Chapter Right Hypotenuse Squared
Scene One: Encore Performance
“Did you pay attention to our mortal flesh?” she asked. She grabbed her robe and pulled it across her body like a blanket. He guessed that she needed it for modesty, not warmth.
The floor was covered in down. Probably it was magical down, no geese involved. There was no other explanation for the sudden appearance of so much of it. The collection was as tall as the candles even when it was compressed. The puffs of creamy feathers felt soft to Denario's skin and warm under the heat of his sweaty limbs. The hard dirt floor felt like a lumpy blanket. He leaned back into his pile. Even matted as the stuff was, pieces of the down tended to float away when they didn't stick to him.
“You mean, did I watch what we did?” He wiped a lump of down from his arm and started to blush. He'd been fascinated. “Part of the time. It was hard not to.”
“You don't have to get embarrassed about it.” Judging from her smile, she seemed to enjoy his reaction. “It was wonderful for me except for the leg cramps. It's not a kind of fun I have much.”
“You have cramps?”
“My left thigh and my right foot. I'm not as old as you think, maybe. But I'm certainly not young as I was.”
“Should I rub them?” He half rolled and half crawled through the down to her. His fingers nearly touched her knee.
“Would you?” She flexed her right foot. He nodded and shifted his position so that he could touch it. Under most circumstances, he would have felt uncomfortable initiating contact with her. But her foot seemed safe enough. She groaned as he started to knead her instep. He froze. She opened her eyes from a squint. Her thin fingers motioned him to continue. “Ah. That’s good, young man.”
He hadn't felt an older person's foot before except when he was getting kicked. Ruffina's instep and front, thick pad of skin weren’t so different from his own although she had no scrapes or bruises on her toes from wearing boots. Her skin felt rough. Her toe bones felt skinny, too, like her fingers. She seemed fragile. He suspected that she'd grown slimmer with age rather than heavier. Between her skin and bone, her muscles and sinews had become lumps. Maybe they were tied in knots, deep inside. He hadn't known that sinews could get like that. As he rubbed, the hardest knots seemed to loosen.
“Oh, that's nice,” she said. After a moment, she added, “I felt you learning from me.”
“How?” He tried to play dumb or at least not to give away what he'd done.
“You leapt into my arms, my spirit arms, when the goddesses intended to sweep you aside. You stayed twined with me as they played their tricks. You watched. You inspected my spirit. I could feel you studying everything. And then you slipped away. You rode the minds of the gods. That's a good trick. It's one that many witches can't do. And you learned it very, very fast.”
“Are they still here in this room, Ruffina?” He didn't know why he was whispering. If they were here, they'd heard. “In you?”
“No.” She paused to check herself. Her gaze wandered. When it came back, she shook her head in confirmation.
“You're right.” She rubbed her mouth. “The gods might take offense at that sort of thing. They might not, too, but it's best not to take a chance.”
“That's what I thought.”
“Did you learn anything?”
“Those base four number systems that I saw before, like the interaction between 102 123 313 200 233 132 013 and another string, 413 132 233 244 313 123 142, those are the basis for everything inside us, I think.”
“You remember the numbers?”
“Only those. I looked high and low a bit more,. Some number systems form the basis of the universe, others form us. I had a strange thought … that really, numbers are self-created. They form in relation to one another. We're just ideas, really. We're loops of number systems that refer to themselves.”
“That can't be right.”
“Your body isn't what you think. Your mind isn't all that you're aware of. It's more and it's less.”
“Now you sound religious.”
“We're constantly changing. Things move in and out of us all the time.”
“And air, yes. We think that we stay the same. But we don't. We change from instant to instant, right down to the smallest units of time.”
“Does time have a unit?”
“Yes. I think they tried to show us. But it’s small even to a god’s eyes.”
He went down on one knee and resumed rubbing her foot. Ruffina took a deep breath. Her fingers relaxed their grip on the blanket.
Denario worked in silence for a while. He contemplated the numbers inside him. After a minute, he noticed that all of the candles had gone out while his mortal shell was under the god's control. Two tapers still gave off tendrils of grey smoke. Whatever the multile deities had done to snuff them, probably related to what they had done with his body, it had probably ended the spell that the witch had started.
He felt that a realization was creeping up on him. Unfortunately, it was competing with the realization that he was naked and touching a woman who was covered by a blanket, nothing else.
“Had you done before,” Ruffina asked, “what we did in holiness?”
She had a polite way of putting it. His cheeks warmed as he remembered what he'd done.
“Not really.” He looked down at her foot. “I did something like it with Pecunia. I thought that it was everything. But, um, no. I may be a bit confused. Part of the time you looked like a goat so the pictures in my head may not be quite right.”
“You looked like a satyr to me. Do you know what that is?” She leaned closer. He met her eye for a moment but hers was too knowing.
“A goat-man. It's not a form that Melcurio takes, usually. There were wings, too, early on, and that is more like him. These are the remains of those wings.”
“Why did you, um, do those things to me? In holiness, I mean.”
“You don't know?” She leaned back into the down.
He shook his head.
“You are so young. I like that. I enjoy your spirit very much. We did those things so that you could perform again.” She gave him a sly look over the top of the blanket. “So ... do you want to perform again?”