Vushi: Money Queen

Vushi: Monkey Queen 1 of 6

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The journey started like most family trips: with protest and complaining. Vushi did not want to travel to some place she never heard of. She wanted to stay home and have fun. Wasn’t that the point of having breaks from Magoge ? She had worked hard, her name was well spoken, earned favor of her teachers and made excellent marks in education, domestic skills, weapons, combat, and magick. Didn’t she deserve a few weeks of mindless child-like silliness? After all this might very well be one of the last breaks when she was still considered a child.

None of her protests made any impact on her Mother, who was packing more strategically than a general. In fact they seemed to second her purpose, “yes, yes you will be woman soon by these people, but already in the eyes of our Gods you have been one for some time. Your visit to the shrine is far over due!” Vushi’s mother didn’t even spare her a glance as she continued choosing, folding and packing their few possessions. Her mother continued, “now go and pack or you will show up naked!”

Vushi knew a lost cause when she heard it. She stomped out of her mother’s small sparse room off the kitchen and into her larger room down the hall. There was no reasoning with mothers when they started on things a woman should do. Her Mother and she were so very different. Maybe being a woman was all they had in common.

People said they looked alike but Vushi didn’t see it. She was fairly certain all Indi people looked alike to the Etrustis . They shared dark olive skin and deep brown eyes, and yes, ok, their smiles were similar but what made them smile was as different as the snowcaps from the sea. Vushi could make Fire appear out of nowhere and her mother regarded it as some silly trick and patted her head saying “very nice Vushi.” But when Vushi made the best cheese at Magoge her mother wept with pride. “Mother it just takes stirring!” Vushi had spat.

Vushi looked around her plain un-decorated room. The room had been a gesture of respect from her masters, well previous masters. It seemed appropriate to everyone that a Mage, even an apprentice Mage, should not be housed with slaves. Vushi, having only not been a slave for a week when the room was cleared for her, found the idea absurd. She was after all in the same hallway off the kitchen! She tried to give the larger, nicer room to her mother, which made everyone smile with that “aren’t kids cute ” smile and ignore her. Vushi had almost immediately been sent to Magoge and only came back on breaks so the room was completely devoid of any personal touches. Someone, she noticed, probably her mother, had put down a throw rug. Most likely the mistress was throwing it out and her mother took and repaired it. Of course her mother wouldn’t keep the rug in her own cold room. She also had a washbasin and a small stand by a bed covered by four half-open boxes and her travel roll. Truth be told the nicer, unused room made her feel guilty. Her mother would love the way the Sun streamed in every morning. How it had real windows that could be unhinged to let the seasons’ smell waft through and bring peace. Her poor mother…. Then Vushi remembered she was mad at her mother and kicked the bed!

“Giant farts! I didn’t even unpack yet!” Vushi swore and sat on the bed. She had only returned from Magoge yesterday with Coriander. He went straight to his parents and the servants, like her mother, unpacked his ridiculous amount of belongings. Vushi wanted to carry her boxes all by herself. She only got one box into her room when the farm slaves came in with her other three boxes. They bowed asking her if she required anything else. Awkwardly she said no and thanked each one while making eye contact. The slaves bowing to her made her very uncomfortable but she would treat them as people. After all, she had been them not so long ago.

Vushi opened her roll determined to carry as little as possible. She knew full well that her mother would over pack and Vushi would have to carry what her frail mother could not. A seven-day journey! Who took a seven-day journey without a beast to carry everything! And where was this shrine? She had never heard of any shrine before? The temples her mother had spoken of were far away. In the stories, she had barely listened to, the holy places were seasons away. Why would there be a temple to her mother’s foreign Gods so close? It didn’t make sense.
To make matters worse they would be meeting up with Vushi’s grandmother. The woman was older than the mountains they’d have to traverse. Vushi had only met her once and she was old even then. She smelled like sour spices and her coarse hands pinched the then helpless child. Vushi was quite sure a shield spell or two would come in handy from old lady pinching fingers!

“Yes yes poor Vushi!” her Mother teased as she entered Vushi’s room, “she has to go on a trip with her horrible un-magickal family! We must be such an embarrassment.”
“Don’t say that!” Vushi snapped, “I’m not…I will never be embarrassed of you Mother…I just want to enjoy my stay not traverse a mountain range for 14 days! You don’t know how difficult life at Magoge is. And it’s not even like I really know much about your Gods.”

“Our Gods!” now Vushi’s Mother snapped, “which is why you must come.” Vushi knew no matter how she protested her mother would turn it into yet another in the long list of reasons of why she must go. Her Mother continued, “There is much I should have told you. Prayers and ideas that these people do not understand. I will not fail you child.” Guilt came in droves. It’s not that Vushi didn’t want to know about her Mother’s religion she just wished it could have happened at a more convenient time. Part of Vushi was very interested in her family’s religion. It seemed so different than what she learned at Magoge.

When Vushi was a child she had been kept quiet and as far away from people as possible. The family that owned them was kind but you could never trust any of them. (Or so her mother had warned.) Her mother had been allowed to practice her ancient beliefs to foreign Gods and for that was grateful. She was careful to instruct Vushi with just enough to teach her honor and duty but not too much so she would ever dare challenge the Gods of their owners. Children would not know when to hold their tongue. So Vushi was raised on the hint of an old religion whispered in the dark.

When Vushi stumbled upon her Power everything changed. Most importantly she was no longer a slave. Those chosen by the Goddess could not be bound by mortals. Her Mother almost tossed her into the hands of the Magistrate, her owner, saying she was Blessed. He was an honorable man and took the matter seriously. Another type of man would have laughed and never allowed the loss of his property. Luckily for Vushi, the Magistrate immediately called for the nearest Magi. It was clear in moments, the eight-year-old girl’s Power could not be denied. The man she had been told to fear, her owner, the Magistrate, bowed to her.

Vushi was thrust into the public eye. Everyone marveled at this slave girl turned would-be Mage. It was only slightly more terrifying than being a slave. By becoming “Blessed” she had to learn a whole new set of speakings and postures . The only thing that eased her pain was Coriander. The Magistrate’s only son, also eight, was blessed with Magick the following Spring. They became fast friends.

“Vushi,” her Mother’s voice was soft as she lifted her child’s chin, “I know this trip is the last thing you want to do. In fact I’d much rather stay home and enjoy the Sun. But Mother, your grandmother, is old and not well. It is her way to return to the temple once more before Death takes her. Please help make this journey not more painful than it already is.”

Now Vushi felt horrible. ‘What a brat I must be?’ she thought. She saw her mother’s coarse strong hands folding Vushi’s clothes. Hands that had held her and protected her from things Vushi may never know. What would she do for her Mother? She would certainly travel a few days to bring her peace of mind and comfort. “I am stupid,” she reported to her Mother.

“You are young,” she smiled back.
“I love you very much.”
“I know my Sun and breath.”
“Forgive me?”
“Done.” Her mother smiled a secret smile, “I think you might like this trip? After all the adventures you tell me about with Master’s boy I thought something like this would please you.”

“I’ve seen a lot of temples Mother,” Vushi said trying to keep the eye roll off her face.
“Oh all right then…” her Mother smirked, “I guess then you know all about the Monkey Queen.”

Vushi’s head cocked like a dog hearing his favorite bird, “Did you say Monkey Queen?”

Meeting Grandmother

Vushi: Monkey Queen 2

“Monkey Queen!?!?!” Coriander shouted, “What’s a Monkey Queen? That sounds amazing!”

“Yes, but Giants!” Vushi laughed, “ I’ve always wanted to see a giant!”
“Did your Mother tell you what a Monkey Queen was?” Coriander was far more impressed with Vushi’s adventure than his own.
“I think She’s a Goddess or maybe a chieftain of sorts. She was exactly flowing with information. You know Mother.” Vushi rolled her eyes.

Vushi’s mother seemed to delight in keeping secrets and holding them like Tantalusian torture. Her mother obviously knew more about this adventure but said she would know when they were on the road and to get ready and pack.

“We must agree to remember every detail so when we tell each other what happened and we can feel like we were there!” Coriander’s eyes were wide with wonderment. That pleased Vushi. Coriander would remember each detail vividly. She was not as good a storyteller.

Vushi wished she could recount events with the same flair that Coriander did. He could get the entire class riled up with an ancient myth or battle description. He loved to show off and take center stage. She wasn’t bad at public speaking. The facts lined up neatly but she couldn’t seem to find the passion like Coriander did. She wondered if it might be a multi edged sword. On the one hand it was good to have the skill but it must be annoying for everyone to expect you to entertain them all the time.

Suddenly a new thought came to Vushi. “Hera help me!” Vushi cried.
“What?” Coriander seemed immediately concerned.
“What if that’s why Mother is bringing me to temple!” Vushi threw her hands in the air in anger, “she’s going to show me off and make me do magick like some performer!”

Vushi did not approve of magick being used as spectacle. She had scolded Coriander for the very thing just a few hours earlier. He used magick to move his sisters’ belongings and mess up their hair. Unbelievable! He was lucky she didn’t report him to First Teacher! Magick is a blessing from She not a tavern trick! How would Vushi explain that to her mother? Would she understand? This trip was turning worse and worse.

Coriander interrupted Vushi’s thoughts. He reminded her for the 701 moon that the road could be dangerous. “I know how to be safe on the road. I have travelled before! I know how to hide from danger.”

“You? Hide?” Coriander laughed, “You never hide from villains. You’re more likely to beat up a beggar!”

Vushi punched him in the arm. “Coriander I will be fine. The only trouble I will have is the weight of ridiculous amount of things Mother is bringing!”

Coriander laughed and hugged her. As he did Vushi heard him mumble a protective prayer over her. She thought it was sweet and smiled. From anyone else it would have annoyed her but Coriander was just being Coriander and she loved him. “Travel safe,” he said.

“You too.” She said as she kissed him goodbye.
“I’ll bring you back something gianty!” he yelled as he walked away.
“Something gianty?” she laughed, I suppose you’ll want something Monkey Queen-ish then!”

Vushi and Deena, her mother, left without much attention. You would have thought Coriander was off to war the way the household carried on. As he and his father rode off in the opposite direction Vushi had a mischievous idea to Call to his horse and have Coriander thrown. She didn’t of course, but she was very jealous. She and he mother were walking. Walking! And, like she predicted, Vushi was carrying everything they owned or so it seemed.
“Mother,” Vushi complained not even off the property yet, “I am going to have to use magick the entire time just to carry all of this!”

“I told you I could carry some of that!” Deena defended herself. Vushi wouldn’t have it. Her mother worked hard enough. She shrugged the backpack up higher on her shoulders and changed the position of the bag she was holding. As if on cue a servant galloped towards them.

“WAIT!” he called.
“Oh no they aren’t letting us go!” Vushi’s mother cried out.
“Yes they are,” Vushi calmed her always-ready-to-think-the-worst mother.

The man arrived panting even though the horse had done all the work, “you left too fast! What is your rush woman!” he spat at Vushi’s Mother. Protectively Vushi stepped forward. The servant fell to a low bow and continued, “mistress, the master has demanded I give you this horse for your trip. He is old but can still carry.”

“We do not need his horse” she said boldly but not trying to order the man about. She hated being bowed to.
“well ummm….,” the man paused, “Master Coriander said if you refused I should tell you to….well..ummm.”

“Spit it out!” somewhere in her brain she realized she sounded like a mistress and was ashamed at barking orders but that was over-ridden by her annoyance. Before she could apologize the man spat out, “he said you should take your proud nose out of the air and bags off your bag and take the horse…he said.”

Vushi should have been mad but instead burst out laughing. The servant smiled and Vushi’s mother seemed pleased. “I guess we have to re-pack and quickly. We must reach those hills by nightfall.” She pointed to the horizon. “Thank you sir,” she added. They placed their belongings on the horse and soon were headed off to the horizon.

Little was said at first. A quiet, family-sort-of-quiet, passed between them. The landscape was wide and beautiful. Vushi took a side ways glance at her mother. She saw her age for the first time. She had never really noticed the lines around her eyes or the graying temples and sagging chin. Parents seem timeless to children. As if they were always the age they were when you were 8. Which makes sense because parents always assume children are 8 even when their 48! Vushi wondered what her mother saw in her. Did she see pieces of herself like Vushi saw in her? She stole another glance and smiled. It made her mother look even more beautiful. Age agreed with her.

“So Mother,” Vushi teased, “any new gossip around town?”
“VUSHI!” her mother scolded, “I do not gossip and neither should you!” Her mother had very severe opinions about silly hens who gossiped. Vushi would often remind her mother that men gossip too but that just made her more angry. Vushi smiled. Her mother’s anti-gossip campaign usually came right before a really good piece of gossip. If Vushi wanted to know she’d have to play it just right.

“Of course Mother!” Vushi feigned offense. “I would never want to hear idol chatter between people who should have better things to do! But. I do spend a lot of time with Coriander and if things are going on which might affect him I would be better equipped to help him if I knew what…occurrences were occurring.”

“Well I suppose that’s true…” Deena was unusually difficult to get talking. Vushi knew the secret must be huge!
“I did hear,” Vushi said as casually as she dared, “ that one of Coriander’s sisters might be with child?”

“Vushi! That is a lie!” her mother took a pause, as if making sure no one was around and then smiled and leaned in conspiratorially, “…but if she’s not it’s not for lack of trying!” They both laughed.

The next few hours were spent “getting filled in on” the people of the house and town. Who was doing what where and with whom and sometimes even the why of it all. They laughed a lot, not in a cruel or mean spirited way; more in the way that life makes us all clowns occasionally and comedy shows us what we truly are.

“….and well as you know, “ her mother smiled, “there’s all the talk of you Coriander…”
“WHAT!”
“Oh come child!” her mother scolded, “you spend far too much time with him for it to be anything else! I wonder what that will make me when you wed ?”
“WED?!?!”
“Stop being silly,” Deena continued, “we all know you two will wed. It’s in the skies ! “
“It is not!
“You are too old to be end-friends with a boy,” her mother laughed, “you shall see. One day you’re playing tag and the next kissing games!”
“Kissing!”
“Yes and then kissing you know,” her mother laughed, “bring me grandchildren!”
“Children!”
“Oh yes. I cannot wait for you to make babies,” her mother positively glowed with the thought, “and then you will see that all women are magickal in their…”
MOTHER!”

Hours later, after the teasing had turned to laughter and then back into wonderful silence, the two women came upon the third. Grandmother was sleeping on a bench by a slip of a tree. It made her look fat and round. She snored loudly. Vushi laughed, her mother scolded but smiled. Gently she woke Grandmother. She was so old her eyes seemed to be tiny specs in a face full of lines. A kerchief covered what was probably a blading head. She was dressed in blacks and browns with a belt of dark green. Vushi thought she almost looked like a wood elf. An ancient wood elf.

She stood and smiled with no teeth. As she stood Vushi couldn’t believe how small the woman was. She had seemed fat while sleeping but now standing it was obvious she was shrouded in layers upon layers of cloth. She hugged Vushi’s mother as they whispered their ancient language. Vushi thought she was fluent in Indi but the women spoke so quickly and with words she did not understand she found herself lost almost immediately.

Then Grandmother turned to her. Vushi prepared herself for the calloused hands and pinching of her memories but instead found weak and shaking limbs barely able to get all the way around her. Grandmother’s cloudy eyes wept with joy, “Vushi is it really you child? Sun be praised. This day is blessed!” She kissed her on the chin not able to reach her cheek.

Vushi was dumbstruck. Who was this sweet old woman weeping in her arms? Suddenly, ferociously, she felt the need to protect her. The road did in fact seem dangerous with two people to care for. She would punch a beggar if he dared to bother Grandmother. Her back clenched with anger at the world and the possibilities of cruelty. Her warrior instincts took over and in an instant she knew she would get this woman to wherever she wanted to go and no one had better stand in the way.

Vushi took a breath. She calmed the warrior. She gently squeezed her grandmother back. She fought a small tear in her eyes. They would be fine. She was overreacting. The road wasn’t that dangerous was it?

Yes.

Grandmother’s Secret

Vushi: Monkey Queen 3

Vushi back-flipped impossibly high in the air and silently landed in low crouch. She thrust her makeshift staff out of her right hand and fire glowed out of her left turned-out palm. It was an awesome sight. Her Grandmother laughed and clapped her hands, “well done little Sun !” Vushi released the magick and stood and bowed. Even Deena seemed to enjoy the show. Normally magick made her uncomfortable.

Vushi couldn’t believe how she was showing off! If Coriander were here his mouth would drop like a fish. And she was enjoying it. It started out with a few simple questions from Grandmother. Vushi was embarrassed at first. When she came back from a hunt with dinner, Vushi said a prayer over the animal and Grandmother made her teach it to her. Grandmother had remarked how powerful Vushi’s speech was, as if her words were heavier than others.

Vushi didn’t know how to explain about the Power of Voice she commanded. She didn’t fully understand it herself. But she knew how to do it and other skills like backflips and weapon workings. Grandmother was interested in everything. In fact the more Vushi showed the younger Grandmother looked. So Vushi showed her everything.

“And she makes the best cheese at school!” her mother proudly added.
“Is that so?” laughed Grandmother.
Vushi caught herself about to eye roll but seeing her mother’s pride she could not. Her mother had taught her cheese making. Perhaps she was claiming some right or patronage in Vushi’s successes. Vushi let her have it, “yes because I used my Mother’s technique!” That pleased her mother greatly.

A well-fed silence came over the campfire. It was low but warm. Deena was pleased. Vushi was at ease and happy. Grandmother started crying.

“What is it?”
“Forgive me,” Grandmother wiped away the tears, “foolishness. That is all. You remind me so much of mother…”
“Was she a cheese maker?” asked Deena hopefully.
“Cheese? Bah!” laughed Grandmother, “I do not think so. I remember no cheese. But I do remember her swinging a staff like no other!”
“What!” Deena jumped up. “Grandmother held a staff?”

“Held? No. Tossed. Threw. Bashed, Banged. Swung. Batted. And killed more like it!” laughed Grandmother again.
“Great-grandmother was a warrior?” Vushi almost snapped at her own mother, “how could you not tell me this?”

“I didn’t know,” she stared wide-eyed at the old laughing woman.
“I never told because it was all too sad.” Grandmother got serious. “So sad. I saw no hope. No light in our darkness. Why bother a child with what she’d never know? But now with Vushi the Sun-herself shines this night.”

“Can you tell me now?” asked Vushi’s mother almost like a child, “please?”
“It would be unkind to you my dearest,” Grandmother looked down, “speaking of things you will never know…”
“Like freedom?” asked Deena.
“Yes.”
“Mother will know freedom!” Vushi said too quickly, “I swore and swear it!”

“Here we go,” Deena rolled her eyes, “Vushi enough of that talk. I forbid this conversation again! Vushi is under the impression that when she leaves Magoge and makes her own bread she will buy out my duties. Which is ridiculous.”
“Why is that ridiculous!” Vushi snapped.
“You will have your own life! I want you to have your own life filled with purpose like mine is! Uhg!” Deena was beside herself. She turned to Grandmother, “Vushi thinks servitude is bad. So very bad! But then where would I be without it? On the streets? Living like an animal out here in the woods? When you were a baby..”
“Yes we all know!” Vushi tried not to snap this time, “I am alive because of Alexi’s healer. BUT that just means he was protecting his property not out of concern. Not that Master.. I mean Alexi isn’t kind… he is Grandmother…but you…”
“Have a place. A nice home. A safe day. Work to keep busy. A beautiful daughter and a kind mistress. Not everyone wants to be Emperor!” Deena ended the conversation.

“I will free you,” she mumbled defiantly.
“Will you free your Grandmother too?” snapped Deena.
“Yes!”
“Vushi thinks she will be richest woman in the world!” laughed Deena.
“Grandmother is old it’s not like she costs….”Vushi caught herself, “I mean..”

Grandmother who had been silent during the exchange started laughing, “yes, yes I am sure Master Alexi paid little for an old woman! When you get old dear, you will find peace in not being the prize!”

“Wait,” Vushi had been left out of some information, “Master Alexi? You work for us I mean him?”
“Yes didn’t you tell her?” Grandmother asked.
“No,” sighed Deena, “she will only get more angry and anger boils in your dear little sun like water on the fire. Fine!” She turned to Vushi ready for a fight, “master Alexi, at my request bought up Grandmother’s duties.

“Wait!” Vushi did not like where this was headed, “My end-friend’s father bought my grandmother!”
“Do you see how she takes everything!” Deena was dreading this conversation, “but yes, in essence that is what happened.” Vushi’s mind flew with thoughts.

She started pacing. Never a good sign. Her mother tried to calm her, “Vushi listen. It is Mother’s final wish to go to temple of our people. Her previous master would never have allowed it. I had a small bit of savings but not quite enough to let her leave. So I asked the mistress who asked the master, who would do anything for Coriander, and they took it upon themselves to acquire her services. It was all very kind.”

“KIND! I will kill Coriander for not telling me!” Vushi screamed, “Kill him!”
“See?”
“Little Sun come here,” Grandmother called and Vushi reluctantly came to her side, “you must be much-loved in that house for my wish to be granted. And I thank you. You must by now have realized I will not be returning from the temple, yes?”

Vushi had too much information in her head at the same time. She seemed younger even to herself whens he asked, “you’re dying?”
“Child come now!” laughed Grandmother, “it’s a miracle of the skies I am alive this long! You know this. Master Alexi knows this too.” Vushi threw herself onto Grandmother sobbing. Her head was about to explode with questions and concerns. She no longer wanted to kill Coriander but knew she’d still punch him very very very hard in the arm.

“I wish I could free you,” Vushi wept.
“But you have!” smiled Grandmother, “I am free through you. And that is more than enough!” The two women hugged.

Deena interrupted, “Mother? Please tell me about Grandmother? It will hurt less knowing than not.”
“She was one of the greatest warriors of our village!” Beamed Grandmother.
“Was she blessed with magick?” asked Vushi.
“I do not think so, well at least the way you are, but she was blessed in ways I do not fully understand.

“Our village was a lovely place to grow up. Fertile and joyous. Mother was respected and feared a bit I think. She taught staff and other weapons to the children and apprentices. I remember the school was a large area with hard soil and lots of yelling. ‘ATTACK!!!” Grandmother coughed and laughed. “One day Mother had to go on a journey. For the first time ever she took me with her. I must have been 6 or so. Sun to Moon it was long ago…

“She told me many stories as we travelled. Days later we found a magickal door. We entered it. So much sound and light! And we ended up at the Temple of the Monkey Queen!”

“Did you meet her, the Queen?” Vushi jumped in!
“No,” signed Grandmother, “I only saw the guard. But suddenly my mother came out of the temple grabbed me saying there was a problem in the village. The world blurred. I try so hard to remember how we got back from the temple to our village but I cannot. Now I know it must have been some kind of magick but then it was just a feeling.

“We returned to what barely resembled our village. I had been sacked and robbed and burnt. It had been a peaceful time. Warriors were away. Little defenses had been put up to the slaving raiders. Mother attacked and brought quite a few to the Doors of Death but she was out numbered and she fell. Fell like her strings had been cut. I ran to her and she handed me this. Telling me I must one day give it back…”

Grandmother pulled out a small token on a piece of leather from around her neck. It looked almost like a white coin. “I tried for years to learn what I could in order to bring it back but knew nothing more.”
“What is that?” Deena said in disbelief. Who was this woman with a history she knew nothing about!
“It’s bone,” said Vushi matter-of-factly. Grandmother nodded. Vushi reached out with her magickal sense, “it’s Powerful. Very Powerful.”

“And did the raiders take you?” Deena gulped.
“Like a whelp,” Grandmother remembered, “mostly I remember fear. And rope. Eventually I ended up here in this country and had you my dearest child. Born into bondage and it broke my heart that you would never know the freedom I almost remember as a child. And you had Vushi, which broke my heart more. Oh I pretended to fawn over you, but here was another child whose legacy I could not watch.

“And then news spread that Vushi had been Blessed by the Goddess of this place but I knew she had been Blessed by our Gods!” Grandmother smiled and reached out to her daughter.

“Yes,” Deena reached out and grabbed her hand, “I prayed for it every day. To all the Gods everywhere. To all that is She for She would understand.”
“But Mother?” Vushi was quick to point out, “you just argued that there is nothing wrong with being a slave!”
“I did no such thing,” Deena smiled, “I said I was meant for life of servitude that does not mean you were. You are here for great deeds and wonderful things. I knew it when I saw your very first breath!”
“And great things have already begun,” Grandmother pointed out.

Vushi wasn’t sure how she felt about the responsibility she now had to be great and powerful but she liked being hugged by her two favorite people in the world so she said nothing.

“So Mother?” Deena interrupted the silence, “is this why Vushi is coming with us? Is she to see the Monkey Queen? Will it make her all that needs to be?”
“I do not know about that,” Grandmother wondered as she rubbed her necklace, “but I know I must return this token and I believe Vushi will know how.”

“Me?”
“Yes child.” Grandmother placed the necklace around Vushi’s neck.
“How?”
“No idea,” laughed Grandmother.
“Perhaps if you told us more about the Monkey Queen Mother?’ Deena placed a hand on the token around her daughter and smiled.

“Yes I suppose I will have to,” Grandmother sighed happily, “Vushi place another log on that fire and I will tell you the story of the Monkey Queen.”

Concerning Monkey Queens

Vushi: Monkey Queen 4

“The story of the Monkey Queen is along and sad. I know only a little of it. It starts before any humans walked the Earth. Before Lords and Warriors marched and killed. Before the Earth was said to be owned. Before the Gods of Time chose endings.

The Monkey Queen was many wonderful things but as it is with all great souls She had had one terrible trait: She loved without reason. And as early as any accounts She was in love with a fool! The Monkey King was Her greatest love and He loved Her too. Yet as I said, He was a fool yet She loved him for it. When the Sun got angry and threatened the stars it was She who tricked the King into thinking the Sun was a fruit so He chased it back in line and to the true order of things! It was She who called the winds when the monsters of the sea threatened the gates of the Underworld. She made them carry the secret sounding key to the Monkey King who in turn locked them back down below! He received all the praise and credit and She did not mind. She loved Him so much She wanted Him to be flattered.

She loved Her children too. So many children no one could ever name them all though many have tried. Some say She gave birth to the races of personkind. Others that She midwifed the Great Mother. Some say too that we were born still and cold and She explained to the Gods how we would need breath and hold warmth so the Sun came closer and the Winds taught us the teaching breath. Which ever truth be told, I know not which is true expect that She loved so many and some say all.

The fool of a King grew famous and well loved. He became friends with a king. Yes at some time the children She had helped had become kings. They claimed prizes She did not understand. The rose and died in search of happiness that was right in front of them. That saddened Her so. She wept for each death of everything. That is the way of Sacred Love. But still so in love with the fool of a king She helped Him whenever He need it. And He needed it a lot.

She would beg and plead for Him to stay home. To lie with her and share Her unknowable knowings! He would oblige and the run back to his Lords and Kings and help them play with the shiny things and silly stones they loved so much. She knew He was a fool so She said nothing but sent him with love. The tasks She did for Him are as numerous as Her children. Each deed more ridiculous and difficult than the one before. And yet She did it anyway.

One day She spied him on a chariot with shiny plates of metal covering Him. What game is this She wondered? So she climbed a mountain, which is to say part of her very self and watched . They say she brought a tasty treat for the winner of this game! To her horror the Monkey King started to kill the children of the Earth. And these other children tried to kill Monkey King’s friends! What was this thing?

“War,” said nearby peacock.
“War?” She asked. And the peacock told her about war between tribes and death and destruction for little gain other than something called pomp and position which were not much more than foolishness. She wept for the loss. The slaughter caused her pain in the deepest reaches of her mountain! And worse of the worst her true love was in the middle causing the most pain! She had been blind and now knew He was the God of Foolishness and She had allowed it! Her sorrow was severe.

The Monkey King was losing the war He had caused. He could not loose for his new friends and Lords, for he now knew them more than He did She and served them instead of Her love. I told you He was a fool. He saw The Monkey Queen weep and assumed She wept for his loss. “NO” he cried to her, “I will not lose and die if you help me?”

She said She could not help with murder.
“Then I will die!” he begged.
“..and die a fool!” She cried.
“help me or I will turn my troops on you!” the fool barked!

Now the Monkey Queen had never been threatened and did not take it very well. But instead of rage she had pity, for nothing built on love could be wrath. She saw the fool for a fool and shook Her head, “Little fool of mine, you cannot kill me. I am the ground on which you stand. If I go so will the Earth and you will fall to the darkness. You cannot kill me for I am lover to Life and you would be left with no love of battle. And the third reason is a reason you should never know for it is beyond your knowing it and in understanding it you will be no more little fool.”

The King changed tactics as His army was being badly beaten back, “help me for our love, if it was ever true, help me now and I will never make war again. Do you not love me and wish me success? Would you not, as you swore in our bed, do anything to bring me pleasure?”

The Monkey Queen knew he was lying and this thing called war could not be sated but she also knew She would give in. She knew then that is was She who was foolish. With a scream that changed the map of the Earth, She defiled Her very self and out of Her mountain came a legion of troops. Fully armed and awesome, they ran to the King’s side. In moments the tide of war turned redder and the Monkey King was victorious!

He called his love, “With your army what can we not accomplish? What world can we not own lover?” Her troops left his side and returned to the mountain.

“Goodbye,” was all She said. The Monkey King screamed and complained and hollered for Her to join Him! She knew She would help him again if he persisted so She found a way to hear him no longer.

She built a place in the mountain, that was herself, and made a home: a great palace of rock and shame. She left this foolish world for She could not be trusted to spare it. Inside her palace she could not hear the pleadings of the King, his Lords or their followers. She could not be called to murder again. She had no idea if he continued his war and slaughter of the dear lives She helped make. Reclusive and lonely she banished her very self from all that She loved and lives still in the dark wishing the world were better.”

Grandmother finished the story with a smile, “it is easy to judge her isn’t it? When I was your age, I thought Monkey Queen should come back and do what is right! Stop the fighting. Stop the badness! Help us! It seemed so obvious what she should do! I was angry with her! But now as I am older I see other things. I see how a mother would love her son even if he was the most evil man on the Earth! How she’d protect him from harm and stop anyone from hurting him even if he deserved it! Now imagine you are Mother to all. Not so clear. Huh?”

Vushi was confused. She had always heard love was the most powerful force that existed but here true love was a coward unable to take sides. Should love take sides? Isn’t there right and wrong?

“And that is where you must go? To her mountain?” Deena asked quietly.
“Yes,” smiled Grandmother, “I must return the coin. I do not know why Mother asked me to do this. Perhaps it will rest her warrior soul? Perhaps it will rest mine?”

“But you do not know where the mountain is?” Vushi asked.
“No,” Grandmother thought hard, “but I know it is far from here and at the same time, if the story is true, it might just be everywhere?”

“Well then we must get off the trail and go into the wild,” Vushi thought a loud.
“That’s what I thought,” smiled Grandmother.
“Won’t that be dangerous?’ asked Deena.

“Yes,” answered Vushi calmly, “very. But of the temple is away from the cruelty of war it is far from here and everywhere I know. We must venture into the wilds of the mountains. We must go where sadness knows peace.”

“YES!” Grandmother clapped her hands in delight! “Such a bright Sun we have here! You have done well Deena!”

Vushi expected her mother to beam with pride but instead she looked terrified. Vushi scanned the dark shapes that made the mountains look far and cruel. She did not flinch in fear. “Do not worry Mother. I am Vushi apprentice Mage of Krokos, first in my herd, last on the field. I will see us through the wilds and find this temple. Warning to any who stand in my way!” Vushi filled herself with Power. She glowed with strength. It surged through her veins. She would be invincible.

Or so she thought.

Visions of Moneys

Vushi: Monkey Queen 5

Vushi pushed farther up the mountain. The trees were so thick she couldn’t get her head around where they should go next. Up higher she prayed she could see the land before her and make a plan. She needed a plan. She could not simply keep travelling in various directions on hunches. They didn’t have a lot of time left and so far they had achieved nothing except sore feet. Vushi wished the horse could carry Deena.

Her mother complained the most and then apologized about complaining which was almost as annoying as the complaining. Grandmother seemed at ease. She walked very slowly but never stopped first and never complained. She smiled a lot. When they’d reach a break in the path and had to turn around she’d simply say “like life,” and laugh. Her mother would complain about her feet and, on cue, apologize a moment later and try to limp less.

Vushi had tried to heal Deena’s feet the day before. She warned her mother that this wasn’t her specialty but she’d try, as the woman seemed in such agony. Only Vushi had the tough calloused feet of Magoge training. Vushi held her mother’s feet and whispered the words. She felt her magick surge but wasn’t quite sure if she had done any healing or just given her mother a touch of energy. Her mother leapt up exclaiming how much better her feet felt! She bragged to the Sky about Vushi’s prowess. With a large smile Deena tried very hard not to limp. Vushi noticed and hoped she hadn’t made things worse.

The wind seemed to blow from each and every direction as Vushi reached the balding top. She breathed in the Air. It was nice but wild. Vushi lived in that moment. She loved nature the way some city girls loved jewelry. This was her real magick. She took another breath and decided to try her Voice. She had been listening for clues and reaching out to sense Power. Perhaps here she could send a message. But how?

She had no specific spell for this but then again how could there be a spell to summon a deity, or creature of magick or whatever the Monkey Queen was, when no one knew She existed. Vushi grabbed a little of the rocky dirt at her feet. She held it in her palm. The wind took up speed and swirled around her. Vushi felt her Power and used her Voice, “I am seeking the Monkey Queen. She under and being the mountain. Show me the path. Come to me!” The dirt flew out of her hand….and into her face.

“”Thanks!” she said sarcastically, “that really helps!” she wiped her eyes clean and silently cursed her lousy magick. As she did she noticed a small path to a strange grove of trees. The trees seemed of a different type than the surrounding trees. Maybe her magick had worked? Was this some sacred grove? Could her answers be there? But it was so far way. Her mother would never make it there by nightfall. Vushi would have to make her.

“I have found a path!” she said upon returning. “It is far but I think with a little help we can get there by nightfall.
Deena seemed to pale at the idea of going faster.
“What do you have in mind?” asked Grandmother.
“Magick,” She said simply.

“You can use magick to get us there?” her mother asked incredulously, “why have we not done so before?”
“It is difficult magick,” Vushi tried to explain, “it will be very hard for me BUT I think we can do it. You will feel a bit funny.”
“Funny how?” her mother protected herself.
“Does it matter? I’ve always wanted feel magick again!” Grandmother beamed.
“What about the horse?” Deena always practical asked.
“She will follow at her own pace. I promise.” Vushi knew she could use her Voice on the beast.

Instead of explaining Vushi grabbed both of the women by the hand and took a deep breathe into the Earth. She grabbed energy and immediately felt herself stronger and braver. She then sent that energy to her mother and grandmother. It was exhausting but she could probably hold it up for a few hours and then she’d rest.

Her mother laughed at the new feeling, “is this what you feel like all the time?”
“NO” Vushi said quickly, “and please don’t speak it’ll make it harder to concentrate. Let’s move.” Vushi wasn’t sure if she secretly asked for silence because she didn’t want to hear any more complaining or apologizing.

So silently, hand in hand, the three women crossed the mountainside. Grandmother seemed so pleased. She practically leapt over a log! Deena was a bit more composed but Vushi could tell she was having fun as well. Vushi was not having fun. This was hard work. It was like she was running the course three times. Magickally speaking she was . They covered a lot of land in a few hours. By nightfall the grove was in sight.

As they approached Grandmother yelled, “yes Vushi this seems the place! I remember these leaves!”
“I will make a small fire and cook you something,” Deena smiled as she let go of Vushi’s hand. She tottered as the magick left her. She sat down, “I didn’t realize how tired I was. Oh Hera Vushi!” Vushi looked positively exhausted.
Grandmother grew concerned, “Sleep Vushi. You’ve barely slept this whole time. We shall eat when you wake. And in the morning we shall find the temple!”
“Yes Vushi,” her mother agreed, “I am not that tired!”
Sleeping sounded good to Vushi but she had something to do first, “I must charge some protective stones…”
“Nonsense,” her mother continued, “we are both awake. You nap and we’ll cook you something! Sleep daughter.”

Vushi wanted to argue but the ground seemed so soft. She wanted to wake up and handle everything but her eyes betrayed her and became heavy. She had been using too much magick for to long. Before she could argue she was snoring.

Vushi heard her name in a dream. Someone was calling her. She found herself in a forest not unlike the grove she found. There was a cave. She went into it. The dream cave was wet and warm. Mists seemed to surround and pull her deeper into the unknown. Vushi walked and walked. Part of her wanted to say ‘I mustn’t walk I have used too much magick and must rest,’ but she continued without a word. The mist tendrils were to intriguing and strong.

She came upon a pool of water. It glowed white in the darkness as if the moon were hidden in it. Around the pool were rocks reaching up and down like a giant mouth. Vushi could almost make out faces. As if at any moment the stalactites might become warriors. The water stirred. Out of it came feather…no, not feathers but plumes of some sort. They were large sprays of twig and leaves and perhaps fabric attached to some kind of mask. It was a mask of a monkey and it was worn by naked woman standing knee deep in the water. Her brown skin danced in the white light. Her body was strong and muscular. Her face obscured by the terrifying mask cocked slightly at Vushi’s presence. Dream-Vushi instinctively went down on one knee. A small child laughed. A little Indi girl with long knotted hair came skipping out and danced while laughing.

“Play with me!” she said in a sweet voice. Vushi nodded too intimidated to speak. The girl giggled and skipped round the very confused Vushi singing:
Monkey Queen Monkey Queen
Hiding in the mountain quiet as can be
Monkey Queen Monkey Queen
Never leave your throne but come to me

Vushi looked at the masked figure who too was dancing. She gracefully glided through the water. The little girl laughed and reaching over into the pool splashed her. Vushi thought this was terrible manners and was about to scold the girl when one of the stalactites did in fact become a warrior. She grabbed Vushi’s arm and yelled, “WAKE UP!”

Vushi sat up in the dark. The fire was almost out. In the glowing embers she could see her mother and grandmother’s shapes sleeping on the ground. Food had been placed by her side. Looking around she saw the horse had joined them. She grabbed the meat and tore into it not realizing how hungry she was. She smiled at how thoughtful her family was. She wished they had woken her earlier. She wanted to see if they were all right after a day of magickally walking. That’s when she heard it.

A small break of a stick cracked in the night. Someone was out here. Vushi silently grabbed her staff. She would have to crawl over to the sleeping figures and get them to safety. She wondered if it was a single person or perhaps two. The wilds were known to have burglars bothering people. They frequently worked in groups of two or three, or so she had heard. She’d give them what they wanted, not that they had much, and send them on their way. She could handle this. She could feel eyes on her so she decided to not be sneaky and perhaps scare them away. Perhaps they were just lost travellers?

“MOTHER, GRANDMOTHER WAKE UP!” she shouted, “we have visitors! Show yourself friend! We don’t have much but our fire is warm and we have a little food to share. Do not be afraid.”

Someone laughed as he stepped forward into the light. He was followed by others. Their clothes were ripped and torn and layered upon layered of stolen clothes off the carcasses they had found. Their smiles were toothless and cruel. Their weapons were crude but effective and held by large calloused hands. They were the Scavengers. And Vushi was surrounded.

Vushi Screams

Vushi: Monkey Queen 6

Grandmother and Deena sat up quickly at Vushi’s command. They sensed the danger before their eyes adjusted to the firelight. They were surrounded by a mob of angry dirty scowling vermin. Their hair was matted and piled or scraped completely off. Their teeth were few but their painted mouths showed they didn’t need them to eat you. Their stolen clothes were thick to guard off the cold of the mountain. Deena gasped, “Scavs!”

Vushi took a calculated note of her surroundings. Flight was not an option with Mother and Grandmother in tow. She counted 27 Scavs. Their weapons were crude but quite a few held them correctly and some of those held themselves like they might even know how to use them. A true warrior knows almost immediately if her opponent has any skill at all by the way a weapon is held, a stance, a bend in the knee, a set of the jaw, but mostly by a glimmer in the eye. Not a drunken or youthful or even lustful glimmer of the wanna-be but the slow steady glimmer of confidence and perhaps a bit of joy to see if this foe will test you.

Vushi guessed that a few might be superior to her in skill. As well, she couldn’t take on 27 weapons wielders even if they were accountants. There was too much risk. She had to play this carefully. She remembered Coriander’s teasing. She would have to play stupid and hope the Scavs took their possessions and went on their way.

“You three being alone?” growled the largest man.
“No!” said Deena at the same time Vushi said “Yes.” Deena shot her a look as the Scavs laughed. Vushi knew the Scavs had scouted and already knew that the three women were alone. Lies would make them seem weak.

Vushi continued trying to sound afraid, in truth it wasn’t that hard to do, “we are alone but our friends, companions know where we are. Please take what you need and leave us alone.”

“We’ll take what we want need’in no permission sweet tongued girl!” hissed a filthy woman.

Deena became brave and looked at the large Scav and declared, “you should not stop us! We are protected! We travel..”

“NO!” Vushi used her Voice to yell at Deena. Deena looked around trying to find the source of the command that was only in her head. The Scavs shifted. Vushi silently continued to Grandmother and Deena, “do not tell them I am a Mage. They will kill me at once.” Vushi did not have the time to explain about the recent development of the Scavenger tribes in the north abducting apprentice Magi and selling them in slave caravans. It was too horrible a thought to share. Vushi had heard what terrible things the Scav did to young Magi in order to “stop” them from doing magick. No one was sure if the breaking of bones, removal of tongue or other horrors could actually stop magick but the torture left little of the Mage to concentrate her mind to even the simplest of spells. Vushi shuddered.

Grandmother spoke, “we are protected by the Goddess on a journey to her temple we are! Bad luck and ill news comes to those who stop a pilgrimage to Her holy…”

Now the Scavs cut in, “BAH! Curse to your Goddess! There’s no temple here! There’s nothing but woods and rock! I be thinking you got yerselves lost! And no one be knowing where you went off to or where ya end up! Get them!”

Deena stood with her hands in a placating gesture, “I can show you what we have without the need for violence. I am a simple slave, a kitchen worker nothing more. Allow me to help you to our belongings without wasting your… energy. Here…” She lifted a small bag hidden in her shoe and took out her coin. She handed it to the large man. Then she went over to the horse and started unpacking their supplies.

Vushi was stunned. How was her Mother so calm and helpful in the face of danger? She would never have imagined herself so composed and submissive. Yes submissive. Vushi had forgotten how to be submissive. Her mother was mistress of it. Her slightly cocked head. Her downcast eyes. Her language calm and somehow complimentary. Her manner completely unthreatening. Vushi wasn’t sure if she should be proud of her Mother’s control or break down weeping that life had forced her into this skill set.

Vushi dared to glance at Grandmother. Was she impressed with Deena? Or was she embarrassed? Grandmother was neither; she was starring wide-eyed over Vushi’s head. Someone was approaching. Vushi tried to cower and go limp. It felt so completely wrong for her but her Mother had calmed the Scavs and was almost done “sharing” their belongings. They would soon be on their way. She hoped.

A rough hand came down on her neck. She fought the urge to fight. She couldn’t save her family if she fought. His stubby hand pulled back her braided hair and took in her eyes. Vushi looked away. The man laughed, “a pretty one this?”

“Please now I have one more bag of delicious fruits for you. They will travel well! Come! I know a recipe fit for a king!” Deena forced a smile and crossed to the last bag. The gang’s attention went with her.

The stubby fingered man was about to release Vushi when his eyes saw the coin around her neck. “What’s this then?” he grabbed the token. Vushi instinctively grabbed at the necklace. The man let go and smacked her. Vushi took the hit reminding herself to keep calm. The man smiled a one-toothed smile. He reached down and ripped to necklace from Vushi’s breast. He crouched down and put his face into hers and laughed quietly lecherously, dripping saliva on Vushi’s face, “what else ya got down there?”

Vushi closed her eyes and wondered how far she would have to go in supplication. What would happen to her? How far would she not resist in order to protect her family? She opened her eyes as a staff came blurring over her head and into the man’s face. BAM!

Deena stood stunned as her ancient Mother spun the staff over her head and clobbered the stunned Scav! She reversed her direction and hit the lecherous man between the legs. Another approached as the crone flung the staff end out smashing into the face of the on-coming woman. Grandmother took the staff with her in a turn, and using its momentum, came down on the skull of yet another Scav.

Vushi was not stunned. Her warrior’s training kicked in and she leapt up with ferocity. She came palm-down on a un-ready Scav and de-sworded another with twist of her hip. In moments she held two swords and hadn’t broken a sweat! She Spoke to her Grandmother’s mind, “they are easily scared! Let them run!”

Grandmother laughed as she flung herself onto a group of helpless Scavengers! Vushi went left putting the fire between the two fighters. Grandmother swung and swung. She was transported to another place and time where she was a little girl watching her mother train. Somehow her mother’s mastery, her kata and techniques, had buried themselves deep inside her child’s secret soul like some wonderful legacy. And Grandmother swung again!

But she was not a little girl anymore. She was not a young like the fierce Vushi who fended off 5 at a time over the fire. She was an old woman. Her arms grew heavy. Her reflexes slowed. Her strength ran dry. With a defiant scream she swung at the largest growling man with all her might. It wasn’t enough.

He caught the staff easily. He tore it from her grasp. He smiled. He lifted his sword and ran Grandmother through the belly.

Deena screamed and clawed through the cruel men and woman to her mother’s side. Vushi watched over the flames as Deena took the falling woman in her arms. Vushi swung a sword in circles screaming at the Scavs. She had failed. Her Grandmother was dead. She had failed to find the temple. She had failed her dying wish. She failed her Grandmother. Another person might have succumbed to despair and fallen. Not Vushi. Deena’s sobs gave her renewed strength. She had failed and they would pay the price. Every single Scav would die tonight!

A part of her knew that was impossible. She told that voice to shut up. It reminded her of Coriander’s nagging. She would never see Coriander again. She swung her sword high overhead taking an arm of a stupid Scav with it. What would Coriander say if he saw this? What would he do?

“HOLD MAGE OR WE KILL HER TOO!” screamed the large man. Vushi turned to see her mother at the end of the large man’s sword. She knew she would drop her sword. He had called her Mage. She had fought too well. She knew torment and torture would come soon. She gasped. If Coriander was here he’d help her. He’d kill…he’d kill them all. He had one it before. Could she? Could she use magick to kill? Did she even know how? She couldn’t order around the elements like him. She couldn’t take a deep breath and suddenly have the energy of 30 men like he seemed to do. What could she do? A trickle of blood came from her mother’s neck. Vushi wanted to scream.

So she did.

Silently Vushi sent a blood-curdling scream through her Voice to everything in the grove. Scavs covered their ears and fell. The one closest grabbed her ears as her eyes filled with blood. Vushi screamed louder as another fell into the fire. There in the dimmed flame Vushi saw her Mother also grabbing her ears. She was killing her Mother. Vushi dropped the spell and in the moment of pause, where the remaining Scavengers looked about in confusion, Vushi saw the necklace in the firelight.

She fell to the ground and grabbing the bone-coin she used her Voice once more.

Arrival of the Queen’s Guard

Vushi: Monkey Queen 7

To be honest Vushi did not posses great Faith. The Gods of her Mother were odd and far away. She couldn’t quite grasp them or their epic battles and love inspired destruction. Coriander’s Gods were easier to understand but they too had never truly resonated with the young Mage. It’s not that she didn’t believe. She did. She knew intuitively that she had been Blessed. She saw many others, most others, that were not. Something had made her and Coriander different. And one scan of Magoge and you’d know how very different all the students were. They ranged in abilities and level of skill but also in shapes, sizes and colors. Apparently the Goddess didn’t discriminate by appearance.

Vushi followed the prayers as she was taught and attended temple frequently. She loved nature festivals and at the other more solemn holy days, well, she said all that was required. Sometimes the Gods seemed petty and silly. Other times terrifying and cruel. Vushi often wondered if the gods came to Earth and manifested as people, would she like them? Would they annoy her like so many others or would they be inspiring? Would se believe more fully then? She reminded herself that she did believe. She was in fact Blessed. There was truth to that. So she obeyed not truly understanding the priest’s devotions but going along with it none the less out of gratitude and respect. For Vushi was always thankful.

Deena could scarcely comprehend what was happening. What had that noise been? She had thought her head would explode and then suddenly as it started it stopped. She fell back to the ground her head throbbing. She went back to her dying Mother. Blood was everywhere. Instinctively she tried to clean up the blood. She almost laughed at the reaction here she was a kitchen slave seeing tragedy and so she cleans. She forced herself to look at her Mother. She was no healer but knew the blood had to be stopped. She took a blanket from the sleeping rolls and applied pressure to the wound. Blood seeped through. Deena whispered a prayer. She begged the Gods of any and all to come forth. She called upon her old Gods of healing and the new Gods of magick. Where were they? Magick? Could Vushi fix this? She had been unable to mend Deena’s sore ankle but perhaps she knew battle magick? She barely got her head around how little sense she was making when a new single thought came to her: Vushi. Where was Vushi? She didn’t dare let go of her make-shift bandage. She couldn’t see through all the commotion around her. But she needed to know if Vushi was alive so she screamed, “VUSHI! VUSHI!!!!”

Grandmother heard someone scream “VUSHI!” and her eyes popped open. She was could feel very little. Someone was pushing on her belly and was hurting her. She was close to the fire and wished someone would help her move farther from it. Why couldn’t she move? Someone screamed Vushi again. Vushi? Her granddaughter. Something was very wrong. She looked to her side and saw Vushi diving onto the ground. Had she been hit? Grandmother made a quick prayer to her safety and then saw the girl sit up. She was holding the bone-coin! ‘YES,’ prayed Grandmother “call her” she whispered.

The Scavengers has been pushed back by the psychic affront. They were cautious of the young Mage but more determined than ever to take her as a prize. They looked to Growl. He shook his mighty head free of the last aches from the silent scream. He wasn’t exactly sure how to take this foe. She didn’t seem to cry and beg like the boy had. He liked when they cried. A smile came to his lips. He’d make this one cry too, bags of gold to the dark place! His gang were riddled with fear. They were backing down the mountain. That would not do! He barked orders, “Stay your ground! You fear this whelp? This magick-teated scum? To the dark place with her conjuring!” Then he saw her bring something to her lips and whisper into it, “A SPELL! She’s casting a spell! Turn us into fish! Grab her! Stop her!” and a band terrified Scavs ran forward.

Vushi had never wanted anything as badly as she wanted help right then. She was humbled and scared. This was bigger and worse than anything she had ever imagined. There was no honor for her here. She was lost. How had she been so foolish. So arrogant. For the first time ever Vushi knew how little she knew. She brought the coin to her lips. She was not testing her faith rather having nothing left but faith she prayed. She spoke softly but felt herself grovel before what was truly larger than the scope of her ability to see. Suddenly she knew what no ritual could have ever taught her. Desperation. Faith can be a desperate place. Perhaps that is why she always shunned away from it. She wasn’t afraid now. She was desperate. And it was lovely. She said the poem as quickly as she could as a band of Scavs roared and ran towards her. It didn’t matter if it “worked” she had found the door to somewhere greater and if this was the price then it would be paid.

Monkey Queen Monkey Queen
Hiding in the mountain quiet as can be
Monkey Queen Monkey Queen
Never leave your throne but come to me

As the words left her lips Vushi felt the magick. The hair on the back of neck stood up and wind, from nowhere, blew her hair about. A heat opened up at her back. Vushi did not turn around. She saw the astonished faces of the Scavs and knew she was no longer alone. She stood. Her staff had fallen. She easily reached for it and magickally it came into her hands. She spun it once and stared at Growl.

From the bright light behind her came shadows. They ran to her side. She glanced to her left and right. She was flanked by fourteen warriors. Each woman was strong and tall. Each held weapons unlike any Vushi had ever seen. Their bodies shone elegant and fierce in the magickal doorway’s light. They wore little clothing as if armor was no match for their own tough brown skin. Each wore a mask. The mask, like in the dream, was plumed with fabrics and feathers and pieces of things that looked somehow significant. The masks were monkey shaped.

Vushi’s desperation had shown her a doorway somewhere to some kind of Faith. That there was something beyond her and it was wonderful. A door had also manifested on her plane of existence and warriors had come to her side. Vushi did not fully know if this was divine aid or spell of sorts that portaled these amazing women to a place and time of need. It did not matter if the two were connected.

As Vushi stood with The Monkey Queen’s Guard she had two kinds of Faith. One in something beyond her: a Faith of spirit. The other one was flanking her: a faith that she would seriously kick some Scav butt!

Monkeys vs. Scavs

Vushi: Monkey Queen 8

“Give us the mage-girl and we’ll leave you alone!” bellowed Growl.
No one moved. The warrior women said nothing. Vushi could hear her grandmother’s labored breaths and her own heart pounding. A hundred different replies came to Vushi’s head but she kept her tongue. The Power emanating off these fourteen women needed no sarcastic comeback or flash of bravado. This wasn’t some gang trying to prove themselves or a regiment intimidating an opponent this was absolute confidence. There was no question in Vushi or the Guard that they would dispose of the Scavs in seconds. Which is not to say the underestimated to filthy enemy, more over, they simply knew the truth: they would win.

Some of the Scavs sensed it too. They started slowly backing up. Eyes darted to easy exits and to other scared eyes. ‘They are offering them a chance to run,’ thought Vushi, ‘please take it!’ She was surprised by that thought. When the Guard arrived Vushi felt certain she wanted to retaliate for the recent horrors these Scav, or their brethren, had done. She had tasted the vengeance. But now, she did not see it that way. There was no honor is slaughter for the slaughter. She had begged the Monkey Queen out of desperation to save her Grandmother and Mother. That is what they would do. They were not here for unnecessary violence. Vushi held her staff firmer in the silence. She would be honorable too.

“It’s a trick!” Yelled Growl pointing at the non-moving warriors, “Some spell making us see what ain’t be there! Attack and claim the prize!”
Some of the Scavs inched forward. They cast a glance at one another. Growl did not move but ordered others to, “Attack you maggot teated scum!” He motioned as if to move forward but did not. His comrades how ever rose to the occasion and five of them charged forward to claim the honor of abducting girl-mage. They were not terribly wise.

Vushi tensed her hands at the coming filth but sooner than she could even decide if she should use defensive or offensive movements, there was blur and two of the Scavs were cut belly open wide and bleeding on the ground. A third tripped over their bodies but charged on trying to grapple Vushi. Again with an effortless flick of her wrist the warrior to Vushi’s right flipped her sword in an arc and the man’s neck opened up.

Vushi was sure the remaining Scavengers would run. They always ran. They were lawless cowards. And yet their feet did not betray them. Why were they standing firm? These new brave Scavengers slightly shook Vushi’s resolve. She had seen the Scavs come up against a Kyros-Magis in an attempt to steal a fellow apprentice. More was at stake for these Scavs than usual. Vushi wondered how far this would go. Growl did not move forward. He squared his shoulder to Vushi. He smiled.

“Come with us girl and we’ll let your Mother live!” He laughed. In her confusion Vushi had not seen a Scav go up behind her mother a draw a sword. Deena was far too concerned with her own dying mother to notice her own danger. Vushi did not gasp. She did not let this Scav leader see her fear. What could she say? Should she threaten him? Could she run him off? What if he killed Deena for sport before he left? Could she get to the sword-wielding woman before she struck?

Before Vushi could act or speak, the warrior to her right spoke loudly and yet with out emphasis or cruelty. She simply said, “Be gone or be dead.”

If Vushi had remained calm in the face of fear Growl did the opposite. His eyes popped wide. His mouth dropped. His foot pulled back. Almost in unison, the Scavs moved back. The woman holding a sword over Deena spat, “Hold yer ground! Growl, she be a mage-girl! Time for the Black-teeth to show their merit!”

Growl seemed confused. He stopped retreating, but in the true Scav way he was afraid. He had never faced an enemy in a fair fight. You could see the inner fight in his eyes. He cleared his throat, “I say again give us the mage-girl…” but he said it with so little resolve Vushi almost laughed.

The woman with the sword spat on the ground and turned away. Bu then paused. She seemed to be weighing something. Vushi had a quick moment to assess the situation. Perhaps the Scavs would offer money or promises to the warriors? Perhaps they would finally explain why they were so determined to steal apprentice Magi. Vushi wanted to say something. Ask why or how? The Scav’s shoulders tensed. Faster than a human should move, she lifted her sword and turned to stab Deena through the back.

Her sword did not connect. It was met with the blade of one of the warriors farther down the line to Vushi’s right. She hadn’t even seen her move. Yet there she was, sword in hand, saving Deena’s life.

There was barely a moment to register that her sword had been stopped when the masked warrior returned her blade to the Scav’s ribcage. Silently a group of the Guard advanced upon the terrified Scavs.

The Scavengers were not so silent. They screamed in horror as they ran down the mountain the Guard at their back. Vushi moved forward to pursue the foul Scavs when a hand reached out to her arm. The warrior to her right shook her head no. She then moved her eyes to Grandmother.

Later Vushi would wonder why blood lust had clouded her concern for her grandmother but then and there she was overwhelmed with worry. Grandmother was hardly breathing. She sat across from Deena and both held a hand of the dying woman. A few of the warriors who had not run off came to their side and gently lifted her.

The glowing white light was warm as the women entered the door. A sensation of otherworldliness also accompanied the crossing. Deena shook. She almost registered that it scared her; but she was too intensely concerned with her bleeding mother.

Vushi was able to register the feeling. It did not scare her. It almost felt kind. Familiar? Like when in a dream you somehow know you are home even though the place you can see looks nothing like your home? Vushi felt that kind of peace and confusion as they crossed the threshold and entered the interior of warm wet cave.

They set Grandmother down. Vushi looked at her blinking eyes. Grandmother was trying to hold on. She took a ragged breath and looked at the cave and the masked women. She seemed to smile.

Tears rolled down Vushi’s face. She had done it. She had gotten her Grandmother to the cave. And yet she also knew, she had brought Death with her.

Bringer of Peace

Vushi: Monkey Queen 9

The Guard did not lessen their silent fierceness as they stood watch at the magickal gate. Here was their source of strength and it would not be sullied. Vushi wanted to learn that. These women were absolute warriors. They emanated Power and confidence. Vushi felt small beside them and petty but not in a way that would make one ashamed; more in a way that made one seek to be better. Beholding these magnificent women Vushi knew she could be better. She would be.

Vushi brought her attention back to Grandmother. She was wheezing and her eyes seemed to be trying to focus. Deena had bandaged her during the fight but the blood was not stopping. Vushi was not very good a t healing spells but knew she could probably stop the bleeding. Coriander was better at that but then again he had to be since he was always bleeding. Vushi almost smiled at the memory of Coriander whining she had hit him with a rock again. She knew she would yell ‘that’s the point of the game stupid boy!’ and he would roll his eyes and water the wound.

“Mother, bring me some water I can try a spell…” Vushi whispered. Deena nodded and stood searching the cave for a bucket or some water source. “Never mind,” Vushi realized there was water everywhere in the moist cave. Deena’s eyes grew sad but Vushi calmed her, “I don’t need the water I can do it from the moisture in the Air…I think.” Vushi made a silent vow to get better at healing spells. She called upon the Water in the room. A slight dampness came to her hand. She tried harder. She strained. A small pool gathered in her palm. She was so happy she almost threw it on the air. Instead she placed in on her Grandmother’s belly. She mumbled the words that had been drilled into her and tried to visualize the blood, muscle and flesh healing. That was the tricky part. Vushi could see a map and plan a perfect battle strategy but pretending to imagine the idea of muscles repairing was lost on her.

She felt a small sensation and the bleeding stopped. Deena gasped and kissed Vushi on the forehead, “Blessed be!” Vushi suddenly noticed a lot of the Guard staring at her. One’s mouth was actually hanging open. Vushi should have felt powerful and awe-worthy but instead felt foolish she smiled and apologized in a mutter, “I didn’t do it very well…..”

The lady, who was obviously the leader, laughed, “I would like to see your idea of doing something well! Send for the healer!” She ordered to someone who ran off. “I am Yashar well met Vushi, warrior, Mage and progeny of your namesake.” Yashar was interrupted by a returning scout who appeared through the portal and bowed her head. Yashar spoke with an efficiency Vushi respected, “report sister.”

The scout returned the curt manner, “Our numbers remain. Seven lie dead. Few more are wounded. They are a strong people it is hard to tell. The man they call Growl has escaped our grasp. He seems to be Blessed with some Nature skill of some sort.”

“NO WAY” Vushi blurted out before she thought about it.
“Yes?” Yashar questioned.
“…well, sorry but no way,” Vushi wished she had kept her mouth shut but knew she had to explain herself. “I cannot believe that She would Bless any of those horrible barely human Scavs. I think he just got away…..”
“And does the storm not grow fierce and kill? Does Fire not turn upon Itself?” Yashar was not scolding but Vushi felt foolish…again. “The eyes of hatred see very little Vushi. She even Blesses the monsters that hide in the dark parts of the world. It is unwise to say to know the ways of She.”

“Forgiveness,” Vushi said and bowed her head.
“None needed. We are aware of your feuding,” Yashar smiled. “Is that all Commander?” The scout nodded. “Very well. Prepare mourning rites for our foes. And please close the door.”

The scout and another woman turned and held their hands to the magickal door. It slowly dimmed. Deena looked concerned, “How will we get out?’ she whispered.

Yashar laughed, “I do not think you would like to return there? When the time allows we shall return you somewhere closer to your home. Or would you prefer more walking Deena of Pedia-omo?” Deena silently shook her head. Vushi tried to not laugh.

Vushi quietly asked, “You have been watching us?”
“For a very long time.” Yashar continued, “you have many questions. But here is the healer let us see to your Grandmother.”

An old woman carrying tons of small pouches and bags ran over, well as fast as an old woman carrying tons of bags and pouches could run. She gently pushed Vushi away and knelt by the woman. “Blood magick ?” she eyed Vushi.
Vushi gasped, “no just a healing spell I think I don’t know if I did it right….” The woman silenced her with a palm.

Vushi went to the opposite side of her Grandmother and placed an arm around Deena. She knew this wasn’t the time but had to ask, “I am named for your Grandmother?”
“Yes,” croaked Grandmother, “I wished it so.”
“Will she live?” Vushi said too loudly. The healer looked to her and then at Yashar and then back to the patient and shook her head.

Deena started to cry.
“Enough of that!” Grandmother ordered with a grin, “I will see you smile if it is the last time I see you.” Deena smiled at the kind words. “I love you so very much!”
“I love you too.”
“ I love you also Grandmother,” Vushi spat out childishly. Both of her elders laughed a bit.

“Is there no spell? No Source? Can the Monkey Queen not help her?” Vushi continued through tears.
“Shhh” Grandmother silenced her, “there is much to do and little of it has to do with an old woman dying! And dying like a warrior! Ahh Mother would be proud of this death.” She laughed and coughed up blood. Her face scrunched up in pain.

“I can give you something for the pain,” sighed the healer.
“No.” said Grandmother sharply. “I do not go like babbling fool.”
“But here is much pain..” the healer dared to disagree, “and it will not come quickly though it comes.”

Yashar put a gentle hand on the healer, who stood, “she should not be moved inside. There is little we can do.”
“But here is more she can do,” Yashar turned to Vushi, “isn’t that right?”
“I cannot!” Vushi gasped.
“Do what?” Deena demanded.
Vushi coughed on the words, “She wishes me to…to…end Grandmother’s suffering.”
“No.” Deena snapped, “She is a child!”

That was all you had to say to Vushi to get her to do something. She almost yelled at her mother but did not. She almost told Yashar what she could do with her sword but she did not. Instead she turned to her Grandmother and understood.

“Child,” her Grandmother said softly “I do not wish you to grieve! I do not wish you to do something you will hate!!!”
“No Grandmother I won’t,” Vushi smiled through her tears, “I have stories and secrets. I do not know how but I am a friend to Death. And she is sweet. She tastes of the ripest fruit. And honey. And spring winds. Once in times past She was always kind. It is we who corrupted Her. Fouled Her love. For Grandmother She is also The Great She who blesses and gives life to all. So she too must fetch it. Go be with Her in joy and peace. It is peace I grant you. Come Goddess and grant peace to this lovely woman I love. I say it thrice.”
Grandmother’s eyes started to glaze over. A smile covered her face. She looked at Vushi and whispered, “you are my light! My very Sun!”

“And you were my moon…” Vushi whispered back as she and Death kissed Grandmother.

Mage-girl

Vushi: Monkey Queen 10

The Moon had set. All was quiet. Even the nocturnal animals could not be heard scampering, leaping or flying about. In this still darkness a figure emerged. It seemed the shadow came out of the trunk of a large tree. It scanned the area and sniffed for foes. Nothing. The warrior women were gone. He sighed in relief. Slowly he returned to the battle scene. Seven lie dead. Growl fought back tears and anguish at his fallen comrades. Those three travellers should have been easy prey.

They like all of them should die. The pampered and populace, with their festivals and waste, treated his people as scum. ‘Perhaps we have become scum,’ Growl thought, ‘maybe that’s all the better.’ His friends should not have died this night. But they had and all from that mage-girl. Growl hated magick. He, like all Scavs, had innate abilities but they did not consider this magick. They could hide, almost disappear, in any shadow, or some, like Growl, could conceal themselves in a tree or bush but this was not magick. It was simply their way. They did no spells nor studied for any abilities, things happened because they were powerful not from any Goddess or Blessing or such nonsense. No Scav worth their grunt would ever consider practicing magick that was for the foul Etruskis and their magi.

And now his people were slain and more had run away injured and possibly dying from those magickal warriors. How had they arrived? What was that light they came through? ‘That child,’ he remembered. She called those oddly masked women! She was the key. Growl wanted to howl in the wild and claim his vengeance! That mage-girl would pay for this! He would kill her for the lives his tribe lost, these and other brought on by the cruel Etruskis. No he would use her to open that door again and slaughter those warriors. He rethought that last sentence. Scav were not particularly known for straight forward attacks or ambushes were victory wasn’t certain. No his people were trickier. Scav knew he’d never get his kin to attack an army. But that mage-girl? They’d attack her. “Vushi.” She said aloud. He knew her name. He also clearly knew she was Indi. He has never seen or heard of an Indi mage. How easy it would be to ask the right people a few questions. There were only a few options to where a child like that might train.

Growl smiled at the possibilities. His own mage slave perhaps? Take her for a wife? Would they beget magickal children with Scavengers’ power? Would that violate his disgust of magick if it were his own children? Would the ancients scowl? Could he have magickal blood in his heirs? How powerful he’d be then!

Growl quickly hit himself in the chest. He grabbed a handful of dirt and ate it. He gazed at the hundreds of eyes peering down at him in the darkness. He swore an apology of an oath. How tainted he was! How the magick and magi tortured him. How they clouded his usually stoic head and made him take them. They made him want them. They created lust in his normally tempered soul. He sought their power in a way he did not understand. He should never have killed that mage-boy . The clan would not be in this mess if he hadn’t.

He could not kill her and could not take her. A debt remained. His clan would have to sell the girl to relieve the debt that hung over all their heads. Would the tyrant king want a mage-girl? Perhaps she’d be worth more. Yes she certainly would be worth more, maybe even double. And where there was one mage-student there’d be more! Why hadn’t he thought of this before?

Instead of waiting for Luck and Chance to bring the mage-gift to them the Scavs would take them! Bring the fight to the city itself. But how? How to get his shy kin to go along with such a bold move? Riches alone would not move them to attack…unless victory was obvious. Growl’s mind raced with plans, options and possibilities.

He smiled in the night. He would have work to do. He would have to plan carefully. He would risk his place in his clan and all he had to his name to make this work. But the rewards? Riches beyond compare and a life free of the cruel magi.

Growl moved over to the fallen bodies and started to raid their pockets and pouches. He would not defile their bodies. He’d let his brothers do that. He could only carry so much anyway. He look din the dead eyes of his clan. She still held the sword in her hand. Growl cried. He wept onto her face. He was sick of his people dying. Sick of being slaughtered, and so easily, for simply trying to live. His tears mixed in with the blood on her dead face. It swirled into a pattern. It looked like magick. Growl took it as a sign. He would fight tooth with tooth and claw with claw. He would fight magick with magick.

He imagined his sons and daughters wielding the elements and taking down the cities that oppressed them. The fear of magick would be over run by the promise of Power. Growl would single handedly change the fate of his wretched people. He would find all he could about the magi. He would take to the city itself and abduct a mage-boy to satisfy the debt to the tyrant king and then he would lead his people to prosperity. And not riches at the whim of some king in a foreign land but wealth they conquered for themselves! And that young Indi-mage-girl was the key.

Deep in the cavern Deena and Vushi lowered Grandmother into a pool of still water. Vushi wept with abandon. She had lost something she had never gained. Painfully aware that she had learned the value of family too late, yet she also knew she had brought her grandmother peace. It was a contradiction and was not. Vushi’s mind would have exploded with more emotions than she had previously thought possible, but the over all sadness weighed everything down. Greif tethered all selfish emotions to the grave. Vushi was simply a child lost in despair for her loss. She did not yet know that she was to be the key in a war unlike the word had ever seen.

Tribe and Tribulations

Vushi: Monkey Queen 11

“But I want to stay!” Vushi, almost childishly, yelled. She almost pouted but stopped herself. Yashar smiled widely at the young woman. He wanted Vushi to stay as well. She wanted to try and learn her magickal skills and understand the powerful aura that surrounded and protected her. She was, in truth, mesmerized by Vushi and knew Vushi would and could learn so much from Yashar’s tribe in return. She almost let her stay. Almost.

“This is not the place for you,” Yashar gently added, “…yet. Perhaps in the future, unknown to even our gazers, we will meet again and then we will learn from one another. This is not that time.”

Vushi had no idea what she could possibly teach these women but knew better than to argue. She quietly added,” I would like that.”
“I would LOVE that!” Yashar laughed, “but you have much to learn still. Your training is excellent but incomplete. Please do not think we do not honor your spirit.”

After the funeral rites for Grandmother, Vushi, Deena and the tribe of the Monkey Queen prayed for the lives lost. ‘We’re praying for Scavs!’ Vushi thought in disgust. As seven sticks were brought forth, one representing each Scav lost, prayers of peace were offered and then the sticks were set in the pool where they had just lowered her Grandmother. As the sticks sunk, which itself was odd to Vushi, she couldn’t help but wish they had used another pool of water and not the one her sweet Grandmother had been laid to rest in.

She knew somewhere in the back of her mind she was being unkind or disrespectful somehow, but most of her hated Scavs and wish they had needed more sticks.

A gentle hand touched her shoulder. The healer gave her a scolding look as if she could read her thoughts. Vushi quickly realized she had probably been rolling her eyes and huffing as she was never one to false her face. So as not to disturb the rites further she whispered, “sorry.”

“If you could perform great healing spells,” the old healers questioned, “would you use them on your enemy?”
“No.” Vushi responded too quickly.
“Hmmm,” smiled the sage, “that is probably why you do not posses them.”
Vushi kept her voice low but couldn’t let her point drop, “I feel fake. Pretending to mourn for those that tried to kill me.”
“Then do not pretend.” The healer ignored Vushi’s eye roll and continued, “is all life not sacred?”
“…yes but..” Vushi was interrupted.

“Then all life is sacred.” The healer pointed at the sticks, “all life. Not some or those we like or that look like us. All life. Perhaps you pray that they find the peace in death they could not find in life. Perhaps you mourn that you could not be friends rather than enemies and no life would be spilt.”

Vushi paused. She didn’t want to argue with the woman that had tried to save her Grandmother, but she simply could not see things that way. She wondered how she did see things. How she actually felt as opposed to how her training told her she should feel. She looked inside herself. “I do, a small part of me, feels bad that they had to die. But a bigger part of me thinks they deserved it and another part kind of likes that I won. What does that mean?” Vushi felt a quick flash of shame, which she didn’t understand.

The healer smiled, “who says they didn’t deserve it? Part of knowing life is sacred is to protect your own. And who says you may not feel good that you won a fight? No warrior I know. And yes, I too feel bad they had to die. This is not a contradiction. Perhaps it is hope? Perhaps it is the way.”

At that moment Vushi knew she had t stay. She must learn from these amazing warriors! For the first time in forever she felt like she had a people. Certainly she had friends at Magoge and loved Coriander, but she was different than they. She had always felt a bit removed. She had chalked it up to being a former slave or her Indi heritage or, to be honest, her uncanny need to out do everyone. But here now in this cave she knew it was more. She was a part of something much greater than she and yet being apart of it made her great. Had she found her tribe?

Vushi asked, begged, demanded and screamed to be able to stay. She was denied. Finally the kind words of Yashar quelled her passion and Vushi saw reason. She was not yet ready. He training at Magoge was in fact incomplete. She had more to learn. She would learn it and bring her might and skill tot this tribe and be better for it. She had a goal now. To make herself better so her tribe would be better so the world would be better. She threw her arms around Yashar, “We will meet again. And I will be a mighty warrior and bow to you to learn again.”

Yashar clamped her arms around Vushi. Her eyes sparkled. He grasped Vushi lovingly around the neck, “I will miss you Vushi. Sacred will be your name to us. Until we cross! ”

Vushi stood and hugged her Mother, “Are you ready mother?”
Deena could not have been happier about getting out of that cave. She was surrounded by strange women and unusual behavior, it had taken a lot of talking to allow her let her mother be drowned! Still they women were kind and the meal they prepared exquisite but all Deena wanted now was her bed and nice glass of warm milk and time to think about her lost mother. Deena hid her anxious face well, “Oh must we already?”

A group of warriors laughed politely. Deena’s uncomfortableness obviously had not gone unnoticed. Yashar gave her small hug. Two guards barked some orders in some unknown language and Yashar made a wild hand gesture. Light came. Another portal opened.

“WAIT!” Deena cried, “what about the horse? Master Alexi’s old horse! We cannot return without him!”
Vushi rolled her eyes pretty sure Alexi didn’t even know the horse was missing but also knew the horse was far from home. Before she could ask aloud, Yashar spoke kindly, “he is almost at your home already.”

“You portalled a horse?” Vushi said open mouthed.
The warriors giggled. Yashar smiled, “no, one of our riders took him. The door is open you must cross now. Be well Deena. Walk in Love Vushi.”

“You too.” Smiled Vushi, “goodbye…” Vushi threw herself to one knee and bowed quickly not knowing why, then added, “…Monkey Queen.”

Deena screamed in confusion for the entire two seconds it took to portal. Vushi enjoyed it. Lights and colors swept past them. The skin on their faces pulled back with the speed of a hundred horses running. Vushi reached out and held her Mothers hand. No sooner had she grabbed it and they were out. Standing on a hill over looking Pedia-omo. They sun was low but they had plenty of time to reach home. Their horse was waiting for them as well. Vushi laughed at the efficiency and wonderment of her new tribe.

Deena’s eyes gazed in amazement and she pointed at Vushi’s neck, “a Blessing! A Blessing!”

Vushi reached to her neck and realized she was wearing a necklace. It was a simple piece of leather with small coin hanging at the bottom. The token was made of bone.

Who You Become
Vushi: Monkey Queen 12

Vushi couldn’t wait any longer. Coriander and Alexi were late. The entire house was nervous. Coriander’s Mother would not send out messengers. She insisted all was well and negotiations like this take time. However, Vushi noticed, she looked to the road every dew seconds. Vushi had decided to take a horse and find out what was going on.

The mothers asked her to stay. They were worried about her alone on the road. Vushi tried very hard not to roll her eyes. She took no provisions and promised to be back well before the Sun slept. She would go over the hills and see if, with her enhanced vision spell, she could find them. She ignored more advice and sped the horse on. She knew secretly Coriander’s Mother was happy about her going and simply protested because Deena did. Vushi was almost glad her Mother was back to mothering and not sad over the loss of Grandmother. Almost.

Up the hills she flew as fast as the beast could run. Vushi hadn’t realized how much she needed this. To be alone and in the wind instead of around meddling mothers and concern friends. Her mind raced with the previous events and realizations. She hadn’t had free moment to register all that transpired. Her mind raced faster than the horse. She smiled knowing only one person would understand her. She wondered if her anxiety about Coriander was less about his safety and more about her need to tell someone about her adventure. To give it frame and context. To share.

She crossed the highest point. She didn’t need her spell. Just down the hill she saw them. She rushed her horse down the hilly terrain, smiling. As she approached her happiness turned to anger. They were eating. They were having a picnic! Vushi leapt off her horse in a fury, “you are EATING?! The entire house is UPSET and NERVOUS Giants ate you and you are EATING! HAVING A PICNIC?!?!?! You are two days late you have a picnic!!!!” Vushi moved her furious gaze off of Coriander and looked to Alexi, “forgive my temper Alexi I mean no disrespect to you,” she then turned back to Coriander, “A PICNIC!!!!??!?!?!!”

“We were hungry?” Coriander shrugged his shoulders. “Want some? It’s giant cheese!”
“It’s what?” Vushi wasn’t sure if she had heard him correctly.
“The Giants,” Coriander knew there was no way out of this so he just made fun, “the big tall folk who live yonder? They make cheese. It’s pretty good but I think their hands might be too big for the fine delicate cheese stirring motions you are so famous for.” Vushi turned red.

Alexi stood trying not to laugh, “forgive us Vushi. We wanted a final moment to share our adventures but yes you are correct. We should have come straight away and not worry anyone. I’ll go now. You two stay and… have giant cheese.. or what evr it is you two do…” Alexi winked and mounted his horse. Now Coriander turned red. Everyone always thought he and Vushi were together romantically. They were not. They were friend, end-friends but just friends.

Coriander held up a piece of cheese, “I told you I’d bring you back something gianty! Here try it.” Vushi was still angry but the words of Alexi had curbed some of that emotion. She understood wanting alone time to get your head around an adventure before everyone started in with questions. That is after all why she had come. She reached her hand down and took a piece of the cheese. It was sweet.

Tears flooded her eyes. Coriander felt bad, “I’m sorry Vushi. I didn’t mean to make you upset. I am fine. I just wanted a moment with my Father..”
Vushi shook her head. She swallowed the cheese and cleared her voice, “Grandmother is dead.”

Coriander paused. “I figured,” Coriander reached a hand up to his friend. She took it and sat down. “Father knew too. He felt it was the least he could do for all the help you’ve given me at Magoge.

“I’ve given you?’ Vushi laughed knowing well that Coriander had saved her as many time as she saved him. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Well you mother told me not to,” Coriander smiled sweetly, “and I didn’t want to get punched in the arm!”
“I might still punch you!” Vushi said unthreateningly. “Coriander it was beautiful.”

A quiet moment passed an Coriander, not sure if it was appropriate asked, “what was she like? Your Grandmother?”
Vushi laughed, “she was older than anyone we have ever seen and she was strong and fierce and sweet. I wish I had known her better.”

“It must be hard to lose family” Coriander whispered thinking how he would feel if he lost his Father, Mother or sisters.
“That’s just it,” Vushi searched for words, “I didn’t lose her. It’s like I gained her. I found her just in time. And I found a whole bunch of other people…my people.” Vushi hugged him not weeping but needed comfort in her confusion.

Coriander held her not actually know what she meant. He didn’t have to. HE whispered, “it sounds like a sweet trip.”

Vushi jumped back laughing, “Are you eating berries out of season? It was anything but sweet! We were attacked by Scavs!”
“NO!”
“Yes!’ Vushi almost gloated, “and I called the Monkey Queen a second time the first time were lost in the woods and she showed me her sacred grove! And then a portal opened! “
“You met the Monkey Queen!” Coriander’s mouth almost hit the dirt.

“No,” Vushi smiled, “I met her Guard. They are awesome warriors! They welcomed me and were so brave!!! I have so much to tell you. But what of you? Was your trip sweet?”

“Sweet?” Coriander laughed. He didn’t want to be competitive with Vushi but he had to share! “I got thrown in a pit to fight to the death with a giant boy!”
“You fought a giant?!?!’ Vushi gasped.
“Sort of,” Coriander didn’t mind embellishing but couldn’t lie to Vushi. “we started to battle but then we became friends.”

“Only you would be friends with a giant!” Vushi laughed.
“They are actually really nice! And they hate slavery!” Coriander knew that would score points.
”Really?’ Vushi was surprised. She had only heard the very worst of giants.
“Yes!” Coriander laughed, “I told Cly all about you! You should come with me over the Solstice! We’re going to celebrate the agreement he and I made for fair trade routes.”

Vushi scrunched up her face, “now you are teasing me!”
“On graves on stones!” Coriander bit his thumb.

Vushi was taken back. She sat in disbelief at her friend. The she shook her head wondering why she would ever disbelieve anything about Coriander.

Coriander didn’t let his excitement drop, “So you battled Scavs and I battled giants! You got close to your Grandmother and I got close to my Father. You found a warrior race and I have been made part of a secret military society! It’s like we had the same trip!”

They both laughed. Vushi ate more of the sweet cheese and watched the wind sweeping the grassy hills around her. Coriander watched a cloud race over the blue sky.

Silently they both knew their trips had been very different. Could Coriander explain to Vushi about his new relationship with his Father or his new fighting style? Would he even show her? She would think it ignoble. Or how the trip had changed him? What could he share? Everything? Nothing?

Vushi could never truly explain what her grandmother had come to represent. She would tell Coriander of her great-grandmother. He would like that story. But of the Monkey Queen? Was that her story to tell? Would she reveal her bone-enchanted necklace? Could she even explain to him the significance of having found her people?

They had secrets now. Was this truly the first step to adult-hood? Would they grow further and forever estranged?

The journey started like most family trips, but it had ended very differently. Time had passed in a measure of days but more than that had transpired. The two best friends were now older in ways they were not even aware of. The Sun peered down getting closer to the horizon. They should get going both thought. But they did not. Coriander silently reached out to Vushi’s hand and held it. Vushi leaned back touching Coriander’s shoulder with her own. Leaning on one another both came to know a peace that only friendship forged. Perhaps they did not have secrets. Perhaps in the silence they exchanged was an understanding. Perhaps friendship was not about who had done what and learned what or became what; perhaps it was about loving the person no matter who they became.

Vushi and Coriander had no problem doing just that.