The Story Starts Here

Chapter 1: Mean Girls

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Chapter 16: Sulky Asteri

         “Naida,” Sybaris’s voice was gentle.  “Perhaps---“ 

         “I’ll go out and make sure those villagers hustle on to Kuvatala,” Temis broke in and there was a huge rustle as she left.“I still think you should sleep and eat first.”

         “I’ll eat,” Naida said.  “I'd love to eat something, thank you for feeding me...But I think you should stop keeping things from me.”

        “You’re right,” Sybaris said.

        “I’ll go fetch some food, shall I?” Asteri hustled out of the dark and pushed past Naida.  “I’ll be right back!” He said, brightly.  “You just sit and chat with Sybaris, all right?”

         “Asteri!” But he was gone into the depths of the mountain.

        “Come talk to me, child. Since you want to know,” Sybaris said softly out of the dark.

“All right,” she said.  “But I want to see, if that’s all right.”

She’d shocked the Lamia this time.  A minor earth shake rippled the water in the hot springs and swayed through the blue and green light strands.

“I… am not sure that would be a good idea,” Sybaris said, slowly.

“You said that before.  Not being able to see you in the dark is more scary than just hearing you.”

Asteri bumped into her hand with his head and she seized onto his horn, grown from mere spikes to beginning to curl in just days.

“Here,” he said.  “A chunk of air-dried ham and all the cheese you can eat.  I brought a knife.” Naida took the sack in her off hand and he led her into the dark, in front of the Lamia.  Naida could hear her draw breath.  “Very well, child.  You are correct.  Brace yourself.”

Naida wasn’t sure what to brace herself against but squeezed her eyes shut and felt the light press against them, shining red like looking into the sun through eyelids, as the darkness went away.  She opened them a bit at a time, like when walking from shade inside to a blazing noon, though the light wasn’t that bright, and bit her lip to keep from gasping.

She clenched her hands on the sack and tried not to shiver.  The Lamia filled the cavern, with her long, long, black and green snake body.  Near her human part her body was about knee high and Naida realized she’d been rolling around on Sybaris’s snake half.  “Oh!  I hope I didn’t bruise you in the dark!” Was the first thing that tumbled out of her mouth as she raised her eyes to look at the Lamia’s face

The second thing she blurted out was ‘You’re not a monster! You’re beautiful!”  Sybaris’s hair was long and black and glittered with tiny green scales, like dew-drops over her skin, the colour of obsidian.  Human shaped, full breasts with green scales scattered in a diagonal from her neck, under the waterfall of hair, down to where her legs would have started.  She didn’t have hair there, nor any sign of woman’s parts, nor a belly button, just smooth muscle and snakeskin.

 Her cheekbones were high and her eyes were snake-slit and bright green, green as the lights in the bathing cavern.  She wore a gold bead and ruby necklace spreading from shoulder to shoulder and golden snake-bracelets wound up her arms.  She had gold wire threaded around the curve of her ears and rings on her slender fingers, each one tipped in a gold nail that had tiny red gems glittering in their tips.

 A tiara of cabochon rubies rose over her forehead, separated by rectangular emerald cut green emeralds. Sybaris blinked, green eyelids sliding from the edges of her eyes.  “Thank you, child.  You are very polite.”

Asteria sat, back hooves spread in front, slouching, back turned.  Naida sank down to hunker on the polished mosaic floor sitting down on the towel to keep her skin off the stone, folded open the sack.  Oh, the ham! And a whole wheel of cheese! “Asteri.  You know who I am? You said something about being my Bedu?” She thrust a piece of cheese as rich as butter into her mouth. 

“Bennu,” Sybaris corrected.  “Your people’s name for spirit/heart companions.”

“I was doing all right. We were doing all right.” Asteri said sulkily. “I would have gotten her home on my own and on our own time. I would have told her about Zeno and Oios knowing… and… and… everything.”

“It is now snowing heavily and cold enough that the bears hibernating across the pass won’t wake again, unlesss there’s an earth-shake large enough to threaten them where they sleep.”
“Oh,” Naida said.  “There really are hungry predators hibernating up here?”
“I did check!” Asteri hadn’t turned around yet.  He was still hiding in plain sight. “I knew Temis wouldn’t hurt you!”
“She didn’t accuse you of incompetence,” Sybaris said, gently.  Her coils shifted as she curled around Asteri, and Naida found herself leaning back against the Lamia’s body as if she were a living couch. The second piece of cheese had followed the first, then a thick slice of prosciutto.  She was starting to blink and yawn, struggling to stay awake to get all the answers for all the years of being left in the village.
“I… I’m not grown up yet,” Asteri finally sniveled. “I don’t have my memories, my powers, nothing!”
“Ah…” Sybaris reached out, long black fingers smoothing white fluff.  “You’re feeling guilty about not winning being big or strong enough to fight something like the bear?  Or Temis?  We set this up so the surviving villagers thought that she stole Naida away.  She’s off chasing them up the pass right now.”
“Yes. No.” His head came up and he stared up into her glowing green eyes.  “I DID THE RIGHT THING!”
Naida swallowed and Sybaris handed her a porcelain cup of water.  “Thank you for watching over me,” Naida said softly  “But… I want to know who my people are.  Who my mother is, or was… who I am.  I don’t want to be ‘dirt girl’ any longer. And I think you ‘Great Ones’ were wrong about leaving me with my own kind.” She wasn’t sure if the tears in her eyes were for what they’d done, or for how good the cheese tasted.  Maybe both.  It was her turn to be petted by the Lamia. 
Asteri huffed. “I… want to grow up some more before I take you back to your mother’s court.  Look.  I was one of the oldest, most powerful.  I… don’t like being an infant again.”
Naida snorted.  “So it’s your pride that’s at stake here?  Not me?”
Asteri whipped around to glare at her, “NO! Of course not!” He jumped over the coil of serpent in his way and vanished into the shadows and into capriox forms and thoughts, hiding.
“Yes,” Naida said.  “Lady Sybaris, may we trespass at least long enough for the snow to go?”
“That could be all winter.”
Naida put her hands over her face.  “I didn’t know that I needed, wanted, to hurry home.  I have a home and that blasted goat won’t tell me because he’s ashamed of being young!"
Ssssss. The sound of the Lamia moving was enough to make Naida look, to see Syb’s face right in front of her.  “As far as I know, you are the missing heir of Kush and Meroe.  Your mother, Amani-shakhete, is the current Candace.  Asteri is right about one thing.  Someone in your mother’s court wanted you out of the way or dead and sent a creature powerful enough to nearly kill Asteri Chaiti, the Star-Mane.”
She held up her hand, palm out to Naida.  She looked down into the palm that shone a paler black than the rest of her skin, with all the lines shining greenish.  “I suggest you stay the winter, here.  For my friend, and because I am lonely, I will teach you  Temis will be so happy to have a friend to show her library.  You are going to need a great deal of learning before you actually find and confront you and your mother’s enemy.”
Naida looked up into the Lamia’s face for a moment, then looked around but couldn’t see Asteri.  “If we wouldn’t be a burden to you, I’d gladly accept.”
“You wouldn’t be a burden,” Sybaris said.  “As far as I know, your birth name was Efra.”
Naida laid her hand into Sybaris’s cool palm.  “Thank you for that.  It’s Naida for now, though.  Maybe Naida-Efra someday.”
“Take the cheese with you.  Go to the shadow under the carving of the winged scorpion, there…” the long, elegant nail pointed as the serpent body slid out of the way.  “There is a soft bed in that nook where you can sleep privately.  The private space for elimination is under the carving of the fire.”
Naida was so tired she couldn’t walk straight but she staggered over to the indicated space and found a bed of feather-stuffed cotton with a warm red wool coverlet and fell into it, wondering if she was already dreaming.

1 comment:

  1. She wasn’t’ sure

    Extra '

    Ohhh so exciting! So Asteri belongs to her Mother and her Bennu has yet to show up. This winter looks interesting.