Count Your Blessings
They slept until mid-afternoon, when Rangar woke Mantu and Junt to take their Strengthening potion.
"Oh, thank you," Mantu said to Rangar. "Any word from Bimeny?"
"Why, um, yes. He came in early this morning, said he had a scuffle with someone named Relbeck or Rellic or something like that. Anyway, said they pitched him over the edge! I guess he took quite a fall, took most of the morning to get back up," she said, handing Junt a sandwich.
"Is he alright?" Mantu asked, rapidly coming to his full height.
"He’s fine," Rangar said, pointing to where he slept. "See for yourself."
Mantu ran over to his little brother and pulled the cover back. Bimeny rolled and their eyes met in horror!
"Ahhh!" They both screamed and jumped.
Sizing each other up, Bimeny said, "Is it really you?"
"Who else would I be?
"You’re so different! Your face is longer." Bimeny leapt to his feet and started around his brother. "Your ears are like, like... a horse’s! You got your horse’s blessing! Look at that mane, how long and golden it is!"
"What about you?" Mantu asked as he sidled around his little brother. "You look, well, like you’ve been through the storm yourself."
"What would you expect, after rolling halfway down the mountain? I got these plant things stuck to my arms and all over."
"Was it Raleck? Tell me what happened."
Mantu’s eyes grew livid as Bimeny recounted the attack and his climb back up to the summit.
"When I see Raleck next, I’ll make him wish he’d not lived through the storm. Now, come out in the light and let’s look at these things on your arms properly in the sun."
The two boys strolled outside the cave.
As they emerged into the sun, Mantu inspected Bimeny’s arms. "They’re on your back and chest as well. It means they’re coming from inside you and not stuck to you or they’d be stuck to your tunic. They’re part of you. Do you feel any different?"
"Well, the light looks a little funny. My colors aren’t just right."
Mantu squinted, trying to get a better look at Bimeny’s eyes.
"Your eyes, the colored part, they’re not round anymore, more like slits... and I can see a flame flickering in the black centers."
"What! Do you think I’m stupid? You’re just jerking my chain, flames in my eyes?" Bimeny scoffed.
Mantu stepped back to get a better overall look.
"Bimeny," Mantu asked solemnly. "Do you remember getting hit by a bolt of lightning?"
Bimeny thought for a moment, trying to remember exactly what happened and when.
"Well, I remember seeing stars a lot. But I don’t recall getting hit by... wait a minute, just after I stopped falling, something hit my hand and made my whole body ache like it was on fire."
Bimeny turned his hand over looking closely at it. "Look, it must’ve hit me here."
Mantu pulled his hand up close to his face, so he could see it more clearly. "Wow, the burn is even shaped like a lizard’s head. See, there’s the mouth and the eyes. Did you have your Stonekeep with you?"
"Yeah, I kept it with me all day. Figured I might scrounge my last one from someone else’s leavings. Like this one here, I found it on the ridge," he said, pulling the odd-shaped rock out of his pocket.
Mantu grabbed the rock and started examining it like a prospector checking out a gold nugget. "It looks like it was a piece of a really thick shell or something."
"What difference does it make, shell or stone? It wasn’t in my stonekeep and it hadn’t been purified anyways." Bimeny’s attention returned to the plates on his arm. "So, it’s no big deal? I’ll just go down to the river and soak ’em off, right?" Bimeny was tapping one of the plates on his arm. It was more of a request for confirmation than a true question.
"I don’t think you will," Mantu said calmly but factually. "It looks like you’ve been blessed!"
"I’m not... what did you say?"
Bimeny stammered as the dawning of Mantu’s revelation came together in his head.
"I said it looks like you’ve been blessed!"
"Blessed with what?" Bimeny said, looking at his legs, where scales were starting to appear more clearly. "You mean these things are on me to stay?!"
"I’m not sure, but judging by all the clues, it’s some kind of lizard blessing." Mantu was smiling broadly as he turned to summon his aunt. But before vanishing into the darkness of the cave, he looked back to Bimeny. "One thing is for sure, it isn’t carrots!"
Bimeny sat there staring. A million thoughts raced through his mind. When will I stop changing? What will I be when it’s done? Blessed, me! What could the storm have in mind involving Lizards? Can I still die from the blessing? LIZARDS! What possible need could the community have for lizards? On and on his mind raced. And the longer he sat there, the more scales seemed to grow on his body. It was almost like armor, he thought, armor you can’t take off.
Rangar rushed from the cave to Bimeny’s side, scowling. "Let me see your eyes." She took her thumb and used it to slide the upper lid open wide and tilted his head back to get a good look. She peered over top of him like she was looking for a speck of sand in his eye and instantly jumped back like something bit her, or perhaps, was about too.
"I wish you guys would stop doing that," Bimeny scolded.
Placing her fingertips over her gaping mouth, she mumbled, "Oh, I’m... I’m so sorry. I was checking to see if the whites were yellow. It might have indicated the presence of a poison. I didn’t expect to see... to see flames or slits like a cat or lizard. It just took me by surprise, you poor boy."
"It surprised me too. They look fine from this side except my colors are off a little, I think. Things just don’t look exactly right. I haven’t seen my reflection yet, but if my face looks like the rest of me, I’m in no hurry." Bimeny just looked down at his feet.
"It does indeed look like you’ve been blessed," Rangar said, stepping back to look at him better. "And your face, it... it looks just as sweet as ever," she continued, but the forced smile told him a different story.
"I can’t be blessed, I’m too young. I shouldn’t get blessed for two seasons yet. It must be something else. I mean, what possible use could the community have for a lizard blesser?" Bimeny said it like he was trying to talk Rangar out of his blessing.
"Well, the storm doesn’t make mistakes," she said sweetly, as only an aunt can. Not knowing what else to do, she said, "You should have some strengthening potion. You should’ve had it last night! You should have told me!" Rangar turned and ambled back into the cave mumbling, "What will your mother think of me? She should have told me you were getting blessed too."
Bimeny just watched her walking back to the cave. Sitting there open mouthed, not believing what he was hearing, then looking back to Junt and Mantu and speaking with an exasperated tone. "But I didn’t know myself until just now and I really don’t need any strengthening potion, I’m fine, really."
But Rangar was not to be deterred. She returned with a large flask. "Drink this. All of it. And don’t spill a drop. I barely have enough. You’re just lucky I brought extra."
"ALL of it? But I feel fine!"
"All of it. Your body will need it to replenish itself from all the changes. By the looks of you now, this may not be enough!" Rangar commanded in her motherly tone, tapping her gnarled finger against the side of the flask. "Drink up!"
Bimeny took a big swig and winced at the taste. "How about you, Junt, what kind of blessing did you get?"
"Guess," she said batting her eyes at him.
"Wow, they’re as blue as the sky. Are you a wind blesser?" he asked.
"No, better. Watch!" Kneeling down, she dished out some sand to make a bowl. Placing a hand flat on the ground as her eyes closed, a serene smile started to appear.
Mesmerized, Bimeny watched the depression filling with water. "You’re a water witch! How cool is that?"
"The only down side so far," she said, giggling, "is I can drench myself just brushing my hair. I have to really think about what I’m doing. How about you? Anything new in your abilities, or just these blue plate things stuck all over you?"
"So far, just these scale things and my eyes. Hey, could you fill a bowl with water so I can see my face? Please? I haven’t a clue what I look like."
"Sure. It would be my first official act!" and Junt grabbed a bowl and held it out in front of her and closed her eyes. The bowl magically started filling with water out of thin air.
"Wow, how did you do that?"
"There is water in the air. I just made it come together over the bowl," Junt said with a smile, and handed him the bowl. "It’s so easy. I don’t know why it didn’t come to me before I got blessed!
Bimeny tilted the bowl to his lips. "Mmm, it’s good too."
Setting the bowl on the rock he positioned himself to see his reflection. Opening his eyes wide he wanted to see the flames. What he saw startled him for a moment. Blushing because he startled himself, he smiled and went back for a better look. He turned his head left and right examining his scales and the ring of bone starting to appear at his hairline.
"Did I say it could be worse?" Bimeny said, turning to Mantu.
"What do you mean?"
"A cabbage blesser would at least be useful. What use could the community have for Lizards?"
"I don’t know. Shoes, packs, maybe they’re good to eat?"
"I don’t think I’m here about dinner," Bimeny said, pointing over Mantu’s shoulder and bursting out in laughter, "I think dinner’s going to be his job."
Mantu turned around and saw Raleck sporting his new blessing. He had very long white fuzzy ears, a little pink nose and his two front teeth stuck out. His gait was more of a hop it seemed, than a walk. Around his feet were about thirty little white fluffy bunnies.
"Too bad you didn’t get a carrot blessing. You two could have been best pals!" Mantu laughed until he had tears flowing from his face. Then just as quickly, it seemed, his expression changed.
"I’m going to teach him a final lesson."
Bimeny spoke quickly "No, don’t."
The pause was long. Mantu just looked at his little brother.
"What do you mean, ‘don’t!’ Look what he did to you."
"Maybe I had it coming, and who knows, maybe there’s still a blessing in this for me."
Mantu wasn’t going to let it go easily, "Why, what did you do to deserve this?"
"I don’t know, nothing really, let’s just skip it. Looks like he’s been paid back by the storm anyway doesn’t it? I’d rather be a lizard than a bunny any day."
Bimeny pushed off the rock he was sitting on and started to straighten up, when he froze. His eyes grew very large. Using his thumbs, he gingerly pulled his waistband out and looked down, releasing his waistband gently and smiling weakly to Junt, as he turned his back and adjusted himself. Junt caught on and giggled as she turned to watch the rabbits trailing behind Raleck.
Turning back again, Mantu looked at him with concern. "Um, are you... alright?"
"Uh, yeah. It... it just appears I’m not quite done growing scales."
Mantu’s eyes got wide.
"It shouldn’t be a problem, unless I’m in a real hurry," Bimeny whispered meekly.
"What next, are you going to grow a tail?"
"Why not, I almost lost this one."
Mantu broke out in laughter, but this time it sounded more like a horse laughing than a man. That set them all laughing even more.
It was already late afternoon and the sun would soon be setting behind the mountains. They decided to wait until the following morning to start back down. Malageth told them they probably wouldn’t want to head back down right away, and she was right. She also knew they were with Rangar, so she wouldn’t worry.
"Boy, Malageth is really going to be surprised," Bimeny said to Mantu. "I just hope she isn’t mad."
"What could she be mad about?"
"I was supposed to take care of you. Instead, I went and got myself blessed. It was a good thing Rangar was here. You could have both died."
"Nah, it wasn’t too bad. There were some people who got it pretty bad, but we really didn’t even need the strengthening potion. We just took it because Rangar made us."
Bimeny didn’t look like he was finding relief in Mantu’s words.
"Look, it’s not like you were trying to get blessed. You didn’t even say the rite."
"Yes, I did. I said it for you and Junt. Secretly, maybe I was anxious to get blessed too. Recently, it’s been all about you, hasn’t it? I guess the storm heard me. This could be my punishment for being selfish." Bimeny spoke in near silent resignation.
"I don’t think the storm works that way."
"Oh yeah?" Bimeny’s voice suddenly rose to a feverish level. "When was the last time the community needed a Fire Newt blesser?!" And he ran from the cave into the starless dark of the night.
Mantu ran after him but didn’t get fifteen steps outside the cave before he was standing in pitch black. The moons weren’t up yet. He couldn’t see anything.
"Bimeny, where are you?" he said quietly.
"I’m right here, ya git. Are you blind?"
Sarcastically, Mantu shot back, "Well, uh, yeah, I guess I am."
"Right. Here, catch this," Bimeny said, tossing a rock at Mantu’s head.
"OUCH! What’d you do that for?"
"Well, why didn’t you catch it, or at least duck, you idiot!?"
"I didn’t see it coming. In case you haven’t noticed, its pitch black out here!"
"Well, give the lad a biscuit! Duh! You mean you honestly can’t see it’s dark?" Mantu was still rubbing the spot where the rock hit.
"No, it looks just like it does every afternoon," Bimeny said in exasperation.
"Where is the sun?"
Bimeny stood and turned around, looking for the source of the light. "I’m sorry, I guess it’s part of the change. I can see everything like it’s midday."
"Wow, it’s pretty cool, eh?"
"I’ll let you know how cool it is when I try and go to sleep later. Life without night. I don’t know if any of this is going to be a blessing."
He sat there with the feelings of disparity welling up inside of him. Mantu heard him start to whimper and moved quickly towards the sound. He found him and he held him tightly. The scales pinched him as he did, and Mantu was forced to loosen his hug, but he knew his little brother needed him. He vowed silently to himself to stay there as long as he needed.
After a while, Bimeny sat up and Mantu instinctively released his embrace and asked tenderly, "Are you going to be alright?"
"I don’t know. All I know right now is, I can’t cry."
"Good, I knew you would buck up. Nothing can keep my little brother down."
"No," Bimeny said, "I can no longer make tears."
"Oh. ...Um, help me find my way back to the cave, would you?"
"Sure." Bimeny said, and he led his brother back to the cave.
Rangar and Junt had already gone to sleep, so Mantu and Bimeny found a corner and spread their blankets and lay there in the dark.
"Bimeny," Mantu spoke softly and quietly.
"Your armor is poking me in the back."
He scooted himself over and without any further words, fell soundly asleep.
When they woke up the next morning, there was a chill in the air. Mantu got up and wrapped his blanket around him. His teeth were still chattering, but he had to go find a tree. Nature was calling and urgency was in her voice. Bimeny was intent on having a few minutes more shuteye.
"Bimeny, light some Fire Moss. It’s freezing in here."
"Here!" Bimeny shot back and tossed him his blanket.
"Aren’t you freezing?"
"No, it’s not cold, should I be?"
"Yes, my teeth are chattering, I’m so cold." Mantu stuttered.
"Alright," he said, leaping to his feet and grabbing his pack. Fishing out the Fire Moss, flint and steel striker, he started striking the steel against the flint, shooting great sparks into the careful nest made in the fire moss. Bimeny blew on it to make it glow hotter while Mantu started to dance from his ever urging need.
They went over the hill away from the camp and found a nice secluded clump of trees. Mantu wasted no time taking care of business.
Bimeny, however, seemed to be having some difficulty navigating his shorts. It seemed his armor grew during the night, stretching the material tightly over the edge of his plates. Finally able to rid himself of his shorts all together, he faced a new dilemma entirely. It seemed his equipment was now quite safely hidden behind his newly formed armor. He tried stretching, placing one foot up on a tree stump, jumping, prying, and then finally, squatting. Relief!
"Yes sireee! This is going to be a whole new way of life for you isn’t it!" Mantu asked in obvious amusement as he watched his brother go through the gyrations trying to locate his manhood. Strangely enough, Mantu noted, even when squatting, nothing was exposed to view. From either side! Bimeny was less than amused.
Bimeny had a nearly complete suit of armor. Only his face, palms and soles of his feet did not have scales. The skin on his feet was rough and bluish and tougher. His head was circled with a thin dark ring of bone just about the hairline. There were three narrow bone-like ribs which were evenly spaced on his forehead ring, then came together just above his spine above the neckline. It afforded his head protection but still allowed his hair to grow. All of the flexible areas of his body joints, like the inside of his elbows and the back of his knees, were covered with tough bluish skin like he had on his feet. It was still very flexible but yet so tough Bimeny couldn’t even cut himself with a knife there.
It was plain that he was still human, but his skin was completely different and mostly blue. His face, however, was still fair and cream-colored and soft to the touch.
Bimeny put his clothes back on. The scales facilitated removal much better than installation. He struggled to pull the shorts up. They kept catching on the scales.
"Come on, Bimeny, are you going to take all day?" Mantu said, obviously amused.
"Hold your horses!" Bimeny shot back.
"Oh, cute. Geez, if it takes you this long to get dressed every time you go, we’re going to have to schedule breaks." Mantu said, laughing.
"Yeah, well we’ll see how you do your first day with glasses, horse face." Bimeny chided.
The boys made their way back up the hill to the camp and to breakfast. The Fire Moss made the cave warm and toasty. For Bimeny, it seemed to make no difference at all, but he was happy to have been of help. He still felt like he had fallen way short on taking care of his responsibilities, and it bothered him a lot, even though it was not his fault.
He couldn’t get over how much of him changed. Junt’s only visible changes were her eyes. Mantu’s face got longer and his nose flatter. His ears were on top of his head like a horse’s. Even Raleck, with his long white ears and pink nose, was nowhere close to the changes that occurred in Bimeny. He watched for it as they came down the hill, and everyone else watched him too. They stared long and hard as they went by. Besides being mostly blue and lizard-looking, he was a lot shorter and younger than everyone else. It was obvious he was much too young for the Stormtraub. Some women even wrinkled up their noses at him, denoting their disapproval.
"Looks like you might have a little trouble finding someone to take to a dance, little brother," Mantu said, as he watched two sniggering girls go by.
"I can’t dance anyways." Bimeny answered. "I’d probably slice ’em to ribbons with this armor. Have you ever heard of the Storm’s blessings being reversed?" Bimeny asked, changing the subject.
"Nope! Never. What you get, you get. It’s a gamble. Whatever happened to, ‘I’ll start growing toads the next day’?" Mantu said mockingly. Bimeny gave his brother a shove. Mantu countered with a punch in the arm. "OUCH! Oh, that hurt." Only it was Mantu saying it. Bimeny laughed.
"Well, at least it won’t hurt to be me," he laughed.
"Oh, yeah? Well, it hurts me with you being you." Mantu winced, shaking his hand up and down as if to shake off the pain and looking at his knuckles.
The trip down the mountain took a lot less time than up, and it was a good thing too. Bimeny was really getting tired of the stares, sneers and laughter. It wasn’t much better when he got to Haven Plat. There were a lot of fingers pointing as he and Mantu walked through town. It wasn’t unusual for the town to turn out to see how the storm blessed them. Knowing what the storm provided in the way of blessings was a sort of almanac for what was to come. If the storm provides growers, then they know harsh weather is ahead, healers mean sickness, animal handlers mean prosperity. So what could they divine from lizard boy walking through town? A fly infestation? No one had any idea, but if this is what came down from the mountain, then the storm was at least telling them to expect an interesting season.
They said goodbye to Rangar and Junt and thanked them for everything, then they turned and walked towards home.
Bimeny was surprisingly ambivalent towards the whole thing. Maybe it was the extra attention he was getting, or maybe it was like a treasure hunt, waiting to find the next great prize to come out of this, but in any case, Bimeny just wasn’t terribly upset by it all. He had good moments and bad, like anyone would in such a position. But as he told Mantu after the first day, "If you can’t cry, then why waste time trying?"
The next great surprise was about to happen, but it wasn’t going to be for Bimeny. Home was just up the road, and Malageth had no clues as to what she was about to see. The boys were sitting by the side of the road, talking about how to present it to her, and they could not see just how they could do it with any grace at all. There was simply no way to prepare Malageth for this surprise. So they agreed to have Mantu go in first, and they would just play it by ear. This way, he could catch her when she fainted. So, the house was in sight. If she saw them coming, then the rest would make no difference. The lizard would be out of the bag, so to speak. Well, they made it to the steps. So far, no screams, no thuds.
Mantu entered the house first. He listened carefully and then heard what he was listening for. Malageth was in the kitchen. He motioned to Bimeny to follow. When they got outside the kitchen, Mantu motioned to Bimeny to wait there while he went in and broke the ice. Mantu entered the kitchen and cleared his throat, which sounded more like a whinny than a throat clearing. Malageth turned around and saw Mantu. A great smile grew on her face and she ran over and hugged him tightly. She took him by the shoulders and moved him around to see him better in the window light. Her back was now to Bimeny.
"Look at you! You got your horse blessing!" she said, rubbing the space above his eyes and moving on to feel his ears. He instinctively squinted as she rubbed the place between his ears. She turned him a little more. "And look at your mane! How beautiful it is! Is everything alright? You have no ill effects?" she asked.
"No, I’m fine. But, well, there is something you should know."
As Mantu was speaking, Bimeny moved quietly into the kitchen and picked up a carrot off of the table and started to munch on it.
"There was an unusual occurrence this Stormtraub. It concerns Bimeny."
"Is he alright? Where is he?" She demanded.
"I’m alright, I’m right here." Bimeny said, as he looked at the carrot and set it back down. "They just don’t taste the same." He glanced up at Malageth, who just stared open mouthed, not saying anything, not moving, not even blinking.
"Hi, Mom." Bimeny said, just standing there, tapping his fingers on the table and chewing the piece of carrot he had in his mouth. Malageth just stared, still not moving.
Bimeny looked at Mantu, "Is she still breathing?" he asked.
Mantu stepped forward and took Malageth’s elbow in one hand, placed his arm around her waist and guided her to the table, and helped her to sit down in the chair. Bimeny sat in the chair directly across from her. She was still staring open mouthed.
"Mom, it’s still me. I’ve just got this armor stuff on me and my eyes are a bit different." Her gaze instantly went to his eyes. Apparently, she hadn’t noticed his eyes yet. She continued to stare, taking in the absence of those sweet green eyes she had looked into his entire life. Bimeny was starting to get a little more than uncomfortable as he squirmed in his chair under her scrutiny.
"Mom," Bimeny said quietly, "I love you. Would you please say something or at least close your mouth? You’re starting to worry me." Malageth closed her mouth and came back from wherever she was. She hadn’t realized she had taken so long to take things in.
"I love you too. I’m sorry. It’s just so... so... are you alright?" Malageth managed to get out, finally.
She had a scowl on her face as she got up and got three cups off of their hooks on the wall. She set them on the table and went on to get the tea and hot water.
"I’m fine," he said and he started to tell her the whole story.
They all sat at the table and watched each other. Mantu would join in when he had something to offer or some observation to add. When he was done, he looked at Malageth.
"Mom, you’re staring again and your mouth is hanging open," Bimeny said, leaning a little closer and speaking softly to her.
"I’m sorry," she said. "It’s just all so unexpected. You’re so young and what could it mean?" Malageth responded, feeling slightly disoriented.
"Well, apparently the Storm didn’t think I was too young. We still don’t know what it means. It could’ve been a freak accident, we’re still not sure." Bimeny said. "But this much I know. I am still me and although my body is a little different than it was, everything still works. So if I’m a freak I’m a darn good one because most freaks are not this complete!
"As far as my abilities go, so far we have discovered I do not feel cold or hot and I can see perfectly in the dark. The armor is strong and protects all my soft spots." Bimeny stopped as Malageth looked at his eyes and then at his chest. He could tell she wanted to know the extent of the coverage so he stood up and peeled off his tunic and then started to undo his pants.
He unbuttoned them, paused for a moment, glanced at Mantu, who was laughing behind his hand, and then he dropped his shorts to the floor. Malageth was staring again with her mouth open, but her gaze was much lower now.
"How... how do you... go?" she asked with concerned curiosity.
Mantu could no longer contain himself.
"He has to squat!" he roared.
Bimeny shifted his weight slightly to one leg, tilted his head to one side with his hands on his hips and looked at Malageth. "He’s taking great pleasure in this part, isn’t he? Well, he’s right, when I have to uh... go, I just squat, and well, everything sort of just clears the armor," Bimeny said, now with a grin on his face and a little red in his cheeks. Malageth’s gaze went to his face and she grinned as she turned away on the pretense of getting more tea.
"Yes, well, let’s just hope you can still... you know... uh... have children." And she gave him a little grin back.
"Well, I don’t see it as an issue anytime soon, and when I do meet someone, she will have to have tougher skin than me. This armor is a little tough on the embrace, let alone anything else," he said.
"Well, give me a hug and we’ll try it out." Malageth said and she reached around him and gave him a big hug. She winced a little as she hugged him but she wasn’t going to let Bimeny know. He was still her son, after all. But as she squeezed him, two plates of his armor pinched together and involuntarily she said, "Ouch!" She looked at him tenderly and said, "I see what you mean," and then she hugged him some more. However, her embrace was much less tightly applied.
Mantu jumped up and looked at them. "I’m going out. See ya!"
"Wait, you just got home, where are you off to?" Malageth asked.
"The barn and then the pasture! I haven’t seen a horse yet. I want to start exploring my blessing. I want to see what I can do," and off Mantu went.