krookodile tears [threeshot] (2024)

cw: some minor mentions of blood (akin to biting your tongue), allusions to violence


second gift: the flame


The krookodile live further in the dunes than you’d ever thought. Samira and her kind must have traveled much further than you and the sanhim, you realize. She rips through the desert, her tail leaving a great serpentine trail that slowly collapses in on itself as the sand rushes to take its place. In the morning, a low, crooning sound leaks from her lips, almost incessantly; by noon, she’s fallen silent and put herself headlong into the travel.

Eventually, you grow bored, and you lay yourself along Samira’s back. The sun beats down. By midafternoon, Samira’s back is a rippling mass of heat. Although it’s stifling, you end up wrapping yourself in your father’s cloak to hide yourself from the scorching rays. The sky blurs by in a blue arc above. You trace over the dark embroidery in the cloak and vaguely wonder if it was red because of the krookodile, or if the krookodile trust the sanhim for wearing their colors.

Samira finally slows by nightfall. When you peek out above her fins you don’t recognize the landscape. The dunes faded into an indescribable mess a long time ago. She rumbles something, and belatedly you wonder if she’s been trying to speak to you this whole time.

Then, before you can do anything else, she plunges deep into the earth. You almost gasp—but then sand rushes around you, threatening to flood your lungs, and it’s the best you can do to hold your breath and wrap your arms around Samira’s fins. You hold your cloak as tightly as you can as the desert turns to darkness and a deluge of sand swallows you whole.

You clutch. That’s all you can do, clutch and wait for it to end. An eternity inside of a moment later, the air clears again, but the light does not return. Samira shakes beneath you, sand rolling down her sides, but no matter how many times you blink your eyes you can’t make you see. There’s only scent and sound and feel. She’s moving again. The air here feels more damp somehow; faintly, over the sound of sand shedding from her tail, you can almost hear a trickle of water. But you can’t see. Your hands reach instinctively for a torch, but there’s nothing. Samira presses on beneath you, unfazed, and when she pulls herself to a halt her breaths echo in the darkness. She hisses something.

The darkness hisses back. It must be an echo. Samira settles into place. You wait, feeling around on Samira’s back, but in the darkness she’s gone completely still. Minutes pass, perhaps hours. You can’t see your own hand in front of your face, and eventually you realize she must be letting you rest. But the weight of the day presses down on you like a stone; there’s nothing here but blackness and if you think about it too much it’ll rise and choke you, tendrils of worry and shame around your throat—

The air is cold down here, colder even than the night air above. Your father was right: the cloak will keep you warm. You clutch it close to you and fall into uneasy slumber.


You awaken in the darkness. Samira is moving beneath you—not traveling, you decide; it’s not fast enough for that—and hissing fills your ears again. The echoes down here are louder than any cave you’ve ever been in.

Will she surface again? You wait for the deluge of sand, a warning, anything, but Samira slithers forward. They must have tunnels, you decide, and they must be enormous. You try to imagine how big they are based on the echoes.

With your ears strained, you finally hear it—the hissing isn’t symmetric. Samira hisses something; the darkness hisses something back. It is different.

Your eyes widen uselessly with the realization. This must be where all of the krookodile stay, you realize. A conversation is chattering around you, and yet you have no idea what’s being spoken, what’s being decided. How many of them are even here? Eventually, Samira stills. Their words pepper the air around you unintelligibly.

“Hello?” you ask tentatively.

For a moment, the darkness hushes, and then the noise doubles.

Your heart thuds in your chest, and you clutch the cloak closer to yourself. They mean no harm, and yet. To hear a voice in the darkness with no body to place to it sets off a fear in you, one primal and ancient, one that you cannot control. If you could just understand what was being said here ...

“My name is Baku,” you say, finally, when you realize there’s no understanding what they’re trying to say.

What comes next is louder than a hiss; Samira’s scales shift beneath you and the bass vibration rattles up your bones.

Your stomach rumbles in response. “I’m hungry,” you say, trying your best not to sound plaintive. How long has it been since the campfire with your father? You don’t even remember, but the pangs in your chest suggest that you’ve simply forgotten about eating until now. “Could I eat?”

There is a lurching stab of movement as Samira slithers forward with you on top of her, and then a wet, slapping sound against her scales a few feet away from where you’re sitting.

“Was that … was that for me?”

Another rumble. This one trails off into a hiss.

“Could you hiss twice if you’re talking to me?”


Your fingers clench involuntarily around her fin. “Samira?”

She hisses twice.

“Should I wait here?”


You crawl forward on your hands and knees towards where you heard the sound. Blindly, you feel your way around on her back, biting back a scream as your palms collide with something soft and slimy. Curiously, you grab onto it; it doesn’t resist, and you pull it closer.

“Is this for me?”

No response. It isn’t fair. You were supposed to learn the desert tongue in your own time, with your own people. The sandile who’d rejected you was supposed to teach you patiently, your father by your side to translate, all the elders of your village to guide you. Not this.

Hesitantly, you pull the thing close to your nostrils and inhale. It doesn’t smell like anything you could recognize.


She doesn’t do anything else. You exhale slowly. In the dark and silence, you can feel your heartbeat throbbing in your ears. Even without words, you know what she’s trying to say. Your father apologized for using the human tongue with her in front of you, and you should as well. It is a disrespect to flaunt the Dancer’s tongue in front of those who cannot speak it.

“I’m sorry,” you say. “I don’t know the desert tongue yet.”

No response. You imagine it instead: Then you must learn it quickly.

You exhale shakily. This is a lesson, you remind yourself. Not a punishment.

For now, your stomach growls louder than she does. You focus back on the thing in your hands. There’s nothing to lose, you suppose. Either she tried to feed you something inedible or you go to bed hungry. It isn’t reassuring logic, but it’s all you can think about as you close your eyes—stupid, despite the darkness, but you can’t help yourself—and bite.

Tiny stabs between your teeth, your gums. The taste of minerals on your tongue, quickly giving way to something softer and flaky. You chew, try to swallow, but it feels like your mouth is full of pebbles. On reflex you spit it out, and with it the coppery taste of blood—your own. It cut you.

Not badly, you reassure yourself before you can cry, using your spare hand to clutch your father’s cloak closer to you. You aren’t hurt. The taste is familiar, despite the pain, and it takes a few more shuddering breaths for you to place it. At the solstice. This is special food, ceremony food—and that’s when you realize belatedly that perhaps it was only special in the southern stones. But before, someone must have taken the scales off of the fish for you.

Laying out stones in the desert to bake breads and dry fruits. Carefully harvesting from the cactus fields with Nali by your side to delicately unpick the spines from your hands when you were too eager. These are not things they would do in the dunes, you realize, thinking of Samira’s gargantuan frame and maw.

What you want to do is cry. But hunger calls louder, so silently you spit out more scales and begin carefully picking out bits of the flesh beneath the skin, where it’s softer. It’s hard to find the bones in the dark, but at the same time you know Samira would not be able to help you if you missed one. With no vision and nothing else to do, you’re able to drown yourself in the task, and your thoughts circle in a vortex as you pick the carcass clean.

Your father told you a story once, of a beautiful pokémon with a voice so compelling that anyone who listened would believe her. She sang so beautifully, he explained, that everyone would immediately understand what she meant, and why she meant it. And eventually, through her generosity, the Dancer’s tongue was passed on to you. That was the fourth gift that your village received, after the seeds, the flame, and the river. That one was special, because could be shared in only one way, and only to those who listened.

Can you make yourself believe that this is a lesson? Can you believe away the punishment that it seems to be? Despite the darkness you clench your eyes shut. When you open them you will have learned, you tell yourself. You have the Dancer’s tongue. With her voice, you can make your hopes reality.

You open your eyes to darkness, and a silence you do not break.

On the moonless nights back at your home, you used to go out and trace stars with your father. This one was Venent, the Watcher, with his arms outstretched. There was the Thunderer prowling across the heavens. Each star had a name, and a story, and a place.

If you squeeze your eyes shut, you can pretend to feel his hands on your shoulders as he carefully points your arm up to the eastern horizon. In the summer, the six stars that form Little Sister rise across the mountains. She shimmers against the milky glow of the starry river, somehow brighter than all of the stars around her; on those warm nights, she is the first to appear, and she guides her shimmering brethren on their path across the horizon.

You can almost hear your father’s voice. In the winter, she rests. This is when she holds Sun Sister close, when the skies lose their warmth. Little Sister sinks with the sun and hides behind the mountains.

You raise your hand uselessly in the darkness and count. One to six. There is Little Sister. May she journey far and return the sun to us one day.

Although you know it’s foolish, you hope that halfway across the desert, your father is doing the same.


Samira resurfaces at night. You aren’t sure which night. You traced the sky, and later you’d grown hungry and she’d fed you—ten times, you reason. Perhaps more. You stopped counting.

She’d shifted beneath you, stirring you from your slumber, and that was the only warning you got before she plunged bodily into the sands. You almost were washed off—you reached blindly for her tail, screaming, before you felt it smack you in the face and you managed to wrap your hands around it on reflex.

The world around you burns your eyes. The moonlight is silver and it hurts. How long were you underground, without seeing?

Krookodile do not mind the dark. That much you knew even before this. Most hatchlings do not see the light of day; they live safely underground in their broods until their scales harden—that is why the solstice celebration must happen at night. You think from last night you heard three different registers: the sandile, the krookorok, and the krookodile. The krookodile are the deepest. The knowledge is hard-earned, from endless hours spent in the dark, straining, categorizing, trying to understand.

Now the mountains, sillhouetted in the silvery glow of the moon, cut across your vision like a spear. You don’t bother saying anything—Samira will not answer you if you speak, and you don’t know what else you’d tell her anyway. Surely she must know that you are not like the rest of the brood; that your eyes were not made to piece the subterranean darkness and that when you live among them you live blind. This was part of her lesson for you, not her punishment.

You blink rapidly to help adjust. On reflex, before you can stop yourself, you try to see if you can recognize the mountainshapes here, if you feel any closer to home now that you’re above ground. You don’t, try though you might to find a familiar piece of horizon. You clutch your father’s cloak to you.

Samira begins to move, slowly, methodically. You can tell in the way that she travels that this time she’s doing it differently, although you can’t tell why or for what purpose—but before, she seemed to surge through the sands; now, she moves almost lazily. You’re reminded of how you used to lounge in the river in the summertime, letting the warm waves carry you along. In time, the movement in your peripherals becomes distracting: down, in the underground caverns that the krookodile called home, the world was quiet and still. There were occasional hisses, tiny shifts in movement. Sometimes Samira would shake until you slowly climbed off of her, and then you would sit huddled in the darkness until the rasping of her scales against the cool sandstone announced her return.

An unfamiliar sound assaults your ears—it’s like the creek, but louder, and then all at once the dunes give way to a massive deluge of water that winds through them, white-crested rapids gleaming in the starlight. You inhale sharply. The river in the southern stones flooded sometimes in the summer, but never like this; the water seems to stretch on with no end, ripping mightily in the center and then lapping along the banks.

You have one moment more to appreciate the sight, and then Samira leaps into the water.

There’s no time to scream. It’s nothing like diving into sand, not for you. The water slams into your chest and flings you off of her immediately, and then you’re floating, free, sinking, tumbling—

Beneath the surface the water churns. Your father’s cloak fills immediately and wraps around your limbs like rope, and no matter how much you flail you can’t propel yourself upward again. Panic seizes you when you look down and can’t even see the bottom. The river at home was no deeper than you were tall, and your father was careful to keep everyone clear if it ever flooded. You’ve never been submerged like this before, and the sensation of weightlessness combines with the massive, crushing force of the waves around you.

Your lungs burn. You inhale; water floods your nostrils; you cough on reflex and water fills your throat. Overhead you can just make out the glimmering of the moon, suddenly obscured by a four-limbed shadow descending upon you. You flail desperately for her, the last bubbles trailing from your lips, but the eddy currents that she creates send you spiraling out of her grasp. Samira lunges for you but her swing goes awry; her claws rake a gash in your arm. Blearily, your throbbing vision focuses on a thin ribbon of blood trailing towards a surface you can’t reach, and then Samira’s tail collides with your ribs with bone-crushing force, flinging you upward.

The surface of the water breaks against you, and you barely manage to inhale a greedy, damp breath, desperately churning your legs to keep yourself from being forced under again. But you can’t; your strength left you long ago. You barely register the feeling of slick scales beneath you, and by then Samira is gently depositing you onto a reedy shore with her tail.

You lay on your side for a moment, curled up as small as you can before a spasming cough unfolds you. One enormous, black eye watches you with a look that you can parse as concern. A hiss cuts across your labored, damp breaths, and you startle when you realize: the sound is familiar. You’ve heard this word from Nali before.

{Alright?} she’s asking you, fixing you with a burning gaze.

You splutter for a moment, shaking the water from your hair.

{Alright?} she presses, and the rest of her words are unfamiliar to you. You see the hesitation burning at her; her muscles are tensed but her eyes are fixed on the bloody water that’s dripping down your arm.

You cannot answer in the Dancer’s tongue if you want her to listen. That fact cuts through even your panic and your pain. But you don’t know what other words you can say.

{Alright,} you respond weakly.

The trip back is colder and far less wondrous. You arm throbs. The cool night air is only made worse by the dampness of your father’s cloak around you, but you hold fast to it, too tired to look at the new landscapes rushing by, petrified by the thought of it floating away in the breeze. Eventually she pulls you back beneath the surface, and you’re almost grateful for it—you don’t have to feel guilty for wasting your precious surface time on tears.

You’re lying soggily on her back, eyes closed, sleep eluding you, when suddenly the thought strikes you and you sit upright. There’s nothing to see down here, where the krookodile gather to sleep during the day. But there’s something to hear.

You listen.

There’s a pattern in the hissing around you, if only you could figure it out. You strain to replicate that brief moment of clarity, back when you’d finally understood for a fleeting moment what Samira was trying to say, but you this time it doesn’t come. The sounds of their language washes over your ears, and eventually exhaustion overtakes you and you drift asleep.

The next sunset, Samira stirs you awake with a familiar hissing sound. You’ve heard this one before; she always seems to ask it before she moves you. Curiously, you echo it back.

She freezes beneath you, and then after a pause she repeats it. There’s something different here, something you can’t quite place or replicate—it echoes in a more sibilant way and the pauses feel less protracted.

“Ready,” you croak. Your vocal chords twinge with disuse. “That’s what you were trying to ask me, right?”

This time you understand the difference in her response. {Ready?}



Your father was right: there are many beautiful things to witness out in the dunes at night, sights you’ve never dreamed of. You grow to crave these moments, each of them wondrous in their own way, but you treasure each of them for what you learned.

With Samira you watch the glowing red lines of darmanitan troop steadily cross the northern plains, little more than motes of glowing light from a distance. At first you take them for stars, but you quickly learn that the orange glow sets them apart from the rest. “Darmanitan?” you query, and she repeats it back to you in the desert tongue.

(You wonder briefly if the darmanitan have the tale of Little Sister, if in their culture the First Darmanitan is held in the same high regard as she is for you. You hope so, but when you pose the question to Samira, you must use the Dancer’s tongue, and so she offers you no response.)

You fish again. This time you’re safely tucked to one side as she gathers an enormous treasure trove of fish in her jaws, and you learn many words for thanks.

She takes you to enormous spires of sandstone, weathered into layers and with as many colors as the cloaks you used to help weave, towering even taller than you and her stacked together. There, she introduces you to the vulture queen, a young but proud mandibuzz who pecks curiously at your skull before a warning hiss sends her scooting back.

{Caution,} she says, to both the mandibuzz and to you. And then, just to you, on the way home: {Your father’s-sister was injured in this way.}

(Aunt Livari hadn’t mentioned this, but once more you have no words to ask the question, so you bury it away for the time being).

In the nights you travel with Samira and see great things. Most of the time she swims through the desert, her tail churning through dried earth, you on her back. She seems to seek no destination, no company. During these times the world is peaceful; she’s so large that when she’s at her full speed her body barely rocks, and if you don’t peer over the edge of her back you’d barely know she was moving at all. But during these times the rush of wind on her back is so loud that when you speak, she can’t hear you, and you’re left to your own thoughts as the world rushes by. You wish you could ask her purpose but you don’t have the words.

During the days you rest with them underground. Samira holds council. As you learn more and more words you realize how important she is to them—she is a sanhim of sorts, although you struggle to follow the conversations. You cling to her scales in the darkness and try to guess at what they’re saying, gradually piece together a slapshod vocabulary made up of things you’ve heard them say. At first it’s slow. These words you gather and hoard greedily—greetings, ways to count fish, descriptions of traverses across the desert—but no matter how hard you try, you cannot form the question you want to ask.

Am I learning what you want?


The nights begin to blur together interminably. Halfway through the summer, when the days grow long—you and Samira must spend most of your time under the sands—you find yourself longing for the sensation of harsh warmth on your skin, the tingling feeling of imminent sunburn, soft light against your closed eyelids. You miss the others, of course, and above all your father, but you’d learned to miss them in the quiet nights you’d spent alone. You’d expected that feeling of loss, and learned to codify it, and treasured their faces carefully so that you could still hold them tight even when you went far. But you’d forgotten to hold fast to the simpler aspects of your old life, and now you can only catch the sun on the edge of each night, a red orb peering over the horizon while Samira runs further away.

You spend many starlit nights with Samira. She’s quite talkative for a krookodile of her age, you learn. After a few centuries, many of them simply burrow their way underground, far enough away from the young ones who still disturb the earth. And Samira certainly loves to answer your questions, so long as you ask them in the desert tongue.

{Do you have many …} you trail off. “Children?” you ask. “Hatchlings?”

{We call our young hatchlings,} she says in response, carefully churning through a dune before plunging the two of you down. Tonight there is a soft, warm breeze. {And yes. I have many. All of them are older than you.} She pauses to consider. {Most of them are older than your father.}

You struggle to think of the right phrasing. {Is that uncommon?}

{Perhaps. Krookodile have children when the desert can bear it. We live long. It would not do if there were too many of us.}

You think that through while she swims through the sands. {What is that word you call me? What is its … meaning?}

A low rumble shakes her, one that you’ve come to associate with amusem*nt. {I forget how quickly hatchlings become distracted. Always something new for you. Very well. Your name is hard to pronounce without the Dancer’s tongue. Because of who we are—we take great care to ensure that there is never more or less of our number each year—our names are passed down. When we lose one of our own, the new hatchling takes that name. Thus we remember our burden, and what our burden is to the desert.}

You understand where Samira’s going with this. {But whose name would I take?}

{There was not one for you. There was not one for your father’s-sister, either. I named her Fangkeeper, for she had teeth like us, though they were not in her jaw.}

{My father had a name for me. As a parent. To make me feel like his.} The sentence is difficult; Samira has yet to teach you the words you would need to encompass those feelings. You understand Baku has no translation, but you try to string together the words: {Small Snow. You could use it if you want.}

{Small Snow.} She rolls it around, thinking, and then she rumbled the word she’s called you before. {Your father’s name is one he made for you. I will not steal it from him.} She chuffs the sound that you think is your name again. {So I made one. You are so named because you have no fangs.}

You wait expectantly.

{Never in my life have I had to name something. This is new to me. I consulted the other krookodile and they though this name fit you well.}




In the weeks before the solstice, you finally remember to count the days—the nights are long again, and even though the underground was never warm in the summer, now the chill has settled into your bones. But you’re used to it now, and you’ve learned to sleep like a sandile, curled safely under Samira’s foreleg where her warmth can protect yours.

{My aunt,} you begin. {Fangkeeper. How did she become hurt?}

{She looks unhurt now,} Samira observes, which you realize doesn’t have the intonation-hiss for an answer. An observation instead. {I forget how quickly your kind heals. We live much longer, and hold our pain for longer as a result.}

{You warned me to be careful,} you remember. {Or else I would be like her.}

There’s a dull rumbling sound behind you, and you realize it’s Samira’s tail lashing across the floor. Anger. Instinctively, you recoil, before she asks a question of her own. {How did your father tell you the First Mandibuzz lost her crown?}

You rack your brains, but you don’t remember. So Samira tells you:

Mandibuzz was one of the First Peoples as well. Her name was Nekya, and she had a long, beautiful crown of feathers on the top of her head. The feathers were a gift from the Dragonmother herself, plucked from her wings to protect Nekya from the harsh talons of Death. For Nekya had a solemn duty: when someone died, Nekya was to descend upon their body and devour their heart, so that it would be freed from the corpse and be born once more.

This was the cycle that Nekya knew, and she served the Dragonmother faithfully. Though she was kind, many of the First People’s still feared Nekya shadow overhead, for they knew what happened when she drew near. Only the Dragonmother did not shy from her, because the Dragonmother could not hate her children.

For this reason, when it came time for the Dragonmother to pass, Nekya hesitated in her duty for the first time. The Dragonmother curled up and entered the eternal slumber; the desert waited for her to be returned to life. But Nekya descended; seeing her mother in such a state, she wept.

The peoples of the desert pleaded with Nekya, but it was too late. The Dragonmother’s heart had turned to stone.

At this, the desert burst into chaos. The First Darmanitan and the First Maractus began to squabble, each unable to decide who was responsible for the fate of the sands now. But then Zaathi, the First Krookodile, burst forth.

{Fix this,} she commanded of their sister.

Nekya refused, saying, {I cannot.}

So Zaathi seized the mandibuzz in her jaws and thrust her into the sun. Nekya’s crown burst into flames and fell in ashen lumps to the ground. But Zaathi did not have it in her to kill her sister, so before Nekya could burn, she withdrew them both and threw Nekya to the ground.

{Fly beyond the horizon, sister, and pray that we never see you again.} Samira finishes the story for you in a low, dramatic hiss.

You wait.

{My aunt flew into the sun?} you guess at last.

{She forgot her role,} Samira says cryptically, and no more.


The solstice arrives before you know it. Your father is there, welcoming the clans as they arrive one by one at the oasis. You see him stiffen when the krookodile arrive, but you’re already leaping off of Samira’s back, the ground weirdly firm beneath your feet as you pelt towards him and bury him in an embrace.

“Baku!” He picks you up and swings you onto his hip, almost staggering under your weight. {Were the sands kind?} His smile is so wide it threatens to cleave his face in two.

{The sands were kind,} you reply proudly, your heart almost bursting.

His eyes twinkle, and the pride in his voice when he responds in the desert tongue makes you feel like you could run a thousand miles. {You must tell us all that you have learned,} he says, setting you back down onto the ground. {And look how much you’ve grown!} He puts you down and places his hands on your shoulders, and for a moment you can’t help but revel in the feeling of soft, unscaled skin. How long has it been? You hold him close, suddenly aware that over the year your hands have turned leathery, chafed to callouses from the scales, and yet even in the moonlight you can see how much paler you are than him, sun-starved as you are.

“I missed you,” you whisper into his chest.

For a moment something in his face crumbles, but he turns triumphantly. “Come, Baku. Tonight we sing for you.”

And they do sing. The Dragonmother’s relics are passed from the humans to the darumaka, and from the maractus to the krookodile. Your father presses a plate full of food into your hands and triumphantly steers you to the fire. You can’t help but notice that Haruna’s grown taller in the past year; she’s unfolded like a sapling and stands a full four inches over you. Her maractus, a new flower bloomed on his forehead, introduces himself as Aji. Mila wears a cloak you’ve never seen before; her darumaka peers out anxiously from its folds. You watch, mostly, while they chatter. Has it really been a year since you heard the human tongue?

Mila is halfway through explaining a joke—for your benefit, you suspect; those of the southern stones already know—when the sensation hits you all at once: they’ve moved on. They missed you, but they’ve moved on. An entire year passed while you lived under the sands. Suddenly the food tastes like dust in your mouth. The evening begins to blur and pass you by.

Later you drift. Your father is speaking to Samira in a hushed voice. Both of them look up when you draw close. At ten feet away you can see the arched trepidation ingrained in Samira’s spine, even if in the soft moonlight you can’t make out the expression on your father’s face.

“Please,” you begin, although you aren’t even sure what you’d ask for. The second judgment crept up on you throughout the night, and yet you know—the stones Samira and the sanhim needed to decide here were cast long before this moment. But you can’t help but be a tiny bit desperate. You think about how Mila spoke in stuttering, halting words to her darumaka, how much smoother your own response was in kind. {I’ve learned. I’ve grown}

“You have learned much,” he says at last. “And yet you have much to learn still. Samira will teach you for another year. So shall it be.”

You want to be angry at both of them. At Samira, for keeping you even though you’ve struggled so hard. At your father, for not protesting. It stings. They’re acting out of love, you remind yourself, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. It isn’t fair. If you’d known that this would be your fate, you would’ve never done it. But that isn’t the lesson they want you to learn, you know.

You want one of them to protest. You want to protest. But—

{So shall it be,} you echo.

The desert tongue is heavy on your lips.

When you return to the circle of human children for your farewells, you’re sure that you look like a stranger to them. Even in the moonlight you can see how you’re so much paler than the rest. You get a change of clothes, but your father’s cloak is tattered, cut nearly to ribbons from the constant beating it’s received in the past year. It’s tattered. You let that happen. It’s tattered and it’s irreplaceable.

Truthfully you hadn’t even thought of your cloak until you catch Livari’s eyes lingering on it. She looks away guiltily before you can say anything, and she hurriedly brushes hair over her face so you can’t see her expression, but not before you see her upturned brow, her parted lips with the words dead upon them. Livari had been kind to you, and promised one day to teach you how to tend to the field of wheat that she raised. It would be your duty as the sanhim to know these things, she’d explained proudly, shifting her weight from her bad leg, but she shook her head and smiled as Mila pulled you away to play Stacking Stones. One day.

Self-consciously, you pull your cloak more tightly around your shoulders, painfully aware of how threadbare it has become. This cloak is supposed to last until you are a man, old enough to make a cloak to guard a child of your own. Your father began spinning the threads as soon as your mother realized you were growing inside of her; together, they dyed the flaxen strands to match the winter sunrise. Standing in the shadow of your home, for a moment you’re struck with a memory you never had—the sensation of the two of them tracing their fingers over the freshly-woven fabric, discussing in soft voices the patterning of the golden grass stitched into the border, their hands drifting to the swell of your mother’s belly as they imagined the world they’d show their son.

Was that world full of plunging into dunes, of raging rivers, of krookodile scales? Had they woven with extra care, to ensure it could withstand the chafing of Samira’s back? Or had they expected you to hold tight to them, to stay protected in their visage in a world they’d always known?

It’s almost a relief when you clamber onto Samira’s back at the end of the night.

On the way back, you almost wish Livari had looked scornful or judgmental when her eyes lingered on you, on your cloak. Instead, she’d just looked sad, the corners of her eyes tinged with the shame you’d forgotten to feel until this moment.

Thus the first year passes.


krookodile tears [threeshot] (2024)
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