Young Molly often snuck out to dance beneath the full moon, even before she knew of its true power. Her dark skin stood out against her pale pink, cotton pyjamas and as she span, the milky light caught in the shine of her natural curls and gave her a shadowy halo. A breathy giggle escaped her lips, shushed so as not to alert anyone inside, and the soft wind whispered through the trees and the grass of the large garden and joined her in her mirth.
Molly’s adoptive parents were more attuned to the world of business than that of their child. She was thirteen and three quarters and a bit (almost fourteen!) when they bought her a giraffe. This was a very important moment for Molly, and for Mr. and Mrs. Hampton-Smythe; it was a moment of responsibility and trust... which began with letting Molly name the giraffe.
The Hampton-Smythes, John and Sue, impressed upon Molly how important a name was; they told her to take her time and consider it, consider the giraffe and consider herself. She promptly named it Mr. Giraffe.
To be fair to them, the Hampton-Smythes pointed out straight away that Mr. Giraffe was, in fact, a Mrs.
“Precisely,” said Molly. And that was that.
Molly already knew a few things about names. She knew that names were like clothes; sometimes people wore them even when they didn’t quite fit or went out of fashion, and sometimes the right name just fitted, perfectly. On her adoption papers she was named Susanna Josephine. But Molly was short for Molasses, because you’re so sweet and get yourself in such sticky situations.
Susanna Josephine ‘Molly Molasses’ Hampton-Smythe was born with a very different name. It was a name that described her destiny and told the gods just who she was and why they should pay attention to her. Unfortunately, like her parents, her true name was lost amidst brutal tribal warfare; warfare escalated by cheap rifles manufactured in Russia and paid for in American dollars (to Englishmen).
Molly didn’t know all this, of course. She couldn’t remember her true name, or even the sound of her birth mother’s voice, shaping it. All that lurked in the depths of her mind was a fierce crackle that was sometimes sniggering demons of flame and sometimes the haughty cackling of gunfire. Besides, the gods that Molly’s mother knew, the gods that owed her favours, had got themselves all burned up too. It was a hot place Molly came from.
The place she’d come to, not so hot. The gods here were old things, drowsy things, mostly forgotten, but they imbued the green land with a slumbering might.
Mr. John and Mrs. Sue were away a lot of the time doing important Mr. and Mrs. things, things that allowed them to have a big house, a huge garden, a strangeling daughter and, of course, a giraffe. Things that also allowed them to hire a nanny to take care of their darling daughter. Jilly came very highly recommended, very highly qualified and very easily absorbed by Agatha Christie whodunits. This situation suited Molly well as she was perfectly capable of looking after herself, thank you very much.
So one day, when the parents were doing their parent things and Jilly was convincing herself that the butler must surely have dunit, Mr. Giraffe lowered her angular head on its long, long neck till it was level with Molly.
“Molly,” she said, “would you like to learn about your homeland? Would you like to hear about the gods and princes of the plains, the demons of the moonless night, the fierce and cunning things that act as animals and the spirits in the drifting clouds... about your birthright?”
Molly wasn’t really doing much at the time, she’d gotten bored of trying to reconstruct rabbits out of the bones she had found (they were actually weasel bones, but she didn’t know that), so she assented.
Now Mr. Giraffe was a trickster god, but that didn’t mean she had anything but the best of intentions for Molly. She had been very fond of Molly’s mother and her gods and had mourned to hear of their passing. Mr. Giraffe’s real name sounded a little like Huatha Rathlamaine, although it was in the semi-sentient language of the gods which will not be constrained and as such has no written form, so it also sounded nothing at all like Huatha Rathlamaine. It meant the sweetest springtime leaves from the top of the tree, or clouds remember everything they have ever been, or the bone which never breaks, or king, depending on the season and the angle of the light.
Molly thought Mr. Giraffe sounded just fine and that was what she always called the god, to the end of her days, when she was years older and just a little wiser, when the Bone Wars were fought and finished and every mountain knew her name.