Daksha Kansal is many things to many people; a hero, a monster, a revolutionary, an ideologue, a tyrant, a genius, a lover, but before she could be any of those things, Daksha Kaushik was a daughter.
Yanna Kaushik bustled under the hot sun, a destination in mind she would not be distracted from. The oft-repaired yoke she used had finally broken so thoroughly it could not be put back together. Though she fretted over the cost and her daughter she knew she’d need to replace it if she wanted the lentils sown before Dahlia’s Fall.
Unfortunately she was so focused on the nearby tool shop that she found herself sprawled on the hard packed dirt after bouncing off another pedestrian.
She looked up to apologize and saw an ethereal figure on the ground in front of her. A lovely woman with pale skin, icy blue eyes, and flowing blue hair wearing a very expensive looking light orange dress with short sleeves. Beside her a large burlap bag was on its side, allowing its contents to escape and a bored-looking young man in a regional police uniform rolled his eyes.
“I’m so sorry.” The woman said as she rose slowly to her feet. “I was so busy talking with Kakudmi I was not watching where I was going.” She had a light accent Yanna could not place and a lilting cadence.
“No, no, it was all my fault, I am a clumsy oaf.” Her face heated, exposed to the noonday sun with her hat knocked to the side. “Let me help you with that.” She stooped beside the obvious noblewoman and helped her gather her things into the rough bag then turned and grabbed both hats, handing the woman hers and putting her own on.
The woman smiled and Yanna flushed further in mortification as she saw her put on a beaten dirty hat. “My name is Lenna Ulyanova.” Her hand extended to the farmer. “I’m please to make your acquaintance, even under such rough circumstances.”
“Yanna Kaushik.” Her hands were sweaty in the summer heat. “I am truly sorry, is there anything I can do to make it up to you?”
“You could join me at my house for a drink, it’s very hot and you look like you could use it.” Lenna’s smile disarmed any thought that this might be a platitude.
Yanna wavered for a moment, she knew she should finish her task and return to the farm, but it was hot and her canteen was long since empty. "If you are sure, I do not wish to be a burden."
"Not at all, Kakudmi was just insisting I return home." She gestured to the man idly holding a rifle beside her. "So this is two birds with one stone."
Daksha hid behind her mother's skirts as they entered the strange house, though days off were rare they had much less to do as Aster's Gloom faded and so a trip to the village was well within their means.
"Don't be rude Daksha, introduce yourself." Yanna reached behind herself to push her daughter forward.
"My name is Daksha Kaushik." She mumbled as she made a clumsy motion that could be generously interpreted as a curtsy.
"Please, there is no need for formalities." Lenna gestured to several chairs around her at the table. "My name is Lenna Ulyanova, please have a seat."
Daksha sat quietly and amicably and drank the cool tea she had been served. Her mother was laughing and smiling more than she did at home, and she was sure that this woman was the reason her mood had seemed to lighten recently even on the farm. She was glad her mother had a real adult friend, she always felt guilty that she only had her daughter as company.
"Daksha, your mother tells me you're a very bright young lady." Lenna said as she turned her head towards the younger Kaushik. "I have a proposition for you, if you're willing."
Daksha was still half-hidden behind her glass, not quite trusting this almost stranger yet. "What is it?"
"I'm forbidden to leave my house because of political reasons, so I have nothing but time. I'd love to have you come here every few days and have me tutor you in a variety of subjects and in return you could run a letter or a package to someone for me, as I can't." Lenna paused for a moment, to make sure Daksha was following. "Does that sound reasonable to you?"
"How come you can't leave your house?" Daksha asked, seemingly ignoring the question.
"I come from a country called Calanchi." Lenna stopped, rolling words in her mouth and thinking of how to explain it to a child. "There are problems there and I disagree with them so they kicked me out and now Ayvarta keeps me at home to stop me from causing trouble."
"That's silly." Daksha frowned into her drink. "I don't think I can leave my mom on the farm, it's just us and we gotta plant a lot of lentils."
"You should not underestimate your mother, child." Yanna smiled broadly. "I was doing this work before you were born, while you are in the womb, and ever since. I can handle the farm a few times a week while you come here to learn. It will open many pathways to you in the future, so that you can have a better life than me.
Daksha pondered for a moment then silently nodded, wondering how far an education could really get her.
“You were the mother to her I wish I could have been.” Yanna said, voice barely above a whisper, strength taken by the illness that would soon kill her.
Lenna's jaw dropped, tears coming to her eyes with the weight of what had been said. She searched but could not find the words to respond, farmer boys be damned.
As the two neighbor's began chanting a prayer Daksha stood with tears in her eyes and ran out the front door. Lenna wanted nothing more than to go after her but felt her feet fixed to the floor by indecision.
"I was, we were." Lenna croaked into the farmer's ear. "I just wish you could be there with me, to see her grow up into the amazing woman we know she'll be."
Yanna only nodded, smiling softly as her eyes closed one last time, the chant reaching its end with her.
Daksha smiled softly as she went through Lenna's effects. It was equal parts morbid and nostalgic to go through the late Premier's belongings. Old newspapers with articles one or both of them had written, pictures with Grabin and Kremina and dozens of other people, most lost in the war. Drawers full of unsent letters and books full of unfinished writing to be checked for propriety then archived, so that Premier Ulyanova could live on forever in history.
While going through one such book an old photograph fell to the floor. It was her mother and Lenna, obviously taken in Lenna's living room in Garani, both smiling with their arms around each other's waists and Yanna's head resting on Lenna's head on Yanna's shoulder.
Daksha exhaled a breath she didn't realize she was holding as she slowly came to understand what this picture might mean. But she felt herself fall as she realized that there was no one who could ever give her context for this photograph. Yanna herself died sick in a bed in Agora, killed by a Nochtish land owner. Lenna had recently passed, comfortably in her old age. Grabin, who she never had found out what he was a Colonel of, died in a bar in Svectha, and Von Volker himself, whose obsession with Lenna might have led him to some sort of knowledge, was killed by her own hands in his study.
As a tear rolled down her eye Daksha Kansal pondered the last words she ever heard her mother say.