Thanksgiving, by Julie Gilbert

“Runyon cider?”

“Nope.”

“Sveltish wool?”

“Nope.”

“By the gods, Hazael, there must be something you’re thankful for,” Starfish said, stretching out her legs behind the dumpster in back of the tavern.

“Nope.  Safer that way,” the old sailor replied, hunkering over his mug of crayfish broth.

“What about eel pastries from Solly’s cart?” she persisted, waving her lunch in front of his nose.  “Look, Hazael, if you’re not thankful for eel pie, I don’t even want to know you.”

“Eel pie gives me the runs,” Hazael said right as Starfish took a bite.  Her mouth full of flaky pastry, Starfish flicked her fingers in a rude gesture.  Hazael cackled, a rusty sound that revealed his few remaining teeth.

“If they ever drag me in front of the stone, I’ll be fine,” Starfish boasted.  “I’ve got a whole list of things I’m thankful for.  It’s you I’m worried about.”

“That stone has piss to do with giving thanks.  Those Eireans bewitched it to sniff out their enemies.  That’s all.”

“It’s rooted out sixty-five rebels this year already, plus the riots have stopped. You can’t deny it works.”

“So do my bowels but you don’t see me using them to test my friends.”

“You haven’t had to follow you into the outhouse,” Starfish muttered.

“Safer not to be thankful for anything,” Hazael grunted.

“That attitude won’t get you any friends,” Starfish said.  “Now me, on the other hand –”

“That’s her!” a voice interrupted.  Hazael, quick for his age, vanished over the fence as city guards swarmed the alley.  Starfish started to follow but her boot caught on a nail.

“Too bad, girl,” a guard taunted, hauling her down.

“I didn’t do anything!” she protested.

“You’ve been named.”

“By who?”

“Your associates were quick to talk when we caught them at the docks.”

“I had nothing to do with that!”  Another lie.

The guard dragged her to the square, his hand tight around her arm.  Starfish scanned the crowd for a glimpse of Hazael but all she saw were cloaked figures, heads bowed and eyes darting over the cobblestones.

“Make way,” the guard called, hauling Starfish to the center of the square.  She shook off his hand and scowled at the figures standing in the royal balcony.  A little girl, her hair the color of wheat, tilted her head to the side.  The crown on her forehead threatened to slide off.

“Bow before your queen,” the guard rasped, shoving Starfish’s knees.

“I know, you ass,” she muttered, dipping her head before turning to face the stone, a block of milky quartz, almost as tall as she.  The surface was chipped and the color was flat gray.  She’d never been this close to the stone before.  Starfish’s gaze flickered to the young girl on the balcony.  Her head was still tilted to the side, although someone had secured her crown.

“What are you waiting for?” her guard said.  “Scared?”

“Shut your face,” Starfish muttered.  She drew a deep breath and laid her hand against the stone.  It felt cool and gritty, like the window in her attic room.

“I am…I am grateful for all the Royal House of Eiriea has bestowed upon me,” she said in a loud voice, the ritual words surfacing from somewhere deep in her mind.  “I open my heart and mind to be examined.

For a moment nothing happened.  The stone remained cool beneath her palm.  Starfish frowned.  Was she free?

Then a clear voice floated down from the balcony.

“What in particular?” the young queen asked.  “You have been accused of thievery, a crime punishable by death.  Share your thanks for what the throne has given you and perhaps your life will be spared, should the stone deem you worthy.”

Starfish was certain the stone would find her anything but worthy.  She opened her mouth to start her litany when sudden images flashed through her mind:  affectionate parents killed in the western campaign, a cousin who took her in before succumbing to plague, Hazael’s gruff charity, which saved her life when she first arrived in the city.

“I’m thankful that I know where I stand with my friends without having to test them.”

A muffled gasp moved through the crowd.  The queen’s head snapped straight.

Starfish closed her eyes.  She had spoken treason.  There was nothing to do but wait for the stone to flash its lightening and kill her.  As she waited, the stone shuddered and grew warm.  Starfish cracked her eyes to see the boulder glowing like starlight.

“The stone agrees!” someone cried.  “The girl is right.  The throne is wrong!”  In the square around her, the crowd was coming to the same realization.

There were shouts, the rasp of knives being drawn, the thud of rocks slamming into the balcony.

“The stone sides with us!”

Her guard fell to the ground, a dagger in his back.  Starfish saw the girl queen collapse, blood gushing as a knife flashed near her throat.  Her crown rolled off the edge of the balcony, trailing a few strands of wheat-colored hair.

“What is this?” Starfish gasped, the crowd thundering around her.

“The end of the Eiriean throne,” a woman said, her face sticky with gore, her eyes glittering.  “Join us.  You made this possible.”  She held out a knife to Starfish.

Starfish’s boots slipped in pools of blood as she raced across the square to a familiar squat figure peeking out from behind a wall.  Bodies thudded to the ground around her as the crowd overtook the guards.

Later, on the ship to Laecoso, Hazael found her at the rail.

“You more thankful for eel pies or for the fact that you started a revolution?”

“You were right,” Starfish said, her hands trembling, unable to shake the image of the falling crown.  “You’re only safe if you’re not thankful for anything.”

Hazael laid a hand on her shoulder.  Starfish shrugged off his touch and sought her empty cabin.

~~~

I am a librarian living in rural Minnesota. In my spare time, I chase my small children and escape for walks in cemeteries. My work has appeared in Foliate Oak. My blog, Cemeteries & Pajamas, can be found at juliekgilbert.com.

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Posted on October 9, 2014, in Issue 15: Elves & Spacerockets and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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