As Spikenard watched, Bronwyn slipped the transparent cloak from her shoulders; it fell with a whisper. She let her hands drop to her sides; she pulled her shoulders back and stood erect, feet apart, legs straight. This is what he saw:
Bronwyn standing pale and tall in the nervous light that shimmered through a vibrating canopy of green leaves. The shifting bands of milky light and emerald shadow made her seem luminous, translucent, as though she were a tallow candle glowing beneath its own flame. Like a porcelain lantern. Like a curtain fluttering in a window at dawn. Like a ghost that came and went with the twilight and darkness, that first veiled and then revealed.
Her hair had the sheen of the sea beneath an eclipsed moon. It was the color of a leopard's tongue, of oiled mahogany. It was terra cotta, bay and chestnut. Her hair was a helmet, a hood, the cowl of the monk, magician or cobra.
Her face had the fragrance of a gibbous moon. The scent of fresh snow. Her eyes were dark birds in fresh snow. They were the birds' shadows, they were mirrors; they were the legends on old charts. They were antique armor and the tears of dragons. Her brows were a raptor's sharp, anxious wings. They were a pair of scythes. Her ears were a puzzle carved in ivory. Her teeth were her only bracelet; she carried them within the red velvet purse of her lips. Her tongue was amber. Her tongue was a ferret, an anemone, a fox caught in the teeth of a tiger.
Her shoulders were the clay in a potter's kiln. Her shoulders were fieldstones; they were the white, square stones of which walls are made. They were windows covered with steam. They were porcelain. They were opal and moonstone. Her neck was the foam that curls from the prow of a ship, it was a sheaf of alfalfa or barley, it was the lonely dance of the pearl-grey shark.
Her legs were quills. They were bundles of wicker, they were candelabra; the muscles were summer lightning, that flickered like a passing thought; they were captured eels or a cable on a windlass. Her thighs were geese, pythons, schooners. They were cypress or banyan; her thighs were a forge, they were shears; her thighs were sandstone, they were the sandstone buttresses of a cathedral, they were silk or cobwebs. Her calves were sweet with the sap of elders, her feet were bleached bones, her feet were driftwood. Her feet were springs, marmosets or locusts; her toes were snails, they were snails with shells of tears.
Her arms were a corral, a fence, an enclosure; they were pennants; they were highways. Her fingers were incense. They were silver fish in clear water; they were the speed of the fish, they were the fish's wake. They were semaphores; they were meteors.
Her spine was a snake. It was the track of a snake. It was the groove the water snake makes in the glossy mud of the riverbank. Her spine was a viper, an anaconda. It was the strength of the anaconda. It was the anaconda's unknown hieroglyphic. Her spine was a ladder, a rod; it was a chain, a canal, it was a caravan. Her buttocks were fresh-baked loaves; they were ivory eggs, they were the eggs of the lonely phoenix. They were a fist.
Her breasts were citrus, they were soapstone; they were bright cumulus and the smooth fingertips of Musrum. Her breasts were honeycombs and dew-beaded windows, or soft, sweet cheese. They were sweet apples; they were glass, they were cowries. They were the twin moons of the earth. The nipples rose like mecury with her heat. They rose like monuments atop flowered hills, above deserts of hot sand; the nipples were savory morsels, with the flavor of the forest.
Her ribs were a niche, an alcove, an apse; her stomach was an idol in the niche, alcove or apse, an effigy, a phantom. Her stomach was a beach, a savannah, a flagstone warmed by the sun, a cat asleep on the flagstone, a bleached canvas sail in hot southern winds. Her navel winked like a doll's eye, like the eye of a whale, like the drowsy cat.
Her pubes was a field of wheat after the harvest, a field neatly furrowed; it was a nest, a pomegranate, an arrowhead, a rune. It was a shadow. It was moss on a smooth white stone. There was an orchid within the moss. There was a drop of dew upon the orchid. It had the breath of moss-beds, of the deep seas, of the abyss, of scrimshaw and blue glass, of cold iron; she had the sex of rain forests, the ibis and the scarab; she had the sex of mirrors and candles, of the hot, careful winds that stroke the veldt, the winds that taste of clay and seed and blood; the winds that dreamed of tawny, lean animals.
"You are quite beautiful, Princess Bronwyn," Spikenard sang, with his sardonic grin and eyes as violet and hard as amethysts. "Your body is halfway between earth and dream, neither magic nor elemental, neither animal nor spirit."