Originally posted on Patreon in Nov 2019 and part of the Great Patreon Crossposting to WordPress.
This is part of the Damkina series of stories, which you can find in her tag.
It begins with The Gardener and is a story about a very very (very, very) old fae who, while working as a landscaper for a museum, finds herself suddenly fighting against the apocalypse.
What you need to know: she has expanded her garden to cover a sizable quadrant of the city and she has ‘not-really-followers’ as she is, well, not REALLY a goddess. Except she is.
This is in the middle of the Faerie Apocalypse: would-be gods and godlings are invading the Earth from Elleheim, where they were banished thousands of years ago. Among those who have come back, many have claimed to be ancient gods.
“Hey! Hey, get out of our garden! Back off, you — you thing! I have a broom and I’m not afraid to use it!”
Damkina had drifted off — not a proper sleep but a little bit of a nap in the sunlight, something she found herself doing more and more as she spent most of her waking hours rebuiilding a world for, by her count, the third time.
She hadn’t remembered it being this hard before, but, then again, the last time there hadn’t been quite so many annoying would-be gods all over the place, like aphids, getting into everything and ruining it.
“Larissa.” She woke herself slowly. “Larissa, you can’t chase off a godling with a broom and if it’s one of the feral dogs, they don’t understand you.”
“I can if it’s a hawthorn broom! Sharp and pointy and it sweeps the sidewalks! You! Get out!”
Damkina pried herself off the bench — it was a very soft bench, due to some very clever workings by her apprentice — and rubbed her eyes. The sun was still bright. Neither feral dogs nor wild godlings tended to come out in the middle of the day.
“Damkina, can you — oh, I don’t know, give it a godling treat or something? It looks so sad, I don’t want to— hey! Hey!”
Damkina moved with speed, putting herself where Larissa was before she’d finished the second hey. Larissa wasn’t doing all that badly herself, fending off something by jabbing her spiky, thorned stick into its mouth; it had unwisely bitten into it and was whining.
“Well done,” Damkina murmured. She looked at the – well, it was either neither a feral dog nor a would-be godling or, possibly, both. It had a dog’s jaw shape and ears, almost-human eyes if you ignored the color, mostly-human hands but definitely-doggish feet, and its tail was down and very unhappy.
“Bad,” she snapped at the thing, and its ears raked back. “Down. Sit.”
She hadn’t had a dog in quite some time, but the creature sat anyway. It opened its jaw and pant-whined, still trying to get that stick out of its mouth.
“Okay, stay, hold still. Larissa, take a step back, if you would?” Damkina slipped on a leather glove and took the hawthorn broom from Larissa. “Doggy, keep your mouth open.” She repeated that in the Old Tongue and then, just in case, in Greek. The doggy-thing opened its mouth wide and whined. “Larissa, are you hurt?”
“No. No-” Larissa’s voice was shaky. “No, he leapt on me but I managed to stop him before he got a bite in. Tell me werewolves aren’t a thing now.”
“Werewolves aren’t a thing now.” Damkina answered mostly idly, as she was busy removing the stick from the dog-thing’s mouth without hurting him further. “I’m pretty sure the last of those was rendered… not dangerous anymore about two hundred, three hundred years ago. No, this poor idiot – hold still, doggy-” She repeated herself again in Old Tongue (funny they called it that…) and in Greek. “On first glance, he looks like a particularly bad Change, but if you look here,” she touched the outside of his jaw, “and up here,” she touched by his ear, “okay, gonna pull, doggy-” she yanked out the thorns quickly. “There, you can close your mouth. You can see,” she told Larissa, even as she grabbed the dog-thing by the back of the neck, “that someone did a really rough job of shifting him with magic. Like a bad, ah, Photoshop job. Here, you can look.”
Larissa walked carefully around Damkina while the dog-thing held very still. She touched the ear and peered below it. “That looks like it hurts.”
“It probably does. And the jaw isn’t completely right. Poor thing probably has trouble drinking, eating — So, doggy, can you understand me?”
The dog-thing whined. She repeated her question in Old Tongue; this time she got an affirmative.
“All right.” She continued, repeating everything twice. “So I know someone here who can put you back into a shape that can use Workings. But you attacked one of mine, which means that you’re going to need to pay twice – once for the attack and once for the services. Do you understand?”
The whine was definitely an affirmative.
“Damkina, he didn’t-”
“No. But he needs to know that behavior like that is not acceptable. So he will pay. Okay, doggy,” she continued, “You are going to be our guard dog for a while. Oh, maybe… 5 years. That’s not too long. You will serve my garden. You will serve my people. And in turn, I won’t hand you over to any of the people hunting down the easy prey of younger godlings.
“And,” she continued, “I will have someone very skilled in such things fix your muzzle so that you can speak — and use Workings, of course. But for that I need your word. I need your oath. Do you understand?”
The dog-ting whined, whimpered, and nodded very slowly.
“Good. Good, then we have the beginnings of a pact. I am, by the way, Dam-kina, called, sometimes, Damgalnunna. Not a pretender, not someone who took on the name for an invasion—”
She had not heard of one taking on her name, but she had known Zeus and Hera, and the one claiming to be Zeus, at least, was definitely not the one she had known. Hera — Hera she would have to see in person, and Damkina had no interest in leaving her garden.
The dog-thing was whining again.
“I am Dam-kina, who most have forgotten,” she added ruefully, “and I will take your service and give you my protection.”
“Damkina,” Larissa whispered, “how can he swear to you?”
“He can nod. If I say ‘do you so swear?’ he can assent. He has a mind and the ability to communicate. That’s all that’s really needed.”
“He’s scared, Damkina.”
“And he ought to be. He trespassed. He attacked you. He walked where he was not invited. He knows that he is lucky to survive this.”
Grain was sprouting from under her feet. Damkina laughed. “Yes. Yes, I suppose I’m feeling a bit too much like my old self.” She closed her eyes and found the place where she kept both the power and the righteous wrath and tucked both of them far away again. “What say you, doggy? Will you serve me? Will you swear to obey me in all things and to protect my garden? Will you be my guard dog?”
Slowly, eyes wide, the dog nodded and then, as the oath shook the air, knelt.
“Good dog. I’d be grateful, if I was you, that Larissa is so good at blocking.”
She smiled at Larissa. “Careful with that thing, if you would. And very well done. Now… you seemed fond of him. Do you want to find some way to feed and water him while I track down Dr. Zanes?”
“Oh! Oh, yes, I can do that. Dr. Zanes…?”
“Isn’t a world-renowned plastic surgeon for nothing. She does a very good job of hiding the fact that she’s fae — but on the other hand, she has less reason to hide now than ever in her lifetime. I’ll meet you two back at the museum.”
A guard dog. Every good nursery had at least one. He might not be able to fight off everything that came sniffing around Damkina’s borders, but he didn’t have to. All he had to be able to do was bark and keep barking.
Damkina sent up a very quiet thank you to the source of all magic for this bit of serendipity and hiked off to find Dr. Zane.