The Sins of the Mother
Malcolm Schmitz is an autistic author who writes about queer people, eldritch angels, nebbish unicorns, and lace-making orcs. His fiction has been published in Crossed Genres, Fusion Fragment, and Sword and Sorcery Magazine; his short story “The Captain’s Sphere” made the Long List for the 2015 Otherwise Award.
Lady Lutisse climbed up the Assassin’s Steps, her baby heavy on her back.
She squinted and shaded her eyes. The Altar was half a day’s walk up a rocky hill, hidden in a huddled clump of trees at the peak. With every step, she could make out a little more of the simple slab, half-hidden by leaves and a fallen tree. It was only when she got closer that she could see the faint stain on the stone: the dull-rust mark of blood.
In the ancient days, when her mother’s mother’s mother was a girl, the Nemethan assassins gathered at this Altar. They’d spilled the blood of man and ‘mar upon the stone. With every drop, the Altar drank the anima of the dead.
Now, it was long-forgotten, a relic of the ancient past. The gods’ grand altars dwelt in Gymalg G’mai and His now, far across Lutisse’s homeland of Krygon. The memory of the Altar only lived on in the whispers of women, women who were too trapped and desperate to see any other way out. But, forgotten or not, this was still a place of power.
Pray here, and someone would answer. Bargain well, and someone would die.
Lady Lutisse stopped at the altar.
Behind her, her son stirred in his sleep. She took a deep breath. She’d come here for his sake. For him, she’d do far worse. A mother must always do what is best for her children.
She knelt; the leaves crumpled beneath her. Cold mud oozed through the hem of her skirt. She clasped her hands.
When praying, there was always the question of which god to address. Petitioning a god for something outside their purview was a fools’ errand. Petitioning a god for something in another god’s purview was worse than foolish.
All gods knew death, some more intimately than others, but not all gods would kill, or let their worshippers kill in their name. If Lutisse was fool enough to pray to Shen-Bahan for her husband’s death, she’d be struck down for her impudence.
Carro, the Paladin God, might kill her husband for justice’s sake. But her husband wasn’t cruel to her: not the way that one might expect. He’d never raised a hand to her, never shouted, never cursed. That would require him to speak to her.
Sar’Kata, the Trickster God, might kill her husband for the sake of a good joke. But there was nothing funny about her situation, and a prank would change nothing. The power her husband held would simply pass to her son. Sar’Kata wouldn’t care for that.
Sirillon, the Burning God… now, that had potential. Sirillon gave life and death alike, with little care for justice or mercy, just as the Sun did. He might help her, if she promised Him what He wanted.
Lutisse bowed her head and began to pray.
The words of the prayer were strange, passed down from some long-forgotten time. In the village where Lutisse had grown up, it was an old legend, passed down quietly from mother to daughter; her mother had told it to her the same way she’d told her the recipe for pennyroyal tea. If you’ve married a man who shouts at you, or hits you, or makes you feel worthless, the legend said, here is a way out.
Lutisse had always thought it was an old wives’ tale. The gods didn’t speak to mortals, much less take orders like a common demon. But in desperate enough circumstances, she’d take any tool the world offered her. And her foremothers’ old prayer was a powerful tool indeed, if it did what the legends said it would.
She knew the gist of what the prayer meant: an invocation given to the god, a conjuring rite, a binding promise. It was a complicated spell, one that even a Temple-mage might have fumbled. But the power of the Altar was so strong that even a child could cast a spell of death here.
When she opened her eyes, a woman sat upon the Altar.
Lutisse blinked. She’d expected a bearded, brawny God, a God with a grim face and a smith’s hammer. But the gods sometimes chose to take different forms. The ‘mari saw the gods as ‘mari; the Little Folk had small gods.
But the Assassin’s Altar was a sanctuary, now, for women in pain. Perhaps Sirillon had chosen this form to make her more comfortable.
The woman’s black hair brushed the ground. Her green dress blended with the forest; Lutisse’s eye was drawn up to Her pale, pointed face. A dark burn scar curved over the woman’s left eye, taking the shape of a sunburst. Her gaze was dark, sharp and commanding; Her back, straight. For a long moment, all Lutisse could do was stare.
“You invoke me?” The God’s voice was cold as the altar’s stone. “What do you seek, and what do you offer?” Continue reading “The Sins of the Mother”