It was whiskers in my ear that woke me. I was still in Muunas’s hand and the sun was risen by the light, but not yet high enough to burn down on me. My skin didn’t hurt anymore and my eyes were all right and not seeing afterimages of the sun-disk over everything.
The whiskers. I was warm and had what felt like a fur blanket over me. I opened my eyes to look straight up into the breast-feathers of one of the white Temple eagles perched on Muunas’s fingertips over my head. Its crest was up and it mantled a bit and shifted, finger-long silvery claws scratching the marble.
I tried to turn my head but my hair was held. I managed to raise my head a trifle and realized that my hair was full of Risae’s rats, and mice, and I could hear her kittens purring, around my feet. It had been a mouse or… one of Anae’s ferrets who had sniffled in my ear.
I had one of Aras’s hounds across my feet and a pair of Dimae’s white and gold dogs across my chest and stomach. Selinae’s marble hair wove across the Temple space and made a halo for Muunas and in the strands above me, Doof sat, a scarlet patch in the middle of all the white. I was lucky none of the birds had chalked on me.
I was able to move before the sun rose and I would have to take my place again, for the Gods had only begun to answer. I shifted and the kittens complained and set tiny claws against my calves and toes and I tried not to swear or giggle and finally said. “I thank you all, for keeping me safe and warm here, creatures of the Ten, but I need to get up.”
I had one mouse that wouldn’t leave, clinging to my hair, tail curled around my ear, while the wave of fur and feathers slowly evaporated, clicking or flying or skittering away to their priests and dekinae keepers, enough to let me up.
I hadn’t drunk anything the day before, and didn’t need to empty my bladder. I sat up in Muunas’s palm and checked myself over.
My skin was tan as a solas on campaign, but I wasn’t burned raw the way I’d thought. I felt… all right. The choir, whose members changed slowly over the day and the night, were still singing and the sound reverberated through me. I gazed out over the sanctuary at all the people sitting in the pews, singing with the choir, or merely bearing silent witness. Lain’s water cart sat at Muunas’s feet, the donkey no longer in its traces.
I shook my head at them all and resolutely lay down once more, as the first rays of the sun touched my head.
Where are You? The fields and barns are empty. The mill stands idle, the water sluices closed. The stable doors hang open and herds wander unsupervised. Where is Imbas? Where is Oas?
The tack-room door is open and a murmur of Voices calls me. Imbas and Oas sit on white blankets thrown over bales of straw. They’re drinking beer and have been for a while from the evidence of empty amphorae scattered around Their divine feet. The two of them ignore the scattered Sha pieces on the brick, the inlaid board for playing ‘Mill’ at Oas’s elbow.
They’re giggling with one another, playing ‘Comb, Fan, Glove’ bare handed, and Oas slaps Imbas’s winning comb away, thumps his elbow on the table demanding “Thumb-wrestle!”
“What on the Earthsphere are You both DOING?!” I exclaim and then clap my hands over my mouth. What was I doing, demanding anything of the Gods? They turn bright and burning eyes on me.
“Playing,” Imbas says and waves an expansive hand. “The women are cleaning again.”
“So…” I shake my head. “It’s not right that I ask such questions.” I get down on the stable floor, on my knees and begin picking up scattered game pieces from the floor. It’s not just Sha. There’s Mrik pieces, Steeplechase horses from Tor Ench, People-Building figurines from Haiu Menshir, Word Tiles from Yeola-e, Niah balancing Nikus.
“The cases for them are here,” I see a wall of games standing empty. And I look at the mess all around my feet. The pieces aren’t whole, some have been stepped on, driven into the dirt floor; some nearly crushed. I carefully begin putting the damaged pieces aside, sorting them into their slots in their cases. There is a whole ‘Empire Builder’ game with a miniature of Arko and a sand table where one can make a landscape before pouring water into it from one end.
There’s a miniature Temple and though it has shiny new parts there’s big parts of it broken off and I can see the winding mechanism is jammed. I pick up the jeweller’s tools and gently take the cover off, and begin taking the mechanism apart.
I did that with one of my machines when I was young, and cried when I couldn’t get it back together. Father had just ordered it fixed, but I had sat at the maker’s elbow and watched as he’d put things right.
“Am I helping?” I ask, laying out screws the thickness of eyelashes. “Or am I just making things worse? I don’t know how this works, but I can see where it’s not meshing. This… here… is broken into a hundred pieces.”
“You are helping. We shall clean these parts. You’ll take them to Mikas when it’s all apart.”