Friday, February 10, 2012

Story of the Week: Fire Eater

Fire EaterCourt Ellyn's "Fire Eater" is a sad story of misunderstanding and misplaced trust and sympathy. Mirrah is a reformer, a priestest filled with compassion and dedicated to pacifism. A new High King, who hopes to be known as a just ruler, gives her the opportunity to reform a hellish prison in which the basic needs of inmates are habitually ignored or cruelly denied. Mirrah finds that naedes, who require water like fish, have been locked in dry cells and that gnomes, who will go mad without earth in which to burrow, have been left in cells of brick and stone. Wyvern Prison for Extraplanar Delinquents houses non-human criminals and it "rose like a black boil above the Rahnish town of Aureth." Mirrah initiates the building of a new facility which she aptly names New Hope Prison and applies the compassion that her religious training demands to all the inmates. Mirrah sums up her philosophy in a speech to one of the caregivers working in the new infirmary.

“I understand your…discomfort. But you must understand something, too, Selisse. Many of these creatures, the draeling included, share human blood. Many more are here simply because they are considered foreign, misfits, outsiders. They have been abused and neglected by men who can’t imagine that these creatures share the same pain and fear that you feel, Selisse. And until we came along, no one cared. These creatures, from that wingless harpy over there to this draeling, deserve our unflinching compassion, not because they are good or pretty, but because we have it to give.”

Mirrah takes a special interest in one of the prisoners, a draeling named Derinzan--a half human, half drilyga creature of strength and fire who derives nourishment from the sun. The draeling had been thrown in a deep pit and forgotten. The former wardens of the prison had figuratively locked him up and thrown away the key. Accused of horrible atrocities during a rebellion, he has been imprisoned for nearly a century and a half. When pulled from the pit, he is barely alive, having been denied for so long the sunlight which he must have. Mirrah takes a leading role in nursing him back to health. At full strength, he appears a firey demon, standing over seven feet tall with sharp, curving horns, red skin, bulging muscles, black talons on his fingers and toes, and glossy red-black curls that tumble to his waist. She reaches out to him with her compassion, listens to his rendition of the events that landed him in the prison, and builds trust between them. According to Derinzan, he was a scapegoat and the men he was leading in the foraging party took as much part in the atrocities as he did. Having occurred more than a century ago, Mirrah has no sources, other than the official record, to corroberate or refute Derinzan's version. He responds to her kindness with trust and nobility and Mirrah believes him.

Mirrah petitions to the High King for the pardon and release of some of the prisoners whom she believes have been wrongly imprisoned or more than adequately served their time. Derizan is among those pardoned. Mirrah escorts him to the gate. Ellyn's description of their parting sets an ominous tone.

Derinzan stood inside the gate, wide-eyed. “I don’t know what to think of all that open space. So peaceful…” He looked down at Mirrah suddenly, confounded. “How in your goddess’s name can you be letting me go? You’re a pacifist, I’m anything but. I’ll take up a blade again. It’s the only thing I’m good at.”
“Unfortunately, that’s the business of war, isn’t it. You’re a warrior, Derinzan, not a criminal. And you deserve your freedom.”

He gave a vague sort of grin, one of sarcasm, perhaps, or of self-doubt or of scorn, and he asked, “Do I?”

Before Mirrah could encourage him or wish him well, Derinzan started along the road that wound down the island to the river. He boarded the ferry with far more confidence than Mirrah expected.

Mirrah learns the answer to his question months later and it costs her dearly. New Hope is "branded a failure across Rahn and the Verdant Mother Mirrah a fool blinded by woman’s compassion and naiveté." Derinzan tells her the truth of his past and recent crimes when the reeves bring him to the prison bound in chains. Ellyn's denouement takes her story beyond a mere tale of prison reform gone wrong. Derinzan trusts that Mirrah will see to his compassionate treatment, but as her last act as warden, she orders a cell built that will permit no light and throws away the key. Mirrah is not the only one in this sad tale who misunderstands another's character and misplaces her trust.

To learn more about Court Ellyn and her writing, check out her blog at

1 comment:

  1. Court's an excellent writer. Mists was a haunting (literally) piece (and currently FREE for Kindle on Amazon). Might have to check out this one, too.