Asha sat huddled in a hollow beneath a tree, watching the sleepy river flow by. He’d been sent to gather berries but he knew it was just to keep him out of sight. Saskia, his older sister, was nearby in case he ran into trouble. Of course, their parents thought even a blade of grass could take him down. The Redwood family were known for the powerful magic that coursed through each generation. Every once in awhile, a daughter was born who was stronger than any before her. Annalena Redwood had been her parents strongest child and another witch of her stature han’t been expected; not when she still lived, at least. When Annalena received a prophecy that her unborn child would not only be the strongest of her children but would surpass her, she wasted no time adding her daughter’s name to the family history. On the day Asha was born, Annalena realized the prophecy was wrong and she’d given birth to a son instead. Their family’s pride had been publicly wounded and Asha was never allowed to forget this. He’d never even seen Ambergarde proper. While his four sisters were allowed to travel freely, the only people Asha ever saw were seeking Annalena’s help. And Uvo, his father, would usher Asha away before anyone could get a good look at him. Asha gazed into the distance, seeing the river turn the bend and make its way past Ambergarde. To a place even his sister’s hadn’t seen.
Saskia’s voice drew Asha from his thoughts. He pulled himself up onto the bank, ignoring his sister’s disappointed look when she saw his empty basket.
Her golden brown hair that she’d gathered into a single braid came to rest over her shoulder as Saskia stopped before Asha. “It really isn’t that hard,” she said holding up her own basket nearly filled to the brim.
“I should be hunting with da. Bernhardt took Nigel hunting last year and he was only nine!”
Bernhardt owned the farm closet to the Redwood lands. He’d come for herbs to help with his wife’s pregnancy now that it was too advanced for her to travel. Asha overhead Uvo and Bernhardt’s conversation about his son’s first time hunting. He didn’t miss Uvo’s regretful statement that his “one male child needs more protection than my daughters.”
Saskia gave Asha a sympathetic smile. “And you’re only ten. You aren’t ready.”
Asha stomped by her. Saskia would never be purposely hurtful but they both knew their parents would never see Asha as ready. That’s why he bit back a response. It wouldn’t change his parents opinion and he’d be stuck with Kaiya, his oldest sister, as a guardian. None of his sisters were outright cruel but Kaiya had the clearest memories of Annalena’s humiliation after bragging of her child’s prophecy. Kaiya tended to repeat the countless taunts she’d suffered back to Asha when he frustrated her.
“Let’s just go back. You found enough for both of us.”
Six Years Later
Asha tied his travel cloak and picked up his pack. He took a moment to study the room he’d grown up in. It was spacious and his childhood toys were tucked in a corner. If Uvo ever came up to see him, maybe Asha would’ve been pressured to give them up. Since Uvo hadn’t, they were some of the few possessions Asha actually cared for. Saskia and Mirella carved a few of them until Asha was old enough to hold a knife himself. Asha forced himself to turn away though it pained him. The toys themselves could be remade again, if he wished, but that wasn’t what kept them in his mind. Mirella, who was now twenty-two, was three months pregnant and beginning to show. Asha offered the toys as a awkward attempt to comfort his sister when she caught him preparing to leave.
“Asha? What are you doing?” Mirella lifted her nightgown so she could lower herself down the cellar ladder.
Asha rushed over to help her. “Don’t worry yourself, go back to bed.”
Mirella looked down at him. She narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms. Her stern expression didn’t waver until finally Asha’s shoulder sagged. He felt a pang of sympathy for the children she was yet to have.
“I’m going to leave.” He’d said the words to himself so often, but hearing them aloud and seeing Mirella’s expression fall gave them a weight he hadn’t felt before.
“Where are you going to go?” Her voice came out in a raspy whisper.
The tears welling in her eyes would haunt Asha. He looked away. Asha had no friends and those who knew the Redwoods had a son may not be willing to house someone thought of as useless.
“I’ll make my own way.”
“Doing what? You don’t have—”
“Magic?” Asha felt himself draw away from her, but he was remembering that first spark he’d felt within. “I do have magic. It just doesn’t matter here.” His voice sounded far away. Asha filled his mother’s room with bright red fireflies because she’d been too sick to see them flitting through her garden. Annalena’s expression hadn’t changed. She waved him from the room before falling into a fitful sleep.
Mirella wrapped him in a hug. “Don’t go little brother. Not tonight.” She rested her head on top of his.
“Then when?” But Asha found himself returning the hug.
Mirella was quiet for a long while. Finally she said, “Stay with us just a little longer.”
Asha had reluctantly agreed. Judging grom Mirella’s initial shock, she didn’t think he’d agree. Just as he hadn’t expected her to accept, much less want, any of his possessions. If anyone noticed the heavy silences between them afterwards, nothing was said about it. At the moment Mirella was away with Uvo choosing a spot to build her cottage. Saskia was traveling to live in a noble’s house in the capital. She was to stay there until he was cured of a sudden illness that had claimed many in his household. Annalena, Kaiya, and Yuliana were supposed to be away in town to search the wares of foreign traders. Asha had intended to leave with no one the wiser but as he was leading his horse from the stable, he spotted his mother watching him. Kaiya passed by without sparing him a glance but Yuliana hesitated. Her expression was full of questions that Asha was glad she wouldn’t get to ask. She had blonde hair with streaks of brown, like Uvo, her eyes hadn’t lost their childlike innocence though she was twenty-five and seven years younger than Kaiya.
“Go inside, Yuliana,” Annalena said gently. She didn’t take her gaze from Asha. Her dark brown hair that matched Asha’s was greying. Only after Yuliana had retreated inside did Annalena approach Asha.
They were the same height, shared the same eyes, yet Asha felt as if he were about to say goodbye to a stranger.
“You are finally leaving us.” Annalena looked over the stallion he’d purchased on a rare trip into town. “I knew you bought him for this.”
The matter of fact way Annalena spoke hit Asha in the gut, but he didn’t react. He’d never expect his mother to cry for him but he’d wanted… more than this.
“I’ll inform Uvo when he returns. I have only one request of you.”
It took an incredible amount of willpower for Asha to respond calmly. And when he did his voice was much colder than it had ever been before. “What could I ever do for you that I haven’t already tried?”
“Wherever you go, don’t bring any more shame to this family than you already have.” Annalena turned and walked away before Asha could respond.
As he climbed into the saddle and rode away from his only home, Asha didn’t know where he would end up but he knew it wouldn’t be anywhere he heard the name Redwood.
Four Years Later
Asha stood with a merc on either side and Nihio, their captain laying on the ground behind them, bleeding profusely. Between them and a towering construct of lightning lay the bodies of their companions. Until now Asha’s magic had been strong enough to get them out of any trouble but Irvem Nin, the man they’d been hired to rob, turned out to be a mage of considerable skill. He wielded energy like a skilled butcher’s knife. Irvem’s construct aimed an electric hand at the battered men. Asha poured all of his energy into the blade of his sword and rushed forward to meet the swing. The impact sent waves of pain reverberating through his body and knocked him back. When his ears stopped ringing, Asha heard inhuman screams echoing around them. With shaking arms Asha pushed himself up to see the construct’s arm broken off. Lightning sparked off his sword before dissipating into the air. He saw Irvem make a hard slashing motion towards him, dark hair blowing wildly in the sea breeze. Irvem’s construct lumbered forward again. Asha’s body didn’t respond though his mind was screaming “Run!”. Desperately he reached for any magic left. Sweat broke out on his forehead and he clenched his fist.
This is not how I die!
A heat exploded in his gut, disappearing just as quickly. Asha gasped in surprise just as two arrows struck Irvem’s construct, flames enveloped its head.
“How the hell did you do that?”
Excitement raced through Asha, but the feeling was quickly drenched by the realization that flames wouldn’t stop the creature. He scrambled to his feet and ran towards Nihio. “That’s not going to slow him down for long. Get him up!”
“You holding out on us?” Rainier, a burly man Asha had never liked, shouted angrily.
“Get . Him. Up!”
Asha wasn’t sure he had done anything. But he definitely wasn’t going to question what happened. The unknown answer would hang over their heads and he’d have a lot less trouble. If they lived. Irvem hounded them with waves that crashed over their heads. The footsteps of his construct shaking the ground behind them. Shivering with cold and fighting fatigue Asha and Rainier half carried, half dragged Nihio up the stone steps. A harsh wind picked up that threatened not only to knock them back but throw them over the cliffside. Stinging rain struck them as hard as any punch. Nihio’s eyes fluttered and he let out a moan that was quickly swallowed by the wind.
He’s not going to make it. Asha stopped and Rainier almost tumbled over him. Not knowing if it would matter, Asha took the pouch of loot from his belt loop and tossed it. He’d taken a few magical trinkets with the intention of selling them to the most superstitious innkeeper next time he needed a room. They weren’t worth losing his life over. The other mercs’ mouths gaped open but Asha sensed a waiting in the storm.
“Toss whatever you have.”
“Why should we listen to anything you say?”
Asha gave Rainier a stony glare, a look he’d perfected over the years. “Toss whatever you have, or I take Nihio and leave you.”
Rainier tossed his remaining pouch before shoving the smaller man next to him, gruffly telling him to do the same. Asha rearranged Nihio and they tried to move forward. A breeze carrying all of Irvem’s fury flattened them to the ground. Asha started. No doubt Nihio also made out with some loot before Irvem returned. Asha searched Nihio’s person until he found a flat wooden box in his chest pocket. A chill passed through Asha but he opened it anyway. At first nothing stood out, it was a necklace. Plain except for pieces of onyx and a large ruby centerpiece. But even exhausted as he was, Asha could sense a ghostly presence tied to it. A memento of loved one? Regardless of its story, this is what Irvem truly wanted. Asha closed the box and gently placed it on the ground far away from them. The storm quieted but he felt the barely pent up energy hovering over them.
Asha used what little healing knowledge he’d been taught to treat Nihio’s wound; ordering a fire be built, or a herb to be found since the hurried flight had depleted his already low supply. A low cave was spotted nearby but Nihio was unconscious, now even less help than before. Rainier made a makeshift stretcher of broken branches to carry him. The small band trudged towards the cave, making sure there was enough room for the stretcher before making camp outside for the night. In the morning they rose, stiff joints protesting, and continued their march towards the nearest town. Asha lost track of days. He was concerned with Nihio’s survival only slightly more than his own. It was trying and left him with no energy to fight Rainier for power. As much as Asha hated to admit it, he would’ve given anything for his sisters’ help. But even if they hadn’t been a whole continent away, they’d never help a criminal. Even if he was their brother. When Nihio’s band finally dragged themselves into Stagbrook, they didn’t immediately react. Standing there in shock until Asha remembered why they were there and called to a guard for help. Inwardly he thanked the fact they weren’t nearly as infamous as Nihio believed. As a local healer tended to his wounds, Asha felt his eyelids grow heavy. He knew he should stay awake in case things went bad. Asha couldn’t remember feeling so drained. Aches and bruises cried out over each other for attention. He just wanted some peace. The healer’s face wavered above him, and then Asha let sleep claim him.
He woke to find himself alone in the room. Dull pains were all that remained of his fight for survival. Asha turned onto his side and immediately squeezed his eyes shut against the sunlight, a splitting headache his reward. He covered his eyes and cursed.
Asha didn’t respond right away and someone pulled his hand away from his eyes.
“Can you hear me?” The healer asked slowly. She seemed entirely too young to have cared for four men on the verge of death.
“Yes.” He grimaced. His headache was growing worse by the minute.
Asha heard the girl moving around, glasses clinking as she presumably mixed a healing potion in the other room.
“….Can’t believe you pulled through. You’ve been dead to the world this whole time. But dad always said, never put anyone out while they’re still breathing.”
“How long have I been here?” Asha asked through gritted teeth.
That made Asha sit up too quickly. “Fucking hell!” he cried holding his head.
“I’ve never seen anyone use so much of their magic at once and live.” The girl was unfazed by his cursing. She must’ve heard much worse in her line of work. “I tried to make the others see you could still make it….”
Asha let out a brittle laugh. Part of him knew he should feel betrayed, but he found himself just staring at the wall.
What am I doing this for? He’d driven himself to reach depths he didn’t know he had. Only to be abandoned as soon as Nihio recovered. This wasn’t the first time. Nihio was the fifth captain to abandon Asha when he was wounded in almost as many years. Asha looked up at the same moment the healer turned around.
She must’ve seen something in his eyes because she came to his side. Sitting beside him, she placed a hand on his knees. She offered no words of comfort and Asha didn’t want to hear any. If only because she might mean them. The young woman did give him a small smile before returning to her work. This time going about her business in silence.
Other patients came, but Faresha would spare an extra moment for him when she could. Asha thought briefly he could go through the motions of a romance; tried to will his confused emotions to bloom into what the bards sung about. But that never happened, and one day he was able to stand without help.
Asha handed Faresha a wooden cat he’d carved when he was finally able to hold his knife again. “As a token of our friendship.” He hesitated, not knowing if he should continue. “I have nothing else to give.”
Faresha’s smile remained bright and she threw her arms around Asha. “This is more than enough.” As Asha went to leave, she added, “You let everyone know who healed you and we’ll call it even.”
Asha nodded solemnly, trying not to smile. Leaving he felt a ache in his chest that worsened the further the traveled away Faresha’s clinic. Would anyone else think his friendship was “enough”?
Asha Redwood is a rework of Lasym from A Hammer and A Spell. I mentioned how I wanted to explore that world a bit more, but just got around to actually writing out my idea. So here’s the first look at his new backstory. I hope you enjoyed it.