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Benediction

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It is not until almost a year after the Sprouting that she visits me. She comes during the dawn; I have already been risen for an hour, attending to business at Sar-enna-nem. As I grow older, I find I don't need as much sleep anymore.

She does not bring the Nightfather with her, this time. I find I am both relieved and disappointed.

She is dressed simply in a flat gray tunic, not at all befitting her status as an Arameri noble. Of course, we have not heard from her at all during the past year, but that’s not unexpected considering not only the distance but the recent troubles. Still, I wonder what has become of her. She's not wearing shoes, I notice. There is a walking stick at her side, rough-hewn and taller than her. Has there been an accident? I wonder. Oh, I wonder about many things.

There have been rumors, of course. Rumors of change - I hadn't dared to believe them until the most recent decrees came down, and even now I'm hesitant - rumors of war, rumors of death. Rumors surrounding new gods - new to us, anyway. Most specifically of a new goddess, once long dead …

Is she the Yeine I have known? Has she been entirely subsumed by the god inside her? There is only one way to find out, foolish old woman that I am.

I raise my chin to her in greeting, commanding what respect I have received in the past. A daring move when directed toward a god. "Granddaughter."

She inclines hers toward mine in the old way. "Grandmother." There is a tone of the familiar respect in her voice, though I do not know if it is Yeine herself or the god. Who knows? Perhaps the god merely uses my granddaughter's memories for its own ends.

Unlike Yeine, this —person—I do not know what to call her—fills the entire room, it seems. Before her transformation, my granddaughter had seemed small and unobtrusive. Of course, Yeine herself even counted on that response; she was much more dangerous than she appeared at first glance, and many women and men had learned that lesson. But here … the difference is almost indescribable. She is impossible to overlook. My eyes are directed toward her even unwillingly.

I ignore the awe blooming in my breast. "Are you? Are you my granddaughter still, Yeine?"

There is no answer for a long moment, although she does not look away. I can feel her rooted there, her self, her very being extending even into the ground beneath our feet. Stability, I realize. She is as solid and firm as a stone. A living rock.

"Are you still one of us, Yeine Arameri?" I let that sink in for a moment. "Or are you her?" I pitch my voice high in curiosity, giving voice to my suspicions. Perhaps I am pushing too hard. I find that part of me does not care. "Are you her—are you Enefa?"

Careful, I remind myself. Caution serves better than rashness. This is as far as I will go.

She tenses slightly at that, and I feel inexplicably proud of myself. Before the Bright came upon us—was forced upon us—the Darre were worshippers of not One, but Three. Not for two thousand years, of course, although the more outspoken, dangerous heretics must be pruned from time to time. But all teachings, all stories, all perspectives cannot be quashed under the twin fists of money and law - even after millennia. It is only a flicker, but it is still there.

"I am not she," she says finally, holding my gaze. "I am her successor. And yes—I am still Yeine, too. Though it is dangerous for me to tell you that, I suppose."

The other gods, I might guess, might not approve of a goddess—especially one of the Three—with human tendencies. Not a question to ask, in any case. "The Grey Lady." I stroke my chin thoughtfully. "It is strange, you know, the story of your … coming, or changing, or whatever happened. No one can quite agree on all the details. Especially not during such …troubled times."

Knowingly she nods. "The new decrees from the Arameri." She strokes the walking stick at her side absently.

Gesturing for her to follow me, I turn away. "Drink some ralek with me, Granddaughter, while we speak of important matters."

"Yes, Beba." I detect a note of amusement in her voice. A servant scurries to follow us.

We use one of the meeting rooms; she takes a seat across from me, tucking the walking stick between her knees. It is strange, isn't it, how different spaces order and re-order our thoughts? Now the atmosphere feels much less like a reunion and much more serious, as if she has come to warn me of something.

Silently the servant sets down a pot and two cylindrical cups. The setup is ceremonial; we greet diplomats (on the rare occasion we see them) in the same way. It is sort of a joke among Darren nobility; ralek is made from the bark of very tough, very old trees—and it's disgusting, bitter and ashy and a little sticky. The test for foreign nobility is how few faces they make when taking their first sip. A political nonentity like Darre, after all, is allowed to have a bit of fun.

We take our first sip together, in the customary way. Proudly I note that her face betrays nothing.

Leaning back, I fold my hands over my belly and regard my granddaughter-cum-mother-of-the-universe. "What did you come here for, Granddaughter?"

She leans forward, bracing both hands on the stick; rather than looking relaxed, her posture resembles a crouch. Her eyes, those green-gray Amn inheritances I had so despised, look hard as flint. She begins without preamble. "You've seen the new laws."

"Strange ones they are."

"The world is changing, Beba." She regards me thoughtfully. "Old powers are crumbling and new ones are springing up." It was Enefa's nature to see the world so.

"You speak of a coming war, then."

"No - I hope not, at least. We are watching the coming storm, but we hope it will not end in more bloodshed."

"So what did you come for?"

A short pause. "I come to see the pride of my people restored."

"Your people?" I waved a hand. "Why worry about them? Your people have pride in abundance, swaying in the arms of the great tree and looking down on us little barbarians."

There is a spark in her eyes. "It's a new world, Grandmother. Darre could be its own nation again - have its own power for the first time in centuries. You have bided your time since the Sprouting, feeling out the shifts in power before proceeding—I can’t blame you for that, but—"

My fist crashed to the table, spilling the ralek. And for once it is not age that makes my hand shake, but my anger. Were she not my granddaughter, that hand would be about her throat this very instant.

“We have lived under the fist of the Arameri for two thousand years. Do you think I’m not grateful for our freedom?” I demand. Foolish upstart! Youth have no understanding of such things—even gods. Perhaps especially gods. “I have my pride, Yeine—do not doubt that, never doubt it—but I am an elder, a leader, and I must do what is best for my people. That includes keeping them safe while we build our strength—”

I halt mid-thought. It is as though a candle has been lit inside my mind. “Unless some protection can be offered? Is that what you’re here for?”

She purses her lips; she has gone still. As the seconds pass, waiting for her answer, I realize that one is not forthcoming. She does not quite meet my eyes. Ashamed.

Narrowing my eyes, I sit back. When I speak my voice is cold as stone. “I see. You have not come to offer us your blessing or protection. You have only tried to dare me—to provoke me—to put others in dangers that you will not have to face yourself—”

Yeine leaps to her feet and brandishes her stick. “How dare you—I am bound by my nature now, and by the other gods. I can’t show favor to my own nation, not when the everything is so precarious!”

“When the hundred thousand kingdoms are precarious—or when your position is precarious?”

She is still and furiously silent, with no answer ready for me. Her anger is hot but impotent.

“You can be an impartial god, with no ties to particular people or nations,” I say coolly. “Or you can be a warrior of Darre. It is your choice, of course. But as I suspect you are already discovering, it is impossible to be both.”

Yeine drew herself up to stand at attention. “Then I will take your leave,” she says stiffly. She does not call me Beba now.

“There is nothing else to discuss.”

She does not look at me as she pushes open the chamber doors, her stick tapping on the smooth stone floor. After a moment I get up to follow her out. I can’t hear her stick anymore; she has gone completely.

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