When Dev Asfan’s options were to risk becoming an old maid or marry Kem Kava Quye Sec, the only eligible bachelor left in her village, though he was a full year her junior and through a network of complicated and strangely timed unions quite possibly her great nephew, she chose marriage. They’d grown up together and friendship existed between them, if not romance. She kept a good home, and was a steady and reliable mother to their first child, Kem Dev Asfan.
Kem Sec, on the other hand, had a head filled with possibilities. Every fanciful passing whim overwhelmed him, like a gust of wind to a dandelion seed. He was forever rushing home with promises of wonder and riches learned from wise strangers met upon the road, who were happy to disclosed their secrets for a small fee. Poor Kem Sec heard no end to his wife’s disappointment and spent more nights than not sheltering in the safety of a neighbor’s house to give Dev Asfan time to rest, and awaken from her sleep with the fresh forgetfulness of morning. Dev Asfan, being a woman of a practical nature, understood that the simplest way to get her husband to focus on his work was to forgive him, and so daily, she did.
One starless night, however, while the air outside was crisp and Dev’s belly was round and full with their second child, Kem Sec located poor Dev Asfan’s final shred of patience and spent it.
“I’ve come into possession of a borsignibbit!” he exclaimed proudly, holding up a common stone.
Dev Asfan knew by now not to bother asking what in the world a borsignibbit might be, for inevitably, she’d find the answer upsetting. Instead she focused on the practical question.
“What did you pay for it?” she asked.
“There is no end to the value of the borsignibbit,” replied Kem Sec, tucking the stone protectively into his pocket.
“I imagine that’s so,” sighed Dev Asfan. “I only wish to know what you promised, so I can pay it properly in the morning.”
“With this,” hedged Kem Sec, “you’ll never need to worry about cost again. We will have it back thirty-fold,” he added, retreating already toward the door he’d just entered. “You need to trust me Dev, you don’t understand…”
But Dev Asfan understood well enough.
“You must take it back,” she said. “Renegotiate.”
But she knew that was not possible even as she said it. No one renegotiated a trade that had been shaken upon, and she knew her husband well enough to know he’d shaken. Fanciful though he was, he was good to his word.
“Trust me,” repeated Kem Sec.
“How could I trust you, you impossible fool?” Dev Asfan’s voice boomed through the neighborhood. She ushered him out the door and latched the bolt against him. “I wish you and your trouble on someone else! I certainly never earned this!”
Dev barely slept that night, and when morning filtered through her curtains, she had not forgiven him. She made her way to the village storage hall and tried not to weep as she watched the men empty their room of the food that was supposed to feed her family through the coming winter. The borsignibbit had come at a price she couldn’t believe even her husband would have agreed to pay, but Kem Sec was nowhere around to be asked. In fact, he was wise enough not to show his face all that day, or the next.
When he failed to surface the day after, though, Dev Asfan began to worry, and thought over her angry words. She wished he’d be brave enough to show his face, so she could know those weren’t the last words he heard from her, but he did not. None of the neighbors had any idea where to find him. He hadn’t come to any of them that night. The village-folk had no better information, nor did the wanderers along the road. Dev Asfan gave up after a week, and set her focus to doing what she could to find food for her family. She walked for miles each day with young Kem Dev Asfan at her heels, teaching him how to recognize edible plants and roots, and carrying what she could home again to preserve. They ate small, mean meals, and when her daughter, Anri Dev Asfan was born the next spring, the poor thing was small and inconsolable.
Without Kem Sec there to help, and Kem Dev Asfan still too young to break up the soil, Dev Asfan barely managed to plant half the crop of years before, though she labored twice as long each day. Eventually she gave up land to pay her debts, until her land was no more than a small garden behind her house. Folk around the village asked Dev why she didn’t find a new husband in a neighboring town, but Dev found that on the matter of her missing husband, she was no longer practical. Each night she sat by the window, imagining him strolling up the walk with that bright look in his eyes that said he’d found something inspiring in the day. She missed him terribly, and wondered if perhaps she should have let him dream a little after all.
Dev’s son, Kem Dev Asfan, grew tall and strong in the years that passed, and her daughter, Anri Dev Asfan, grew bright and lovely, and eventually both children moved away. Dev lived a simple life, tending her garden and looking forward to visits from her children. It was another starless night when a knock at her door drove her from an early bedtime, and when she found Kem Sec standing before her, she quietly shut the door again and fixed the bolt into its harness.
“I deserve that,” said a voice from behind her, and she spun to find Kem Sec standing beside the fireplace warming his hands, though the coals were all but spent by now.
He wore traveling clothes, dusted and caked by years on the road. His hair was long and knotted and his hands were covered in a layer of filth that might never wash out. Where Dev Asfan had grown perhaps a little soft through the years Kem Sec had slimmed to a lean figure, taller seeming than she remembered.
“You deserve worse,” she said haughtily, though there was little bite left in her tone. She had all the reason in the world to hate the man before her, but in his absence she’d found room to love him instead.
“I didn’t think I’d been gone as long as this,” said Kem Sec. “I was… far away.”
Dev thought again of her last angry words toward her husband. “Just as I wished it,” she murmured, gesturing Kem Sec toward her table while she put on a kettle for tea.
“Exactly as you wished it,” said Kem Sec, taking his seat. “I’ve been on my way home to you since that night, and, well, this is finally how I found you.” He held up the common little stone that had changed everything those years ago. “All the riches I promised you, I have now, Dev. It’s yours. But the greatest wealth I could give you is to show you some of the places I’ve seen. This world is wide and full of wonder… if you’re open to wonder,” he added as an afterthought, or perhaps a question.
Dev prepared their tea in silence.
“Well,” she said at last, “I might like to see some of this wonder. So long as you’re there with me.”
Kem slid a lumpy leather pouch across the table.
“What is this?” she asked.
Kem smiled privately. “Unfulfilled wishes,” he said, “if you have the imagination to ask for them.” He met her gaze. “Open it my love.”
The next morning when Anri Dev Asfan came to check in on her mother she found the house empty, except for a note propped against her mother’s favorite potted plant describing how often to water it, and two leather pouches. One was filled with gems of every size and color; more wealth than many villages combined. The other was something of a mystery. Anri turned the second pouch over and a handful of smooth gray stones clattered across the table. A folded note fell out with them.
“Be careful what you wish,” was all it said.Written by W. C. McClure www.wcmcclure.com. This short story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell your friends – and pick up a copy of “The Statues of Azminan” by W. C. McClure. Thanks!