Sahaei and the Wyrm: Part II

Link to part I

Sahaei rose again up onto her tiptoes as she cradled the cup, the brownish water inside glinting in the sunlight. Walking back to her place in the sand, she kept her eyes on the merchant and imagined her arms to be new palm shoots swaying with her steps, fluid as the liquid in the clay cup. The kippa rose and fell as she walked, sandaled feet sinking into sand, and the small surface of the water was still like an oasis pool.

Unbidden, her thoughts touched for an instant on a memory- the gritty, burning taste of a mouthful of sand- the price she had paid years ago for a few spilled drops of water. Her concentration faltered and her brow furrowed- but her mind flitted nimbly away from the memory, and the trace of it vanished as quickly as it had come. She paced forward.

Halfway back to the merchant Sahaei passed under an awning, giving her eyes had a brief reprieve from the sun now high overhead. She slowed. She knew better than to halt on her way, but what she saw there silenced the warning, and suddenly she stopped. Her palm shoot arms swayed forward past her body in an imagined breeze before slowly coming to a stop in front of her; finally returning gently to her chest, where she clutched the small cup in whitening hands. The motion was beautiful in a simple and sinuous sort of way, not that anyone saw it- for everybody now was staring, as Sahaei was, out across the desert dunes and deep into the horizon and through the mirage shimmer of it’s edge- staring at a rising wave of dust and sand a hundred feet high; staring most of all at the rusty glimmer and silver flash of sunlight on polished bronze and steel.

The pounding of the horses’ hooves would not be audible until they were much nearer, of course- but soon afterward they would be drowned out by the terrible cries of the Shivan raiders that rode them; finally, by the cries of their victims.

Sahaei turned, and ran.

Link to part III

Sahaei and The Wyrm: Part I

Long ago, in the windswept deserts of the southern world there lived a young girl named Sahaei. Sahaei had grown up in the household of a merchant who had many wives, although her mother was not one of them. Sahaei had never met her mother. The women told her many times that it was for the best, but Sahaei always thought that it would have been wonderful to have known her mother, no matter what she had been like.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Sahaei had only rare opportunities to wonder about her mother, because she worked very, very hard. She cooked and she cleaned, she sewed and she mended, she scrubbed and she dyed, she cared for the many infants and smaller children of the merchant’s household, tended the merchant’s various animals, and anything else she was ordered to do. Her most important duty, however, was carrying the merchant’s wares to and from the market stalls each day with the help of the old mule, Zabir. It was mainly because of this task that her skin, which had always been dark, now shone like bronzed obsidian and her arms were strong and nimble as hempen rope.

Zabir was a lazy old mule, and he was moreover the merchant’s favorite animal, so Sahaei would often be made to carry his load of the merchandise as well.

At the market, Sahaei would sit next to the merchant. She would fan him with palm branches when he was hot. She would fill his water cup from the skins when he was thirsty. When the merchant had customers, she would assist him with displaying one good or another; holding up a rug or a robe or a bolt of cloth while the merchant sold and haggled. More than anything, however, Sahaei was silent, and in so being became an excellent listener. She listened to the sweeping of the wind through the sewn awnings of the market stalls; to the jingle of coins, harness, and brass weights, and to the travelers and caravans that came through the marketplace. Mostly she listened to the merchant, who was a fascinating person to listen to: he was the smartest, most engaging man she had ever met.

Sahaei had not met very many men.

One day, she was sitting alone with the merchant at the market, fanning him with a large palm branch. It was hot; it was always hot in the desert. Sahaei and the merchant sat in the shade of the awning over his market stall, which today was loaded with brightly colored, deliciously soft fabric from Shiva, a great city across the desert to the west. Sahaei longed to feel it’s slipperiness against her skin, but Zabir had been looking particularly lazy that day and the merchant had made her carry the water skins and the market stall on her back instead.

The merchant had not had many customers and it was nearly midday. Sahaei knew that that was not a good thing. She wished someone would come talk to him, but for hours they sat alone, with few customers and no buyers, and at last the merchant began tapping his foot. This was quite a bad sign for Sahaei; the merchant only tapped his foot when he was about to kick someone. Of all the people the merchant enjoyed kicking, Sahaei was his very favorite, so today she decided to try to head him off.

She set down the palm frond and stood up.

The merchant’s left hand went around Sahaei’s right wrist like a steel cuff, his knuckles white. She was pulled down roughly, her right knee sinking with a dull thud into the sand beneath the rug on which they sat. The merchant leaned so close to Sahaei’s right ear that she felt the bristled hairs of his beard sticking into her hair and cheek.

“Where are you going?” The merchant’s lower lip hung open, as it did whenever he was angry, showing the yellow-brown snarl of his bottom-front teeth, the sourness of his breath filling the inches of space between them.

Sahaei held up the merchant’s empty kippa. She smiled and shook the cup, gesturing towards the water skins. The merchant’s eyes narrowed. He worked his lower jaw back and forth, grinding the jumble of his teeth like dry stones.

“Bah!” he spat, releasing her, and he struck her roughly with the back of his left hand. Propelled by the shove Sahaei barely stumbled, but used her left hand to brace herself while keeping the merchant’s kippa safe in her right. She had earned a particularly savage kick the first (and last) time she had allowed the small, delicately crafted clay cup to touch the ground. That was three years ago, when she was eight. Since then, Sahaei had become a proficient balancer. She turned back to ensure that the merchant was again facing towards the market, then she balanced her way over to the skins, walking on tip-toe, which helped her focus completely on balancing.

The skins were tied up to one of the posts that held up the awning of the merchant stall, so that Sahaei could lift them with one hand while holding the kippa in the other. She switched hands to hold the kippa in her left hand, freeing her right to raise the water skin to the correct height. Once the water was just beginning to dribble from the mouth of the skin, she quickly switched hands again; the hand holding the cup went up to hook her little finger into the finger-loop atop the skin, and as she hooked the skin she dropped the kippa into her right hand, bringing it quickly beneath the trickle of water. Not even a mouthful of the water was wasted.

Zabir the mule was, as usual, a completely unappreciative audience for this feat of dexterity.

The bright water plinked and spattered into the cup until it was nearly full. Sahaei carefully lowered the heavy skin with her little finger in the loop, being so very careful not to touch the skin with her left hand. Finally it was fully lowered and she could switch the kippa back to her left, allowing her to close the mouth of the skin carefully with her right hand; with that the ritual was ended. Sahaei breathed again, turned, and tip-toed back towards the merchant’s hunched shoulders and the market.

Link to part II

Sahaei and The Wyrm: Part III

Link to part I
Link to part II

Sahaei lay on the ground for a moment or two, thankful for its cool, reassuring solidity; thankful for how much better it was than the spinning, falling, crashing vertigo of moments ago; thankful in spite of the throbbing pain that now assailed her from too many body parts to name. Her mouth was open; there were little pieces of rock and dirt in her teeth. Her eyes were still closed and it was hard to think of much else. Her heart was pounding in her chest with such force that she could feel it pressing against the ground, pulsing and fighting with her rapid breathing in a dissonant rhythm. She flexed her fingers against the rock and felt them dig slightly into the wet, grainy texture, making a heavy tearing sound as she closed her fingers slowly, painfully into a fist.

When Sahaei finally allowed her eyes to open, she discovered that there was dim light in the cave around her, a dappled indigo sort of light that did not flicker; rather it seemed to pulse and thrum slowly, now stronger (but never truly bright), now just barely visible. In the purplish light she could see that the walls of the small chamber were oddly formed- smooth in some parts to the point of being nearly polished like a dull mirror, while in other parts the jagged bones of rock stuck out from the walls, which sloped steeply upward. She rolled her head slowly, painfully to the side and looked up into darkness, waiting for blurred vision to clear. When the light reached its strongest she could just barely make out where the walls came together, far higher than she could reach, in a seamless dome of jagged, broken rock.

With her head still on the ground, Sahaei stared at the rocks that littered the floor of the cavern. They glinted softly in the pulsing light. When the light swelled particularly strong, some of the rocks glimmered almost as if they were great azure gemstones. Some of the rocks were translucent, at least, and in the thrumming light they threw fantastic shapes against the walls with great blue shadows and brilliant cyans. Sahaei counted the time between the pulses; one… two… three… it took about eight seconds for the light to reach its zenith, and one.. two… three… about eight more for it to dim almost completely away into a deep, violet darkness.

As she lay mesmerized by the thrumming light, her heart rate and breathing slowing, she suddenly heard a sound that drove all other thought from her mind. It was ever so faint, just barely present, but it was there: the trickle and drip of water running down a rock. Water! Her heart leaped at the thought, and she found herself at last strong enough to move. Sahaei slowly (and painfully) rose up onto all fours. Her legs shook, and her knees were torn and ached, but she stilled herself to listen and hear in which direction the water-sound was coming from.

She heard nothing; not even the faintest drip or trickle.

Her heart almost burst at the silence. The will to move left her and she collapsed, roughly, onto her stomach; the air rushing out of her lungs as her excitement evaporated. It had been just a cruel trick of the cavern. Her lips were so cracked with three waterless days that the groan she made came out as nothing but a painful whisper. She laid her head back down on the rock to watch the lights glinting off the cave walls. She watched them swell to fullness and dim away once, twice, three times, ten times; but it was no good. Now all her mind was afire with familiar, helpless, crushing thirst.

Shes stopped. There it was again. The drip-drip trickle. It was like the shifting of dried lentils in the hand; and glorious, wild, impossibly faint. She pressed her ear to the ground. The sound was louder. She cupped her hand around her small ear, and she heard the sound so clearly that she made an involuntary croak of joy and desire. The water sounded like it was running right beneath her head, in the very rock below her.

Sahaei rose to her knees and tore at the rocks with cracked fingers. She pinched and she pulled, searching every crevice, frantic. All were firmly seated; the whole rock was one solid block of stone and earth, welded together by eons of pressure and the weight of the very world.

Almost imperceptibly a slab rocked in her hands. She gasped. with all her strength and both of her small hands she wrenched on the tiny crevice between two edges of the rocks and felt the tell-tale give of it coming free, and then it was gone, flung desperately away down the cave with a thunk and a clatter. She could hear the water now, and beneath the first great slab the rocks were looser, giving great sucking sounds as the cavern floor turned muddy with the emerging underground spring. She pulled up stone after stone, heaving away large ones with both arms, until there, at last, was the flickering gleam of the subterranean stream; just an infinitesimal vein of the immeasurably great underground courses of water; perhaps a handsbreadth deep and less than two wide, but it was enough. For an instant Sahaei was paralyzed, marveling at the iridescent beauty of the water in the thrumming violet light, awash with the intensity of her desire for it, waiting for one moment before she would plunge her head into its coolness.

In that moment she heard a voice, near and quiet and terribly deep, as if the very cavern around her was speaking.

“Child,” the voice asked, “Are you thirsty?”

The great voice filled the cave with sudden warmth and a presence that enveloped Sahaei; she was pulled around, whether with her own will or despite it, to face the voice- and there, not more than an arm’s length away, were the immense, shimmering, indigo eyes and face and jaws of a dragon.

An excerpt from upcoming short story ‘The Stranger’

I am given to fits of hindsight- regret and fear circling over my mind with black wings. Hindsight and foresight, those pompous luxuries! Enjoyed at their own risk, those speculative monsters, ravenously betting on a deadly game from the grandstands! They observe the arena, that sneer of disdain and mild discomfort on their white faces, berating and goading the contestants from a perspective both biased and uninformed.

The sand and grit far below are seasoned with the sweat of Discernment; only he does grim battle with that beast named the Present. They grapple and snarl, and strike with fist and with claw; and the air between them is all teeth and dust and steel. Scarlet drips from both combatants in a hundred places; swift death waits in every distraction. Yes, the ears of that champion have long been closed to the frothing, idiotic howl of the luxuriant monsters in the stands.

Mundanity

There are days that sweat blood

and some that simply bleed

Days that bloom with desire

and some that rot with death

Today is just an idiot

smiling stupidly at a masterpiece