The curtain that Naida had hung in front of the sleeping nook in her very own private cave muffled the words but didn’t hide the tone that Sybaris was using. She was telling Asteri exactly how much of a baby he was being and that she wasn’t having that kind of behavior from a greater spirit.
Naida supposed she would feel better hearing that she was right thinking that the chimera was behaving badly but she didn’t feel better at all.
She looked around the cave that had been her home for the longest number of days in a row since she could remember. It was hers and the library, however much it changed. The kitchen and the bathing pools full of glowing green star bugs… kind of icky glow worms if you looked at them closely but from far away you could imagine them as beautiful as the light they gave off.
“I… don’t want to go yet… but I want to go right now!” she exclaimed. Temis’s claws clicked on the wall outside.
“May I come in, Kitten?”
“Yes, please. How… can you fit in here?” It was a tiny cubby in the rock. Naida suspected that Sybaris had made it intentionally small for her comfort, so she wouldn’t have to sleep in a nest in the middle of some echoing hall.
The sphinx’s head, without her spectacles, fit through the narrow door, her mane flattening back as first one paw, then the other slid inside. She rotated somehow to get the folded tips of her wings in, along one wall and then somehow her back paws tucked themselves into her tight coiled self that left her with her fuzzy chin resting on Naida’s bed, just by her knees. “Like this,” she said, smiling. “And if I can talk to you then you won’t hear Syb.”
“It bothers me. Even though Asteri is being a… a…”
“Baboon and showing his backside?” Naida flung both hands over her mouth, giggling. “It’s an expression of your people.”
“Yes, really.” Temis nosed the bedroll that had the pieces of clothing Syb had spoken of flung across it. “You only need to carry the one clean chiton and you can wear the other one. There’s a pair of sandals just for you, with leather liners for the snow.”
“Why not wool?”
“Your shawl that you’ll be able to tie over your head and arms is goat wool.” Temis said, avoiding the question.
“Not sheep’s wool?” She ran her hand over the new chitons. “These are linen—“
“—and I’m sending you with a complete ‘princess’ outfit for your people. You’ll look absolutely perfect.”
“Oh. Um… thank you?”
“You’re welcome. The collar will match your hair beads… and it’s a young woman’s collar, with a single line of rubies along the bottom. When you have your children you’ll get more.”
“Rubies?” Naida felt faint. “Real rubies?”
“Most women make do with carnelian or amethyst stones… any kind of red pebbles but I like rubies best. You won’t find a lot of sheep in Kush, so you’re all right with goat tending. Kushites and the Nile folk think sheep are disgusting.”
“Well, in Aegypt they’re thin, sickly, covered in fleas and ticks and lice. They keep giving people illnesses. The Jordanites and Hebrews along the coast are shepherds of both sheep and goats, but their flocks are a different breed.”
“I… see, I guess.”
“So. Let us speak in the tongue of the land of Kush, the children of Meroe, the people of the higher land.”
“Do I HAVE to?” she whined but in the correct language.
“Now you’re starting to sound like Asteri.”
Naida giggled again and pulled her legs up to sit cross legged. “So… I should never call someone I liked the son of a sheep.”
Temis snarled a laugh. “Exactly.”
In Kush the celebrations for the Candace’s pregnancy were wild. People sang and drank in the streets. Flowers and flower petals floated through the air, flung from the roofs of buildings, floating candles brought more stars onto the Nile, to be lost in the distant cataracts downstream. Every Goddess Temple was lit with thanksgiving all through the hours of the night.
In the house of Amun’s healing, Kyan opened his eyes for the first time since he’d fallen unconscious. “Why are the sistrums ringing?” he asked the novice attendant. “Why are there bells and drums?”
“The Mother Goddesses have granted our most longed for prayers, Honoured One,” the little priest smiled and smoothed the sheet over his chest though it didn’t dare show any creases under his diligence. “The Great House… the Candace is with child again, and says the missing princess has been discovered! Isn’t that grand?”