“Hello fox.” The voice was kind. The hand gently running from head to tail also. “Have more fish. You need to get unbroken.”
On the banks of the Ganges the fox managed to raise her head and the boy dressed as a peasant lifted her onto his lap. There wasn’t much lap there because the boy was fat but his touch was gentle as he fed tiny pieces of fish to the fox. “You’ll be all right. We’ll have tea when you can sit up. Until then we can sit under this tree. My name’s Bhodi.”
“Hello, Bhodi. I think I still have broken bones. I hurt.”
“You pray to your Lady Mirror and it will be fine. You’ll stop hurting. I know. I’m here until all sentient creatures don’t suffer anymore.”
“Really? That seems very difficult.”
“Nope. It’s all good. Have another bit of fish.”
Re lay in the desert, still unable to move. The kidnappers had stripped him of every scrap of clothing, anything that might save him from the sun. As the sun rose and the frost in the desert gave way to the first light, a wave of scorpions came scuttling and each one had a claw full of cool sand.
They carefully covered him up to protect him and slowly a mound grew up to throw shade over his head.
A hawk screamed from above and a stolen loaf of bread plummeted down next to him and ants from a nearby acacia sapling carried an endless line of dew droplets to his lips. Little green lizards helped shield him from the sun, and just as the sun went down a flock of ostrich settled around him and kept him warm from the desperate chill of the night.
Great, Re thought. I’m warm but I get ostrich butt in the face…
The sun came up a little while after Temis left, but against the stone grey clouds it was a slow, gradual, lightening from pitch black to fog.
Naida rose from the rock where she’d sat waiting for there to be enough light, aside from Syb’s lamp, to see her way down the road.
Part of her didn’t want to move but she got up anyway and began to pick her way down to Paraxenous. It made her nervous, walking into a strange village with all these strange people.
Most seemed nice, with a morning greeting, or a wave as she passed. Zeno always said “Be good to strangers. They might be Goddesses, Gods or Great Ones, in disguise.”
She kept finding herself hunching her shoulders, staring at the ground in front of her feet. The sandals still felt tight and pinchy, the liners squeaking a bit. It was like she was cut off from everything even while her feet were warm and she didn’t feel the sharp pebbles in the path. Most of the people were pale as Afarisi, but as she got down to the port there were a bunch of people who looked more like her, with darker skin but they either had shorn heads, or these fantastic knots and beads and head cloths. She straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath, trying to walk like a princess.
There were two ships tied up at the wharf. Naida had to stop and catch her breath just outside the port market. She knew from Syb’s history lessons and geography lessons that this was a small village but the noise!
The smells, the shouting, the creakings blocks as things were lifted up to a house roof that had an actual second storey. Market carried on, apparently, even in the aftermath of disaster.
She stopped to buy a fried bread from an older lady who reminded her of Zeno. “Ma’am, could you tell me which is Sukka’s ship?”
“Oh, dearie, you can’t trust those Sea Peoples… They’re running right down to Aegypt trying to get ahead of winter storms! And the Aegypti are tricksy too!”
“Thank you for your warning Ma’am but if you could…” The women pointed at the closer ship. “That one…” She waved a wrinkled old hand. “That Sukka… he al’s threatens to curse the lot of us if we don’t give him better deals!”
The person on the dock doing the most yelling was a tall, bald man with a gold ring in one ear. A fellow sat at his feet with what Naida recognized as a ‘curser’ with a blue sigiled bag.
He was looming over the woman standing with a very large harpy perched next to her. But, like Temis had said, this harpy was sparkling clean and elegant, even though she had as much gold on her as she could comfortably fly with.
“… and that’s FINAL, Sukka!” The woman cut him off, tapping her foot. “You threaten to curse us a blue streak on our harbour every time you come and I’m tired of you trying to bully me over mild docking fees and just taxes! Especially since so many of your ports have been wiped away by the Goddess’s Rage.” She turned on her heel and stalked away. The harpy raised one claw and drew back golden hair, fine as silk, and tucked it behind her feather-tufted ear. “You won’t win this one, Sukka,” she said, her voice clipped and cawing.
He snorted, uncrossed his arms. “Ah, well, it was worth a try. Go one with Allial.” The ship’s curser gathered up his bad and slung it over the rail, hopping after it. “Thanks for your voice of reason, Tengal.” He said, bowing over her offered claw, and planting a smacking kiss on one of her gilded claws.
Naida drew in her breath and stepped out onto the wooden dock. “Master Sukka?”