ONE HAND STROKED Timor’s ear and the other tapped a cup of whiskey as Avestine watched the young women sleeping. Esme was on her stomach and Kami lay on top of her. Kami slept best when she had a warm body to lie on. A lazy fur blanket covered their hips, and their exposed flesh glistened in the firelight. Despite the sense of warmth generated by the furs and fire, Avestine felt chilled. She closed her thin robe.
She had watched their passion from across the room, unsure either woman would ever grow weary. Kami especially had stamina that seemed limitless, and Avestine knew it was, in fact, limitless. It derived from a god, after all. She hated the god Kami served. She hated the Wild in all its forms—except when it came to her as a sexually ravenous Kami. Avestine knew she would not enjoy that experience if she were incapable of controlling Kami, but she had always controlled Kami. She smiled to herself. Bala had picked her acolyte poorly. Bala was as irrational as Kami, and that’s why Avestine and the god in her would win this war.
When her brother died, Avestine felt a power surge through her unlike any she had ever known. She knew it was Arujan made whole, no longer dispersed as mere sparks among the Essanti. He was fully formed when he joined with Avestine, the last of the Essanti of Order. Arujan was master of men. He grew his power by controlling the wills of men and guiding their nations; man had yoked the world, and Arujan had yoked man. How could a god of mindless beasts challenge him? How could an irrational girl challenge Avestine?
Kami grunted and sighed and rolled from Esme’s body. Esme complained softly at the loss of warmth and curled up with the fur blanket. Kami was staring at Avestine, who stared back before raising a questioning eyebrow.
Kami sat up. “What was that?”
“All I heard was your breathing.”
Kami glanced around, her sleepy eyes focusing as she blinked. Her usual passionate brown lightened to yellow. Avestine wondered at the glow that had once told her Kami was the avatar. Kami was no longer the avatar, because she no longer held all the pieces of the god. Avestine had dispersed Bala years ago when she schemed to bring Veris into the world. Yet, Kami still took on Bala’s countenance when she hunted.
Avestine smiled again, pleased that she allowed Kami to matter. It was a decision. Avestine had made such decisions all her life. Gracious and even needy at times, ruthless when necessary. Yet…there was something that nagged at her, something Rook had once told her about how unbearably cold Kami could be. Avestine had never seen Kami empty of passion, but she had seen the mindless movements of the Wild. She had seen a vast expanse of a wilderness too small to see yet exploding with uncountable numbers of hideous creatures. Kami had shown her this world, one that existed inside every person, every beast, every drop of water, every crumb of soil. What did it mean to exist inside a worm’s gut or a man’s mouth?
Avestine ruminated as Kami left the bed and began to explore the room. Bala controlled this unseen life, but did it matter? Avestine’s relaxed pleasure waned, replaced by calculation. She controlled the beasts of forests and plains and seas by mastering the men who mastered them. Were there men who mastered this mindless unseen, too? If so, who were they? And would Kami ever be empty of herself, empty of the desire that made her so appealing? Would she ever become a mere husk for the kind of life that mattered not at all to Avestine?
Timur left Avestine’s side and roamed with Kami. Timur never left Avestine except to follow Kami. Kami had not taken to Timur quickly. In fact, when Avestine had brought the pup to the palace, Kami tried to kill her. It took days of scolding and a whipping before Kami left the dog alone. As often happened, Kami could offer no explanation for her feelings, but Avestine understood the animal in Kami. It wasn’t jealousy for Avestine’s affections as Rook had surmised. Kami had shared Avestine with many others over the years.
The reason Avestine loved the dog is the reason Kami hated her: she was uncannily similar to Kami, a mimic, a canine shadow. Timur followed her, moved like her, her eyes glowed like her. Timur attached herself to Kami, always alert to what Kami was doing, always watching. As Kami explored Avestine’s bed chamber, Timur sniffed her and watched her, as if Kami were the only thing of interest. Kami frowned at Timur and said, “Use your nose for something important. Smell what I can’t. Hear what I can’t. There’s something here. Find it.”
“You smell and hear quite well even as a woman,” said Avestine from behind them. “If only you could become a dog again. Or a bear. You enjoyed that one a lot. I still have the scars.”
Kami continued to move. Despite her apparent frustration with Timur, Kami wrapped her arm around the furry neck.
© 2021 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.