The Broken Kingdoms
Page 1

 N.K. Jemisin

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I am, you see, a woman plagued by gods.
It was worse once. Sometimes it felt as if they were everywhere: underfoot, overhead, peering around corners, and lurking under bushes. They left glowing footprints on the sidewalks. (I could see that they had their own favorite paths for sightseeing.) They urinated on the white walls. They didn’t have to do that, urinate I mean; they just found it amusing to imitate us. I found their names written in splattery light, usually in sacred places. I learned to read in this way.
Sometimes they followed me home and made me breakfast. Sometimes they tried to kill me. Occasionally they bought my trinkets and statues, though for what purpose I can’t fathom. And, yes, sometimes I loved them.
I even found one in a muckbin once. Sounds mad, doesn’t it? But it’s true. If I had known this would become my life when I left home for this beautiful, ridiculous city, I would have thought twice. Though I would still have done it.
Gardening was my favorite task of the day. I’d had to fight for it, because my mother’s terraces were famous throughout the territory, and she didn’t quite trust me with them. I couldn’t really blame her; my father still laughed over whatever I’d done to the laundry that one time I tried.
“Oree,” she would say whenever I sought to prove my independence, “it’s all right to need help. All of us have things we can’t do alone.”
Gardening, however, was not one of those things. It was the weeding that my mother feared, because many of the weeds that grew in Nimaro were similar in form to her most prized herbs. Fakefern had a fan-shaped frond just like sweet ire; running may was spiky and stung the fingers, same as ocherine. But the weeds and the herbs didn’t smell anything alike, so I never understood why she had such trouble with them. On the rare occasions that both scent and feel stumped me, all I had to do was touch a leaf edge to my lips or brush my hand through the leaves to hear the way they settled into place, and I would know. Eventually, Mama had to admit that I hadn’t tossed out a single good plant all season. I was planning to ask for my own terrace the following year.
I usually lost myself in the gardens for hours, but one morning something was different. I noticed it almost the moment I left the house: a strange, tinny flatness to the air. A pent-breath tension. By the time the storms began, I had forgotten the weeds and sat up, instinctively orienting on the sky.
And I could see.
What I saw, in what I would later learn to call the distance, were vast, shapeless blotches of darkness limned in power. As I gaped, great spearing shapes—so bright they hurt my eyes, something that had never happened before—jutted forth to shatter the blotches. But the remnants of the dark blotches became something else, darting liquid tendrils that wrapped about the spears and swallowed them. The light changed, too, becoming spinning disks, razor-sharp, that cut the tendrils. And so on, back and forth, dark against light, neither winning for more than an instant. Through it all, I heard sounds like thunder, though there was no scent of rain.
Others saw it, too. I heard them coming out of their houses and shops to murmur and exclaim. No one was really afraid, though. The strangeness was all up in the sky, too far above our very earthly lives to matter.
So no one else noticed what I did as I knelt there with my fingers still sunk in the dirt. A tremor in the earth. No, not quite a tremor; it was that tension I’d felt before, that pent feeling. It hadn’t been in the sky at all.
I sprang to my feet and grabbed my walking stick, hurrying for the house. My father was out at the market, but my mother was home, and if some sort of earthquake was in the offing, I needed to warn her. I ran up the porch steps and yanked open the rickety old door, shouting for her to come out, and hurry.
Then I heard it coming, no longer confined to the earth, rolling across the land from the northwest—the direction of Sky, the Arameri city. Someone’s singing, I thought at first. Not one someone but many—a thousand voices, a million, all vibrating and echoing together. The song itself was barely intelligible, its lyrics a single word—yet so powerful was that word that the whole world shook with its imminent force.
The word that it sang was grow.
You must understand. I have always been able to see magic, but Nimaro had been mostly dark to me until then. It was a placid land of sleepy little towns and villages, of which mine was no exception. Magic was a thing of the cities. I got to see it only every once in a while, and then always in secret.
But now there was light and color. It burst across the ground and the street, traced up every leaf and blade of grass and paving stone and wooden slat around the front yard. So much! I had never realized there was so much to the world, right there around me. The magic washed the walls with texture and lines so that for the first time in my life, I could see the house where I’d been born. It outlined the trees around me and the old horse cart around the side of the house—I couldn’t figure out what that was at first—and the people who stood in the street with mouths hanging open. I saw it all—truly saw, as others did. Maybe more than they did, I don’t know. It is a moment I will hold in my heart forever: the return of something glorious. The reforging of something long broken. The rebirth of life itself.