Fire Dancers

Author’s Note: So I didn’t want to continue this idea. I figured it was… bad. Yet for some reason I felt compelled to do the other part of it, since Cress and Occie aren’t the only fourth generations in the Fire and Water universe. In fact… I found an interesting connection when I went looking, and I liked it, so… I wrote a bit for it.

I went with the fire side of things, looking not just at Enya’s possible ancestry but also someone else’s. 🙂

Fire Dancers

“You pretty dancer.”

“Thank you. From you I consider that the highest complement.” Eshne Royston laughed, turning around to smile down at her nephew, glad she was not in her whole costume yet. The mask scared him, and she did not like wearing it herself, but she found it was a bit of protection that they both needed. If only Aedus hadn’t died, then none of this would be necessary, but she knew better than to think too much about what would be different if her brother was alive. The past was done. The present was now, and they all had to survive it however they could.

“Dance?” Egann asked, holding his little hands up to her, and she took them, moving in a small circle that would not make the little one dizzy. He laughed, his smile so bright and so like his father’s… Eshne bit back a sigh. She knew she would always remember her brother when she looked at his son, but she would like for it to stop hurting every time she did.

If only their village hadn’t decided she was a witch—No. She was dancing. She was happy. All of that was forgotten. That was how it must be, how it should be.

“Eshne, lass, yer on in five minutes.”

“Phemie,” Egann said, letting go of Eshne’s hands and running toward the door. He stood on his toes and tried to reach the handle, but he was still too small for that, thank goodness. One of these days, she’d lose him, always afraid he would run off during one of her performances and she’d lose the only family that she had left.

She crossed over to the door, scooping him up before she opened the door to the other woman. “Are you able to watch him while I’m gone? I hate asking, but he’s still too young to be alone and I don’t have anyone—”

“It’s no trouble,” Phemie said, taking Egann into her own large arms. The strong woman had no trouble carrying about the three year old, and she never seemed to tire of it, whereas Eshne knew that she would want nothing more than sleep after she was done with her routine. “I miss the days mine were as young as this wee one.”

“He grows more and more like his father every day,” Eshne said, shaking her head. “Aedus would be so proud of him…”

“No tears now, lass. Ye’ve got to finish getting dressed, and ye cannot be spoiling your makeup with no tears,” Phemie admonished, pointing a thick finger at her. “I’ve got this one, now ye get yerself out there and make them stare in wonder.”

Eshne laughed, forcing herself back to the table and to the mask. As long as Egann couldn’t see it, she could wear it. She pulled it down off the back of her mirror and placed it on her face, adjusting it to where she could see. She looked at herself and shook her head. She’d been ready to be a nun, and now look at her. She did not know of much more wanton or disgraceful outfit, even as much as she tried to give herself some modesty.

The people saw only the fire anyway. She knew that. She was only a shadow in the flames, and even if her neckline was low and her skirt had a scandalous number of slits in it so that she could move without burning herself—not that she ever did, ever could.

She was the fire.

No one knew that, not even Phemie, and Eshne would not tell her, not after what happened to Aedus and his wife. This was a secret she knew must die with her, but not before Egann had grown, not until she’d seen to his safety. He was innocent, and he need not suffer because his aunt had some strange—she would not call it a curse for she did not believe that was what it was, but she did not understand how she could command fire, either.

She was not a witch. She’d never opened a spell book, never thought to ask anyone for any kind of spell, and though she knew her ancestors participated in pagan rites, she never had.

Still, when she wanted it, fire was hers.

She opened her palm, seeing the flame there, and closed it again, shaking her head and knowing that she would never allow anyone else to be harmed because of what she was. Egann would always be safe. She’d make certain of that, even if it took being whatever monster she was to do it.

Hugh Astin liked fire.

He liked it more than he should. That was the trouble, same trouble as always. He knew that he shouldn’t like fire as much as he did, shouldn’t enjoy seeing things burn or the way the flames danced, and he knew that no one would see his affection for the blaze as natural. Or harmless.

He didn’t know how many times liking fire had gotten him too close to something burning, close enough to be blamed for it, and sometimes he thought it should be his fault, he loved the sight of the blaze so much, but he’d never so much as lit a match, not once in his life.

He wasn’t sure he needed to—sometimes fire seemed to come just because he wanted it or needed it. He didn’t even need a bit of flint to start one in the wild.

Then again, he didn’t know that he was sane, either. He knew most people would say he wasn’t, given his love for fire, and he had his own doubts about it at times.

He looked again at the poster for the carnival. This was a tame way of indulging his love for fire, especially since the weather was too warm—other than a few strange bouts of heavy rain—for a fire in his room even at night. He did that, and people assumed he was either sick or some kind of freak. He supposed he was a bit of both.

A freak show was a fitting place for him, then, almost where he belonged. He purchased a ticket and went inside the circle, looking around at the tents. He figured the main arena was the best place for him, a nice seat where he could watch people do stunts with fire—he hadn’t seen a fire-eater on the playbill, but he didn’t find that as interesting as he did the flaming hoops people would sometimes jump through. He didn’t notice the people so much as the flames, though.

He sighed. Something was wrong with him. This obsession with fire had to be unnatural.

“Come on, laddies! Not a one of ye wants to miss the amazing talents of Bedelia, the ancient goddess of fire! See her invoke her most sensual of rites as she bedevils all ye!” The crier called out to the crowd, and Hugh stopped. How was he supposed to resist a goddess of fire?

Oh, he didn’t believe she was any true thing, of course, but if her act involved fire, he would enjoy it even if the rest of it was stupid or talentless. He paid for his entry into the smaller tent, taking a seat in front of the stage, wanting to be close to the fire.

Something pulled on him, some force he couldn’t see, and he frowned, but then his eyes caught the shadow—she wasn’t behind the curtain as they would have expected. He could not see much of her, just a faint outline of her form, but he felt her, aware of every movement before she made it.

The stage burst into flames, and she leapt forward into them, rolling to a stop, the flames flaring up as she turned to face her audience. Some of the others exclaimed in surprise, but Hugh just frowned. He knew that some effects could be achieved by rigging elements a certain way, and he didn’t know all the details of that, no, because he didn’t trust himself with that kind of knowledge, but he remained aware of what she was doing more so than the others, he thought, because it was easy to lose her in the shadows as she wove in and out of the flames, dancing with them as she might a lover.

He would have sworn that the fire was bending to her will.

A part of him was tempted to—no, that could hurt her, and he was only fooling himself if he thought that he could do it, but he wanted to see the flames go against her, just once. Not to hurt her, he didn’t want her harmed, but he wanted to know if she could truly do it. They called her a goddess, but he knew eighty percent of the carnival was fake and the other twenty percent was tragedy. She should be a fake.

He kept thinking she wasn’t, though.

Impossible. He didn’t believe she was a goddess. She wasn’t a witch, either. He didn’t believe in either thing, and so he would just prove it. She couldn’t control fire.

He didn’t know how he’d prove it without matches, though. He didn’t allow himself to carry any, and a flint wouldn’t work. Still, if just that little patch there was stronger, taller—he sat back, telling himself he’d imagined it changing, but then she hissed out a curse and her dress caught fire.

She spun around like it was a part of the dance, extinguishing it at the end of her twirl, but he swore he felt her eyes glaring out into the darkness, searching for him as though she knew what he’d done—only he couldn’t have done it.

No matter how much he liked fire, he knew he couldn’t control it. That was impossible.

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