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Burning Through the Lilly

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The grass between her toes were the blades of a thousand small, green warriors, declaring their freedom with pointed tips as they reached to the sky from mossy roots.  She wiggled her toes, letting the moist soil mar the bottoms of her feet, soft pink skin stained brown with mineral and silt.  The grime was a badge of honor, a declaration of her own freedom, singing from her toes to the tips of her fire red hair as the wind danced through her unruly waves. Her mother would shake her head at the mess, disturbed at the lack of order in her daughter’s state of dress, but Lilly Hawke cared little for the structure craved by adults. She, like her daddy, preferred the untamed chaos of the wild.  At only seven, she had already been romanced by the siren songs of rebellion, too young to truly grasp their worth, but old enough to embrace them with reckless abandon.

Her daddy liked to call her the Burning Lilly, because of the color of the orange kissed tangles atop her head, like copper dipped in molten firelight and spun into threads of gossamer silk, defying all efforts to be contained.  Lilly had always been fond of the nickname, being rather fond of fire in general, and it was as much a point of pride for her as it was endearment.  Her mother, when cross and at her wits’ end, would often say that it was all Malcolm’s fault that she had come out redheaded, that it was all that rebellion in him that had made her wild.  Lilly would always smile when she heard this, although she had learned by now that it was not normally intended as a compliment.  She liked the idea that she had a lot of her daddy in her, and she liked the idea of being free and wild, like the hawks that streaked across the sky, taming the wind to take them wherever they pleased.  Let little Beth and Carver be the upstanding children that her mother had always wanted.  Lilly was her daddy’s child, and she embraced that sense of rebellion as it passed down to her, reveling in the way it made her feel when she went against the grain of the world.  Her mother oft insisted this was a dangerous attitude to have, but so far in her short years Lilly had decided that she very much liked danger, and certainly preferred it to the long hours forced into study when her mother had her way. 

Hands, calloused along the palms and warm with untold promise, slid beneath her arms and hefted her into the air.  She squealed with delight as her daddy tossed her above his head, his beard-bedecked grin a mile wide as he laughed along with her. The world spun with color and light as the brimming dusk made the sky bleed rich hues and the shadows beneath the trees come alive, all of it rushing past her eyes as she sailed through the air, for one moment a hawk in more than just name.  He caught her with practiced ease, swinging her in an arc that made her feet defy the tethers of gravity, before he settled her on one broad shoulder, her tiny frame barely taking up half the space.  The edges of his hair prickled against her knees, and she giggled again, squirming against him.

“What were you doing laying in the dirt?” he glanced at her feet and grimaced at the mud she was smearing along the breast of his shirt. “Besides finding new ways to aggravate your mother, that is.” He arched a thick eyebrow at her, not bothering to hide the smile on his face. 

She glanced up at the sky, peering at a cloud that drifted overhead, catching the rays of the sun and exploding in a riot of neon pink. “I was feeling the wild.” She felt him nod against her knee, her eyes still glued to the colors coasting against the fading blue above.  She felt taller than the Frostback mountains, perched upon the shoulders of her daddy.  There was no place more free than at his side, she decided. 

“Would you like to see something truly wild?” the mirth in his voice caught her attention, and she pulled her gaze away from the parade of imagery above their heads to look down in his eyes.  The spark of mischief shone in them, burning brighter than colliding stars, and Lilly caught the mood from him, her face splitting as she grinned with unconstrained glee.  Crimson-copper tangles swung against the side of her cheeks as she nodded her head, excitement making the tip of her tongue tingle as he chuckled in response.  He placed a hand upon her knee to hold her steady, and with steps that were nearly as long as she was tall, he headed towards the edge of the town, to the forest that thickened across the rolling hills of Ferelden.

This foray was not their first since arriving in Lothering.  They had lived there only a short time, and already she had grown fond of it.  She liked it better than living on the road, lonely and cold.  She liked it better than hiding in the larger towns, full of people with featureless faces, and cloaks of anonymity that they clung to at the cost of courtesy and kindness.  The people in Lothering were easier to know.  They had smiles for their neighbors, and wanted their faces to be remembered when you passed them by.  Most of all, however, she liked the woodlands surrounding the village.  She liked to be beneath the boughs of pine and oak, free from the prying eyes of those that would hunt down their truths and use it against them.  She liked having a place to go, near to their home, where they could just be themselves, where her daddy didn’t have to hide his magic like a curse.  She hated running, but above that she hated secrets, and she resented everyone else sometimes because they were able to be free all day long, without the threat of silverite swords and lyrium chants coming to take their world away.

Today he carried her farther than they had gone before, down long winding paths that grew heavy with shadow as the sun dipped lower.  She glanced up, searching the sky for any sign of the wind, and smiled when she saw the first stars creeping into view as the selfish daylight faded.  Nightingales started to sing to one another from the depths of the trees, their song quieting as the trespassers approached and bursting back into life once they had passed.  

“Where are we going?” curiosity ate a hole through her middle, filling with a delightful unease that made her shiver with anticipation.

“It’s a surprise.” He kept his eyes on whatever path he was following, ducking beneath overgrowth and stepping over undergrowth.

She giggled. “It isn’t like the last surprise, is it?”

He tilted his head back and barked out a laugh, a bear full of good cheer and honey. “No, your mother is not going to jump out and make you play arithmetic games.”

“Thank Andraste’s flaming knickers!” she giggled again at her words, delighted with the new phrase she had learned.

“Now, where did you learn to say a thing like that?” he attempted a stern tone, but his amusement shone through in the tilt of his crooked smile.

She sniffed and tilted her chin into the air. “I heard the red haired laysister say it, so it can’t be a swear.”

“Oh, sure.  That logic is sound.  I’m sure she’s never done anything untoward in her life.” He mumbled the words under his breath, rolling his eyes as he did so before he chuckled again, “but just in case, you had better not say it in front of your mother.”

She crossed her fingers over her heart, miming the solemnity of her agreement. They lapsed into silence for a long moment as the trees became blurs of dark green on either side of their passage.  She felt the sting of the wind on her cheeks as the night tainted it with cold, carrying the whispers of the Frostbacks down from their lofty peaks.

Eventually, the silence chafed at her patience, and she blurted: “Are we going to stay this time?” she paused, and let the quiet swallow her for a moment. “I like it here.”

Her daddy turned to the sky, heaving a sigh that spoke of a great many worries he did not share with his tiny daughter. “I think we might try.”

The hush that followed seemed to carry its own sort of sound, a song that couldn’t be heard, only felt.  Forlorn notes flickered in and out of her head, moments of yearning and wistfulness that she didn’t often acknowledge.  Wanting something she couldn’t take, wanting something that wasn’t certain, created an ache in her chest that was like a heavy bag of sand dropped on her shoulders.  It made her feel small, and lonely, and she wondered if she would ever know what it was like to have a home.  Or if such a thing ever really existed.

“So, have you made anyone cry yet?” he smirked up at her, shattering the moment of reflection for the shallow mirror that it was, sending the thoughts scattering to the back of her mind.  She giggled as he prodded her side, urging her to answer.

“There was this boy who said my hair was a stupid color, so I shoved mud down his shirt, and then he started crying.” She crossed her arms over her chest, vexed at the recollection. “It was just mud, I didn’t even hit him or nothing.”

He patted the side of her leg, a rumbling laugh shaking his chest and reverberating all the way up through his shoulders. “That’s my girl.”

They passed through a final thicket of trees and brush, and Lilly sucked in a breath as she stared at the sheer cliff edge beyond, a drop into an infinitely empty valley, green waves stretching all the way to the feet of the great mountains in the distance.  The wind rushed at them, roaring from the empty space and tossing her hair to the side, and she closed her eyes.  She felt it run through her, and she spread out her arms, losing the feeling of her father beneath her as her skin chilled from the frigid gusts.  For a moment, she didn’t feel like she needed to pretend.  For just one moment, Lilly Hawke was flying. 

 

***

As usual, Lilly felt as though she weighed no more than an ounce as he set her down on the ground, her cheeks rosy with the sting of the cold air.  She opened her eyes as he took her hand, guiding her closer to the edge of the cliff, and he watched as the green within them brightened with excitement.  He let her lean forward, peering down the hundreds of feet to the valley floor below, and he waited for her to be afraid. 

The frown crept unbidden across his face when the fear never came.  She stared at the danger and drank it in, slaking her thirst on the adrenaline that he knew would be coursing through her veins.  Instead of stepping back, as he had expected, she lifted an impossibly small foot and dangled it over the empty air, clutching his hand and smiling with wild euphoria. 

She was reckless.  She was chaos.  She was drawn to the danger like a moth to the flame, singing its praises as it singed her wings. 

He looked out into the valley, squinting at the mountainous caverns in the distance, at the white dots of the herds of halla milling amongst the soft hills below.  The black maws of the caves were far off, barely discernible against the growing night, and he knew the great mother wouldn’t sense them from this distance.  Still, as he watching his daughter breathe in the wind, he wondered if it was such a good idea to encourage her flirtation with the untamed. 

In truth, Lilly was more like him than he wished.  He, too, never seemed to be able to sidestep danger when he should have.  In all the years that had led him to this point, he had faced peril too many times to count, and in the deepest part of his heart he knew that he wouldn’t have had it any other way.  He felt alive when he was fighting against the odds, he felt righteous when he was proving that he had a right to live.  Seeing that passion in Lilly was both the greatest gift he had ever been granted, and the most fearful curse he could imagine.

She took another half step forward, leaning at an alarming angle as she gazed straight down, gauging the distance between their perch and the ground.  He watched her hair, his favorite color since the day she was born, tilt into the air, pulled towards the bitter end that gravity yearned to give them.  When the screech that he knew was coming echoed across the valley, her head snapped up, wavy red flying in all directions as the rumbling cry shook the world around them.

The high dragon emerged from her lair, stepping into the fading light, the sunset casting pink hues across her lavender scales.  She stretched, her wings spanning unimaginable lengths, and she craned her neck to call out to the clouds caressing the sky.  Every muscle in her frame tensed for a moment, and Lilly’s grip tightened on his hand, then the dragon was leaping into the air.  It was impossible to ignore the raw power and fury in her movements, the terrifying beauty as she stirred the wind and bent it to her will.  She churned her wings, the light catching every color of the sunset in her iridescent hide as she flew a lazy circle.  Then, in an instant, her wings snapped flat to her side as she dove towards the ground, her massive claws reaching forward to grasp a halla that had not rushed to cover quickly enough.

Lilly’s eyes were as wide as saucers as she looked up at him. “She’s wonderful.” Her words came in whispers, barely more than a breath as she exhaled her amazement.

His frowned deepened, his parental instinct defeating his own marveling wonder. “She’s dangerous.  Your mother would have a fit if she heard you admire her so.”

The little girl shrugged, tossing her hair over her shoulder. “Mother thinks everything is dangerous.”

“Aren’t you afraid?” He tactfully avoided the bait into the argument, nudging the subject in a different direction.

“No, you’re here.”

Despite himself, and his better judgment, he chuckled.  He hunkered down, resting his elbows on his bent knees so that he could look her in the eye. “And if I weren’t here?  Would you be scared then?”

“But won’t you always be there?” she held up her hand, one infinitely small pinky extended, barely larger than it had been when she was a squalling babe. “Together forever, right?”

His heart shattered into a thousand pieces, irreparably split with the knowledge that he could not be that for her.  He knew, better than most, that all things must come to an end.  Often an end that they didn’t deserve, that was unworthy of what they were.  He was not something special, and he was unworthy of the gifts he had already been given.  Here was this child, this perfect little girl, looking up at him with all the fearless hope in the world, and it killed him that he knew she wouldn’t keep it.  No one made it to adulthood with eyes that bright, with a heart so full, with courage so pure.  In this moment, whether it was a lie or not, he didn’t have the heart to take that from her with the bitter truth.  He couldn’t bring himself to do anything more than make a promise that he knew he couldn’t keep.

He took her pinky and hooked it with his, dwarfing the little appendage with his own massive one.  He nodded, resolute as he looked at her, though he kept from speaking anything aloud, the lump in his throat constricting all the words in the back of his mouth.

He picked her up, setting her back on his shoulder, as light as the flower she was named for.  As he walked away, carrying his pride and joy to a safer haven than they had found in a long while, he took one last look at the valley, at the dragon just returning to her home as the night blackened the distance between them.  He told himself that he would come back tomorrow and kill it, in the name of protecting those that live nearby.  But in the end he knew that he wouldn’t.  Too often he found peril and allowed it to continue to exist in the world, finding too much grace in the things that destroyed as much as they created.  Leandra was right.  If his daughter was fire and chaos, he had caused it, every bit. 

He only hoped he had enough time to save her from the same treacherous paths that he had walked because of it. 

 

***

Strive for the wild, curling woods,

That swallow the sun with jagged shade.

Strive for the burning chaos of flame,

Orange tongues that whisper and fade.

 

Feel feathers and wind in the midnight sky,

Steal the stars and watch them burn,

Take life and twist it with the edge of a blade,

Lock your heart in your head just to yearn.

 

Laugh as the tears roll from your eyes,

Let the rivers fill your lungs and your chest,

Tear the tattered clouds with daggers and hate,

Feel the rhythm of the world and be blessed.

 

For the fires of your fate will consume you,

Turn all your memories and your love to ash,

Embrace the chaos and be free from despair,

And hope that each fault will be the last.

 

The lilly that grows in the chaos,

Will bloom more brightly than a dying star,

And she will bleed as the world is corrupted,

And burn through her roots to birth scars.