Two more days passed. Four, five, six. Amani did not repeat her offer to show Jezzie the centaurs or the lunar seed vault or any other world.
Jezzie rose every morning, fed the animals, and then went out to the ship. They poured water over the living iron while Amani sang and the Kandake’s Beloved hummed. Jezzie hummed, too, as she slowly picked up the tune. Gradually, she learned the words and, over grits or griddle cakes or soup, Amani taught her their meaning. Daffodil chirped as they practiced.
In the afternoon, Jezzie taught Amani how to milk the cows, how to collect the eggs, and how to feed the pigs without getting knocked into the mud. While they worked, she told her the stories of d’Artagnan and Gulliver and the Bennett sisters and Hester Prynne and the treacherous Count Fosco and the noble Ivanhoe.
Then they returned to the ship for a second pass with the water, Jezzie’s stumbling words mingling with Amani’s singsong voice. The ship vibrated beneath her bare feet, and the mud patch continued to dry and crack; the dirt flaked away bit by bit, replaced with living iron.
Nine days since Amani had crashed into her life.
They sat at the table while Daffodil whistled, enjoying a lunch of eggs and toasted bread and the ship’s sweet, red milk.
“There are many different ways of visualizing creation. Some describe it as a tree with many branches, and the different Earths as leaves. Others describe it as a pillar of wheat, and the worlds are the grains, or as a great column of crystal and the worlds are the facets. A quetzl on Ancillary 76332 described it to me as a book, and the many worlds are different stories.”
Jezzie smiled shyly. “I like that.”
“Mmm.” Amani licked her fork. “My own people conceive of it as ripples in a pond. The first world, the primal world which birthed all of the others, sits at the center. The other worlds are like the ripples, forever undulating outward, never weakening or fading.”
Amani set down her fork, resting her chin on her hand. “Forever. Or at least so close to forever that no one has yet found its end.”
Jezzie tried to wrap her brain around that, to grasp the concept of forever. It had been hard enough whenever Pastor had come around and told them that they would live forever in a heavenly paradise if only they served the Massah faithfully and well.
Jezzie wasn’t sure she wanted to be in the same heaven as Massah.
But the forever that Amani was describing …. Yes, she would like to see that. Yes, very much indeed.
“Where did you go?” Amani asked softly.
“You went away into your head again. Where did you go?”
“Oh, um, nowhere.” Embarrassed, Jezzie looked away, scraping her fork across her plate. “Oh, wait. Quetzl?”
“Humans did not evolve on every Earth. On Ancillary 76332, the skies are ruled by sentient feathered serpents, most bigger even than Kandake’s Beloved. They make their home in trees that are as tall as mountains, and their currency is stories.”
“Stories as money.” Jezzie found her gaze drifting to the stack of books on the wall above the table. The single, short stack. “I still wouldn’t be rich, but I think I would be happier on a world like that … not one where people are treated like money ….”
“There are many such worlds, sadly.” Amani’s hand slid across the table and clasped hers. “I am so truly sorry, and angry, that this is such an Earth and that you were treated as something so much less than what you are.”
Jezzie swallowed hard. “And what am I?”
Amani’s grip tightened. “You are curious. You are funny. You are strong. Beautiful.”
Jezzie snorted and tried to pull her hand away, but Amani would not let go.
“Why do you laugh?” she asked. “Why do you not believe me?”
Jezzie frantically shook her head. “I am none of those things — ”
“You are all of those things and much more. To have survived everything that you have with your wits and spirit intact — you amaze me.”
Jezzie’s breath caught and her chest tightened. She licked her lips. Her gaze dropped to Amani’s mouth and found it curved in a soft, welcoming smile. She hastily looked away, but found her gaze pulled back again, and then again.
Amani stood, drawing Jezzie to her feet.
And kissed her.
Jezzie stilled as their lips touched, slid, slipped, pressed harder. Her eyes were wide at first, then slowly drifted closed.
She leaned closer.
Amani tasted like that sweet milk and the tart purple fruit and other things that she could not name, but that she liked, oh, she liked very much.
Amani was delicious.
And warm. And a curious combination of hard and soft. And she fit so well, so perfectly against Jezzie, her hands curled around Jezzie’s waist, their breasts pressed together, thighs touching.
Jezzie’s heart was thumping and her head was swimming when Amani pulled away. Not far, though. Jezzie had to cross her eyes to see the wide, pleased smile that curled across Amani’s beautiful, dark face.
Amani lifted her hands, cupping Jezzie’s cheeks. Another quick kiss, and a third, lips brushing softly.
“Come with me tonight. Come to Kandake’s Beloved. Lie in the vines with me and listen to the ship sing.”
Jezzie lifted a finger to hesitantly touch Amani’s chin and the two bright gold spots, her nose, the curve of her forehead and the three gold dots. “Massah whipped me,” she whispered. “I’m not beautiful like you.”
Anger sparked in Amani’s eyes. She twisted her head to kiss Jezzie’s rough palm. “You are beautiful to me,” she whispered in return.
Jezzie swallowed hard, her throat working around the words that wouldn’t come. She tried again. “There will be more kisses?”
“Yes. If you want.”
“More than kisses?”
Amani’s thumbs stroked across her cheekbones. “If you want.”
“I have never done more than kisses. I have — there was not — I kissed Cordelia, a Negress I met in Omaha before we came here. Mama saw. She cried and begged me to never do it again, to not let Papa see or ever find out. So I promised and I never did again.” She swallowed and fell silent, eyes focused on the golden dots on Amani’s chin. “Can we start with kisses? And then, maybe, more?”
Amani smiled against her palm. “Yes.”
The afternoon was a blur of chores: feeding the pigs, feeding the cows, milking the cows, feeding the chickens, collecting eggs, collecting curdles and whey, watering the ship.
As the sun sank in the west, Amani took her hand and led her towards Kandake’s Beloved.
The ship hummed as they approached, and the door in the side slid open. The silvery fur glowed a soft red.
The night was filled with kisses, and more than kisses, and laughter, and soft words. And Jezzie slept, safe and happy in Amani’s arms, stretched out on flowering vines that filled the interior of the ship with soft, fragrant light.
Ten days. Eleven. Twelve.
The mud patch cracked and flaked, fresh living iron gradually, inexorably taking its place. Tiny sprouts of silvery, grassy fur poked out of the iron.
A tendril snapped, severing the bond between earth and ship.
They fed the animals, watered the ship, sang songs, and told tales. At night, they lay among the flowering vines, touching and tickling and kissing and laughing.
On the twelfth night, Kandake’s Beloved woke them with a low hiss. It was an angry sound that made Jezzie’s skin crawl.
The flowers curled in tight, petals collapsing in on themselves. The golden words in the floor swirled, flaming bright.
Jezzie blinked, breath catching in alarm as Amani disentangled herself, sliding her arms and legs free. She rolled out of the hammock of vines and strode naked to the platform.
The slender, twisted columns of living iron were vibrating in agitation. The metal seemed to melt and reform, the top of the railing widening and flattening out.
Amani stepped up onto the platform, the floor turning to a whirl of gold beneath her feet. More gold letters traced across the flattened railing, almost like an old time scroll or the pages of a book laid side by side. Amani traced her fingers across the letters, muttering under her breath.
Jezzie stood, sucking in a breath as the front of the ship seemed to flatten, as well; or maybe the ceiling melted down or the walls melted in. Either way, the round nose disappeared, replaced by a flat wall and — and —
— a man appeared. Scraggly beard, thinning hair, dirty clothes. A pistol in one hand, another tucked into a holster. His expression was hard and suspicious. Fearful. Greedy.
Jezzie swallowed a cry and held herself very still. If she didn’t move, perhaps he would not see her in the relative darkness near the rear of the ship ….
“Peace,” Amani said. Her head was half-turned towards Jezzie, her voice soothing. “He is not here with us. He is outside.” She tipped her chin to the right. “There. He is outside, looking at the ship. Ah. He has friends.”
Jezzie walked cautiously forward, watching as the man shrank until he was half his previous size. Three more men appeared; two standing together in the pig pen, pointing excitedly at the animals; the third in the doorway of her house, eying the interior with its needlepoint curtains and old table and —
“Daffodil!” Jezzie clapped a hand to her mouth.
But the man — the rustler — had no interest in the little canary. He stomped through the small space, tossing aside the curtains to check the back rooms. He grabbed the rifle down from above the fireplace, grinned terribly as he dug through her small shelf of dresses, and then stomped back out again. He joined the two in the pig pen, waving towards the cows that huddled uncertainly in the other enclosure.
“Oh no, no, no!” Jezzie dragged her hands through her hair. “They’re going to take them! Everything! We have to stop them!”
Amani was still for a long moment, her gaze fixed on the four men. Then she turned to Jezzie, her expression serious, unsmiling, and strangely … resigned? Disappointed? She gave a single curt nod and stepped down from the platform.
The wall melted away, revealing the shelves of boxes and canisters and jars. Jezzie followed as Amani knelt beside one of the trunks on the floor. The vines holding it in place pulled away and pushed the trunk forward. Amani lifted the lid and pulled out a long, heavy piece of fabric; it was a deep reddish-black and looked almost like a cloak.
“Here.” Amani stood, waved the fabric, and tossed it around Jezzie’s back and shoulders.
She squeaked as the fabric clung to her skin. There was an uncomfortable, itchy sensation, and then the fabric shrank, folding around so that it fitted perfectly against her. It wrapped around her legs, her knees, her torso, her shoulders and arms and elbows and high up around her neck and over the curve of her skull to brush the top of her forehead.
“Lift your feet.”
Jezzie obeyed and the fabric curled around, fitting to her heel and arch and the balls of her feet, one at a time.
When she stood still again, she realized that the fabric covered her almost completely, leaving only her face bare.
She stretched experimentally. Tight and stiffer than the clothing she was used to, but not uncomfortable. The sensation of skin-tight trousers, though, was very strange.
“That will offer you some protection against their weapons.” Amani knelt beside a second box, this one smaller than the trunk. She opened it and pulled out something that looked like a pistol, but not quite. Actually, it looked more like a miniature version of the ship: a green bean, but with an indentation so that Amani’s hand curled around it easily.
Amani stood and fit the green bean thing into Jezzie’s palm. She pressed Jezzie’s fingers into place, positioning her thumb on the top. “Think of this as like your weapon.”
“Yes. Feel the bump here, under your thumb? Good. Aim and press that. There will be a hum and a tangleseed will be ejected.”
Amani tossed on a sleeveless black shirt, black pants, and sandals as she spoke. “Yes. Don’t go near it. Stay behind me, and do exactly as I say.”
“But — ”
“I don’t want you hurt.”
“Where is your — this?” Jezzie tugged at the reddish-black cloth with her gloved fingers.
Amani seemed to hesitated. “There is only the one,” she admitted. “I only ever needed one. Now, follow me.”
“No.” Jezzie shook her head hard. “No, if this will protect me from their guns than I should go first. I can protect you.”
“No — ”
“ — Or do you want to stay here, in the ship?”
Amani’s face morphed into a fierce, angry scowl. Her voice was a hiss, almost like that of Kandake’s Beloved. “Absolutely not! I will not allow you to face them alone! We go together!” She pulled Jezzie in for a hard, desperate kiss, then hefted her own green bean tangleseed gun. “I will open the door. When you see him, do not hesitate.”
Jezzie swallowed and moved to one side of the door. Amani pressed her fingers to a swirl of gold and blue letters embedded in the living iron. There was a soft swoosh and that section of the hull dropped away, creating a gentle ramp.
Jezzie peered around the edge of the ship, left, right, left again.
There. The scraggly man was stumbling around the end of Kandake’s Beloved, eyes wide in the moonlight. He held both pistols now. His eyes got wider when he saw the ramp. He took another step forward, mouth open to shout, leveling his pistols ….
Jezzie’s hand shook. Her chest was too tight.
Aim. Press the button.
A hum, a tingle, and a black seed the size of her knuckle launched through the air. It hit the scraggly man low in the belly and stuck and — and — unraveled. The shell cracked and thin yellow tendrils erupted, spreading across his torso, wrapping around his hips and legs and arms.
He yelped and one of his pistols went off. The report echoed, the bullet burying itself in the ground.
On the far side of the sod house, the old nag whinnied and men shouted.
The scraggly man lost his balance and tumbled to the ground. The tendrils grew thicker, red spots appearing against the yellow. They continued to wrap around him, getting fatter, squeezing harder. He flopped and rolled across the dirt, his eyes wide with fear, yelping and whimpering until he was completely covered and silent and still.
A hand touched her shoulder and she jumped.
Amani nodded towards the house.
Jezzie swallowed and licked her lips. Drawing a harsh breath, she returned the nod and descended the ramp. Amani was close behind her, a solid, comforting presence.
The horse was still making uncertain noises, but the rustlers had fallen silent.
Jezzie’s eyes darted back and forth, from one end of the house to the other as she and Amani trotted across the field. From the root cellar to the well to the edge of the fence that she could just see to the roof of the house and back again. The moon was nearly full, but there were still so many shadows, so many places for the rustlers to hide.
A smear of movement along the far end of the house, dull white in the darkness.
Amani raised her green bean past Jezzie’s shoulder. A hum, and the seed shot through the night.
The rustler dodged, stumbling away from the house and out into the moonlight.
The seed hit the sod building. The shell cracked, and fell harmlessly to the ground.
A second press of the button, and another seed flew through the air. The rustler did not dodge quickly enough this time. The seed hit him square in the face and, within moments, he was rolling around on the ground, frantically trying to escape the yellow tendrils.
Jezzie did not pause to see how long it took for him to fall still.
They rounded the end of the house. The muddy yard spread out before them, the corrals for the pigs and cows beyond that. Four saddled horses that Jezzie did not recognize were tied to the posts.
Dried pig feet and jerky hung from one of the saddles.
Papa would not be happy.
Jezzie shook her head, shocked to suddenly realize that it had been dayssince she had thought of her father and brothers. They should be returning tomorrow or the day after; maybe the day after that.
Samuel would have her books. New stories for her to share with Amani.
Beautiful, magnificent Amani who would be leaving soon.
Who should leave soon, before Papa and her brothers returned.
Papa would not like Amani. He would not like Amani at all.
But if Amani left … what would she do?
What would she do out here, out here on the plains, with only Papa and her brothers? What would she do, what would she be, who would she be, without Amani?
A loud crack, the shot echoing, and something hard slammed into her chest.
Jezzie staggered back, bumping into Amani. She grunted, grabbed Amani’s hand, and pushed herself back up.
A second shot and a third, coming from around the side of the root cellar. The bullets hit her again, in the belly and hip this time. She braced herself against the impact, jaw tight, and pushed herself forward. Amani pressed a hand to her back, following.
More frantic shots, most going wild, and then the click-click-click of an empty chamber.
Amani charged around Jezzie. One rustler sprinted from behind the root cellar, whimpering, his eyes too big, making for the horses. He fell just shy of the fence, a seed hitting his shoulder, and was quickly enveloped by yellow and red tendrils.
The last rustler came out into the moonlight, his hat pushed back, his duster full of holes. His was sweating, and the hands that held Papa’s rifle shook. His throat worked. His voice came out high and scratchy.
“Just don’t. Just don’t. I’ll leave. Leave.”
Amani leveled her tangleseed gun at the rustler, her hand steady.
“Leave the weapon and run.”
The rifle clattered to the ground. He turned on his heel and bolted into the night, across the plains, away from the horses and the farm.
Jezzie’s knees gave out. She collapsed, shaking. She dropped her green bean in the dirt and felt tears curdling up out of her chest. She inhaled sharply, trying to settle her heart, her mind.
But then she glanced over to where the rustler had fallen in his mad dash for the horses. She looked over, but he was gone. There was just a puddle of thick yellow water, bits of bone poking out of the soup.
She did cry then, semi-hysterical sobs that brought Amani into her arms. They cuddled there in the dirt, Amani’s hands running over her head and back, whispering words of comfort; nonsense sounds that gradually eased her shock and fear.
And when she could stand, Amani led her back to the ship, pulled off the protective cloth, and curled up with her in the flowering vines.
“Are there more things like that? Out there?”
Jezzie petted one of the flowers that curved out of a vine near her shoulder. The petals were soft, and the flower seemed to almost … what was the word? Preen? … under her touch. “The tangleseeds. They were awful. I’ve never seen anything so terrible.”
Amani rolled over, pressing her body to Jezzie’s side. She tucked her head into Jezzie’s neck. “There are many terrible things out there among the worlds. It’s an infinity. Anything you can imagine — or not imagine — is possible. I told you about Ancillary 6221 where the Black Death nearly wiped out humanity, yes? It is a horrible place, full of misery and famine and suffering. The people of Ancillary 8861 were wiped out by an asteroid; that world is a cold, dark place now. Ancillary 479 went to war with Ancillary 2986, and filled their skies with poisonous crystals, destroying every living thing. Ancillary 81 is an ocean-bound world, its waters filled with sentient sharks the size of Kandake’s Beloved; their hunger is endless, and they left their world solely for the purpose of finding new things to eat — sentient or otherwise.”
“My own people created the tangleseeds, splicing them from plants we found on half-a-dozen different Ancillaries.”
Jezzie stopped petting the flower. She folded her hands across her belly. “Have you ever used the tangleseed before?” she whispered.
Amani’s voice was just as low. “Yes. Several times. To protect myself and the ship.” Her head shifted and she kissed Jezzie’s neck. “I have no regrets. I will always protect what I love.”
The thirteenth day.
No sign of Papa and her brothers.
More tendrils snapped free of the earth. The mud patch was nearly gone, the fresh grassy fur waving in the breeze. It reminded Jezzie of a neatly sutured cut, so well sewn and healed that the scar was nearly invisible.
She unsaddled the rustlers’ horses and set them loose in the corral. She retrieved the rifle from beside the root cellar and hung it back above the hearth. With Daffodil happily trilling on her shoulder, she went about her chores: pigs, chickens, cows, curdles turning to simple cheese.
She got out the feed bag for the old nag, patting the horse’s neck as she stuffed her nose in deep and chewed loudly.
The old nag who had carried her all the way from Alabama to Nebraska, who had helped her and Amani, who would be sold off come the winter.
A useless, stupid old animal, according to Papa.
She lifted her head, studying the other animals, the pigs and chickens and cows that she had cared for for so long — but that were not hers. They would never be hers. They were Papa’s animals. She had risked her life — and Amani’s life — to save Papa’s animals.
She was Papa’s property.
Like she had been Massah’s property.
She didn’t realize that she was crying until Daffodil warbled unhappily, hopping along her shaking shoulders.
She could not.
She would not.
She looped the feedbag over the horse’s head and took off at a run for Kandake’s Beloved.
Amani stood beside the nearly-healed wound, a bucket of water at her feet. She was gently rubbing handfuls of water over the new silvery-green fur. She stopped when Jezzie stumbled to a halt in front of her, chest heaving.
“I won’t stay here. I won’t I won’t I won’t. Tell me you meant it. Tell you meant it when you asked me to come. I do. I do want, I will, I will go with you, I will.”
Amani folded her into a tight hug, cutting off her babble. Jezzie hugged her just as tight, huffing a semi-hysterical laugh as Daffodil fluttered up on top of Amani’s head to avoid being crushed.
“Yes, I meant it. I spoke true, beloved. Come with me.”
“Come with me.”
And they hugged and kissed in the sun, laughing and crying and whispering while Kandake’s Beloved hummed happily.
The fourteenth day.
The last of the tendrils shrank and snapped, pulling free of the earth.
Jezzie was laughing at one of Amani’s centaur stories, scattering feed for the chickens, when she heard a rattle of wood and harnesses. Lifting her hand against the sun she looked up to see a pair of wagons coming over the low hill.
Her chest tightened. She dropped the feed bucket.
Amani wrapped her arms around Jezzie from behind. Jezzie could feel the beat of her heart through her back, strong and steady.
She could see Papa frowning, mouth pulled tight in anger, before the wagons even drew to a stop. Samuel sat beside him, confusion giving his face a pathetic, comical expression. Jezzie tried to smile at him in reassurance, but it felt like a grimace. Gad and Ezekiel chattered away in the second wagon, unobservant as always. They stopped only when Papa stood and shouted, “What the hell is this, girl? Where those horses come from? Who that girl?”
Amani squeezed her waist and the tightness in her chest went away.
She stepped forward and opened the gate. The chickens fluttered around her feet. “Rustlers came and tried to steal your cows and pigs. We killed them. Well, except one, but I don’t think he’ll be coming back.”
Papa stared at her. And then burst out laughing. “You? You gone and killed rustlers?” He leapt down from the wagon, laughter fading. His voice dropped to an angry growl. “You best not lie to me, girl.”
Her eyes dropped, instinctively looking to his boots. But then she forced her gaze up. She smiled, meeting his eyes. “I’m not lying.”
She spun on the ball of her foot and stepped around him. She walked over to Samuel, who hovered uncertainly beside the wagon.
She frowned at her brother and his empty hands. “Samuel? Did you get my books?”
“Uh.” He looked down, curled and uncurled his fingers, looked over at Amani, then back at Papa and Ezekiel and Gad, then back to her again.
“Books? Uh.” Samuel almost looked embarrassed, but not quite. “Well, see, Mrs. Hammond, she only give me three dollars for your needlepoint. And by the time I got to Mr. Barclay’s, he was closin’ up and wantin’ to get home, so he tol’ me to come back tomorrow. So, I went to the hotel and, see, there was this game goin’ and Gad, he needed money to keep playin’ and I didn’t figure you’d mind. And, well, he lost it.” He smiled and patted her arm. “But don’t worry. You’ll have more made by spring when we go back in for the seed, right? I’ll get you plenty a books then.”
With every word, the flush of anger burned hotter and spread farther through her body.
And then he touched her.
“You — you — you — how could you?!” Jezzie shoved Samuel hard. The impact ran up her arms, made her shoulders spasm, but she didn’t care. “Those were mine. The only things that were mine, the only thing that I asked you to do!” She hit him again, and then again, until something hard grabbed her and threw her to the ground.
He loomed over her, hands curled into fists. She knew those fists. Knew how they could hurt.
She lunged to her feet, rocking forward on her toes.
Papa stumbled, falling back, his eyes going wide in surprise. But only for a moment. Then they darkened with anger again, his lips pulling into a tight snarl.
A whisper. “Don’t you touch me.”
A shout. “Don’t you touch me! You won’t ever touch me again.”
And Amani was at her side, knife of living iron in her hand. The metal hummed, sang, light sliding across its sharp edge.
“What’s that?” Gad asked, pointing stupidly at the blade.
“Shut up!” Papa snarled without taking his eyes from Jezzie. “Who you think you are, girl? Hunh? Who you think you are to talk to me like that?”
Jezzie tilted her chin up. “I am me.”
Jezzie took a step back, Amani still at her side. “I am going to get my books and Daffodil.”
Amani nodded once, a sharp jerk of her head. She never took her eyes off Papa.
Picking up her skirts, Jezzie hurried into the house. She grabbed one of the empty pails on her way through the door. If she packed them carefully, there was just enough room for all of her books. The last one — Gulliver’s Travels — threatened to slid off so she jammed it into her pocket. It banged against her hip.
Murmuring softly, she flipped open the door to Daffodil’s cage and slid her hand inside. The canary happily jumped from her perch to Jezzie’s wrist, and then sidled up her arm to rest on her shoulder.
Jezzie looked around. Table, chairs, hearth and shotgun — she smiled at the memory of grabbing it when Kandake’s Beloved crashed in the field — pots and pans and a few blankets and her tiny shelf with the extra dress and apron. There was nothing else here for her.
Hugging the pail to her chest, she left the house. She did not look back.
“I’m ready.” She reached for Amani’s extended hand, ignoring her father and brothers. “There’s nothing — oh, wait!” She trotted over to the fence, making nickering sounds as she went.
“What you think you’re about, girl?”
The old nag looked up, whuffed, and ambled to the gate.
Lifting the latch, Jezzie slipped the reins over the horse’s head and led her around the house and across the mud patch, towards Kandake’s Beloved.
“That’s my horse! You bitch!”
Papa lunged, snarling — only to be caught short when Amani grabbed the back of his shirt. He made a rough gurgling sound, eyes bulging, and then she flung him back. He went sprawling in the mud.
Proud, magnificent, Amani stood over Papa. She stared down at him while Jezzie’s brothers gaped stupidly. Papa’s mouth flattened and his boots shifted, his hand curling into a fist.
Half upright, he swung from the ground, aiming for Amani’s belly.
Amani caught his arm, the slap of skin-on-skin loud. Her fingers dug into his flesh, pushing his arm back down, down, down. Her voice was an angry, protective hiss. “In Kush, daughters are loved and valued. When one leaves her family to join another, they must be compensated for her loss.”
Amani thrust Papa’s arm away and slid the living knife back into her belt. Her fingers curled around the gold bands that encircled her upper arms. She left scratches in her skin as she pulled them free and threw them into the dirt at Papa’s feet. “These do not equal a fraction of her value — but I am sure that you will fail to see that.”
Turning away with a sneer, she held out her hand.
Crying, smiling, chest heaving, Jezzie looped the reins over the handle of the bucket, curled the fingers of her free hand through Amani’s, and turned her back on her family. Clutching the old nag’s reins, Daffodil hopping and trilling excitedly on her shoulder, she took one step and another and another. Behind her, she heard cursing and the sound of fists and feet striking as her brothers fought over the gold.
She stepped across the threshold of Kandake’s Beloved, and did not look back.
There was a soft swooshing as the door lifted shut behind her, and the rustling of vines. A few of the flowers tilted their heads in curiosity. She set down the pail and led the old nag towards the cargo end of the ship. She plucked a purple fruit from the wall and held it out. The nag sniffed and happily lipped the food into her mouth. Jezzie patted her forehead. “It’s our turn now, girl.” She looked up at the round, green walls. “Please keep her safe.”
Vines dropped from the ceiling and carefully wrapped around the horse’s legs and torso. The nag whinnied, flicked her ears, and went back to chewing the fruit.
She found Amani in the heart of the ship. The patterns on the floor and walls — bioluminescent, Amani had called them — flashed around her. Circles on the floor of the platform whirled, brightened, solidified, turned red. The flowers trailing across the ceiling unfurled, petals and stamens pulsing red and purple and blue.
Amani held out her hand again and Jezzie took it gratefully. She kissed the back of Amani’s fingers and stepped into the circle. The ship hummed around them, the tingle running up through the soles of her feet. Jezzie giggled and Amani drew her around so that they stood back to front. There was a brief moment when it felt like she was floating and Amani’s arms wrapped around her.
Amani sang a single clear note, and then another. The front of the ship seemed to fade — or maybe Jezzie was just seeing it through the eyes of Kandake’s Beloved. The plains of Nebraska spread out before them, yellow and black and brown with small patches of trees around pools and streams. And then that, too, disappeared. Colors that she could not name filled her gaze and creation opened up before her.
“Welcome to the worlds, beloved,” Amani whispered in her ear. “Sing with me.”
And Jezebel sang.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published works can be found there.]