Drinking the Moon by Satyr Phil Brucato

For Sandi, who holds my Heart

She was thirsty, they said, to drink the moon. She sighed like a forsaken queen and left her features bare. The young men painted their faces crimson, and powdered their chests with emerald dust. Still, she had eyes for none of them. Instead, each night the girl climbed the hill beyond their home, hushed whispers in her wake.

Her mother, it was said, had been an errant harvest wind that caressed a farmer boy to sleep. He had slumbered till the next full moon, when storms rattled the tall trees and brought some low and shuddering. As that storm-moon yielded to the sovereignty of day, the young man awakened in the healer’s lodge, a bawling infant on his chest. He had raised her with tender strength until the night another storm came and carried him away. Since then, Wind’s Daughter had subsisted on the kindness of her people, growing lean and beautiful as thunder.

Still, she thirsted, and not jhala-wine nor poppy syrup nor clear water fresh from the sky could slake that thirst.

Old Tor, whose laughter caused the ground to quake, mulled whip-grass into heady brews. She smiled as she drank them down, but shook her head with sorrow. Smiling Orishala, whose arms clattered with bright bangles marking favor in men’s eyes, steamed wet earth from the dancing grounds, then mixed it with tears and a washes of spring rain. The girl drank till her belly swelled above her skirts, but still the thirst remained. Each night, though, above her, the moon called out, sweet with glowing promise. In me alone, it seemed to call, shall your thirst be fulfilled.

And so, she sought to drink the moon.

On dark nights, when the sky-witch hid her face and the crops muttered restless in their beds, the girl tossed and turned on sweet-smelling grass and warm furs within the virgins’ lodge. The other women watched her warily, their eyes dark with awe. No lullaby nor brew could bring her peace. Old Tor wove soft chains to bind her to her bed, but they broke apart on contact with her skin. Orishala, who knew about unruly sleep, sang ballads of warm water and old stone. Still, the girl rolled and sighed each night until moonlight shone again.

When moonlight bathed the landscape and made the lodge-roofs shine, the thirst girl would slip past the brave eunuchs outside the virgins’ door. Her cool touch upon their backs soothed them into sleep each night, and even the most steadfast among them could not resist that touch. Free to wander, she climbed the highest hill each night, picking through the wild darkness on feet light and sure as gold. Guided by the glow above, Wind’s Daughter rose past tigers, wolves and serpents to reach the peak unharmed. There, upon the stark crown of that highest hill, she’d throw back her head and stretch up her arms and try to drink the moon.

But there are voids in heaven and emptiness on earth. Though her devotions held her still and silent through each night, the moon-glow could not soothe her thirst.

Each morning, as mists fled before the dawn, the girl returned to the lodge, heart-dulled and dusty-throated. Her eyes still shimmered with cold luminescence, but her touch was cool as autumn rain. Old Tor, then, would hold her as she wept; Orishala would brew her bale-herb tea and talk of lovers until the sun rose high. In time, Wind’s Daughter would sleep, waking just before the skies blazed orange with the fading day. Returned’”as was proper’”to the virgins’ lodge, she’d escape once more and try to drink that moon. It was enough to make wise men chew their beards, and maidens burn their braids and eat the ashes.

One morning, as she lowered aching arms and coughed to clear her dusty throat, Wind’s Daughter wept, enraged. Her skin still rippled with the moon’s cool touch, but her throat felt tinder-parched. In a flash of rage, she stamped her heel into the peak’s bald head. A sudden arc of water burst across dry ground like rain. Within ten heartbeats, a spring ran down the hillside, chuckling to itself with riddles only water knows. Wind’s Daughter bent to taste that stream, but it scourged her bitter throat. Fists clenched, she wandered down the hill toward home.

That dusk, as harsh winds swept the trees, the thirsty girl slipped once more through the doorway of the virgins’ lodge. Once again, she ventured up the hillside, eyes luminous with unshed tears. And once again, she reached the peak, spread her arms, and threw her head back thirstily. Wind’s Daughter opened her mouth wide, and crooned a wordless song so rich that fireflies rose from the woods below and danced around her, shining. The cool winds chilled her skin like stone and tossed her silky hair. Eyes closed, she reached out and up, as if to touch that moon.

At her feet, the water whispered. Its voice flowed across the silence of her calm. Finally, she opened her eyes, looked down, and saw the stream. And in its face, she saw the moon as well.

Bending down, she cupped her hands. Between them, moonlight swelled. Eyes open, she brought those waters to her lips. Wind’s Daughter drank with eagerness, and down her throat slid the moon.

They say the sky-witch dimmed her light. Old Tor whispered that the wind-mother had come home. Orishala smiled and drew her lovers close. Amidst their furs and blankets, the people settled deeper into dreams. Children stilled to restful slumber. Old aches and pains faded; nightmares fled.

At the hilltop, Wind’s Daughter drank the moon.

In morning, she descended, eyes shining, finally fulfilled. Those who saw her then said she left footprints of light. Mist embraced her as she walked.

And then, smiling, she faded and was gone.

SatyrPhil Brucato, aka Phil Brucato or just plain Satyr, sold his first story to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword & Sorceress IX. During White Wolf’s “classic WOD” period, he co-created the Mage, Sorcerers Crusade, Changeling and Vampire: Dark Ages lines, contributing to over 80 books for the Wolf. The next decade saw him author Deliria: Faerie Tales for a New Millennium, Everyday Heroes, and a popular column in newWitch magazine. His fiction has appeared in Weird Tales, Steampunk Tales, a slew of anthologies, and the Bad-Ass Fairies series. Recently, he co-edited the benefit collection Ravens in the Library and produced the webcomic series Arpeggio (see http://www.arpeggiothecomic.com/). Satyr lives in Seattle with his partner Damiana, her younger daughter, and their cats. Visit his blog at http://satyrblade.livejournal.com.

IMAGE: Summer Moon, Sulamith Wulfing.