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Chapter 6 On the Beach

The thick dark that precedes the dawn presses down on the two inert forms crumpled together on the crest of the hill above the sea. A wolverine, grinning and hungry, pads close to them, ears lifting. He pauses, sniffs, freezes in place, then hurries away.
There is no further movement on the hill other than the faint breathing of the pair of bodies. Not until the eastern horizon pearls ever so faintly and a light cold breeze stirs the girl’s matted hair do they stir.
Lykeios comes to consciousness first. He stifles a groan, but the slight sound is enough to rouse Kiri. Her eyelids flutter, then fly open, freeing the terror that was trapped behind them. Before she can shatter the pre-dawn stillness with her scream he wraps his cloak around them both. ‘Hush! We’re alive. Be still.’
He can see the effort it takes for her to wrestle the panic back down her throat. After a moment she croaks, ‘It was real. What we saw. The- the children.’ She shudders convulsively. ‘How did we get here?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t remember. We saw that- those things. And I don’t remember anything else until I woke up here, just now.’
The distant murmur of the ocean rolls in their ears. A glimmering line spreads in the east, separating the sea from the black sky. It is too dark for Lykeios to make out Kiri’s face but he can feel the waves of agony rolling over her.
‘Lykeios. Patrokles was there.’
His words stick in his throat. He has to swallow several times before he can force them out. ‘How could you tell?’
She drops her face into her hands. He can feel her shoulders shaking although she makes no sound. Finally she lifts her head and says thickly, ‘I know him. Even without- his face. I know him. It was my brother.’ Her voice stumbles to a halt. Then, on a rising note of horror, ‘He was trying to carry a baby. It was Eleni’s baby. And she was too heavy for him. He’s so small, almost a baby himself, but he was trying to take care of Eleni’s…….’ She begins to sob violently, furiously.
Lykeios is at a loss. He is so stunned by her words, after the unthinkable insanity of the past evening, that he cannot even reach a comforting hand to her.
Suddenly she stops crying mid-sob and flings herself to her feet, tears flying from her face and hitting Lykeios like tiny blows.
‘I’m going back. I’m going to get Patrokles. I’m going to take him and Eleni’s baby out of there.’ She whirls, dark against the still-starred sky, and grabs her pack. ‘I’m going to get them all.’
Lykeios gapes at her as she whirls her cloak over her shoulders and strides off. A protest flutters in his throat, then he leaps up and runs after her.
They do not go back down the hill and into the woods. Without exchanging a word they head north, staying on the crest of the high ground, keeping the sea in sight. The eastern sky turns gold, then green and rose. As the sun slides smoothly up, they reach the edge of the bowl and stare down.
Lykeios half expects to see nothing. Perhaps the nightmare scene was part of the same hallucinations as the gargantuan stallion who had led them there. Maybe the fear and exhaustion of their long trek culminating in colony of spiders had overwhelmed their senses. Probably the beach below was inhabited by fisherfolk, or a herd of deer, or nothing at all.
But what moves on the grassy meadow near the beach are not things that a rational man can accept.
Children stagger through the short tough grass. Some lie together in forlorn heaps. The horse heads nod and sag on necks too thin to support them. A few of the bigger ones are on hands and knees, trying miserably to graze.
Guttural noises drift up on the bright morning air.
On the beach the waves are rolling in, and there are forms in the white foam of the gentle breakers. To Lykeios’ astonished eyes they almost seem to be girls, lithe maidens with flowing hair and limbs of pearl. Armfuls of soft seaweeds, alive with small silver fish, are thrown onto the wet sand. Crabs busily haul it across the beach, depositing the glistening cargo onto the grass of the meadow.
Some of the grotesqueries are trying to nibble on it. The fishes flop and then lie still.
Where the woods meet the meadow there is a small band of wild mares, a few grazing but most huddled together, stamping, restless.
‘Where is he?’ breathes Kiri, eyes frantically searching the impossible scene. Lykeios sees a small boy leaning exhaustedly against a boulder by the sand. He points. The boy is pulling strands of the seaweed free and bringing them one by one to his small muzzle. At his feet lies an infant girl, her tiny filly head moving fitfully. A crab scuttles up to her, clutching a tiny silver fish in its claws, and seems to offer it to her, but she ignores it. It drops the fish at the boy’s feet and hurries back to the waterline.
‘Patrokles!’ Kiri leaps forward, then freezes.
‘Oh, little doula. Still braver than you are wise, I see.’ The voice is rich, melodic, rippling with a hint of humor that causes the hair on the back of Lykeios’s neck to spring erect. They both spin around so quickly that Kiri falls into Lykeios and they almost go down in a heap, but he grabs her, and they find their feet and stare open-mouthed at the figure which has come up behind them.
Lykeios battles back a shout of fear when he sees the great dark stallion before them. But even as his body twitches in terror he realizes that this is not the massive beast from before.
It is indeed a black stallion, but where the other one bulged with rock-like muscle, this one is lean, lithe, long of limb, and slender. The mane and tail are as green as the dawn sky before the sun rises, and so are they eyes that peer at them from under the silky forelock. And in those eyes are a gleam that can only be amusement.
Kiri’s jaw falls open. ‘It’s you. The foal. The foal from the cave. Out of the grey mare. You spoke then too.’
The elegant head dips in an ironic bow. ‘Of course, little doula. I could never forget the girl who helped my mother bring me into the world. and I didn’t think it likely that you would forget me.’ The lips stretch into an unsettling semblance of a smile. ‘And of course you also remember my sister.’
Kiri cries out, ‘The baby with the horse’s head,’ and the stallion again dips his head, a parody of courtesy.
‘Which brings us to our present unfortunate circumstance.’
Lykeios brings a hand to his head. ‘I don’t understand. How is it that you can speak?’
The green eyes rest on his face for a moment, then dismiss him and turn back to the girl. She is poised on her toes as if ready to run. ‘You cannot go the them. No,’ as she moves convulsively. ‘If you truly wish to help the victims of my sister’s rage you will listen to me. For I will give you the only hope you have, and I assure you it is a slender hope indeed.’
Kiri swallows hard, but meets his eyes with a direct gaze. The green eyes blink. ‘I will hear you. And I will do whatever I have to to free my brother. To free them all. I will not leave these children here. I will not leave without them.’
Leaf-shaped ears swivel back, then flick forward, tips almost touching. ‘You will. For if you approach them in that place, they will all die. My sire is displeased at the violation of order and keeps them in a state of prolonged existence while a solution is sought. But intrusion by a mortal is not permissible. You are fortunate indeed to have survived the very sight. Indeed, had I not intervened on your behalf, you would surely now be standing before the throne of the All-Receiver.’
Lykeios feels Kiri stiffen, then slump beside him. A fierce sob tears from her, then she tosses back her matted hair and steps toward the horse, fists clenched. ‘I don’t believe you. I must go to them.’
Lykeios puts a hand on her rigid arm, looking at the stallion. ‘You said a solution is being sought. What do you mean?’
The stallion shakes his forelock from his strange eyes and takes a step forward. ‘Ah, bard, that is the right question to ask. The Mother is enraged, and in Her rage She has produced the Daughter Who Must Not Be Named. And this daughter is enacting Her rage throughout the land. My sister cannot be approached. Do not dream that you can. But maybe- just maybe- our Mother can be. Because She may remember you, there is a slender chance that you might be the one who can appease Her.
I will not lie to you, little doula. The danger is grave beyond your imagining. She is terrible in Her wrath. Death is the gentlest outcome most can hope for in Her presence. And as you know, far, far worse is possible.
But my Mother bore me too, and there I am not born to bring terror and perversion. If you are willing to face more danger than ever have in your life, you may be the one human who can help bring order back to the world.’
Kiri gapes at him. ‘Worse danger than I’ve already faced?’
Lykeios swallows fear like a lump of charcoal in his throat. He puts a hand on Kiri’s shoulder, feeling it tremble. ‘What must we do?’ he manages to say around the lump.
The stallion eyes him, measuring. Suddenly he arches his neck, the green mane lifting then settling like a line of seabirds on a wave.
‘Go find Pan.’

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Posted February 13, 2016 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

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