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Of Sidelocks and Donkey Tales

The following is a story I wrote some time ago with a friend over at PanHistoria and before that at Ancient Sites. It is a reworking of the Aesop’s Tale, “The Man, The Boy and the Donkey.” I have long since lost track of my friend. I hope he does not mind my posting our collaboration on my blog here.

This is from another story of Sekhmet Meritamen and her adopted son, Meni. In this scene she is telling Meni about being different and the parable of trying to please everyone.
~*~*~*~

BoatIt was past dusk on board the Heart of Ra and Sekhmet Meritamen padded nimbly down the wooden deck steps to her cabin. As Royal Physician to a pregnant Per’aa, Sekhmet’s routine was unpredictable; she hurried from her work and was thinking of what to make herself and young Menenhetet for dinner when a sound reached her. It was the sound of a child’s crying and it drew the Lady Sekhmet with a tug on her heart. The sound came from her own cabin.

Inside, in the middle of the floor, a blanket clutched to his breast, lay Meni. Sekhmet’s heart ached at the sound of his sadness. She rushed to the curled up ball that was Meni. His face was a blustery thundercloud, bursting with tears. His sobs were a tiny thunder in his wan chest and lightning shone in the glisten of his tears. Drooping like a hippo’s tail, his new sidelock trembled from the weeping.

“Are you hurt?” Sekhmet asked, kneeling near him and looking over his tanned limbs with a professional calm that surprised even her. She saw no cuts or bruises, but her hands examined the frail boy out of habit.

Meni simply wept, blubbering and oblivious to the tender ministrations. Yet nothing seemed amiss.

“Please tell me what’s wrong?” Sekhmet almost felt as though she herself might cry as well, for the boy’s sobs were like pluckings on the strings of her heart.

“The .. boys .. and .. girls .. laughed .. at .. my .. hair!” he finally managed, hiccuping between each syllable and blinking a stream of tears out of each brown eye. Many of Per’aa’s entourage had children onboard the Coronation Barge. Apparently Meni had been teased by some of them.

Sekhmet relaxed inwardly, vastly relieved. She pursed her lips sympathetically and thumbed away the spill of tears on the boy’s wet cheeks. She held the boy’s head and tried to still his crying with a kiss upon his troubled brow. He huddled to her bosom and cried all the more. Rocking his sobs away, Sekhmet sighed.

“Meni, you like your new hairstyle, don’t you? Nebet Nefeti worked very hard to make you a handsome little man. She shaved your head, just like you wanted and even managed to salvage this sidelock for you to braid,” Sekhmet stroked the dark tail of hair on the side of Meni’s head.

“Yes nebet,” Meni sobbed. “But the … other kids … laughed at … me!”

“You mustn’t let them get to you like that” Sekhmet soothed,. ” They’ll get used to it and things will be better. I promise.”

Meni’s frown was unrelenting and his eyes were still freshets of tears. As fast as Sekhmet brushed them away, more scooted out to replenish the rivulets of on his cheeks.

“Meni,” Sekhmet said, lifting his chin up to her gaze. “It wouldn’t matter what you did with your hair. Any change would have gained the attention of the other children. If you had kept your ragged locks, or shaved your head as bald as an egg, or put it in braids just like mine, the children would have teased you all the same.”

“But I want … to play with … them!” Meni protested, calming a little but still afflicted with his hiccups.

“I know you do,” Sekhmet soothed. “And tomorrow you will try again. You will be strong for me, won’t you?”

Meni blinked doubtfully.

“Let me tell you a story that might help. It’s one my mother used to tell me when I was a girl. When I was your age I was not very graceful, and very much a tomboy, and the kids at school would tease me too. And no matter what I did it didn’t make them stop. But one day my mother found me like I found you, weeping. She told me this story…

“There once was a man, who lived in the far off reaches of the land. He was a craftsman and widower living with his son and a donkey. One day the man, knowing he would have to go to the great city to trade, carefully prepared his wares, and loaded them on the donkey and set off for town. When the animal was loaded he set his son upon the top of the load on the donkey and started toward the great city.”

“The man and his son and the loaded donkey walked and walked and at last they met upon the road two men coming from the great city. They nodded and smiled and exchanged greetings as they passed and the man with the donkey and son overheard the two other men they had passed whispering between themselves, ‘Did you see that selfish child riding on top of the donkey while his father walked!? That is terrible! What a selfish child!'”

Meni’s face grew fierce and he said, “But nebet! That boy might be lame! Those men aren’t nice!”

“Yes Meni,” Sekhmet nodded, finally seeing the flow of sadness drying in the boy’s eyes.

“The man…not wanting to appear to be a fool, stopped and thought about this and decided that it might be best if he rode and his son led the donkey. The boy agreed.

“‘Oh certainly, father,’ The boy replied. ‘I can lead the donkey and you can ride, I am young and my legs will not grow weary.’ And so they traded places.

“A few leagues down the road, the man and boy and donkey met a man and his wife going the other direction. The two parties nodded and smiled and exchanged greetings as they passed each other on the road, but the man overheard the woman whispering to her husband as they passed, ‘Did you see that*selfish* man riding the donkey while the poor child walked?! I’ve never seen anything so pathetic!'”

“That’s silly!” Meni pointed out. “Those people don’t know the man is nice!”

Sekhmet nodded and continued:

“This troubled the man; and not wanting to appear to be a fool–for fools are often taken advantage of in the marketplace of the great city–pondered the predicament. He came upon the idea that he and his son could both ride the donkey and it would satisfy all of the objections of everyone on the road thus far.

“A few more leagues and the man and his son and the donkey met a nobleman and his fanbearer on the road. They smiled and exchanged greetings and the man heard the fanbearer comment to the nobleman, ‘Master! What a terrible waste of a good animal to make him bear the weight of two people plus his load!'”

Meni just shook his head, tears forgotten, eyes wide, and in deep consternation at such things.

“The man, not wanting to appear to be a fool–for fools are sometimes regarded with suspicion and riducule and taken advantange of in the marketplace of the great city–pondered a moment and decided that neither he nor his son would ride the donkey but would walk alongside. There were a few more miles to go, but this was fine.

“The man and his son and the donkey then met a woman and her son on the road and they exchanged pleasantries with the man and his son and when they had passed the man overheard the woman say to her son, ‘Those fools! Neither rides when they have a fine donkey. Surely he can handle more than that simple load!'”

Exasperated at these silly people, Meni snorted.

“The man could take it no longer! He was tired of being everyone’s fool! He found a thicket of saplings and cut a strong sturdy one and then reached into the sacks for extra rope and lashed the legs of the donkey to the sapling and, struggling, he and his son carried the animal into the gates of the city. With astonishment the man wondered at why everyone was laughing at him for he had done everything that anyone had asked of him and in exasperation had done what he knew to be the last choice that was left.”

Sekhmet saw the glimmer of understanding in Meni’s eyes.

“The moral of the story is: If you try to please everyone, dear Meni, you in the end will end up looking like the fool, for there is no possible way to please everyone at all times.”

Meni looked up into the wise dark eyes of Lady Sekhmet and wondered if there were anything she couldn’t fix. Which led him inevitably to his next words.

“I’m hungry!”

Sekhmet laughed and held out a hand to Meni, “Let’s find something to eat then.”

Meni skipped beside Sekhmet, his sidelock twitching from side to side, looking very much like a switching tail.

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The Devil You Know (Written for PanHistoria & Dreamwidth)

“I call’d the devil, and he came.
And with awe his from I scan’d:
He is not ugly, and is not lame.
But really a handsome and charming man.
A man in the prime of his life is the devil.
Obliging, a man of the world, and civil:
A diplomiatist too, well skill’d in debate.
He talks quite glibly of church and state.”
– Heinrich Heine

“This way, come along.” Melek reached back to the young girl that followed just behind him. Her large, dark eyes looked up at him inquisitively even as she slipped her tiny hand into his much larger one. If there was any trepidation there on her part, she certainly did not show it. Fae creatures were delightfully alluring, even when they were so young. Or perhaps, he mused, it was especially when they were so young that he found their curiosity so wholly irresistible.

This one, however, had a whole future ahead of her. He resolved that he would groom her, and when the time was right, and much, much later, it would be her own daughter would assist in his greater purpose. But first things first.

“Tell me, do you like books, my dear?” he asked.

The Halfling child nodded her head. then offered in Sidhe, “I know how to read a little but there are not many books in Dunnlauden.”

“It’s very good that you can read,” he smiled, ignoring the child’s observation about her village. “Did your Maman teach you?”

The little girl nodded.

Of course, the Peacock Angel knew that Moya had done so. For a human, the girl’s mother had not only proven to be useful in her devotion, but in providing the Sidhe ranks with at least some new blood. Without a doubt, the child would not be entirely trusted among humans, and her mother would be branded a whore for the ridiculous sin of having consorted with demons. The absurd irony of it all both amused and annoyed him. But the child did not need to ally with superstitious humans that lived in a village anyway. He had already foreseen that it would be leveled in a few years time. By then she would be far, far away, the village nothing but a forgotten and distasteful memory. And with his help, this Halfling girl would take back the throne of her Sidhe ancestors. Following that, everything else would have fallen neatly into place, and Melek’s plans would begin their long, winding road to fruition.

The forest trail became a long corridor of columns comprised of gnarled trees that stretched far toward the horizon. Shelves and stacks of books of incredible luxury and filled with delights of every kind were found behind branches, along tree trunks, hedgerows and brambles. The Halfling child’s eyes grew even larger and more luminous as a covetous bloom lit her features.

Remembering herself, she looked up at Melek who smiled at her unasked question. “The forest, indeed the whole world is my realm – and yours. You see, we are family, you and I. Family should share, and I will share all of this with you.”

Her little hand gave his a slight squeeze. Immediately to her right, resting on a moss and lichen covered tree stump sat a very large green and blue leatherbound book. The binding was shot with gold arabesque designs and in the centre of the cover was painted the most beautiful peacock whose feathers glittered with green and blue stones.

“That one is yours alone,” he smiled down at her. “Do you like it?”

“For me?” she had barely dared to hope.

“Of course, my dear.”

She let go of his hand only long enough to step forward and ftouch the beautiful and ornate cover with gentle and reverent fingers. Clearly, she had never seen anything so beautiful as this book and very carefully she opened the cover to see a blank page staring back at her – then another and another. The entire book was blank.

“But there are no words,” she said with obvious disappointment.

Melek knelt down beside her and took both of her small hands in his. “That is because it is your book and you must write the words in it,” he said. “Will you do that for me when you learn to write and to draw? You must write down all that you see and learn and keep track of it.”

Unable to resist the instinct to reassure him, she extracted her tiny hands from Melek’s and embraced him, burying her face into his neck, her soft, warm breaths warming the depths of what might have been his heart. It had not been the daughters of mere mortal men who tempted the Fallen Ones. No. The Sidhe women, the pure essence of what wildness and Nature truly are in ways that no human woman could ever be. This little one would serve his purposes beautifully and she would do it willingly besides.

And somewhere in the distance, the voice of the girl’s mother called into the dark palace of the woods.

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