Glimpse the World of A Taste of Honey

Long after the Towers left the world but before the dragons came to Daluça, the emperor brought his delegation of gods and diplomats to Olorum. As the royalty negotiates over trade routes and public services, the divinity seeks arcane assistance among the local gods.

Aqib bgm Sadiqi, fourth-cousin to the royal family and son of the Master of Beasts, has more mortal and pressing concerns. His heart has been captured for the first time by a handsome Daluçan soldier named Lucrio. in defiance of Saintly Canon, gossiping servants, and the furious disapproval of his father and brother, Aqib finds himself swept up in a whirlwind romance. But neither Aqib nor Lucrio know whether their love can survive all the hardships the world has to throw at them.

Kai Ashante Wilson’s A Taste of Honey—available October 25th from Tor.com Publishing—is a new novella in the world of The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. What follows is not a traditional excerpt, but instead is a related work of short fiction that offers a glimpse of the characters and world his novella evokes.

 

 

Lucrio loved this, but Aqib bgm Sadiqi hated sea crossings as a painted woman or effemme hates the rain. At the outset his nausea would render the first few days aboard ship immemorial, as he lay prostrate in a vomit-soaked oblivion. After about the fourth day, he’d awake to trembling weakness, able to at last—at best—keep down a daily sip or two of broth. This voyage, going north to the cold ass-crack of hell, had just passed its fortieth day.

Lucrio was in his element. No matter the storms lashing the littoral, he bestrode the deck stalwart as any old saltdog alive. One would peek from the cabin to see him at the taffrail beside the ship’s captain, both hunched against the bluster, their fingers pointing at the vague, rain-washed shore, their foreheads leaning co-consultatively together. As a monkey loves his tree, Lucrio had to be up in the rigging, or dashing about the busy deck, just as if he were another sailor and not second-in-command, now, of all Daluçan legions in the far north. Worst of all, he liked to jump off ship every third or fourth day and make like the dolphins, splashing about awhile in the hellish waters.

Obviously, one’s person had to be kept as clean and sweet-smelling as one’s lover. That meant a daily rag to wipe out the problem spots wasn’t cutting it. So, likewise every third or fourth day, Aqib obliged himself to report to deck “butt booty ass naked,”—Vimrata’s words—and stand there shivering while the countrywoman he favored above his other servitors flung a bucket of water on him that cold it blasted the wind from his lungs. All but flayed by Boreas, he’d then scrub himself with precious soap and numb fingers—only to be destroyed again by the frigid rinse. But best of all was the warmup cuddle afterwards.

How may an inconquerable chill be easily defeated?

This man knows!

Behold him, Lucrio Cordius de Besberibus, whom the Tower of Light blessed with the good sense to splash out for a coverlet-cum-cloak that could keep even his Summer-born lover toasty in these lands Where Winter Was King. And was there any quicker, better way to warm up from a plunge in polar seas than conversing with one’s beloved (naked, entwined) under 500 aurei’s worth of white fox fur? No! So, on that bitter gray morn, after weeks at sea, Lucrio grabbed him up—ah, the slippery deliciae of his sweet Aqib!—and bore him off to their cabin while his legionnaires shouted, as always, “Excelsior!” Therein, he toweled them both off with any handy bit of laundry, and got them quickly ensconced together under that plush, absurd profligacy.

While speaking, Lucrio and Aqib traded back and forth, in the lightest possible way, between each other’s birth tongues.

“Well, in Daluçan, we call it versipellis,” said Lucrio. “What do you Olorumi say?”

Crocotta,” Aqib answered. “And what’s the northern word; do you know?”

Werewolf. But are we all, I wonder, speaking of the same creature?”

“In Great Olorum, a crocotta is a man or woman who sometimes takes the shape of a bloodthirsty wild dog. What do your versipelles do in Daluz?”

“The same, I suppose—but they become lupi, not dogs.”

“Aren’t lupi some kind of wild dog?”

“Yes, sweetheart; but a lupus is much larger and more dangerous than one of your Olorumi wild dogs.”

“You always say that, Lucrio!” Aqib deepened his tenor to a boastful baritone. “‘Ah, no, my love: our aurochs are sooooo much bigger than your little Olorumi buffalo! No, my love: our lupi are much, much worse than your little Olorumi dogs! Your little Olorumi brains, my love, cannot BEGIN to conceive the dread size of our leones…!’

“Ha ha,” said Lucrio. “I don’t sound like that!” His fingers plumbed his lover’s most ticklish spot and, wriggling there, caused Aqib to gasp and flail smooth limbs against him. “What you say holds not a grain of truth! Confess, you slanderer!”

“I do, I yield,” cried Aqib, “they were lies!” And so Lucrio no longer tickled under his lover’s arm, but instead caressed him all up and down the back again, while Aqib lay panting and half-sprawled across him. “But in all seriousness, Lucrio,” he said, when breath returned, “years ago, my father once brought a wounded crocotta into the Menagerie. Over several days’ time, he managed to lift the curse from the creature. I witnessed him do it, and I could do so myself.”

“Did you know I had a spear and sword specially made, all edged with sharp pure silver? These creatures can’t be felled by ordinary weapons, carissime. If there’s one running loose up in Xarotices territory, then…”

“I know they’re dangerous, Lucrio. Really, I do. But I saw my father cure that beast. Or not ‘cure,’ as such—but he returned the creature to sanity, so when it changed, the dog no longer suffered mad bloodlust.”

“I’ve seen you work wonders with many animals, yes. But the thought of you anywhere near such a monster…”

“Well, think on it, anyway,” Aqib said. “I could work another wonder for you here.” Lucrio hummed in return, but not dismissively—a pensive noise. The slim one nestled close to the other, heavy and broad, who stroked and petted him. They lapsed for a moment into silent consideration.

Now, it must be owned that Aqib had spoken slightly outside the bounds of strictest veracity. In fact—for fear of some lethal mishap—his father, Sadiqi bgm Qabo, had never allowed his son anywhere near the Menagerie during the taming of the crocotta. And so Aqib hadn’t eyewitnessed, per se, the technique by which his father had exorcised the demon of ferocity from the monster. But we are no gloomy pessimists here! One felt sure there was no feat Pater might accomplish which one could not carry off as well—and likely with the brio more characteristic of son than father…

Aqib became aware of a certain driftage of the hands. Really, one would have to call that region more the bum than back.

C’mon,” urged Lucrio, in a hot whisper that should have been persuasive, had seasickness not been killing the mood. “Lemme get just a lil bit…?”

“Deliver me safe to shore,” Aqib said, “and I shall surfeit you.” With his own, he pulled Lucrio’s hands firmly back to back. “But I’ve told you—I can’t fuck on boats.”

“It’s a ship, baby.”

“Be that as it may.”

They waged this argument, too, in the lightest possible manner, as so many times before Lucrio’s hands had charged up these hills, only to’ve—outmaneuvered and denied the summit—been forced to turn back, unvictorious.

There was a sharp, double-rap at the cabin door, to which Lucrio called: “Yeah?”

“A sighting, sir! The captain says Leaning Tree Hill just came into view!”

“I’m coming.” Lucrio got up so precipitously from the furs, much good work his blazing hot body had done was ruint by gushing cold air. He said to the door, “Centurion, tell the men to stow everything for debarkation.”

“Yessir!”

Lucrio was already in tunic, socks, and sandals. From their bed Aqib asked, “What’s happening? What is it?”

“We’re there—on shore before noon, babe!” Lucrio crouched to deliver a rough kiss of excitement; then called to the fur-wrapped old woman, Aqib’s favorite, who sat nodding sleepily in the corner: “Old mother!” She started upright, blinking. “Help my lovely boy here to pack up this disastrous cabin!” He swept out to the ruction on deck.

From her corner, the old woman buried in black bear, and on the bed, the young man snowed under by fox, looked at each other.

“Some terrible crocotta,” said Aqib, “is ravening through the Xarotices land. I’ve just promised my lord Daluçan that I can subdue it. I think I can, but I’m not sure. Oh, maybe I should have stayed in the south with the other officers’ wives! What do you think, Vimy?”

Vimrata rose, gathering her furs tetchily about her, and gave a bitter laugh. “I told you let’s stay our ass where it’s hot. Let’s stay our ass in the lap of luxury, I said.” She flung a shift and shearling gown at the bed. “Why we wanna go—says poor old Vimy—to the cold ass-crack of hell? You were like, Let bae go without me? But I wuv him!” She sucked her teeth.

“Oh, why didn’t I listen?” said Aqib, wringing his hands. “What should I do?”

“Man up!” barked Vimrata.

Now Aqib laughed. “If that’s what’s required”—under the furs, he writhed himself into the shift—“then we are doomed!”

 * * *

A deep ashing of frozen rain covered the forested coastlands as far as sight went. Oh, do try to remember, Aqib! Nowadays one was meant to say nix: “snow.” With his usual athletic genius, Lucrio stood easily balanced on the plank that spanned over giddy yards of crashing breakers. Reaching back, our beloved beckons for us to step off—be brave!—even in the face of this most certain death. Aqib permitted himself a moment to look away from the outstretched hand.

Ashore, Lucrio’s legionnaires were formed up in ranks to one side of the docks. Opposite them milled a crowd of furry bipedal monsters. One had by now traveled far and wide with Lucrio, and had seen both miracles and some truly terrible things—enormities at which the local peoples had moved on from with disappointed sighs, hoping, one had to suppose, that the next spectacle should thrill them. Obviously, then, Aqib understood that he wasn’t meant to scream and point at the scores of apish bears, or bearish apes, gathered to greet the Daluçans’ arrival.

“Everybody else’s gotten off,” Lucrio said. “So, you really do have to come across now.”

Screwing up his courage, Aqib stepped out onto the board.

It refused his foot. It spat the sole of Aqib’s sandal viciously sideways, doing its damnedest to hurl him down into the gnashing maw of the sea. Aqib cried out, despairing. Lucrio caught him round the waist, helped him down and across to the somewhat wider docks—which no more than that evil narrow board cared to have people walking upright and proud upon it.

“You know this stuff, sweetheart,” Lucrio said in reply to Aqib’s question. “It’s ice. Same as you put in your fruit juices back in Olorum.”

But no, how?—wasn’t ice melting little chips one sipped in a slurry of lime and mango, dusted with cacao and chilies? How could it also be this great gleaming ubiquity? “This is ice?” Aqib exclaimed, marveling in horror at the ugly town, the evergreen forests beyond, and the whole white landscape: everything glittering and crystalline. “But this stuff is wild, Lucrio. It’s free and loose upon the land! How can all this be ice?”

“Winter’s a terrible thing,” your lover says equably. “But come on now, schum on. Just hold tight to me. You can do it!”

 * * *

She wobbled descending the gangplank and, glimpsing the exploding white surf below her, screamed. Flinging out a thewy and encircling arm, the tribunus Dalucianus saved his dark lady from a fall—such a wife as would wake envy in the heart of any man she did not call “husband”! Beauty clutching with both her hands to strength, the pair made their way down the icy pier to shore.

Her size was childish, but not her face; that was mature, womanly, exquisite. She wore a mantle that could have wrapped the world’s fattest man twice, and so the lady, being quite small, fairly swam in oceanic white fox fur. That snowiness in contrast to her dark complexion—the little hands, the lovely face: what a color!—made her very skin though black seem aglow.

The tribunus made the proper noises of greeting, but Bjornius had eyes only for the lady.

“Quick question for you, Tribune,” said Bjornius, leaning in discreetly: “Is your wife by chance a demoness or faerie queen?”

“Eh, no,” said Lucrio, leaning out (for at wintertime the Xarotices economized on bathing). “From a land across the sea called Olorum, actually. And not my wife—she is a he.

“A boy?” Bjornius took in the delicate size of the Tribune’s companion, whose elfin, beardless countenance rendered back no qualities his eyes could recognize as masculine. “This is a boy?”

“He’s a man.”

“By the undescended nuts of Baldur! Your catamite’s the prettiest boy I’ve ever seen!”

“He’s twenty-five years old,” Lucrio said evenly, “and my full helpmeet.” It can be so hard getting others to see the relationship as you and your partner do! “A man grown, and my declared lover.”

“Well, you’ll want to keep an eye on ’em, eh? Our werewolf has quite a tooth for the beauties. We’ve all noticed that.”

Lucrio’s face was reacting with consternation to noises the monster had made, and his mouth uttering these strange sounds, “I am forewarned, thank you,” when Aqib laid a hand on his lover’s arm, asking,

“Can it be speech, those grunts and growls the creature makes? Do tell me what it’s saying, Lucrio!”

He, darling. It’s a man. I mean, he is. This is the chieftain of the Xarotices.”

“Real-ly?” Aqib received this testimony with some skepticism. The chieftain was big as a bear, hairy as one, and reeked in like manner, too: far better satisfying one’s ideas of the grizzly or abominable than of the manlike. “But will you tell me what it—he is saying?”

“The chieftain has never before seen people from Where It’s Always Summer, and so he, uh, admires your looks.”

Aqib had been a beautiful baby, a gorgeous child, and then a ravishing youth. Now a staggeringly handsome adult, he’d been pursued by praise everyday for a quarter century, and was actually feeling a bit over it. He blinked impatiently, saying, “Yes, of course. But do ask it to lead us to our house now—to the villa where we’ll be staying. If I can just walk on a hot floor, and feel the heat coming through the walls, then I’m sure I’ll finally be able to shake off this dreadful chill.” He snugged his furs more closely about him.

With a sinking feeling Lucrio realized that, yes, he’d spoken generally to the effect of them having to “rough it” out here past civilization’s boundaries, but, no, he’d never specifically quashed his lover’s expectation of a marble villa that, by means of a central heating hypocaust, could turn these northern latitudes tropical within beautifully-mosaicked confines… “Sweetie, you do remember,” Lucrio said tentatively, “when I told you we’d be roughing it…?”

Oi!” The chieftain turned and bellowed at those of his ilk gathered on the piers’ left, opposite the Daluçan troops. Dressed in mangy hides and stinking powerfully, with their yellowish or ginger manes all greasy and matted, one had but to slightly unfocus the eyes to see a herd of steppe ponies. “Let’s get one of you fuckwits to lead the Tribune and his lady to my lodge!”

A shaggy young Xarotix woman, just taller than Aqib, stepped out in answer of this rude summons.

“I’m biding for the nonce at my sister’s,” said Bjornius. “But here’s one to guide you through our mighty burg to its best lodge!”

At the sight of which, Aqib asked, “I suppose this will be the outhouse, then?” He looked around with a brave optimism. “And our proper quarters must be through those trees, over that rise there, yes?” But already he was feeling a bit faint, as even before his lover answered, truth was dawning into consciousness.

“This is it, puddin’,” Lucrio said firmly. “This is where we’re staying.”

In the trampled snow outside the chieftain’s lodge, Aqib’s servitors sighed and set down various packs and boxes. The four soldiers Lucrio had detailed to Aqib’s private guard sighed as well, setting down two heavy trunks. These were bursting full of beautiful things: not all of Aqib’s jewelry, naturally, but many of his best pieces; his finest raiment; and every manner of scent, oil and cosmetic the fashionable ladies and effemmes of the Capitol were wearing. Now, though, Aqib wondered whether one might have more wisely stuffed these trunks with blankets. And socks.

Lucrio made a movement as if to leave him—abandon him there at world’s end, outside that dank, ghastly hellhole of a dwelling. Aqib uttered a dismayed cry and, quite of its own accord, his hand lashed out to seize onto Lucrio’s sleeve.

“You’re not crying, are you? But I’m coming right back! I just need to pop round for a chat with my centurions—to see the men all have billets, and that we get some kind of sentry rotation going. I won’t be a moment, I swear. Back before you know it!”

Impossible, that. For Lucrio hadn’t even gone yet and Aqib already yearned for his return. But, after all, Lucrio was here to maintain and extend the Pax Daluciana, not to pamper a soft lover whilst hard work remained to be done. Therefore, Aqib forced himself to relinquish that muscular arm—Sweet Saints, did he wish to cling to it! “No, yes, of course,” he said. “You go ahead, darling.” Aqib forbade himself a single tear or tremble of the lips. “I’ll just … be here, all right?”

And so, his red cloak swirling, Lucrio hurried off to a commander’s chores.

It was dark. It stank. From outside, the low roof had seemed to give warning that, inside, one would be waddling about on haunches. But as it transpired there were steps leading down to a sunken, paved floor, and for a blessing one could stand upright. Nor—as exterior appearances would have it—was the lodge just some muddy burrow delved out of a snow-covered hill. Stacked pine logs formed the interior walls, with long green seams of turf mortaring them, raw timbers raftering the ceiling. No sign of a feminine hand could be spotted anywhere. Nothing was beautiful, nothing orderly, nothing clean. The scent of dog lay thick, and no wonder, with a couple shitpiles still lying just where the hound had squatted.

At least there was a proper chimney and hearth, whereby some shaggy Xarotix youth crouched, tending the fire. One had dreaded finding a wretched little firepit that would scorch the throat and eyes with poorly ventilated smoke. Still, this was a hovel, and a sharp comedown from the grand manses of Daluz and Olorum.

Leather deckchairs surrounded the filth-strewn table, and into one of them Aqib collapsed dramatically.

Teary-eyed, with hiccups and bilingual digressions, Aqib disclosed to those waiting on him the true account of his tragic fall: had not he, Aqib bgm Sadiqi, been cousin to the ruler of an entire continent? and more recently the toast of the Second City patriciate, sine qua non of every hot party? And had not his lover been captain of the emperor-in-exile’s private bodyguard, confidant of the imperator… all up until stupid Lucrio had taken this stupid posting, at the stupid far side of the world—

Vimrata caught his shoulder between a hard finger and harder thumb, and cruelly bore down, interrupting the course of Aqib’s unhappiness.

“Ow, Vimy!” he said, starting upright from a morose slouch. “That jolly well hurts I’ll have you know!”

“’Member,” Vimrata asked, “when you said, Check me?”

“Pardon?”

“When you were like, Please, Miss Vimy, don’t just have me out here with my ass blowing in the wind: tell me something. Say it to my face! Check me. ’Member when you said that to me?”

Of course Aqib had never spoken any such words. But yes, it was true, he and the old woman did share a certain tacit understanding, and so he answered, “Ye-es…?”

“Well, lil sugar, this is me checking you. Right now you showing yo’ ass. Yo’ complete and entire ass.”

It wounded Aqib to the quick to be so unfairly accused. “But I made such sacrifices coming here!” he exclaimed. “Surrendering comforts, status…”

Nope, uh uh, look,” Vimrata said, turning up a palm. “Up until now, you ain’t played nothing but the silly bitch. And it was cute, actually. Real cute—back when we were down south, and everything was just parties, palaces, and who look mo’ fabulous in their clothes. But now, though, see? Where we at, now? What we need—Lucrio, me, and all these folk you dragged across the world to cook, clean, and care for you,”—Vimrata waved to the fellowship of Aqib’s servitors: shut out of this confrontation, as none of them spoke Olorumi—“We gotta see you step up and be the bad bitch.” Vimrata rocked an upraised finger from side to side. “Not the whiny kind, ’cause we full up on them already. We need the bitch who can bring it. So, how ’bout—real quick, right now—you cut out all the fancy, all the extra, and just get yo’ shit together? And not just for us and ya manz—do it for yourself. Feel me?”

Speaking small and cutesy (this was the voice he’d acquired to charm the Second City socialites), Aqib said, “But how, Vimy? I’ve never before been anywhere similar to this. I don’t know where to start, how to do it, what to—”

Fake it, hoe!” Vimrata said fiercely. “The fuck do you think the rest of us out here doing?”

Her rebuke stung like a slap to the face, and yet, as so often before, her words were bracing too.

Well… they needed to unpack, obviously. And space to sleep would have to be found for everyone. First and foremost, however, this filthy sty wanted scrubbing from top to bottom. Aqib left his sumptuous mantle draped over the chair as he stood. Rolling up the sleeves of his gown, he addressed his people in Daluçan.

“Marcus and Iggy; help me to move our things to that wall there. Legionnaires? Fetch over the trunks, please. You, I believe, Vimy, speak the local lingo? Have that Xarotix boy and girl fill up the big pot with water and set it warming on the fire. We’re going to clean this lodge spotless and then unpack.” Popping his fingers, Aqib set one of his girls to sweeping, one of his boys to digging out rags, incense, and the precious hoard of soap. Many hands turning to tasks sufficing to them all, his household clicked into smooth industry.

At last the honey-pot was brimming with the trash and filth they’d dumped into it. Vimrata called in Barbarian to the Xarotix girl, who came over to take up the other ring-handle. The strong old woman and girl carried the heavy lidded pot up the stone stairs and outside. Thinking to nip out for a tinkle, Aqib followed just a moment after.

Dusk was drawing down only a couple hours after noon. The trail to the cesspit went into the trees, and Aqib couldn’t see the women just ahead for shadows and the frondy evergreens, though he heard their steps crunching in the ice-glazed snow. This pine-scented air smelt so fresh! Finding his feet again on steady ground, after so long at sea, and having lent his own hands and back to the labor of setting the lodge to rights, Aqib’s thoughts were turning to supper. And not biscuit or broth, either: wouldn’t a big rare steak hit the spot? His thoughts turned to Lucrio as well. Boy, could he do with some dick tonight! Hunger such as for weeks had lain quiescent in Aqib, now, fierce and hot as dragonfire, woke. Then he heard Vimrata scream. Slapping aside the prickly branches of conifers, Aqib ran to her.

He saw his friend take a hard fall. He saw the Xarotix girl fling off her human guise and assume a fearful symmetry. Aqib needed Vimrata to rebuke him, to gossip with, to love, and he’d never survive these years Lucrio was meant to spend in the back of beyond without her. He leapt forward, standing over the fallen woman, and thrust out his open palm, as one might try to stay a lunging dog.

Huge beyond the telling of it, a gray wolf loomed where the girl had just stood. So great was the impression of size, the inhabiting demon had to have been aggrandizing it. “Stop!” Aqib shouted, pitting his will against the demoniac inhabitor.

Once, some years ago, while at hunt with hounds and attendants in the forest, Aqib’s party had suffered attack from above. A jaguar dropped from a tree onto one of the kennelmen. Aqib had gone at once to the grappling pair—cat and man both screaming to curdle the blood—and seized the foam-soaked jowls between his hands. Only then, meeting that mad amber glower, had caution or doubt occurred to him. Rabid: disease had destroyed the animal’s mind

Before then, directing his attention onto any beast had always won Aqib implicit obedience—and chewer of the cud or apex predator, it made no difference. But on that day he’d exercised no such easy power. Supposing one’s soul could be bloodied by teeth and claws of the mind, and then ache for a long time while healing of wounds the body didn’t show, then so had Aqib been mauled by the effort of driving off that rabid jaguar.

But the madness and ferocity of that beast was only as a mere dim spark to this inferno.

While still extending his hand, Aqib realized he lacked the power to enthrall the werewolf’s will to his. He wasn’t the master here, nor yet this monster’s match. Now it would devour him and Vimrata both, for Aqib was only another mouthful of tender prey.

Something cool was thrust into the hand he’d left hanging, and instinctively Aqib’s fingers closed about it. The cool thing became hot, became molten. And as would anyone suddenly finding their hand clenched about an apparent clod of lava, Aqib screamed his throat raw. The world went white, and in this blinding glare hung a quadruped blotch, which Aqib struck at with the fire in his hand—none of this being a phenomenon of the physical world: not the radiance, not the wolfish umbra, not Aqib’s fiery blow. It happened in the mind or elsewhere, anyway, than the world of matter and flesh.

Next he knew, the werewolf was crashing away into the snowy pineforest. The creature, whining, fled as if it were Aqib who could have snapped his jaws one time, and shredded the beast into bloody ribbons, or casually swiped a prodigious paw, and smashed it flat.

Aqib’s knees gave way. His shins smacked the bitter ground. The servant woman and little lord seized each other close. They rocked from side to side, moaning together.

“Did you see,” Vimrata cried out, “how big that shit was, though?”

“Wasn’t I right here beside you?” Aqib trembled even as does the last leaf clinging dry and wind-plucked to a tree. “Dear heart, I saw it all.”

“What if you hadn’tna been here to work them powerful animal-roots you got? What then? I woulda just got ate the fuck up, right, right? Goodnight, Vimy! Bye-bye!”

You saved us.” Aqib kissed her forehead. “What’s this magic talisman you gave me?” Still holding the thing, which was cool now, clenched in his fist, which was unhurt, Aqib opened his hand.

“Nothing magic, boo,” Vimrata said. “Just a little penny I had.” It was squarish, its obverse profile buffed anonymous by the centuries. “I figured some silver in your hand couldn’t hurt none, you know?”

“Mmm…” Aqib turned the tarnished coin over in his hand. “I can’t explain it, except to say, all the virtue’s gone out of this. When I face the crocotta again, and accomplish what I promised my lord, I’ll need more.” Too bad he’d brought the gold but left all his silvern stuff confided to palace vaults a thousand leagues to the south.

“Then it’s a damn good thing, I … uh, uh…” On her feet, Vimrata still moved girlishly; but rising to her feet…? She struggled, grunting in pain. Aqib did his best to brace her up from the snow, but she wasn’t small and he wasn’t large. Nor had six weeks at sea left either of them in finer fettle than before. “… I, uh, packed that heavy torc and silver broad collar of yours, even though little Miss Thing here was like, ‘Just the diamonds and pearls, bitches! Don’t be filling up my jewelry-box with all that silver and semiprecious trash.’”

Aqib had a quick wee down the pit and collected the empty honey-pot. “I never spoke such words.”

“To the effect,” Vimrata said, waggling concessionary fingers. The cold was more bitter, the swift dusk lowering; they began back. “These days, you just don’t see silver-smithing like those old-fashioned Qemetish pieces. I’ve always wanted to see you dressed up in them. And now I’m gonna, huh?”

Taking great offense: “Me, in silver jewelry?” Aqib cried. “Oh, bite your tongue, Vimy! Mummy doesn’t wear silver.” He clucked, tsk tsk. “Only gold, only platinum!”

The sheer folly of the boy brought her up short, and for a moment Vimrata could make no reply. Even now, though faced with a werewolf, the boy could be so airish, so silly…? Then she spotted the grin tweaking at the corners of his mouth. “Girl, quit playing around!” she slapped at his arm.

“Ha! You were all set to lecture me within an inch of my life, weren’t you?” Aqib giggled and Vimrata’s heart broke in the usual way. For whether smiling or in tears, everyday this foolish youth recalled to her the children she’d adopted and raised, loved and lost.

“I wonder,” said Vimrata, a bit savagely, “just what ole Bjornius really knows? Was it coincidence, you think, he sent that girl with us? And don’t we better get word to the Tribune quick as we can? I know you don’t want your all and all walking blind into a trap like we done, do you?”

Each of these questions caused the little lord’s eyes to flinch with some terrible new supposition. The grin fell from his lips. “Let’s run!” Aqib said, seizing Vimrata’s hand. At the pace of a panicked young man, the two hurried down the snowy path together, back toward the lodge.

© Kai Ashante Wilson, 2016

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