It started with being on his back.
This was not new. There were many reasons to end up on his back. Cabbage laid there a moment, then when he did not see or hear any birds--he hated birds--he tried to right himself.
It was, unfortunately, very flat where he was at. One of his legs hurt when he flailed, but that would not help him get upright and he knew, from experience, the longer he was on his back, if he did not get off his back, a bird would show up.
He heard noise--that weird patter that the two legs did. Possibly worse than birds.
A shadow appeared over him, then resolved into a two-leg face framed by brilliant orange wings and he tried pulling back into his shell. Except the one leg hurt.
This did not seem like an event he was going to survive. He considered biting. He could bite.
More patter, and the bird-two leg--he had not considered that his two least favorite foes could be combined--scooped him up.
This was it. He tried flailing again, and also tried biting.
The bird-two leg just held him out, making an odd sound, and bared their teeth. Awful. He was doomed. He tried pulling back in his shell again.
Ended up in a dark space that was soft and surrounded with weird things he didn’t know. Above him, the bird-two leg was looking down. Ah. A bag. He had heard about these from Carrot when they met at the cabbage field. Sometimes two legs used them. They were very hard to get out of.
The bird-two leg pattered again, then there was the bounce of movement.
Cabbage pulled into his shell, except for the leg that hurt, and tried to sleep.
The next time he was grabbed, it was to be thrust in the face of another two leg--this one without wings. Cabbage stayed in his shell as much as he could.
Cabbage was not very skilled at two leg expressions, but he would dare to say this two leg looked as displeased as Cabbage did with the entire situation.
There was patter again. The two leg spoke even and low; the bird-two leg spoke fast and quick. After much back and forth, the angry two leg took Cabbage and then laid him on his back.
Cabbage was very, very quickly getting tired of being on his back.
Then the angry two leg started prodding his leg that hurt and Cabbage decided he had really, really had enough of all of this and if he was going to be eaten, he would at least get one good bite in. He flailed, managed to move a bit, and sunk his mouth deep into flesh.
The two leg just looked deeply unimpressed. They stared at each other for a few long moments while the bird-two leg made that weird noise again.
Cabbage let go.
He’d gotten his bite.
He did not, in fact, get eaten. Instead, the angry two leg put something he could not get to on his leg that hurt. It made it hurt less. Then he was put on his belly and, after a few moments, a dandelion and a fig and a bit of grass was put in front of him.
Cabbage drew into his shell, minus his leg that hurt a little less now. The bird-two leg was in front of him, crouched and watching. There was some patter, and another baring of teeth, and then the bird-two leg went very, very still.
Cabbage considered his options. He would not be very fast with one leg hurting. He was very hungry. So far, the bird-two leg had not eaten him.
The dandelion looked very, very good.
If he was going to die, he would at least die with his belly full.
He poked his head out of his shell, then his front legs because the dandelion was a little out of reach. Once he had the flower in his mouth, he drew back. He watched the bird-two leg the entire time.
He did not know two leg expressions very well, but there was no teeth baring and none of the anger of the not bird-two leg. The bird two-leg made that weird sound again, then reached a hand down.
Cabbage braced to be picked up, but instead the bird-two leg just stroked the back of his shell. It was… well. It was very weird.
Maybe he was not going to be eaten at all.
The bird-two leg liked to bare his teeth, and he often made the strange sound that was not the two leg patter. The angry two leg never bared his teeth, and did not make the strange sound very much. The angry two leg did sing sometimes, with the patter. The patter had a meaning, Cabbage was sure--it was very consistent, the way bird calls were.
He was nearly certain the bird-two leg’s name was Hermes. It was a very odd name. Cabbage did not know any food named Hermes. The angry two leg’s name was Apollo, which was also not a food. But two legs were very strange, and bird-two legs strangest of all.
The bird-two leg Hermes left him with the angry two leg Apollo, but he came back often and he brought dandelions and hibiscus flowers and cabbage leaves--Cabbage’s favourite.
Eventually, whatever the angry two leg had put on his leg that hurt was removed and his leg did not hurt at all. It was a relief to finally be able to pull all of himself into his shell again, and he spent half a lazy afternoon basking in the sun inside his shell.
He had no idea where he was and no idea how to get home, but it really wasn’t so bad. Cabbage never thought he’d see the day he’d like any two legs, or a bird, or a bird-two legs, but Hermes and Apollo were not so bad at all.
And then he realized Hermes thought his name was Dandelion.
The matter of naming was deeply important. The choosing of one’s name was a great event. A name told everyone the most important thing to know, among tortoises, and living to name choosing age indicated that one was a tortoise old enough to have opinions. This was not a thing many young tortoises managed, because their shells were so soft and they were very easy prey for birds and two legs both.
Cabbage’s name was Cabbage. Cabbage had chosen it himself, as all tortoises did, when his shell had its first rings and was properly hard.
“Dandelion,” Hermes said, and reached to pet his shell. As much as Cabbage enjoyed a good shell pat, the fact remained Cabbage’s name was not Dandelion. Dandelion was a terrible name. Not like Cabbage.
No offense to his friend named Dandelion, of course.
Cabbage could not patter like a two leg, and he did not think this was necessarily worth biting Hermes. The fault was likely his, after all. The first thing he had eaten in front of Hermes was a dandelion. Still.
He turned around and walked away, which earned him laughter--the strange sound, he had realized, was two leg laughter, just as strange as they.
Consistency would be key.
He refused all dandelions and stuck to only cabbage, when he could. He loved cabbage, it was his favourite, so it was not a great hardship. If Hermes called him Dandelion, Cabbage would simply walk away. Even if there was shell brushing offered.
He did like shell brushing, but names mattered. Cabbage had not lived to name choosing only to have some bird-two leg call him the wrong name.
One day, Hermes crouched in front of him, like he had the first time he offered Cabbage food. He wasn’t baring his teeth, or even starting to bare his teeth, and his expression was more serious, like Apollo’s often was. He pattered, but it was slower than normal, and as he did so, he put down a dandelion and a bit of cabbage leaf.
Then he went very quiet and very, very still. Waiting.
Finally. Cabbage made his way over to the cabbage leaf and took a bite.
“Cabbage,” Hermes said, baring his teeth, and then he laughed. The he pattered more, and reached down and pet Cabbage’s shell.
Cabbage enjoyed living with Apollo, but the problem was that it was boring. Cabbage had always liked to move from place to place. Before Hermes took him, he could spend days roaming before he came back to the field where he met the other tortoises. Apollo’s home was much, much smaller than days.
Cabbage considered the matter of bags. Hermes had one. He took it with him always. When he visited, he would leave it on the ground.
It would not be very hard to sneak inside.
Cabbage waited until it was night and Hermes and Apollo were both sleeping, and then he pushed his way inside. It was full of all kinds of things, none of which he knew. There were what looked like leaves, somewhat white and curled around themselves, but after one bite Cabbage decided if he had a not-name, it was whatever these were. There were also strange rocks, perfectly square. He’d never seen anything perfectly square before. He got comfortable in some of the curled leaves, pulled into his shell, and went to sleep.
He woke in the morning to the sensation of the bag moving--he still did not like that--and patter--Hermes sounding worried, Apollo annoyed but also a little worried. But Hermes did not look in the bag, and soon the bag settled into a steady bounce that was not so bad, now that Cabbage was expecting it.
Cabbage realized he did not have food. He might need to eat the terrible leaves.
He was not sure how long it was before the movement stopped, and then Hermes was looking down at him, eyes wide and wings giving one quick little flap. Then he bared his teeth and he laughed.
“Cabbage!” Hermes said, and then other things, all of it full of joy. He pet Cabbage’s head, and Cabbage closed his eyes, pleased, because head scritches were the best of all.
Hermes took one of the terrible leaves away, and he pattered at what was probably another two leg. Then, the bag became much more solid as it was put on the ground. Cabbage crawled out carefully, relieved to find real food and not more terrible leaves, and helped himself. Hermes pet his shell, quiet and not quite baring his teeth, touch pleasantly warm.
After that, Hermes always took him with. The strange stones, Cabbage learned, were packages, and the horrible leaves messages. Hermes would arrange his bag so that when he ran, Cabbage had a nice view of the scenery.
The world went by very fast, when Hermes ran, and the bag barely bounced at all when he was going his fastest. Cabbage had thought he was fast, but Hermes was much, much faster.
It was exciting. Cabbage would hunker down in his shell with his head out just a little, squinting against the wind, and watch flashes of the world he’d only ever seen from the ground go by. Birds would sometimes fly along with them; they would try to race Hermes and Hermes would laugh before he out sped them. Sometimes it would rain and there would be thunder and lighting, the kind of day that before Cabbage would find a cave or somewhere dry to wait out, but Hermes would laugh at that too and try to race the lightning, which was so terrifying the first time that Cabbage hid all the way in his shell until he realized Hermes was never really in danger, and so neither was Cabbage.
They went everywhere. Even a place with no sunlight at all.
One time, when they were in place with no sunlight at all, a hand that was not Hermes’ reached into the bag. It woke Cabbage. Cabbage, who could bite and knew the messages and packages were important, bit the hand.
He was lifted out.
“Oh!” Hermes said, grabbing him. Cabbage, reluctantly, let go of the hand of the two leg who had dared to reach inside the bag. “It’s all right. This is Charon, he’s good,” and then some patter Cabbage still did not know yet, and then, “Charon, this is Cabbage.”
<Apologies, Cabbage,> Charon said. He talked like a tortoise--slow and groaning and deep. Cabbage had never met a two leg who spoke tortoise, and he felt bad for biting him. A little.
Charon was a two leg but he was also strange--his face was like the skulls of two legs that Cabbage had sometimes found, and he was surrounded in weird fog. Hermes liked him and pattered at him the way he did with Apollo and with Cabbage, which was not, Cabbage knew, the way he talked to most other two legs. Hermes was very careful who he really pattered with. This meant Charon must be a friend.
<Farewell, Cabbage,> Charon told him, when it was time to go and Cabbage was placed back in the bag, in the little spot made just for him.
It was a very good life. There were visits with Apollo and with Charon, and there were messages and packages to deliver. There were new flowers and new greens to try and sometimes fruit. There was racing storms and racing birds and racing Zephyr. There was learning enough patter he could understand most of Hermes’ stories, though he could not patter like a two leg himself.
And then it got very, very cold.
Cabbage stared at the cabbage leaf in front of him. He ate a few bites, but it did not taste as good as normal. He was not sure it was even his favourite anymore.
He was very, very tired.
He had never been so tired. Or cold.
Hermes pet his head and stared at him, worried.
“You gotta eat, Cab,” Hermes said.
Cabbage took another bite and chewed half-heartedly. He let his eyes close.
“Let’s go see Apollo,” Hermes said. Then, he scooped Cabbage up. Cabbage opened his eyes when he realized he was not being put in the bag, but instead in Hermes’ scarf. He could see Hermes if he looked up.
Hermes was very warm, but Cabbage still fell asleep on the way.
He woke up to Hermes and Apollo pattering. Hermes was holding him and petting his shell.
“--sudden cold,” Apollo said.
“This is Demeter’s fault,” Hermes said. “All this over a kid she never even bothered to call the right name.”
Cabbage had never heard Hermes angry, before. It made him sound like Apollo. Cabbage didn’t like it. Hermes should bare his teeth and laugh, not sound angry. He pushed his head against Hermes’ hand; it made Hermes look down.
“Hey, Cab,” Hermes said. “You okay? Hungry? Thirsty?”
Cabbage wasn’t. He was tired and cold, though less cold with Hermes holding him. He wanted Hermes to laugh. He settled for head scritches, though they felt a little more distant than normal.
“It’s going to be okay,” Hermes told him. “Won’t he?” Hermes looked up at Apollo.
Apollo was very serious, resting his chin against one of his hands. He was not even a little angry.
“I don’t know,” Apollo finally said.
He woke sometimes. He would eat, if he could, because it made Hermes less sad.
Mostly, he slept.
He wanted to dig into the ground. He wanted to go where there was no sunlight at all and sleep and sleep and sleep.
He did not think he was the fastest tortoise at all, now.
He wanted to dig in the ground, but he did not want to leave Hermes, so one night, when he had a little more energy than normal, he burrowed deep into the bag, under all the messages and packages, so that there was no light. He pulled himself into his shell in the dark and he closed his eyes.
It felt right.
He dreamed so many dreams. They unfolded out forever. He dreamed of cabbage leaves and sunlight. He dreamed of Hermes’ laughter and Apollo’s annoyance. He dreamed of landscapes that rolled one into the other without changing. He dreamed of digging into the ground forever and ever until he found the place that had no sunlight at all. He dreamed of having his own wings. He dreamed of racing the sun and winning. He dreamed of Hermes, crouched and very still, a dandelion and cabbage leaf before him. Waiting.
He dreamed of sleeping.
One time, he met someone he did not know in his dream. He was dreaming of being warm. He was dreaming of basking on a rock in his shell and his leg not hurting and how warm he was, how lazy.
He was dreaming of one of his favourite sleeps.
“Oh,” someone said, a two leg patter, and it was not Apollo and not Hermes. “A tortoise. I didn’t know tortoises could dream! And what a dream, dreaming of sleeping, that’s next level, I should be taking notes.”
He poked his head from his shell. The dream faded a little. There was a two leg in the air, head topped in white.
“Hi!” the two leg said, and tried to pet his head.
He bit the two leg. It did not feel right, because it was a dream, but the two leg yelped and jerked their hand back and took him with them. It was a dream, though, so it was okay. He had little wings, all orange and sunlight, like Hermes, and they kept him in the air. The dream faded to dark.
“Rude,” the two leg said, clutching their hand.
“You are,” Cabbage said, because it was a dream and he could patter like a two leg in a dream.
“You can talk! This is incredible, wow! And you have wings, like Hermes! Like, exactly like his, that’s amazing.”
He wanted to dream deeper again. It was cold, still, always, and when he dreamed deeply he was not so cold.
But the rude two leg knew Hermes. He did not know if Hermes was okay. It was so cold. Maybe Hermes was hurt. Hermes had stopped baring his teeth when it got very, very cold.
“Does Hermes bare his teeth?” he asked.
“You--oh. Those are Hermes’ wings,” the rude two leg said, then he looked so sad. “Hermes is doing his best! He’s helping Zagreus, and I’m sure once everything is all sorted out it’s going to be just fine.” The rude two leg bared his teeth, though it was lazier than Hermes. “I’ll tell him you’re still hanging in there! Don’t you worry. Do you have something you want to dream about? I can help, I might have woken you up too much, you were pretty deep down!”
He thought about that.
“I want to be warm,” he said, and, “I want Hermes to bare his teeth.”
The rude two leg, who maybe wasn’t so rude, looked sad again, but he kept baring his teeth anyway.
“Sure thing, little guy,” and then everything went warm and dark again.
His leg hurt first.
He dreamed he was knocked over and there was a bird looking down at him and his leg hurt. He tried to flail but he couldn’t. He didn’t know why. He tried to flail again, and then—
His dreams tingled. He bit cabbage and sometimes he could feel it. Sometimes he bit cabbage and it had taste. It tasted like Hermes’ scarf or it tasted like terrible leaves or it tasted like nothing at all.
He was so hungry.
He opened his eyes. There was pattering. His legs tingled and his shell itched and he was hungry.
It was dark and there was pattering and there were messages on top of him. Messages were made of the terrible leaves, but he was so hungry, like he had not been since he was a little tortoise, when his shell was still soft and he had no name at all.
But he had a name. His name was Cabbage.
He started to eat.
Cabbage was halfway through the messages when Hermes reached into the bag. He felt awful--messages were terrible--but he was still hungry.
Carefully, gently, Cabbage bit his hand.
Hermes went very still, then the bag opened properly. Cabbage squinted his eyes against the light. Hermes’ wings gave a single flap, then Hermes’ bared his teeth wider than Cabbage had ever seen.
Cabbage let go of his hand and leaned into it, instead.
“You had me worried there, Cab,” Hermes said. “Did you--you ate them.” He laughed, loud and bright and trilling, and then he scooped Cabbage out of the bag. “You ate my messages,” he said, holding Cabbage up. “Let’s get you some real food.”
It was still not as warm as it was before, but it was better. Cabbage’s legs tingled and he felt awful from the terrible leaves, but Hermes was baring his teeth and petting his shell just so.
And then he had cabbage, wonderful cabbage leaves, and they tasted right. They tasted like the best food in the world, his favourite, and he remembered why he had picked his name again.
Hermes was holding him out to a two leg with odd eyes and leaves on his head. The two leg looked very uncertain and clearly did not eat the leaves that fell from his crown, which was absurdly wasteful. They looked delicious.
“You want me to what?” the odd eye two leg asked.
“You heard me,” Hermes said. “What, did you think I helped you from the goodness of my heart? Sorry, Coz, I didn’t risk Demeter’s wrath for you.”
The odd eye two leg--Coz--looked down at Cabbage. Cabbage considered how best he could get to the leaves on his head. He needed to know how they tasted.
He was still, even a few days after waking, very hungry. He still kept falling asleep unexpectedly when he wasn’t hungry.
“I mean--well. Look. I can try, but I’m not making any promises, all right?”
“You’ll be fine,” Hermes said.
Coz took him from Hermes. Another leaf shed off his crown, but it wasn’t quite in reach as it drifted down. Cabbage considered making a jump for it. Coz clearly had no idea how to properly hold a tortoise.
He could do it.
“Uh,” Coz said. “Have warmer blood?”
“Wow, that was terrible.”
“I don’t know what I’m doing!”
“Clearly,” Hermes said. “You’re not even supporting him--Cabbage!”
Cabbage clawed his way out of Coz’s hands, mouth closing around one of the leaves. It crunched wonderfully, almost as well as cabbage. It was warm, like when he chewed Hermes’ scarf, and he slowly considered all the different flavours in the leaf.
Then he realized Hermes and Coz had both crashed into each other and Hermes was holding him just above the ground.
He finished chewing the leaf.
“What was that!” Hermes said.
“You’re crushing me,” Coz said.
“Stay,” Hermes said, and set Cabbage down on ground that was much too cold.
But there were more leaves from Coz’s head on the ground.
Cabbage started to eat those, too. They made him feel warm. It was hard walking across the ground--it was very slick--but each leaf filled his stomach with the feeling of basking in the sun on a lazy afternoon.
“Oh,” Hermes said.
“Cabbage? His name is cabbage?” Coz asked. Then, “Is it safe to eat those? They’re making him glow. That can’t be safe. Hey!”
Hermes crouched down in front of him, ring of leaves from Coz’s head in hand. He pulled a leaf off, then set it on the ground.
“If this helps with the cold,” Hermes said, “you should eat it.”
Cabbage walked forward and ate the leaf. He chewed it slowly.
It was not as good as cabbage, but it was very close, he thought.
Hermes bared his teeth and reached down, pet his head just a little.
“I’m taking this,” Hermes said. “Get a new one.”
“What,” Coz said.
“Tight schedule, gotta run.” Hermes scooped Cabbage up, set him in his spot in the bag. A moment later, the crown of leaves was placed around him, just as warm and nice as an afternoon bask. Cabbage nestled down, pleased. “Thanks, Coz, always nice to catch up!”
But they did not--Hermes was running. Cabbage squinted his eyes against the wind, watching the place with no sun flash by. He did not have teeth and he couldn’t bare them if he wanted but he thought he finally understood why Hermes liked to do it.
Hermes laughed bright and trilling as they left the place with no sun, then slid to a stop, a hand keeping the bag from flying forward.
“Let’s go see Apollo,” Hermes said. “He won’t say, but he was worried too.”
Cabbage chewed one of the sun bright leaves slowly. He thought that sounded nice. There was a lot of land, between here and Apollo. He would get to see it all. He was sure he had forgotten some of it while he slept.
“You missed so much,” Hermes said. “I’ll tell you on the way.”
Hermes reached in, pet his head. Cabbage closed his eyes and leaned into the touch.
The air was still a little cold, but he had the crisp leaves from Coz all around him. Soon he had the world flashing by and he did not feel sleepy at all.
He hoped, when they got back to Apollo, there would be cabbage.
Cabbage squinted his eyes against the wind and, at least on the inside, bared the teeth he didn’t have.
It was good to be awake.