How do you make progress in a world that doesn’t change? You don’t. Every now and then, though, I catch myself thinking about what my life would be like in a different world; one where progress hasn’t been declared an enemy of the people and locked away out of sight and — most people’s — minds.
A world where I could change my destiny, or fate some call it.
I am a terrible fisherman. I know this, my Mother knew this, everyone knows this.
I don’t like water, I get seasick and I’m impatient. My market stall always has the thinnest offerings — unless the water had been uncharacteristically calm that day. Yet I am a fisherman by trade and will be one until the day I grow old just like my brother. That’s what it’s like on the islands, where you are no more than what you were born to be.
Even the royals have no say in the matter.
For as long as we have known, a single family has ruled the people of our secluded, water-locked nation. There is, and has only ever been, one royal family; nobody new ever takes power. Nothing ever changes.
So when I was born to a fisherman, I was to be a fisherman. To take his place when he retired. To keep the wheel turning without ever going faster. While I’m not an only child, my brother could never take over from me. The older child takes the father’s profession, the younger the mother’s. No trades; no exceptions. You must have two children - replacements - but you must never have more than that. One child for one parent.
I was doomed to a life I loathed in a world not meant for me, but then, as I floated along, trying to keep the contents of my stomach very much within my stomach, I was struck with an idea. For the first time in my life, I felt like I’d made progress.
My dream, since I was a boy, was to develop some form of magic. Most of those blessed, or cursed as islanders would say, were born with their gifts, yet on that rare occasion, some found it caught them later in life. Magic on the islands was seen as a dangerous thing. A force for change — a challenge to the ruling class. A threat to our fragile existence. An enemy that must be eliminated.
Magic wielders were shipped to capitals cities on the mainland, places where they were worshipped, not shunned. It was the only way off the island — that or to be an unwanted royal. Too many royals meant a need for more wealth in the monarchy, which meant a shift of wealth distribution across the whole island, which meant change. But you couldn’t kill a royal either. Their blood may be needed. To save on costs, those on the furthest edges of the family were sent overseas too, although they didn’t enjoy the same warm welcome as the magic wielders.
Yet I was not blessed with either royal or magic blood.
Magic was rare, very rare, and those that did possess it had very obvious gifts. You’d find either element-wielders, those that could conjure flames from mid-air or ice from stone, or see-ers, individuals granted visions of the future or distant lands. Both types of magic were easy to test and recognize, and seemingly impossible to fake. Or were they? Of course, there was no way I could feign a jet of fire spitting out of my fingertips, but, as my mind wandered over the horizon, letting more and more fish slip through my net, I wondered if I could work a plot cunning enough to appear as if I’d made a prophecy come to bare.
To me, it was all simple enough. So simple I spent days scolding myself for not thinking of it sooner. One happy result of being stranded at sea most of the day, with a desire to focus on anything other than the choppy waves, was that I had found methods of distracting my mind. Unlike many of my kin, I’d taught myself to read. When you were unable to stand for fear of falling over in a fit of dizziness and nausea, remaining clamped in the corner of your boat with a book was the most appealing option you had. As it turned out, reading was a powerful ally in the world of scheming. I could access knowledge that so few others knew existed.
Our library was small but full of history, including plenty of scrolls and even the occasional book on two subjects I found most interesting: magical occurrences.
The answer, sadly, was to bewitch the public.
So what did the scrolls say I needed for a good performance? A crowd. I chose my location wisely. A bustling market by the water’s edge during a warm summer’s day. People were out in droves. Then I had to make it believable. Candid recounts in the books and scrolls I’d read spoke of how see-ers gripped by powerful foresight would collapse into a heap, muttering inaudible words and contorting their bodies. Finally, I had to follow through. I had to carry on the performance to reel in my audience. The true see-ers would wake in a daze and utter words of prophecy, before becoming unnervingly energized and without recollection of the moments prior, instead, slowly coming to remember their vision over the next few minutes.
A plague was coming, a monstrous plague, I believe my exact words were, before I snapped back to life. It’s hard to know if I did a good job, but those crowding around me seemed alarmed and fearful, which I took to mean that I had followed the old performer’s words well enough.
The acting was the hard part, making the prophecy come to fruition was far easier. Mashing up the glands of fish and mixing in weeds for added potency was challenging, not least because of the smell, but far less taxing than being a live performer. By morning, the crops wilted and began to rot, the fish soaking into their roots and decimating everything it touched.
I was quite surprised by its effectiveness.
Not an hour after sunrise I was taken and set before the royals. And with that, I achieved what nobody on the island had done for centuries. I progressed. I worked my way out of a hole I could not bare to exist within, and I was free.
And no I am on the mainland reading scrolls and practicing my "Magic". I have not spoken to my Mother or my Father since my departure, as it is forbidden. Some times I do wish I could just tell them how I did it so maybe they could be free as well. I'd not wish to see my family be ruled the rest of their lives. But it has to be this way.
But at the end of the day I changed. I was free.
So if someone tells you that you can not change fate, tell them my story. Tell them how I defeated the odds and changed my life for the better.