Naida was breathless with the speed they were travelling and Kurama nearly silent and grim, locking her to Asteri’s back as he began a series of wild rolls. “Asteri…”
“We’re being attacked,” the Snake Asteri head said. “Elements of Air, that once only the priests of Amun could wield. But now, since our friend Re has joined with that God, there is wind and water to counter wind alone.”
There was a howl and a water-spout rose from the Nile below. “There, see?” The coil of wind and water rose up around them and Naida put her hands over her ears the noise was so great, as Mother Nile climbed up into the heavens and chastised the Ba’s and Ka’s of air. “We just passed the fifth cataract!” Kurama cheered, muffled through the muzzle-full of fur she was gripping.
Naida clawed water out of her face, braids pasted to her cheeks.
“Is that the White Nile down there?” Naida remembered Temis showing her, claw tracing the blue line of ink on the parchment map.
“Nope,” Asteri Goat said. “Blue Nile all the way. Meroe is an island, sort of. Arbatas, Nile, all kinds of water. You’re lucky that your mother managed to lure sylphs to the land or the trees would all be gone.”
“Oh, your people make iron, right?”
“Iron needs charcoal to smelt. Dead trees. They have to plant ten trees for every one they cut down.”
“Ooooh,” Naida sniffed. “I never thought of that.”
“Woooo HOOOOOO! – AAAAAAAGH!” Asteri rolled again, right out of the water spout cone. “See? You can see the funeral cemeteries and the forges for leagues!”
Mama, papa, ooh your shining walls of stone. I grew up in a village so small we only had four cows… and this… this is like a dream. It’s like Bubastis plus Bubastis plus Bubastis, times two. The stones are like gold and the pyramids are like spear points. The temples… oh, mama, the temples there are more temples than I can count and every one of them is a circle of green against the desert from this high. Trees. I like trees. There’s sucking desert around every patch of green. Maybe mama can use someone who understands trees. Maybe we can keep the desert from burying the city in sand. Oh. Is that why I grew up where I did? I don’t know if olive trees would grow here but I bet I could give it a try.
The fires forging. I can see that some are salamanders. I can see that some are fire elementals. Naida caught her breath. The one nearest the soaring palace was a djinn. A true djinn with a direct line into the heart of the sun.
She could see it, even this far away, and Kurama whispered in her ear. “That’s what your mama is controlling, even without her circle. It’s one reason she’s Candace.”
“Um… but I’m not that strong!” Naida wailed quietly. “I’m just a girl in her early menses! To control that thing I’d have to bleed to death!”
“Hush, child,” that was Asteri Lion. “Have you not noticed that you can see the djinn? And you think it is coincidence that your teacher is a lamia? And that you just happened to find Re’s avatar? Your fox has gone from only two tails to at least four in the time she’s been with you.”
Naida swallowed. Really? I… well, um. I don’t feel anything but me.
“Zeno and Oios knew,” Asteri Goat said. “How did you compel the miller to travel up and find you, and even pick up a foundling in desperately poor circumstances?”
“Just think about it.” Asteri roared at something she couldn’t see, and winged sharply sideways. “I’m going to set down now. Might as well get the lamia’s scolding overwith before we make it home tomorrow.” Naida was startled. Was that a note of longing in Asteri’s voice? Had he missed Meroe so terribly?
Behind, she could hear Bodhi laughing. Um. Not funny, Bodhi. Really not funny.