“I know I appear to you as a sweetmeat, mighty Bashet, Queen of the River Ia, but if you allow me to pass, I will bring you an army, led by one far fatter than I, upon which you might feast.”
Padeb’s dark curls were filled with the dust of the desert where he had hidden his tracks from his pursuers. His skin, normally the warm color of cedar, was instead the color of sand, clumping at the corners of his warm — if tired — eyes. Upon his chin, adorned with nothing but an unkempt tuft, were the marks of manhood of his adopted people: three small, faint circles below his lower lip. Across his shoulders hung a worn cotton shift that had perhaps once been a fine article of clothing, but was no longer. Around his waist was wrapped indigo-striped linen, and around him lay the few items that he had carried with him: a waterskin made of the leather of the thigh of an akum, a bone flute, and a banner, upon which was written adoration of the name of the desert sky.
“Little thing,” said the queen in a quiet voice that echoed in Padeb’s chest, “you are within the reach of my maw. I would gain no sustenance from consuming you, but your stringy flesh might tickle amusingly as birds remove it from my teeth.”
Padeb’s smile remained, but his throat convulsed in a faltering swallow, trying to moisten his dust-cracked lips, though his tongue remained dry. “Ah, well, if you need sustenance, an earthen-being pursues me with ill intent. I have evaded him for a time, but he is not far, and I can summon him here with his murderous servants. Though he has lost me for now, he has sworn pursuit to my death. But if you eat me, he, fattened with water and provisions for the chase, his flesh made delicate with ease and with the spices he consumes, his skin fragrant with oil, will never find his way to your shore.”
The queen’s grin now mimicked his, though his whole body could fit therein. “Little earthen-being, I am curious to taste the flesh you so describe. But foreverafter, when I feel hunger, you will feel it just as do I.”
The agreement between the two stood. Akhenat, who called himself River King, known to many as Daughter of All that is Lost, was that day consumed by Bashet, as were Akhenat’s mighty son and lieutenant. And, foreverafter until he died, Padeb would, at times, feel a hunger begin to grow. With Bashet’s distant hunger grew his teeth until they protruded from his lips, his skin would crack and toughen, and his eyes would turn the color of gold. And nothing could contain the hunger, but to bring sacrifice to Queen Bashet, immortal crocodile of the River, Ia.