A Big Shiny Blue Marble Ch. 40

byTaLtos6©

She picked up a stick then and stirred the coals of the fire a little absently for a moment. "Next, what you wonder is truth. Dakhete and I were lovers long ago. I left because I had to, feeling the call of my own mother, and not wanting to be the wife of a fool. She helped me and I have never forgotten it. But I did not plan to be parted from the greatest love that I have ever known forever. That was beyond my control and when I had freed myself, Dakhete was long gone where I could not find her.

Now she has returned. What we had is long dead – especially from her side of it if I still know her a little. But that does not change the fact that I should welcome a sister queen to this land. As far as what went before, I have no answer, and so I will act as though to offer aid where I can. It is the least that I can do."

She looked at Khyan and smiled as she pulled her son to her and hugged him, "Now, is there anything that I have missed?"

"Dakhete has a girl with her," Khyan said.

"As you have told me," Nasira said, "a lovely one. Does she still struggle so hard to learn through the pain of her body's aches at its abuse?"

"Yes," Khyan nodded, "I sought to make her friendship and I have succeeded."

"Good," Nasira smiled, "for you needed a friend. Everyone should have one friend in their lives who can share the good and the bad which may come."

"It is becoming very close, what is between us," Khyan said, looking down, "I know nothing of the things that I feel in me."

"Which of us does?" Nasira laughed, "But I know that this is your way to ask advice. Then I tell you to learn one of the wonders of being alive," she grinned, "If it turns into a love as I see that it well could, what of it?"

"Yasmin is a beautiful girl, and I know nothing, I – "

"I would tell you the same thing if she was a boy and it grew close between you, though I prefer that you have this love with a girl far more," her mother said, "This is not a large city here. Fall in love with her for the good that it will likely do you both. I see times which lie before you when you and she will need the strength of each other, the kind which comes when one that you love is in peril.

For that kind of love, there must be a root to it in your hearts, and loving her will plant the root of that mighty strength. For the one which you love – the one who is everything in your heart, there is no impossibility. There is only desperate need in an instant of time. There can be no hesitation. One must act to save the other, and the time after that one instant determines how one lives life ever afterward.

You look as though you are surprised at my blessing," she said, "Dakhete is a female, but she was that sort of friend to me. I have never forgotten, I cannot ever forget, and I will never forget her, though I am sure that if we meet, I will have to suffer the arrows of her hatred. There is nothing to be done about that. But when I needed her, she was there.

If she ever needs me," Nasira said a little grimly, "she may hate me until the end of time itself, but I will be there for her."

------------------------

As she worked in her lesson, Yasmin knew nothing of the talk between Khyan and his mother the night before. To her, Khyan's queen was in some far-off palace for all that she knew.

She only knew that unless she pulled some tactical solution out of her confused mind as she scrambled in the dust to stay clear of Piankh's blade, she was nearing the point where she'd have her ass handed to her by Piankh – again.

As she dodged and spun, wishing that she could just run for her life, she saw Khyan's face for a second and Yasmin knew then that she wasn't alone in this. She could feel Khyan's quiet urging to push her weariness from her, to jump a little higher and move a little faster. It came to her then that if it could be done, Khyan ached to stand beside her and fight for her.

She almost stopped to stand still at the notion. Piankh could likely kill them both without a thought in a real fight.

She supposed afterward that it had been in that instant that she'd had the sudden feeling of surety come to her, and she suddenly knew that she had it within her to come out ahead in this – at least this one time. She had no time to consider what might happen later.

She only knew about now.

As Piankh came at her again, Yasmin stopped thinking of him as a warrior. She saw him as an enraged shopkeeper who had seen her steal a bit of fruit. Piankh was just larger and craftier, that was all, and Yasmin had never met a shopkeeper who had been quicker than her when she'd needed to be. Yasmin looked past him as he came. She looked right into Khyan's worried eyes.

Khyan was very shocked to see Yasmin's quick wink and her little grin just before Piankh arrived with his blade already in motion. She threw herself forward and ducked into a roll under the sweep of his sword which got her past him, and before he could turn, she was behind him, faced with the problem of how to get such a large man down to her level.

She didn't even think. She jammed her knee forward behind one of his and since it was the last thing that he expected from her, his knee folded just enough to let her reverse the old sword to pound the pommel into his ribs hard once, but once was all that was required.

As he collapsed further, she felt his large hand reach behind himself trying to get a grip of her leg or buttock, something to pull her off with, but he was out of time. They both knew that if this was real combat, she'd already be jamming her old sword in though his kidney or up under his ribs as he went down.

Her blade was turned by her wrist and the edge of it was against his throat.

"Squeeze very gently as though you love me," she hissed through her teeth as she pressed the edge against his neck a little more.

Piankh's eyes were wide for only a moment and then he began to chuckle. Yasmin felt his fingers release his grip before he slapped her haunch softly only once.

"Well done!" he exclaimed, "I did not see that as it came to me."

She let him up and he almost crushed her in his massive arms as he hugged her for a moment. He looked as happy now as he had when she and Dakhete had arrived. She stood in shock, barely hearing the words as she was given the rest of the day off as a reward.

-----------------------

"Great," she grumbled as she walked away with Khyan, "So all that I must do tomorrow is to perform another wonder such as I did today."

"Shut up, Yasmin," Khyan laughed as he put her arm around Yasmin's shoulders, "I wish to hear no complaints as I remember what I saw. You brought Piankh down, Yasmin. Just how many times in his time as a warrior do you think that it has happened?" Khyan kissed Yasmin right on the mouth in his joy.

"How hard could it be?" Yasmin asked as she laughed along with a shrug, "For a kiss from you like that, I would fight Piankh all the afternoon."

"Well it was meant," Khyan said, "and he does love you."

Yasmin stopped and turned, "What?"

"Oh." Khyan said as though surprised, "I can kiss your lips and you barely slow down, but if I say that Piankh loves you, THAT stops you still. It is true, he told me that he comes to love you as a daughter that he did not have, me as well as the son that he wished for, for how hard we both work to learn and prepare. He has seen us as we swing swords for you to practice. He said that he has taught many, but none who tried so hard. He is proud of you."

"And you?" Yasmin asked.

"That is the silliest thing that you have ever asked me," Khyan laughed, "Well, after you asked me if I liked you – as I stood holding you to me last night. Such deep things you ask. Come, here is the river. You wear your sweat, his from his hug, and at least a bagful of sand from the street."

------------------------

Dakhete sat on her throne that afternoon deep in thought. She was trying to make sure that she hadn't forgotten anything. There was always so much to be done and details could slip from one's mind as easily as droplets of water from one's cupped hands.

It wasn't even a throne that she sat on in truth, but it was good enough and hadn't been damaged as so much around here had been. It might have been little more than a slightly ornate seat for a large man such as Piankh, but it would do as a throne for her, she thought – as much as she needed such a thing. But it was nice enough. She could sit and look regal, or if she felt the need, she could lift her feet and turn sideways to curl up a little on the sparse and thin cushions.

Right now, she sat wearing a skirt around her loins wound in the old way of Egypt. She was bare-footed and wore a collar of golden plates which hung down radially from her lovely throat with a pair of thin chains running down to the ornately-vined cups which covered her nipples and not much more. On her head was the golden hood of her office as Kandake, topped with the headdress bearing the cobra of Wadjet.

She was a little lost in thought, struggling to remain on task and yet remembering how Yasmin had bested her old friend Piankh earlier. It spoke volumes about him, she thought. Of any warrior whom she'd ever known in her life and travels, only Piankh could feel such joy at being defeated by a slight girl such as Yasmin. But that was Piankh, she thought.

Her wonderings ceased and others began as she noticed the motion there beside her. To her amazement, a dark panther stepped out from beside her throne where he'd been for a long while. He was very large for the breed, she noticed, and if the light hit his fur the right way, she could plainly see the spots which would be evident if he were the normal coloring instead of this variant.

He hadn't turned yet; he was still walking forward slowly, languidly. With a start, Dakhete noticed the jeweled and studded collar as he turned his head slightly and rubbed the side of his nose against her knee. Dakhete had no fear of the cat, but she was astounded.

She was even more surprised when she heard his deep purr. He walked past her and then he turned to look at her. He sat down and licked his paw for a moment before he used it to rub his face for a minute. It made Dakhete smile.

But then he licked her knee a couple of times and she had trouble maintaining her composure. It was all that she could to keep herself from reaching out to pet him.

She knew what this was, of course. Of all the large cats, the leopard was the one which Nasira loved the most. While this one looked a little different in more than his coloring, Dakhete had little doubt as to his origins.

"What?" she asked, and the cat looked a little wounded, but he walked to the balcony and sat down facing the grounds below.

Dakhete got to her feet and stepped over to stand beside him. Out there in the multitudes of workers who were at work rebuilding, men and women, she saw someone turn away from her and begin to walk. Dakhete's heart seemed to come off its mountings inside her. That hair, that light skin, here of all places ... Millennia had passed and there was a cloak, but ...

She'd know that ass anywhere, she thought.

There was no time to call out and it wouldn't have been the right thing to do anyway. Dakhete stepped away from the scene below and she walked to the throne. When she looked down, the cat was right there, looking up at her.

"You will lead me?" she asked as she removed her headdress and began to work on getting the elaborate necklace and breast coverings off.

The cat only looked up and purred quietly for a leopard. In the chamber where she stood, it sounded like a large saw.

She pulled off her bracelets and shimmied out of her skirt. If this was what she thought that it might be, Dakhete did not wish to wear the trappings of a Kandake. She had no desire to hear anything about the 'returning warrior'. She put on a necklace of lion's claws and slipped on a few silver bracelets before tying her hair back into a topknot so that her hair spilled down behind her.

"Good enough?" she asked the cat but he only stopped his purring to look at her quizzically. She nodded at him grimly as she stepped to the wall and took up a long spear. "Lead me then," she said, "It must be why you are here."

The cat walked away and Dakhete followed. As the two of them walked through the streets, she walked beside the cat so that everyone would know that he was not to be attacked. Outside the gates, the cat walked ahead and the sight caught Yasmin's attention as she sat near the river trading kisses with Khyan.

"Look," she pointed as they both stared.

"Come on," Khyan said, "I wish to see this, but we will need to be careful that we are not seen."

The young pair followed at a discreet distance, falling to the long grasses if Dakhete looked as though she might even be thinking about turning to look back. "What do you think will happen?" Yasmin asked, a little out for breath after one long and very careful sprint.

"I do not know," Khyan replied, "but I know that they were lovers long ago, just as Dakhete told of it. My mother said that Dakhete would likely feel hateful toward her."

"Your mother?"

Khyan nodded, "I learned this last night myself. She has been a good mother to me and we love each other as any mother and son would, I guess. I must admit that after thinking about it most of the night. I have never wanted for her love of me. If there is one thing which can be said of her, it is that she keeps her secrets and can never be expected to do what one thinks. For that panther to be here leading Dakhete, it must mean that my mother seeks a meeting between them."

"Should we even be there, then?" Yasmin asked.

"Of course not," Khyan grinned, "Come on."

They watched as Dakhete reached the edge of the heavy growth and slipped inside. It was more than a minute before the pair began their own approach.

Dakhete walked silently through the heavy undergrowth, following the cat who seemed to know the best way anyway. At one point, he stopped, seeming to be trying to decide which way and Dakhete took the time to reach out and stroke his ear a little. He looked up and made no sound, though he closed his eyes in pleasure as Dakhete allowed her eyes to adjust to the gloom in this place.

Under the forest canopy and the subsequent layers, very little light reached here to the forest floor. As they walked farther into the darkness, the usual sounds of the forest tapered off behind them. At last, the cat stopped and sat down, looking straight ahead fixedly.

Dakhete stood still for a long moment. She wanted all of what her senses could bring her here. Yasmin and Khyan saw the clearing in the darkness and sidestepped away to another point on the periphery of it to observe from as they hunkered down behind a fallen old tree trunk.

Dakhete heard the quiet rumblings in front of her. She saw the huge roots of the great trees above which ran over and along the ground wherever they popped up from the soil underfoot. Everything above the ground here was moss covered. Dakhete was certain that if she stayed motionless for only a minute, she could expect to feel the beginnings of her own covering layer beginning.

"Good of you to come, Dakhete," a sultry voice said from out of the darkness.

Dakhete's eyes snapped toward the source instantly and she saw the thick arching roots reaching as far as ten feet in the air and the cats lounging there on them looking a little bored. One of them gnawed on the carcass of a recent kill, though Dakhete couldn't quite make out what it had been while it lived. There were others a little farther back, some in natural colors and the rest wearing the dark fur which came with the natural melanism that sometimes happened.

Altogether, she could see seven of the cats in front of her – not counting the two-legged one in front of them all, of course.

That one carried no fur, other than her dark triangle and her long wild mane as she stood with her weight on one leg, the other crossed a little casually in front of it with her arms stretched up to hold onto the roots above and a little behind her.

Neither of them knew it, but they both had the same thought at that instant.

"Why, oh why was she here naked?"

It made all of this just that much harder, each seeing the one who had meant everything to the other at one time. They stood looking at each other for a long time, not saying a word, not needing to, really. They supposed that what they'd had was gone, but for each of them, it was a little good to see that the other was surviving the ravages of time very well.

Yasmin felt Khyan's lips near her ear as he just mouthed the words, fearing to be heard and causing this spell or whatever it was to be broken. "They are so beautiful," he said, "I would give a lot only to see them standing together, one light and one dark. I have no words for this."

Yasmin nodded and turned her head to whisper back, "I feel like such a small kitten to see them here. They are two who are in their prime. They are old, but it does not show." She moved her arm in front of her slowly and Khyan reached to take her hand. They looked at their own arms for a moment. "We are like them!" Khyan hissed softly.

Yasmin nodded and wondered afterward at the thrill of pride that she'd felt for a moment.

"Why have you come here with nothing more than that spear?" Nasira asked, "So unlike the young warrior that I knew."

"I did not wish for you to make a remark about a warrior needing the trappings of her profession," Dakhete replied, "and how it only shows her weakness in relying on them. I did not think that there was a need of it anyway. Also I knew that if it was you, then you would be here this way, the way that you were when I first saw you."

Nasira looked a little surprised, "You remember this?"

Dakhete rolled her eyes, "Do you think that I could forget such a thing? The young princess hiding from the wrath of her powerful mother, leaving with nothing as you did?"

"To stumble half-drowned straight out of the rushes of the Nile and into the arms of a warrior girl," Nasira smiled, "It made a good tale among young ones for a time, you must admit."

"I suppose that it did," Dakhete said, "very romantic, though it didn't end well – at least not to my satisfaction."

Nasira looked sad and uncomfortable for a moment. "I owe you much," she said, knowing even as she said the words that Dakhete would shake her head.

"You owe me nothing," Dakhete said a little more coldly than she'd meant to. She already knew that this was not going to go as she'd rehearsed this meeting ten thousand times in her mind over the years, the centuries when she'd gotten glimpses of her memories and her pain. She never thought that this would actually happen one day.

Dakhete looked over and said "Please Nasira, forget that I said that. I did not mean-"

"Yes you did," Nasira nodded, "and taking what must be your view of it, I deserve to hear it from you."

Dakhete was surprised at the feelings which she felt rising up in her breast. She thought that she'd been long over this by now. She looked down, biting her lip a little and wanting to hold on to her cold composure – just as she felt it slipping away from her.

"Just tell me why," Dakhete said, "It makes no difference anymore, but I would know what I did to you that would drive you to use me like that, to ask me to take your place so that you could have some time, knowing that you would never return to me. What did I do to make that just?"

Nasira turned away and looked down, her eyelids clenched tightly for a second after, "Why? You said it yourself. It makes no difference anymore. In any event, there was cause, but I know you, Dakhete. There is nothing that I could ever tell you that would change what is in your heart."

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