This story is by Sam Viavant and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Marwen felt strange as her uncle approached. Radoc had been family, but it had been years since she’d seen the man, and now he was a priest, a representative of mystery and power. He had been summoned to relieve the drought, and when his eyes met Marwen, she felt a stab of unease at their weight.
‘I bring bad news,’ her uncle sighed. ‘Do you remember Vilnus?’
Marwen nodded, recalling the legend of the man who’d given his body to bring water. It had been a barren year, so dry the oasis had turned to clay, and Vilnus had agreed to become the wind, to carry clouds from far away.
‘I remember,’ Marwen said, wondering at the pain in her uncle’s face.
Radoc nodded, feeling a stir of sadness at the concern in his niece’s eyes, the searching question in their light. He wanted to stay silent, to let her remain ignorant a moment longer—but when her look grew fearful, he knew it was better to speak.
‘Marwen…for months I have sought answers for this drought. I have fasted, and I have dreamed. I have eaten the strong plants, and let them guide me into the world of the spirits. I did not want to believe it, but the signs are clear. Even the wind does not live forever, and Vilnus has grown too old to bring water.’
‘Someone else must become the wind, and there are only two people strong enough. It must be you or your betrothed. That is the only way to bring the rain.’
Marwen stiffened. She’d anticipated her marriage to Kast since her first blood, two years before. She’d been nervous to learn that someone so handsome and kind had wanted her, but her confidence had grown as their connection blossomed into an earnest love. Marwen knew that Kast would become the wind for her—but he would also be happy with someone else, and she would not. She was a strong soul with no interest in the gossip of other women, and Kast had been a rare man to understand her. She would not find another. Marwen stood taller, making her choice.
‘I will do it—but please, wait, until it’s done to tell Kast. He would want to go in my stead.’
Radoc nodded, his eyes sad.
‘You are brave. Come to the lookout when you’re ready, and I’ll help you change.’
It was evening when Marwen stood on the cliff, watching the sunset over the ocean. It had been an emotional day. There’d been moments of bliss as she’d enjoyed the pleasures of her body, savoring the last time she would have fingers to touch herself, and then a different euphoria as she’d ran along the beach, barefoot, feeling the waves splash her toes. It was a pleasure so common she’d barely noticed at times, but today, savoring the cold wetness with all her being, there’d been a joy so pure her soul had ached.
But there’d also been pain, sharp and bitter, as she’d realized it would be her last run. She’d cried in the secret of the bay, with only birds to witness—and then she’d nerved herself to meet Radoc, on the cliff above the surf. There was fear on the run there, but now, facing the sunset, Marwen felt calm. She’d lived her last day well, and that was all she could do.
‘I’m ready,’ she told her uncle.
‘Watch the sun,’ Radoc replied in a voice that was heavy and rich.
‘I will change you when it slips below.
Marwen obeyed, but her fear returned as the light began to submerge, casting an orange blaze over the water. Her muscles tightened as the sun shrank into an arc, then a line, then a single glowing coal. Radoc straightened to his full height and sucked in his breath as the sun disappeared.
‘Wiisillia Saaah,’ he whispered.
Marwen felt her body lighten and spread, expanding into a formless fluidity. And yet…her sense of touch was somehow sharper, more immediate. She could feel the sensual warmth of the rock, holding in the heat of the day, and she could sense the keen, coolness of the ocean, far below but vibrant and crisp. The water stirred, and Marwen realized the riffles were coming from her touch. She pushed harder and the waves strengthened, and then she softened, and the sea relaxed.
There was a moment of wonder, and then Marwen remembered her uncle’s instructions, to cross the ocean and find the mountains. She directed her thoughts upward, and the shifting, stirring lightness of her body climbed into the heights, leaving the ocean calm. It was a moment’s thought to accelerate away from land, rising into a rushing mass in the beginnings of dusk.
Marwen reached the mountains the next day, her thoughts churning. It had been a long night. There’d been wrenching loss as the separation from Kast began to sink in—and there’d been moments of peace as she’d sailed over the ocean, watching starlight glint on the surface. There’d even been hints of joy as she tested her new strength, pulsing tirelessly through the night and building into a sharp, keening storm as the dawn began. Now, gliding among the mountains, she felt a stirring awe at the landscape. Granite tinted red in the morning sun, and at the base of the cliffs, snow stretched in a pale-gold expanse. Streams leap from the glacier in vivid veins, sparkling downward to feed a lake, a little mirror nestled among the mountain’s arms. Marwen decelerated, brushing the water just enough to smudge the reflection of rock and sky. She was beginning to rest when someone spoke.
‘Greetings, child. I am Vilnus. Were you sent to bring water?’
Marwen turned to see an old man emerging from behind a boulder. He was still strong, and his eyes were calm, layered with wisdom and peace.
‘Yes,’ Marwen said, her voice coming as a whispering sigh.
‘I know of you, but I didn’t think I’d see a person. I didn’t realize you could become human again, once you’d changed.’
‘You can,’ Vilnus said.
‘I could have returned.’
His eyes softened, and a hint of pain crossed his face.
‘I loved someone, and by the time I finished my task, she had taken sickness and died. After that, I didn’t want to go back. I brought water as long as I could, and now I’ll rest in this valley. But you are young. You don’t need to carry clouds all your life. You can live in your village, and become the wind only when you’re needed. I can show you how to turn back into a woman.’
Marwen thought of Kast, and felt a stir of yearning.
‘Thank you, Vilnus. If you tell me how, I’ll do it.’
It was almost a month before Marwen returned to her coast, pushing a wall of mist. The rainclouds had lain weeks to the south, resting over a jungle so vast it had stretched several horizons; so lush its moisture almost leaked. The journey had been an avalanche of newness, with every day bringing a dozen landscapes and a hundred flavors of heat and cold. Marwen had begun to anticipate each morning with excitement—and as she neared her village, she realized she would miss being the wind.
She’d barely finished the thought when she saw Kast, his face light as he realized the rain would finally come. Marwen’s heart surged, knowing that she could still be his wife—but imagining that future brought a sudden sense of loss. Marwen remembered painting the mountain lake, stirring its water into riffles glinting with sun. She remembered petting the alpine meadows, sending a shiver through their flowers as the colors danced. She remembered resting on the granite in the heat of day, letting herself settle over its warmth, and she remembered caressing the marmots that lay on the rocks, stroking their fur as the softest hint of breeze. She loved Kast…but there was an intimacy in being the wind, too.
Intimacy…and vitality. There was the sensual power in her body, the liquid energy that let her fly between peaks and glide over glaciers, and there was the strength in her lungs, the freedom to scout new lands with tireless endurance. She felt alive as the wind, in a way she never had as a woman—and suddenly, she knew she would never be happy bearing children and tending crops. Now that she’d known the freedom of being the wind, living with Kast would suffocate her soul. Marwen felt a spasm of sadness at the realization…but she knew, deep in the fluid lightness of her body, that it was true. She would have to live her own life, and Kast would have to live his. Marwen let herself brush the face of the man she loved, stroking his lips in a whisper of breeze…and then, with an act of will, she pulled away.