(chapter continued from previous post)
Violet met red, drop after drop, and the red around each drop paled in a growing rippling wave. No true colour for the first few heartbeats, then it began to shift visibly towards yellow.
Abruptly and all at the same instant, the yellow faded into shimmering pale blue, which continued to creep across the red, absorbing and changing it. Each new violet droplet altered to blue as it landed and joined the rest.
“Apparently Meyar really wants you,” Kaveri said with interest.
Lysandra regarded the silvery-blue tide on her arm thoughtfully. “That, I didn’t expect. And we don’t know what her goal was. That’s a somewhat uncomfortable idea.”
“It seems very likely,” Kieran said, “that Meyar perceives a strong match between her interests and yours, much the way Lirit did with Kaveri and, I assume, Sanur did with Madoc, enough so to tip the balance.”
“I hope so. That is very peculiar to watch, but there’s not really anything visible any more. Not much fresh blood, and it’s all blue. It’s rather odd to know that it’s still happening where I can’t see it.” She shrugged, released Narcissa’s hand, and drew her own arm back, wincing. “I’m grateful that will heal after moonrise, though. You have extremely sharp claws.”
Mirren made a cheerful prrrping sound, and twisted herself inside out to display her belly and throat, paws idly paddling at the air.
That made Lysandra smile. “Let me get this taken care of, first.”
Narcissa took a clean handkerchief from Kaveri, wiped away as much of the blood as she could on both Lysandra’s arm and her own, and used a second one to bind around Lysandra’s. While the dancer surrendered to Mirren’s unsubtle hinting, Kaveri helped Narcissa cover her own. Neither could go bad, of course, but they’d learned that along with being a trifle thinner, flowing easily and mingling readily with human blood, moonblood tended not to clot as thoroughly, so wounds broke open under less strain. Why ask for accidents of any sort?
“And that,” Lysandra said briskly, “is the last tie severed. So, shall we?”
“I’ll go get the donkeys harnessed,” Madoc said.
The rest of them, meanwhile, gathered up baskets and bags and boxes to start packing into the cart. It was lightweight and strong, the best available, painted a cheerful grassy green with thin stripes of lemon-yellow and white. The flat bed of it was of fairly substantial size, with a thick grooved post at each corner. Ladder-like sets of vertical rails, green with yellow and white bands, could be slipped down into the grooves to frame and contain the load, and a large rectangle of canvas was sized so that it could stretch over the top of the posts and be tied down at the corners, sheltering the interior from the elements. Following Phaidra’s advice, the heaviest objects went directly over the axle, light ones at the front. Mirren climbed in and settled herself at the front where she could see under the edge of the canvas but ride in comfort. Madoc led the donkeys out, and they stood patiently while they were hitched to the cart side by side. Both were female, one a darker grey than the other and maybe the width of a finger shorter, and just coming into their prime.
Lysandra had named the darker one Iole and the lighter one Phaidra, much to the amusement of their namesakes.
Inns, taverns, traders, small temples, all thinned out rapidly as they left Krateros behind, and so did the traffic that shared the road. Instead, the buildings were replaced with pastureland and orchards, and closer to the road, groves of wild trees that offered shady haven for sun-weary travellers. Some god was with them today, though: unseasonable clouds hid the sky, and now and then they felt a drop of rain. Tyrel hoped it would break by moonrise. The moons fed them anyway, and the full moon felt good, but it was better under a clear sky.
At the border, bored guards, whose job had more to do with imports and exports than with invasions, gave them only a cursory glance before waving them on.
“And,” Kieran said, as they stepped past the twin stone pillars that marked the border proper, “we are now out of Enodia, as the Oracle predicted, though with little time to spare before sunset.”
“You’re always so conscious of borders,” Kaveri chuckled.
Kieran laughed. “Humans mark territories differently than amarogs do, and territories can be very large, for much larger groups, but it is all the same thing. This is my territory, that is yours, and so long as we both respect the boundary, there can be peace. Violate it, and there will be conflict.”
“I just had,” Lysandra said, and there was mirth in her voice, “the oddest image of a Diamantian duty being to travel around Enodian borders and piss on all the marker pillars. and perhaps on our ships as well.”
Narcissa rolled her eyes, but smiled; Mirren, currently riding on top of the pack Kieran carried, only mrrped with her tail twitching. Kaveri and all three men, though, laughed.
In the gradually deepening twilight, the clouds slowly parting and drifting off like so many sheep with no shepherd, Madoc took the lead. He’d gone out scouting the night they’d first been at the inn, looking for a good location, quiet but open to the sky.
What he found was a spring and shrine to Aithre and the Great Mother, at the edge of a clearing.
The statues were crude and stylized compared to the ones in the temples, but something about their unpainted simplicity appealed to Tyrel after two years of painted naturalistic striving for perfection. The lines of Aithre’s curved sinuously, conveying the motions of a dance, with her arms raised, hips to one side and chest toward the other and a hint of swirl and shape to her skirt that might mean being mid-step; the serpents around her arms were clear, but the rest was indistinct and abstract. The one of the Great Mother was even more so, an oval stone that had been given some shaping to create breasts and hips and buttocks, her arms only a suggestion with her hands resting on her lower belly, her legs parted around a deep groove that had a sapling sprouting in it, and her head and face little more than a ball with some vague indentations. Near the two statues was a small altar, no more than two feet high, of piled rock with flat pieces of slate on top, and offerings on it were of highly varied age. A spring bubbled up from the ground into a pool that had been lined with river-smoothed white quartz pebbles. The clearing was almost certainly artificially maintained, but it was back from the road, and it seemed reasonably unlikely that anyone would come to it by night—other than possibly one of Aithre’s followers, which they considered acceptable.
They set down the packs, unharnessed the donkeys and let them drink and tethered them to graze, and settled in to wait for moonrise. Mantles were unwound and left with the packs, in Kaveri’s case with intense relief, and cloaks were spread on the wildflower-sprinkled grass to sit on. Mirren prowled around, playfully pouncing on blowing leaves and investigating the spring. Sandals were shed while they were waiting, and even hidden weapons.
Tyrel felt Talir before her leading edge broke across the horizon. Automatically, he turned in her direction, and sighed blissfully as the first of her yellow light touched him. What could ever equal the exhilaration of a full moon?
Well, multiple full moons, or at least moonbright nights, shared with his family were always good too, but that was different.
He had nothing on anymore save his tunic itself, and getting rid of that so he could change needed only a single motion. Kieran beat him to it, though, already four-footed and shaggy by the time Tyrel made it to fox form. Mirren dropped to a crouch in the grass, eyes fixed on Kieran; her back end wiggled, and she charged at him.
Of course, he was so much larger that she actually ran all the way under him without stopping. Kieran looked down as she circled back, and nuzzled her, nearly knocking her right off her feet. Tyrel, mischievously, crept up on Mirren while she was distracted, and pounced on her.
Lysandra’s soft, “Oh my,” distracted both from rough-housing, but Lysandra herself didn’t notice. Her eyes were fixed on the pale blue moon that had just edged up over the horizon.
She might be rapt for moments, or for half the night, there was no telling, so they went back to their game, which expanded to include Madoc once Sanur rose, and after waiting through Sahen’s rising, finally Kaveri and Narcissa as well. Truly outside, rather than in the restricted space of the roof, Narcissa’s breathtaking speed and manoeuvrability as a hare became much easier to judge. Even with amarog and bobcat and fox and wildcat all trying playfully to catch her, while a raccoon watched from the spring and chittered excited encouragement, she could duck and weave around the clearing avoiding them all, and they couldn’t even come close to keeping up with her on straight runs. They stayed out of a wide circle around the donkeys, which turned out to be adequate: the two jennies ignored them.
Tyrel wasn’t the only one keeping part of his attention on Lysandra, though: the moment she moved, the game broke up, and everyone reoriented. Four feet were better for some things, like playing, but it did make talking problematic. Narcissa claimed the spot on one side of Lysandra, and the others left the one on her other side to Kieran, filling in the rest of the circle themselves.
Narcissa closed a hand around Lysandra’s. “See?”
Lysandra nodded. “Yes. So. Let’s find out what I am. Just ask, correct?” She untied the bandage from around her arm, where of course only dried blood now remained, and tugged her skirt out from under her so she could kneel upwards and pull it off over her head. Given how little she liked being naked, presumably a reflection of her own love-hate relationship with the body that allowed her to dance but had a fundamental wrongness that had influenced her entire life, she did it more easily than Tyrel expected—but she left the dress across her lap.
Kieran echoed the nod. “I don’t believe,” he said, in amusement, “we’ve ever had anyone join the family with the benefit of two years of close familiarity first.”
“Mostly,” Madoc said dryly, “it’s been without the benefit any knowledge at all. Or of choice.”
Lysandra grinned at them. “I like to be unique.” Her gaze went back to Meyar.
(chapter continued next post!)