Today I Read…Hero is a Four Letter Word

Hero is a Four Letter WordToday I read Hero is a Four Letter Word by J.M. Frey. Frey is also the author of Triptych.

We look up to heroes. We place them on pedestals, crown them with laurels, and marvel at the tales of their great deeds. But what do the heroes see when they look in the mirror? In her first short story collection, J.M. Frey shows us three heroes behind their magic swords and capes. Sometimes the hero’s journey starts with figuring out who they are and what they’ll fight for.

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J.M. Frey has previously explored the idea of the hero in the anthologies When the Hero Comes Home and When the Villain Comes Home, both edited by Gabrielle Harbowry and Ed Greenwood and published by Dragon Moon Press. Her stories from the two anthologies, The Once and Now-ish King and The Maddening Science are included in this collection, along with a previously unpublished short story, Another Four Letter Word.

As usual, Frey runs the full emotional gauntlet from laughter to heartbreak, with stops along the way at bitterness, regret, anger, determination, desire, and absurdity. Fans of rewritten myths and legends, both ancient and modern, will love her twist on feats of derring-do and what the heroes are really thinking behind their posing and finger-wagging at villains and exclamations of “You can’t do that! That’s naughty!” (All of the points to the first person in the comments to guess the reference.)

Heroes are born to be extraordinary. But these heroes are all the more extraordinary because they insist on being Destiny’s partner, not her pawn.

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The first thing that Arthur Pendragon, the Once and Future (well, Now-ish) King did upon his rebirth into the world at the moment of Albion’s greatest need, was to open his shrivelled red mouth and squall out: “Oh hell,no.

Which startled his Mother quite badly, you’ll understand, as she had just put him to her breast for his first little feeding. She shook her head and glared balefully at the IV needle in the bend of her elbow, ignored her new son’s outburst, and went about her task.

The second thing that Arthur Pendragon, the Once and Now-ish King did upon his rebirth into the world at the moment of Albion’s greatest need, was to consume his body weight in breast milk. After which, he soiled his nappy, burped quite dramatically, and took a wee bit of a nap.

Getting born was hard work, you know.

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“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Lady Carterhaugh,” he whispers. His eyes are gravity wells. As deep and as appealing as Da’s grave.

“Pleased to make yours, Liam,” she replies, enchanted far too easily by his smooth manners.

He raises her hand to his mouth, brushes a dry kiss across the back of it. Then, from somewhere behind him, he produces a flower. It is one of the late-blooming wild roses, two blossoms fully blown on a single stem.

Jennet can’t help it. The spell is broken. She throws back her head and guffaws.

He stands there, roses upheld, looking equal parts surprised and hurt.

“Oh, your face!” Jennet howls. “Did you think that would work?

“It always has,” he pouts. “Do ladies no longer like roses? Have they fallen out of fashion?”

“Do you hear yourself?” Jennet laughs. “You sound like a period drama!”

Liam drops her hand and turns away, obviously upset, and rubs his free palm on the thighs of his dark jeans.

“Oh, come on,” Jennet says, calming down. “Don’t get your feathers in a ruffle. It’s a very nice rose. And your manners are lovely. And I do appreciate you not throwing rocks at my windows.”

He turns back to face her, face twisted in a strange rictus of amusement and horror. “Ladies are not at all what they used to be,” he says, definitive.

“Nope,” Jennet agrees. “And thank the Lord for that.”

Liam runs a frustrated hand through his hair, and gold fluffs up like dandelion down. “You’re not making this easy, Jennet,” he huffs.

“What’s meant to be easy?” Jen counters. “Me?”

“Oh, no,” he says, eyes immediately round and apologetic. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Tell me how you meant it, then, and choose your words carefully.” She pats her back pocket expressively.

“How is a man enchanted with a woman meant to behave, if not like this?”His arms spread in askance. The heads of the roses bob, as if to agree with his frustration.

“Well, threatening the safety of a woman by behaving like a horrible creeper is right out of fashion, now-a-days,” Jen says, and she can’t help the lilt of tease that slips into her voice at the end.

“And what then?” Liam asks, receptive to her smile. His frustration is ebbing, replaced with interest in her explanation.

“Most guys chat up women in the grocery store, or in a bar,” Jennet says. “Somewhere public, you know? Sometimes they even call a girl. Or message them on the internet. Send them cards, or knock on their doors. Anything but skulk around, alone in the forest with roses and cheesy lines.”

Liam grins puckishly and dips another theatrical bow. “But it worked, didn’t it?”

Jennet snorts. “Only because I decided to listen to you instead of brain you with a branch. Which I may yet regret.”

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In the morning, I’m troubled. I think I’ve made a very bad choice, but I’m not sure how to rectify it. I am not even sure how to articulate it.

Rachel was right. I am lonely. I am desperately, painfully lonely. And I will be for the rest of my unnaturally long life. But Rachel is lonely, too. Desperate in her own way, desperate for the approval of a mother I can only assume was distant and busy in Rachel’s youth, and then too famous and busy in her adolescence. Rachel wants to be nothing like her mother, wants to hurt her, punish her, and yet…wants to impress her so very badly that she is willing to take the ultimate step, to profess love for a man her mother once hated, to ‘fix him,’ to ‘make him better.’ To make him, me, good.

Only, Rachel doesn’t understand. I don’t want to bebetter, or good, or saved. I just want to live my boring, in-extraordinary life in peace and quiet, and then die. I don’t want to be her experiment.

 

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One thought on “Today I Read…Hero is a Four Letter Word

  1. Pingback: Dark Lord and the Seamstress Kickstarter | wadingthroughbooks

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