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"Fate and Other F-Words"

Based a writing prompt on [community profile] crowdfunding here

"I am NOT going to save the damned world, or even a little corner of it! I don't want that life, scrambling from one near death mess to another!. Leave that garbage to 'adventurers' with more bravery than sense!" Calina ranted at her mother as she pulled her clothes out of a drawer.

"But dear, that is our family's fate, the curse of our blood. It's what we do." her mother Carine sighed. "It's how we learn and grow."

"No! I don't care what some long dead seer declared about me before I was even born! I am not bound by some creep's pronouncement!"

"So the world should perish, because you don't want to be bothered to save it?" her mother scolded

"If the world is so fragile that I have to go against my will and wishes to keep it running, yes!"

"Why can't you just take a few years to adventure and then settle down?" the older woman implored. "It won't cost you that much."

"Oh, no, not much at all, maybe just an eye, a leg, or an arm, like all of the washed up adventurers at the tavern. Just everything I might need to pursue the trade I want."

"I wish I hadn't permitted you to take up the potters wheel."

"Why? So you could push me to go be a sword maiden or a sorceress instead, even though I have little talent for magic and none for the sword?"

"You do all right with a long dagger, and you have a knack with fire, dear. That's not 'no talent'"

"It's too minor to be of use to an adventurer." the younger woman said exasperatedly. "Both the town mage and the town arms master said I should wait to see if I grew more talent when I got older, because I didn't have enough to bother more than the most basic training that is given to everyone."

"Well maybe you could be a scout or a spy....?" her mother suggested.

"No. Just no. I get lost in the woods and I am too noticeable for a spy." Calina pointed out, somewhat impatiently. "The only talent I have is for the potters wheel, and firing oven. That and baking my own bread."

"But we have always adventured..." her mother implored

"Well I will not. I have free will, I have a place in the potters guild. I have been granted place in the guild hall" she said as she pulled out her duffel. "All I want from my life is to spend my time making cups, bowls, pots, vases and maybe a pretty trinket or two during the week, take them to market on the week-end, then go home to my solid walls and small fire, maybe to read a book or make some crafts. A simple, not too dangerous life, making things for people to buy."

Her mother's face fell. "But that's so... so... boring. What stories will you tell your children by the fires in the evening?"

"I'll just tell them yours, father's, the grand's, etc. I know them well enough, but that life is not for me."

"But your destiny... your fate... the world..." her mother wailed "Won't you think of others?"

"Maybe those with the talents for such things should do them. I'll stick to providing them fired clay." Calina said as she finished packing her duffel.

"Please, Calina, don't turn your back on fate. It will not go well for you." her mother implored.

"Is that a threat? Is some magical monster going to come eat me because I have no talents for adventuring, because I don't want to be a fabled hero? Not exactly the best incentive, is it? Risk your life, or risk your life?" Calina's jaw set "Let the monsters come. I'll smash a pot on their head and stuff them into the firing oven."

With that Calina hoist her duffel onto her shoulder, turned, and left, leaving her mother sitting at the table with her head in her hands.

---

Calina did well in the potters guild, rising quickly to journeyman, then master. She went from simple thrown pottery to cast pocelain that she carved exquisite patterns into and colored with a blend of glazes. She dealt well with the younglings in the guild and was respected by masters in more than just her village. Nobles sought out her more delicate works as gifts for visiting dignitaries. She even sometimes took commissions.

But her parents and her brother never spoke to her again.

Eventually a messenger came and told her that her brother had been killed on the border, in a nobleman's adventure gone awry. Her parents took up sword and mage stone to go and avenge him. Soon enough, word came that they, too, were dead. All she could do was make three porcelain urns, in case their bones were ever recovered. Her tears fell into the glaze, crying at the waste of their lives on a fool's quest.

---

"Master Calina! Master Calina!" One of the apprentices came pounding up "There is a noblewoman here who wants to speak with you!"

"What type of vessel does she desire? Has she said?" Calina put the final flourishes on the pot she was turning as she slowed then stopped her wheel.

"She hasn't said, she said she's only talk to you!" the young girl said breathlessly.

Calina sighed "Nobles, always wanting a master to do what a journeyman should. Very well." she said as she brushed the clay dust off of her heavy leather apron and stood up. "Let me go see what her ladyship wants."

The noblewoman was middle aged, but with a sadness around her eyes "You are Master Calina?"

"I am. What may I make for you?" Calina replied smoothely

"You are the daughter of Carine and Steyr?" the woman asked

"Those were the names of my parents, yes." Carina replied steadily.

"You are the last of your line, yes?" she pressed further

"I would suppose so, although who knows what woods colts my brother left in his wake. Or my father for that matter. I understand that adventurers were seldom monogamous on adventure" Calina said, amused.

"Then maybe you can help me. I have a quest and ..."

Calina cut her off. "My lady, I am a potter, not an adventurer. I have no skill with sword, magic, tracking or spying. I make pottery."

The noblewoman all but crumpled. "Then who will save me from being forcibly married to the Dark King in two weeks? Who will keep me from being consumed the way your brother and parents were?"

"How do you mean, consumed?" Calina asked, because the previous messengers had told her very little.

"Enthralled, then consumed, until nothing but a mindless husk is left." the woman all but wailed

"Are you saying that there is no mage in all of the several kingdoms that can counter this? That scores of adventurers have not been able to stop this consumption of life, even those in this village?"

"Have you seen any of them around lately? Have they come to your shop for potion vessels and lamps?" The lady countered.

Calina thought carefully about the last few times she had been to market and the front of the guild shop. "No, I haven't, actually. Master Hogareth has a standing order for flasks that he hasn't picked up in a week."

"That's because the Dark King's spies and assassins have eliminated them." The noblewoman declared "NOW will you help me?"

Calina sighed. "I am a potter. What little magic I have is bent toward the clay and the fire. I am not a match for a mage who consumes people's very lives."

The noblewoman's brow furrowed, then she glanced sharply off to the left, outside the shop. "Damn. I think I've been followed by the servants of my "'betrothed'. Now we're both in for it."

Calina frowned, then smiled. "Not really." Her smile deepened. "After all, would you not commission porcelain vessels for use in the wedding from a well known master?"

"Yes, but...." the noblewoman looked confused.

"I am a master potter. I have made wedding sets for kings, dukes, and all down to barons and sea lords." Calina took out her notepad. "Now, what would you like me to make you?" Calina smiled deeply, playing the subservient craftsperson, having seen the "urchin" hovering outside the shop door. Her eyes flicked toward the doorway.

"Um, true, after all I sought you out based on your reputation." the noblewoman was starting to sweat, but she managed to pick up Calina's cues. "I haven't bought things for my own wedding before, since my late husbands family did all of the arranging. What would you recommend for a wedding of state that united two kingdoms?"

Calina thought furiously. The beginnings of a plan was forming, almost unbidden, in the back of her mind. "Most such affairs center around the union of the two, so a single cup, a single plate, a single bowl for the two to eat from, made of nearly translucent porcelain, trimmed with gold glaze."

"That might work. I think I saw something like it when the children of two warring duchies were married to settle the feud." She relaxed a little, realizing that Calina was right about her needing such things to have a prayer of surviving.

"Very well. What are your 'betrothed's colors?" Calina asked, making notes.

The woman whispered "Can you magic them or something?"

Calina sighed "My magic is that of the clay and the firing oven. I have had years to feel its ways." she lowered her voice and whispered "I hope it will be enough." Louder, she said "It will be done in two weeks, no sooner, lest it break in the firing."

The noblewoman gave her the colors and emblems of the Dark King, pre-paid her order, and left.

---

Two weeks later she was done. She had allowed none of the apprentices or journeymen to aid her as she carved, cast, fired, glazed, fired, glazed and fired again. She did not leave the guild hall, spending all her time not asleep making sure that the pieces came out perfectly.

None of the local mages were seen, but numerous blank-eyed guardsmen strolled the streets frightening away the custom from most of the shops and guild halls. Word had it that they were looking for the hero fortold as destined to try and thwart the wedding. Calina scoffed, asserting that "there are no such people here any more, just guild people, merchants and farmers. All the adventurers have thrown their lives away on quests."

The noblewoman, looking even more haunted and wearing an air of doom, came by to pick up the wedding set exactly two weeks later, with a couple of nasty looking "escorts" and one creepy looking mage with her. Calina had prepared a proper box for transport of such items, and had them out for display.

The noblewoman looked, and lit up "They're beautiful!" she exclaimed.

The creepy mage shuffled forward and inspected the items. "There is magic in these! What game is this?" he accused.

Calina drew herself up to her full height. "I AM a master potter. My magics are confined to the clay and the firing. It was necessary to use those skills to finish the work in the time allowed. You will not find much masterwork without magic in it." She explained this to the mage as if he were a simpleton. "How else do you think we make potion flasks that survive the uses they get put to, hmmm?"

The mage glowered "My flasks don't have that." he said, pulling one out.

Calina snorted "Here," She grabbed a flask from a stack behind the counter. "Compare a master work to what you have. Feel the difference."

The mage took the flask and examined it closely, carefully. He weighed it in his hand, then said "How many do you have for sale?"

Calina bent down and counted the mage flasks that she had that hadn't been selling in over three weeks. "Twenty. The local mages haven't been around to buy them lately." she said crossly. "So I haven't made more than that."

"I'll take them all. I see how they are better suited."

Calina gave him a standard price, and wrapped them up for him. She turned to the noblewoman. "Does the wedding set meet your specification, my lady?"

The noblewoman sighed. "Yes, Master Potter, yes it does."

"Excellent." Calina carefully packed the goblet, plate and bowl into the travel case. "While it is porcelain, I have made it in such a way as it should better survive the trip. Even so, it is finework, so I don't suggest you let the guards use it for boredom games."

The noblewoman cringed "Have you had people do that before?"

"Yes" Calina growled. "I had to remake a set in a rush once, because they would only delay the wedding a week. I was not happy with the second set, it wasn't as well decorated."

"I... see." the noblewoman sighed. She lifted the box off of the counter, only to have one of the escorts take it from her.

The mage patted his sack of flasks. "I'll want more of these, when you get the chance."

"Of course sir. Now that those have sold and my commission is done I can make more." she replied smoothly. "Safe travels."

After they left she went back into her shop, and looked at the urns she had made for her parents and brother. "I hope this works. After all, I am no adventurer, no swordsman or mage, to fill a destiny that I never wanted."

---

The next day the wedding took place in the main city of the kingdom. Calina was not present, of course, she had pottery to make. There were witnesses to bear the news, after all.

A priest from some unnamed cult officiated, and the ritual words were said. The newlyweds then set out their first meal in the wedding set that Calina had made. Each time, the Dark King made his new bride eat or drink first from the joint vessel or plate, which she did without harm. Nothing happened each time that the Dark King consumed from them. The noblewoman began to despair, for the next thing was the consummation of the wedding, and her life.

Then, the Dark King stood from the table, and gestured for her to rise and accompany him. Feeling the need for a last bit of fortification, she grabbed the goblet and drank the last of the wine, returning the goblet to the table. She turned back toward the Dark King in time to see him look shocked, and crumple, lifeless, to the ground.

There was pandemonium. The newlywed "Dark Queen" had a look of shock on her face. The creepy little mage looked at his master, horrified, and grabbed the goblet to try to figure out what happened. It exploded in his hand, as though it had been fired too wet, and the shards pierced his heart.

Dozens of courtiers and guardsmen dropped like sacks of flour, glassy eyed and dead. Others still shook themselves and wondered where they were and what was happening. It would be an hour before things came to any order.

---

Calina knew when the deed had been done, for the remnant of the porcelain that she had fired with it shattered. She smiled to herself, pleased at her masterwork.

Yes, her fate may have been to "save the world", but she did it of her own will and her own way. Next, she had to find her family's bones...

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