He was an old man, and I would have paid him no notice at all except for the children. Two of them: a young girl and a young boy, he with long copper-bound cables and she with black hair clipped short. The boy had been at mischief that day, winning feathers and glittering pebbles from his friends with the shell game. It was an old trick, but it was still a joy to see it played by someone who thought it bright and new.
And so I watched the boy, and when his--father? No, surely grandfather, with that graying hair and thin wisp of beard--coaxed him and his sister onto the roof after sunfall, I followed, curious. I have always liked grandparents. They are patient with children's games and follies, more likely to reward and less to punish. I wish I had one. (I have the Maelstrom, of course, but it does not dote.)
There was a leather cylinder on the roof, propped up on a tripod of wave-washed wood, pointed at the sky.
"Is this what you've been working on, grandfather?" the girl asked, very polite.
The boy picked his nose and then reached forward to touch the device. The man slapped his hand away.
"Yes, Hawelan. Come and see." He gestured her forward with a sniff at the boy. I changed my mind. I was happier without grandparents like him.
But I went forward when she did, and peered through her eyes.
Black. Black, and blurred. The shell game had been more amusing. I started to pull away, and then the old man twisted something, and the vision snapped into focus: planets.
Oh, not planets as I knew them, glittering globes that spun and swirled with colors mortal eyes could not see and tasted of elements unknown. Just tiny, blinking stars. But I knew my playmates when I saw them.
"They are planets," the old man said, echoing my thoughts. "I've been watching them. Here, you look, too." He gestured the boy forward, not even making him wipe his fingers. It would have made me charitable toward him again, if he had not continued speaking. "They have smaller planets around them. Moons, I think, like ours. I have been charting them, counting how they turn. No one else has done this. No one else has seen them." He spoke with quiet pride, describing the charts he had drawn, the tables he had filled. He spoke like the moons of other worlds were his.
But they were not. They were mine, my friends, my toys. Beautiful, unpredictable. They did not deserve to be trapped in dusty paper scrolls, their behavior reduced to equations.
In a sudden rage, I jolted the boy's arm. He jerked, and the device went flying, the glass fragmented into a thousand pieces.
It had not been kind of me. The boy would take the brunt of it. But he had been a mischievous child, earlier in the day, and mischievous children deserve punishment even when I love them for it. If the punishment was not for the right crime, well. Children seldom think it is.
While they stood shouting beside the shattered lenses, I took to the sky.
It had been the sixth planet they were looking at, a beautiful ball of gas, all soothing yellows and greens. The mortals thought it was the fourth, of course. They could not see the other two planets, small and cold as they were. Mortals were blind.
Well, the other two were not my concern today. They were safe in their anonymity. It was the moons of the sixth planet I needed to rescue.
One came eagerly to my hand, hot with volcanic energy, ready to spin and burst and spin some more. It was tired of looping the sixth planet, had seen all it cared to see of its swirling gas. It wanted to know more of the universe. Could it have its own sun to circle, not a borrowed sun like here? Could it, maybe, have its own life?
I laughed and tossed it hand to hand as though it were too hot to hold. I could not feel heat, but I enjoyed the game.
"Greedy moon," I told it. I have always loved pushy, greedy children, the ones who want the most from life. Yes, I would find it its own sun.
The other was more timid. It was a cold moon, nothing but layers of ice and snow wrapped around a tiny earthen core. Could it survive, away from the planet that was its father, mother, lover all in one? Or would it melt away? It did not want to lose itself, to be reduced to its core.
I petted it, promised to keep it safe, and added it to my juggling. Then I took them far away from grasping mortal eyes.
“Sieh,” said Itempas.
I jerked away from the mortal game I had been contemplating to the unwelcome sight of his frown. Frantically, I thought through all the tricks I had played lately. Which of my siblings had tattled?
“Yes, Tempa?” I asked, widening my eyes to their most innocent. My hands twitched, folding themselves behind my back, though I had nothing to hide. (Not in my hands, anyway. Maybe in my sleeves.)
“Where have you put the moons?”
“Moons?” I stared at him blankly for a moment. “Oh. Um. The ones from the sixth planet?”
“Yes.” His stern expression did not waver.
“I just took them to play with,” I said, aiming to sound injured. It came out petulant instead.
“Put them back.”
“I take planets and moons all the time! No one has minded before!” Definitely a whine, there. I tried to cut it back. Naha was amused by whining and Enefa simply ignored it, but Tempa would be angered.
“You may take other moons,” he allowed, though he grimaced to say it. “But not those. Put them back.”
“But why? The mortals were staring at them. Counting them. Charting them.”
“As they should be.”
“The moons didn’t like it!” (Well, I hadn’t liked it. I didn’t know if the moons had cared. But they had gone willingly.)
“Those moons were there so that the mortals could study them. There is order to the universe, patterns. It is important that the mortals see and understand that.” So they could worship him, he meant, but he didn’t say so. That was Tempa, assuming worship as his due. “Which they cannot do if you move things about at random. Sieh. Put the moons back.”
I sulked, not that it had any effect. “Does it have to be those moons?” I finally asked. “Can’t I put other moons there? I promised them they could go somewhere else.”
Itempas sighed. “It can be other moons,” he allowed. Promises were sacred to him, after all. “But they must be the same size, the same shape, the same patterns. Exactly as before. And you must do it now.”
“But--” I pointed at the game I had been watching.
“Now, Sieh.” He did not wait for an answer, but simply disappeared.
Well, it was as much of a concession as I had expected from Tempa.
The colder moon pulsed inside my sleeve. It would not mind going back, it whispered. It had not been so very unhappy there. Though it did like playing with me.
“No,” I told it. “You’re mine, now. The stupid mortals can’t have you.”
The children would have to play without my blessing. I went to find the sixth planet new moons.