it is only on the third day after that she leaves the temple. she ducks her head around the columns and looks up at the sky. the blue is His eyes and she quakes with the sawblade of the memory. the priestesses, frightened, waiting outside, run in, shut the doors as she leaves. one of them runs into her back in the clatter. she turns and sees the priestess is the girl she played with when she was little. the priestess meets her eyes and freezes.
she is not the first. the statue in the temple never moved with miracle after this one.
she is one-quarter of the way up the mountain when the air pressure releases and the tears start to fall. in the thin air she sobs, shudders, scrapes her knees on the path, and the blood comingles with the weeping of her eyes and foot-sores. over the edge of the path the sea ogles at the violence of her grief. she reaches a hand into the mass of her hair and pulls. her fingers slide smooth and she cries, she cries. she rakes her nails backward, trying to shove her hair into her skull again.
she remembers the sea is her audience and composes herself. she stands, moves on.
the cave she finds is statue-ridden, none of them her own. she has been fortunate in her journey north, up into the hillier countryside. there are old hinges and the soft, pungent, wooden ruin of a door over the entrance. the water basin is in the shadow of a corner, and when she shines torchlight over it, the surface is completely opaque. it is a hole like a shadow.
she knows, now. hers is not a new monstrosity.
he lunges at her as she is heading out to take her laundry down. his shield is mirrored and he is heavily armored but as unprepared for her nakedness as she is for company. he freezes but the sword dives toward her chest as the statue unbalances and teeters. she holds up the basket to her chest and the sword sticks in the weaving. she sidesteps and lets him topple, the sword embedding itself in the ground. she sets down her basket and unbuckles the statue’s armor, figuring to make some use of the metal. dinner platters, maybe.
she tosses the mirror-shield off the cliffside. she keeps the sword.
the heroes barely bother to knock. after being interrupted three separate times in the course of one meal, she rummages in the woods for some charcoal. she takes a slab of stone from the cave. she regrets the way the sky stares as she scornfully heads to the trailhead. there’s a crude picture on the signboard there. it is rather unflattering, and she takes great joy in kicking it down. her handwriting, even on the stone slab, is far neater, and she starts back up the trail with a tentative peace of mind, wondering how many will stumble into the gorge.
TRAIL CLOSED. Detour to monster’s cave: next right.
nobody comes up the cliffside to deliver the message that her father has died, and nobody expects her to come back and bury him. he had no other children. a groundsnake tells her the news. she sits at the table for a few long minutes, then goes to find any scraps of black fabric she’s been able to gather. she covers the face of every statue. she wraps herself in black linen and cries by the cliffs once the sun ceases its daily abuse. her assailant is nearly on her when she whirls around. the warrior grows still. she breathes quickly, reaching out to touch the failed assassin’s cheek.
the warrior woman flinches, and their eyes widen. hope stretches behind a black linen veil.
the warrior woman, Gabrielle, sits uneasily at her table. she has kept on her veil. Gabrielle keeps her weapons at her hips and glances at the tarnished sword in the corner by the washing bin as supper is served. she is unused to having company, and Gabrielle’s presence makes her jittery. Gabrielle’s eyes don’t waver from the sword. I could clean that up if you’d like, she suggests, awkward. the other shakes her head, starts to say I don’t like to see my… Gabrielle nods curtly. the stone table stretches the moments between them. the dinner platters are smoke-tarnished like the sword. Gabrielle doesn’t comment.
neither of them has slept since Gabrielle arrived. the veil hangs like a promise or a threat.
she sits at the edge of the cliff, right where Gabrielle attacked her. it is the first time she has turned her back to Gabrielle since that moment. a groundsnake slithers up to her ear in warning as Gabrielle comes up behind her, weapon in her hand. she thanks the snake and lies back, stretching out her torso for Gabrielle to plunge her weapon into. Gabrielle puts her weapon back on her hip and sits down next to her. What happened? Gabrielle asks. Will you tell me the same? she says. Gabrielle laughs, swings her feet, lies back and turns her head to meet her eyes.
the stories pour out of them, one moon-goblet of pain. the veil is thin over her face.
My mother knew even before I figured it out myself, Gabrielle begins. I worked in the tavern and spent too much time at the table of a pirate crew, regulars in town. My mother came into the tavern, saw me talking to the lovely deckhand, and arranged for me to marry a family friend the next year. I didn’t know why, Gabrielle says, turning her head away to sigh. she puts a hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder; first contact. A lady came through town, singing songs about warrior women in far away lands. About a place to call home. She was found kissing the town elder’s daughter and they ran her out of town. I ran out after her.
Gabrielle turns her head back, and their breaths touch. They called her monster, too.
they are facing each other, and it’s just the veil between them. Gabrielle’s weapons are on the door, the sword is away in the next room. their clothes are piled on the floor. Gabrielle reaches out to touch her cheek, and she does not flinch. Can I, Gabrielle murmurs, tracing the edge of her veiled face with her fingers. But what if… It’s dark enough, I’ll close my eyes. the veil lifts, and there is nothing but skin, skin. they both close their eyes, see by touch in the void of her bedchamber.
Gabrielle’s fingers trace her bare face in the solid night. her mouth follows in their wake.
she sits at the edge of the cliffs just after twilight. from the doorway, Gabrielle says turn around—catch. an apple lands in her hands. her eyes widen. Gabrielle fidgets with the paring knife and walks to the cliff. she is crying and smiling, and Gabrielle looks fondly at her. Give it here—Gabrielle cuts a slice—is that a yes? Yes. Lift your veil, I’ll close my eyes. What? Please, let me—the veil lifts. Gabrielle closes her eyes and the apple slice misses her mouth entirely. they laugh, and then she takes Gabrielle’s hand in her own, guides the apple slice up to her lips. she bites it in half, and then brings the other half to Gabrielle’s mouth. she lowers the veil again. Gabrielle’s eyes are made of gold. There’s somewhere out there we can go, someplace we can call home, Gabrielle says. If you want to. Close your eyes—the veil lifts. she studies Gabrielle’s face in the last pink dregs of dusk before leaning down to breathe her Yes into Gabrielle’s mouth.
they replace the sign again when they leave. Cliffside Statue Garden. Permanent Exhibition.