1. The Pact.
My father knelt down beside me. Balancing himself on his haunches, he scooped up a handful of dirt from the garden path. He felt it within his grip with a strange satisfaction, as if it were money. On a moment, however, he opened his fingers. All was quiet; all was still: the world had paused, as if it was unsure how to respond to this simple act. Then, Boreas replied. He blew the dirt from my father’s hand in a small cloud and sowed it upon the path and the grass on which I sat. I shivered at the feel of his cold breath upon my bare arms.
“Thaïs,” my father said, patiently, “This is how the world is. We build, and we think that our works will be eternal, but against the power of the wind, they are nothing. If we are fortunate, we will die before the wind shows us this. I have not been fortunate.”
“I hate the wind.” I said. “I curse it.”
“Shh,” father said, “Be careful what you say.”
“But you do not believe in the gods,” I replied, accusingly.
“Maybe that is why we are having this conversation.”
Once upon a time there was a king; he was a powerful man, and he lived in a palace of fire. He did not eat, nor did he drink; he fought many wars. If he was injured, he simply returned to his palace, and wrapped himself in flame, and it healed him. The fire would make him stronger, invincible. This was the first story that my father ever told me. I remembered it now because I wanted to be that king’s queen. I wanted to share in his strength; to share in his power. How I wanted to be powerful!
Powerful. Powerful, so that I had the power to save my father’s business. Powerful, so that I had the power to take revenge on the men who ruined him. Powerful, so that I had the power to bring wealth, honour, and safety to myself. If anyone had told me that it was possible to gain that power by walking into a real fire, I would have done so. I dreamed of doing so; in my waking hours I put my hand as close to the fire of our hearth as I could before the heat drove me away. On the day we lost our home, before the hearth was extinguished, I made a pact with the fire; I promised that if it helped me win back what my father had lost, I would worship it. I cut the palm of my left hand. As blood seeped out, I took a twig. I lit it, and extinguished the flame in my cut hand. The pain! But now I was the fire’s blood sister. I would make my father rich again.