Moth Ch. 022byellynei©
Please forgive the redundant copyright messages, I've found that sometimes my stories are copypasted in part and used elsewhere.
Copyright of Nanna Marker 2010.
"When I first tell them about you, I will refer to you as my friend," said Lei. "I'm proud to be your lover, but we can't afford to antagonise them too much from the very start. Once they get used to me, and the knowledge of you, I can let it slip. Most likely they will have guessed it before then anyhow."
Lei hated the outlook to such manipulative an approach, but she couldn't see another way.
"You think the idea of a spider with mind is that much less frightening than the sight of one," asked Black, caressing her arm with a legtip. He didn't seem the least upset that she was planning to keep their love a secret.
"Absolutely," said Lei. "And once they are used to the thought, I think they can also handle the sight if needed."
"It would be nice if I were able to carry you directly to their healer if you should ever get hurt," said Black, he didn't quite sound like he believed such a prospect could be possible.
"I never did have much contact with beetles," said Lei, and sighed. "I wish our neighbours had been moths or butterflies. Or even termites, forest-dwelling termites are quite sensible people, they are more like the rest of us than the travelling ones."
"Beetles aren't worse than others," said Black.
Lei raised her eyebrows, slightly surprised to hear that from Black. She had always assumed he detested beetles more than others.
"I don't think they are worse than others," said Lei, returning her thoughts to the matter at hand. "I just don't know much about beetles. I don't think I've ever even seen a beetle home from the inside."
"Well, I'm glad our closest neighbours are beetles," said Black. "Beetles have crappy aim and they don't have wings."
"Let's hope we won't get in a position to bless that advantage," said Lei with a nervous smile.
Kokata pulled his woman into a comforting hug but made no comment. He was already blessing it. Since their neighbours were beetles, he could, remaining in the trees, sneak close enough to watch over his Lei.
"Be careful," he said.
"Always," promised his Lei and snuggled against him.
Kokata stole a kiss and wished his Lei hadn't already put on the dress. He'd like more access to her soft, warm, skin.
"At least the forest is very dense around here," said Lei, looking out from the branch and down at the beetle-village far below. "It should be very shady in day, I don't think I will have too hard a time seeing." Lei slapped at his most boldly exploring legtip. "Stop that. You'll put the dress in disarray."
Kokata obediently withdrew. In his opinion all women should always just wear thongs, like Lei so often did at home. Or simply just be nude. At least when it was warm enough. When it wasn't cold, clothes were simply silly.
His Lei put her dress back in order, moving her hands over every single part of it, carefully pulling and uncrumbling every little piece. The movements reminded him of that of a bird neatening its feathers. Not that he had ever spent much time studying that sight lest the bird should happen to see him. Birds were more dangerous than most of the gigantic animals, not counting bats.
"I have to look wealthy, and beautiful, and mysterious," said his Lei. "I want to make as good an impression as possible. If they disapprove of me from the very start it will be hard to establish a good trading relationship. And we really need access to their healer."
The dress was mainly his Lei's invention. With silk thread, she had sown together a shirt from the last pieces of the lizard hide, then she had torn apart one of her beloved blankets, and had sown the fragments onto the shirt till united they fell around her legs much like a skirt would. Lastly she had made him make napkin like stretches of silk. Some of those she had sewn on, but, having found the project too time consuming, she had made him glue the rest on.
The end result was a bit too flowery for Kokata's taste, but his Lei seemed happy about it. He chose to trust her better judgement on it.
"So, how do you want to spend the remainder of the night?" asked Kokata.
"I'll try to find some food," said his Lei. "Something that doesn't stain."
"If you don't want to stain the dress, you could always take it off," suggested Kokata. "If you really intend to wait till late morning there'll be plenty time to put it on again."
"You'd like that wouldn't you?" Lei had such a teasing smile when the mood struck her.
"Of course," admitted Kokata, with a wide grin.
Lei had flown around, to approach the village from a slightly different direction than Black was hiding in. Just before getting close enough to be spotted, she landed on a branch to check her dress one final time. As she had guessed the daylight really wasn't too bad around that village.
Her dress had taken no harm from being off her for a few hours, and the intimacy had served the purpose of settling her nerves. Letting Black help her wash afterwards had been unexpectedly nice too. She should let him do that more often, he seemed to have enjoyed it as much as she did.
Thinking about Black's soft touch helped her keep calm. It had been so long since she had been around people. The travelling termites hardly counted, it wasn't the same thing, and even that was quite a while ago.
Lei forced herself to stop fidgeting about the dress and jumped off the branch.
It was time to fly low, and slow, and very visibly.
She felt very naked without her bow. She couldn't very well have brought it. When visiting a village of strangers, coming unarmed was needed to make a good first impression.
Lei was amazed how long it took the beetles to spot her, she slowed her forward pace to that of a snail not to get alarmingly close before being seen. Apparently beetles didn't look up much.
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When she was finally seen, it was by a child.
"Look," yelled the little one and pointed, jumping excitedly. "Look, mum, there's a butterfly. Look."
Lei smiled, and blessed the eyes of the little one, even if he couldn't tell moths and butterflies apart. She kept her snailish pace, awaiting the reaction of the adults.
The overall reaction seemed good. She counted far more curious stares than apprehensive ones, and was greeted with 'hello's and waves even while still in the air.
"Hello," yelled Lei back and waved, hoping her smile looked warmer than nervous.
"Hi, all," she said, upon landing a few steps from a pack of beetles that had gathered during her slow flight in. "My name is Lei."
"Hi, Lei," said a middle-aged brown-skinned beetle-woman, who wore a plain but spotless and bright-coloured, red dress. "It's very nice to meet you."
Her smile was wide, and displayed an array of white teeth, one of which had grown out at a wrong angle. All in all it was a very charming smile.
"I'm Hinea," continued the friendly woman, whose back-plate reached high enough to form a brown halo behind her head. "And this is..."
Lei struggled bravely to remember the names of everyone the woman introduced. The list grew longer and longer as more and more beetles arrived.
When finally the woman gave up and with a laugh declared that she couldn't introduce the whole village at once. Lei with panic realised that the only of the mentioned names for which she could remember the owner, was Hinea.
"It's very nice to meet you all," said Lei, and felt guilty for it being a lie. Being stared down by a whole village was unnerving, even if they all looked friendly.
"You must have travelled far," said Hinea. "Would you like some tea?"
"Tea would be..." began Lei, but was interrupted.
"Forgive me," said Hinea. "Moths like sweet things, don't you?"
"Yes but..." Lei was again interrupted.
"I've got some fresh fruit-juice," said Hinea. "It's very sweet."
"I like both fruitjuice and tea," said Lei. "Whatever is easiest would be..."
"Oh, don't worry about what's easiest," interrupted Hinea, stepped up to Lei and grabbed her hand. "Visitors are so rare out here. Especially winged ones."
Hinea turned, still holding on to Lei's hand, and started walking into the village. Lei followed not to be dragged.
"I have cake too," said Hinea, her face hidden from Lei by her backplate, "and cookies, and sweets, my hut isn't far."
"Hinea," called a stern manly voice, and the beetle-woman stopped in her tracks.
"Yes, Baltin?" said Hinea, and turned.
Lei withheld a nervous whimper, and closely watched Hinea's face. The woman's possessive hold on her hand had tightened significantly, and her smile had stiffened somewhat.
"You can serve your cookies and sweets in the big hall," said the man who had to be Baltin. Lei still had her back to him.
"I'm sorry, Baltin," stated Hinea. "I don't have enough for everyone."
"I'm sure 'everyone' will understand, and will leave the bulk of it for our guest," said Baltin with extra emphasis on 'our'. "In fact, I'm fairly sure that 'everyone' has a few sweets of their own to bring to the table."
"And I'm sure that Lei will be far more comfortable in my cozy hut than in the big hall," stated Hinea. "Won't you, Lei?"
"I..." began Lei, intending to finish with 'don't know'. With every moment passing, the friendly beetle-woman was increasingly scary.
"Hinea," there was a warning tone in Baltin's voice.
"Allright," snapped Hinea. "I'll show her my hut later." The beetle-woman turned and started walking in a slightly different direction.
"Actually," said Lei, slightly resisting the pull. "Why don't we stay out here in the open? The weather is really nice."
Hinea stopped in her tracks, turned to Lei, and, for the first time, eyed her suspiciously.
"I thought a moth would be happy to get out of the daylight," said Hinea.
Lei swallowed nervously. Apparently Hinea noticed, for her eyes narrowed.
"What's your game stranger?" said Baltin, and walked to Hinea's side. And the two of them eyed her in unison.
Lei's wings rustled with her desire to fly away, but she didn't unfold them.
"I'm a stranger," said Lei, and swallowed again. "You are very kind to me, but you are also strangers to me. I'd rather stay in the open."
Murmurs of whispers reached Lei from all angles.
Baltin's eyes left Lei, and started exploring the heights around the village.
"You have friends watching over you?" he asked.
"You won't be able to spot him," said Lei, hating how the friendly start had turned sour. "He hides well."
"Well," said Baltin, returned his eyes to Lei, and a friendly smile grew on his face, "we can carry some benches out from the big hall and eat our sweets in the open. There's plenty room in front of the hall. If you dare set foot on our ground at all that is?"
"I think I dare that much," said Lei, and the beetle-man practically beamed with satisfaction.
"Sweets, everyone," he called, in a loud voice. "Cookies, cake, candy, juice. Our guest shall not be left wanting."
"Come along," said Hinea, and again turned and walked.
Lei swiftly followed, not to be dragged.
"I'll find us a good spot," promised Hinea.
While Hinea led Lei to an open area in the midst of the village, beetles hurried off to their respective homes, apparently to fetch sweet things as Baltin had suggested. Maybe it had been an order, Lei hadn't been able to tell for sure.
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Once at the open area, Hinea hesitantly released Lei's hand.
"Don't go anywhere," said the woman, it sounded half like an insistent plea, half like an order. "I'll bring us a bench."
"I'll wait for you here," promised Lei, and did.
She had barely been alone for two seconds before a small beetle-boy came running holding one hand high.
"Do you like candysticks?" he breathlessly asked as soon as he reached her. Pushing his high-held hand toward her. In it he held a candystick as long as Lei's hand from wrist to fingertips, and as thick as her pinky.
Lei's mouth watered. She liked candysticks a lot and she hadn't had sweets in ages.
"Do you?" asked the little boy, reaching the candystick as high toward her as he could reach.
Not to drool, Lei nodded instead of speaking.
"Then you can have it," said the boy.
Lei moved a hand toward the candystick, but stopped herself. She couldn't snatch candy from children.
"It's for you," insisted the boy, and pushed the stick into Lei's hand.
All on their own, her fingers closed around the treat, and the boy let go.
"Try it," said the boy.
She would have told the child not to tempt weak souls, but her mouth was too full of saliva. So she just broke the candystick into four pieces and shoved them all into her mouth.
"Wow," breathed the boy, obviously impressed.
Lei didn't see if his expression matched his voice. Her eyes had closed and she was chewing. All through her mouth, hard sugar was melting and spilling it's divinity on her tongue.
"Mum," yelled the boy, already running away. "She likes candysticks. Do we have any more?"
By the time Hinea returned with a two-person bench, Lei was surrounded by children with candysticks. The young moth had no objections to, again and again, repeating the demonstration of how she ate candysticks.
With her eyes closed to savour the taste of each and every one, and her ears filled with the sounds of hard sugar crunching between her teeth, she barely noticed the activity about her.
The villagers placed a large table close to her and Hinea, and benches were carried to the open area till everyone had a place to seat, and more sweets, cakes, and cookies, than even a moth could dream of were piled onto the table.
When finally Lei did open her eyes and saw the sugary feast on the table. She couldn't believe them.
Her folded wings fluttered as a desire to jump onto the table and twohandedly stuff herself rushed through her. With an effort of will, Lei managed to remain where she was.
"Would you like some cake?" asked Hinea.
Lei swallowed a couple of times, till her mouth was drained enough to speak.
"Yes, please," she said.
The beetle-woman took a plate from the table, chose a creamy cake, scooped a piece of it onto the plate, and handed it to Lei, then fetched a tiny fork, and handed that too to Lei.
Lei had never seen so tiny a fork. A few times, her eyes travelled back and forth between the tiny fork in her one hand and the cake in her other. Then she remembered a whole village of beetles were staring at her, and started eating the cake at the achingly slow rate the fork demanded.
It was a child that saved her.
With no prompting whatsoever, the little boy, the same who had handed her the first candy-stick, took a mouthsized spoon from the table and handed it to her.
"Thank you," said Lei, accepted the tool, and downed the cake. It was gorgeous.
Lei raised her eyes from her empty plate, and saw Baltin at the table. He was scooping several pieces of cake onto a new, larger, plate. Lei's mouth watered with the hope that it was for her.
"Here you go," said Baltin, when the plate was full, and brought it to her with a wide smile on his face.
Lei could have kissed him.
"Thank you," she said.
It did cross her mind that, maybe, gorging down everything offered wasn't proper etiquette amongst beetles, but there really was no other way for her to handle the sight of the feast on the table.
After a third, even bigger offering of cake-slices, Lei was finally sufficiently sated to handle the view, and she slowed the speed of her spoon, if not the size of each mouthful.
"I've never eaten such wonderful cake," said Lei, in between two mouthfuls. It was no lie. Moths, in general, were good at many things, but making cake was not one of them. The best of cakes required baking, and baking required fire.
Lei had, since her parents traded with beetles, had beetle-cake before. But only the hard, bulky kinds that traded easily.
"Which one of them?" asked Hinea.
"All of them," said Lei, and scooped in another mouthful. Her wings rustled with delight at the sweetness.
"Do you want to bring some to your friend?" asked Baltin, who had just finished filling a fourth plate.
Lei, having cake in her mouth, shook her head.
"He doesn't like sweets," she said when her mouth was empty. Then filled in another spoonful.
"Let her try some cookies too," said a beetle-woman, whose name Lei was sure she had been told and had forgotten. Not waiting for a reply, the woman filled a plate with a selection of cookies.
"Let her try the last cakes first," objected another.
"What about the sweets?"
"I wish I had known she was coming," said another, "then I could have baked my grandmother's nutcake."
Several beetles laughed good humouredly at that comment.
"Where are you from?" asked Baltin, looking at Lei while, taking the cookie-filled plate out of the hand of the beetle-woman at the table, and firmly depositing it next to the plate of cake he had prepared.
"Aribo forest," said Lei, in between mouthfuls.
"Another forest," said Baltin. "You've really travelled far then."
"Not at once," said Lei. "I left home in spring two years back, and arrived at Altwar in early fall. That's when I met my friend." Lei scooped in more cake and closed her eyes with delight.
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"I can't believe how good your cake is," she said, after swallowing, and scooped in another bite.
"Why did you leave home?" asked Baltin.
Remembered bitterness filled Lei. It must have shown.
"You don't have to tell if you don't want to," said Baltin.
Lei swallowed the bitterness and the sweet mouthful of cake.
"I'd rather not tell why I left home," she said, took a new spoonful, savoured the cake, and swallowed it. "My friend and I have moved to a few days flight from here, I've come here in the hope that we can establish a good trading relationship, and that maybe you will allow us to see your healer when needed. You are our nearest neighbours."
"How wonderful," said a beetle-man. "I will have a chance to offer you my cupcakes then."
"I will never refuse cup-cakes," said Lei and was rewarded with friendly laughter.
"It's been generations since we had winged neighbours," said Baltin. "I hope the best for our relations."
"I do too," said Lei, and emptied her plate.
"Do you have room for more?" asked Baltin.
Lei nodded eagerly and held out the empty plate.
"Cake or cookies?"
"Both?" suggested Lei, and held out her hands. There was just enough room for a plate with cookies next to her on the bench.
Baltin laughed, accepted the empty plate, and handed her the two full ones.
"I hope I can still fit my dress when I'm done," said Lei, but hesitated no further than that before digging in.
The children, were going restless about the table, and a few adults rose and started handing cake and cookies to them.
"I love your dress," said Hinea.
"It's made of spider-silk," said Lei.
"Really?" Hinea reached out a hand. "May I?"
Lei, her mouth full, nodded.
Hinea touched the fabric.
"Silk," said Hinea, with a sigh of part admiration, part disappointment. "I had hoped it was something new and affordable. Spider-silk is still even more costly than normal silk?"
"It must have cost a fortune," sighed Hinea, gently stroking the fluffy silk of the skirtly part.
Lei shook her head.
"No?" asked Hinea, almost breathless with curiosity.
"My friend is a spider," said Lei, and studied Hinea for her reaction. "He makes the silk himself."
"He makes his own silk?" There was surprise and something that sounded like awe in Hinea's voice.