Two Versions

Some of you may remember this version of the snake-confrontation (green segment at the bottom of a rambling, self-indulgent post).

In my current version, that scene gives too much weight/significance to Tykone, a relatively minor major character in this novel (more significant in the other story).

Instead of seeing it we hear him tell of it.  This breaks a number of “rules,” but it’s how things will stay for now.  This segment begins with Shimon, the palace herald, talking in the local tavern about what happened.

“She is dead! Eaten!  One of the Hjalmar risked his post and his life to open that door and he saw her being swallowed.  The creature is so huge he swallowed a woman the way an ordinary snake might swallow a mouse.”

Before he was aware he did so, Tykone gripped Linnea’s wrist tightly.  He sensed rather than saw her faint smile, noticing more her paleness as she swallowed several times.  This had always preceded some messy event in the old days, but the press of bodies was too tight to allow him to grab a basin.

“It was me,” he whispered, hoping to distract her.  “I was the one who saw it.”  He stroked her hand and the color began to return to her face.  The people were talking again as Shimon ate from a plate of bread and meat that Betta offered him.

“They found a kitchen maid from nowhere, with no family to speak of.” Tykone He lowered his voice until it was almost lost in the sound of his own breathing.  “After drugging the girl to prevent her becoming hysterical or running away, they went through the whole ceremony of marriage.  I was posted outside the chamber and heard her scream.”

He stopped, looking from Linnea to Runa.  Runa elbowed Tykone, urging him to continue.

“I forced the door against orders and entered in time to see her feet—one still wearing its white bridal slipper—disappear inside the serpent’s mouth.  It turned and looked at me, and I should have feared for my life, but all I—” he paused, swallowing as Linnea had.  “All I could think of was you.”

Tykone colored and went silent.  Shimon drained his mug and silently accepted a third, ignoring the frightened and eager hum growing all around them.

“There’s no reason to expect more deals would make her less sick, Tykone,” Runa whispered.

“He knows me better than you, Runa.  Accept it.”  Three years apart and still he knew her better than one she lived with.

Tykone leaned toward Linnea again, confident the noise would cover the end of his story. “I watched the lindorm turn and break through the stained glass on the other side of the room.  I stood there, feeling like a rabbit trying to hide by stillness: watching yards of tail follow the head out that broken glory they call a window.”

“You did nothing?” hissed Runa.  Tykone released Linnea’s arm to turn on Runa.

“That creature’s hide is impenetrable.  A dozen men followed me, damaging their bodies and weapons as though they’d been hammering against a diamond wall.”  He could feel the sweat on his neck.  Surely Runa wouldn’t make him tell all.  “The snake’s eyes commanded us all—even me— to drop our useless weapons.  I cried Runa.  Surely that means something to you.”  He turned back to Linnea.  “I cried like I haven’t in three years.”  Linnea’s eyes misted, but Runa raised and lowered her palm in what had always been the old signal he should lower his voice.

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