My thanks to Chuck Wendig for this week’s prompt. The goal? Write a story (under 1,000 words) with the title “The Fire of the Gods”. Here’s my submission (983 words).
The Fire of the Gods
Rachel’s mother always said that her father’s words were filled with the fire of the gods.
Rachel thought her mother was full of it.
She hadn’t always – in fact, when she was younger, she had listened raptly to every word he spoke. She would run her hands through his silky hair as he read to her: he had a way unlike no other of making stories come alive. As she would drift off to sleep, she used to wish that the stories would never cease.
Now all she wanted was for him to shut up.
As she grew older, she began to realize that her father’s words weren’t filled with fire, but with venom, spitting at anyone that dared cross him. At ten she kept quiet, hoping not to provoke him. At thirteen, she deliberately avoided him. At sixteen, she began talking back, hoping to convince him that the young men that wandered the streets late at night weren’t out to steal them blind or kill them all.
Of course, he didn’t listen, and when discipline didn’t work he disowned her. Now all that she could do was wander those very same streets, trying to scrounge together enough money to eat.
Not that she minded: anything was preferable to being back under his roof.
Rachel’s father’s words were filled with the fire of the gods.
Ethan hadn’t heard them himself, but all the men and most of the women had said something similar over the course of his life. The elves idolized him and obeyed without question, turning viciously against anyone who dared cross him. Over the last twenty years they had evicted many from the town: only a few humans were left and they kept their heads down as they scraped a living out of what they could grow in small rooftop gardens.
He was more interested in the daughter than the man. Ethan had known her all his life, albeit from a distance. She had never even looked his way, although it would have been difficult to see him in the brush or shadows he always hid in. Of course, it had always been a wasted cause: he would never be allowed to speak with her.
It broke his heart to acknowledge that Rachel always looked sad. He couldn’t remember ever seeing her smile, which was a pity, because she probably had a beautiful smile. All he had ever wanted was to see it.
Daniel’s words filled the square with the fire of the gods.
He could see it, in the faces staring up at him. He could sense it, in the energy of the crowd. He could taste it as it flowed in burning waves off his tongue.
The humans had to leave his town; them and their filth. “They have leveled the forest and polluted the water. They have ruined the soil and sullied the meadows. They make our children sick and our animals barren.” He could see the crowd nodding with every beat of his speech. He had them in his grip now.
“And when they grow tired of destroying our land, they come after us. They steal from our women when their backs are turned. They prey on our sons and turn them against us. They kidnap our daughters for their own sick pleasures, returning them to us alive and broken, if at all.
“It is time for this travesty to end! It is time for us to take back the land that is ours! It is time we stood for what is right! Are you with me?”
The square filled with the passionate yells of dozens of men, hefting axes and swords high into the air. Daniel smiled as the noise died. “Then, my friends, we should – ”
“I’m not.” A single voice, uncertain but powerful, rang through the near-silent square.
The words died on Daniel’s lips. “Rachel?”
Her clothes were tattered and her face was dirty, but she held her head high and looked him in the eyes when she spoke. “Are you surprised to see me, Father?”
He turned his back on her. “You’re dead to me.”
“You didn’t say that last week.” She said to his back. “Or the week before that, or the week before that. It’s funny how I’m conveniently not dead when you need a warm body to care for your soul. Or is it only your cock that I’m caring for every Friday?”
The crowd gasped. Daniel stared fiercely at the stage, barely cognizant of the figure slowly creeping through the crowd as he willed the words to return to him.
“Why can’t you admit it, Father? Are you ashamed of yourself? You didn’t seem ashamed when I was thirteen. Or ten. You certainly weren’t ashamed when I was six, were you? It was all a game to you then.”
He shook his head and opened his mouth to speak, but no words came.
“Or are you simply too afraid to admit that you’re no better than the men you demonize? Good, kind men, who want nothing but a peaceful life?”
He remained mute as he stared at her, mouth slack.
She sighed. “You disgust me.”
The end of the sentence never came. The words left him for good as he gasped one last time, bending over the hilt of the dagger that was buried in his stomach. Pain radiated from it to his chest and the air swirled with tiny dots of light as he gasped for air.
A shadow had come from the crowd for him.
He fell to the stage, struggling to focus his vision on the face of his once beloved daughter.
“I know you.” He heard her say. “You used to play on the other side of the park.”
“I was too afraid to say hello. I’m Ethan.”
And as his eyes closed, Daniel thought he saw his daughter smile.