Saturday, 17 September 2016

Short Story: Keeping Promises

I ended up writing a much happier story today. Probably because it's Saturday.

Day two of the challenge is in the bag.

Keeping Promises

It had been many years since she’d last seen the gleaming spires of her homeland. Too many. Her heart ached at the sight, so familiar and yet, not the same. The unmistakeable mark of progress was evident in the new towers and buildings. No doubt time had wrought changes on the people too.
Was she still the same? Would she still remember her?
Doubt swirled in Fliss’s mind but she had to try. She’d promised.
She made her way down in to the city, the steps still so familiar after so long away. The smells and sounds of the marketplace were unchanged, all cinnamon and coffee and people arguing over price. She breathed deep of the scent of home.
There was a rhythm to the chaos, an almost predictable ebb and flow. Almost, because as soon as you figured out the pattern it changed again, and you had to either stand your ground or change with it, being swept along with the crowd. Fliss was out of practice at this dance but she remembered the steps well enough; her instincts were still sound.
She left the market behind and made her way down into the Old Town. Here too time had wrought its changes. Someone in their wisdom had evidently decided on some sort of regeneration scheme; many of the buildings sported new timber and a fresh lick of paint. But there was a certain timelessness to the dusty cobble streets and Fliss’s feet found their way sure enough.
The house was at the other end of Old Town, tucked up against the city wall. When Fliss had last been here the roof had been riddled with holes but now it sported a fresh thatch. A small boy was playing with a squirming pile of kittens in the yard, his knees and elbows and face all dirty. He looked up as Fliss passed and there was something familiar about the keen flash of his blue eyes, the precise brown of his skin under all the dirt. A faint thrum of possibility shuddered in Fliss’s chest. She tamped it down ruthlessly.
This was about keeping a promise, fulfilling an oath, not mending the things she’d broken so long ago. She held no hope for a future here. Life had long since beaten hopefulness out of her.
She hesitated before knocking and chided herself for it. She had brought empires to their knees, stared down philosophers and kings, steadfast and resolute. And yet when it came to knocking on the door of a simple hovel she was laid low.
The boy looked up at her. There was no judgement in his eyes, just a kindliness that made Fliss’s heart ache and her stomach wish she hadn’t had any lunch. The boy scrambled to his feet, kittens flying every which way with irritated yowls, stumbled over and knocked for her. He nodded once and returned to placate the kittens, his job done.
A short, middle-aged woman answered the door, wiping her hands on a kitchen cloth. Her hair was grey and her skin was wrinkled and worn, like cracked brown leather, comfortable and safe. Familiar. Almost painfully so.
“Can I help you?” said the woman. Her tone was as kind as her face, warm and soft. The voice conjured up memories of tea and fresh baked bread and hugs that were strong enough to break bones.
Fliss smiled. “I promised I’d come back, and I’m here. Hello Cait.”
The woman’s icicle eyes went wide with shock and then disbelief. “Fliss? Is that really you?” She choked a little on the words, emotion threatening to rise up her throat and spill out.
“It’s me,” she said. “I’ve come home.”
Cait pulled Fliss into one of the bone-crushing hugs she remembered so well. Hot, wet tears soaked into her travelling cloak, and she wasn’t sure whether they belonged to her or Cait. The woman pulled back, her eyes wet but full of warmth.
“Let me look at you,” Cait said, and Fliss felt naked under her penetrating glare. “You look good,” she said with a broad grin that showed off a handful of scraggly teeth. “A sight for sore eyes indeed. I never thought I’d see you again.”
“I told you when I left that I’d come back to you one day,” Fliss said quietly. “I promised, and I never break my promises.”
“I know,” Cait said. “But the years have a habit of making us forget. I almost couldn’t remember your face.” There was sadness in her voice at that, and Fliss understood. How often over the years had she struggled to recall memories of the home she’d left to see the world? How many times had she questioned whether it was worth it, when she could remember oaths of fealty and names of nobility more easily than the faces of those she loved best?
“Well, it’s here now.”
“Yes, and you’ve barely aged a day,” Cait said, sounding astonished. “You look just like I remember you the day you left. And I–”
“You’re perfect,” Fliss interrupted, wrapping her arms around Cait. “You’re everything I ever dreamed about for years.” They were silent for a while then, just enjoying the feel of each other in their arms, the sound of their mingled breaths. “I’m here to stay you know?” Fliss murmured after a while. “My adventures are over.”
“You’re sure,” Cait said sharply, and Fliss couldn’t begrudge her the suspicion. “You won’t run off in the middle of the night to go see the world some more?”
Fliss shook her head. “I’m done. I’m sorry it took me so long to realise but… my home is here, like my heart.”
Cait’s gaze was soft as Fliss said the words. “What will you do?”
“Tell stories. Write about the things I’ve done and seen. Love you like I should have done all along. Let life just happen for once, instead of running at it head on. I made you a promise when I left that I would come back, and I have. Now I promise that the only way I’m leaving you is when Death himself comes for me.”
Cait nodded. “I believe you,” she said, and pulled Fliss in for another hug. This one lasted a long, long time.
“Who’s the boy in the yard?” Fliss asked when they parted. “He knocked on the door for me.” She ducked her head, suddenly embarrassed, heat flooding her cheeks. “I wasn’t quite brave enough.”
“That’s Jon, my son. He’s good at recognising what people need, even when they don’t know it themselves.” Cait’s smile was soft and fond.
“Your son?” Fliss was surprised at that.
“You have your stories and I have mine. Tell me one of yours and you’ll get the truth from me.”
“Deal,” Fliss said with a grin.
“Come on. It’s nearly time for dinner, and you should be introduced to Jon properly.” Cait stuck her head out the door and called the boy in, warning him to make sure he washed his hands first.
Fliss sighed and sat at the table. The house smelled of bread and stew, rich and homely. The cadence of Cait’s voice as she chided Jon was familiar, comforting. She knew without a doubt she’d made the right decision. She’d kept her promise.
She’d come home.

If you enjoyed this story feel free to purchase one of my books either here, or here. Or you can buy me a coffee here.

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