravely, though there was a lingering feeling of doubt. I was close to both of my parents, and keeping secrets from either of them felt like betrayal either way.
“Ivory …” he said again, seeing straight through me.
“I—I promise,” I lied.
“You mustn’t,” he reiterated, his tone low, deliberate, yet he seemed more conflicted than I was. “All right,” he finally said, looking away. Either he felt he could trust me, or he was reminded by the dawn light seeping in from the trapdoor that he had little time, he broke our gaze and returned to what was at hand.
That is, his hand, beneath the sharpened steel of a dagger, held over a wooden rune board with a freshly carved sigil.
I opened my mouth to ask something, but he’d already gritted his teeth, and drew a long, deep gash down his palm. He didn’t scream, didn’t even grunt, just held his breath while the blade bit into him, and then exhaled a long, drawn-out sigh after the blood was running profusely down, as if he was relieved.
Crimson dripped down, down the lines of his palm, filling up every crack, dripping onto the grooves in the wood, the sigil of his name and my mother’s, their letters contorted, wrapped around one another, twisting, intertwined, into a large, chaotic circle. Various symbols of magickal power filled the empty spaces meant for healing, rejuvenation.
Mother was sick.
He glanced at me while the blood ran. “Ivory … pray, won’t you?”
I wanted to, tried to, had been for weeks. But the dripping was interrupting me, steady, like the water that drips from eaves after it rains. But I nodded, and bent my head anyways. Calan, goddess of simplicity, please bless and heal my mother. Rid her of what ails and haunts her …
I tried to think of something eloquent, genuine, beyond the usual repetitions, but my mind wavered. The dripping continued. We had been praying together and doing rituals for almost two months, now, often at night, when she was already asleep.
We were sitting together over that table and the rune board for a long while. The sun was coming up. We had both drank a strong brew of coffee and waited for the sunrise—the most powerful time for healing magick—looking for any possible factor to bolster our spells.
Softly, the rune board began to emit a low, grey glow. It came as no surprise to us, in fact, as we stared at the color, the first thing we both noticed was how dim the light was. The magick was faltering. This was not the first time father had used his own blood for spellwork in the past weeks, and it was beginning to hinder the potency of the rituals.
His face was pale. Mine was struck with a sad horror as we watched the blood fill up every line, every scratch and knick in the wood, and then spill over the side, and drip onto the floor.
His head drooped. He blinked back to consciousness, took a deep breath, while both of his hand started shaking.
“Ivory, go check on your mother.”
“The spell …”
“Please.” His voice, too, was shaking.
I stood up to leave, but then he grasped me with his hand—the one he had not cut this morning—covered in blood-soaked, dried bandages. “Don’t. Tell. Her.”
I nodded, then went to the ladder and climbed up.
After I shut the trapdoor, leaving that chill behind, shivers went down my spine from the warmth of our home. The dawn light was coming through the windows, and the fresh air from a parted windowpane was blowing in. The darkest hour of dawn had just snuck away.
Quietly, I made my way over to their bedroom, past the hall with my own, and without knocking, edged myself inside the room.
More morning light spilling through, onto a fresh daisy picked just yesterday, its stem half submerged in a vase filled with water, beside her bed. The linens and sheets: white and tan, save for a few odd grey patches here and there, were pulled tightly up around my mother. Only her shoulders, arms, and face were above the blankets.
I did not like what I could see of her.
But still, I took up the stool by her bed.
Just as I sat down, she woke up. Her brown hair was greying at the roots, despite her youth, but it still fell in thick, messy locks all around her. But that was all the color left. The rest of her was white. Her skin, even her eyes. Pale. Everything was going out, sneaking away like this morning’s darkness.
She could not see me, yet her eyes found my face, somehow. Even though I knew all she was looking at was darkness, I could not meet her gaze, and looked away as she found my hand on my knee, and held it.
“He’s doing blood magick, isn’t he?” she asked.
All I could do was stammer.
“Ivory, love, I am not new to this world. It is a strong magick, and it’s buzzing through me right now. It’s … comforting. But your father has been doing it for far too long. Hasn’t he?”
I didn’t see any point in lying to her. It could’ve been the last time I had the opportunity to choose honesty or lies with her. “Yes. All morning, and yesterday as well.”
She didn’t have to say anything.
“… and a few days last week.”
She mumbled something to herself about ‘that crazy man,’ unable to suppress a small grin. Then she asked louder, “How is he?”
“He won’t tell me. He just says he is ‘red as roses’ and changes the topic.”
She started to chuckle, but that ended in a fit of coughs. “Typical. You didn’t get his humor, thank gods. But how does he look?”
“Kind of, well …”
“What is he using for the magick?”
“A board, an athame, then—”
“No, silly. Where is he getting the blood? His calves, wrists … ?”
I couldn’t read her expression for awhile. “That is well enough. It could be worse. Give me your other hand.”
“Mother, I—I would not. You told me—”
“Ivory. You have both my blood and your stubborn father’s. Well, we’re both stubborn. So that’s twice for the worse. I know you have a streak of disobedience in you. Give me your hand.”
I inched my left hand toward her, let her fingers find mine. I was reluctant, not because I had gone against her wishes and participated in helping my father with the ritual, but because I hadn’t. I had not tried to help her, not beyond praying … but praying is a poor man’s gamble, and often does not yield much, especially with the greater deities.
I was ashamed.
Another grin touched her face as she felt the smooth, undamaged skin of my palm. Her fingers stayed there even after she had gone over every inch of it, stroking it slowly. “I love you, Ivory,” she said in relief.
I could not help but smile, but when I looked at her, it faded instantly. I rubbed the tear off her cheek. “I love you, too.”
“I’m going to rest some more, all right, love? Feeling a bit tired again. When your father is finished up, tell him to sit here until I wake up. That is his punishment. Then, leave the rest to me. I will straighten him out.” And just like that, she had recollected herself. My chest felt tight with pride.
I laughed. “Is there anything else?”
“Yes. Enjoy yourself. Play in the forest, find an animal friend, if there is nobody around from the village.”
“They all left to travel. My friends are gone for Stelmnest.”
“Ah. I’m so, so sor—”
“No. I didn’t want to go traveling this year, anyways. I wanted to be at home. It’s quiet, for a change. Timet is, for once, not hammering away at the anvil. Harry isn’t sawing wood for his bows. The twins aren’t chasing each other, screaming nonsense.”
She found it funny the way I described the everyday habits of our village, but just thinking about it made me appreciate the peace more. “In many ways, I am happier to stay at home, with you and father, this year.”
“But it’s your fifteenth year, Ivory. You should have some adventure. Perhaps not this month, but … later. Okay? Take a cart to the city. Get lost.”
“Just rest, I’ll be okay. I still have not finished father’s library. That is enough for me to get lost in.”
“Your father will write faster than you can read, Ivory. Especially if I …” she shook her head. “Really, go for a walk, get a little lost. I’ll be here, don’t fret.”
“I … I won’t,” I said, but even as the words left me, I realized they didn’t sound confident at all. “I’ll be back soon.”
“Good,” she murmured, before turning her head to the side, as I stood up and made my way to the doorway.
My footsteps were silent as I stepped lightly on the wood floorboards, and just as I had my hand on the door, I hid myself behind it, and looked at her.
Many thoughts came to my head, mostly dark, ill-natured ones, but I shooed them away. I worried for father instead, and when I’d remembered he was far stronger than anyone I knew … I didn’t have much else to think about.
I just stood there, watching her for awhile.
Then, not bothering to open her eyes, she said, “Ivory …” with a half-amused, half-annoyed tone.
“Yes! Fine, I’m going.”
And I left, letting the door click lightly to tell her I really had gone.
Instead of going directly to my room to retrieve a scarf and perhaps an extra layer, I went to the trapdoor, and lifted it up.
My father, his dark hair white at the tips from stress and too much worrying, was slumped over the desk, his shallow breaths steadily dipping a loose curve of his shirt into a puddle of blood on the table.
A lock of the same dark hair fell in front of my eyes as I tilted my head to look at him.
It is not abnormal to hear of magick and healing rituals being performed in Netherwayan homes, but this was the sixth time he had done it, and only five days of the week had passed, and it was involving his own blood. Anything so potent was oft saved for emergencies, or avoided entirely, as knowledge for blood magick was rare.
I closed the door quietly, made my way to the kitchen, trying my hand at the fire rune. I murmured our word for it, sinferos, but I couldn't summon the flame.
I stared sadly at the lack of magick sparking from the rune, and settled for a tinder box we had instead. Magick was never my strong point, despite our family’s plethora of books on the wide subject matter.
The eggs from our hens sizzled on the pan, and fluffed nicely, the time going by fast as I got lost in thought. Then, sliced up darkroot, a garnish that is both bitter and tastes like death, but carries more nutrients than your average acre of farmland.
Even when I put the steaming plate next to my sleeping father, his face illuminated by the energy and will he’d mixed into the sigil, he didn’t wake up. Not even when I wrapped him tightly in a blanket, and pushed his body a little more to the right, so that he was less slumped over the desk and more laying on it. He just murmured a little, then went back to snoring.
I dug into one of my pockets and found my pen, dipped it in his blood, and wrote out a note:
I couldn’t lie to her. It was the first thing she asked when she woke up. How can you ask me to lie to my mother, and your wife? I am not angry, I am just not certain how to meet your expectations. I know it’s difficult for both of us. I hope you can forgive me. She knows. And she wants to speak with you when you wake up.
The eggs are most likely cold.
I think you should inscribe the fire rune on our stove, again. It’s not working for me anymore.
Then I left for my walk, perhaps to find ‘animal friends,’ as my mother put it. Just thinking of her saying that made me chuckle.
The soft morning sky had turned into a roof of storm clouds and a light drizzle, but by the end of the day it could be a clear, starry sky, or could just as easily transform our thick, green forest into a pale dreamscape of frost and ice. Stelmnest is the month of all seasons. I dressed accordingly: with a backpack full outfits for each possibility.
I intended to get lost, which is difficult in a village that you grew up in. Regardless, I turned down a road I had traveled countless times before, past the vacant homes that our neighbors had deserted to go traveling.
The obsession with adventure and travel during Stelmnest creates an atmosphere of madness in Netherway each year. Tradesmen in big cities become temporarily rich, before they lose it all on the local taverns. Libraries are emptied by the hands of youth hoping to pursue paths of mages, warlocks, and other magickal inclinations, before struggling and giving up, (until the following year, of course).
Tournaments are sold out, bloodbaths are enjoyed in the dead hours of the night; performances normally held exclusively for royalty suddenly become open to the public. A good example would be the Faux-feather’s Castle. They have a jester there that is supposedly the talk of legends.
But me? On a walk.
The air was alive, buzzing, as it always is during Stelmnest, with the feeling that the skies could change any moment, and tear your peace into tatters.
I diverged off the path that breached the entrance of the Stillwoods, to go down a hill and across short, grassy plains. There was a single, undisturbed tree at the center of those plains with thick, groping roots that had been stretching and grasping at the soil for centuries.
But the Stillwoods were not composed of such trees. The trees were younger, less daunting, their branches did not cloud the air, the ground not strangled by old roots.
At night, you could see stars through the branches. You could walk through with beams of moonlight touching your face.
Or, for my case, feel the light rain pattering down.
There was a dull throb in my teeth, I had been clenching my jaw, thinking too hard about my mother, and stopped to relax, set down my pack, looking to get lost in journaling.
Passed the mountains of clothing, I found my journal in my cavernous pack, the inkwell wrapped to it, and the quill I’d stuck behind my ear.
With my back against a tree, I unlaced the journal, set the inkwell on a flat groove in one of the roots by my leg, and dipped the pen into the darkness.
Just as I was about to write the word ‘The’ I saw a pair of leather boots walking toward me.
That was definitely when I unsheathed a dagger at my waist, knocking the inkwell over and stumbling to my feet awkwardly.
A stranger in the Stillwoods, and at this time of year. Call me skittish, but there is a reason why people travel in groups during Stelmnest … and take a good majority of their belongings with them. Thieves stalking emptied villages for a few hidden fortunes is by no means rare.
“Who are you, what is your business, where do you come from, what’s your name, and why should I trust you?” I fixed the point of my blade toward him.
He held his hands out, to show he meant no harm. “Ivory, please. You already ruined a perfectly good bottle of ink. No need to sour this conversation before it begins.”
I looked him up and down, scrutinized as much of him as I could in the few seconds I had before I responded. No, I did not know him. “What if I do not want it to begin? And how do you—”
“There’s not much time, Ivory. Your mother is sick, dying, due for her final hours within this very evening. Your father may not even wake up from his nap to be at her side when it happens. You, perhaps, would get lost in your writing, as you are inclined to do, and be home late. Then you, too, would miss it. And she would be gone, forever. Later, your father would become utterly crippled in depression. He would stop writing. At best, you would use that sadness and pain you feel to continue your father’s library, but you would have to pick up the pieces of your home, and try to garner some coin so you two could eat. You would be its center. And it would be tiresome. You’d quickly lose your passion, and time, to write. Everything would crumble.”
He had stark, grey eyes and large pupils. There was a look of fear, desperation, even, as he described all of this to me in detail. Such detail that could only be known by someone who had watched my life for years … either that, or some god or other deity.
“No, no that’s not true. My father is strong. Stronger than anyone I’ve ever known. I have more faith in him than—”
“Ivory, Ivory.” He stepped towards me, his white hands through his black-and-grey-stitched clothes reaching for my shoulders.
For some reason, I didn’t back up against the tree, didn’t flinch. I let his hands fall on me, and dropped the dagger. They were warm, even through my clothes, and his gaze, harried though it might’ve felt, was looking at me with some kind of concern that I could not describe. “You aren’t even denying that your mother will die tonight?”
“Of course not,” I heard myself gasp.
My hand moved to cover my mouth as it started to tremble, and tears obscured my vision. “How could I … My father and I, even she, she knew … knows.”
“Poor child,” he mumbled. His nose was long, pointed, and beneath that his lips matched that sharpness, thin and scarred. But his eyes were large, almost almond-shaped, and did not match the distinctive lines of his jaw. They were too big.
What was a drizzle became a thunderous downpour. The sound of the rain on the leaves was almost deafening.
“W—who are you?” I shivered. The temperature dropped dramatically and gales began tearing away leaves that would have merely, calmly detached months later.
“Names are not important in my business, Ivory. Not mine, anyways. And yours won’t be, either, if all goes the way I hope.”
I looked at my journal on the ground. The wind had opened it up, flipping through entries wildly. Rain spattered the pages. Streams of black ink flowed down the scripts and scratched out words, blurring them all together to indiscernible stains.
It had been building up for a long while. The tears all but burst from my eyes, and mingled with the rain as I bent to pick up the tome I had been writing in for years. I looked back up at the stranger, my face contorted in resentment. A part of me wanted to fall into his arms.
Silence hushed over us like a wave. The rain stopped. The sun peeked through the racing storm clouds.
“Are you a god?” I whispered. I smeared the tears away, leaving tracks of ink across my face.
He stared at me, lost in thought, and then shook himself as he if finally heard my words. “If I were, I would not be here. And your mother would not be dying. And your journal would not be … ruined. No, I am not a god. But I am aware of things many are not.”
It unnerved me how easily I trusted his words. I held out my journal to him.
With a strange look, as if considering something taboo, he took it.
“Can you fix it?” I asked.
“How could I fix this?” he chuckled, turning through pages obliterated by the rain.
“You knew all those things about my family. Can’t you—”
His hands shot to my shoulders again. “No. I can’t fix this. But you can fix this, Ivory. You can, if only you help me.”
“What are you saying?” I breathed. I knew he wasn’t talking about the journal anymore.
“Your mother will die tonight. Eventually, your father will take his own life. You will be left alone, your family in ashes. Or, you can accept my offer, save your mother, your father can live many long and happy years with her. She will never be sick again, and his good health will also be guaranteed. Their love will be strong, to the grave.”
I felt my eyes soften at the thought of them being so happy. “What do I have to do?”