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Breath & Shadow

Summer 2020 - Vol. 17, Issue 2

"Beneath the Green Sun"

written by

Elyssa D. Perkins

The elderly woman looks down at her unshackled feet and unburdened wrists. Fingers, toes, arms, and legs are bonier than she remembers; the ripped and filthy prison shift cannot hide her emaciation. She walks with a back the shape of the cane she should have, hands in front for balance, feet dragging against cliff rocks that bite. Her knees ache. Darkness falls. Rain follows. Bitter ocean wind sears and soaks her, smelling of

salt, which reminds her of sweat and tears and broken promises.

She doesn’t care. She is looking for her lover.


Stooped toward the ground, the cliff rises up in front of her rather than dropping and bucks her back in time to another rocky shore, one she had known so well beneath the window of her cell. She pauses, shuffles, takes in her surroundings. No, the towering prison is nowhere to be seen. She is in the right place, so she curls her toes back toward the sea, against the rough rocks, then continues along the edge.

Just there. A sea stack looms in the water, black and sharp as knives.

The old woman nods and follows as land drops into the sea. Her hand raises and, with it, so does a row of stones sharpened and cracked: a vicious pathway leading down to the water’s edge. The stones are not steps; they prick and cut and draw blood, but she does not stop.

Abused feet are numbed soon enough by the water. The waves stir sea ice into clinking shards; their swell freezes her lungs as her shift floats upward. She lifts her head, jaw toward the stars as she carries on. When she can no longer reach the ground, she treads slowly forward on course with only her arms, a forgotten buoy.

It is fate, she believes, that the current takes her to the rocks. It bashes her against them at first, but, once the waves falter, she is able to drag herself up onto their island teeth. Her hair tangles with seaweed: black strands in pure white that matches her skin’s translucent glow under the crescent moon. Still as driftwood, she rests. Goosebumps rise on her arms; her lungs and heart sputter and stall in the icy air.

The rocks sharp against her back might be the softness of a lover’s fingertips tracing vertebrae; the moon, the white smile of a lost love. She smiles and reaches toward the warmth. The stars seem to glow the yellow candlelight of ballrooms tinkling with practiced laughter, soft stringed instruments, and toasts of mead. It would be easier to stop breathing, she thinks up at them.

But the stars glint insistently until she must listen. Her lover was once named for a star, they remind her, and they call her present purpose. To the stars, she nods. She will continue. She pushes herself up to her hands and knees then slowly, painfully stands. Gnarled hands counterbalance her kyphotic back. Her feet shake against the harsh, black rubble, and her steps are slow, but she does not stop.

Before her, in the midst of the jagged pathway she follows, a black chasm opens against the ocean, so dark that her eyes strain simply to look upon it; so dark that she cannot even see the ocean fall into it. It is as though it steals the ocean and all its

reflected light. Only a glance up at the stars assures her that she has not gone blind.

She doesn’t fear the darkness. She carries on, beginning to crawl as the water swallows her, for she must go down and if not for the rock she clings to with brittle fingers, she

might float away. With raw toes and shaking arms, eyes stinging with salt and lungs bursting with trapped breath, she feels for the edge of the trench then strains downward

against the tides.

Her head begins to swim from the pressure around it and from the pressure in her lungs; her ears pulse until it seems almost like a song; her skin crawls as though with magic. Even as her body remains with all its strength connected to the stones, her mind floats away to memories of magic and laughter, of dances in flames, of promises and vows, of secrets and trust, of certainty. All had ended in bloodshed and, finally, imprisonment, as do so many things that once seemed right.

The earth seems to tilt. She remembers him as she last saw him, nearly fallen to his knees, cut, knife before him, hand raised and spread in concentration, magic on his lips.

The rock against her chest that she clings to so desperately seems determined to escape her as her vision blurs black. It is above her then below her then against her again. She hastens further down.

Yet rather than submerge, the water breaks against her fingers and back and she knows she is now climbing upward. With a deep, shuddering gasp, she opens her eyes and feels air again. The world has flipped. Above her is the deep darkness she has

chased—vast emptiness rather than sky—and below her, in the trench, are the stars of her home, twinkling between swift shadows left by the currents of the ocean. The water now is the same temperature as the air, and once she pulls herself out onto this new land, the ocean is no longer the endless deep of sea but comes only to her waist, shallow and clear. Blinking away water and rheumatic blur, she can see all the waters


Funeral boats float between her and a land whose coast looks exactly like the one she left behind. Some are tilted on their sides, against stones, or entirely upended. They smell of rot, moss, and dead enchantments. They fill the strange sea all the way until the horizon. In the middle of this horizon, whether setting or rising, a sun glows green.

The old woman nods to herself. This is what she expected.


She had heard, oh she had. She heard again and again, each time she croaked out that single name to anyone who would listen. His name: that mythical star that meant the Hunter’s Glory. It took them time to remember him by it, enough time that when they answered, she doubted their memory, but when she asked for his description, it was clear. It was him. He’d escaped for as long as a person could. By then, he’d had a

different name: the one they remembered, the one they’d carved into his left palm for his soul and legacy to be recognized during its passage.


Bleeding feet creep toward the nearest boat that still floats. She steps carefully over the gaps between stones, avoiding the soothing waters. She does not trust her shaky body near the water yet, and so she uses the last of her strength to drag the boat against land before clambering in. She collapses onto her back, looks up at the abyss, and wonders if there is rock dark as obsidian high above or, if in the land of the dead, there

can be true Nothing.

Tiredly, she gropes for the oar. It takes her seven times to push herself off into the water, inch by inch until she bobs upon the surface. Slowly she turns, hangs her chin and elbows against the hull’s edge.

Bodies float beneath the boats, glowing with the green tinge of their new sun. Some are pale, some are black as night. Golden hair mingles with red mingles with black. Eyes glint strange colors in the strange light.  Her aging vision blurs their features; the green sun distorts their coloration.

But she will know. She has seen him in every light.

The boat flows with strange, swirling currents, as though the ocean itself wishes to seek each face with her. It will take hours, years, eons to find anyone this way, but she can wait. She has time now.


She remembers, through the stories of others, being born in a cold room despite summer sun; cold to kill disease. She remembers her first touch of magic being the warming spell that allowed her to remain naked against her mother’s still-heavy belly. Her mother, so cold of hand naturally, had used that spell often to care for her.

She remembers growing in wild fields, wild jungles, wild deserts. They moved with the armies her mother healed. She remembers her mother cursing each battle. She remembers doing the same when she met a young boy growing in the camp, trained to hold and throw knives since he could walk, trained to kill since he could run.

She remembers him cursing the wars after a father’s death, an uncle’s execution, a mother’s stories of peace. The realization that the war was for magic he had but learned to keep hidden, for the magic to heal without herbs, without learning, with only touch, was seen as a threat to the gods and, of course, to the crown’s ability to kill.

Why hadn’t he healed himself?

Had he never planned to once he had taken his knife and sword and soul and turned their edges toward home?

Her mind wanders through manors, through castle corridors, through forest clearings, through hidden underground labyrinths. Sometimes, here, she hears laughter, but mostly she hears screams of treason.

Her life. Long ago, far away. A dream more realistic than the present.

She can see his face, bathed in the bright yellow of memory: cold grey oceanic eyes but warm brown skin, a smile only for her and in the rarest moments. She reaches forward desperately and her vision clears back to the cold death-green.


But even as the past clears, he remains before her.


His face is pale now, nearly dusky enough to match his eyes, one of which is left. His hair gently floats around his face, caressing forehead and jaw with curls. He aged before dying, but not as much as herself. His new name means disgraced, but in her eyes he is exactly the same. He is glory.

It is over now. Her reaching fingertips touch the water’s surface.

His remaining eye flashes fully open. His mottled hand grabs her wrist with bruising strength.

The old woman calmly takes a breath and dips her head into the water.

In the silence, only the boat remains.

Elyssa D Perkins has long been an avid reader and writer of fantasy in private until recently deciding to take on her own fantasies. Perhaps due to a lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder type I, she has been attracted to psychosocial themes and morally grey characters since a young age. She also finds herself particularly interested in the veil between life and death and death as a stage of life rather than an ending. This belief in

the importance of life, as well as death, has drawn her to specialize in hospice during her daytime hours as an RN.

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