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art by Seth Alan Bareiss

The Wyrd for Water is Water

Marie Croke is a first place winner of the Writers of the Future Contest and has had work published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies as well as Daily Science Fiction. She lives in Maryland with her long-time honey and two children, all of whom enable her notebook obsession. She can be found online at mariecroke.com.

The wyrd for water is water, but my guards give me nothing but tea and wine though they know I hate the taste. I've tried to use my spit, but the Si'aer were much too specific in their language to listen to such disturbing beggary with their wyrds.
So I pretend to doodle upon the cell floor, writing and rewriting the wyrd for water. Over and over. But nothing happens.
I tried the wyrd for fire once, using my finger as a quill and the metal bars of my cell as my paper. But I'd only seen it briefly before and my strokes were wrong. The stench of burned flesh seared my nostrils and made my guards laugh, the spark I created fizzling the moment it came into being.
The wyrd for metal is steel. Is iron. Is copper. Is silver. Is a great many things. I would have to be specific and I do not have the learning to be. So I bash my head against the bars and curl in the corner with my head on the stone.
The wyrd for stone is stone. And rock. And quartz. And slate. And marble. And too many others to know what it is I'm leaning my head against. Too many to have memorized just yet. But then, that is why they keep me here. Me, out of all my more skilled brethren. Because I am no danger to them.
I know the wyrd for water best. Water alone. And that is the one thing they deprive me of. My sweat comes when I run about the cell and when I use the wyrd for water upon it, I can almost hear the Si'aer laughing at me, their essence far from my grasp because I use the wrong wyrd.
Maybe if I knew the wyrds for salt and pores and sweat and flesh I might be able to do something. But I don't. And my wyrd for water is so fat and indistinguishable at times, I do not blame the Si'aer for ignoring my calls to their essence.
I wish I had a quill. A fluid quill to be exact. One of those special ones kept full of fresh spring water to leak out when writing a wyrd. Here there is nothing.
The wyrd for water is water, but the wyrd is useless when written with the flesh of my fingers or the bone of my nails upon hard stone and cold metal. I could write it upon my flesh, try to call the water from my body, but then I would die in a disgusting mess, leaving my brethren, my mother among them, without even a smidgeon of hope to be saved.
That is what I tell myself anyway. I don't like admitting the fear.
I've been told that they sliced fingers and toes off to keep them from writing flesh wyrds, then had to slice off a nose from a few of the more obstinate ones. I've heard that their quills were all broken and burned in front of them so they could watch their hope dwindling. I hear a lot of things because the guards taunt me.
I try to ignore it all, pressing my ear against the stone and my arm against my head, closing my eyes as if that might help me go deaf. No good news ever passes through the door to my cell. Nothing ever passes but tainted water. Tea. Wine. Urine. And there are special wyrds for those.
When I dream, it is of the cistern below me. Real water. In my dream I grow so thin I can squeeze through the bars of my cell. I slip past my guards and wander into the lower level. There I dive into the cistern, and with the water surrounding me I write huge wyrds. Larger and larger, the water filling and growing and pushing against the stones.
First people only notice little leaks where the walls are weakest. Then the stones crumble. People scream and run, only to be swept away by the water, pulled under by my wyrds and held there until their bodies cease their struggling and shudder to an end.
I wake when I find my brethren for I am always too late to save them, their bloodless bodies hung against the wall as if trophies from a hunt. Is that all we are? No, is that all they are? They see me for what I am--a mere child who has barely enough learning to write the wyrd for water.
I pace the cell, growing weaker in mind every day. I practice the wyrd, but I am no better than an inker at this point, blinking and wishing I could see what my fingers trace to know whether I am enforcing a bad wyrd. I write water over and over again still. Upon the stone. Upon the bars.
Upon the tea. I think I see it beginning to separate out, the water swelling at the top of the cup, flavor draining, color fading to the bottom. I hold the cup up and write the wyrd again and again, knowing I am barely touching the essence of the Si'aer, my wyrd so muddied and blurred from exhaustion and a lack of a fine tip.
But the water does separate eventually, after maybe fifty wyrds. Maybe a hundred. I wrote them so fast into the liquid I never bothered to count. I pause, elated at my success. And in that pause, the flavor rushes back in, swirling up in a dark color to taint the water once more.
I hold back tears because the guards would hear. Then I pause again, this time frozen with a thought.
I dump the tea and wipe the inside of the clay cup with my shirt. Some dirt gets in the bottom, but I can't think of that right now.
Tears are not hard to bring on, though I do make sure they are silent. I catch every one and let them pool in the cup. Still not much. Not enough space to write a wyrd upon. My littlest finger is still much too fat and the wyrd much too complicated.
So I cry until my head aches and my eyes are raw. I shout my hate at the guards to keep them from wondering what I might be doing. And still, the surface area of the collected tears is not enough to write upon.
Shaking and sobbing without tears now, I envision the true wyrdwizards being tortured for their knowledge, forced to teach the wyrds of the Si'aer to an enemy. Do they use me against them? Others like me? We are too young for much else.
Tears wouldn't have worked anyway. Too much like sweat. I splash the tears out and glare at where they splatter upon the stone. In their reflections I envision faces twisted in pain. Faces of people I love. People who are suffering far more than I and yet I whine and complain to myself because I do not know enough wyrds. Everyone I know and care about will die. Is dying. Has died.
I jerk awake and lift my head from the stone, cheek sore. But pain is temporary, unless it is heartache.
I do what I had told myself not to do and write the wyrd for water upon each of my open eyes. Carefully, for I must make the strokes backwards and that is no easy task. Nothing happens on the first eye, I must have missed a stroke, but the second I am careful. Using the tip of my littlest finger I draw the stroke as it is meant to be--three-dimensional so that my finger lifts from my eye at times and pushes in at others. My eye swells and aches and almost bursts as a rush of water pours around its edges and into the cup.
My vision swims and disappears completely as the water pressure snaps connections, leaving my face swollen and my eye nothing but a misshapen lump. I press my palm to my useless eye, forcing down further tears because I fear that they will cause more pain. The agony is quite enough. Quite enough.
When I feel up to it, I stare down into the cup with my good eye. Mostly water. Maybe a little salt. Some eye juice. But purer than tea. Purer than sweat. Purer than tears.
I tear my sleeve and wrap it about my head to cover my eye and then wipe my hands as clean as I can on the rest of my shirt. Then I dip my finger into the water and write the wyrd for it. It swells slightly, but obviously not agreeing that the wyrd is appropriate just yet. Obviously wanting to separate.
I write it slowly and surely again. Whatever tainted the water sinks down and away, leaving the top clean and true. Then I begin again with true excitement despite the pounding in my eye socket. The cup finishes filling on its own. When I write again, the water trickles over the lip. Again and it pours over. Again and it spreads to the edges of my cell. Once more and there is enough of it to write upon the cell floor. So I do.
The water leaks from the cell, under the bars and into the hallway. I hear a splash of the guards' feet and a shout that tells me they are coming. They know and will drag me down to join my brethren. Chop my fingers. Chop my toes. Leave me with no quill to speak of.
I can't let them. So I straighten and trace my fingers in a huge path across the water coating the cell floor.
The wyrd for water is water. And I know it well.
The water explodes into the hall, strong enough to sweep the guards off their feet. I hear one smash against something, but my good eye needs to concentrate on the next wyrd. That next wyrd pours the water against the stone, leaking through it as in my dreams, crashing into it like a tidal wave.
I wish I knew the wyrd for wave. For ocean. For river and tide and current. I wish I knew the wyrds for salt and power and control and crash. But I do not.
I know nothing but water. And that only because I stole my mother's book and practiced it in secret. They kept me here because I am little, but I am still my mother's daughter. I will be a wyrdwizard--the greatest that ever was.
For I will take down this nation with one, single wyrd.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Author Comments

It is my belief that it's not vast power or ability that makes heroes, it's the capability to use what little one already has to accomplish what one needs to do. Often that means we only have our words at our disposal to stand up for what we believe in, and it is how we use them that is important. This story came from taking that idea in a literal sense, to discover what a person could do when given only the bare minimum and a rising desire to help where she knew it was needed.

- Marie Croke
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