Rated R: For Gods, Mortals, Frogs, and Other Potential Sacrifices
by Ann Leckie
Irris was a changed man. When he went out fishing, he didn’t spend the day drunk or asleep in the boat and then come home with nothing, the way everyone expected. Instead he made a full day’s catch early, and then picked up an axe and went to cut wood. He sat down to dinner sober, played with the baby, spoke pleasantly to his wife and sister. In the evening, instead of drinking, he sat in front of the fire and knotted nets, or carved fishhooks. It’s because he almost died, the neighbors whispered. Everyone had seen the scar. Everyone wondered how long the change could last.
There were other things, little strangenesses that never made their way out of the house for the villagers to be aware of them. For instance, one afternoon Ytine brought him a dish of vetch, and he said, “My dear, it amuses me to call this gravel. So the next time I ask you for a bowl of gravel, you’ll know what I want.” Water was poison, working was sleeping. The list of changed names seemed to grow every day. Voud wasn’t sure why Ytine went along with it, except that the new Irris was kind and hard-working, and doted on the baby. And maybe, thought Voud, that was reason enough. The crane had said not to waste her grief on Irris, and she hadn’t cried when she’d heard the whispery-voiced god say he was dead.
But one evening Irris came home in an especially good mood. “Good fishing means good trading,” he said. He had needles, and fiber — dyed and spun — for Ytine, and a tiny, wheeled cart for the baby. “And Voud,” he said, “I hear you’re a hunter.” He handed her a bronze knife. It was small and its plain haft was dented, but it was a real metal knife and it was hers.
That was when she knew for certain that her brother was dead. Irris would never have thought to buy her something she wanted so much. Not without her telling him, and likely not even then. She sat there with the knife in her hand and cried.