magibrain: The gateway to the stars stands waiting. (Stargate)
[personal profile] magibrain
Title: Y is for Yearling
Author: magistrate
Rating: T.
Genre: Character study. Shenanigans.
Beta: Upside-down in the desert.
Continuity: Canon-compliant.
Prerequisities: The movie, actually, mostly.
Summary: Sha'uri is woken in the middle of the night.
Disclaimer: I can't even keep up with what's going on with the Stargate movie-centric franchise these days – partially because I don't own it. The opinions expressed herein are the properties of the characters and not of Dave C. Avillo. Mastadges may spit. Questions, comments and kalasiris can be left in replies or directed to magistrata(at)gmail(dot)com. Thank you for reading!

=

Ra's chariot had sunk beneath the ground and all of Abydos's children should have been curled in bed, their blankets pulled over their noses so that Apophis would not catch the scent of their breath. But Sha'uri woke to a small form burrowing under the covers beside her, body warm and lithe. A moment later, a grinning, breathless voice said "Sister. Come see!"

She hnnfed and swatted halfheartedly, but her brother ducked her hand. In any case, she couldn't be too angry at him: in a few more turns of the daughter moon she would be a woman – unwed, but a woman still – and this would be profane. But now they were children, and she could hold on to that, and try to enjoy her brother's visit and whatever mischief he had in mind.

Because it was always mischief, with Skaara.

"You must come," he said, and his voice had the absolute certainty of one his age. "Come on, sister, wake up."

"I am awake," she groused. "How could anyone sleep with you bothering them?" She found his shoulder under the blanket and gave him a shove, and he tumbled away and took the blanket with him. She stood up, into the night chill, and reached for her cloak.

"Sandals, sister," Skaara said, and rooted around in the darkness until he found them. They landed in front of her feet with two plops. "Come on, hurry!"

"Has Ra descended to Abydos?" Sha'uri muttered, slipping her feet into the sandals. Skaara had always been an enthusiastic boy. She just wished that his enthusiasm didn't extend to these dark patches of the night.

And, if she were honest, she wished that in part because she could have taken the darkness to sneak back into the caves Father had forbidden, light a torch, and watch the light flicker over the images on the wall. So illuminated, they would seem to move – and even though symbols beyond the was and the Eye were forbidden, Sha'uri could imagine that they would speak to her. Like her father's voice when he performed rites in the temple, the meaning was only muddled by distance, and if she was quiet enough and listened carefully enough she would have that secret knowledge shared by priests and gods. But she hadn't taken Skaara there – she doubted her brother could keep a secret – and so on nights when he woke her, her curiosity was put aside.

She stamped her feet to be sure the sandals held firm. "Go on, then," she whispered. Careful not to wake anyone who might hear. "What have you found?"

Skaara grinned at her and took of running, and Sha'uri rushed after him.

He ran out past the huts, and then out past the tents where the roads gave way to sand and the only walls were cloth. And then down the long path of marker-stones as though going to the mine, and Sha'uri held her questions. Soon they turned, and Skaara led her to the small, hidden creek from which they drew their water, where another collection of tents held the men who would wake with the sun and work the pumps to draw water up from the ground. Now, without their assistance, the creek was less than a knuckle's depth of water whispering across stone.

Skaara pushed past a screen of scraggled bushes, what few leaves they had fat and round with water jealously guarded, and Sha'uri could see the face and wary eyes of a young mastadge peering out at her.

"Oh," she said, and blinked.

She hadn't known what to expect. But the wrinkled face under the branches wasn't it. There were mastadges in the city, of course – the ones who brought fish and grain to them from Awanu; the ones who hauled the precious metal from the mines and foundries to the great pyramid. But the business of priests was not the business of beasts of burden.

"I've named him. Shadhed." Skaara beamed. "He was lying on his back in the desert. I brought him here to drink and he ate some of the branches."

"And what were you doing in the desert?" Sha'uri asked, and looked at the bush again. "Tempting Setesh?" And what, she could have added, do you expect to do with a mastadge?

Skaara ignored her question. Probably, he knew she didn't mean it. They were both children who were most obedient when their father was watching. "Do you think I could ride him?"

Sha'uri thought of two images: one, her brother on the back of this calf, cheering and waving a stick about like the staff of some king of legend. Two, the mastadge bucking from the noise and the unfamiliar weight and dropping Skaara to the sand and treading on his head. "You don't know how to ride a mastadge."

"But I could learn. Would Father let me keep it?" It only took a moment after he said that for him to discard the idea entirely. "You have to help me hide it. You know the good hiding spots in the desert."

Sha'uri looked at him, sharp and shocked.

"You go out into the desert," Skaara protested, his expression oddly earnest. "I see you. But I always lose track of you."

He sounded disgruntled enough that Sha'uri laughed. "Women's things," she lied – because those pictures she sought out did have the edge of condemnation to them, and Skaara would grow to be a priest of Ra. He should not be corrupted, nor condemned. And it was easy to make a boy lose interest in women's things.

"You're not a woman yet," Skaara said, petulant.

"But I will be."

Absently, Sha'uri smoothed down her kalasiri. She didn't know what the rites to move her to womanhood would be – she just noticed the older women looking appraisingly on her, measuring the changes in her body, beginning to prepare themselves to accept her among them. "What will you do with a mastadge?"

"He was lonely," Skaara said, and crouched down. Ran his hand along the mastadge's face, and the beast turned its head and leaned into his hand. So, not feral – and it had let itself be led here. Sha'uri wondered if it had an owner; some mastadge-driver whose cow had been recently bred. But if they had lost a calf, wouldn't news have spread through Nagada? Mastadges were valued. When one was lost, everyone knew.

"What will you feed it?" she asked. "Will it keep drinking water at the creek?"

"It will eat the desert scrub," Skaara said, stubborn as always. "Like the wild mastadges do. And I'll carry it water, if I have to."

Sha'uri had an image in her head now, of a tame mastadge wandering out in the desert, grazing along – what a ridiculous sight. Cut off from a herd, neither belonging to the city nor not. Like a temple ruin standing along amid the sands. Absurd. "I think you should take it to one of the drivers."

"It's not theirs," Skaara said, and leaned against the calf's shoulder. When he did that the calf leaned under his weight, and Sha'uri could see the thing's flank – thin and bony. Maybe not a calf, then. Maybe a juvenile, but half-starved. Left for whatever reason out to die.

"Sister, help me!" Skaara said. Then, with a flash of seriousness, "if you don't help me, I'll take him out into the desert and hide him myself."

Sha'uri sighed, and tried not to let a small smile onto her lips. It was what she'd expected. She'd made similar ultimatums, herself.

"I will help you hide him," she said. "But there will be a time I ask you to do something..."

Skaara nodded, all that boyish seriousness still stamped on his face. "Yes, I promise. I promise you and Ra."

"All right," Sha'uri said, and knelt down. Skaara had knotted a rope loosely around the mastadge's neck, and Sha'uri took the end of it. "Come along, both of you. And Skaara, you must get this animal a proper harness."

"I'll ride him!" Skaara said, and clambered onto the beast's back before Sha'uri could ease him up. Sha'uri caught her breath, but the mastadge took the indignity with no complaint, and raised itself up on only slightly unsteady legs.

She looked over both of them, but the mastadge seemed strong enough to carry one small, enthusiastic burden, and Skaara looked so proud of himself with his hands holding tight to the mastadge's mane. So Sha'uri tugged the rope, gently, and led both of them over the creek and away from the sleeping city, into the sands and the ruins she knew well.
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