The Volcano has spoken, and the shaman of the Tribe of Ancients, Arikinsa, returns through the Wall of Snow to the south on a mission. But there are many pieces that must be put into place before his mission can be accomplished, including creating some very unexpected and seemingly impossible alliances.
A cold rain had started that afternoon. It was the sort of winter rain that sends a chill through the body and makes one lose faith that it will ever be warm again. Powatanduk was dressed for it, but still it penetrated his insulated coat and hood. He pulled off his gloves and put his hands against his face to warm his cheeks with his energy. Then, steeling himself to the unpleasant task ahead, he put his gloves back on and walked briskly the last few hundred yards to Saravastaya’s cottage.
Inside, it was warm and welcoming. Powatanduk had sought company and comfort here on many a cold winter’s night. All those many years as Subcity Council Prime, he essentially had no life of his own, just an infinite calendar of appointments and events. When he was forced into retirement, he had not known what to do with himself. Saravastaya had helped him to make the transition.
Tonight there was a presence in that familiar cottage that didn’t belong. It had driven most of the otherwise omnipresent cats into hiding. He recognized with a sour feeling the face of the enemy who had blighted his life, his parents’ lives, and the life of Felicitanya. But the face was the only thing that was familiar. The neatly cropped hair had grown long and shaggy. The expensive, exquisite clothing was replaced with crudely sewn hides. Even his face had been strangely painted. Still, that smug, supercilious grin was the same.
He has no hold over me, Powatanduk reminded himself firmly. I have nothing at stake here. Except Felicitanya.
“Well, well!” Nicodamien greeted him, “Retirement agrees with you, Powatanduk!”
“Nicodamien,” Powatanduk returned the greeting coolly, shrugging out of his coat, “I could say the same for you.”
He chuckled. “I look a bit different, do I not?”
Saravastaya touched Powatanduk’s arm, taking his coat. “You must be chilled to the bone. Let me get you a cup of hot tea.”
“I’d appreciate that.” He was deciding where to sit down when he noticed the other person in the room, sitting quietly in the corner, watching him with inscrutable interest. The shaman. Powatanduk found it very difficult not to stare at those strange, alien features, similar to, yet distinctly different from those of his own people.
“That’s Arikinsa,” Nicodamien introduced. “Shaman of the Tribe of Ancients. Watch what you say around him! He speaks our language fluently and never misses a trick! Eh, my friend?”
Arikinsa smiled slightly and nodded an acknowledgment to the introduction, then said in a musically accented voice, “I am meeting Powatanduk, yes? The great leader who was so skillfully driven from his place by another’s blind ambitions?”
Powatanduk would have expected Nicodamien to bristle at such an implied criticism, but Nicodamien simply laughed. “The same! But I assume, Powatanduk, that you are willing to put all that behind you perhaps? You are here. You must be willing at least to listen to what I have to say.”
“To listen, anyway,” Powatanduk said guardedly. He smiled at Saravastaya as she gave him a cup of steaming tea.
“Just for the record, I am acting as a neutral party here,” she said. “I neither condone what Nicodamien is peddling, nor condemn it. In fact, I have no idea what it is, since he hasn’t seen fit to share it with me.”
“We all have our carefully guarded agendas here, don’t we?” Nicodamien said, with a significant glance towards the Shaman.
“I don’t,” Powatanduk said.
“I expect you do,” Nicodamien replied. “Perhaps you don’t care to admit it, but I’ll wager you have some purpose of your own in coming here tonight.”
Damn him, Powatanduk thought. “I am curious, I’ll readily confess to that.”
“No doubt. No doubt. Shall I give you a bit of background, then?” Nicodamien proceeded with a narration about his captivity in the Subcity that roughly approximated what Powatanduk had learned from Felicitanya, skewed, of course, with sympathy towards the narrator. Then he told briefly of how he had escaped and followed the human expedition. Still disoriented from the sickness he had suffered, he was befriended by Arikinsa and invited to stay with the Tribe. While he was in the Arctic he had gone through a marvelous transformation that healed him completely, and further, gave him insight into the sacred hidden wisdom that the Tribe guarded. “The legacy of my family,” he said. “My grandfather was quite right in protecting the secret of the Tribe. They are the guardians of important knowledge and powers, and I am quite determined to see that they remain safe, particularly now that the humans have violated my Grandfather’s interdiction, and the Tribe’s existence is known to the South.” He paused dramatically and leaned forward. “But I need the power to enforce it.”
“An interesting excuse,” Powatanduk said cynically, but at least he understood now the presence of the Shaman.
Nicodamien’s obnoxious smile vanished. He fixed Powatanduk with an intense stare. “I am serious about this!” he hissed. “I have never been so serious in my life! People go up there. People change. Ask my mother. Ask my damned brother Alexandrik, whom it sickens me to have to admit is not the fool I thought he was! The Tribe of Ancients are the source of who we are, the key to the mysteries that underlie reality. They know! I understand only imperfectly, but I understand enough.” He pointed to the quiet, enigmatic figure in the corner. “What he knows–indeed, who he is–would shake your sense of what reality means right down to the soles of your feet!”
Powatanduk blinked. “All right,” he said, “I accept that you are in earnest.”
Nicodamien nodded. He leaned back in his chair again. “Good. The habits of politics are difficult to get past. But there is much here at stake. I shall get directly to the point. I must recover control of the Subcity. What has been done since my, shall we say, breakdown, has been a travesty. The Primacist movement is woefully misguided–in part, I confess, due to my own early ignorance. Those in control are leading our people into disaster. It is critically important that I put a stop to it and bring some sanity back into the government of the Subcity before it is too late.”
Powatanduk resisted the half-dozen snide and cynical retorts that swarmed to the tip of his tongue. He said instead, “You hope to enlist my aid in this?”
“Pushing you out of the Subcity Council seemed like a politically necessary move at the time, but I was wrong. I completely undervalued your talents. You are a superb administrator, an excellent manager and a shrewd judge of people. I should have allied myself with you. Instead, I saw you as an obstacle to power, which was short-sighted of me. I need you. I need you, because you are trusted by those who remain in the Subcity as a silent‑‑but likely growing–minority opposed to the Primacist movement. I need you because of your skills. I need you as a bridge to those whom I foolishly alienated in my initial rise to power.”
“So, what are you offering me?”
“The position you had before, as Prime of the Council.”
Saravastaya murmured some soft expletive of surprise. Powatanduk’s eyebrows went up.
“Indeed?” he said. “And what position do you seek for yourself, then?”
Nicodamien smiled. “Prime Arbitor.”
“Blessed stars,” Powatanduk breathed. So that was it. Audacious and absolutely brilliant–if he could pull it off. Time to ask some pointed and pertinent questions. “What would be your policy regarding humans?”
“Well, now,” Nicodamien said, “As Prime Arbitor, I would not be directly in control of human regulation. That would be the province of the Council, over which you would have considerable influence, if all goes as planned.”
“Let us be candid, Nicodamien. If you intend to use the office as your grandmother used it–and I am sure that is your plan–then you will have considerable influence yourself. I want to know if your opinion of humans has at all changed.”
“To be candid, then, my opinions have changed little. I have encountered nothing in my experiences to alter the overwhelming evidence of human inferiority. But, of course,” he added with a grin, “If you can manage to persuade the Council to reach an agreement, and avoid a deadlock that would send the matter to me, you might be able to institute certain reforms of which I might not approve. I’m willing to concede that.”
It would be a challenge, but at least it would be a possibility of reform. Powatanduk moved on to the next question. The big question for him. “What would be your position on the Museum and Archives?”
Nicodamien met Powatanduk’s gaze squarely. “Absolutely free access and freedom of information and movement.”
“Without any restriction whatsoever? Even to the Archivist and Curator?”
Nicodamien pressed his fingertips together, leaning back and looking thoughtful. “It is necessary. I have concluded that the greatest folly of the Primacist movement–besides the attempt to disempower me–was the repression of ideas deemed dangerous. I have the utmost confidence that our basic philosophy is valid and will be vindicated in the end. Therefore the debate of opposing ideas and philosophies is no threat to us. Indeed, it is necessary to have such debate in order to discredit those ideas. Therefore I would advocate the free expression of ideas and the lifting of all restrictions on the Museum and Archives, and would so adjudicate if the matter came before me.” He grinned at Powatanduk. “That’s pretty much what you wanted, isn’t it?”
“It is, but whether you will follow through on it is another matter entirely.”
“Oh, quite! Quite! But surely, considering the present situation, it is worth pursuing, is it not? Consider the circumstances, Powatanduk. I know perfectly well the high stake you place on this issue. Should I go back on my promise, I would likely lose your support. If I should lose your support, my plans would be in jeopardy.”
“You place that high a value on my alliance?”
“My good fellow, I consider it indispensable.”
Powatanduk frowned. He didn’t trust Nicodamien one bit, regardless of whatever transformations his experiences in the Arctic had brought about. But there was a definite political logic to what he was proposing that made it plausible. The thought of accepting this unsavory bargain with an adversary he detested was less than attractive no matter what he might gain from it. Yet, it was intriguing.
“I’ll consider what you’ve proposed,” Powatanduk said.
“Of course, of course,” Nicodamien encouraged him, “Take your time. Take a day or two. There is no need of immediate haste.”
“It may take a bit more than a day or two,” Powatanduk replied. “I’ll want to discuss this with certain people whose opinions I trust.”
“Do please be discreet,” Nicodamien said. “I would prefer it not generally known that I am back. The element of surprise could work to our advantage.”
“Our advantage? Don’t be too quick to include me in your plans. I haven’t accepted yet, and may likely decide that you are simply too treacherous an ally!”
“You misunderstand,” Nicodamien purred. “I was simply referring to the Shaman and myself. Our plans are linked. My success is the means to his. Eh, Arikinsa?”
The Shaman inclined his head in acknowledgment. Powatanduk looked at him curiously, but Arikinsa did not see fit to elaborate.
“So,” Nicodamien continued, “Who would you be speaking with, if I may be so bold as to inquire? Galamandria? Alexandrik, perhaps? If so, do give them my regards.”
“Them, yes,” Powatanduk said with calculated thoughtfulness. “And, of course, Felicitanya.”
The sudden change of atmosphere in the room was palpable. At the mention of her name Nicodamien tensed, his face becoming alert and suspicious. Standing behind him, Saravastaya’s expression showed concern. She would have kept Felicitanya out of it.
I know what I’m doing, Powatanduk assured her silently. He’s going to find out about her eventually anyway. I want it to be on my terms, to my advantage.
“Felicitanya?” Nicodamien demanded, “What has she to do with it?”
“You might as well know, she and I have become very good friends. I will want to know her feelings about this, and her opinion will weigh heavily in my decision.”
“Is she here? In the Garden?”
“Yes, staying with me,” Powatanduk answered smoothly, anticipating the truth slightly. “It was quite impossible for her in the Subcity after you left.”
Nicodamien chuckled, but it was a tight, menacing sound, poorly concealing intense rage. The air fairly crackled around him. “What a coup for you! I expect you think it a tremendous joke on me! Well, watch your back, my friend! She is a treacherous little vixen!”
“I’m not too worried,” Powatanduk said mildly.
“Does she know I’m back?”
“Oh, yes. And I should tell you she wants nothing to do with you. So I’d advise you not to come calling. You would not be welcome.”
“There is precious little chance of that!” Nicodamien spat. “I’ve no further use for her, the traitorous bitch!”
“So, you have no interest in her?”
“Good,” Powatanduk nodded. “That settles it quite nicely.” He rose to his feet. “If there is nothing more that you wish to discuss, I’ll be on my way. I will be in touch in a few days with my answer.”
“Don’t take too long!” Nicodamien warned him, “I may change my mind!”
Powatanduk shrugged. “Well, if so, so be it. As you observed, retirement agrees with me.” He smiled broadly. “Good night, everyone.”
Saravastaya handed him his coat. There was a twinkle of admiration in her eye.
While the way is being prepared for sweeping changes in the world order, a forbidden relationship is tearing apart two families in the small town of Galamander. Same-sex love may be common among humans, but it does not happen to Elder beings, or so it is believed.
Alexandrik saw the small, dejected figure shuffling up the road long before he heard the timid knock at the door. Diosadorik must have stood at the door quite a while before deciding to make his presence known. Alexandrik was in the midst of sorting out and processing the contents of several baskets that had been delivered to him over the course of the morning. Two came from Saravastaya. The rest were from various families who were paying off their medical debts. He wished they had not all come at once–Diosadorik included–but there he was.
“Hello, Doctor.” Diosadorik flashed that enormous, toothy smile that seemed too big for his face. “Can I talk to you?”
The inevitable request. The single most frequently asked question. Alexandrik nodded, smiling encouragingly, as he was accustomed to doing. “Sit yourself down,” he said. “Can I get you a cup of tea?”
“No, thank you,” Diosadorik said, shrugging off his heavy coat and sliding into a chair at the kitchen table. It was warm in the kitchen from the cooker and the distiller both going, the doctor shaman’s home pharmaceutical factory running at full tilt.
“Just as well,” Alexandrik said. “I don’t know if I can find my tea pot at the moment.”
“What is all this stuff?” He picked up a clump of greens. “Must be from the Garden greenhouses.”
“Only place I can get fresh herbs this time of year. This is drowsemint, that’s throat wort, and on the chair next to you is a basket of minikin balm and citron grass. Saravastaya sent it to tide us over until spring.”
“There’s a lot,” he observed. “Can I help?”
“I’d appreciate it,” Alexandrik replied. “I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. Here, you can work on taking the leaves off these and putting them into this bowl. Just the smaller leaves and the tips. Nothing bigger than this. The good is mostly in the young leaves. Oh, and as little stem as possible.”
“Okay.” The youth began carefully trimming the leaves. “You have to learn how to use all this stuff when you’re a shaman, I guess.”
“That, among other things.” He looked into a pot that was simmering on the cooker, judging the color of the liquid. Not done yet.
“What else do you need to know? Curing rituals and stuff, right?”
“And magic,” Alexandrik said. He grinned at the youth. “Like how to keep a pot of oil, water, peppercorns and tartberries like Galamander all thoroughly blended, mostly talking to one another and in reasonably good health.”
“It must be awfully hard to learn it all,” Diosadorik said. “I mean, you’ve had apprentices, haven’t you? But none of them stuck with it. You’re still the only real shaman.”
“Mostly I get humans who want to learn the herbal lore. Quite a few folks from the Village come for lessons in basic medicine and home remedies. I get some who are in it for the great, deep mysteries I’m supposed to know. A few sincerely want to walk the path, but get distracted along the way and don’t stick with it. It isn’t an easy path to walk, I’ll grant you.”
The youth sniffed his fingers and wrinkled his nose. “These leaves really smell strong. What a weird smell! I hope it will come off my hands.”
“It will with a couple of good scrubbings.”
“So, what is the hardest part about becoming a shaman?”
Alexandrik considered, stirring the pot on the stove and glancing appraisingly at the young fellow. “I’d say the memorization. One has to commit to memory all the curing songs and the teaching parables. Some of the songs are very long and complicated. And they can’t be written down–although I confess I’ve recorded some of the ones I don’t use as often so I’ll be sure not to forget them.”
“Why can’t they be written down?”
“Let’s see. Tristramacus explained it to me this way: If it’s all written down, then it’s outside of you. It needs to be within you. It needs to be a part of you, worn like a path into your brain. The words must shape you, so that your mind knows them easily. Otherwise their medicine is useless. Meaningless. Sounds made by the mouth, not the expression of wisdom.”
“Wow,” Diosadorik murmured, deeply impressed. “Do the human shamans like Zo have them all memorized?”
“Human shamans largely follow the teachings of Lang Shellee. He spent only two years with the Tribe, although Tristramacus did a lot of tutoring along the way. Much of what he knew he intuited from his personal experiences, and from his exceptional ability to see the waters. He learned several curing songs and most if not all of the teaching stories. These he passed on. But the Wise Folk don’t know all the curing songs. And in any case, most humans wouldn’t have the memory capacity to retain all of what the Tribe knows. Now, I had the advantage of being among the Tribe for twelve years. I committed to memory the entire body of ritual. Living among them for that time, I was able to internalize an awful lot more of the wisdom.” He cocked his head, smiling. “But I’ll still bet that Arikinsa knows an awful lot more than I do. And could hold more in memory. After all, the Tribe has no written language. They are accustomed to carrying everything around in their heads.”
“Wow,” Diosadorik breathed.
“How are you coming with that?” He nodded to the pile of branches on the table in front of the youth.
“Oh, fine,” he said, remembering what he was doing. “About half-way done.”
“Great.” He turned to the sink to a bundle of roots that needed to be cleaned and soaked. “Now, aside from all that, there’s a host of diagnosing skills one needs to acquire. I’m ahead of Arikinsa on that one because of my years of training and experience in conventional medicine. One has to understand psychology, what people need, and what they think. One has to develop a talent for reading people and anticipating how they will react, what makes them do what they do and how to influence them.”
Diosadorik gave a bitter laugh. “I’d never be any good at that.”
Ah, he thought, now we’re getting to the heart of his mission here. “What makes you say that?” He swished the roots gently in the basin of water, one eye on the youth.
He sighed, his elbows on the table, a half-picked stem in his hand. “I don’t understand people at all.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Well, you know. Like what’s happened with me and Silvanius. I thought everybody would be happy for us and everything would work out. Okay, maybe they would be surprised, maybe not exactly approve at first, but when they saw how happy we are, and how much we really love each other, it would all work out. I mean, what could be wrong with it? But ever since it came out about us, it’s been really ugly. Arabellica is all of a sudden cold to me. Doesn’t want me coming around. She doesn’t say it, but she acts it. And people act funny around us. Like we make them uncomfortable. But the worst is my mother. My own mother! She’s in hysterics! She told me I couldn’t see Silvanius anymore. I tried to explain to her that I can’t stop seeing him–I’m in love with him. And he loves me. We need each other. And I’m going to move in with him. She went crazy! It was awful.”
“What happened?” Alexandrik listened carefully as he inspected the roots for dirt, scraping a few grains off with his fingernail.
“We argued for a while, she got more and more upset, and then she went storming out of the house. She went to the stables and started yelling at Silvanius right there in public. I wanted to put a bag over her–or myself! Silvanius was right in the middle of dealing with a pregnant elk who was in trouble birthing. He had to turn the calf. Nobody else in the stables knew how to do it. So here he is, trying to handle this emergency, and my mother is screaming at him and acting like a complete lunatic.”
“When was this?”
“Ah.” Alexandrik felt a bit guilty. He had meant to get over to talk to Kittanemaya, but he had been so busy. It never seemed like the right time. He had promised Silvanius he would help with the adjustment, and then the whole business with Arikinsa drove it out of his head.
“I’ll tell you what,” the doctor shaman said, gently running his palm over the roots, his energies softening them, “You help me process this load of stuff and then I’ll go and see what I can do about your situation.”
“That would be great!” Diosadorik exclaimed with enormous relief. “I don’t mind doing this sort of work at all. What’s next after I get these leaves picked?”
“Let’s see, how about the citron grass? It just needs to be cut up into small pieces so that I can put it to soak.”
“What’s it used for?” the youth asked.
“I blend it with a powder made from goldthread root and burr flower. It often works very well for humans whose immune system needs a boost.”
It was clear from his questions and attention to the answers that Diosadorik’s curiosity wasn’t merely idle. He was seriously considering asking to be taken on as an apprentice. Alexandrik certainly could use a serious apprentice, and Diosadorik was among the better candidates. He might actually stick it out. The Stars knew he had endurance, what with all he’d been through. And Arikinsa thought he had a gift. Maybe he did; some sort of unconscious, intuitive perception of the waters that came out in his stories. Even if it didn’t work out long term, the doctor shaman could sure use his help, now that he didn’t have Galamandria to assist him.
Thinking of Galamandria brought on a wave of mixed melancholy. Damn Arikinsa! How could one little Arctic shaman create so blessed much havoc in so short a time? It was tempting to think that Arikinsa had even managed somehow to arrange for the news of the Arctic Expedition hit when it did. He’d been there what, a week and a half? And in that space he’d engineered a perilous Arctic mission for Arabellica, triggered Saravastaya’s inclusion in the secret society of the Crystal Vessel–and Diosadorik’s, too, as well as put into the youth’s head the conviction that he was destined to walk the path of a shaman. And then, upon returning home from delivering Arikinsa back to the safety of the Arctic where he belonged, Galamandria announced that she had decided to look into the possibility of moving to the Village to live by the sea among the human folk. Permanently. It was something the shaman had said.
She assured him that it was nothing he had done. She loved him no less, but she had to try to find a way to heal the sickness in her soul. Alexandrik’s attempts to heal her had given her only temporary relief, because the paths she walked kept making her sick all over again. He understood. He knew how unhappy she had been, and sincerely hoped this was what she needed. But damn, he would miss her.
One catastrophe at a time, he told himself; it was the secret to dealing with life no matter who you were. “You know,” he said to the youth as he began chopping up the roots he’d been working on, “People aren’t really that difficult to figure out. The fact is, most folks have the best of intentions, and think whatever they are doing is justified. But they don’t always see things clearly. And they have a hard time seeing a point of view other than their own. Our people are often as prone to misjudgment as any human. Sometimes it gets ugly. When that happens, it tends to only get worse. That’s how feuds start. Resentment builds, and people make it worse by trying to get back at whoever they think is the offender. The longer it goes on, the harder it is to restore harmony. But if the people involved can be persuaded to work it out, there’s always hope. Peace is in the best interest of everyone in the community. Ill feeling poisons the waters. So, I do my best to act as a mediator, to bring people together, help them understand each other, forgive each other, and find a way to get along. I’ve gotten pretty good at it.”
“It’s another kind of healing, right?” Diosadorik said with an admiring smile.
He nodded. “Right.” He put the chopped root in a bowl and set it aside, reaching for a basket. “Let’s see, what’s in here? Oh yes. From the Bensal outfit. I treated their youngest for a nasty rash. Humans always send food. They forget we don’t eat five times a day.” He took out a fine-smelling cheese and a loaf of fresh bread. “Hmm. Now that I think about it, food isn’t such a bad idea after all. What do you say we process a little of this with a cup of tea? I think I noticed the tea pot behind the distiller.”
“Sure,” Diosadorik said. “It’s been so crazy, I can’t remember when I’ve had a decent sunning. I guess I could use some food.”
So they pushed aside mounds of fragrant leaves and shared the bread and cheese, and Alexandrik pondered the idea of Diosadorik as a somewhat permanent fixture.
Another one who considered Diosadorik a permanent fixture in his life was sitting on a barrel of grain and gloomily reflecting on a less than pleasant morning. Silvanius watched the newly born calf, thin legs splayed and not very sturdy, nursing vigorously. He considered names for it in keeping with the situation–Storm, Vengeance, Fury, Calamity–and decided he shouldn’t lay that on the innocent creature.
Well, damn it. He had feared that Kittanemaya wouldn’t take kindly to the notion of him and her precious little Diosadorik keeping kitchen. But he hadn’t expected quite the spectacle that she had put on this morning. Half of Galamander must have heard her. Her timing was amazingly bad, and did she really have to pitch her fit right there in front of all his stable hands? Blessed stars, what a story they would be circulating tonight around the table down at Cas Jemroy’s place! They’d be repeating it for years to come.
The elk cow turned to nudge her calf, giving it a series of long, wet licks with her tongue. Silvanius began to chuckle aloud. What a scene! This hysterical female ranting and raving, poor Diosadorik pleading, and him trying to reason with her with his arm shoved up to the elbow inside a bellowing elk cow! Bloody hanging balls! Silvanius threw back his head with the laughter that comes at wit’s end, as an alternative to weeping.
There was a third individual for whom Diosadorik had been a fixture all his life. She sat in her sunning room trying to muster enough energy to tackle her daily chores. It was all Kittanemaya could do to keep from breaking down into tears again. Her eyes hurt and she was exhausted from it. There was nothing she could do. Her little son. Her precious little son. How she had struggled to give him a chance at life–and now this.
There was a knock at the door. She groaned. She did not want to talk to anyone. She didn’t want to be seen by anyone. She tried to ignore the knocking but it persisted. She wrapped her robe around herself and peeped cautiously out the window.
Blessed stars, Dr. Alexandrik. He’d heard, and he was here to talk to her about it. No mystery whose side he would be on. The damned berdache was his brother. Half-brother, anyway.
But then again, Dr. Alexandrik had been a dear friend of the family ever since Diosadorik was born. He had fought along with her to give the child a chance, to get him through each and every crisis. Kittanemaya rubbed her eyes. Maybe it would be good to talk to him. He always managed to make things seem better. She glanced in the mirror. She looked awful. She wasn’t dressed. But then, this was Dr. Alexandrik, who was quite accustomed to seeing folks at their absolute worst.
Pulling the belt of her robe tight around her, she went to the door.
He greeted her with gentle warmth and sympathy. He hung up his cloak, guided her into the kitchen and began making tea. She didn’t really want a cup of tea, but when he set the steaming cup in front of her the very fragrance of it was soothing.
“It’s been rough for you, hasn’t it?” he said, sitting down at the table across from her.
She nodded, a little shudder running down her body.
“It must have been a terrible shock,” he said sympathetically. “Diosadorik came to my house and told me about what had happened this morning. I came as quickly as I could.”
“Thank you,” she said softly. “Forgive me, I know Silvanius is your brother–”
Alexandrik shook his head. “That doesn’t enter into it. I’d likely do and say the same were it anyone else. It’s you I’m concerned about right at the moment. I suppose you must feel a powerful resentment towards him.”
“I trusted him,” she said, and it came out with more fierce bitterness than she intended. “I can’t understand how he could betray me and Diosadorik this way.”
“It seems that way to you, doesn’t it?”
“Of course it does! For him to do that to my son, that innocent child who trusted him! It’s despicable!”
“I understand your feelings,” he said gently. “Silvanius has done so much for you and your son. He’s tried to help you in any way he could over the years, hasn’t he?”
“That’s what makes it all the more painful!”
“It doesn’t make much sense that someone as honest as he, who genuinely cares about you and Diosadorik, would do anything to harm either one of you.”
“He seduced my son! It’s no rumor, it’s a fact! Neither of them deny it! They seem to think there’s nothing wrong in it!”
“Perhaps that is what they honestly believe,” Alexandrik suggested.
“Why, because humans do it? We are not humans!” she declared indignantly.
“No,” Alexandrik agreed, “but it happens to us, nonetheless.”
“Maybe, but it isn’t normal. It’s a sickness.”
“It can be, if the individual is sick. But that’s the only connection. I’m speaking as a physician, Kittanemaya. Remember, I know all about the medical condition that makes a berdache. It is a semi-dormant recessive gene. Nothing more. In and of itself, it contributes to no other traits, no abnormalities.” He smiled. “I’m afraid you’re thinking that I’m just trying to defend Silvanius. But it’s the truth. Medical fact. A berdache is a berdache from the moment he is born, and is otherwise a perfectly ordinary person.”
“All right,” she said, “I can accept that Silvanius can’t help being what he is. He’s not to be blamed. But why did he have to go after Diosadorik?”
Alexandrik nodded. “There is a temptation to think of it that way, because Silvanius is older. Because Diosadorik is just barely an adult. But your son is physically mature. He has been for several years. Emotionally he still has some growing to do.” Alexandrik chuckled. “I suppose most of us do, no matter what our age! Immortality gives us the great opportunity to keep growing and learning.”
She sipped the tea, feeling its soothing, calming warmth. She wanted to trust the doctor, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear what he seemed to be trying to tell her. “Diosadorik isn’t old enough to think for himself yet,” she said. “He is still very childish in many ways. Vulnerable,” she added pointedly.
“Oh, you are quite right! That’s why I’m relieved he has someone like Silvanius to look after him. Wait, please, I know how that statement must strike you. But please hear me out. I believe Diosadorik was meant to be this way. If he had the same sexual impulses that you or I have, he would not want this kind of a relationship. Can you imagine any way you could be talked into it? I know I couldn’t. But I have questioned both of them about how it happened. In fact, Silvanius came to me first, terribly worried that he might have influenced Diosadorik in some way.”
She scowled at him skeptically.
“It’s true,” he assured her. “I wouldn’t lie to you about this. It is too important to you, and to them. I told him just what I’m telling you. If this were not perfectly normal and natural for Diosadorik, I can hardly imagine that he would be so deeply in love.”
“Don’t say that! He can’t be!”
Alexandrik nodded. “I know. It is difficult to accept. I ask you, though, please think about it. Not in anger, not in denial. Try very hard to suspend your prejudices. They really are prejudices, Kittanemaya. Think of the two people involved. They are people we both care about. People we know are honest and good. Think how it must have been for them, realizing this was happening, worrying what people would think, worrying about whether they would be accepted. Poor Diosadorik! He was very naïve about it. He was sure everything would be fine. But it hasn’t been.”
He waited. She was thinking, frowning, her hands wrapped around the tea mug. She looked as if she might begin crying again. It reminded him of the night Diosadorik was born, how torn she was, how upset. She loved her son. This would be a wrenching ordeal for her, but she would come around. She just needed to be guided there.
“You…” she started hesitantly, “you are sure about Diosadorik? You think he’s–he’s like that?”
“I can’t be absolutely positive without the sort of genetic analysis that can’t be done outside of the Subcity, but judging from what I’ve observed and knowing what I do about the condition, I’d say it’s pretty certain. If it hadn’t been Silvanius, it would have been another male. Perhaps someone who would have been angry and offended by Diosadorik’s affections. It could have been very ugly. And the stars know Diosadorik has suffered enough. This really is a blessing for him.”
She shuddered and choked. “He’s had everything against him from the moment he was conceived! Now this. It isn’t fair! Blessed stars, it isn’t fair!” She began sobbing. Alexandrik slid over into the chair next to her and put his arm around her.
“It’s been so difficult for you,” he said softly. “I know. I watched it through the years and tried to help the best I could. But it’s all been worth it, Kittanemaya. All your work, all your efforts, your sacrifices. Diosadorik is such a precious, unique person. He wouldn’t be alive if not for you. He wouldn’t have grown up with the health and strength he has if not for you. He has a gentle nature and a loving heart. That comes from you, too. From the love you’ve given him. This is just another part of who he is. We have to accept it. And be glad for him, because he is happy. He really is happy, you know. And isn’t that what matters most?”
Her crying subsided. She took a deep breath, composing herself. “I’ll try to accept it,” she said. “If he really is happy.”
“Talk to him. And listen to what he says. It really can be all right. Maybe not easy, but all right. Being a parent is never easy, I’ve observed. I’m not sure I could handle it.” He smiled at her.
Kittanemaya managed a weak smile in return. “I’ll talk to him,” she promised.
I’ve got to go through with this, Diosadorik thought grimly.
His mother was in the kitchen when he got there. She looked awful, her hair uncombed and her clothing rumpled, hastily chosen and mismatched. Her eyes were red from crying. He braced himself for another scene. He greeted her stiffly, politely, and she answered the same. He announced that he was going to his room, and he went, tensely sensing her following him. He kept waiting for her to say something, but all she did was stand in the door nervously. So he got his pack out of the closet and tossed it on the lounging couch. I’ve got to go through with this, he told himself again.
He was surrounded with the acquisitions of a lifetime. He had always lived in this room, sunned himself at this window, kept his clothes and things in this closet and in this chest. The childish art on the walls was his. The rest were works he chose or gifts from people who cared about him. What to take? What to leave behind? That little bag and charm hanging on the hook were from Galamandria. The flute Kord Johlael had given him‑‑he’d never really learned to play it very well; the pouch his father had given him–he used to carry that everywhere he went until the stitching started to come loose. He was going to fix it, but hadn’t gotten around to it. The vest his mother made for him on his twentieth birthday, the embroidery all done by her own hand. He loved it and had worn it on special occasions until it got too small for him. He picked it up and tossed it on the couch, his stomach tight.
His mother spoke from the doorway. “So, are you packing?” Her voice had an edge to it, a slight quiver of taut emotion just barely under control.
He nodded. “Just a few things,” he said, feeling guilty for it. “I’m not going far, after all.”
“I’m glad for that,” she said. “Dio, is this really what you want?”
“It is, Mother. More than anything.” He waited, but she didn’t fly into hysterics. He could see her struggling not to. It made him want to hug her.
“I’m trying to understand,” she said, “Honestly I am.” She was clenching her hands, weaving her fingers around each other. He went over to her.
“Once there was a beautiful garden filled with roses–”
“Oh, no, Dio!” she groaned, “Not one of your stories! Not now!”
“Yes, now!” he insisted urgently, “Especially now! Please, Mother, you’ve got to listen. It is the most important story I’ve ever told!”
She closed her eyes for a moment, her face tight. “All right,” she said, and sat down on the lounging couch, her hands folded in forced stillness in her lap. Her jaw was clenched, but her expression was attentive.
Diosadorik continued. “In this garden, red roses grew. Lovely sweet red roses with soft petals that caught the summer sun and nodded to one another in the breeze. They budded and burst wide in great, laughing smiles of joy, heavy with their full beauty, brushing one another and whispering of love.
“But among these beautiful red roses there grew a single blue rose. A rich, marvelous blue, blue as the deep sky, blue as the still lake. The one blue rose nodded in the gentle breezes, but there was no other blue rose to nod to. Everywhere, everywhere, red roses like sweet faces smiled to one another. They bloomed and rejoiced and their petals fell like red velvet snow. The blue rose was alone.
“And summer came again, and the garden bloomed, and the beautiful faces nodded to one another, their petals touching in the sweet-scented breeze, whispering love. And again there was one blue rose. Just one. Rich, royal, glorious blue! But not red. And so, the blue rose was alone.
“Each summer the single blue rose would look among all those nodding, smiling, blooming faces for one–just one!–that was blue as he was, like the deep sky, like the still lake. But there was never another. The blue rose was always alone.
“But then, one year when the rains fell just right, and the sun grew warm at just the right time, and the morning mists drifted over the garden with just the right kind of magic, the blue rose looked, and there! It was a tiny bud, closed tight as a fist, but a blue fist! Blue, like the deep sky! Blue, like the still lake! And the blue rose trembled, awake and watching, fearing, would some careless hand pick it? Would some greedy worm devour it? Would some crawling, crook-legged beetle with sharp, tearing jaws shred those delicate petals into velvet dust on the ground? And the blue rose bent and brushed protectively over the tiny bud.
“So the sun shone down to warm the garden, and no careless hand came, nor a greedy worm, nor a crawling, crook-legged beetle. The tiny bud grew and swelled and swirled its petals open to smile with joy upon the sweet, green world. The small blue rose looked, and saw a garden full of red faces, all nodding to one another, their petals touching as they bent and swayed in the breeze, whispering of love. All red. And he began to feel sad, and so very lonely.
“But, ah! He was not alone! There, very near, was another blue rose, rich and glorious, blue as the deep sky, and the still lake! And the two blue roses nodded to one another, and their petals touched, and they shared an understanding such as no red rose in a garden full of red roses could ever know. And they were happy.”
Diosadorik looked at his mother hopefully to see if she understood. There were tears in her eyes. She said nothing at first. Then she got up and hurried over to him, hugging him crushingly, her cheek pressed against his.
It was going to be all right.