Sweet Shadows of the Moons

Author: Rascien Wickersly
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This text was first published on Douglas Goodall’s Substack on 11/9/23


In the southeast corner of Valenwood there was a lonesome place where mangroves grew. There were wispy red clouds of swift-legged crabs, shiny silver-shelled snails, amber birds with black twigs for legs, and brackish pools of pellucid blue.

Among these pools darted a young Bosmer deserting memories of war. His bronze skin was as good as a chameleon spell on the beaches, his eyes were an answer to the question of the sea, and his hair echoed the magic leaking from the sun.

Everyone called him Scout for what he had been or Crab-Boy for what he had become. Everyone being Girwedheril, an elderly woodcutting heretic who lived in her handmade hut and received the finest crab legs in exchange for seedcakes; brothers Dithion and Nithion, who received lesser crabs in exchange for knife sharpening, sailcloth scraps, and gossip; wandering merchants who received old coins, anchors, armor and other trinkets he found in the pools in exchange for a book; and the occasional fisherman from Haven who received only an enthusiastic wave of his arms.

He was happy in his loneliness until she arrived.

He was pulling the savory meat from a crab and lying strips of it on the sun-warmed rock he used in lieu of a fire – for there was little deadfall in the swamp and he kept the Pact – when he heard the splosh splosh of her feet. He turned. What came to him that day was the most consummate Bosmer he had ever seen. Her skin shone brighter than the finest bones left under the sun, her hair was molten copper, wilder than a firebloom, and her face was terrifying in its imperfect symmetry.

“Scout,” she called. He could only nod in answer. “I wanted to meet you. Nithion told me where to find you.”

“Meet,” he managed. “Me?”

She sploshed closer. He reached out his hand and…she took it in her own. He fed her crab and eggs, and she ate it daintily as if she were in the courts of Falinesti. He told her about the swamp and about the heretic and eventually began telling her of the war. She told him nothing he could later remember, all of it beautiful. She chased him splashing around the mangroves and between the pools, and then he chased her back during the afternoon rains, and she let herself be caught in his arms.

He bent down for a kiss, afraid she would refuse, afraid she would kiss him back, but she put her finger on his lips and said, “Not until we lie under the shadows of the moons.” And she turned away from him and walked a short ways. She turned back and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” And then she was gone.

He thought of her late into the morning and fell into a deep and restful sleep. He started the next day wondering if she was merely a dream, but he scrubbed himself in a pool, first with sand, then with his last sliver of soap. He tried to tame his hair with his crab knife and a broken shell comb. He washed and put on his finest sailcloth. And then he waited. He worried she would arrive and worried he would never see her again.

As he watched the sunset, certain she was a dream after all, he heard the splosh splosh of her feet. He ran to her, and she fled, and again they chased each other through the swamp and dined on crab and eggs. This time, when he caught her, she looked up at the sky. She put her finger to his lips and said, “Not until we lie under the shadows of the moons.”

She shoved him back into a pool with a bright laugh and they splashed each other and joked and flirted. When she would touch him lightly on the back of the hand or smile at him with plain desire, he would rise partway out of the pool and reach for her…but she would look at the sky and shake her head and he would slowly, achingly, lower himself back into the pool.

When the moons rose, she looked up at them and smiled. He was in the middle of telling her a story from the war when she took his hand and he forgot what he was going to say. “I lost people in the war, too,” she said. “My father, for one. At Torval.”

He nodded. “I was a Torval.”

“I know. You were just telling me about the Senche Tiger with a broken tail you so bravely slew.” She kissed him gently and asked, “Where do you sleep?” He led her to his bed, more of a wide hammock of sailcloth, and they sat next to one another. He looked into her eyes and bent down for a kiss and this time she returned it strong and he drowned in its depths. He was afraid she would make him wait again.

She did not make him wait.

Afterwards, she was beautiful in his hammock. Her scarlet mane shone under the full moons, flowing down over the edge of the sailcloth and dipping every so slightly into the swamp. And in the moonlight her face was no longer as frightening in its imperfection. She sang to him then, softly, in words that went on and on. A few he almost understood:

Y’ffer ambler amber green
Alfiq ifflick wicket deen
Ringer linger eave-sop jounce
Pouring poorly purfect pounce
The song rocked him to sleep before the spell took hold.

He woke and yawned, arching his back, and reached out across the sailcloth, kneading his tiny claws.

“Here, Scout,” she said. “Want some sugar? I could do no less for a veteran of the five-years war.”

Her skin was no less brilliant, her eyes no less enchanting, her tiny claws on his back no less thrilling.

She scooped him up in her arms and took him across the border to his new home. And the sweet shadows of the moons have been with him ever after.

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