I shook myself, dropping to grope hastily on the floor for the scattered tools and the leather-wrapped wood. I dumped the tools over the rug, shaking them free from the wrappings. I yanked at the pliant skin on the large block, and the polished oblong of miro tumbled free into the light, gleaming crimson and gold. I scrambled over to sit cross-legged, taking it onto my lap and running my hands over the surface.
My eyes swam down into liquid fire, following the path of gold veins into the deep red heart of the wood. My fingers sought out the shapes leaping in there, waiting to be freed.
The words of Anah’s chant rose to my lips, taking me away, taking me farther into the wood. A curve here, and here the twisting tension of bunched muscles, here the sweep upward of a leap into air that would be locked forever as a promise tied to the thick, solid base of the wood . . .
The chant wound through a hazy dream, smoke winding past licking flames of scarlet and gold, amber eyes staring from the depths of the living wood. I was sealed in there with them, blended into the rhythm of a heartbeat and a slow wind that breathed somewhere outside the wood, outside the dream where I lay enclosed within crimson and yellow veins and waited for my form to find the air. Out there, hands chose tools, fingers slid over the sharp blades of knives and gouges and planers, handles fell into a palm with a satisfying heft. Those hands turned to the wood with a feverish clarity of focus while I waited inside, dreaming the quick, sure movements that would breathe life into me.
Only ripples stirred the surface of the dream. Muffled taps on the door, a rustle of cloth, a murmuring voice, warm wind billowing curtains and stirring wood dust to a shimmering gold haze, a door opening and then sighing slowly shut. I floated inside, weightless, rising slowly to the surface.
They were again my fingers sealing the oil bottle and dropping the polishing rag onto the blanket. I closed eyes seared with tiredness and listened to the hot silence of the room. I rose stiffly to stand by the window. Past restless curtains, sky and fields were molten copper, slowly fusing with deep indigo. One tiny star burned high up.
I finally turned back to look at the carving, oddly dreading it.
Two shapes grew from the twisted roots and rock that formed the base of the piece. Wood veins crawled in and out of the gnarled and jagged surfaces, carrying a secret spark of life. The scaled bark of what started to be the trunk of an ancient tree melted upward into the forked crown—two leaping creatures springing from the shared lower haunches of the trunk.
On the right, the striped wood twisted into the sinuous gleam of a sleek ferial coiled to spring, muscles bunched beneath the oiled surface. Its upper body swept out and curved, torso twisting as a clawed arm reached back toward the center. Its head bared fangs in a snarling promise of menace to the figure that sprang away from their twinned loins.
The gizu-doe swept up to the left along the graceful curve of gold veins, all slender delicacy, her leap for freedom parting and joining the air with outstretched neck and legs. Scarlet and gold flowed into a caught breath, the vital movement of the leap, the perfect moment of spring and balance before the weight of the twinned flesh would jerk the leap to a cruel halt.
My hands trembled and light slid along the curves of the oiled wood, imparting life to the creatures. I ran a finger down the delicate slope of the doe’s back, across the bunched muscles in the twisting shoulder of the ferial, down over the deep gouges of the tree roots.
I sighed and put it away. It wasn’t what I’d wanted to give her. Maybe someday Helen would understand. Maybe someday I would.
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