“Hey, Fox. How are you feeling?” Bhodi’s hand stroking down the fox’s back was soothing and she sighed, before sitting up, labouriously.
“I’m hungry. I can go catch another fish,” she said, but Bhodi shook his head.
“A fish just attained enlightenment and sacrificed its mortal shell for us.” He waved a hand at the enormous fish lying before them on the river bank, glistening on the rocks. “See?”
“Oh!” The fox pounced and her words were muffled by a mouthful of fish. “S’anks to the fish!”
“It’s unfortunate that you are still entangled in the woes of the material world.”
“Aren’t you?” Half the fish was gone.
“I’m going with you,” Bhodi announced. “Or, rather, we are going together.”
The fox said nothing but as she licked her paws and muzzle clean and her second tail shimmered into existence again, skepticism radiated from her.
“Ready?” Bhodi asked.
“Yessss.” As she said yes, a lotus appeared, cradling Bhodi and lifting him gently off the rocks as he chanted softly, his mala beads clicking.
The fox’s tongue lolled out of the side of her muzzle in a grin as she hopped up into his lap and settled in with her muzzle on his knee.
The holy river shimmered softly blue green and the lotus rose into the sky, Bhodi’s skin beginning to shine a light and glowing blue.
“That way,” the fox said, pointing with her nose.
Bhodi’s chant didn’t falter but they floated high above the tree tops and then shot toward the horizon like a blue falling star.
Re lay in the sand, fuming. He was still stuck in his mortality unable to move, unable to call on his divinity. Blast that priest, he thought, as an ostrich shifted and a puff of dirty feathers settled across his face.
He was thirsty, despite the water the ants and lizards had brought him. He will spend a thousand years in Amat’s gut. He will be reincarnated as lice on Lebanese sheep, stepped on by a hippo, and then born as a chancre on a diseased camel’s backside…
The sun was going down again. He lay, struggling to move even an eyelash but they all just as stubbornly refused to budge.
The ship bobbed at anchor, just off the coast. There were no buildings, no quays, no barracks. There was a small cliff of sandstone where the Sahara drifted off in curling sprays of sand to fall on the beach and into the water. Beyond that was only dunes as far as the eye could see. The wind that had blown them there, still blew, steadily, relentlessly. It was hard to see the ribbon of wind any longer because they’d left the clouds behind some time ago.
“Las--- Wise Maid,” Sukka said, scanning the waste. “Are you sure this is where you wish to alight?”
“Yes, Captain,” Naida said., even though the barrens made her heart sink and her stomach clench. Sybaris had been quite firm about it, since the Port of Alexandria and indeed, all Aegypt, was closed to foreigners. “You can go home to Carthagi just as well from here.”
“How did you? Ah, never mind.” Naida clutched her lamp close, her satchel slung over her shoulder and her shawl wrapped around her head shielding her from the brutal bite of the sun.
Just as she made to step over the rail, Allial called from his blanket. “Wait!” She turned, startled at how desperate he sounded. He crawled over to her, trailing his bedding behind him and knocked his head on the deck at her feet. “Maid,” he stammered. “Wise One.” His voice quivered. “I confess most abjectly to having tried to steal from the illustrious personage and accept what punishment she decrees.”
Naida stood looking down at him and wondered just how Sybaris had already punished him to get this level of humility out of him. She’d asked, but Syb had just said ‘It was suitable” and since he was apologizing Naida figured she was right.
“Your punishment is finished,” she said, somehow finding the words on her tongue. The last thing she wanted to be was like Yal or Pero. That kind of mean didn’t help anyway. “I am told that you are a powerful man and were led astray by a vision of being even more powerful. My Godmother tells me that if you find a true partner in blood then the power you seek may be yours, as long as you respect and cherish them.”
The Curser looked up, startled. “Wise One?” He swallowed. “I… don’t understand.”
Naida sighed. Temis had hammered this idea into her head one long night in the library. “Just imagine that two are stronger than one, if they work together, rather than fighting one another.”
She turned and stepped into the tiny coracle with a sailor to row her to shore, already feeling as though she could have happily sailed for the rest of her life. The Captain waved and called “If you need a ride, Maid, look for us again!”