Episode 3: Pride
We were not two months into Qevellen’s creation when Kor found me and said, “If you would not have yourself married, Haraa, I suggest you find some significant pastime outside this House and away from Farren’s sight.”
It was late spring, and the garden in our new house was in full flower. In the years to come, it would be manicured and tamed… but no one had had time to devote to it yet, and I loved its wildness. The bench I’d chosen was shrouded in the fern-like sprays of cloudsbreath and encircled on one side in brightsheaves, the lilies that the first head of Qenain had brought to the Emperor so long ago. My mind was on her, and Qenain’s former lord… inevitably, given how little time had gone past since he’d been my life. But Kor could not have chosen a better way to shatter my reverie. “Excuse me?”
“Our head of household,” Kor said, sitting on the bench facing mine across the path, “is very enthusiastic about fulfilling his responsibilities… and the Summer Tryst is approaching. Right now he is very involved with my former Guardians, but now that the matchmaking fever is on him I doubt you will be exempt from his efforts.”
Yes, there’s a word for that. Emma tells me that I shouldn’t stint on teaching them, and this one might interest, so here it is: theqilare. Not ‘match-make,’ but ‘grasp the pattern of generations.’ We feel very strongly about the importance of theqilare, which is why it would be pointless to try to discourage Farren from his efforts. Besides, I knew a little of him by then, enough to have seen that he was far, far more stubborn than his azjelin. One wouldn’t think it, to contrast Kor’s stern demeanor with Farren’s gentleness. But Farren clung far harder to decisions and ideas, and goddess help anyone who tried to pry his fingers loose.
“Unless, of course, you are busy,” Kor said mildly when I didn’t answer.
I raised my eyes to regard him, and this he allowed, as he always did, with supreme self-assurance: Kherishdar’s only priest of Shame, for even among us there are singular powers and he was heir to one of those few mantles. He had always worn his power easily, but having found both ajzelin and lover, he had grown into something somehow harder to live with—and easier. He had been terrifying for his clarity of thought and uncanny insight into the Ai-Naidari heart, and for the fact that you knew, just looking at him, that there was no impediment between the exercise of that talent and your own soul. Now that he was happy and that happiness distracted you from who he was, you sometimes forgot he was also Shame, until he surprised you with some painfully astute observation… like he was now about my idleness, and its probable cause.
“I suppose it would be useless to deny that I don’t want a husband right now,” I said. “So I won’t. And I’m guessing I am not showing some secret sign of an error that could be Corrected by the application of a spouse, or you wouldn’t be warning me. Yes?”
His mouth twitched. “It is a great pleasure to be known so well, qirini.”
‘Sister,’ that means. I hadn’t heard it from him before and was surprised to find it flattering. “I thank you for telling me, then. Are you heeding your own warning yourself?”
He chuckled. “Shame is always busy.”
“Not too busy for a spouse,” I pointed out. “After all, Shame now has time for a lover and an ajzelin.”
“A lover and an ajzelin are more than enough,” Shame said, and it was Shame speaking now… something about the way his words felt like statements of fact, rather than opinions. An implacability. And, as always, I couldn’t hear it without trying to needle him.
“And your duty to the generations?”
“Fulfilled, I hope, by the Winter Tryst,” he said. “Which I have attended since I have been of age.” He lifted a brow. “And you have not. Does it concern you?”
“The prospect of it?” I shook my head. “I’ve certainly had more lovers than you. A few more, anonymous or not, won’t trouble me.”
“I didn’t imagine it would,” he said. “But the Tryst is not about taking a lover.”
I eyed him and folded my arms, the silk of my sleeves hissing over my lap. “Don’t you start, osulkedi.”
He laughed then, rising. He had a good laugh. It made him more approachable. “Ah, Haraa. How can I, when I have never stopped?” Canting his head, he finished, “Your ishas, no less than mine, can and perhaps should be executed elsewhere.”
I thought of the Gate-town. “I know.”
“Will you require escort? Ajan, or one of the others.”
I smiled at that. “You’d spare me Ajan?”
But something in his eyes, which were too amused: “Because you know I won’t take him.”
He chuckled softly. “I offered because if you had wanted him, you would have needed him, and I would have given him to you gladly.”
“But you did know I wouldn’t,” I pressed.
He smiled at that. “Say rather that I suspected.” At my skeptical look he laughed again. “You are not always easy to predict, Haraa. It’s… refreshing.”
“For Shame, who knows all,” I said boldly. Because if he had called me sister, I could tease him. “I would have thought it would irritate you.”
“If it does, I’ll let you know.”
“Qirini,” I said, tasting the sobriquet.
It was still flattering on consideration. I flicked my ears back casually to hide their tint. “I’ll give your warning all due consideration.” And, smiling too, “If I can do my part to protect you from Farren’s fervor, I will. Because, apparently, an ajzelin and a lover is more than enough work without adding a wife to the mix, for Kherishdar’s sole Shame.”
He snorted. “Enjoy the day, Haraa.”
The garden was still beautiful after he left. Maybe more so, for having had him in it to stress the contrasts. He was dark and austere and had an abruptness to his motions that would have given my deportment teachers attacks. Not because he was without grace, but because he managed to have it without the stately finish they taught all fathriked. The memory of it made the sway of the brightsheaves look more genteel, and the garden patches looked wilder for their lack of constraint. Farren might have found the juxtaposition arresting. I found it funny. I was, in fact, smiling.
Well, that, and twitching, fingers grasping the edge of the bench. The last thing I wanted was a husband. Shemena forfend.
I rose from the bench, feeling that I had lingered too long in my idleness. Thirukedi had elevated me and given me a task, and in His kindness allowed me time to linger over the absolute disaster that had been my relationship with Jaran, the lord of Qenain now exiled. I still hurt, but I had been studiously ignoring the fact that I would never stop hurting unless I gave myself something to do that didn’t involve the endless examination of those last weeks and what I might have done to change things.
That I’d been avoiding my duty because doing it would remind me of him… well. I was done with letting ij Qenain have power over me. He had chosen the aunera over me. Over all of Kherishdar. I was proud enough to find that mortifying, and pride can galvanize you into motion and keep you there, when you might otherwise find yourself faltering.
Into the story, directly.