Zelkova paddled across the lake, taking care to disturb the water as little as possible. She slipped the oar in the water, pulled it towards her, and gently lifted it before repeating the process all over again. She could almost believe she was alone, and that she was paddling out in the open air. Crystals sparkled in the cavern ceiling, and Zelkova could almost believe that they were stars.
Ruby turned and scowled at her. “Do we have to go so slow?” She pushed a lock of red hair away from her freckled face. “At this rate, we’ll never get there.”
“We’re going fast enough, especially since it’s just me paddling. I could pitch you overboard—see how fast we go then.” She smiled.
Ruby gasped and then narrowed her eyes. “I should expect such rudeness from a goblin.”
Zelkova sighed. “You know I’m a dwarf, just like you.”
Ruby seemed to give it some thought, and then said, “We’ll see.” She clutched onto the vase she held in her lap and turned back around.
The water lapped against the boat in rhythmical waves, and a breath of wind stirred their hair. Ruby’s hair was like her name—as red as it was beautiful. Zelkova’s hair was black as ink—a mark of her low birth and even lower caste. That Ruby had called her a goblin was not unusual—others had called her far worse.
They remained in silence as Zelkova paddled. Every now and then, Ruby would sniffle, but she never spoke, and so Zelkova also said nothing. In time, they came to the sparkling shore of an island. Zelkova got out and pulled the boat ashore before extending a hand to Ruby—but the woman just held onto her vase and got out of the boat herself.
Holding a lantern, Zelkova led the way along a path that glittered like beveled glass. Tall grass rustled and swayed, throwing out long and dancing shadows. They came to a grove, within which stood a tree with opaline leaves. Ruby walked up to it and kneeled. She whispered some words, but Zelkova couldn’t hear what they were.
Then Ruby took her vase and poured out a cloud of ashes. The dust dissipated on a gentle breeze, floating up to the iridescent leaves before settling to the ground like a delicate veil. Ruby stood there, vase in her hand, as she stared at the tree, still and silent.
“Are you all right?” Zelkova asked.
Ruby turned at blinked at her. Then she said, “He said he’d take care of me, that I’d never need to worry for as long as he lived.” She turned away. “It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.”
“But it has,” Zelkova said.
Ruby turned back towards her, her eyes fiery and lips trembling. “What do you care, goblin? What would you know about love?”
“I know that it’s fleeting and can’t be captured, and can only be cherished in the moment in which it lives.”
Ruby’s anger withered, and she clapped a hand over her mouth as she stifled a sob.
Zelkova put her arms around her, holding Ruby as she wept on Zelkova’s shoulder.
“A new beginning,” Zelkova said.
Ruby calmed and composed herself, smoothing her hair and straightening her shoulders. She set the vase down by the tree. “A new beginning,” she said. Then she and Zelkova returned to the water.
And that concludes this year’s A to Z Challenge. I’d like to thank everyone who’s stopped by, and who cheered me on with kind and encouraging comments. You guys make all the toil worth it.
A few people have suggested I put these stories into a book, and I’m planning on doing just that. It won’t be anything fancy, just these stories that were on the blog in ebook form. I plan on giving the book to my subscribers, as a thank you for their support. If you’d like a copy, or if you’d just like to stay in touch, you can subscribe here.
Warning: Shameless self-promotion!
Since I’m on the toot-yer-own-horn bandwagon, I thought I’d take the opportunity to mention my novel The Thirteenth Tower is currently on sale for 99 cents. If you liked the stories on the blog, you might like the book, since, you know, same author and stuff. You can find it on Amazon, Apple, and Google Play. The sale will be going on until May 11th.
Anyway I had a lot of fun this year. It was a great opportunity for me to try my hand at shorter fiction, and to let my imagination go nuts. I’ll probably write a post about it later. Thanks again everyone, all the supportive readers and enthusiastic bloggers and hosts and co-hosts–all of you who make this whole thing possible. You guys rock.