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NOTICE: For those unsure about copyright law and because there was a particularly weird case, just because I’m making the pre-first draft of my novel available to blog readers, it doesn’t mean that this isn’t copyrighted to me. Rogue Magic as all the contents of this blog is © Sarah A. Hoyt 2013. Do not copy, alter, distribute or resell without permission. Exceptions made for ATTRIBUTED quotes as critique or linking to this blog. Credit for the cover image is © Ateliersommerland | Dreamstime.com
In The Lair Of The Monkey God
Miss Helen Blythe, sister to the Earl of Savage:
“What darling little monkeys they are,” Betsy said, as yet another bowl of steaming soup was put in front of her.
The soup was hot and fishy, and I felt the great need of some bread. But Betsy had eaten two bowls, and I’d eaten three, because it was hot and filling. And they’d got all three of us baths, first, and how and where they’d found or managed to distill clean water without salt I didn’t want to know – but obviously they must have some to drink too. We’d taken turns in a large tub, with plenty of soap to hand, and Mr. Merrit had insisted that I bathe first and then Betsy before he made use of the rather used water.
They’d found us clothes also, produced with great reverence and a great deal of signs and gesturing between them, while the few monkeys who could talk exchanged words.
The clothes were new, though they smelled musty, and Arya the Voluble, Arya the right hand of Hanuman, as he always insisted on referring to himself, had explained to us that they’d been gifts which they were taking to the lady of the many eyes and the lord of the star bow while sailing “on the power-filled oceans of our own native land” when “suddenly we found ourselves here in this dank prison, and with lamentations we have kept the dresses, for there are no women among us, and certainly hour chance for offering appeasement to the great one of the silvery hands has passed now.” They had not used the men dress either because “you must see it is all wrong proportioned for us – and to sew it anew would cause the ruin of the garment. But I’m glad to have it for our honored guests.”
And so the honored guests were dressed and I must say I’d never fully appreciated the difference clothes can make to one’s judgment of a man. In his normal, sober day to day clothes Mr. Merrit looked like what he was: a man who worked for my family. A man of decent habits and frugal living. His face, no one could have recommended, being blunt-featured and almost surly, and his hair – cut short and very badly – was a course and unremarkable dark brown or black. He would pass unremarked in any street, save maybe for people who had had dealings with him.
In the clothes procured for him by the monkeys – whom he kept whispering to Betsy and myself we should call apes, because chimpanzees are apes, a nicety the monkeys themselves didn’t apply – he looked… Well, not handsome in the sense of having beautiful features, but—
The clothes he’d got were a blood-red pair of pants, loose and caught at the ankles much like what the monkeys wore; and a bright green top with embroidered little flowers in gold. Around his waist was a sash in green, gold and red, which I suspected served to hold the pants up, as whoever the lord of the star bow was, he clearly was broader at the hip than Mr. Merrit. With his blunt features, his eyes narrowed in concern, he looked exotic and vaguely dangerous. If only, I decided, I could have convinced him to tie a headband around his forehead, he would have looked like a pirate king. But the idea of making him wear a headband made me wish to giggle, and I had to remind myself of the predicament we were in, lost in a confusing world with allies who were equally lost and who might be unreliable. One of mama’s acquaintances has been in India – indeed she says he’s not quite the thing, being a nabob but not at all of good birth or a person of consideration – and he talks a lot, and I thought I remembered the name Hanuman as that of a trickster god, like Hermes in Greek mythology, who if I remember was a shocking thief and a liar, and not at all the thing, as mama would say. And the thought that Hanuman might be one such stopped the giggling in my throat.
Besides, I was sure I looked a complete fright myself. Or at least, I looked part shocking and part fantastical and, had she seen me, mama would have much need of her smelling salts.
Whatever the great one of the many eyes and the silvery hands might be, she was about my height thought perhaps rather more… ample on the top. The skirt fit about right, though. Both were wretchedly large on Betsy who could have used the tunic almost as a dress and – her insisting on the skirt for the sake of modesty – who had forced us to do a hasty sewing job on both tunic and skirt.
Betsy had first been amazed the monkeys had thread and needles, but I pointed out that sailors must, after all, be provided with those commodities. Then she’d tried to convince me that we should sew both “properly” in tiny stitches that hid the work – the kind of repair she was wont to do on my clothes. I’d talked her out of it, urging that we didn’t have enough time, but I could tell it pained her, because she said those were the first quite new clothes she’d ever had. I made a note to get her clothes that were not hand me downs as soon as we got back home. Then it occurred to me we might never get home, and I felt heartily guilty for involving her in this, it now being clear she had not the least desire for adventure and had only followed me because she liked me and felt some misguided loyalty to me.
She looked well enough in her borrowed garments, I thought. They effected the same sort of transformation on her as they effected on Mr. Merritt. In her day to day clothes, she was just Betsy. And in boy clothes she looked odd and rather too plump in all the wrong places. But in the green gown embroidered with silver, except for her very short hair, she looked like a little lost princess trying to pass as someone unremarkable.
My own transformation, as I said, would be less of that kind and more of the shocking kind. The top of my own garment was a sort of little tunic in dark blue embroidered with silver and gold tread, and there were tiny bells sewn to the hem of the tunic, which jingled when I moved. The skirt was also blue and gold and silver, with bells all along the hem, voluminous but made of very fine silk which tended to cling to my limbs when I moved. So did the top, a problem worsened by the fact that I had no way to bind my breasts, and no corset or support was provided.
I’ve heard that fashionable ladies often wore nothing underneath their dresses and misted the fabric so it would cling. This didn’t need misting, and I was very much afraid I was shockingly fashionable. Mr. Merrit had taken one look at me, turned a dark purplish red, and since then talked while staring at my feet which were still wearing the very scuffed and dirty boots that had been part of my male costume.
He talked to me now, coming back from a discussion with the Monkeys. “Arya says we can talk to Hannuman now. Miss Blythe, I must entreat that you try to pay him the reverence due his status, no matter how nonsensical or strange he may act. I need not remind you, we are entirely in his power.”
I wondered what he thought I would do, but I assented, and presently we were led into a sort of cave, with Arya leading the way, Mr. Merrit after, and Betsy and myself bringing up the rear.
The cave had big heavy doors which were opened to make the way, and two monkeys holding lances straightened up.
Inside it looked like a palace, which had to be by magic. First because I perceived the “cave” was the same pink tissue as everything else, and I wondered if this were a boil in the poor monster’s flesh in whose gut we were uninvited guests. And second, because no one could have brought marble floor tiles and silk wall hangings unless their ship had extended to other dimensions.
They certainly could not have brought the throne, massive and heavy in itself, and seemingly made of gold, but – what was more – set on a platform with twelve steps, covered in silk tapestries.
We looked up and up and up. Atop the throne was not, as I’d expected, a monkey but a rather good looking man, of swarthy complexion, with glossy black hair and very intent and lively black eyes. He smiled at what must have been my obvious surprise, and spoke in a good English accent, “Ah, Miss Blythe. This is my other form. It makes it easier to converse with mortals. And we must converse, for I wish a boon of you.” For a moment my heart sank, as I wondered if this one too would have need of a human wife. But then he said, “Of all of you.” And to what must have been our blank stares, he added. “You see, I need your help to escape this vile prison.”