art by Melissa Mead
The Gifts: Part One
by Mari Ness
He has never seen anything so magnificent.
Even he, knowing little of art, can tell that the carvings are those of a master: dancing princesses and princesses surrounded by musicians, the metal and gold work so fine that he can almost make out their individual toes through thin slippers, see each separate string on each instrument. And the gems: he knows little of these, but he is certain that they are not glass. They glow and flash too deeply. He finds himself swallowing.
"I do not understand," he says, to the two men holding the chest, and to the almost as magnificent man behind them, attired in colors so bright he finds himself blinking.
"The chest is yours, good master. A gift from your daughter."
His fists clench; he feels his face redden. "I--I have no daughter."
The magnificently attired man gives the faintest of smiles. "Perhaps not now, but you had a daughter. Once."
The chest is lowered to the ground. "And this chest is her gift to you, given freely and with her love, with but one condition."
"She died," he tells the other flatly.
This is ignored. "Open the chest."
He does not move, until the thin point of a sword is on his throat. "Open the chest."
The chest, for all its magnificence, has no lock. It is easy enough to remove its top and peer inside, to see the tarnished silver hands resting on a pile of gold.
I am going to die. He is not sure how he manages to stand; he is certain the others can see the shaking in his legs. He has to be calm. He has to be calm. He wills his legs to still, clasps his hands together to stop their trembling.
"All yours," the other man says. "As long as you wear her hands. A trifle small, perhaps--" is it his imagination, or had the other man's smile grown wider? –-"but I believe you asked her to place her hands on you before. Consider this a fulfillment of that request."
He does not scream until the first drops of his blood hit the gold.
This story was first published on Tuesday, September 24th, 2013