Aphelion Issue 255, Volume 24
October 2020
 
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Spring-Child

by Nicole Walsh


Wherever Tia set her feet, water rose. Brown, flaking grass swelled to shallow lakes. Jumbles of stones ignited into long lazy streams. Where she crouched, slow deep wells formed. The water bled long after she left, but not forever.

Tia was carried through the land on a metal chair, gracing those who paid the God-Tithe. Her bare feet blessed huts and houses. She drenched islands of dense green mud in a landscape of dry dust.

On the eve of her fourteenth birthday, on the cusp of a changing season, Tia escaped her minders to scramble through moss-clotted green to the edge of a fertile island. Her slim dark fingers un-latticed a dense green screen of fronds to reveal a landscape of bones and ruins. Beneath her, dust sloughed and slipped to mud. The streaked blue of the sky stroked lifeless dust, laced with the bones of those who could not pay.

“Spring-Child?” her Guardians called.

“Here,” Tia shouted, and returned.

They travelled. Sullen farmers lined roads to toss gifts onto her path: toys carved from wood, combs, god-signs. These snapped beneath the boots of her Guardians. Flowers tumbled through the spokes of her chair like dead mice.

“God-child,” the Guardians announced.

Tia’s mother had been a woman with long black hair. She had visited Tia for two hours of every day. She had taught Tia to read, had sung to her and petted her hair. On the eve of Tia’s seventh birthday her mother was led, smiling, away.

“The seasons turn,” Mother had said.

The following day, where-ever Tia set her foot, water welled. The seven-year-long Drought ended. Led from Temple to Temple, Tia grew from child to woman. Her feet drew damp from the stone of the temple floors, leaving wet footprints for her minders to follow. Pools formed where she stood, staring out across fertile fields, past dry hills, to the long dusty line of the horizon.

“Spring-Child?” her Guardians frowned.

“Here,” she would say.

Her mother had once jumped from her chair and run across a field, souring fertile farmland to swamp. Her great-great-grandmother had fled her duties and flooded the world. The whole valley was silt from that calamity.

“Be good,” Mother had begged.

“Or what?”

“Or the seasons turn faster.”

In the weeks before her twenty-first birthday, Tia lay sleepless in the dark. The whisper of wind across damp-rotted stone kept her awake. It hummed the first notes of a final season. Panic choked Tia. She swung off the sleeping platform. Her feet met a shock of cold, dark water. The splash alerted the Guardians.

They stirred:

“Spring-Child?”

“Here,” she whispered.

Tia closed her eyes. She steadied her breath. Truth lay in her throat like a stone, choking her: the inevitable relentless cycles. Mother had been dead fourteen years. Soon there would be a man for Tia, then a baby, then long years of Drought as that daughter grew.

'Spring-Child', they would call that child.

'Mother', they would call Tia.

Until Tia was led, smiling, away.


2020 Nicole Walsh

Nicole Walsh is a cat enthusiast from the east coast of Australia who loves fern gardens and long dresses. She writes short stories and novel length speculative fiction and urban fantasy.
https://nicolewalshauthor.com/ and www.facebook.com/nicolewalshauthor

Find more by Nicole Walsh in the Author Index.

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