by Zentara Shadowsoul
I admit, for once, that I had no idea what to say. This Shay was my grandfather. I think that I muttered “Renegade!?” before my knees gave way and he caught me as I fell. The next I knew I was sitting propped up against a tree at the edge of the clearing, being persuaded to drink by my grandfather. I sipped at the proffered warm, sweet and spicy liquid and leaned back, closing my eyes as my throat, and then my body, began to tingle.
“What happened?” I mumbled, still feeling disorientated and weak. Too weak, I realised, to move or do anything. It wasn’t a sensation that I liked but I knew there was nothing that I could do, other than accept the help that I was being given.
A chuckle. “Anshiana-kuftir dislikes it when one of her patrons is freed. And her power is strong.”
“Patron?” I sputtered. “This Anshia – whatever you called her – seduced me!!!” I opened my eyes and squinted up at the shay squatting next to me, his eyes still twinkling although there was a hint of concern there, too. His hair was beautiful, although lighter than I’d expected; his features handsome and much younger than I’d imagined. He told me to sip more of the liquid, which I did, before he answered.
“Anshiana-kuftir – the Life-Giver. The monolith as your grandmother referred to her. She is ancient, very ancient. Her roots spread out for at least five miles around her, and although she may appear dead to the human within you, she is in fact a living creature. As for seducing you…” a sigh escaped his lips, as he sought for a way to explain. “Seduce is not the right word for what she does. She uses her power to attract those she believes are seeking her out. And I am the last of her Gwethintoriz – Guardians.”
His explanation didn’t seem quite right but for now I let it go as I was finding everything hard to take in. My mind still seemed fogged, although I was beginning to sense strength seeping back into my limbs. Whatever was in the drink, it was obviously taking effect. Much to my relief. “And as her Gwethintoriz,” I stumbled over the unfamiliar word, “you protect her?”
My grandfather nodded, correcting me as he replied “Gwethintor is the singular. But yes, I protect her as best as I can. And fulfil my duties toward her. As shay have always done.”
I frowned. “And your duties include making love to those she draws to her?”
Another chuckle. “Indeed. It has always been the way. For she is the Life-Giver, the one who bestows life upon any who seek her out. Our fertility goddess, if you wish.”
“And so, when Isolda came here, you made love to her whilst she was bewitched, and my mother Jameela was born. No wonder your kind call you renegade!”
He sighed loudly, settling down on the grass next to me, spreading his cloak around him. “Yes. And no. We should eat, and I’ll try to explain as we do so. I think it will be difficult for you to understand.”
“Oh I understand. As guardian to this, this monolith,” he winced visibly, “you have the right to rape any woman who comes near her! I don’t know if I want to learn any more….” I almost spat so angry was I becoming.
Another sigh. “Not rape. Never that. Only those who wish to have children come to Anshiana-kuftir. Usually shay women, some alone, some with their partners. And shay men, as well. There used to be several female guardians here too, you know.” The last was said defensively.
“As far as I know, Isolda had no wish to become pregnant!!! And nor do I!!!” I exclaimed loudly, taking some delight in seeing his brows furrow briefly.
“Ah, yes, you may think so. But I assure you, Isolda was more than happy to roll in the grass with me.” Again, there was a defensive tone to his voice, although he believed it to be the truth. How could I tell? Briefly the thought sprung into my mind, because you are shay. After a pause, he continued: “As for you, I confess, you are different. You were drawn by your curiosity, by your need to know, to learn of your beginnings. Anshiana-kuftir, unfortunately, doesn’t always realise the difference. But you were never in any danger of being made love to. Believe me!”
He was pleading now. I let him stew, my thoughts in turmoil, my head down, my eyes closed. As my silence stretched out I heard him sigh again before the sounds of rustling caught my attention. I opened my eyes as a slice of bread and some dried meat was thrust into my hands.
“At least you can eat whilst you think,” he remarked, his tone almost mournful. “It will help you regain your full strength.”
Without looking up I took the offering and ate whilst the birds above us sang and Ghost, who had joined us, whinnied softly by my side.