Darklaw – Episode 78

BUT IT DIDN’T take a week. Three days later, Rook called Avestine to a lower room of the palace, where guards laid a stone, Wald swore his oath, and Avestine took his hands. Avestine had not performed the ritual for fifteen years, and she was surprised by her own reaction. She struggled to control her shaky hands as she raised the ax.

Rook had noticed her difficulty but didn’t solicit an explanation afterward. Avestine was grateful he allowed the moment to pass. She told herself it was simply fatigue. What she wouldn’t allow herself to dwell on was the thought that compassion was becoming a habit.

Wald was still weak from the dream-sleep and weaker after the ritual, so two days passed before she was sure he would survive the amputation. Gerard visited him often, which seemed to accelerate his healing. She enjoyed watching the two together. Like Gerard generally, their interactions were discreet, but she recognized the fullness of their glances.

“The healer tells me you’re doing well,” said Avestine to Wald as she entered his room. She nodded at Gerard who sat with him at his table. She sat down in another chair and touched one of Wald’s leather wrist covers. “These are nice. Sahrdon Hawks. Who gave them to you?”

“Essanti Rook. He said Essanti Kami had some just like them.”

She was pleased Rook was staying attentive, despite his discomfort. She could still count on his sense of duty. As she glanced from Wald to Gerard, she saw an expression that Gerard quickly hid. She followed his eyes as they made every effort to avoid her. He rose from the table and excused himself, and she let him leave.

She leaned back, elbow propped on the table as her finger absently stroked her lip. Even with Gerard’s characteristic circumspection, Avestine had often seen what he wished to hide, but she had never seen him truly angry. She didn’t expect him to understand the exigencies of the Essanti, and he very likely had no real understanding of the powers of the boy he loved, despite the miracle that had returned his life. But he did resent what she had done, and that made him a little more dangerous.

Wald was smiling as he watched her. His hair was shorter than she remembered and his face no longer had its oily sheen, although she couldn’t quite recall when he had taken on this new maturity. Perhaps with the bonding. It was often a turning point.

She smiled back. “You’re doing well. You don’t seem to have suffered much.” Wald continued to smile, not a hint of resentment in his eyes. No challenge to her dismissal of his pain. “A perfect Essanti,” she muttered. She thought a while before she said, “I suppose Gerard will miss your letters, or will you learn to write without hands?”

His thick eyebrows rose, and she heard his thoughts and knew he had not considered what he had lost. Nor did he seem to care. She realized she could have anything she wanted from him, and even though she found him more attractive now, she had no interest. Her harem kept her satisfied for now.

She slapped the table and pushed herself to her feet. She didn’t like change. Not the kind she didn’t control. “Your education has only begun, but already you know more than Kami.” Avestine began to pace, working her frustration out with each step. “I know you’re fond of her. You admire her, but the light from her emanation is dim, not like yours and Rook’s. She needs help understanding what we expect, what we need from her. There’s a war coming. A great war that we may well lose. It starts here with the Sovereignty, but that’s only the beginning.”

“She doesn’t like to kill.”

Avestine stopped pacing. “No one likes to kill, but no one likes to die, either.”

“What is death? Not an end. A beginning.”

She smiled indulgently, knowing she had to be patient with his need to work out the philosophy of his new life. “Something must end if something else begins. We’re avoiding that end as long as we can. Life is what the gods have given us. It’s our only responsibility. So when it’s taken away unjustly, we have a duty to act. We try to save who we can.”

“Justice is little more than an excuse to kill people. I don’t care about justice. I know Essanti Rook does. Your interest in it is baffling. Do you truly care about justice or more about who decides what it is?”

“They are the same.” She had no use for dreamy horizons painted with the visions of an aesthete. Wald was an Essanti of Mercy, and she knew he would try to drown her in his well of weepy ethics. “I won’t let people die if I can save them. If that means I have to kill some to save others, I will. We must not be afraid of compromise and sacrifice. The gods gave us those, too, weapons to preserve life. We should use them. Will you help me with Kami?”

“What should I do?”

“Convince her that killing is better than dying.”

“But I don’t believe that.”

She sighed and rubbed her face with both hands. “If the choice is to kill a stranger or let Gerard die, which would you choose?”

He began to answer and stopped himself. He thought a moment and began to answer again but stopped himself.

She interjected, “Kami brought back a prophecy from the Avatar of Katan. He said my most trusted advisor would die. We both know who that is.”

“If it’s a prophecy, can we change it?”

“You’ve already changed it, haven’t you?”

“You think the prophecy was about what already happened? Maybe it was about a second death. Maybe it wasn’t even about Gerard.”

“Do not get yourself tied up in possibilities. I don’t expect practicality from you or any Essanti. I don’t even expect you to understand. I expect only that you will do what I tell you because you trust me. Do you trust me, Essanti?”

“Of course, Your Grace.” He had responded without a pause.

“Speak with Kami. Maybe you can assure her that any unjust deaths can be resurrected.”

His eyes widened. “I can’t possibly retrieve all the lives in a war.”

“They wouldn’t all wish to come back anyway. Even I can imagine a peace so pleasing that nothing could drag me from it.”

Wald seemed to glow. “You understand. I thought you would.”

Her fondness for Wald grew every time they spoke, and this time was no different. She nodded, and with a sad smile, she said, “I’ve killed more people than I will ever remember, and more people want to kill me than I will ever know. I’ve endured horrors only a demon could inflict and a child could never forget. Who understands the desire for peace better than me? What could I possibly look forward to more than death?”

Published in Darklaw |
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