We are told we live in a meritocracy, so we blame our failures on ourselves.
Everyone knows that once a fridge door is closed, it cannot open again for fifty-nine years. I have seen a fridge door open but once. I am one of the lucky ones.
I told myself I wouldn’t let the #BeastFromtheEast get to me. There was nothing it could do to harm me, no hardship I could not overcome. How naïve I was in those first days. How arrogant. How proud. I may have met my match. I just might have met my match.
“Mamma?” Caeda reached up to her mother with grabby hands.
Syndra giggled. “What is it, my sweet?” She pulled Caeda’s fingers off her shirt.
“Do I get a story, mamma?” Caeda stared up at her with the wide eyes of a curious child – how could she refuse?
“Alright. Just one, though. You must get to sleep soon.”
Caeda nodded. “I will! I will! Just one story, mamma!”
Syndra stood up straight and went over to the bookshelf on the other side of the room. “Which one would you like? This one?”
Caeda pulled a face and shook her head.
“How about this one?”
“Mamma!” Caeda whined.
Syndra laughed, and plucked Caeda’s favourite story, The Song of Castle Aldwick, from the bookshelf. She made her way back over to Caeda’s bed, and sat by her feet.
“Alright. I’ll read this one.”
“Yay!” Caeda clapped her hands as Syndra opened the book to the first page.
“Once upon a time, a powerful being known as the Archmage lived in the great Castle Aldwick. Elves loved the Archmage, for he was kind and benevolent, and he had written the Song: a wondrous and powerful tune and lyrics, and the people of Leumia lived in awe and fear of it.
“Those who earned the favour of the Archmage were allowed the secret knowledge of the Song: they were taught single notes, single words, and together, they could have put the pieces together and sung the whole Song, but they didn’t know which order the words and notes went. The Archmage kept it a closely guarded secret, for fear that the power of the Song would fall into the wrong hands.
“The Archmage’s fear was realised the day a thief by the name of Aien broke into Castle Aldwick. Aien had come from a nearby village and was determined to learn the Song, but the Archmage had refused him every time he had asked for he could not let such a powerful magic fall into the hands of a thief. If only Aien could renounce his ways, would the Archmage teach him some of the Song. Over time, Aien grew impatient, and sought to take the Song for himself.
“Now Aien knew one note of the Song, which he had forced a councillor in the Archmage’s court to teach him. He used this note to break down the gates of Castle Aldwick, and to put all of the guards into a deep sleep from which they have yet to awaken.
“But the Archmage heard Aien singing the note, and was enraged. He stormed from his quarters and met Aien at the drawbridge of Castle Aldwick. He despaired at the sight of his guards, sleeping and unable to awaken.
“The Archmage took a deep breath, and prepared to use the Song to banish Aien from Leumia for ever, but Aien had a quicker voice than he, and he used his one note to send the Archmage to the same slumbering realm as his guards. With the castle now empty, Aien made for the Archmage’s quarters, and for the Song he had sought for so long.
“Aien spent the next twenty years locked up in Castle Aldwick learning the Song. Many tried to rescue the Archmage from Aien’s hold, but none knew any of the Song and Aien only grew more powerful each day. When he finally emerged, he had the entire Song at his disposal.
“He went back to his village, and used the Song to kill his greatest enemy. Those who fought to avenge the man also perished at Aien’s voice. By the end of that day, fifteen men lay dead in the village centre.
“Then Aien’s mother came out from her house. Aien had thought her dead, that she had passed on while he slaved over the Song in Castle Aldwick. She begged him to stop, to give up the Song, that no amount of power was worth the atrocities he had committed.
“Seeing his mother’s grief and the destruction he had wrought, Aien agreed, but the people of the village did not believe him. They demanded his exile, and he could not stop them without breaking the promise to his mother. So he and his mother left the village together, and went back to Castle Aldwick.
“When they got there, Aien’s mother stole a sword from one of the slumbering guards, and ran Aien through with it. Then, she went and found the Song in the Archmage’s quarters, and divided it into two parts: one part lyrics, one part notes, and gave each to a different knight with the orders to take the two pieces to the ends of the world, so that no one else might ever use the Song.
“And so the Song is lost, and it will never be heard again.”
Syndra closed the book and looked up at Caeda.
“Mamma?” Caeda asked, as Syndra laid her down to sleep.
“Yes, my child?”
“Will anyone ever find the Song?”
Syndra chuckled. “No, my darling. It is just a story.”
With her eyelids drooping, Caeda gave a slow nod. “Oh. Okay. Night, mother.”
But far away, at the end of the world, the first note of a song was being sung.
I can already see it, faded and worn, in a scrapbook, on a notice board, on a wall somewhere far from here in time and space and whenever he looks at it he gets a little bit happy and a little bit sad, but what’s the point of looking back? You’re still alive. This sentimental bric-a-brac is proof you’ve lived, but you’ve still got living to do. What’s the point of looking back?