The fire burns still.
Morana listened to her mother whisper these words over and over again into the dead of night, a quiet lullaby to her sleeping children. The cold nipped at her heels as she left them to tend the fire, and Morana huddled deeper under her furs, watching her go with wide, bright eyes.
When she was beginning to find her place among the women of her tribe, Morana was finally allowed to stay up and watch the fire with her mother. Her first few nights, she sat a silent vigil with her mother only to wake in her bed the next morning. She tried every trick the older girls in the village teased her with in order to stay alert through the night until she finally gave up, amounting their words to nothing but lies. They laughed behind their hands at her, with their unsullied furs and perfect braids, until Morana turned her wild face upon the girls and snarled at them with her sharp teeth. They always fell quiet, frightened, until she had passed by.
And then, nearly a year since she had begun sitting by her mother, tending the fire, Morana discovered her mother sipping from a blue lemon. After she had been put to bed and her mother gone from their hut, Morana crept into the kitchen and dug through their stores until she found another. She bit into it hungrily, without preamble, and nearly choked.
Knelt on the floor, gasping for air, Morana watched as blue lemon juices dripped between her fingers and fell with great, thunderous noises to the floor. She hastily shoved the lemon in her mouth to mask the noise and looked to the door for her mother.
Instead, she saw a man on fire.
The blue lemon rolled from her mouth to the floor, and Morana let out a shattering breath, her lips stained blue as she sagged to the side, watching as the man extended his arm, and then his fingers, palm up and waiting. Morana shook her head desperately, but the sudden motion sent her tumbling over, and her head bounced off of the floor as she wept cold tears.
She heard her mother’s voice, her last, lingering words, whispering carefully through the small hut. Morana had always revered her mother, imagined her as a witch of great and terrible power, and perhaps that was why the other girls feared her. To mock the daughter of the tribe’s witch was tantamount to leaving a coin under your tongue in the middle of the night. The boatman was sure to come looking.
And yet, for all the strength and prominence she had always seen in her mother, Morana had never listened properly to her lullaby, had never heeded her warning.
My fire burns still.