Gwendoline and the Fatemaker – Part 4
A short story.
The sound of her brother’s voice sent tremors through Valencia’s crystallised form. She suspected he would return eventually, to reclaim the seat of his power. It was Gwendoline’s presence that shocked her, stabbed her like a blade through her gut. Valencia had borne her fate like a martyr—relished in it, almost—it was her purpose, her sacrifice; an act of protection.
Valencia sent a call for help rippling through the waters, and her sea-hound rose up to protect her.
“Disarm him,” she commanded in the silent language of the salt that surrounded her. At times like this, Valencia missed her body. She longed to feel the water splashing against her skin, soaking her hair. In years long past, she had swum in the sea with Gwendoline on warm summer days.
Gwendoline had chosen her fate – they all had, in their own way. They were fifteen, when the girls first met in the marketplace. They were seventeen when Gwendoline accompanied the Fatemaker to the Saltmaster’s cavern, and he gave up the name he was born with, and took on the name of his power – the power to bestow any willing person’s purpose upon them, to capture it in a sketch, a painting, a mural, a tattoo. The Fatemaker brought the city its wealth, made merchants out of men, warlords out of women. He changed the world.
Gwendoline had always been a curious girl, and the Fatemaker loved her too much to deny her his gift. Valencia had watched from across the room as her brother sealed Gwendoline’s fate, inked it upon his own skin. He revealed her truth. Gwendoline’s fate was to speak from the heart, to tell the truth no matter how kind or cruel. As the Fatemaker revealed the gifts of the city’s citizens, Gwendoline cut them down, witnessed each person’s deepest insecurities and spoke them aloud. Through Gwendoline’s counsel, even the greatest of destinies was reduced to an anxious “what if?”.
In his friend, his love, his most intimate confidante, the Fatemaker had created his own nemesis.
Valencia herself and never sought her brother’s aid in revealing her destiny. The Fatemaker’s fate was to build, Gwendoline’s was to reveal, but Valencia’s? Valencia’s fate was to observe. She needed no man, no master, no maker to tell her who she was. Valencia knew her time would come, and until then, she continued to observe the world around her, watch the on-again off-again love between Gwendoline and the Fatemaker; they tore each other to shreds every time they bared their hearts, yet an invisible thread tied them together, kept them crawling back no matter how often they broke each other.
Gwendoline was the one to walk away for good – she, too, was observant, in her way. Gwendoline spoke the truth, but she could not often see the truth. She waded through murky waters until she stumbled upon the conclusion that had evaded both she and her lover-turned-adversary: there was no way to end the cycle, except to freeze it entirely. The Fatemaker could return Gwendoline’s heart to her, but he could not undo the gift he had given. She knew her power, no one could take it away from her now, so Gwendoline sought help from the one who had started it all.
Valencia wasn’t sure what had possessed her to follow Gwendoline to the Saltmaster’s cavern – perhaps it was curiosity, or an inner knowing; perhaps it was simply that she couldn’t escape the learned habit of constant observation. Regardless of how she came to be there, Valencia lurked inside the edge of the cave on that dark, stormy night 23 years ago.
She watched as Gwendoline took a dagger to her chest cavity, and thrust the same dagger into the depths of the Saltmaster. Blood and rock were transmuted into saltwater, a putrid liquid formed from the darkest magic – every heart Gwendoline’s heart had ever touched. Valencia didn’t follow Gwendoline as she left the cavern and set out on her journey to the canal, to isolate herself in a gondola frozen in time.
Instead, Valencia observed the Saltmaster. Something about him was familiar – a familiarity that would have gone unnoticed, if she had not been surrounded by his presence since the moment of her birth. Valencia knew the Saltmaster; she had grown up with him.
The sea-hound’s return shook Valencia out of her reverie. In its jaw was a mangled chunk of her brother’s arm. She studied the images on his skin: the heart Gwendoline had willingly offered, the hair of Valencia’s he had claimed without her asking, and a final image, of a headless man. The Fatemaker was no fool, even with his self split in two, he had made certain that he, and only he, was the master of his own fate.
As the sea-hound dropped the Fatemaker’s flesh into the wound in Valencia’s rock, she felt the shift within her. Rock cracked open to reveal soft, human skin, and Valencia spoke with her own voice for the first time in two decades.
“Wake up!” Gwendoline shook the Fatemaker’s unconscious body. “Wake up! Valencia is the Saltmaster!”
The Fatemaker did not move. The pain in Gwendoline’s heart lessened as she grew accustomed to its presence. It beat like a drum in her ears, reminding her that she was human and alive, and her fate belong to no one but herself. Focused as she was on her attempt to wake the Fatemaker, Gwendoline did not notice the splashing of feet through seawater. It was only when her old friend stood above her on the beach that Gwendoline noticed Valencia’s presence.
“Gwen.” Valencia, too, had been frozen in time. Her brown hair billowed around her in the wind, and her pale blue dress was torn at the hem. “Gwen,” she repeated.
Gwendoline stood up. Fear coursed through her veins. The Fatemaker lay at her feet, and she didn’t know whether to protect him or run.
“You’re the Saltmaster,” Gwendoline said finally.
“I was,” Valencia answered, “for a time.” She walked away from Gwendoline, into the sea, until the water came up to her knees. She tipped her head back and drank in the light of the moon. “It was the only way to save him.”
“Him?” Gwendoline looked from Valencia to the Fatemaker.
“His was the first fate he ever made, doomed himself to a life of service, split between the greater good, and paying the price of knowledge.”
“Loneliness,” Gwendoline said.
“Loneliness. It’s the price of knowledge.”
“I disagree.” Valencia turned to face her. “Forced ignorance is the true price of knowledge. My brother didn’t know he was the Saltmaster; the knowledge would have destroyed him. He split himself in two, lived a life of denial to save himself from the truth.”
“He knew he made his own fate,” Gwendoline said. “The third tattoo… It’s himself.”
“A man and not a rock,” Valencia said. “Even in denial, seeds of realisation find ways to creep in. But he was never truly master of his own fate. No one can return the gifts my brother gave them. But the gift he gave himself? It could be torn right off his skin, because he never gifted himself the knowledge behind it.”
“How did you become the Saltmaster?” Gwendoline asked.
“He wasn’t trapped in his fate, because he didn’t know it. I still had a chance to save him.” Valencia looked away before she spoke the next words. “I didn’t have anything else to lose.”
“If he’s not the Saltmaster, and you’re not either now, who is?”
Valencia didn’t mean to smile—she wasn’t cruel by nature—but it felt right to be a little cruel when delivering the news of such an unfortunate fate.
“Why you are, my dear,” Valencia said. “From the moment our jug shattered, and your power returned to its maker. You may have your heart back, but when you give another the power to determine your fate, you’ll never truly be free of his influence.”
Valencia didn’t look back at Gwendoline as she strode deeper into the sea. Tonight, she had lost a brother, a self-imposed prison, a chapter of her life; she was not ready to admit she had also lost a friend.