AVESTINE STARED OUT a window made of smooth pink glass. Her private library overlooked the palace courtyard where a sparkling crystal menagerie of red animals walked through a mountain vista of painted brownstone. Scrolls and bound books filled shelves on either side of the window. She had come to know some of the content. Since she couldn’t read, she maintained the small library because it pleased Kami, who could read. Who read often. Who read too much.
Avestine liked the smell of the bound leather. She breathed in the musky scent and said to Rook, “All I need from you is to find out who is killing the children.” Avestine maintained her stare until Rook glanced away. “If I sent a contingent, it might stir up questions.”
“If Gerard were here, I would not object to going.”
Avestine spit her words with frustration, “Do you really think I can’t take care of myself? Coth’s balls! Who do you think you’re talking to?”
Rook took a deep breath.
She knew he knew. She also knew he was her Essanti and could feel nothing else but worry for her safety. “The sooner you go, the sooner the rumors end. We don’t need panic in the darkward villages. Trouble might limit supplies and travel. If I have to remind—“
“You never have to remind me of my duty.”
Rook’s belligerence ignited Avestine. She slapped his face which caused him to clench his jaw. His nostrils flared and he took a deep breath, but she saw an unusual boldness in his eyes. The look made her even angrier. “Next time you question my order,” she said, “I’ll…” she couldn’t even think of a suitable threat. “Get out!”
That look, she thought when she was alone. She wanted to tear Rook’s face off as she remembered it. She had seen that boldness often from him. And Kami, too. But Kami’s manner was almost…gentle. Gentle! Avestine glanced about and found a cup, which she grasped and threw against a wall. The shattering ceramic was satisfying.
Gentle was the response to a child, to the injured, to the aged, to the feeble. Avestine was none of these.
She held a god within her. She felt his power warm her, strengthen her. She had had her chest torn open, her heart pierced, her neck sliced, and still she lived. She had plans to remove the other gods from the world, make them work from afar and not against her. Already, she had sent Coth and Bala from the world. No longer could Rook or Kami oppose her. She commanded the obedience of all men and the powers of the Essanti. She was the god of Man, the god of Order. She was Arujan.
She sat down. Her head hurt, and she realized she had been grinding her teeth. Although she had been a fierce soldier, outlaw, and warrior her entire fifty-five years, the god within made her aware how frail her human vessel was. Her body had stopped aging at forty-two, the year her brother died, leaving her the last locus of the god. The day the world ended. Her strength remained the same. Her scars remained—from the arena in Sahrdon, from war as Darklaw’s general, from her days as an outlaw in the Demon and Trade Quarters. From the child she had born.
The daughter she remembered only as a baby was now eleven. Forever eleven, since she held within her the god of the Land, Sula. The mad god. Avestine’s sources told her Avesha sat on the throne of Sahrdon, that she was the Darklord. The ascension of Avestine’s daughter to the throne of the world seemed a strange reading of the prophecy.
Long ago, Avestine had calculated it would be Kami who consumed the world.
Even before the god granted her greatness among men, Avestine had never given thought to risk, to the possibility of damage or death. Nor had she ever hesitated to mete out the same to her enemies. But she had been pondering for years what confronting her daughter would be like. Would Avesha simply be another enemy she cut down? Would she stay her hand when she looked into her child’s eyes?
She leapt from the chair. These were thoughts that servants’ eyes had caused her to mull over. She would not let feelings of nostalgia or fearful futures change her. She would not become weak.
She knew from the very spark that had started her life and kept her alive through a childhood of horror that to respond with softness was to compromise, was to lose. She would not pity herself or others. That one principle had delivered her from a childhood of terror into a life of triumph over enemies, armies, cities, and tens of thousands of souls.
She called for whiskey and Esme. She loathed her thoughts, so she would stop thinking and start doing. She sighed with satisfaction.
This is who she was.
Copyright © 2020 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.