A Big Shiny Blue Marble Ch. 40byTaLtos6©
***We're back to the other side of the planet for a little bit. Dakhete is trying to raise a dead capital out of the dust and she'd really prefer that it be populated by more than the shades of the dead. There's a scene in this that's something of a meeting. You'll know it when you get there, but ... if you're familiar with the works of the late Frank Frazetta, then I'd like you to try to imagine these people as being a little like what you'd be looking at in his fanciful jungle queen type works.
Yasmin awoke alone, but she heard sounds from outside. She got up and walked to go outside as she began to tie her hair. Before she could get to the front doorway, Khyan was with her as though he stepped up behind her.
"Wait," he said quietly. "You should never be seen at less than near to your best. I think that you are to be important in this place, so you should always look presentable. Give me a moment to tie your hair."
"Where did you come from, Khyan? How long have you been here? Were you watching me sleep or something?"
He looked down a little shyly, "I was just at the gates and, well, I wanted to be here, so I came. I am a djinn. We can travel quickly. You know this. I have only been here a moment, only long enough to smile once, I guess. I was not watching you – well, for longer than that."
Yasmin nodded and the boy began on her hair. "What is happening outside?" she asked.
"The Kandake speaks now with the people. She asks for their help and offers that those who wish to return to their sleep may do so. Those who would remain will be honored for their help. So far, many will stay, from what I have seen. The foundries will smoke once more to make the things that are needed to clear some land to grow crops again. The Kandake says that she does not know if we can sell things and trade yet, since first we all need things of our own to begin.
She wishes to attract some of the living to come here so that the place lives once more and is not only full of dead ones such what we see."
It seemed to Yasmin that she never stopped moving the whole day. She learned stances from Piankh and Dakhete – when she had a little time. She practised with her dagger, and whenever she wasn't doing that, she was running alongside Piankh in the heat. Whenever she felt as though she couldn't go on, Piankh would hold her up as she leaned against him panting and thinking that she would surely die if this continued. The pace wasn't brutal, but in that place, it didn't matter much. Being in the sun was brutal. Running in it was worse.
As he held her, Piankh would allow her to drink, but it was always a measured amount. "You need what you need, "he said, "not what you want. That may come after. This is to allow you to go on."
"You don't need anything," she gasped.
"No," he smiled, "not anymore, but I know what you need and how much to give."
The warm contents of the waterskin as he poured it over her carefully felt wonderful, and he seemed to know exactly when it would bring her another bit of renewal, though mysteriously, the waterskin never ran out. When she couldn't go on – truly couldn't and collapse was not far off, he picked her up and carefully carried her in his arms as she leaned her head against his chest.
"You feel as though you have shown poorly," he smiled," and that is not so. This day, you have outrun many men in distance. We will do this every day. We go now to the river. I have a little food for you, and then we return to practise more."
And so it went, every day. The only real change was that their stone slab now had a woven papyrus mattress which Khyan had made for them himself. All day long while Yasmin trained, Khyan strove to help Dakhete and sometimes just found a place to pitch in with the work of the shades in the cleaning and rebuilding. Each night, Khyan walked out through the gates and left with his guard.
But the first few days were terrible for Yasmin. The second day was harder than the first. The third was agony to even get out of bed. Every muscle that Yasmin had screamed its pain to her.
"It hurts!" she cried out as she lay on the bed with Khyan kneeling over her to rub her limbs. Yasmin groaned, "I know I sound like a little girl, and I do not want to miss a day to learn. I just cannot move without wanting to scream."
She stopped suddenly as she felt Khyan's soft and careful kiss on her cheek.
"Try not to be so loud in your complaining then," Khyan whispered as he leaned down to kiss Yasmin again, "Piankh's time is valuable and he is needed in many places. If you cry too loud, he will send me away and do this himself. You will be able to move, but you will not like how hard he would do this. Your muscles are stone hard with tenseness, and he has hands which I am sure can break stones."
"Not so," Painkh said as he walked in and waved Khyan from the slab, "She is not a soldier. She is to be trained, but not cruelly." He leaned down and smiled to Yasmin as he rested his large and calloused hand in the middle of her back. It felt as though it weighed a ton to her, "I have a little time, enough to teach Khyan my tricks. Watch now, Khyan."
He told the boy to stand opposite him and he began to work the muscles of Yasmin's shoulders. He made sure that Khyan could do as he was shown before he moved on. Everywhere that they worked on her, Yasmin felt herself wanting to sob from the pain – at first. After only minutes, the pain subsided into a sort of achy warmth. It wasn't exactly joyous, but it would get her off the slab and ready for more.
Her thighs were the worst, and she felt a little self-conscious at first. "Calm yourself," Piankh smiled, "I am not here to romance you. I need you on your feet, and this is the way to get you there. You have nothing of interest to me anymore, other than the teaching of you."
Yasmin submitted to the suffering, as well as the slight embarrassment. She asked herself why she felt this way. She ought to have felt little, having grown up naked in the alleyways, always under the gaze of men and boys and having to be quick to stay out of their grasp now and then. By now she knew that Piankh was really just a dead shade and as such felt none of the feelings that a man might have, other that the way that he seemed to have an earnest desire for her to learn.
It was then that she noticed that Khyan was suffering a little as well, ashamed at his body's betrayal. She noticed that he had his own difficulties and struggled to hide and ignore them as he worked. Their eyes met and he looked down, mortified at his arousal, but she let her hand slip from the bed and she touched his leg lightly only once. He looked over in shame.
"Thank you for coming back to see me, Khyan. I know there are other things that you should be doing for your queen. It's not only Piankh's time which is valuable. I feel better that you're here and wish to help me."
They helped her to sit up, but told her to remain sitting. Piankh walked to his seemingly bottomless bag and retrieved a small bunch of bananas. "Eat three now," he said, "This is your morning meal, and it will help with the cramping in your limbs. You need muscle on your frame. To build it, we must tear down what is before we can make what will be. That is where the pain comes from."
"Three?" she repeated, "I do not think that I could eat one."
"Three," he said, looking at Khyan as the boy tried to flex his cramped fingers.
"I think that I want to cry now," Khyan said.
"I am sorry, Khyan," Yasmin said, "You work so hard every day, and my childish cries now shame me."
"Thank you for your words, Yasmin," Khyan said with a little smile, "I only wish that I could take some of your burdens for you."
"Khyan is using his hands more than he ever did in his life like this," Piankh said, "I can see that he always knew hard work, but never something like this as he works here in this dusty city of ghosts. He knew hunting and tracking. I know that he travels far for his queen always, seldom resting. This is different, each task shows little progress and always there is more to do. He does much to help even me. We dead feel things in the living," he said, "and I feel the weariness in his young limbs. It will pass, Khyan, you do well." Khyan smiled in a pained way and nodded.
Piankh handed Yasmin's sword to her and they went outside. It was an old thing that he'd found to be not too badly corroded, since it had come from the corpse of a hopeful grave robber not long ago. He drilled her hard, shouting instructions as she scrambled to obey. As she did, Yasmin found her thoughts going back to what had happened less than twelve hours before.
The night before had almost been a disaster. After they parted at the gates while there was still plenty of light, Yasmin felt suddenly afraid that Khyan would not return the next day. She walked out to follow, trying desperately to think of what she might say. Before she knew it she was a little lost and went on in the direction that she'd seen Khyan go. She thought to call out, but she felt so foolish. If she were in the bustling alleyways of a city she'd have been picking out little features in her surroundings as signposts to guide her. She realized that she could do the same thing here but it was far too late to begin now. She walked a little farther and saw Khyan disappear into the heavy forest up ahead.
Yasmin stopped and her shoulders drooped as she sighed, giving up. She turned to go back but saw no feature which might lead her. She walked anyway trying in the failing light to see signs of her passage. She looked at where Khyan had gone and turned there once more.
Just as she entered the forest, she found herself looking at a blur of motion and sounds. There were two large cats threatening her, snarling down low in their throats. One was still in a low slink, and the other looked as though he'd already made up his mind. He was lifting up, his large paws spread, and in the low light there, she saw his claws on the ends of his pads, already extended. She wondered what was holding him back, and after a split-second, she saw Khyan between them, looking ready to deal with whatever followed after him.
His weight was on his right hip, and he stood holding his spear pointing in Yasmin's general direction. His left hand was all that held the rearing cat in check, though not by strength of more than his will. Khyan's face was grim, his long hair still flying from the speed at which he'd turned back. Yasmin had a thought that she might possibly be dead in another second, but even so, she thought that Khyan must be the finest boy that she'd ever seen.
The grimness evaporated in another instant, and with a shocked word from Khyan, the cats seemed to subside and back down, though it was plain that they'd have wanted to go farther rather than pull back.
"Yasmin!," Khyan said, shocked, as he stepped forward, "I knew that I was followed, I did not know it was you. What –"
"I'm sorry," Yasmin said, "I wanted to speak to you more, and I followed. I am so lost here, I – I thought that you would not come back anymore. I don't know why, but I was afraid that I ..."
Khyan took three steps and planted the butt of his spear into the ground with his first. He looked a little upset with himself and he was, but it was leaving by the time that he began his third step, which brought him against Yasmin and the dark girl from the streets of Marrakesh found herself in Khyan's arms before she could blink.
"I will return in the morning," Khyan whispered, "I do not want to go every night, but my guards need to know that I am safe. Also, I need to speak with my mistress and, ..."
He looked down, "I see that there is something between you and Dakhete."
"It is not what you think," Yasmin said, a little at a loss for how to explain, "We care for each other, and I thought that we might be lovers one day when we met, but ... I don't think that I am what she wants. She seems to fight this, and so do I, a little. I have always liked girls, Khyan. She likes anyone who catches her eyes, I think. But what I seem to have in my heart now is something else that's never been there before."
She looked down herself and their foreheads touched. It felt so good to Yasmin to be in the arms of Khyan and the way that his chest felt against hers made her wonder if her heart could stand the almost painful way that it pounded. She reached up and pulled Khyan to her tightly as they looked at each other.
"I want to joke that I have always liked girls too, but, I have not ever really been with one," Khyan smiled shyly, "I really have not been with anyone."
"No?" Yasmin asked, "You must pass through other places as you travel for your queen."
"Often," he said quietly.
"Are there no girls there who look and call out to you to stop and talk with them?" Yasmin smiled, "I can't think that one such as you could get through a village or town without hearing at least one such call."
He shook his head, "Seldom. I usually travel to quiet places of learning on errands for my queen, dusty old temples and the like, and few say much to the wild boy who walks with huge cats."
He looked a little uncomfortable for a moment, "The way that I look, and how lightly I am made, I hear far more comments from men."
"Well you are made finely enough for me to wish to look at all day," Yasmin smiled, "though I understand about the men. I have heard things like that from low men such as that too.
Do you like me, Khyan?" Yasmin asked in a whisper.
Khyan nodded, "Yes, but this is all so strange to-"
The rest was lost as Yasmin kissed Khyan. The boy from the forest didn't even resist. He only sighed and began to kiss back. The forest grew darker in the failing light, and the cats prowled around the pair as they kept a watchful eye outward. Other than the quiet sounds of the jungle and the occasional low growl from one of the cats, the only sounds were from the pair who held each other tightly and groaned occasionally.
Their long kiss broke at last, and they smiled at each other, one stealing little kisses and then the other doing the same. "I will walk you back, "Khyan smiled, feeling as though he could fly at the moment, "If I can, I will always try to tell you if I must go. If I cannot for any reason, then I will come back as soon as I can."Yasmin nodded and they set off together, holding hands where the width of the trail permitted it.
Dakhete met them at the gates. "I was worried," she said, "until I felt that you were with Khyan."
She kissed Yasmin, and turned to go, but stopped when she saw the pair looking at each other. "Well?" Dakhete grinned, "Are you not even going to kiss Khyan goodnight?"
Their jaws dropped, and Dakhete laughed, "Go on and kiss him. I know the way that you both feel. What I see here is something special, a first love, and that is not to be missed or trampled upon. Hurry now, so that Khyan does not get to where he must go too late."
The two laughed a little at being found out even before they'd really begun, but they shared a quiet moment and kissed each other good night while Dakhete looked out beyond them at the cats which prowled farther out. With a long look and smiles between them, Khyan started for the forest again and Yasmin walked away with Dakhete.
"This is alright, what Khyan and I – "
"Of course," Dakhete smiled as she put her arm around Yasmin while they walked away. "I already love you, but I also know that it is not the same thing as what you might have with Khyan soon, and that is important, I believe. I even want him myself, but not as you do. This may turn into something which happens only once in a lifetime and I will not interfere in it, for we have a different bond, you and I. I must be your teacher, and we can love together if we wish it – when you have reached that day, if you still even have the interest.
I had this sort of love only once," she said, looking off into the darkening streets. "It changes one – whether it is between a girl and a boy, or two girls, or two boys. What lies between their legs does not matter. It is what is in their hearts which changes a person, for the better, I believe."
"You still think of the one that you loved, don't you?" Yasmin asked quietly.
Dakhete nodded, "Yes. It has been centuries and I have been many places, but I still carry that one in my heart. It still hurts me, though I had forgotten it for so long. Being here reminds me, that it all."
"If this queen of Khyan's is the one," Yasmin began.
"I doubt that she is," Dakhete said, "and what we had is long past. I even hope that she is not the girl that I loved. I would probably wish to kill her for it."
Khyan walked deeper into the forest until he came to a clearing near to a crumbled stone guidepost. A small cooking fire burned there, and Nasira looked up as Khyan entered the clearing. "Come, my son," she smiled, "I have made our evening meal so that we may talk."
Khyan leaned down to kiss Nasira before he sat down next to her with a troubled expression. "I seek answers," he said.
"I know this, "Nasira smiled as she held out the food, "and I have them for you, but first, you forget that it is I who sent you so that I might have my own answers."
Khyan looked humble as he took the offered platter and looked down, "Forgive me, Mother."
"Already done," Nasira said, as though there had been no transgression. "I have three children and they all drive me to distraction, but the others do not even come close to you, Khyan. Wait a little and let me ask what I wish to know."
She learned from Khyan who this Kandake was and what she wanted. At the end of it she smiled still. "You will continue to lend your aid in all things," she said, "Dakhete is not stupid, and she will know that I allow this as a small gesture, she may even see that it is a peace offering. I wish to help her in her rise to reclaim what has been lost."
"Why do you wish to help her?" Khyan asked, "Why would you care? Or are you the one who she loved long ago?"
"In the first place, "Nasira said, "your questions are not in the correct order, so I will answer them as I choose. I begin with the one which has troubled you the longest. You are not the unwanted babe who was returned to me by any tribeswoman. You are, and always have been MY son, birthed from my loins, the youngest and most troublesome, and the one which I wanted the most. I love you all, but you were a want in me to have a child, where they were caused to grow in my womb.
Your father was not a djinn. You were fathered by a white-skinned human traveler from a distant land who came here seeking a long-lost culture. Instead, I showed him mine. We loved for a time, but he wanted the gold which lies under the jebel, and though I told him that it was not permitted, he sought to steal from me.
For that, I left him in the care of your sisters.
Perhaps that is why I treat you as my favorite, though it was never my intent. Before you ask, you were told this to keep you humble, so that you would not act as the queen's son. And before you cry out in your outrage at my ruse, ask yourself if there has ever been anything lacking in your life. I have always given you the very best of my love, have I not?"
Khyan had been shocked, and then angered, but even as the words died off in the deep forest, he knew that Nasira had acted correctly. That he'd gotten this far in his young life without being spoiled and wearing haughtiness as a badge was the proof, he had to admit.
"I always felt that you loved me very much," he said, still in a little shock.
"I have loved you since before I felt your kicks in my womb," Nasira said, "You have never lacked for love from your mother. But knowing me and what we are, I wished for you to be free of the stupidity which comes to the children of ruling parents, for it often only makes them worthless. When I had time for you, being a busy queen, you were always thankful and I knew it. You have always made me proud."