by Kage Baker
SOURCE: Lightspeed Magazine
The girl surprised everyone.
To begin with, no one in the world below had thought her parents would have more children. Her parents’ marriage had created quite a scandal, a profound clash of philosophical extremes; for her father was the Master of the Mountain, a brigand and sorcerer, who had carried the Saint of the World off to his high fortress. It’s bad enough when a living goddess, who can heal the sick and raise the dead, takes up with a professional dark lord (black armor, monstrous armies and all). But when they settle down together with every intention of raising a family, what are respectable people to think?
The Yendri in their forest villages groaned when they learned of the first boy. Even in his cradle, his fiendish tendencies were evident. He was beautiful as a little angel except in his screaming tempers, when he would morph himself into giant larvae, wolf cubs, or pools of bubbling slime.
The Yendri in their villages and the Children of the Sun in their stone cities all rejoiced when they heard of the second boy. He too was beautiful, but calm and clearly good. A star was seen to shine from his brow on occasion. He was reported to have cured a nurse’s toothache with a mere touch, and he never so much as cried while teething.
And the shamans of the Yendri, and the priests in the temples of the Children of the Sun, all nodded their heads and said: “Well, at least we have balance now. The two boys will obviously grow up, oppose each other and fight to the death, because that’s what generally happens.”
Having decided all this, and settled down confidently to wait, imagine how shocked they were to hear that the Saint of the World had borne a third child! And a girl, at that. It threw all their calculations off and annoyed them a great deal.
The Master and his Lady were surprised, too, because their baby daughter popped into the world homely as a little potato, by contrast with the elfin beauty of her brothers. They did agree that she had lovely eyes, at least, dark as her father’s, and she seemed to be sweet-tempered. They named her Svnae.
So the Master of the Mountain swaddled her in purple silk, and took her out on a high balcony and held her up before his assembled troops, who roared, grunted and howled their polite approval. And that night in the barracks and servants’ hall, around the barrels of black wine that had been served out in celebration, the minions of the proud father agreed amongst themselves that the little maid might not turn out so ugly as all that, if the rest of her face grew to fit that nose and she didn’t stay quite so bald.
And they at least were proved correct, for within a year Svnae had become a lovely child.