Return 24

“Talir’s up,” Kieran said. “Not much longer.”

Lysandra nodded. “Juro? You’re sure about this?”

“I’m looking forward to it.” The stringed instrument cradled in his arms was unfamiliar to Lysandra, but that hardly mattered. “I’ve picked up some Enodian songs over the years, and I can improvise backup. Especially with such inspiration.”

Lysandra smiled at him. A night spent in deep communion with Sahen had done a great deal to heal Juro’s apprehension, and despite moments of nerves, he really was rather charming. Of course, that was frequently true of musicians in many cultures, and she had no intention of letting it go to her head, but still… “Good.” She looked around to check on their audience.

They’d chosen the site of the final confrontation, the compound they now knew was properly the Great House of the Zebra, as the best location available under the circumstances. The ground was clear of those prickly weed bushes, and part of it was sufficiently flat. Of equal importance, it was readily accessible: the gates were standing open, and word had spread that Abena and the others hoped Ejiro would return tonight. Lysandra doubted that the majority of Ilek would have cared, even if they knew, that she normally never allowed humans to see her dance in the moonlight, but it didn’t matter.

The visibly chastened members of the other bloodline, all of them, lurked near the outer walls and in the shadows of buildings and of the wagon and cart that Lysandra and her family had brought with them. Lysandra suspected that their current meek behaviour reflected, in many cases, shock and apprehension more than any real indication of taking the lecture from the moons to heart, but they had time to think. Ejiro’s current and previous Brides had promised to make sure they were safe for as long as any chose to remain under their protection, though food and comfort were less easy to promise. Probably at least some would choose to strike out on their own.

Lysandra and Narcissa had scratched a handful of marks into the ground, to define a substantial ring. Ejiro’s small white spirit creatures had taken over from there, using bright white pebbles to create a clearly visible line on the ground.

Just outside that line, their audience were settling themselves. Continue reading

Slight delay

Due to, well, a complicated series of events I won’t get into, I ran out of time. I had to choose between rushing the final post and probably doing a sloppy job of it, or telling you this and promising to get it done for Monday instead. Lysandra’s dancing and our last scene in Ilek deserve better than for me to hastily throw it together, even though I know exactly what happens. I hope, if you’ve been following this long, you’ll agree, or at least understand.

So, I apologize. Please drop in on Monday for Lysandra dancing and Ejiro making an appearance, and our heroes saying their farewells to Ilek. As soon as possible after that, I hope to have an epilog of sorts, of finally reaching the Garden of Umako after a couple of adventures on the way, but given current circumstances, I’m reluctant to promise the exact date.

Please, consider dropping me an email and letting me know what you’ve thought of Moonblood. As I said previously, I haven’t entirely decided what to do next. I think it might be worth reworking the earlier adventures into a cleaner form with less concern for length, and releasing them as a series of ebooks, but this is also a concept that would allow me to keep spinning stories about the adventures of Neoma and her descendants more or less indefinitely – if I have an audience that would make it worth the commitment involved in web fiction. Feedback would help me enormously to make a decision!

Thanks, and again, sorry about the delay!

Return 23 pt3

(chapter continued from previous post)

“It led,” Lysandra said to the others, “to the queen complaining to her parents, who were understandably displeased. Enodia nearly ended up at war. Which was avoided by removing everyone involved from power, crowning the first Diamantian king, sending the former queen home with a rather large pay-off drawn from the property of the families involved, and apologizing profusely. What that did to the economy was less destructive than a war would have been.”

“They were rather poor and self-absorbed rulers, wary of new ideas and lacking in compassion,” Demetrios said. “Enodia has done far better under the Diamantians.”

“We learned what not to do,” Narcissa said.

“As for Theodosia, she wasn’t malicious.” Demetrios sighed. “At that time, women were taught to see their worth only in the men they could attract. Unfortunately, unlike some women, she embraced it to the exclusion of all else. She had no natural aptitude for deep thought and was given no reason to develop the ability. While she was incapable of considering consequences, various kinsmen were quite able to do so, and they encouraged her anyway because they saw advantage to them. That is, I think, even more shameful than her behaviour. Unfortunately, the entire mess, including my own embarrassment and then the loss of the Bassarion wealth, made me rather easy prey.” He shrugged. “Much more recently, I met my shadow here,” he gestured to Juro, “while I was painting the portraits of a very self-important family in a wealthy trade city in order to get close to them.”

“I was being small and cute and furry and spying on them,” Juro said. “And reporting anything I learned to Demetrios. It worked so well they sent us to another city together. I had a problem with that one and almost got myself in trouble objecting. Demetrios stopped me and found a sneaky solution I could live with and he’s been keeping me out of trouble ever since. How I got there… my people come from the very far north, but they’re traders with fast ships that can handle shallow or deep waters. My grandparents were part of a group that set up a trading colony on the island lemurs are from, which is far south. It gave them a way to reach other southern markets and maintain connections with the north. I grew up speaking four languages fluently and a little of several more. I’m a scop, which is a poet and a musician and a storyteller, and we don’t write things like that down so an excellent memory is essential. Something bad I’d rather not discuss left me crippled. Sahen gave me back my voice, although I promptly lost it again in a different sense. It took me a while to untangle being grateful to Sahen from hating the people choking me. After having to watch someone I considered a friend going through their idea of penance and Lirit not healing her, I was scared to do anything about it no matter how I felt.”

“That’s the whole point,” Neoma said gently.

“Given my experience of Lirit,” Kaveri said, “and that we even have it on good authority that after she chose Cissa she’d already decided to be like Talir and only choose from our bloodline, if she didn’t heal your friend it was because she had reason to believe she wanted to die more than she wanted to live.”

“Quite likely she did,” Juro said. “I had… sometimes given up, on some level, but not entirely. I think some part of me was still hoping there just might be a way to get answers that made sense and get some control over my own life back.”

“Control, you have,” Tyrel said. “Although having control over your own life doesn’t mean you can’t choose to stay with friends, sometimes or all the time. And whatever answers we can offer, you can have.”

“Could we get to what happened last night?” Madoc asked. “Some of us missed big chunks of it thanks to someone getting a little enthusiastic with his throwing knives.”

“’Veri told you, they were using a damned obsidian knife!”

Kaveri winced. “Madoc, leave him alone. My close encounter with that knife should be sufficient for all of us.”

Madoc sighed. “Yeah, and hanging around to face them yourself, such a good plan. All right, I’ll stop griping, you know I don’t like it when I’m not there to watch your back. So, what happened?”

That took some time, untangling the various accounts and piecing it together.

“That’s probably about it,” Tyrel said. “Any other questions?”

A woman’s laugh, very close to them, and a saffron-clad Enodian woman settled herself gracefully on the rug next to Lysandra. “And can I be of any help in answering them?” Aithre said. “Sahen is proud of you, Juro, that you held onto hope, however tenuous, and that when you had the chance, you chose in its favour despite fear of the consequences.”

“Thank you, my lady.” Juro dropped his gaze submissively, then looked up again. “You knew I was there.”

“Of course I did. Demetrios, Meyar has been waiting a long time for you to have the faith in yourself and her that she has had in you. That’s why she seized the chance to be sure you saw Lysandra dance. Your will to live has always been very strong, even in the midst of overwhelmingly terrible conditions, but your mother is very pleased that that should no longer be so essential.”

He inclined his head. “My thanks, wise lady. You’re far from home.”

She laughed again. “So are you. Where Lysandra is, you’ll see me visiting now and then. Kieran, your best efforts accomplished more than might be readily apparent. I cannot tell you what might otherwise have happened, but to the best of my knowledge it would all have been bad. As it is, it all worked out, without further deaths. Those responsible are now unable to interfere with efforts to set things right. The mice fled from the centre of the quake, and Ejiro’s neighbours seized the opportunity to send hawks, owls, cats, foxes, and anything else they could find to feast on them. Their numbers will be greatly reduced very quickly. Some of the well-fed hunters will move into Ejiro’s domain to stay and reproduce. Fire will be necessary to remove the invasive plants, but that can be controlled and will be over quickly. The next earthborn upriver and the one above that are working with the river’s god to find a way to prevent another flood no matter what conditions are like, until the wetlands can be restored. Earthborn are very resilient, and all are aware that they all are connected and will help each other. Ejiro will recover quickly.”

“What of Ilek?” Narcissa asked.

“That is largely up to the citizens of Ilek. It will be a year or two before food is truly adequate, though it will begin to improve very soon. Whether Ilek tries to return to what it was, or is content at a more moderate level, is their choice to make. Word will spread soon that those seeking work can begin to come home to their families. Many are talented craftsmen. They can rebuild Ilek, though they may find Ejiro less generous with resources than previously, and I think that Ejiro’s future Brides might be more actively protective.”

“The Brides,” Lysandra said, “are already setting up a system to make sure that the additional food is used fairly for as long as it lasts. We can pass on word that they’re looking for a healer or two who can stay for a while—and that there won’t be any more accidents that mysteriously target healers. With any luck one will come soon. But we really can’t stay here, can we? They have to do this their own way.”

Aithre nodded. “I can’t give you commands, but I would advise departure very soon as the best course of action. So. I have a message for you, little sister. Ejiro understands that it would be difficult for you to wait some twenty-one days until Meyar is full, by which time the other four will all be at or near dark. Although your mother is only half full, he will accept tomorrow night for you to dance for him, but he would like someday when you are in this area again for you to dance for him at the full moon.” She laughed as she rose to her feet, though she stayed in place, swaying to music only she could hear, never still. “I think you will find, as you travel, that your dancing pleases earthborn. A word of advice, Demetrios. The past cannot be changed, it is already on the page. The future, however, is being written, one breath and one heartbeat at a time. Dwelling on the past can rob you of the future, but dwelling on the future sacrifices the hard-earned lessons of the past. All that is given to anyone, even oracular gods, is the present, in which memory and anticipation meet in each choice. Find the balance.” Between one dance step and the next, she was gone.

“You chat with gods regularly?” Juro asked.

“Valeyan, when we’re home,” Kieran said. “Other earthborn at need. Aithre has a strong interest in Lysandra. I’ve met many other gods over the years, some friendlier than others. But as far as talking to gods… one each, more often than any. All five of the moonladies are up. Look at your mother, each of you, and listen to her, and tell her… well, anything you want to tell her.”

Juro obeyed with only a moment’s hesitation, though Tyrel saw tension in his upper spine and the set of his shoulders. Trusting them, but Kieran had told him to do something strictly forbidden.

Sahen’s light brightened immediately around him, a brilliant blue-green radiance. Juro smiled, all the tension fading away, his gaze never leaving his nearly-full moon and mother.

“Well, we’ve lost him for a while,” Kaveri said, amused.

“You too,” Lysandra told Demetrios. “You saw Meyar’s reaction last night when I asked whether I was disrespectful to talk to her. One day soon I’ll tell you about the gift she gave me when I changed, one that made as important a difference as no longer being human, but she gave that unasked out of love and wanting her children happy. She’ll be delighted, not upset, I promise. What reason could I possibly have to lie about that?”

“It isn’t lack of faith in you,” Demetrios said. “But it is a rule and a fear that has been very long established.” He closed his eyes briefly, then opened them and looked towards waning blue-white Meyar.

It took a moment more, perhaps long enough to open inward barriers, but the relaxing of tight muscles, the smoothing away of his visible apprehension, occurred in a sudden rush.

“That’s better,” Kieran murmured. “Even if neither moves until moonset, they need this. So. We linger another day, so that Lysandra can dance from moonrise to moonset for Ejiro tomorrow night, and we do our best to be away from here the next day. Those of us with full moons that night can celebrate that better if we are properly alone, and Ilek can work out its own path in peace now there is no more outside influence. And we will be at the Valley well before any complications due to moon phases. Agreed?”

Return 23 pt2

I’m so sorry about the delay – life got away from me for a bit! But while I’m talking anyway… Return is obviously winding down. I’d very much like to hear about what you thought of this story and of the rest. What I do next about Moonblood is still up in the air and it would help me decide. Thanks!
~Steph


(chapter continued from previous post)

At dusk, they felt little guilt about turning people away, and sending them to the great houses that had been opened or to the temple and other locations the previous Brides were offering food.

Kieran, squatting near the firepit while Kaveri banked it for the night, sighed. “Not so terrible as a plague town, but difficult enough.” He noticed Neoma watching him, and tilted his head questioningly.

She smiled and ran a hand through his hair affectionately. “Talir told me I’d be proud of you. It was an understatement.”

That made him grin and nuzzle into her hand, an incongruously canine gesture.

“Let’s move farther back,” Kaveri said. “It’s a little cooler and a little more private, farther from the fire, and we really don’t need it.”

Rugs and blankets and cushions were gathered up and shaken out, and they relocated into the more sheltered corner near the cart.

Mirren waved towards the street. “Come join us!” she called, then, more quietly, “I wonder how long it will take them to stop worrying?”

“I don’t know the whole story,” Neoma said, “but I can tell you this: no one is going to leave even a few years of that behind easily. I suggest not asking in any depth about how they were lured in or what they’ve personally experienced since. Let them choose what they’re comfortable discussing.”

There was no time to reply, before Demetrios and Juro were in range. A minimum of shifting around was required to make room for them.

“Before all else,” Narcissa said in Enodian, “we need a common language. If possible.”

“If you can forgive a poor accent,” Neoma said, “I know some Enodian. It’s more from books than conversation.”

“A passable knowledge and an accent,” Demetrios said, “is superior to no knowledge of a language at all. Juro and I speak a number of languages—for me, time, and for him, a gift for it. Is there another that might be easier?”

“I think,” Kieran said in his own first language, “that is unlikely unless you know this one.” Continue reading

Return 23 pt1

They found, at their camp, at least thirty or forty people other than Onyeka and, presumably, the other Brides. Tyrel saw a very young woman wearing only a skirt, her breasts bare and showing a pattern of tattooed dots, wrap a blanket around a woman who was sitting on the ground gingerly, as though it might move again. Enitan was carefully removing a pot from the fire and replacing it with a fresh one, and he took the heated one to a middle-aged woman who was cleaning a scalp injury for a man with blood masking half his face. A small horde of diminutive white figures scurried around busily, though as far as Tyrel could tell, the humans around them couldn’t see them; two added more wood to the fire and darted off. One of the white ones set a shallow bowl with what might have been rolled bandages in it close at hand for the woman who was treating the scalp wound; she glanced down, smiled, and said, “Thank you,” though her patient seemed oblivious. Tyrel concluded that she was one of the other previous Brides.

Narcissa surveyed the situation, then glanced towards Lysandra.

“I’m right here,” Lysandra said. “And not just me.”

“Just tell us what to do,” Madoc said.

Onyeka greeted them with a smile that was weary but intensely relieved. “Since you’re all here, clearly it succeeded.”

“It’s over,” Narcissa said. “Forever. The moons intervened directly, although not happily. The others are in their animal forms for the next year, unable to change, and we have all been given a lecture about what they expect of us.”

“They’ve been sent to bed like disobedient children?”

“I think that’s a very good way to see it,” Lysandra said. “The earthquake did what I hoped, and I’ll keep that promise. How bad is the damage?” Continue reading