On the first day of free, her true love gave to her a key for her chains.
On the second day of free, her true love gave to her a river of light to feed the land. No. She gave her herself, and needed help. Rescue flowed two ways.
On the third day of free, her true love gave to her a silver sword with a blade of flame, a task to fulfill and faith. Belief. Steadfast. Fast in her stead that she could complete the task.
On the fourth day of free, her true love gave to her frustration, struggle, battle and wait as her true love loved another as hard as winter rock.
On the fifth day of free, her true love gave to her rain. Rain on the longing earth. Water debt washed away. Winter rock unlocked. She gave her true love’s heart taken back of her husband. Returned to him his heart in turn and turned to Erin whole heart.
On the sixth day of free, her true love gave to her a journey. Five journeys then and her hand through them all.
On the seventh day of free, her true love gave to her the sea. The sea. Water and waves. Seven ships for sailing. The heron above and they sailed.
On the eighth day of free, her true love gave to her a home. A city of glass and steel. Walls. Floors. Ceilings. Stairs between. Space. Rooms. Her room. Hers.
On the ninth day of free, her true love gave to her maidens in a crown for her dreams. Perhaps they gave themselves. Whispered, “Wait.” “Wait.” “Wait.” But she already knew all there was to know of waiting. “Soon.” “Soon.” “Soon.”
On the tenth day of free, her true love gave to her ten crises a day. Feet corridors ran. Valves turned. Hearts beat. Adrenalin churned. Teeth set. Breath sighed. Muscles pushed. Go-go-go as knowledge almost too late. Yes-yes-yes. Slumped on the floor and made ready for the morrow.
On the eleventh day of free, her true love gave to her eleven songs from the sky. The song of her youth when she was a slave. The song of her blush. Of the journey. Of the sea of dust. Of the meeting in the dark. Of family. Of the flame that burned away shadow. Of the city of glass. Of the shadow, her shadow, herself. Of the pearl of the soul of the world. Of love. Long last. Love.
On the twelfth day of free, her true love gave to her a cloth slow spun of love. Crises. Crown. Home. Sea. Hand. Heart-whole. Struggle. Faith. Need. Free.
Her true love gave to her, and she gave back seven fold. For so was her heart. Unfolded. Free.
Erin-Black-As-Night dreamed then in the pitch of sleep that she was a clay urn such as they had in the storage houses of Zambul. Dusty. Fine blue-gray dust from the dry fields settled upon her arms. On her surface of clay painted with looped bridal marks. White lines traced on her skin. She knew what the lines meant. She longed then, in her sleep, she longed for the cool water. For the rain to fall. For the rich dark wine of the fields. The fields that she did not tend. For the rich slick oil of the trees that she did not keep.
She called out to the sky. She cried out. She dreamed then that the cool rain fell full upon her face. Fell upon the land. Upon the clay shape of her. Washed away the dust. She dreamed that Ariel dipped a hand into her mouth and drank of the water. Her water. Cool. To be refreshed and Erin-Black-As-Night felt. She felt the earth shudder at the fall of the first rain.
She blinked her eyes open. Her heart pounded as a hummingswift’s may do as it sips from the hornflower high on the air thin hills. She’d had reason to see those flowers. Free. To sail a sea of water as well as sand and feel the surge. She blinked her eyes open and saw Ariel upon the bed beside her. In that moment, the longed for still unexpected to be seen. Still. There. The crown of maidens at Ariel’s brow. Each maiden mote did not burn. They whispered to Erin. To Ariel.
As Erin blinked, Ariel opened her eyes. Saw her and did not look away. That time had passed.
Erin reached out with calloused fingers. Rough from the labors of her days. Deeds in her fingertips. She carried deeds now. Deeds of many daymonths.
She touched Ariel’s cheek. Smoothed the flesh that Ravenna had made and in a rush, Erin’s heart squeezed to remember that long ago journey. She traced the line of that journey in the curve of Ariel’s cheek.
Erin kissed her then. Lips to her lips. Shadow to the pale as in the window, Solstar passed Oceanus in the arc of the sky. Kissed the kisses of time and care.
Ariel whispered into her lips, “We have work to do.”
They did. The daymonth progressed as the one before it and the one before that. All the world in balance.
Erin leaned chapped lips with edges of skin to lips supple smooth. Ever unchanged as Ariel ever was. Like a Lon Ariel was. Like a sfinx. Like the flame that fed from the fruit. Erin opened her dry lips. Ariel drank of them. Short quick sips. Teeth that pulled at Erin’s lower lip. Darted sips of tongue as the hummingswift’s do from the hornflower high on the hills as the Solstar worked to its rest. Ariel whispered, “We have to get up.” The pads of her fingers brushed smooth as soul’s flutter on Erin’s upper arms. The stars in Ariel’s crown slid down and spun skeins of joy on their skin. The air of their chamber perfumed with sweat and pearl dust.
The maidens who were the crown whispered. They had tasks too.
Erin sipped again. She murmured, Ariel murmured, the maidens murmured, “We should get up.”
The work of the day and the Solstar in the sky.
Erin sighed and rolled from the bed. She put on the trousers and tunic that Ariel had spun for her of duty. Ariel had woven her a dress of desire, a cloak of love, but duty sometimes had better padding at the knees.
Ariel sighed and put on her own sturdy fabric. Around them, the city of NuRavenna woke.
NuRavenna was not an empty city. The glass walls and metal tubes of it called out across the world. Any could answer. The freed. The free. The hunters and the sailors. The farmers and the laborers. The students and the seekers.
Any could come. The doors of the city were wide open on their hinges of glass. There had been bandits once. Ariel fed them honeywine and read their future in the tracing of a maiden star. This future included Erin-Black-As-Night. Erin-Flame-Sword-Wielder. The bandits thanked them for the hospitality and left to go their own way.
Somewhere in a high mountain kingdom, a king sat on his throne of high rock. Done with his briefly tears. Somewhere, queens and suzerains set the laws. They, the rulers, they sometimes visited. They did not stay.
This city was then for the people who got up in the morning and set in motion the gears. Who set to fruit the fields. To turn the machine of the world. The people who submerged in their tasks. Who worked in the mud to the common rhythm when the food must come in or the fire be kept to burn.
The Solstar shone through it all. No shadow did Ariel cast. Burned away these long many daymonths and years ago. Erin was the shadow. She cast in front of Ariel. Her feet drove her forward. Ran her steps. Erin had wielded a burning sword once. For faith. She held a glass wrench of light now. She laughed to a group of woman with skin as blue as Oceanus. With skin as blush as the Solset on the first day of spring. With skin green as the new curled leaf. As black as Erin’s own. They held rakes and spades. Erin laughed to the newcomers. Men and women with their eyes straight at all there was to do. The maiden’s of Ariel’s crown then, they left her brow. A crown no more, but stars. Lights that spun and turned and sang the song of this city to any who would come to learn it.
Erin went by them on swift feet. She headed into the heart of NuRavenna. Ariel stopped her with a brush of her hand. Brushed her cheek with pearl dust. Head already half buried in the sky as she gathered the secrets of Ravenna, whose city this once was.
Erin felt a brush of fire in her chest like the burn of the brand, but she said nothing. She smiled at Ariel. She climbed into the machine of the world. A flange valve hissed. Erin smiled to it. Whispered back the secrets of the moment. The secrets of the Ancients. The secrets of a very slippery gasket under her hands. Twist and slick slim fingers and replaced. She climbed scaffolds out over the great tanks that bubbled with collected life. Distilled. They worked together then. Ariel called up and Erin called down. The designs of the Ancients, they often called for two. Or three. Or five. Or twenty. A hundred. A thousand. To work the world into life.
Erin ate her simple meal on a metal landing over a wide open space. The sky above. Ariel beside her. The glass ceiling sparkled and Oceanus shone down blue. They spoke then of the new arrivals. Of who might stay and who might go.
Broke their fast and broke down the deeds of a day. Ariel up to gather the songs that the great glass towers could gather. Erin into the machines. Grease and muscle. The pleasure of motion.
Ariel’s fingers on her shoulder, a rapid heartbeat’s brush. “How are you?”
Erin pushed herself out. “Done.” A slide and a drop to the floor. Erin’s left knee twinged. She was not as young as she once was. Ariel smiled to her. Smiled to her shadow. Erin smiled to her light. Erin would never burn away.
Ariel handed Erin a handkerchief spun of purest hope. Erin breathed in to savor the smell of the knowledge. Dust and grease washed away.
She leaned forward. Ariel leaned forward. The Solstar sank to its rest as Erin’s light kissed her shadow with the kisses of her mouth. Her love better than wine. Than oil. Grease. Kisses. Slick. Rough. Smooth. They went to their chambers then.
Ariel did not need to eat, but she fed Erin from her fingers. Apricoks of sweet dark flesh. Rosepears bright crisp. Pale fish from the seas that they had remade. That did not turn to ash for the cooking that Ariel gave of them. Wine with not a hint of hunger spice. All satisfied with the meal that was laid.
Erin’s arms weary from the work of her day, Ariel tugged her to their bed. Fed her fruit and played for her on her bandolyn. Old tunes and new melodies caught from the sky. Erin leaned back in their bed. Into the fabric woven of peace and charity. Love and desire. The brides, their friends, golden lights of their city, twisted over the bed. Warm. As the Solstar set, light and shadow faded away. Erin reached to Ariel and said, “There is nothing left to do today.” She smiled.
Ariel traced the pattern of Erin’s labor with a touch that smelled of pearl dust, of souls, of ambergris, of knowledge. Where to touch. Erin sighed. The lights over the bed like stars on their skin that did not burn. Arched as they wove. Soft touch on skin. Erin sought the one who her soul loved, who loved her soul. Licked of her lips and tasted honey. Fire that did not consume, but fed of the thing upon which it burned. Erin gave the kisses of her mouth and received back all that she gave.
Erin whispered, “When I was in the house of the Maji, I never dreamed…” Brushed calloused hands to tender breasts like subtle hills where berries grew. She bent to taste of them. Arched up to her taste. Down to the valley of her love’s navel and tasted then too of the spicedwine of her desired. Her beloved.
They breathed fast, fasting done, of the air that they had made.
Ariel pulled Erin up to her mouth. Ariel whispered there, “When I was in the house of the Syndic, I never dreamed…” Slid her seeking fingers down over muscles. Strained then as she sought the pearl that waited there for her touch. As Erin sought the pearl that waited for her touch. For which she had waited. Cried out then. They cried out like doves might do.
Then on the strings of their cries, the light maidens wove across their skin. Over and under. Light and heat and touch. Spun love into the hangings of the night.