Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams

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Fiction

To my daughter, in the dark of the moon

My daughter. Oh, my daughter! You are too young to understand, but I will tell you anyway: one day you will be a great hunter, you will be a great champion, and you will look around our village and you will wonder—is this everything? Is this the only glory left to me? Is this why my mother left, even before my seventh anno, towards the cursed spire from which there is no return?

So now I tell you: Yes. That is why I left. That is why, in your own time, in your own manner, in the fullness of your power and the fullness of your guile, you will follow me.

Because—and I do not mistake it—there will come a time when you have matched every beast in all the moors and darkwoods; when you have bested all the warriors of our village and of all our aunts and sisters; when you have led raids against the Sentinels, against the Wasters, against even the Unawakened Cult; when you have girdled your bride-groom with gold and silver; when you have fed him fine fruits whose names are long-forgotten; when there are no taller trees for you to climb; when there are no greater boasts for you to claim; when you have hunted the cruel ghost of our own fell ancestor; when you have blasphemously defeated her and claimed her skull to wear as your own mask. Yes, when you are at the end of all deeds and still sly and strong as ever, there will come a time when your eyes will fall upon that curse, that spire, that scar upon the sky, that ever-falling shadow where our mothers’ mothers built a tower to the moon and went there to hunt its alien god.

They say I am the greatest of all of us, my daughter. They say there shall never be my equal. But I know otherwise. I have known it ever since, with you still suckling, I set a knife into your infant’s hands, that you might cut yourself and know its edge in all its sharp and thinness. When of course you cut yourself—and how your father cried!—you did not bawl, you did not weep. You regarded your blood upon the blade, and the blood upon your hand, and you took it to your mouth and suckled blood instead of milk. Then I knew that though there had never, even in the times when our ancestors hunted a god across her moon, been a huntress my equal, you would be all that I am and greater still.

Your father wept and fussed. How could he understand? He is a man; he knows no knives but cookery. My daughter: This is what I fear the most. Not death, not pain, not even defeat, but that absent me your father might soften the temper of your steel, not in malice, but in love. Men will love you, my daughter, and that is good and proper, but you must never accept their love into your heart, no matter how beautiful their faces or how elegant their poetry. That love—man’s love, gentle love, love that has never known death or steel or war—is deadlier to your fame than any art of any poison. Oh daughter: Marry a man, if you want a daughter by him. Marry a man, and let him love you, but never hold his love inside your heart.

I leave now not because I hate you and not because I do not love you. My daughter! I love you more than any art can say. I go now to that accursed spire, not that I might best it and walk again the moon where our ancestors matched their greatest prey and claimed as their greatest trophy the undying curse of a dying god. I know that I shall match my power against the spire and that it will not be enough. My daughter: when at last you have exhausted every glory, I shall have already failed. When at last your eyes set upon the spire, I shall be these many annos dead.

But, my daughter: When you look and when you wonder, you must not turn away. You must not be content to be a hero; you must not be content to be a queen. You must know that spire where your mother’s power overmatched, where your mother failed against that ancient blight, that you my daughter might yourself succeed.

Look, and do not doubt. Look, and do not fear. Look, and hope instead that you shall at last avenge me.

—Thanks to MegaCrit Games for permission.

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P H Lee

P H Lee. A close-up photograph of three white plum blossoms on a branch, with an out-of-focus brown-and-green background.

P H Lee lives on top of an old walnut tree, past a thicket of roses, down a dead end street at the edge of town. Their work has appeared in many venues including Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Uncanny Magazine. From time to time, they microwave and eat a frozen burrito at two in the morning, for no reason other than that they want to.