All the Times I'm Ten
Ephiny Gale is the author of more than two dozen published short stories and novelettes that have appeared in publications including 'Beneath Ceaseless Skies', 'Constellary Tales', and 'Daily Science Fiction'. Her fiction has been awarded the Sundress Publications' Best of the Net award and the Syntax & Salt Editor's Award.
The first time I turned ten was the most important one. Not because my feats in that lifetime were particularly impressive, but because of Morgan.
We grew up down the road from one another, jumping barefoot across boulders in the river and flying kites made from the scraps of our old shirts. Morgan knew and liked me before I was ten, and that made all the difference.
That first time, they plucked me from our home because of my birthmark, which ranks amongst the silliest reasons to select a chosen one. They trained me in combat and battle tactics and leadership. I had the best mentorship and the best equipment and the best army. At the time, when I wasn't a child crying alone in his strange new bedroom, I thought I was special. But I had every advantage—almost anyone in my place could have succeeded.
Once I had driven back the darkness infecting our land, struck down those responsible, and restored a tentative peace, I was a young man. Everyone knew me and thousands wanted to be my wife. But I only wanted Morgan. She had valued me before anyone cared there was a pale wolf smeared across the brown of my ten-year-old leg. Thankfully, she still did.
We married in the winter and lived a comfortable, quiet life together until I passed in my sleep. The last thing I remember of Morgan is her kissing my forehead and saying, "Goodnight, my hound. Good sleep hunting."
When I awoke, I was ten again.
The second time, I was a girl. It was my tenth birthday, even though it was yesterday that Morgan and I were teaching our granddaughter Sloane how to skip stones. The second time, a magical creature imprinted on me while I was out gathering blueberries for my birthday party, and I was expected to raise it into a beast powerful enough to overthrow the corrupt oligarchy. Adults did not use the word 'oligarchy' around me; I was ten. I asked about Morgan and Lydia and Sloane, but they did not exist in that world. I overthrew the oligarchy. I hoped the fledgling democracy we instilled in its place was better.
I was ten many, many times. I was boys and girls and royalty and penniless. I was the goddess's chosen and the girl who could speak to angels and the boy who pulled the enchanted sword from amber. I was the lone survivor of a massacre, a plague, an eruption. I was the girl who assassinated the wicked king, the brightest magician of his age, the most gifted enchanted card player, and the silver-tongued diplomat who secured a treaty with the fae. I was the general who drove the monsters underground. I was the seamstress who wove a new ending for the world while she bled onto the straw.
I was very, very tired.
It started to make more sense, why I was the chosen one. I learned very quickly because I was often relearning. I had to adjust to holding a sword in a new body, but I understood sword play. I had to adjust to new magic systems, but I knew how it felt to wield magic. I had several lifetimes of experience at my disposal. I was the serious child or the strange child or the arrogant child. I knew things a normal ten-year-old would never know.
I was the chosen one.
And every time, I asked about Morgan.
It took forty-six lives for me to find her again.
Morgan's grave is underneath a lemon tree in Sloane's back yard. Morgan lived for six years after me. I'm pleased for her. When I knock on Sloane's door, I am a ten-year-old girl in buttercream robes. Sloane opens the door, sees me, sees my bodyguards.
I tell her I am a relative, and to her credit she does not disagree, even though this time I am as pale as my long-buried birthmark and her family has always been darker.
My bodyguards wait outside. I sit at Sloane's kitchen table and listen to her talk about her family. I eat the carrot cake she offers me, and it is sweet and moist. I lick my fingers. I look around the room and am comforted that she appears to have enough wealth to live on and some to spare. She has a husband and one grown child. She sits opposite me with Morgan's eyes and my original nose, and I smile up at her.
"I know you're supposed to kill the gods," says my beautiful granddaughter. "Do you need my help? Can I do something for you?"
“Yes," I say immediately, to both of our surprise. "I am very tired, and I am ten. I would like you to put me to bed with a glass of milk and read me a story."
Sloane settles me into her son's old bed, and I tuck my head under her arm while she reads. The fire is on. She is a good reader, like Morgan used to be.
Tomorrow, I have a pantheon to dismantle, but tonight I am ten, and the world is quiet.