The sun is my wine. Meecha lifted his goblet to the sky. He covered the sun with the chalice so the rays could penetrate the glass, already tinted orange and crimson from bowl to stem. Tiny, embedded diamonds sparkled like stars against glorious fire. Radiance spilt from the glass and enveloped his hand. Could that ever be possible, to drink the sun? If it were caught and liquefied, perhaps. He would shrivel like a prune with sunlight in his belly. It would drink him.
Meecha placed the goblet on the windowsill behind his right shoulder. He looked over the stone roofs of Dadral, dull compared to dawn’s blue, pink, and lilac. The male luima were emerging from their hovels with pickaxes, shovels, and hammers in hand. Their small forms trudged along the pebbled streets on their way to the mines and construction sites. Although luima himself, Meecha had always veered from the ‘proper ways’. Crafting gadgets and playing with pretty precious gems did have their appeal, but spending day after day hacking and heaving at rocks, metal, or another’s shield had always seemed like a waste of time and intellect. Only the business of the tradesman and desk-minion had proven duller. Greater things were to be his – thus he had known many failed careers before his true calling opened its interdimensional doors to him.
He looked down from the window ledge. A precarious height, but not the gravest danger he had ever been in. His buttocks were getting numb, however, from hours of sitting on hard stone. He gathered his legs against his chest and put his back to the wall. With his feet perched on the edge of the ledge, he pushed upwards, cautiously inching onto the wooden shutter. As he neared his full height, he heard a strange sound – metal grinding against metal. Meecha, looking curiously around, leant forward, and felt the shutter tilt in the same direction. His eyes bulged when he realised what had happened: the shutter had slid off its hinges.
The weight made him teeter towards the edge. With a strangled gasp, he let the shutter drop to the side, hoping that it would simply land on the other end of the ledge. It did not. It rebounded and plummeted towards the street below.
‘Watch out!’ he screamed in Luimari.
Meecha recognised a passer-by, who looked up with a start and jumped out of the shutter’s way. Its splintering crash echoed through the town. Curious heads turned to the sound.
‘Roa!’ Grek Rydon barked from below in the same tongue. ‘Your father will hear of this.’
‘I’m truly sorry,’ Meecha groaned as the crusty miner stalked away, muttering to himself.
Meecha cursed his sour luck. He turned to the window, picked up the goblet from the sill, and climbed into the attic, empty but for the top landing of a staircase on the far side. He bounded down two flights of stairs, rested the goblet on a step, and rushed to the front door, which he opened timidly and peered out. There was no one in the street, so Meecha made for the mangled shutter, quick and quiet. He had already brought most if it inside, when, as if waiting in ambush, two luima ladies, both mothers of orderly families, wandered past with a pointed look at the shutter and a tut. Meecha rolled his eyes as he dragged the last bit of wood into the hall and closed the door behind him, a little concerned about what those wilting gazes signified: if they knew, so would his father soon.
Meecha broke the shutter into even smaller pieces and piled them by the fireplace. Then he picked up the goblet – and a bag lying forlorn on the living room floor – before entering the kitchen, whistling. He carried his chirpy tune past the dusty dining table to the farthest corner between a lamp mounted on the wall and a gargantuan set of drawers, gifted to him by his late grandmother. He halted before the blank corner and, while still whistling, put the goblet on the drawers so he could shift the bag’s strap to a more comfortable angle across his shoulder. Like a conductor, he concluded the song with a twirl of his fingers and watched as the floor’s stone tiles magically dissolve to reveal a staircase below.
Down the secret passage he went, each of the five steps lighting up a misty white beneath his feet. With every descending tread, he traced a letter on either wall with each hand. Except for the fifth step. There Meecha stopped and leant in towards the sealed stone door. His lips barely brushed against the dark grey surface when he whispered the final password. The ancient, lazy door swung open.
Meecha was greeted by the musky sweet scent of dried flowers gathered into a basket hanging beside the door. He dumped his bag onto the large table in the centre of the chamber, unfastened the straps and flipped the flap, loosened the cord and undid the zipper.
A thin, no-longer-white cloak bulged through the opening, stains of yellow, brown, and haunting red unravelling with the garment. Meecha removed it from its confines and put it in a tub. The scalding water and ruthless soaps would come later. Next he pulled out a pair of tattered sandals that could be of use again with some leather and glue. They joined the racks of shoes to be repaired. An object in a round leather case the size of his palm was immediately locked in the heavily enchanted arvadeir safe in the stone wall behind the sink’s mirror. When Meecha returned to the bag and pulled out a tiny pouch of seeds from its depths he gasped excitedly. He clasped it with care and lifted it onto the shelf lined with other pouches that would one day wreathe his house in blooms majestic and strange. Glancing back into the bag, he found a shell and black marbles strewn at the bottom. The coiled shell of gold and green luminescence was given a home on one of the numerous square shelves displaying souvenirs. A jar accommodated the marbles – the currency would come in handy if he ever returned to Uiedre.
Meecha looked up from the now empty bag to gaze around the room. A thin layer of dust coated the bookcases. His crafting and alchemy benches needed tidying. Coloured bottles, scraps of metal, screws, and tools lay exactly as he had left them when he had dashed out of the house a few weeks before, only to return late the previous night.
A jingle jolted Meecha half out of his skin before he realised that it was the visitor alarm. He raced up the staircase and through the house to pause for several heartbeats behind the door. He opened it slowly and saw his brother’s broad back as he was about to walk away.
‘Mern!’ Meecha called, relaxing slightly.
The luima turned, his short ponytail quivering at the nape of his neck. He had a black-curled head, just like their father’s, but with the soft chestnut eyes of their mother, the only feature he and Meecha had in common.
‘So it’s true,’ Mern said curtly in Luimari, shoving his hands into the pockets of his frayed ankle-length breeches. ‘You have returned.’
Meecha’s smile was half a grimace. ‘How angry are they?’
‘About you vanishing again or dropping a window on old Grek’s head?’ Mern gave a gravelly chuckle as Meecha slapped his forehead and groaned. ‘They’re not thrilled,’ he added.
‘It was a shutter,’ Meecha fired back, yanking the door wider, ‘not a window. And it fell off me. And it only almost hit him.’
Amusement lifted Mern’s brow, a cheeky smirk already curling his lips. Meecha noticed his brother’s demeanour, always kinder than the other male members of his family, and then the sun glaring down at him. A pang of love and guilt moved Meecha to stand aside.
‘Want to come in for some water? That’s all I have.’
Mern shrugged, ‘Why not?’
He lumbered into the hall, pausing at the arched door to the living room where he passed a casual look over the room, unfurnished but for three wall lights, one with a blue dream-catcher hanging from it. With a subtle quirk of his mouth, Mern moved on to the kitchen, his hands still in his pockets.
Meecha strode past him to the steel pitcher on the kitchen counter and opened a cupboard overhead to find one tall glass and one mug. He glanced over his shoulder at Mern, but his brother, stretched out in Meecha’s usual chair at the table, was making a show of straining his neck to give this room a far more diligent inspection. Meecha grabbed the glass, slammed the cupboard shut, and started pouring the water, when Mern suddenly broke the long, awkward silence.
‘What’s that?’ he said and left his seat in the direction of the house’s most important corner, a partition against the kitchen blocking it from Meecha’s sight.
‘What! What’re you doing?’ Meecha exclaimed.
He dumped the pitcher on the counter with a clang and rushed after Mern. Skin crawling with fright, he found his brother standing with his back to the solid, innocuous corner and holding up the beautiful goblet. Meecha had forgotten all about it.
‘Where do you get this stuff?’ Mern, distracted by the wealth in his hands, failed to see Meecha sag with relief. ‘Treasure after treasure you bring and this place is still as bare as when you bought it.’
‘I told you,’ Meecha replied, drifting back to the kitchen and bringing the glass of water to where Mern had been seated. ‘I’m gone so often that thieves make it more of a home than I do. Anything they’ve left is too heavy or worthless to carry away. And I suspect nobody’s doing much to stop them.’
Mern lowered himself into the chair again, placing the goblet in the middle of the table. He sipped his water and eyed Meecha.
‘That’s one of my questions answered,’ he said sombrely.
Meecha tilted his head and squinted. ‘Actually, that was more of a statement.’
Mern, irritated, stuck his tongue over his teeth, but was amiable when he asked, ‘Where did you get that?’ He pointed at the goblet.
‘I was given it.’
‘Family name?’ Mern’s hand shot up to stop Meecha from responding. ‘Let me guess… Yourbusiness?’
Meecha gasped, ‘You know him!’ and grinned.
Mern glared. He admitted defeat by gulping his water, allowing the silence to build up again.
‘How’s Mother?’ Meecha hesitated to ask.
‘Worried,’ his brother grumbled. He took a few moments to put his empty glass down and then relented, ‘but still holding the house up.’
Meecha nodded with a pleased yet remorseful little smile. ‘And the others?’
‘Father was promoted to Chief Overseer of the mines. Been strutting through town like he owns it. Well, he does, in a way. Jaika remains Champion of Dadral. I swear our big brother will wed that axe of his in the end.’
Meecha chortled at the thought of the weapon wrapped in white and pink ribbons and a veil, swishing in Jaika’s arms, his shield the best man – none could claim Jaika’s trust like that wall of arvadeir.
Subduing his own mirth, Mern continued, ‘and Finkin’s Finkin. Chasing the girls and a good laugh. He’s no Meecha Roa, though.’ He sounded almost proud as he winked at his youngest brother, who shrugged nonchalantly while lifting his chin an inch higher. ‘You can see them all for yourself. We’re having family breakfast tomorrow.’
Meecha’s long moan rose in volume with every word Mern uttered. ‘Mother’s desperate to see you. I promised to persuade you to come. She’s clearing the food stalls as we speak. Quit your whinging and come see us.’
Meecha ran out of breath.
‘For Mother’s sake,’ his brother snuck in solemnly, ignoring the indignant stare directed at him.
Meecha ground his teeth, but soon conceded. ‘Fine.’ His miserable mumble barely left his lips.
‘Promise,’ Mern pressed him. ‘Promise not to take off again.’
Meecha tutted and averted his eyes. ‘I promise.’
‘Great,’ Mern gave the table a smug tap and smiled broadly. ‘We’ll see you in the morning then. I’d get a good night’s sleep, if I were you. You look like a corpse struck by lightning.’