(chapter continued from previous post)
“It led,” Lysandra said to the others, “to the queen complaining to her parents, who were understandably displeased. Enodia nearly ended up at war. Which was avoided by removing everyone involved from power, crowning the first Diamantian king, sending the former queen home with a rather large pay-off drawn from the property of the families involved, and apologizing profusely. What that did to the economy was less destructive than a war would have been.”
“They were rather poor and self-absorbed rulers, wary of new ideas and lacking in compassion,” Demetrios said. “Enodia has done far better under the Diamantians.”
“We learned what not to do,” Narcissa said.
“As for Theodosia, she wasn’t malicious.” Demetrios sighed. “At that time, women were taught to see their worth only in the men they could attract. Unfortunately, unlike some women, she embraced it to the exclusion of all else. She had no natural aptitude for deep thought and was given no reason to develop the ability. While she was incapable of considering consequences, various kinsmen were quite able to do so, and they encouraged her anyway because they saw advantage to them. That is, I think, even more shameful than her behaviour. Unfortunately, the entire mess, including my own embarrassment and then the loss of the Bassarion wealth, made me rather easy prey.” He shrugged. “Much more recently, I met my shadow here,” he gestured to Juro, “while I was painting the portraits of a very self-important family in a wealthy trade city in order to get close to them.”
“I was being small and cute and furry and spying on them,” Juro said. “And reporting anything I learned to Demetrios. It worked so well they sent us to another city together. I had a problem with that one and almost got myself in trouble objecting. Demetrios stopped me and found a sneaky solution I could live with and he’s been keeping me out of trouble ever since. How I got there… my people come from the very far north, but they’re traders with fast ships that can handle shallow or deep waters. My grandparents were part of a group that set up a trading colony on the island lemurs are from, which is far south. It gave them a way to reach other southern markets and maintain connections with the north. I grew up speaking four languages fluently and a little of several more. I’m a scop, which is a poet and a musician and a storyteller, and we don’t write things like that down so an excellent memory is essential. Something bad I’d rather not discuss left me crippled. Sahen gave me back my voice, although I promptly lost it again in a different sense. It took me a while to untangle being grateful to Sahen from hating the people choking me. After having to watch someone I considered a friend going through their idea of penance and Lirit not healing her, I was scared to do anything about it no matter how I felt.”
“That’s the whole point,” Neoma said gently.
“Given my experience of Lirit,” Kaveri said, “and that we even have it on good authority that after she chose Cissa she’d already decided to be like Talir and only choose from our bloodline, if she didn’t heal your friend it was because she had reason to believe she wanted to die more than she wanted to live.”
“Quite likely she did,” Juro said. “I had… sometimes given up, on some level, but not entirely. I think some part of me was still hoping there just might be a way to get answers that made sense and get some control over my own life back.”
“Control, you have,” Tyrel said. “Although having control over your own life doesn’t mean you can’t choose to stay with friends, sometimes or all the time. And whatever answers we can offer, you can have.”
“Could we get to what happened last night?” Madoc asked. “Some of us missed big chunks of it thanks to someone getting a little enthusiastic with his throwing knives.”
“’Veri told you, they were using a damned obsidian knife!”
Kaveri winced. “Madoc, leave him alone. My close encounter with that knife should be sufficient for all of us.”
Madoc sighed. “Yeah, and hanging around to face them yourself, such a good plan. All right, I’ll stop griping, you know I don’t like it when I’m not there to watch your back. So, what happened?”
That took some time, untangling the various accounts and piecing it together.
“That’s probably about it,” Tyrel said. “Any other questions?”
A woman’s laugh, very close to them, and a saffron-clad Enodian woman settled herself gracefully on the rug next to Lysandra. “And can I be of any help in answering them?” Aithre said. “Sahen is proud of you, Juro, that you held onto hope, however tenuous, and that when you had the chance, you chose in its favour despite fear of the consequences.”
“Thank you, my lady.” Juro dropped his gaze submissively, then looked up again. “You knew I was there.”
“Of course I did. Demetrios, Meyar has been waiting a long time for you to have the faith in yourself and her that she has had in you. That’s why she seized the chance to be sure you saw Lysandra dance. Your will to live has always been very strong, even in the midst of overwhelmingly terrible conditions, but your mother is very pleased that that should no longer be so essential.”
He inclined his head. “My thanks, wise lady. You’re far from home.”
She laughed again. “So are you. Where Lysandra is, you’ll see me visiting now and then. Kieran, your best efforts accomplished more than might be readily apparent. I cannot tell you what might otherwise have happened, but to the best of my knowledge it would all have been bad. As it is, it all worked out, without further deaths. Those responsible are now unable to interfere with efforts to set things right. The mice fled from the centre of the quake, and Ejiro’s neighbours seized the opportunity to send hawks, owls, cats, foxes, and anything else they could find to feast on them. Their numbers will be greatly reduced very quickly. Some of the well-fed hunters will move into Ejiro’s domain to stay and reproduce. Fire will be necessary to remove the invasive plants, but that can be controlled and will be over quickly. The next earthborn upriver and the one above that are working with the river’s god to find a way to prevent another flood no matter what conditions are like, until the wetlands can be restored. Earthborn are very resilient, and all are aware that they all are connected and will help each other. Ejiro will recover quickly.”
“What of Ilek?” Narcissa asked.
“That is largely up to the citizens of Ilek. It will be a year or two before food is truly adequate, though it will begin to improve very soon. Whether Ilek tries to return to what it was, or is content at a more moderate level, is their choice to make. Word will spread soon that those seeking work can begin to come home to their families. Many are talented craftsmen. They can rebuild Ilek, though they may find Ejiro less generous with resources than previously, and I think that Ejiro’s future Brides might be more actively protective.”
“The Brides,” Lysandra said, “are already setting up a system to make sure that the additional food is used fairly for as long as it lasts. We can pass on word that they’re looking for a healer or two who can stay for a while—and that there won’t be any more accidents that mysteriously target healers. With any luck one will come soon. But we really can’t stay here, can we? They have to do this their own way.”
Aithre nodded. “I can’t give you commands, but I would advise departure very soon as the best course of action. So. I have a message for you, little sister. Ejiro understands that it would be difficult for you to wait some twenty-one days until Meyar is full, by which time the other four will all be at or near dark. Although your mother is only half full, he will accept tomorrow night for you to dance for him, but he would like someday when you are in this area again for you to dance for him at the full moon.” She laughed as she rose to her feet, though she stayed in place, swaying to music only she could hear, never still. “I think you will find, as you travel, that your dancing pleases earthborn. A word of advice, Demetrios. The past cannot be changed, it is already on the page. The future, however, is being written, one breath and one heartbeat at a time. Dwelling on the past can rob you of the future, but dwelling on the future sacrifices the hard-earned lessons of the past. All that is given to anyone, even oracular gods, is the present, in which memory and anticipation meet in each choice. Find the balance.” Between one dance step and the next, she was gone.
“You chat with gods regularly?” Juro asked.
“Valeyan, when we’re home,” Kieran said. “Other earthborn at need. Aithre has a strong interest in Lysandra. I’ve met many other gods over the years, some friendlier than others. But as far as talking to gods… one each, more often than any. All five of the moonladies are up. Look at your mother, each of you, and listen to her, and tell her… well, anything you want to tell her.”
Juro obeyed with only a moment’s hesitation, though Tyrel saw tension in his upper spine and the set of his shoulders. Trusting them, but Kieran had told him to do something strictly forbidden.
Sahen’s light brightened immediately around him, a brilliant blue-green radiance. Juro smiled, all the tension fading away, his gaze never leaving his nearly-full moon and mother.
“Well, we’ve lost him for a while,” Kaveri said, amused.
“You too,” Lysandra told Demetrios. “You saw Meyar’s reaction last night when I asked whether I was disrespectful to talk to her. One day soon I’ll tell you about the gift she gave me when I changed, one that made as important a difference as no longer being human, but she gave that unasked out of love and wanting her children happy. She’ll be delighted, not upset, I promise. What reason could I possibly have to lie about that?”
“It isn’t lack of faith in you,” Demetrios said. “But it is a rule and a fear that has been very long established.” He closed his eyes briefly, then opened them and looked towards waning blue-white Meyar.
It took a moment more, perhaps long enough to open inward barriers, but the relaxing of tight muscles, the smoothing away of his visible apprehension, occurred in a sudden rush.
“That’s better,” Kieran murmured. “Even if neither moves until moonset, they need this. So. We linger another day, so that Lysandra can dance from moonrise to moonset for Ejiro tomorrow night, and we do our best to be away from here the next day. Those of us with full moons that night can celebrate that better if we are properly alone, and Ilek can work out its own path in peace now there is no more outside influence. And we will be at the Valley well before any complications due to moon phases. Agreed?”