Hers are small, hidden magics. Subtle. Deniable. Here and now, she is Elda, a weaver, her shuttle carving magic across the warp and back again, weaving protection into the cloth. She sets her loom outside her cottage, shaded from the summer sun. The scent of flowers is heavy in the air.
When she looks up, her brother is at the gate. Her fingers tighten on the shuttle, and the words to forbid him entry hover at her lips. His hands are clean, yet she can smell the blood on them, the cost of his magic.
She looks away, shuttle still moving. Tew comes closer, sits down on her doorstep, broad shoulders hunched against the weight of the sword across his back.
“You go too far,” she says, eventually.
“And you, not far enough.”
She looks down at the loom. “Sometimes small changes are enough.”
“You paper over the rot, when it must be cut out.”
“I make things better, here and now.”
“It isn’t enough.”
It’s an old argument. As he leaves, the cloth on the loom blurs, its future shimmering under the thread. Its protection succeeds, or it fails. She cannot tell. She weaves on.
* * *
Her neighbours begin to look at her askance, counting decades on their fingers; it’s time to leave. She walks into the nighttime forest, dead leaves uncrushed beneath her feet, branches drawing away from her. With only the moon to watch, she shrugs into her true form, Elda falling away as Sura emerges, and walks through time until she is drawn back into it.
As the sun rises, she settles her skin of humanity over herself, and goes to find how she can help. Small magics. Small changes. Tiny gleams of light in the darkness, hoping each will spark another.
* * *
Her brother arrives every few decades in a flurry of storm, snow on his shoulders and in his beard whatever the season outside. His magics are not subtle, and he reaches constantly for something larger. He drips onto her hearth and talks of revolution and of finally finding the solution. He will tear it all down and something better will rise from the ruins.
She goes after him, or before him, and binds together again. Perhaps he is right; perhaps what she binds together is imperfect. But she cannot bear to assist his destruction.
The humans see him as they do not see her: larger than life, a leader. And yet she is seen as he is not: one of them. She stays, she is known, and she must eventually move on. Tew never thinks to stay anywhere, never takes a new name, so he never moves on.
* * *
The humans invent knitting. She takes to it: more portable than a loom, and it suits her small magics. Nimble fingers in a pair of gloves; protection from the sea in a sweater; warmth in a scarf. Keeping someone warm, safe, fed; these are all good in themselves. Even if they are only small, temporary; even if they will dissolve or be torn away.
* * *
In another time, she walks the fields after dark, bare feet leaving no footprint. She touches leaves and speaks the words that strengthen the crops and those that eat them.
The villagers have full bellies despite the local lord’s oppression. If she could, she would keep the crops’ blessing from him. She has no wish to strengthen him. But her gift doesn’t work that way.
When her brother arrives, he is full of plans for resistance, rebellion. She nods, and lets him plan, and keeps feeding people.
“But it doesn’t change anything,” he says, eating barley soup by her hearth.
“It does for those who are no longer cold and hungry.” She doesn’t say: like you.
“It’s not enough,” he says.
“No,” she agrees, and turns the heel of her sock.
The country rises under her brother’s direction. It’s hard, keeping the crops healthy that year; but the year after, the lord is gone and the village is safer.
Perhaps his work can be good, too.
* * *
Miles and centuries away, she cleans water in a muddy street where sewage leaks underground. The houses lean precariously above her, all gaping windows, leaking roofs, and cracked plaster. But as a child fills a bucket, the water runs clean.
“Slum landlords,” says her brother. He’s working with a journalist this time: pen and ink and printer’s blocks replacing sword and shield.
“Yes,” she says, touching the pump again, and wonders how long she has left here.
Before she leaves, the slums are gone, and the same children fetch clean water from the pump, their families safe and dry in the clean new houses. Destroying to build.
Across town, another pump is dirty. He stands beside her, and puts his inky hand to it.
* * *
They meet in the dark outside time, where the star-echoes glitter. Bubbles trail behind them, sinking and rising on the tides of history.
“It never sticks, Sura,” he says, frustrated. “Your help or mine. It never sticks.”
“No,” she agrees. “Not entirely. But it changes, every time. Slowly.”
“Too slowly. Why can’t we just fix it? Pull it down and start again?”
She shrugs. “There’s never one change to fix everything. It takes time. Do the work, and then do it again.” She pauses. “But perhaps you are right; sometimes, you must destroy to build.”
His eyes glow. “Perhaps you are right too,” he says slowly. “Perhaps sometimes you can destroy only by building something else. A little at a time.”
“It is what it is,” she says. “We are what we are.”
They look at one another, and for the first time in a long time, she sees his smile. She holds out a hand. As he takes it, their magics click together, interlocking.
He sets his shoulders. “Back?”
And they return, to do what they can. To feed people, and warm them; to build, and destroy, and build again. To change.
© 2020 Juliet Kemp