—Rome 450 AD—
As Lidia plopped her hands into a heavy clay bowl of flour, a dusty spray plumed into the air, casting a million specks into the sunlight slanting across the room from a high rectangular window.
Her daughter, Marcia, stared up enchanted. Her lips parted in a soft smile, while her eyes danced in rhythm to the twirling, sparking mini-universe spreading wide throughout the kitchen. Her voice dropped to a reverent whisper. “Papa says the world goes on forever—is that true?”
After thoroughly dusting a ball of dough, Lidia pressed it flat on the kneading trough. She grunted, her eyes on her work, but her gaze turned inward. “Your father says a great many things—some he oughtn’t.” She flipped the dough over and shrugged. Her focus cleared, and she spared a glance at the little girl. “You know how he is.”
Laying an open palm on the table, Marcia waited in hopeful expectation.
With a snort, Lidia ripped off a hunk and dropped it into the child’s hands. “Don’t knead it too much, remember. The soldiers return today—by the gods’ mercy—and he’ll enjoy a nice soft bread for a change.”
Marcia eased her fingers onto the pliant dough and allowed her hands to undulate like deep-sea fronds waving in a gentle current. A studious frown etched across her brow. “Will he stay long this time?”
Placing the shaped dough onto a baking tray, Lidia wiped the excess flour from the edges. “These are a ruinous time for soldiers and high born alike. Rome has lost her footing, and the gods are not pleased. Invaders break in the front door while useless slaves run out the back.”
“But Papa says that Rome is invincible. We dare the impossible”
Lidia shoved a smaller tray in front of her daughter and watched her lay the dough straight. A flicker of a smile swept across her face and just as quickly vanished. She retreated to a large oven set in the back wall and slid the two trays on a shelf. Clapping the dust from her hands, she jutted her chin in the direction of a pail of water. “Wash up and go outside now. Keep an eye out for Papa.”
Marcia dunked her hands in the cold water and scrubbed away the shreds of sticky dough. After rinsing twice, she patted her hands dry and held them up for her mother’s inspection. “We are invincible—aren’t we?”
Bending with her hands on her thighs, Lidia fixed her daughter in the eye. “Truth is, no one born of a woman is invincible. Only the gods be invincible—and even they suffer loss and death.” She straightened and washed her hands, splashing drops on the dusty floor. “We dare the impossible—true—while we may.” She nodded to the threshold leading to a garden path. “But don’t worry your father with such notions. He’s suffered on every side, and I won’t have him lose his faith as well.”
Marcia’s gaze wandered back to the sunlit kitchen. The sparking universe had disappeared into shadows. She blinked and set her jaw. The entire Roman world might crumble—but a miniature universe floated in hidden mystery all around her—if only she dared the impossible.
—Planet Helm—Bhuaci Capitol—
*Bhuaci are a gelatinous race that can mold themselves into the likeness of a variety of races, both sentient and not. Bhuaci are often called the perfect race as they often mold themselves to the physical ideal of any race they encounter.
Sitting at a large ornate desk with a highly decorated border, Crimson dipped her quill in ink, wrote a long scrawling line, and grinned at the result.
A cherubic boy with a dimple in each cheek, golden curls, and twirling a blooming forsythia branch stopped before the red-hued, lanky Bhuaci beauty and grinned. “What ‘cha doing?”
Crimson peered from her parchment to the childish form in front of her and snarled. “Get away from me you—absurdity.”
The cherub’s eyes gleamed in anything-but-innocent delight. He swept his dainty fingers down his fulsome figure. “Don’t you like it? You’re always telling me to get a new look. Well, cherubs happen to be all the rage these days.”
Crimson let her pen fall from her fingers as her eyes widened in disgust. Her snarl morphed into a snort. “You always traipse after the newest fashion—never really live in any form—just change to keep up with the crowd.” Retrieving her pen, she punctuated the air. “You’d take an insect shape on a dare—and get stepped on before the day was out.”
The Cherub’s eyes glimmered and narrowed as his body grew, adding weight, muscle, color, and masculinity. Now towering above the Bhuaci female as a gleaming warrior wearing a sleeveless tunic—every fiber of his perfect form, from his deep-set blue eyes, determined chin, squared shoulders, barrel chest, and muscular legs screamed classic male beauty.
Crimson tilted her head and considered the specimen before her. She sniffed. “You might have hit on something this time, Kane.” Her mouth twitched. “Let’s see how long it lasts.”
Kane sauntered to the high desk and leaned over Crimson’s shoulder. “You never answered my question.”
With a plaintive sigh, Crimson picked up her pen and dipped it in the inkpot. “I’m trying to work—if you don’t mind.”
“With a feather?”
“It’s a quill, idiot.” Crimson pointed to a sign over the door. “Record’s office—remember? I transcribe ships’ logs. Today I have to transcribe Longjur’s hasty notes and send them—”
A blush crept over Kane’s face. “Longjur? He’s been observing Earth—right?”
“Yep, and by the Divide, he has a lot to say! Mostly it’s as boring as watching a cactus grow in the dry season. But this part—”
Kane’s gaze scanned the nearly empty page. “Where?”
Crimson frowned. “Well, I was just getting to it when you interrupted. I have it here.” She tapped a panel embedded in the desk. “But I’m making a formal copy for the Kestrel Committee. I thought ink on parchment would do nicely to reflect the culture and add a bit of authenticity and charm. They’ll look it over before making recommendations—”
Kane shook his head. “Forget all that! What did he say? Is he going back?”
Crimson slapped her cheek and rolled her eyes. “He went on and on about silly details—Emperors and warriors and their never-ending battles, women and men sweating in the hot sun and toiling for their food, and the most ignorant ceremonies I’ve ever heard of! But, there was one point of interest…” She checked her notes, running her finger along the lines. “About a little girl, sunlight, and a hidden—”
Kane groaned, his shoulders sagging. “I want to go there—someday.” He shrugged. “It’s why I take on so many forms—for practice. I’d love to explore that system. Humanoids seem so—impossible.” He peered down at Crimson and their eyes met. “You know what I mean?”
Crimson tapped the panel, a lopsided smile wavering on her lips. “Don’t despair. You must have read Longjur’s mind. He said that exact thing—and I quote: ‘They are impossible beings, yet they bring their faith to fruition.’”
Kane leaned in and stared deep into Crimson’s eyes. “So, you think I might go—”
Crimson chuckled and returned to her work. “You’d fit right in.”
A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page
“When I found out she had a new collection out, this volume, I grabbed it immediately and started reading it that day.” ~Steven
“There are many excellent stories in this collection.” ~McEvoy
A delightful collection of short stories that draw you in, wanting more. ~Discovery, Gale Kaufman