Vanuva, lying in the mud, now raised herself up on an elbow. Her young, tight brown skin had gone ashen with the gods’ friendly ole’, ancient affliction. And the whites of her eyes lifted burgundy irises to the lavender sky. Vanuva made a quivering smile, leaned up as right as she could through the awesome pain that she now understood had been reserved, especially, for her. And last, Vanuva’s pink armor rattled when she looked out over the dead and lifted chin, ascended her own lovely hound-wounded and hateful voice up over moans of the dying.
“There are cats and there are rats in this world. Over here, we have the creatures who strut with their claws unsheathed, so easy for them to punch with their paws and take off a head they don’t like. And then, beneath, just beneath where the cats deign to reach, the rats scuttle along. Rats are quick. They are gray and nasty and foul with diseases while the orange cats are obsessed with cleaning themselves, with their own tongues. But rats are fast and clever too. They have their pride, the rodentia of this world. While cats lay in sunbeams or try and rule the nights with their hunting creatures always smaller than themselves, rats know the nights, the darkness under the earth, better than anyone else. Rats are awake to the bigness of the bigger things. They do not believe they should rule or take them down. Rats know that they can’t be in charge, but they chew their way around what is and take whatever they need, no matter what the cats may say.”
“And what do the gods say? The immortal ones who keep the cats or suffer rats where they dwell? The ones who own the nations like houses and the wild forest like their back gardens, to be watched or ravaged by predators and prey are likewise affected by us. We cats and rats delight or infest them when we all, gods, cats and rats are bound together in this life. Sometimes, the gods leave out their food for us. Sometimes, we must steal the crumbs they never mean to leave. Whatever we do, if we live as cats or if we live as rats, it is our job to survive while in the divine presence. Whatever happens. Whatever the gods do in their palaces to cause us to get fat or to starve.”
“For ages and ages, it has been like this. Men and women were either born as blood-orange cats, or tarnished, silver rats, and they dwelt in their hovels or slept atop warm divine laps, cursed or blessed until the day that they died. There was no other way to live.”
“But then, I believe, one day, a third kind of creature raised its head in the world…”
“She was fast, but refused to have paws. Instead, trotters. She was smart, and some say sweet, but very few thought she was beautiful. Instead, she recast ugliness as the new, done thing. Beady eyes, flopped over ears. A big, long nose, warts, a few stray whiskers, a knotted, crooked little tail, huge haunches and a voice like nails scratching on slate.”
“However, for all that she lacked on the outside of her, she kept safe on the inside of herself. Inside of the fat round head with its big hanging jowls was a sharp mind. Inside of the fat nose were the most sensitive instruments that could even sniff truffles or poisons buried deep under the earth. And the rats and the cats found, if they could catch her, kill her, and eat of her, that even her dead corpse was delicious and sustaining when roasted. So, in time, her fat haunches became a symbol of not waste and ugliness, but great hungering lust and its satisfaction. Everyone wanted to have her, to keep her, to breed her, to feed her. They called her and all those of her race like her, pigs.”
“The gods laughed. They did not know what to do with this new kind of creature. Mostly, the pigs who defied the royal orange cats and refused to be as lowly as the rats, resisted civilization itself and went off into the muddy swamps to make their own rules, wallow and live. If you would call such hermitage a life.”
“But that was long, long ago. And the men and women who have descended from these three primary animals don’t even remember their ancestors, not really. They hear old stories like these, and mostly it is a joke, isn’t it? So, they laugh as the gods once laughed at pigs becoming people. And we have so many stories about pigs becoming people anyway, don’t we, Phaia?”
Phaia was a great big, silver sow. She lifted her head, chewing. Not due to Vanuva’s harrowing speech, though Vanuva liked to imagine her pig secretly understood everything. No, Vanuva had heard other pigs in the distance, also coming down into the battlefield to eat. Phaia went back to eating now, her folded ears flapping oddly in the sallow light of the storm-gray sky.
Another porcine shriek. Phaia grunted and waggled her coiled tail, discerning whatever it meant to her and her quest to finish cruel supper. Vanuva lay her head back down. Breathing was horrible. The tip of a golden pike, slick with blood riveted her vision and she forgot her story, gazing up at it. What a beautiful weapon. Runed, forged perfectly to do its job and maybe it had even succeeded. Vanuva smiled and patted her hand gently over her rent stomach. A small joke for herself, when it didn’t hurt as much as it should, not hexed as she was by Eff himself. But, still, this much was abominable.
Vanuva wasn’t sure how well her arm was moving, or if she was really in pain or past pain… but, eventually, her fingers left the heat of her body, the shorn, peeled metal armor and wet viscera, and felt the cold metal gold speared through her abdomen. Once, Vanuva’s hands had been brown. Now, she was almost as silver as Phaia. A tainted, dusty blue. Or, bruised, tarnished bronze… whatever her skin cared to be. Vanuva coughed, then swallowed and more blood slipped from the sides of her mouth. She parted lips, raised teeth free of blood pooling above her tongue. She tried to speak again, but her voice snarled underneath so much blood in her mouth.
Vanuva turned her head toward her beloved pet. Phaia was set deep in gorging herself. Either unconcerned when she was just a beast anyway, or so confident, so full of her faith in the gods and their destiny together as… friends? Mistress and pig?
“Woman and sow.” Vanuva hadn’t known that she’d shut her eyes. She opened them again, carefully. Her whole body throbbed with her heartbeat. It felt that life and blood were pushing at her skin from the inside. That she would burst. That her headache would break her skull. And she was so hot, truly burning. Her eyes were swollen, and she could feel the heat of her fever, her coming death, even in her eyeballs. For the first time in a long time, Vanuva was terrified. She knew that she spoke to keep herself from losing control. Did the pig care about her now? Did Phaia sense it? Vanuva trembled as she looked across the battlefield, a view framed by Phaia’s legs. The great Queen Vanuva, she was going to die for her crimes at last. Alone, in a war, with a stinking pig. Her ex husband would love it.