Men Who Do Not Burn
By Amanda Orive.
“He was born of fire, their home set aflame one night by an enemy. The panic sent his mother into labor two months too soon. Her midwife, a trusted ally, tried to get her out, but it was too late…” The old woman stirred the soup on the stove. “She was crowning, moving into labor fast, too fast. They found a closet further from the bulk of the flames, and settled. Most of the fair woman’s clothing had been burnt off; there was no difficulty in moving what was left to help with the child.”
The boy, a young man now, really, sat wide eyed, entranced by his Nana’s tales.
She walked over to him, letting her hands speak so loudly as her tongue. She smacked her hands together, “a CRACK came, and the walls and ceilings fell. ‘One more push!’ the midwife called. The lady screamed. Fear trapped in her eyes, she stared at the woman before her risking her life to save a child not her own. ‘Help me,’ the lady said. ‘I can’t push anymore,’ and handed the midwife a knife.”
“Yes. A knife.” She retook her seat on a stool.
“In the middle of a fire?”
Nana nodded confidently.
“Where did she get it from?”
“Do you want to keep interrupting or do you want me to tell the story?”
“I swear, Nana. You change this story every time you tell it.”
“Go ahead,” the young man said, laughing.
Excited, she began again: “The midwife grabs hold of her lady’s other arm and shakes her head, refusing to cut her mistress open. The lady held open the midwife’s left hand, and forced the knife into it.”
“You’ve definitely changed the story.”
Nana grew frustrated. She slammed the wooden spoon on the counter and stood. Then, lifting that same hand to a flat height near her thigh, she yapped: “the last time I told you this story, you were this tall. Your childhood memory fails you.”
He reached for a cracker at the center of the table. Upon hearing of his visit, she’d lain out his favorites: red grapes, corn & quinoa crackers, fresh cheese, and olives. Oh, how he loved olives. He smiled, taking a bite. “Perhaps your advanced age fails your memory.”
She stared, gaging the intent of his words.
They held stagnant for a moment, until he continued munching, and then laughed together.
“You do keep it interesting, Nana.”
Her smile ran away, sadness drained her cheeks. That title brought her broken hearted memories.
His voice brought her from her daydream.
“Are you alright?”
She looked at him. Such fierce, wild eyes he had, passion could be felt in his presence. “I’m fine,” smiling again.
The boy moved closer to her, consumed with concern.
She held her gesture, rolling eyes at her mental description of him. “I just have to remember that you’re not a boy anymore.” The lie encompassed a half truth. Enough for him to believe her.
“I’m sorry if my comment offended, I was just teasing.”
“No, no, my son. You’ve done me no offense.”
He smiled at her in admiration. “Will you tell me the end of the story?”
“Legend,” she corrected, “and you already know it.”
“Not the version you’re about to come up with.” He winked.
“Cute.” She pinched his cheek, just as she used to when he was barely even a boy. “Alright.” She sat down once more. “So, the midwife takes the knife and cuts her mistress just so,” she showed him with the spoon.
He looked nauseous.
“The woman was crying. They were not tears of fear or pain, they were of gratitude. Time was running out. More and more of the house was coming down in flames. They could hear servants wailing. She worked quickly, and blood stained everything. Finally, another cry came. That of a child, a newborn.” Nana paused, recalling the actual scene, the reality of her fear, and the truth of her choices. Grief became her. Not wishing to alarm him again, she told on: she lied. “The midwife cut the cord and handed the child to her mistress. ‘Letheros,’ the woman said, looking into the eyes of her son. ‘Your name is Letheros.’
“A pillar fell behind them, fire donned into the room. ‘My lady, we must go!’ She never removed her gaze from her son. ‘I fear, sweet friend, I cannot follow.’ Blood continued to pool around her, despite the midwife’s attempts to stop the bleeding. ‘Curse them Letheros,’ she looked deeply into his eyes, he was in awe of her love and passion. ‘Curse the men who do not burn.’ She kissed Letheros on his head, then handed him to her friend, life escaping before words could be let out. She saw her mistress pass swiftly, honoring her for a moment. Fear returned to her and she ran, the survival of Letheros her only thought.”
“Did they live?”
Nana stood to check on the stew. “Yes.”
“They got away?”
“So it is said.”
“And… did Letheros avenge his mother?”
She turned from the concoction, seeing the desperate curiosity in him. “That is how the legend of Letheros began. He has yet to fulfill his destiny.”
He looked at the counter. “Why name me after a failure?”
Nana clutched his arms, forcing his gaze. “He is not a failure. He has been learning, growing, preparing. When the time comes, you will have the name of not just a legend, but also a champion.”
He nodded contently.
“I made your favorite gumbo. Now let me tell you about how the legend of Mithros began.”
They ate together in merriment.
(Image retrieved from Snow Brains: Miles Clark, 2013