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Leif

Updated: Feb 5

Another fanfiction, derived from Fire, by Kristen Cashore. This is a WIP of a potential sequel.




A nondescript horsewoman clung to the back of an equally mundane gelding as they raced through the crowded woods on the outskirts of King’s City. She wore the garb of a man with a longbow swung over her shoulder. A brown scarf covered her head as her eyes held a strong focus on the whipping forest in front of them.

Come Small, she thought to her horse, he’s gaining on us. The drab creature picked up its pace at the encouragement from his lady. Fire held her breath as her heart raced and mind reached to scout the path ahead of them. Raptors were known to perch among the trees and Brigan was now gaining speed. There was a familiar feeling creeping up on Fire like prey fleeing from its predator. Fire had had many predators over the years, beginning in the womb as her father attempted to prevent her birth. Since then she had grown into her own strength, one bred from personal sacrifice and nurtured by a special kind of love received from a prince.

Too slow! Brigan laughingly thought to Fire, as he and Big surpassed them.

Fire gritted her teeth and an unwise thought crept into her mind. Don’t do it. Don’t ruin the mood. You haven’t heard him laugh in so long. Fire tried to shake the idea out of her mind, but still reached further to look for any nearby monsters.

Brigan had gained more distance still, and twisted his head to look back at Fire and laugh once more. She noticed his worry lines disappear briefly, lines that had been deeply drawn during the War of the Dells. The young commander had been dragged unwillingly into leading a war amongst three nations, while bearing the near loss of his brother the King, a foiled attack on his young daughter and the kidnapping of Fire. While the war hadn’t lasted a full year, those long and cold months had left permanent marks on the prince. Fire had been able to give him some peace, with her mind’s comforting effect to turn his nightmares into calmer things and gentler dreams. Until now, that was.

I see castle life has softened your edges, Lady Monster, Brigan thought at her.

Her deciding thought was centered around the fact that Brigan was due for a longer stay this time, which would give her ample opportunity to regain his good graces. And with that, she reached up to grasp her headscarf.

Fire took a moment to appreciate Brigan’s face register in brief shock as he realized her idiotic plan, and she grinned.

Fire, don’t!

She yanked her headscarf down and released her mass of wild curls, whipping in the wind behind her. A blurred mirage of red flashed through the heavy greenery surrounding the rider. Glints of deep purple and burnt orange blended in with the fiery red hair in an unnatural but mesmerizing splash of color. Within the same breath, the forest around Fire reacted. Human monsters had always put their animal cousins into a frenzy with their hair and blood, but even regular animals still felt some effect. Birds, rabbits, deer and other creatures of the woods all stopped their usual beastly activities and quieted their chatter, hypnotized by Fire’s presence. Big had become accustomed to Fire, but not her hair, as it was always covered when she was with him.

Fire instantly felt a wave of guilt as Big slowed and Brigan immediately searched the web of branches above them, his expert fingers reflexively moving to touch the matching bow he wore. He wasn’t able to sense the minds of the raptors like Fire could and know that there weren't any nearby.

Small’s hooves pounded past Big as Fire glimpsed the castle gates ahead of them. With a final spurt they burst from the forest amidst an explosion of leaves and debris and circled to a halt. Fire smiled in her small victory and patted the sweaty neck of her panting horse.

“Rocks, you’re the best horse in all the Dells, Small. Don’t you let him call you soft.” Small snorted his indifference at being soft or not, and bent his neck to drink from a hole that had collected rain water.

Big trotted out of the forest to come to rest next to Fire and Small. Brigan’s eyes still swept the skies.

“Get inside, Fire,” his voice was low in sharp retort.

Small flicked his tail and shifted his stance in response to the sudden tenseness of his rider’s legs.

“Honestly Brigan,” Fire spoke sharply, her defensiveness rearing over her sensibility. “Do you seriously think I didn’t check my range for any raptors nearby? Like I would put you or Small at risk like that.”

Brigan ignored her as his eyes still shifted through the line of trees behind them. “Inside, Fire. Now.”

Her temper sparked. “Look at me, Brigan. And stop treating me like a child, I’m not your quarry anymore to babysit. You’re just angry that you lost.”

She had finally grabbed his attention. Brigan whipped his head to glare his dark eyes into her flashing, emerald ones. “You cheated, it doesn’t count. Regardless, I wouldn’t have to talk to you like I do with Hanna, except for the fact that my actual child wouldn’t even have pulled a ridiculous stunt like that. Rocks, Fire! Have you lost your senses?”

Maybe she had. She wasn’t sure. Usually Fire didn’t have trouble conveying her thoughts and feelings to her lover. Brigan was one of the few people in her life who didn’t judge, blame or punish her for being extraordinarily beautiful – for being a monster. Many still did. The Dells had gone through a transition of kings, from the irresponsible Nax to his son, Nash. A war had passed, and the bards now spun tales in the taverns of the monster lady who had fought for the Dells and single handedly saved their King from an arrow to the chest. The latter tale was heavily embellished, as Fire had always tried to explain in conversation at royal dinners, but regardless she had done well in earning the hearts of the Dellians.

However, the shadow that Cansrel had cast over the Dells had been a dark and lasting one. He had twisted their King’s mind in his time, investing his power into manipulation of the castle residents, torturing any who stood against him and poisoning Nax’s mind with drugs. The damage the two had done to the Dells was extensive, its long-lasting effect keeping Brigan and Fire busy in attempts to repair what their fathers had done.

It was a lonely existence for Fire, after she had let the spotted leopard monster loose, and killed Cansrel. The herb she had taken the previous year had closed Fire’s womb, and guaranteed her to be the last monster in history. She still ached for children of her own, but it was a necessary sacrifice, to ensure the protection of the Dells from the mania of another monster.

Fire knew her actions to be right. It was a decision she had come to on her own, without Brigan’s involvement. And yet somehow, she resented the thought that crept into her head, musing over what Brigan might’ve asked of her, if she hadn’t made the choice easy for him. He had hated her monster father, and for good reason. He had hated her too once before, hesitant to accept her as anything other than Cansrel’s daughter. But then she had risked her life for him, had cried over a fiddle and had watched the stars with him at night. And the prince fell in love with her. He realized he had been in love with her for much longer than he had thought, but Brigan found no words for the mysterious feeling that overtook him when in the presence of the lady monster.

Still. Brigan was not a monster, and he had a child of his own. Hanna, a girl of ten, who had inherited her love of horses from her father and her fierceness from her late mother. And Fire loved them both, fervently. But there were times when she was alone with her memories of her father, and Fire was sad. These were the times that she struggled to want to share with Brigan. For she knew he would be glad that Fire was the last of the monster race, and she could not be. And now, he would not understand the joy Fire felt when she let herself fly free in the forest. For once, she was able to be herself; away from the gaping eyes and lustful minds of other humans, away from the fear of other monster animals, and she could just be. Fire could feel the effect of her monster abilities on the creatures around her, and not feel ashamed or afraid.

No, Brigan would not understand it.

Fire wordlessly turned Small around and trotted inside the keep. Brigan followed behind, but kept his mind closed off to her. It was just as well, she knew, as his thoughts would only anger and frustrate her more. Fire also knew that her common sense would win over the battle in her head soon enough and she wished to escape the knowledge of her foolishness for as long as possible.

They stabled their horses and groomed them in silence. The courtyard was empty when they entered it, until the sound of little feet slapping against flagstones echoed back to Brigan and Fire.

“Papa!” Hanna ran to her father, colliding with him with all of her little strength.

Brigan smiled and gripped Hanna’s shoulders, bending to meet on her eye level. “And how are our studies coming today?”

Hanna’s smile drooped and she avoided her father’s eyes. “Yes, Papa, it’s fine.”

Brigan tilted his head at her tone, but to Fire’s surprise he didn’t push the girl into gleaming more information. Hanna tugged on his sleeve.

“Uncle Nash said he wanted to talk to you about something important. I told him you were exercising Big, and he is an important horse.”

Brigan smiled and then lifted his eyes to meet Fire’s.

She looked on at the two of them lovingly. She had always been jealous of their bond, but grateful that she could be a part of their special relationship. “Go on then, don’t keep your brother King waiting.”

He took her hand gently and kissed it, saying, “We’ll talk later, love,” and then he and Hanna were bounding down the hall.

Fire sighed and decided to head toward her own rooms. She intended to take a brief nap before the Dellian intelligence group was due for their monthly meeting. Riding heavily on Small tired her, but having the multitudes of forest creatures’ minds touch hers had exhausted her all the more. Soft indeed, Fire thought to herself. She had let herself relax her mind’s muscle since the war ended, compared to the feats of intelligence-gathering her mind had weathered at the time. She knew she must not become too comfortable or complacent, as the lady monster was the Dells’ first mental defense against foreign powers.

Fire noticed a maid wandering the halls, who had been looking to deliver a message to her from the elder Queen, Roen. She grasped that Roen was waiting for Fire in her personal rooms, and...she sensed a feeling of surprise and amazement, even? Fire touched the maid’s mind, letting her know that the message had been received.

Fire climbed the spiraling staircase that led to her chambers. She had purposefully chosen rooms high in the tower, so that she could rest and sleep away from the hundreds of consciousnesses in the castle. As she drew closer, Fire began to sense a presence coming from behind the door of the room, someone she hadn’t met in the castle before. Her hand froze above the handle of the door, her monster’s mind bleeding into the room before her eyes could. What in the Dells is that? Fire guessed that the person was a child, given the immaturity in its thoughts and the constantly shifting images in its head that communicated a short attention span. And yet...the child did not hold only its own thoughts. Fire saw an image of a perspective looking down at the child, along with a feeling of love, curiosity and a hint of fear.

In the back of Fire’s mind, she had already come to a conclusion of what her head was reading. However, her forefront consciousness denied the possibility, as a way to protect itself from feeling too much hope. Because this child that she sensed was impossible.

Fire opened the door.

Before registering the child in Roen’s lap, Fire noticed the state that her mother-in-law’s mind was in. She had become accustomed to associating the feel of her friends and families’ minds along with their physical appearance, smell and other features. Every person had their own unique way of thinking, which gave them a corresponding unique sense in her mind; a thumbprint of sorts.

And now, Roen’s thumbprint was skewed, off-kilter. She still had control over herself, and her thoughts, but there was a feeling of enchantment about her as well that Fire had never sensed before.

“Roen?” Fire’s voice shook, unsure of whether she should be concerned or not. The pieces of the situation had not melded together in her mind yet. “What is happening? What is that?”

The elder Queen held the small child in a loving embrace and turned her eyes from him to look at Fire. “This is your young brother, Fire. His mother was Sunderian, but did not survive the childbirth. Her family has raised him these past four years, but it’s become too dangerous. He has yet to tell me his name, however.”

Fire met the young child’s eyes as Roen spoke her impossible words. They were a soft gray, which blended in beautifully with his sea-green and turquoise locks of hair. The child was angelic, lovely in every way. Yes, the world held much danger indeed for a young monster – from natural predators, as well as human ones who would see him as a tool or weapon to wield. Instantly, Fire felt a compulsion to protect him from the world that had treated her so harshly. Roen somehow had already understood that Fire was the only one who could prepare this child for his trials ahead, a knowledge that was quickly cementing itself in Fire’s mind. She probed his mind, searching for his own understanding of who he was, where he had come from and how much he knew about his uniqueness as a fellow human monster.

Fire felt the brimming of tears threatening to fall as she admitted this fact to herself. I am not alone anymore. The thought exhilarated her, blinding her to any other emotion her mind was capable of bringing to her attention. Reflexively, Fire held out her arms to take the child into her own arms, where he belonged.

“Leif. Leif is his name.”

Leif smiled as he heard his name. Roen passed the child into Fire’s arms, looking over her shoulder and still caught up in Leif’s spell. “He’s beautiful Fire, as beautiful as you are.”

Fire saw this, and more. Behind his angelic face, Leif was sensing the emotions that Fire was emitting to him. Love, amazement and belonging embraced his mind, curious things that he had never experienced before. Leif then changed his focus to observe Fire’s radiant curls, and lifted a finger to play with one. Fire felt his happiness as he enjoyed the prettiness of her hair.

Amidst her newfound bliss, Fire vaguely noticed six minds fluttering beneath her feet, climbing the stairway as fast as their minds spun in each of their own circles. While she knew that this information should concern her, a different part of Fire’s brain remained indifferent to it. She paused, probing this thought, this feeling. It was like the feeling of discovering rain before setting off on a journey. It was a feeling she had endured many times during the war, that despite her heartache of losing Archer, and the pain from the loss of her fingers, she was to push through day by day. Endure, because it was required of her, because she must.

She did not fear the six minds, those of Garan, Clara, Nash, Mila, Brigan and Hanna. For before Brigan had stumbled into the room with a look of anguish on his face, before he had reached for the door handle, before Clara had ran through the halls to find Garan, before Mila had interrupted Nash’s meeting with their Estillian neighbor, and before Hanna’s history lesson on monsters…before all of this had taken place, somehow, Leif had already become a part of Fire. He was an impossibility, a wholesomeness that Fire had given up long ago, now returned.

Brigan’s wide eyes took in the scene before him. He saw his mother leaning over his lover’s shoulder, the both of them beaming over the monster child nestled within her arms. And he knew he was too late.

Hanna peaked her head around her father’s legs, staring at her stepmother and grandmother. She pointed a finger at them.

“Look, father. A monster.”


 

Fire sat down on a soft chaise, conversing with the young boy in their minds and ignoring the chaotic tumult around her. Raised voices overlapped each other and minds raced, but Fire ignored them all. Leif kept switching his attention between the loud voices and the bright face above him. He was hungry, Fire realized, as she frowned. Was their fair castle the kind that would starve a child while everyone else stood around, arguing over his fate?

“It must not stay here,” growled Garan, as he shook his cane roughly. “It is a danger to the entire kingdom!”

“He is a child, Garan, and Fire’s brother. There is no need for exaggerated panic. Should you superficially judge him like those fools who still fear Fire?” begged Roen.

“He is no mere child, mother,” Nash added, “he is a monster. He shouldn’t exist--how is this possible?” Nash held a hand out in front of him, as if to shield himself from the child, while his eyes remained locked on Fire and Leif. His body warred with itself, wanting to run while needing to stay.

Clara’s girlish voice pierced through excitedly. “But think! Think of all we could accomplish with two monster minds interrogating our enemies’ spies. Our intelligence system would go unchallenged amongst all the Dells. They could work in teams!”

“Fire can have her child now,” Mila half-whispered.

Brigan stepped forward.

“Fire, why don’t you let me hold onto him while you freshen up from our ride. You must be tired. We can discuss more at dinner.”

Fire smiled lazily and lifted her head, brought out from her enchantment with Leif.

“That won’t be necessary dear, I’ve already touched the mind of the cook and requested some fruit and milk be brought to our rooms. He is hungry.” She stood to leave.

Brigan cautiously held out a hand as Nash stepped closer. “Fire, love, he is dangerous. Give him to me,” Brigan’s voice begged her.

Fire’s eyes blazed as she caught her husband’s gaze, surfacing away from Leif for the first time since she had entered the room.

No, I shall be the dangerous one, if you prevent me from feeding this child any further. Honestly Brigan, I am the most capable of sensing this one’s thoughts and knowing whether he is a danger or not. Which is ridiculous, since he is only four.

Brigan held out his hands in a peaceful gesture. I only wish to talk to you. There are others who can feed him if they must. Please, Fire.

Leif’s breathing picked up as he let out half a wail.

Fire ignored Brigan and strode across the room, her family and friends clearing a path for her.

Her thoughts alone were left behind as Fire swept through the door.

We will talk later.


 

Brigan sent Mila to accompany Fire, while the rest of the company retreated to their meeting room. As he shut the door behind them, Clara approached.

“Brother, you of all people--”

“Hush,” Brigan softly spoke as he held a finger over his lips. Turning his gaze, he strode to a corner while deep in thought.

They all waited in strained silence.

“By the dells, you’re treating her like a Pikkian spy, Brigan. Are you going to guard your thoughts at all times now?” Roen huffed.

“I’m trying to protect her, mother,” his tired voice replied, “she doesn’t want or need to hear the necessary side of things.”

Garan huffed. “Well she shall hear them from me if no one else!” He began to pace with his cane clacking alongside him. Sayre glanced up, always concerned whenever her husband began to work himself up like this. “We’ve just managed to patch the Dells back together after the war, and it’ll be decades before the Seven Realms is fully healed from the scars that its father left! Just a child indeed…” His muttering trailed off, lost for words.

Brigan rubbed his face with tired hands and threw a look at his brother. “Garan, seeing how my wife is also of monster-blood, please stop referring to the child as an ‘it.’ Her temper is heated as it is.”

Garan glared at Brigan. “Of course, let me worry about your lady wife while our kingdom is in peril.” He pointed a finger in his brother’s direction. “I’m already concerned about Fire’s perspective, don’t make me question yours as well.”

Nash stared at a wall, stress layered between his prematurely-aged wrinkles on his face. “All of us are of a questionable mindset now. Fire has touched us all.”

Roen stood and held the respectful eyes of everyone in the room. “No one is begging to be a fool here, we are all well aware of the consequences of what this child has brought with him. However, we are all of sound and firm mind. We have taught our children and our people how to protect their minds against the power of monsters. But think of where Fire stands – she has sacrificed just as much as the rest of us throughout this war: her father, her friend, her fingers, and her motherhood. And whenever she visits the royal nursery, she sees all the babes that you have been graced with –” Roen steadied her gaze on Nash, Clara, Brigan, and Garan. The royal nursery was a lively place nowadays, as Hanna had been joined by Mila’s daughter, Liv, and Clara’s son, Aran. Garan and Sayre had also decided to take in Lady Murgda’s daughter, as she spent the rest of her days imprisoned. They had named her Midya.

Clara snorted. “The only fool here is the one who makes an enemy out of Fire. She is not stupid and she is better equipped than anyone else in the world to raise that child. He is her family – let us let her have that at least.”

Nash raised an eyebrow. “If he does prove to be a danger, she is precisely who I am worried about. What will we do – banish the child? Imprison him? We will have two monsters to contend with at that point.”

The three brothers looked to each other, outnumbered. Garan frowned and stalked toward the door, his cane thumping against the carpet sharply. He paused as he passed Brigan.

“Keep a sharp eye on her, brother. And a sharp mind, on him.”


 





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