The poem formed under his fingers: dull, shallow, and utterly lacking in cadence. Navin frowned at the words as he examined them for any semblance of merit, but found none. He still didn’t know what his destiny was, but he could safely discard ‘poet’ as an option.
He threw the poem away.
And he had used up more of his ink.
It had seemed such a simple thing on his seventeenth birthday. He stood before the oracle in the Rite of Purpose, his soul had been examined, and he received a bottle of ink. The message was obvious. He’d seen members of his village receive gifts from the oracle such as dried bird skulls or a rose made of leather. While some figured out their meanings in the end, others resigned themselves to never discovering what their special talent was.
But Navin had received a bottle of ink. Ink! He might as well have received a note stating, “Be a writer.” He immediately gathered paper so he could begin experimenting with different types of writing.
He had attempted every kind of writing he could think of, and was no closer to finding whatever talent the Gods had given him. And he was rapidly running out of ink. True, he could always buy more, but this was the Ink of the Gods. If he couldn’t figure it out with this, maybe he didn’t deserve to know.
“Not now, Emma,” Navin sighed, but then glanced at his little sister and couldn’t help smiling. “Okay, I give up, what are you supposed to be?”
“I’m a Kraken!” she proclaimed, proudly waggling the weeds she’d found outside. Navin supposed they were meant to be long, tentacled arms. He also supposed that the bed sheet she’d draped around herself was meant to create a more sea-creaturely appearance.
Emma pointed at him. “You have a black spot on you, so you better run.” Her menacing growl turned into a giggle.
“Papa’s been telling you pirate stories again?” Navin guessed.
“Yes, and you’re a pirate.”
Navin stood up from the desk. “Okay, fine, I’m a pirate.” He covered one eye with his hand. “Aye there, mateys! Is that a sea beast yonder?”
Emma gave a little dance of approval. “But you have to have a ship because you’re a pirate,” she ordered.
“Okay, yeah.” Navin looked for something to draw with… and remembered his ink. Could this be his talent? He was always creating little props and decorations to enhance Emma’s games. Shaking with excitement, he folded a paper boat and dipped his pen in the bottle to add designs. He imagined a life of doing puppet shows for children, or maybe even making props for theaters. He was so busy imagining, that he didn’t realize until he’d finished that his paper pirate ship was terrible.
Supposedly the gods gave everyone a talent. His was certainly not making props.
Emma huffed and stamped her foot impatiently, breaking Navin out of his disappointment. Navin smiled and made the little boat ride the imaginary waves. “Avast, me hearties!” he called out. “Flee the terrible monster!”
Little shrieks of delight chased the boat around the house.
Five days later, the bottle was nearly empty. He frowned at the last drops, wondering if the Gods hadn’t given him any talents after all.
“Navin! Navin, I’m a doctor, and you have the shadow plague, and I need to make you all better.”
“Not now, Emma,” he sighed. “We’ll play later.”
Emma scowled. He didn’t often refuse to play. “Why?”
And what could he say, really? How could he explain to his baby sister that he wasn’t smart enough to decode the riddle from the oracle? “Because I’m too tired to play.”
“No you’re not,” she said. “You’re never tired!”
“Just leave me alone,” he snapped and instantly regretted it. Emma’s eyes filled with tears and she left the room, dragging her sack of homemade medical supplies behind her.
Navin put his head on the desk and groaned. What was wrong with him? Why has be let a bottle of ink become more important than the people he loved?
He sat up and dribbled the last drops of ink onto his fingers and smeared it over his arms and cheeks. He knew he was wasting it, but didn’t care anymore. He found Emma sulking in her room and said, “Do you know where I could find a doctor? It seems I have the shadow plague.”
Later that night, as he scrubbed the ink off his skin, his mother asked, “Is Emma asleep?”
“Yes, Mum.” He toweled off his arm and looked with concern at the circles under her eyes. “Are you feeling all right?”
She smiled for him. “I don’t know how you do it: always playing with her and helping your friends and studying and helping me with the housework… I wish I had your energy.”
When Navin returned to his room, he was shocked to find that his ink bottle was no longer empty. Without even testing the theory, Navin knew that no matter how many times he used it up, there would always be more ink inside.
He’d been trying so hard to discover a new skill, it hadn’t occurred to him that the ink was symbolic of something he already had.
He said a prayer of thanks to the Gods, because his talent was certainly a special one.
Olivia Berrier is often clueless and always shoeless. She is the author of A Book Without Dragons — a science fiction novel for fantasy fans.
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