I have written a new beginning for Leoshine, Princess Oracle. I would love to hear your comments.
Mother’s wail rippled through Leoshine. She felt she would suffocate, with her two sisters in the ample matronly bosum.
Giffshine and Hillashine’s bodies convulsed with sobs, tight against her own. Their hair stuck to her wetted face.
For two nights they had staggered through the forest, one in the main body of evacuees from the town, and one as a forlorn huddle of four. There had been no food, and only mouthfuls of cursed water from the wild forest creeks. With today’s dawn, the menace of savages, frequently prophisied by Mother, had become reality. They were captured and dragged to this dark hole.
Giffshine, the eldest sister, quieted first. As she moved to disengage from the embrace Leoshine heard straw rustle beneath them. Leoshine wriggled higher on Mother’s breast, under her fleshy chin. Her hand clenched on Mother’s neckline, woven by Mother in her palace workshop. Leoshine rubbed the cloth under her lower lip and smelled home again.
Voices outside warned them a moment before the door, or hingeless lid of the cave was ripped away. Light rushed up the rough rock walls carrying grotesque shapes like an advancing army.
Hillashine, the middle sister, screamed and Mother began hurling curses as she tucked her children closer in.
Outlyers, the savages of the forest that surrounded Leoshine’s home town, slunk toward them. Their malodorous sweat and breath filled the cave. Their grunts and leering laughs mingled with the women’s screams and sent chills up Leoshine’s spine. She shrank deeper into Mother’s folds and Giffshine disappeared into the shadows.
The first man to reach them fastened his sausage-like fingers around Hillashine’s wrists. She screamed louder and Mother swung her fist. Another man grabbed Hillashine’s waist and swung her toward the door. Mother rose and rushed at them but yet another man shoved her and she fell backward.
Leoshine half succeeded in leaping clear and felt the crushing weight on her leg and hip. Mother sprang up but too late. The door snapped shut and even Mother’s bulk hurled against it availed nothing.
Giffshine joined Mother at the door, pounding with her fists and screaming insults and things Leoshine could not understand. Giffshine knew the grating, stone tongued language of the Outlyers better than any of her sisters. She had taught Hillashine in their secret meetings after they thought their little sister slept, and Leoshine gleaned from the shadows.
Leoshine shrank deeper into the straw and listened to Hillashine’s screams. She knew what they did to her. She had listened to enough tales of what Outlyers did to Town women. Her flesh crept on her arms and legs. Tears flowed silently down her cheeks.
Where is Father? Her heart pounded the question through her head. They wouldn’t dare touch the Town Mayor’s women if he was here, she asserted to herself. He had climbed to the highest rank of authority under the Myxolidian Dome on the backs of dead Outlyers. He will wreak revenge, Leoshine told herself. Would it be too late for his daughters?
The door wrenched open. Mother fled back and tucked Leoshine against the rock wall behind her, stuffing straw over her daughter’s booted foot. Hillashine’s body landed in Mother’s lap. The top of her dress hung down over her belt, and her skirt was torn up the front. She wasn’t screaming anymore.
Mother, sinking back, wailed and cradled her child, patting her cheeks, pulling her arms back into her sleeves, and calling her name through her tears. Gasping for air, Leoshine watched Giffshine step forward from the shadows, and heard her say, “Take me.”
The light vanished as the door lid closed. Leoshine’s shaking body ground into the rock, her teeth chattered. All her hair stood on end. She had to move, at least to relieve the pressure on her lungs.
A thin wail rose from Hillashine’s lips, copied immediately by Mother, a duet of despair.
“My sweet, my pudding,” Mother soothed. “We won’t tell Angkon.”
Leoshine’s mind plunged back to Hillashine’s initiation, only a month ago, when her suitor, Angkon, had tried to impregnate her. If Hillashine birthed a live child, the two would be joined. Father and Mother didn’t even know if Angkon had started anything. At least, thought Leoshine, they haven’t talked about it.
What will this outrage mean to their hope? Leoshine wondered, and held her breath, listening to the silence outside. The urge to pull her knees into her chest, and her tongue cleaving to the roof of her mouth drove her near to madness. Her mind searched again for Father.
The last she had seen of him, he stood surrounded by his fellow councilors, near the gate in the pole fence he had built around the town. She saw again his beaming eyes and flashing teeth in his beard as a towering stranger in Outlyer clothes had pushed through the guard at the gate and addressed him in unaccented town Myxolidian.
Leoshine remembered tucking behind his arm, inhaling his scent in his sleeve, as she now sat squashed behind Mother nauseated by the fear in Mother’s scent. The giant Outlyer had not bowed, or shown any sign of respect to Father, who had answered with strange sounds. As the stranger disappeared back through the gate, Father had leaned down to whisper in her ear, “These are friends, Leoshie!”
Mother’s bulk shifted and Leoshine squirmed to lie behind Mother’s shoulder, a lighter load. Hillashine lay quietly, now and then shivering and sobbing.
Suddenly the cave flooded with light and Giffshine’s willowy figure staggered forward. Mother lurched up to catch her and Leoshine felt fingers curl around her ankle.
She screamed as her seat skidded across the straw, her skirt rising and her underleggings tearing. Leaning forward, she pried her fingers into the grip on her boot. She sank her teeth into the flesh near her face, curling her lips away from the disgusting taste of the skin.
From behind they lifted her under her arms. Mother screamed in anger and Leoshine felt her captor cringe under Mother’s blows.
“She’s not initiated!” Mother screeched. “A curse is a curse on Townsman or Outlyer for taking a girl not initiated!”
Leoshine twisted her torso, and her arms and legs in all directions against the binding hands. Her teeth momentarily found leverage before her legs were yanked up and her head scraped along the floor. Her dress fell over her face. She was lifted clear and suddenly she was free.
She rolled to stand, brushing her skirt from her eyes, and tumbled as the floor moved. The light filtered through a course weave. A sack! She thought. Her hands filled with the cloth. Pulling one side brought the other down, and her with it.
In the next instant she was lifted and her body collided with something bone and muscle. She imagined herself flung over a broad, animal skin clad back.
Mother and Hillashine’s screams were growing fainter. Leoshine swayed and thudded rhythmically amid sounds of feet shuffling through dead leaves. The last she heard was a mournful howl, “Mine Own!”
She fought to straighten, to get her feet under her. Once, twice she bounded up and down while pummeling the back of her carrier.
A fist sailed out of nowhere, landing on her captor’s back, but enough on her head that she lay still in her murky darkness.
Leoshine’s limbs ached from being folded so long in the musty sack. Sweat had soaked through the back of her carrier, through the scratchy coarse weave, dampening her dress wherever it touched. Sometimes, during the journey, she shifted position. There was plenty of room, she could almost stretch her leg up over her head.
The sway mingled with her hunger and lack of sleep until her captors stopped for a short rest. She heard them drinking and eating, though they offered her nothing. She tried to swallow past her swollen tongue. Thirst tormented through the night.
Leoshine curled into a ball for warmth. Where are they taking me? She wondered in the haze of her mind. Did Mother’s thoughts about the curse affect them?
They have something worse, she decided and allowed her tears to fall unhindered. Her lower lip cracked and bled when it rose up under the upper lip.
Pictures of Father drifted through the mist. When she was two, Father had disappeared. He had set out to inspect the great engines that powered their Dome atmosphere, and not come back until she was 8. Her brothers, Georg and Wol had battled to maintain the family position and he rewarded them when he returned.
“I was learning from the Trickixim.” He had explained his absence by invoking the long dead myth of the priests and priestesses who created the Dome.
At the gate, only 3 days ago, after almost banishing her in his haste, Father had followed the stranger outside the walls, and returned exultant, jubilant, triumphant.
She had heard his command to Georg and Wol, “Lead them to the shelter.”
“These are friends, Leoshie!” Father had whispered again as she followed the terrified herd of women and children into the forest. “These are they who took me and taught me; now I can say their name.” He had puckered his lips, wet them with his tongue and had mouthed a foreign syllable, “Aeolian, my dearest child. These are the Aeolians who will bring greatness to our Dome. Abundance! Food that you can’t dream, soft cloth like your mother will sell her soul for. Oh, child go now but when you come back!” He had kissed his fingers to the air and had pushed her shoulder toward the gate.
High born matrons and low slatterns had sallied out between the soldiers into the dark woods. A path had lead from the gate, good footing at first but soon the trees had closed in, the shadows had plucked at their skirt hems. Why had Father believed they were safer in the woods if the invaders were ‘friends’? She remembered wondering.
As they had run, noises of combat followed them. Once, they stumbled on a pitched battle. Before Leoshine could see more than a man lying prone with blood on his neck, her Mother had covered her eyes and pulled her away, to run in the opposite direction.
Leoshine tucked her hands under her chin and wept as she remembered. Separated from the main body, they had hidden in the undergrowth. Mother had collapsed every few steps, moaning, “Disaster, disaster!”
Leoshine opened her eyes. She could see the figure trudging behind her through the sack wall in the strengthening light.
By her knee she noticed a small beam of light. A hole, she exalted and set her fingers to enlarge it. Not too big, she cautioned, just enough to see. In a short time she pushed both sets of her fingers through.
Her eye neared the hole when suddenly a wet, slimy tongue and lips fastened on her fingers and forced themselves through the hole. She screamed and kicked her feet out to shove the sack wall as far way as possible.
Laughter outside reminded her of the tale Giffshine told, of how Outlyers licked the skin off townswomen. Her skin prickled and perspiration ran instantly down her temples.
Their speech grated all around her. “Lively.” “Gift.”
I’m being given to someone, she thought, her breath coming in shallow gasps. Her heart beat in her ears, lively, gift. Lively, gift. She covered her mouth and nose. Her fingertips met. With closed eyes she drew a deliberate breath.
Who led the Outlyers? Who would receive her? Someone with more imagination than those who took my sisters, she gulped air and shuddered.
The hole remained. Many times she glanced at it, daring herself to peek.
The light suddenly strengthened again. Voices began to sound on all sides. Wriggling down, and not betraying herself, Leoshine peered through.
Above, she saw the Dome. We’re not in the forest anymore. A voice nearby spoke a few words in Town Myxolidian but she could not maneuver into seeing who.
We’re in the clearing, Leoshine thought with a stutter in her heart beat. Father had cleared the forest around the town, to prevent an ambush by the Outlyers. The sound of her captor’s feet had changed. She heard the steady slap, slap of their leather soles on Father’s stone paved road, one of his newest ‘revelations’ from the ‘Trickixim’.
Her heart fluttered wildly when the Oultyers passed unhindered through the gate and she began recognising buildings.
But who, or what were the figures standing by the gate, lining the streets? They had no faces, their torsos were smooth, black, red and silver striped, and contoured. Even their legs and arms looked hard and shiny, but not metal, as far as Leoshine understood metal. The town had a blacksmith, who heated and shaped metal as the Trickixim had taught, before they disappeared.
Deep voices, like men’s but not like words, echoed from faceless heads.
Leoshine gasped and pulled away, and immediately renewed her vigil as she recognised the street leading to the palace.
They are taking me home, she breathed. Outlyers in Father’s house? She could not piece together the meaning as they carried her through the entrance court.
The black and red figures filled the court, and the porches, and the halls, and paid no attention to the group of Outlyers carrying the Mayor’s daughter in a sack. She wanted to cry out, but who would rescue her? Where was Father?
They are taking me to the aliens, she realised, choking on the bile rising from her empty stomach. Soon she glimpsed the tapestry Mother had woven to keep the drafts from her husband’s sleeping chamber. Overhead, his private porch roof sloped to the open courtyard.
Father’s own chamber! Leoshine pulled back into the darkness of the sack, her eyes wide and unseeing. She felt herself lifted off the back she had almost become ingrained into. Upended, she tumbled to the wood boarded floor.
A pair of boots so smooth they might have been made from human skin filled her vision as she crouched, knees tucked under her, elbows sprung and ready.
Hands gripped her. Her instinct shivered at the meaning of the men’s laughter. She landed on a soft mattress, with pillows that absorbed her body like liquid into a sponge.
She lay as though the sponge had frozen, covering her face and breathing through her fingers.
Father’s own chamber, she thought again. Mother lined her children up once a year on the porch, to sing a song of obedience, that they would never enter here. Her skin bubbled with gooseflesh. Father will kill me!
Colours blazed, hurting her eyes, loud voices and a slamming door jarred her nerves. Hands, oversized, warm, smoothed back her hair from her cheek and raised her shoulders so she sat huddled, her back bent so her shoulders almost touched her knees.
A man’s face filled her vision, she could see the pores of his nose as he wiped her hands and face with the cloth softer than Mother could weave, and water warmer than tears.
His eyes blinked green and hazel with many black specks. He scowled and his mouth twisted up on the right side. His chest was encased in a black, red and silver shell.
For a moment Leoshine’s senses groped in an empty space, missing the hazel eyes. Another presence held aloof; a far off stillness of someone else in the room.
Where are the Outlyers? She wondered into the hazy stillness. Who are these?
“Drink.” The hazel eyes returned with a voice that sounded like a door of the underground caverns opening.
Leoshine’s eyes widened as the man placed a steaming cup in her hands. I am thirsty, her tongue demanded the liquid as she blinked.
He turned his head to attend to another voice. Strange sounds, unlike speech but obviously communication came from his full, hairless lips.
When he turned back he raised the cup, still warming her hands. His other hand reached behind her head, but before he touched her, she touched the rim to her cracked lips. Herbs and vegetables danced in her nose and in no time her hunger lay in ruins.
The man lost his edges in the swelling fog. She felt his hands on her, moving her limbs and body to lie down, covering her.
Blanket, the word teased from a far distance. Listless, weightless, she drifted beyond her fear.