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Pomegranate Seeds

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Five hundred years or so seems like it shouldn't be as much time as it is. The only way Aliera can reconcile herself to the length of that time is to think: My whole life, from when I was born into this world until amorphia descended on Dragaera City, that's about as long as I was--

Not dead. Not alive. In limbo, perhaps.

Be that as it may, in the natural course of things, five hundred years should not be enough time to have killed off all of Aliera's acquaintances--but it has. Most of them died in the same instant she didn't. Most of them don't even have tombs.

It feels to Aliera like they died yesterday, like her daddy died yesterday, and she's the only one mourning. There's no trip to the Falls (and never was), there's no one recalling fond memories of him (and few did, after the Disaster). The only one with anything to say to her about him is Sethra.

Aliera spends a lot of time with Sethra, these days.

Morrolan (her cousin Morrolan, who hadn't even been born yet when she stopped existing, whom she should have held as a babe in arms, and is now practically her contemporary) tells her Eastern stories about fairyland. They think, he tells her, that we only live a handful of years, a century at best, just as they do, but that time passes differently under our Overcast. They tell stories about Easterners who came to our land for a day or a year and returned to find decades had passed, and everyone who knew them was old, or to find that hundreds of years had passed, and even the children and grandchildren of everyone they knew was long dead.

It isn't Dragaera that works like that. It's the Halls of Judgement. The Necromancer, who takes a mild interest in Aliera's state of being, mentions it in passing one evening, that Morrolan and Vlad Taltos should have brought her out ten or twenty years later than they went in, that such things happen all the time, that Zerika herself returned many months after having entered--and yet, for them, and her, time seems to have run the same inside and out, a day gone from Dragaera and a day spent below the Falls. Your mother, the Necromancer says mildly, had something to do with it. Perhaps there was an appointment she wanted you to keep.

Aliera asks her mother about it. She goes up to the tower with Morrolan's shrine, and lights a few candles, and wonders at the fact that Morrolan worships her mother. Not respects or reveres or seeks the power of, the way most Dragaerans would of their chosen god, but worships her, like an Easterner, to the point of debasing oneself. Morrolan, Aliera has to remember, was raised in the East. Dragaeran isn't his first tongue. It isn't even his fourth or fifth.

Nonetheless, the idea of anyone worshipping her mother makes Aliera wonder if Morrolan's ever even met her. Aside from the rather impressive restoration of Aliera herself, that is--has he ever sat down to dinner with her, like normal people? Because Verra did, sometimes, come to dinner, when Aliera was growing up. The servants didn't even know who she was; she was "the master's lady friend" before Aliera was born, and "the young mistress's mother" after. How she concealed her divine aspects from them, Aliera never even thought to ask.

The candles have been burning a while, and eventually Aliera says, Mother, this is ridiculous, I shouldn't need to chant some pretty rhyme to speak to you. Verra says, You shouldn't need to speak to me at all, dear; you're all grown up now. Time to leave the nest.

How like her mother, Aliera thinks, to decide that now is an appropriate time to drop all pretense of being motherly. One would think that all Aliera's survived would earn her some sympathy, at least. Verra, picking thoughts out of her head, shrugs and says, You survived.

Aliera says, annoyed, I have a question. She asks her question. Verra replies that it was not for her sake or even Morrolan's that she limited the time of their journey; it was for the Easterner.

And then she tells Aliera who the Easterner is. Not who he was; Aliera figured that out when first she saw him, and if that wasn't enough confirmation, there was Kieron, too. But who he is, this is startling. Verra has plans for Vlad Taltos, plans that make Aliera feel left out even though she stomped her foot and told her mother not to write her fate for her when she was a barely fifty years old. Verra says, You could be nicer to him. He is your brother, of sorts, after all.

Aliera has not, in this lifetime, had a brother, and isn't sure what to do with one. The memories she's recovered from before aren't much help, not least because of the bitter enmities that sprang up between them. The closest idea she has is her cousin, and even that is a little strange.

Cousins can be closer than siblings among Dragaerans, because they are more often closer in age. If Aliera had been around when Morrolan was born, she thinks, she would have been a very good big cousin. (His two brothers, older than either of them, would have been too busy serving in the Guard to pay him much attention.) She thinks of all the spells she would have taught him, and the places she would have taken him, and things she would have shown him. She imagines a little teenager Morrolan, half her height, holding her hand and looking in wonder at all she had to give him.

That is a fantasy and she knows it. If she had been around when Morrolan was born, she might have been able to save his mother's life, but maybe not--during the Interregnum, sorcery was inoperable, and healing with a handful of chaos stones is a bit hit or miss. But even if Aliera had been unable to save her, Morrolan would have grown up with Aliera herself raising him, and he would have known who--and what--he was. It would have been difficult in ways she can't quite conceive of, raising a boy during the Interregnum. It would have been strange.

That is a fantasy, too, but not one Aliera embraces, in part because it is so hard for her to fill in the details, but also because she doesn't feel very maternal towards him. She's a much better cousin.

But she's not his big cousin, not after all this time. In some sense, he's her big cousin, looking out for her. She lives in his castle--and she could go back to Eastmanwatch, where she's ostensibly a Duchess, but she doesn't. She listens to his stories about the East, and travelling to the Empire for the first time, and fighting for it to be the Empire again. She learns things from him about sorcery that hadn't been invented yet, before.

She gets a bit of a crush on him.

Aliera has this other fantasy, that doesn't have much to do with being Morrolan's cousin at all. They get married, and he makes love to her, or sometimes the other way around: it's a passionate, secret affair and he surprises her by asking for her hand in bed, and she laughs and says he's had every other part of her, so why not? Sometimes, her fantasy carries on to a vague notion of married life and a daughter with her mother's name and Morrolan's big brown eyes.

Cousins do sometimes marry; the House of Dragon isn't that large, and they can all trace their lineages back this way and that. It wouldn't even be so scandalous, because Morrolan favors his father's e'Drien genes, not his mother's e'Kieron line.

Early in the course of her genetic research, Aliera figures out that the only really worrisome thing about having a child by incest is the possibility that both parents might carry some rare, recessive genetic ailment. Marrying into the general population, it is unlikely one would find a spouse with the same recessive flaws, but marrying into one's own family, the recessives are often the same. Aliera does a complete scan of Morrolan's genes. She finds a few flaws, but nothing present in her own genetic make-up. Aliera isn't Dragon on her other side, though. There weren't any flaws to inherit from her mother.

The Dragon Council is a bit befuddled by Aliera's genes, actually, for that very reason. Sure, the e'Kieron line is dominant, because there's no other dragon genes in her make-up. Because she has no dragon genes on her mother's side. But no genes specific to any of the other Houses either. It's a bafflement to them.

Sethra quietly makes the identity of Aliera's mother an open secret, just to get the Council to stop arguing round in circles and confirm her as heir. Morrolan hears it from some embittered minor e'Lanya with his own aspirations. Aliera and Morrolan have a huge fight over the fact that Aliera didn't tell Morrolan herself that her mother is his god. They get over it, after a few days of yelling, but Aliera's fantasies die down a bit--Morrolan stops looking after her like she's his little cousin, because she's the offspring of a god, and Aliera realizes he'd be tempted to worship her if he hadn't already met her and sat down to dinner with her. The knowledge changes things between them.

She continues to abuse his hospitality anyway. They're family. He can get used to it.

Aliera tries to make some friends of her own, but she does most of her socializing at the ongoing Castle Black soirée, so most of them already know Morrolan, as a passing acquaintance if nothing else. She dislikes visiting court, because it feels as if everyone fawns over her as if Zerika is going to drop dead tomorrow. Besides, they all know Morrolan, too. He's Court Wizard, after all.

The first friend of her own Aliera makes, she makes by accident. She hires a cabriolet and goes down Kieron Road, looking for Vlad Taltos--knowing Morrolan knows him, and knowing she knows him better, and curious. She never actually finds where he works (she doesn't know she ought to be looking for a narcotics shop) but she asks a passerby for directions to Baronet Taltos's office. The passerby swings up into the seat with her and demands to know what she wants with the baronet.

This is Kiera the Thief.

Kiera thwarts most of Aliera's intentions for the rest of the day. She refuses to tell Aliera where to find Vlad Taltos. She cajoles the story of how Aliera met him out of her even though Aliera firmly believes it's none of Kiera's business. Aliera gets the idea in her head to do a genetic scan on Kiera, because she's read that it's possible to recognize Jhereg genetics even though they don't have actual jhereg genes--only Kiera tells her to stop it and calls her a nosy norska. Lastly, Aliera most definitely intends to go home to Morrolan's that evening, and somehow she ends up staying at Kiera's flat.

Morrolan barges in on the lazy morning after, Blackwand at his side. He's furious at Aliera for staying out without telling him. He says she might have at least contacted him psionically; she says he might have done the same. Morrolan is protesting that he tried and she had vanished, in a bad part of town, no less, when Kiera (who'd been on the chamber pot) comes out and apologizes for the heavy privacy shielding around her building. She is not wearing very much. This, more than her apology, manages to defuse the familial argument that was about to explode. Morrolan averts his eyes. Aliera sits in the bed with the sheets held up to her chin, and smiles.

Come by again and see me sometime, Kiera says, tossing Aliera's dress onto her lap. Her underthings come flying after, and Morrolan clears his throat and says he'll wait outside.

He waits awhile.

When Aliera is finally ready to go, she steps outside and finds Morrolan standing guard. You were worried, she says, about me. The little godling. He says, You went out without your sword.

But it is to save face, and Aliera knows it. She could call him on it, and between the duelling and the healing, they'd be at it all day. But instead, she just says, Thank you, and he says, It was nothing, and they go home.