Artist : Joe Slucher
Author : Shona Kinsella
Miranya rolled over and breathed out in a sharp huff. The thin blanket tangled between her legs and she kicked at it in frustration. Outside, the night birds were singing, and she could hear the distant call of monkeys and their smaller cousins, brapins. A cool breeze blew through the window, making the shutter creak and Miranya rolled over again, to face the window. The slice of sky that she could see was filled with stars and the air smelled sweet, heavy with the scent of rain and the perfume of night-blooming jasmine. Somewhere, a woman laughed and a brapin voice mimicked her.
Thank you, Fetuh, for saving the village.
In the days since the mountain had almost exploded, things had largely gone back to normal. The soot and ash had been scrubbed from the buildings and streets. Those few who had died had been laid to rest and mourned. The only indication left that a tragedy had been so narrowly averted lay in the slightly manic behaviour of some of the villagers, grabbing at a life they had thought lost. Miranya would not be surprised if there was a glut of babies born nine months from now.
She had gotten what she wanted, so why wasn’t she happy? The new tattoo on her shoulder throbbed with a heat that spread through her. It was time to start paying her debt. Sighing heavily, she sat up in bed and looked around the small room that she slept in. Everything was neat and orderly, just how she liked it. That would have to change, if she was to serve the god of chaos. Of all the Onao, why did it have to be Fetuh who answered?
There wasn’t even a shrine to Fetuh in the village. She supposed that would be a good place to start acting as his priestess. But what sort of things to place on a shrine to Him? Mismatched bits and bobs? She cupped her chin in her hands, thinking hard. Many years ago, when she was just a child, a travelling priest of Fetuh had stayed in the village for a short time, a few weeks maybe, before moving on.
The man had been short and dishevelled, but he was filled with kindness and his pockets were full of exotic sweets which he gave away freely to the children of the village. Miranya strained her memory, trying to recall what items this priest had carried with him, but, other than a wooden bowl and some candles, she couldn’t remember anything specific. He did have the most fabulous cloak, though, long and dusty at the bottom from trailing along the ground but woven of many brightly-coloured fabrics in a riotous rainbow. Something had caught the light, too. Sparkled.
Still thinking about that long ago priest, Miranya got up and went to her sewing basket.
The next morning, Miranya went out for a walk around the village as soon as she had broken her fast. Hanging it her side was a brightly coloured bag that she had stayed up all night sewing and filling with supplies. It was patched together from various pieces of leftover fabric that had been tucked away with her sewing basket, waiting for an opportunity to be useful. Inside, Miranya had placed a small clay offering bowl, some strips of ribbon, a candle and a small plant that she had dug up from her garden. Having met Fetuh in his garden, she thought He would appreciate the gift of a herb to grace His shrine.
She paid close attention to the small shrines to various other Onao that graced the streets, their positioning and layout, and how many people seemed to pay attention to them.
She was surprised by how many faces she saw, how many new buildings ringed the village. When did we get so big?
Since her mother’s death a few years ago, Miranya had drawn into herself more and more, avoiding people as often as she could. Her mother had left behind a modest sum of money and Miranya supplemented that with working in the back shop for the town seamstress, taking responsibility for easy but time-consuming tasks, such as pinning fabric and small repairs. Content with her own company, Miranya only spoke to a handful of people on a regular basis.
All that would have to change.
As a priestess, she would have to be available to people at the very least, but she suspected Fetuh would want more than that. She thought it likely that He would want her to reach out to people, to build a community around Him. It finally struck her how much her life would have to change. She came to a halt in the middle of the street, covering her face with her hands.
Could there be anyone less suited to the work of a priestess? What had Fetuh been thinking?
‘Give yourself a little credit.’ Fetuh’s voice sounded inside her head.
Miranya was so startled that she jumped a little. A passing vendor, pushing a cart, gave her a funny look and increased his pace to pass by quickly.
You can hear my thoughts?
‘Indeed,’ Fetuh answered. ‘Most clearly when those thoughts concern something relating to me, but I can listen in at any time if I choose.’
Is this because of our … agreement?
Fetuh chuckled. ‘No. All of the Onao can do this all the time. We just choose not to, for the most part. Human minds are so limited. It is hard for them to live with such communication.’
‘Are you well?’ a kindly looking woman asked. ‘Is something wrong?’
Miranya realised what she must look like, standing still in the middle of the busy street, lost in her own thoughts, head cocked to the side as she listened to Fetuh.
‘I’m fine, thank you,’ she answered, smiling warmly and beginning to walk again, making her way towards the outskirts of the village.
I’m not sure how I feel about this.
‘Does it matter? The ability exists independently of your feelings about it.’
An attitude like that won’t bring you new worshipers, Miranya thought, scowling.
‘I shall leave if you wish,’ Fetuh said, sounding sulky.
Miranya burst into laughter at the ridiculousness of the situation. She had made a bargain that rescued the entire village from their own foolishness, only for them to continue blindly following the Merchant’s Guild as if they knew everything. And she had been tied to a god who could show up in her head any time he wanted and behave like a petulant child. She laughed until her sides hurt, and tears were streaming down her face, earning her more funny looks from passers-by.
If I’m not careful, people will start to talk. They’ll think I’ve lost my senses. That only made her laugh even harder. She stumbled over to the wall that surrounded the village and sank down to sit on the ground, back against the wall, laughing and gasping and hiccupping.
‘Are you quite finished?’ Fetuh said, drily. ‘Or do you need some more time?’
I’m sorry, give me a minute. Gradually, Miranya brought herself under control. She was weak and shaky from laughing, but she felt cleansed of the tension she had been carrying around for so long. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, letting the air escape in a slow stream between her lips.
Right. I’m fine. I don’t want you to leave. Miranya was surprised to discover that she meant it. She really didn’t want him to leave. Hmm, that was interesting.
‘Humans make no sense,’ Fetuh grumbled.
This is true. Although I can’t say that the gods make a lot of sense either.
‘Our actions make sense when you can see across the whole world and through time, as we can. We know everything that has happened and everything that may happen. We do our best to nudge things in the right direction.’
Well, I suppose I’ll have to take your word for that, Miranya thought, trying to hide her scepticism. Anyway, why did you decide to speak to me just now?
‘You seemed to be looking for some guidance,’ Fetuh said.
More inspiration, but since you’re here, where would you like me to build you a shrine?
‘Is the front wall of the Merchant’s Guild out of the question?’ Fetuh had a sly tone in His voice that stopped Miranya from exploding. ‘In that case, how about somewhere close to the centre of the village. I do like to be in the thick of things.’
Miranya pushed herself to her feet and dusted off the back of her skirt, before setting off in the direction of the centre of the village. As she walked, she tried to think of the best place to locate the shrine; somewhere that it would not be overlooked but would also be safe from unintentional damage.
She turned a corner and a few feet away was the merchant that she had collided with on the way to Elfrin’s. She ducked her head and thought about turning back, taking another street. Why should I? I have as much right to be here as he does! Besides, he probably doesn’t even remember me.
She held her head high and strode forward but as soon as she drew close to him her stomach began to churn and her limbs grew weak.
‘Miranya’ what’s wrong?’ Fetuh asked inside her mind, sounding worried.
I don’t know. Miranya stumbled and fell to one knee before collapsing onto her back. The blue-robed merchant filled her sight and then she knew no more.
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