lb_lee: A pencil sketch of me drawing/writing in my sketchpad. (art)
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Hello again!  This story was prompted by [livejournal.com profile] ysabetwordsmith, who asked for a sentient house, and was sponsored by SittieKitty of Manboobz.  Enjoy!

Stewards of Behemoth

When Grammi had been in charge, she would sit Kiri down and tell her stories of the Behemoths and their stewards.

These were the old stories of the great families, the ones who carried the sun and moon on their Behemoth’s backs. There were the families who carved the canyons, whose skeletons became the mountains, whose blood became the rivers. And all the while, Kiri could feel the warmth and the slow undulation of the Behemoth’s pulse under the warm skin she sat on, and she would know Grammi’s family followed in the great traditions.

Grammi’s family had cared for this particular Behemoth for almost three hundred years—and it hadn’t been young then. A Behemoth could live for a thousand years with good stewards, and Kiri ached to be one of them.

Before her whiskers were long enough to twitch, Kiri was helping Grammi with the duties of stewardship. They helped the Behemoth shed its old shell, saving the old scales for later and polishing the new for strength and luster. They rubbed the creams and salves into its skin that made it taste bad to parasites. Kiri enjoyed the work, knowing that everything she did held great importance, and that the Behemoth thrived under their ministrations.

But she knew she couldn’t be the next steward. For all her skill, she was young, an orphan rescued from canyon dust, and tradition demanded that stewardship pass to the oldest daughter of the family. Grammi loved the old ways as much as she loved the old stories, and so Maj would be the next steward.

Maj had never cared for stewardship. She was a gardener, and her talents showed in the strong plants and healthy saplings growing atop the Behemoth’s shell. Her herbs and spices could cure and flavor anything. Technically, as the youngest and an outsider, the garden should’ve been Kiri’s duty, but Grammi often let them switch.

But Maj had no aptitude or passion for stewardship. She would rush through her duties, cracking off the old scales roughly enough that the Behemoth would twitch, polishing the new ones just enough to look good. Grammi scolded her for this often, and a lot of Grammi’s stories were delivered as a form of punishment, being told specifically to Kiri while Maj was ignored.

As Grammi grew frail and put more pressure on Maj to be steward, Maj grew nastier towards Kiri.

“You’re no blood of mine,” she’d say. “Grammi took you off the canyon dust out of pity. You’re no steward. You’re just a greedy tick on my hide.”

Kiri had tried to go to Grammi about this mistreatment, but Maj was the eldest daughter. However Grammi disapproved of the behavior, all she would say was, “The old ways must be respected.”

When Grammi finally died, finalizing Maj’s title, neither girl knew what to do. Maj obviously didn’t want to keep Kiri around, but she also knew that the Behemoth would falter under her stewardship alone. They tried to keep to their spaces, Maj at the head, Kiri at the hind legs, but they both felt the tension.

It came to a head when Kiri found an enormous tick hidden in the folds of the Behemoth’s neck, ignored for so long that its body had bloated close to bursting.

“You are a terrible steward!” she declared, holding up the removed tick. “All you care about is gardening!”

Maj’s ears went flat against her skull and she bared her teeth. “My gardening keeps us fed, makes the creams and salves for the Behemoth you care so much about! For years, I put up with you for Grammi’s sake, but—”

The Behemoth suddenly lurched forward, causing both girls to topple over. Maj twisted her ankle and cried out; but staggered up gamely. When a Behemoth moved, the skin flaps to the outside snapped shut, and everything needed to be tied down. Limping, Maj saved the kitchen and garden supplies, while Kiri took everything else, and then they tied themselves down. They couldn’t speak over the thumping and groaning; they could only glare and wait.

When the Behemoth finally stopped, Maj untied herself, tried to stand, only to collapse with a yelp of pain. Her ankle was swollen, jarred from all the movement. Still, she reached upward.

“The gardens!” She said. “I have to check the gardens!”

“I’ll do it,” Kiri said, already hurrying up.

“Thank you.” A sign that Maj was truly in pain and alarmed.

They were lucky; some of the beds had overturned, and a few of the saplings in their buckets had toppled over, but that was it. Kiri straightened things as best she could, knowing that Maj would do better, and paused at the Behemoth’s neck plate to check on it.

It was staring at her with one solemn eye the color of volcanic glass. It didn’t move, only stared, and though it couldn’t speak, Kiri got the sense it disapproved of her and Maj’s fight. She felt herself wither under its gaze; she had not been behaving in accordance with the rules of stewardship. Neither she nor Maj had been acting in the Behemoth’s best interest.

“I’m sorry,” she said, and went down to Maj’s room for her medicines.

Maj was already there, wrapping and binding her injured ankle and chewing analgesic leaves. Her face was strained; it had obviously taken all her effort to get there. Kiri explained what she’d seen, and Maj’s shoulders slumped.

“It wants you.”

“What?”

“It doesn’t want me to be steward. Nobody wants me to be steward—not you, not me, not even Grammi. She only gave me the title because of tradition. The Behemoth knows it. Everyone knows it. All I’m good for is gardening.”

Kiri thought of all the times that Grammi had told her stories while Maj skulked in the background. She thought of all the times Maj had rushed through her stewardship duties before vanishing into the garden. She thought of the beautiful flowers and herbs in their well-tended beds atop the Behemoth’s back, the teas and potions that soothed and calmed.

She couldn’t be angry with Maj anymore.

“We need your gardens like we need the Behemoth,” Kiri said. “Perhaps… we could both be stewards? Of our own domains?” Then, realizing Maj might be loath to give up her birthright, “You can keep the title. I don’t care about that.”

Maj squinted at her suspiciously, then tossed her ears back.

“I suppose if I’m stuck with you anyway…” she drawled. “I didn’t really want to get rid of you. You’re too wholesome; makes me feel bad, even looking at you funny.”

But Maj was smiling. She lay back against her cushion, and Kiri sat with her, and together they listened to the Behemoth’s heartbeat, slow, sure, and strong.
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