Chapter 1: Mangoes

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In the oldest legends, the Sun was named Star-Mother. It was Star-Mother who, when the heavens were still warm and cherry-red from creation, took the first breath of life. It was Star-Mother who, as the cooling song rang out through all there was, molded the breath in her belly. It was Star Mother who, as the glow faded into darkness, bore the first dragons.

She loved her children as much as the sky is high, and It was because of this that she made for them three gifts: The Stars, so that there would always be light in the darkness; The Moon, so that they would remember her even when she was gone; and the World, so that they would always have a home.

Star-Mother's children grew mighty, and wise, and beautiful with these gifts. And although they no longer need her, each day Star-Mother flies over them, watchful for threats. Each day as she does, Star-Mother looks down on her children, and her children's children, and shines brightly with pride.

"Wait, wasn't there a fourth child?"

Sabrina Bunahr closed her eyes and knit her brow in concentration. She was a stout girl, broad at the shoulder and hip, with dark, warm skin and firm features. She was dressed in a robe of gauzy silk and a dress of sheer cashmere, and her sleek, blue-black hair was tied up with a chain of gold. The chain encircled her hairline and hung down on her forehead, where a single, brilliantly purple amethyst was cradled in her brow.

"Yes," she said. "Definitely something about a fourth child. Bar... something. Or... Bey?"

She dabbed at her forehead with the silken scarf she carried, and as she did she hid a low, soft sigh behind it. The heat wasn't helping her memory in the slightest. The worst rains of the wet season had ended, but the humidity had not, leaving a sticky, stagnant heat in the air. The interior of the palace had been transformed into a single, gigantic oven, so hot that Sabrina could scarcely think without sweating.

The palace gardens offered some small reprieve. The occasional breeze took the edge off the heat, and the cascading fountains offered cooling spray. Even so, the air was oppressive. Sabrina's face and arms were gleaming with sweat, and she didn't dare check the dress beneath her robe to assess the damage.

Astha lounged on the rim of the fountain, flicking idly through the book. "Mm," she said. "Nope. Nothing about a fourth child."

Sabrina frowned. "Really?" she asked. "I could have sworn..." She dipped her fingers into the fountain and rubbed them on the back of her neck.. The sudden coolness sent a refreshing shiver down her spine, and she straightened up once again. "Alright. So no fourth child. Then, where was I?"

Astha continued to flip through the book. "You can probably skip the next part," she said. "It's just lists. Lots and lots of lists. Of titles, and materials, and plants, and animals..." She rubbed her head. "For a species that barely has a written language, they sure are thorough about what they record."

"I believe it's metaphorical," another girl, Kamalakshi, offered. She sat beside Sabrina on the bench, slightly taller and straight as a pole. She was a wispy, stringy girl, as though someone had taken a normal person and stretched them out, although she was far from waifish. "Like Vikaasi's Hundred Thousand Seeds. They just discovered a lot of things."

"If it was a metaphor," Astha countered, "Why wouldn't they just say something simple like that? Instead of..." she flipped back to the beginning of the lists and began to read, "Iron and marble and sandstone; dunes and stones and mountains; Silver and Gold and Tigers-Eye; poppies and hawthorn and stinging pears; thunder and lightning and sandstorms..." She took a deep breath and flipped the page.

"Because," Kamalakshi cut her off, "they live in a desert full of absolutely nothing. They probably needed some way to entertain themselves. And if they do something practical, like... teaching their children what to avoid until they were old enough to deal with it, then all the better." She flicked her hair over her shoulder and said, without even trying to hide her disdain, "Or perhaps whoever was telling the legend to the recorder was enjoying a new form of torment and tedium."

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