A chapter from the recently finished THE CROCODILE GOD (to be released Sept 7), from around two-thirds of the way into the story. We enter at the aftermath of a rescue-gone-wrong.
Someone handed Qala her sword. She saw the mob of pirates divide, some moving toward her, some toward Quso. More than a few seemed unable or unwilling to decide.
“So you got yourself into trouble. I should apologize, shouldn’t I?” Lutanawa stood by her side.
“Helping us now would be worth more than any apology. Can you get us out of here?”
“And miss this fight? It looks like great fun! Which one is this Pirate King?”
Qala pointed him out. What was this fickle deity going to do?
“Ah. Not much to look at, is he? I went and sat on a mountaintop for a couple hours and realized what an idiot I am. So I came back.”
“We thank you for that, my lady,” said Galana.
“And you are better to look at than I realized. Oh well. I think they are waiting for you to make a move, Qala.”
Her side was outnumbered, with maybe a dozen men arrayed behind her. Maybe Looty would even up the odds. Qala raised her sword to signal the attack. There was no other course of action available.
Suddenly, Lutanawa was no longer at her side — not as the lithe goddess she knew. A massive snake raised its head, spread its hood, to peer toward Quso. The Pirate King gasped, immediately turned and fled toward the boats, the giant golden cobra following.
She really is going to eat him, thought Qala. Most swords had been lowered. The two factions no longer glowered at each other. What was the point? “Qala!” called out someone. Other voices repeated it, took up the name. This was not what she wanted either. Preferable to being executed, to be sure, but she would rather go home.
A small form appeared before them, stepping out of the shadowed night, a grinning Zedos. “Mommy!” he called. “Galana!” He giggled. “Galana-banana! Go.”
He held out his hands and each woman took one. A moment later they were standing before Lutanawa’s house, shining silver in the light of the twin moons. Mawa rushed out to them.
“I was watching for you from the porch. And I thought you were in bed!” she told Zedos.
“Had to save Mommy. And Galana-banana.” He laughed longer this time.
“That’s not a nice name for your mommy’s friend,” admonished the goddess.
“It’s alright with me,” said the noblewoman. “He can call me that anytime. If Sesa doesn’t give me a grandson soon, I may just steal this boy.”
“She remains behind. In snake form.”
Mawa only sighed at this news. “I knew something was wrong when it took so long. Then she refused to answer when I called to her.”
“Looty hided,” spoke Zedos. He gave his mother a rather accusatory look. “Mommy too.”
“It’s a good thing you found me,” Qala said. “Let’s not play hide-and-seek again for a while. And lets get inside where we can tell our tales.”
“What’s all the noise?” Ramapee had come out onto the veranda. “Oh, you’re all back. And you got the little one out of bed?”
Qala had to laugh at her disapproving tone. “He got himself out and traveled to another world while you slept.” She turned to her son, knelt down to speak face-to-face. “You know it’s safe for Mommy to go home now.”
“After breagfuss. Little mafadwi fix.” He turned toward the house and chirped something Qala could not understand. From her look, neither could Mawa. “Ready soon,” he said, seemingly quite satisfied.
“How did you learn to speak to them?” asked Mawa, as they entered.
“Looty teached me. When Looty gum back, Mommy?”
“I’m not sure, my dear. She has, um, business to attend to.” To digest, more likely.
“It may do her some good to be the cobra for a time,” felt Mawa. “Though we might hope she doesn’t swallow too many mortals in the meantime.”
“If they are as bad as that Quso, she is welcome to them,” declared Lady Galana. “Oh, what have we here? Monkeys?” The tiny mafadwi servants had appeared with bowls and baskets of food. Lots of fruit. Maybe Zedos had asked for it.
“Mongey-mafadwi,” the boy laughed. “Little mongey-mafadwi.”
Qala noted Mawa slowly nodding. Maybe there was something to the observation. The various stories — or different versions of the same story, more properly — were told over the next hour.
“I think,” concluded Qala, “Looty made up for her desertion the best way she knew how. I hope she does not remain a snake overlong. And I hope she decides to visit her old lover while she is in his world.”
“He might be the one who could bring her back from beast-shape,” spoke Mawa. “If he used those jewels they used to call Xido. Otherwise, her mind can not be reached, not by any of us.” She looked at her nephew, gnawing at a oblong ruby-skinned fruit. “Are you ready to take them back, Zedos?”
“Home?” he asked.
“No, the place where we slept last.” It seemed likely they would still be there.
“I shall tell Xido you are on the way. If he’ll answer.” Mawa was elsewhere only a moment. “He knows. I’ll stay a little while, just in case Looty comes back.”
“Bye little mongey-mafadwi,” called Zedos. “Bye Aunt Mawa.” He stood between Ramapee and his mother, offering each a small hand. A few vertiginous seconds later they stood in a dark room. “Damana?” asked Zedos of the darkness. “I taked you to Damana, Mommy.”
It must be one of the tack rooms at the hostelry. Yes, she could make out dim shapes, saddles, shovels, buckets. And in the corner, two figures who had pulled up a blanket to shield themselves. “Hi, deary,” called Damana. “You brought your mom back?”
“Yep! No more bad men now!” He was proud of his part, to be sure. Qala did doubt the part about no more bad men.
“Where’s the door?” she asked. “I do believe we are intruding, Lady Galana. Horos, you can report to me later. I can see you are far too busy at the moment.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he choked out as she stepped into the morning sunlight.