Feneng 8: Ochre

In her bower garden, Feneng brushed her hair and counted the leaves on the trees. The frost had come to burn wilt onto their edges; the radiance of yesterday had faded to a subdued impression of ochres. A black rainbow flitted across the pool, a starling, and she made jealous eyes at its coat. Oh, to be young again! To have tresses black as ink, to have eyes that dart and flash!

A snapping twig intruded on her thoughts. "Magnificence, Desolate Vessel wishes to speak with you."

Feneng smiled. "It has been years since I have seen her. Bring her here, and send cakes and wine."

The acolyte bowed, and shortly afterward, Desolate Vessel turned up at the side of the pool, carrying a basket. "Have you seen this garden? It's fascinating. I think there is a mountain behind that tree, but I can't quite reach the other side..."

"You have to climb the tree."

"Oh, of course. I'll get right on that," announced Vessel, as she took the brush from Feneng and inspected her handiwork critically. "You should speak to your handmaidens, Refuge. They have been doing awful things to your hair. Look, there is a spider in it!" She tossed a pinecone into her friend's hands, and soon they were chasing each other between the trees, tossing fruit and handfuls of leaves like they had in the old days, when they still wore the blue and tied flowers in their sleeves to brighten Red Cliff's austere halls.

Some days had passed before Desolate Vessel mentioned what brought her to Beast-Among-the-Mountains. "Blackbird Lantern has been asking after you," she mentioned over dinner. "He poisoned himself with River water, and wonders whether it will defer to you, and see fit to stop blackening his tongue and teeth."

"That man is impossible," muttered Feneng, pushing back her chair. "and if he would just learn when to shut up, I wouldn't have to do this. Put on your shoes. We run."


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