The bone-fragment in my hand was cold, and the weight of the power within tickled my nerves. It was the size of my forearm, about eighteen inches in length.
The trader looked me up and down. His eyes stopped at my rough hands. A farmer's hands. “You got a thousand drachma for that?” he asked.
A thousand is a lot of money for anyone, but my family had been saving up for years. I had heard the market value of an Erdos bone to be a talent, or one thousand drachmae, but hearing it in person made me wince. I pulled out the talent from my coin purse with my free hand. Strangely enough, the coin felt heavier than the bone.
I barely managed the words to speak. That transaction felt wrong for some reason. “H-here, sir,” I said nervously. Even though it was warm out, cold shivers rattled my bones.
The trader raised his eyebrows and took the coin. He held it up to the sunlight, which didn't make any sense to me, and put it in a lock-box behind his stall. "Good doin' business with you," he said. He began to put away the rest of his wares and close down his stall, apparently satisfied with the day's sales.
Most of my money was gone. Spent on something I wasn't even sure I believed in.
The walk back home was long. My daughter would be proud that I went through with it. She wanted to come with me to make sure I actually bought it, but I needed someone to look after the wheat.
I pulled out the bone to inspect it as I walked along the empty dirt path. An Erdos bone. I didn't want to think about the monstrosity it came from. Some huge, seething abomination, to be sure. The fact that people can hunt them down and kill them eludes my rational thought. If I had ever come face to face with one, my only hope would be that my loved ones weren't there with me.
Still, as evil as they are, I wasn’t sure how comfortable I was with the commercial poaching of their bones. The fact that I could augment my farming with it for profit felt like cheating. What happened to the good old-fashioned way? A friend’s farm took off with a bone, and he swore up and down that his family became happier.
I wasn't sure it was worth sacrificing what I knew. My daughter kept telling me that it wouldn't get rid of the work we did, only make it easier. That sounded wrong to me. Hard work was the blueprint for being a good person. To success. The Gods abhor abominations against nature.
I had just decided to turn back to try to get a refund when I looked up from the bone and saw an animal. A dead wolf with a sword plunged into its back. A trail of blood led just off the path to two people holding each other.
An older man, with a young girl choking on her own blood in his arms. A grandfather and granddaughter, perhaps. “You! Help, please!” he cried out to me. I rushed over, even though I had no medical experience. I stitched up cuts and bandaged bruises as my children grew up, but that was nothing in comparison.
I panicked. "What happened? What can I do?" There were several cuts on the young girl's body, but most of her blood originated from her neck. She was barely holding on and didn't seem to notice my arrival.
The elder glared down at the bone still in my hands. “Is that what I think it is? Is that…,” he trailed off. Self-conscious, I pulled it a little closer to my chest. “It is! Thank Tyflós! Please, give it to me.”
A thousand drachmas worth of time was in my hands. It would take a single person approximately twenty years to earn up enough money for a single Erdos bone. I couldn't help but to hesitate.
The man held out his hand in anticipation. “Please, I’m begging you. She’s dying!” he pleaded.
I cursed my selfishness and handed him the bone. He took out a knife, which caused me to scramble backward several feet, and began carving something into the girl’s flesh.
He did so slowly, careful with every line. She didn't seem to feel it. I stopped freaking out as much after I recognized it as a glyph. Once the glyph was carved, he touched it with the bone, and it activated, sucking up the blood that already inhabited the skin.
Light spread from the intricate lines like snakes through the girl's body. Her wounds began to seal, naturally stitching together all the cuts. Finally, the blood stopped pouring from her neckline, and she simply lay there. She was still, but breathing.
I checked my bone in the man's hand, and it had shrunken down to three-fourths its original size. There was only so much magic inside. He dropped it like a half-eaten apple, and I nearly dove to catch it. I greedily grabbed it off the ground and backed up.
“Thank you so much, sir,” the man said. He didn’t look up from the girl in his arms. Tears fell onto her plump face, dripped down to her neck, and washed a little blood onto the grass. “Thank you… I don’t know what I would do without her.”
I looked up from the bone to the girl’s face. She was maybe sixteen. Her chiton dress was torn and tattered, but it looked like it might have been that way even before the attack. These people were poor. “Where did you learn to do that?” I asked the man.
He seemed distracted, understandably, but eventually, he answered. “When you grow up on the streets, you learn a few tricks to stay alive.” He brushed a puff of light blonde hair from the girl’s face. She still didn’t open her eyes, but she seemed okay. “That bone looks mighty foreign in your hands. Why do you have it?”
There wasn't anything about that man that made me distrust him, but I felt compelled to lie. I'm not sure why. Every time I looked at that little girl's face, I thought about my daughter. She was roughly the same age. A hard worker, and so compassionate. Maybe that's why I lied. In a weird, unnecessary attempt to protect her. "I'm just transporting it for a friend," I said.
The elder looked up at me and smirked like he held in a chuckle. “I would trust no one else but myself to hold something so valuable. You must have a really close friend.”
I nodded. My face was frozen. All I wanted to do was leave, but any exit I thought of was awkward. "Well I, uh, have to go deliver this now. So… Good luck, you two."
Just as I turned to walk away, he said, "hey." I turned around and locked eyes with him. "Thank you. You saved a life today." I smiled at him, and some of the tension eased. He turned back to the girl, and I walked away.
I walked faster and faster. After half an hour, I began to jog. By the time I reached the farm, I was drenched in sweat. The mile of farmland laid out before me. My daughter stopped watering the seeds and walked over to me. Her genuine grin and lines on the corner of her eyes eased my mind.
She laid her hand on the bone in my hands. “You got it,” she said through a nervous laugh. “It’s smaller than I thought it would be.”
My lungs still heaved, but my breath was coming back. “Yeah…”
"Can I?" she asked and gently took it from me. She turned it over and analyzed it. "I imagined an Erdos would have bigger bones than this. Maybe it's from a joint, or a finger."
“Please, I don’t want to think about the monster this came from. I’m still having second thoughts. But there were these people on the road.”
She scoffed. "Oh, come on. We worked so hard for this. You have to believe in it. Trust me. This'll work. This," she held it up in her hands like it was something holy, "this will work."
“I don’t know. It feels wrong,” I said.
She cocked her head. “Why?”
That was a difficult question to answer. I couldn't understand it. Who knows how many good men had to die fighting an Erdos to bring us that bone. And it was most likely hunted down, not killed in self-defense, as they most often are. Bones are the hottest merchant item in all of Damia.
“I’m not sure. Maybe I’m just too old.”
She rolled her eyes at me. "Are not! You're plenty young. Follow me. Let's get this thing started!"
She nearly skipped onto the seeded farmland, nimbly dodging all the planted crops. I'd had enough running and just walked after her. We stopped in the middle of the field and knelt down onto the soil.
“Do you remember the glyph?” I asked.
She nodded. “Mhmm. Don’t worry, I got this.” She took the smallest end of the bone and began drawing lines in the dirt. Her hand was careful, but fast. She had practiced drawing it a thousand times throughout the years.
Once it was done, we stared at it and at the bone in her hand. "I guess there's only one thing to do, now," I said and took out a small knife concealed under my chlamys.
My daughter held out her hand. “Here, let me do it. This was my idea.”
I pulled the knife away from her. “This is my farm.”
“Well, you’ve already sacrificed so much for it.”
“You’re my daughter. I’ll do it. It’s my responsibility.” She sighed and lowered her hand, and her gaze, to the soil. I held the knife up to my palm.
The farm and home I had built with my father sprawled out around me. Memories of getting up early and working the crops, sweating all day with my dad, and working towards a common goal echoed in my mind. We had built it all together.
My daughter and I…
Continued it. We hadn't built anything together. Every day I could see the excitement in her eyes whenever she mentioned using magic. That was her dream. I couldn't expect her to share my dream just because I shared my father's.
I took the knife from my palm and held it out to her. "Here."
She dragged her eyes from the soil. "You sure?" I gave a reassuring smile and nodded. Her mouth went agape with excitement as she nabbed the knife from my hand and held it up to her palm. "Okay. Here we go."
The knife slid between her skin ever so gently. She winced with pain, even though she had practiced this ritual a dozen times. She discarded the knife and wrung her palm out, dripping her blood over the glyph. I handed her the bone, and her face lit up with joy.
"Together," she said, holding up the bone an inch from the soil. I put my hand over hers, and, together, we slammed the bone into the ground. A pulse rippled through the land, nearly knocking us over and covering the entire farm. The blood seeped into the glowing glyph.
"Come on." I grabbed her hand and pulled her up. All around us, the seeds began to sprout. I led her out of the area so that we weren't in the plant's way. We watched the crops for a while, and nothing else happened. "It isn't exactly instantaneous, is it?"
She laughed. The sound of her joy gave me life. It held more value to me than any bone or coin could. It made every struggle of mine worth it. "Of course not, silly! It doubles our harvest and the rate of growth. It doesn't just grow them. We still have work to do. Grab a bucket." She went and grabbed a bucket of water, then looked back and winked at me.
Progress wasn't always destructive. As long as I was with her, I would do any kind of work. In my case, work didn't even change that much.