Natalya Sunskald

People often assume that I had a terrible childhood. After all, I didn’t have a mother… how could I possibly have been happy? But Father took very good care of me. Raising a daughter all by himself couldn’t have been easy, but he managed it admirably. He taught me how to run a farm, to care for the animals, and to survive whatever the Seven might throw at us. He taught me about sacrifice, and putting family above self. And while he’s never recovered from Mother’s death, he found ways to make some happy memories for me, and to find some joy in my accomplishments.

For more than sixteen years, I didn’t know much about Mother. It was hard for him to talk about her, and I was always reluctant to cause him more pain. So for all those years, what I felt was just a general sadness, the vague emptiness of regret for a mother I’d never known. But that all changed a couple of years ago, when Father finally decided I was old enough to learn the truth about how he’d lost his beloved Talya.

Learning that she hadn’t died in childbirth, as I’d always believed, was like falling out of a boat into the cold waters of the lake… a moment of shocking incapacitation, followed by the sense of finally seeing what’s been around you all along. I’d always been instinctively wary of the water, much to the dismay of my fisherman father. Falling into the lake a few years earlier had shown me the unexpected beauty below the surface, the vivid colors of plants on the lakebed, the sunlight reflecting off the shining scales of fish darting about in search of food. I’ll never earn my keep as a fisherwoman, but I have at least learned to swim, and not panic in water deeper than my height.

When Father told me about the day I was born, there was a similar sense of stunning revelation, and I think I finally began to truly understand the emptiness inside him. On some level, I had always feared that it was my fault she was gone, believing that she had died birthing me. Knowing that I was guilty of nothing more than being born wasn’t enough to completely quell my sense of guilt for her loss, particularly every year on my birthday when Father would inevitably break down in a fresh bout of raw grief. Now I knew that he had dealt with the same guilt and despair for all these years, having watched her and my unborn sibling be taken by zealous cultists as a sacrifice to their insane god, and being unable to save them. It had broken something inside of him, and now all that mattered to him was protecting me, as he had failed to protect them. His own life held no value to him beyond that purpose of keeping me safe.

My life changed that day. Part of it was a need to grieve, as I felt like I’d lost Mother all over again. Part of it was a need for justice, as she was taken not by random tragic happenstance, but by the malice and cruelty of men. And part of it, perhaps the biggest part, was a need to find a way to fix what was broken in Father’s soul. I knew he had found occasional solace at the temple dedicated to the Seven in the nearby town of Detmer, though it had been years since he’d brought me there. Perhaps it was time to go back.