lb_lee: A pencil sketch of me drawing/writing in my sketchpad. (art)
[personal profile] lb_lee
Hi everybody! This prompt was both requested and sponsored by titianblue, who prompted, "My mother used to say "Be thankful for small mercies." but I never realised that the "small mercies" were actual creatures ..." I hope you enjoy! Happy Thanksathon!

Thank Heaven for Small Mercies


Small mercies are the size of a child’s hand. They have fluttering wings of red, black, brown, and yellow, and they travel in swarms. They can be mistaken for butterflies at a distance, but there’s no relation. Mercies are quick, and they are smart, and their cute curled tongues can drill through the bones of a bull.

Masego’s people do not thank heaven for small mercies out of any belief in the name. They thank heaven because at least there are no large mercies.

The small mercies are invisible to most people, Masego has been able to see them since she was born. People whisper that this is because she is the daughter of a dead woman and a dead family, and they avoid her. Her society prizes big families with lots of children; it’s bad luck to only have her and her grandfather.

Masego’s grandfather can not see the mercies, but he knows how to manage them—it’s how he survived the rest of his family. On his land far on the outskirts of town, he and Masego appease the mercies with milk, blood, and meat, among other things. They are very careful in their offerings and conduct, and because of that, they prosper, in their own quiet way. Their herd is small, but fat. They never quite run out of water. Masego is a beautiful young woman, and her grandfather is the healthiest man anyone has ever met.

Maybe one day, Masego will marry and have children, and her grandfather will know his line continues. But though she is not opposed to marriage, she knows it unlikely. There is a perfectly good road to their home, but hardly anyone uses it, except the local tradesman or people begging favors. Masego’s grandfather has a beautiful granddaughter and beautiful cows, but nobody wants them. People prefer not to visit mercy-handlers.

Then the boys come.

They are strangers from out of town, loud and raucous, and they carry spears with them. Masego is milking the cows when they arrive, and from between their legs, she sees Grandfather stride out to the boys before they reach the boundary. She sees their insolent slouches, their lack of interest in her grandfather, and she tries to blend in with the cattle.

They are too far away for Masego to hear their conversation, but she watches. The leader is tall and handsome, but arrogant and only has eyes for the land. Masego’s grandfather does not lose his temper but small mercies start clustering above his head. For a moment, it looks like they will come in, regardless of the old man’s wishes.

Finally, they halt. They say something, and the mercies begin to churn, but he goes inside, comes out again with the meat for their dinner.

The boys take it and move on. Masego’s grandfather waits until they are out of sight, then comes back to the herd, where Masego has finished milking. Behind him trail a small whirlwind of colors.

“Thank heaven for small mercies,” he says.

“Thank heaven,” Masego says, calmly because the mercies feed on panic and she doesn’t want them any more agitated. “What did they want?”

Grandfather sucks his teeth. “They think we’re people who won’t be missed,” he says. “They are young and don’t believe in the small mercies.”

The cloud of mercies is becoming huge and tumultuous. Masego watches but says nothing.

“They want our land,” she says.

“Yes.”

She looks at the mercies. She does not laugh—she doesn’t want to offend them—but she smiles.


That evening, they carefully, quietly go about their business as though nothing’s wrong. No supper tonight; the boys took most of it, and anyway, the offerings must be special. Masego puts out cream instead of milk, and her grandfather slaughters their fattest calf. It’s sad to lose such a promising animal at this time of year, but the mercies must be appeased. Masego catches the blood in a basin, while her grandfather regales her with tales of the mercies’ generosity, kindness, and justice. She’s heard them all before, but it doesn’t matter. They aren’t for her benefit.

Her grandfather and her quietly close up their little house as though preparing for a cold night. Her grandfather’s face is as steady and unshaken as stone, but she knows it’s a mask.

“How many do you see?” He asks as she goes to shut the window.

She looks. The basins and the quartered calf are carpeted in blankets of fluttering, fiery colors.

When she tells him, he says, “good,” and they go to bed.


Masego wakes up to screaming in the distance. She moves to sit up, but her grandfather stops her with a gentle hand on her chest; no sudden movements, no display of agitation. Quiet and still, just in case. He holds a finger to his lips.

Masego nods and settles down. She doesn’t want to draw the mercies’ attention now, when they’re stirred up and might not remember who feeds them. The windows and door stay shut, despite the stifling heat. The screaming continues, shrill with terror, for a long time. Finally, it tapers off.

All around their home, she hears the roar of thousands of tiny wings. Thus soothed, Masego goes back to sleep.


When Masego and her grandfather come out the next morning, the offerings are gone, and so are the boys. Their bones will surely turn up later.

“Thank heaven for small mercies,” says Grandfather.

“Thank heaven,” Masego says.

They go inside to make breakfast.

Date: 2014-11-11 04:23 am (UTC)
ljlee: Queen Artesia! (artesia)
From: [personal profile] ljlee
In addition to the clever wordplay, I enjoyed all the ritual and propriety surrounding dealing with the small mercies.
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