The Broken Kingdoms
Page 19

 N.K. Jemisin

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I groped for my walking stick. “Wait!”
Madding looked at me like I had lost my mind, but I ignored him. The woman stopped, not turning back, but the child did, looking at me in surprise. “Who is he?” I asked, pointing at Shiny. “Will you tell me his name?”
“Oree, gods damn it.” Madding stepped forward, but the woman held up a graceful hand and he went still.
Sieh only shook his head. “The rules are that he live among mortals as a mortal,” he said, glancing beyond me at Shiny. “None of you comes into this world with a name, so neither does he. He gets nothing unless he earns it himself. Since he’s not trying very hard, that means he’ll never have much. Except a friend, apparently.” He eyed me briefly and looked sour. “Well… like Mother said, even he gets lucky sometimes.”
Mother, I noted, with the part of my mind that remained fascinated by such things even after years of living in Shadow. Godlings did mate among themselves sometimes. Was Shiny Sieh’s father, then?
“Mortals don’t come into the world with nothing,” I said carefully. “We have history. A home. Family.”
Sieh’s lip curled. “Only the fortunate ones among you. He doesn’t deserve to be that lucky.”
I shuddered and inadvertently thought of how I’d found Shiny, light and beauty discarded like trash. All this time I had assumed misfortune on his part; I had speculated that he suffered from some godly disease, or an accident that had stripped all but a vestige of his power. Now I knew his condition had been deliberately imposed. Someone—these very gods, perhaps—had done this to him, as a punishment.
“What in the infinite hells did he do?” I murmured without thinking.
I didn’t understand the boy’s reaction at first. I would never be as good at perceiving things with my eyes as I was with my other senses, and the look on Sieh’s face alone was not enough for me to interpret. But when he spoke, I knew: whatever Shiny had done, it had been truly terrible, because Sieh’s hate had once been love. Love betrayed has an entirely different sound from hatred outright.
“Maybe he’ll tell you himself one day,” he said. “I hope so. He doesn’t deserve a friend, either.”
Then he and the woman vanished, leaving me alone among gods and corpses.
“Frustration” (watercolor)
BY NOW YOU’RE PROBABLY CONFUSED. That’s all right; so was I. The problem wasn’t just my misunderstanding—though that was part of it—but also history. Politics. The Arameri, and maybe the more powerful nobles and priests, probably know all this. I’m just an ordinary woman with no connections or status, and no power beyond a walking stick that makes an excellent club in a pinch. I had to figure everything out the hard way.
My education didn’t help. Like most people, I was taught that there were three gods once, and then there was a war between them, which left two. One of them wasn’t actually a god anymore—though he was still very powerful—so really that left just one. (And a great many godlings, but we never saw them.) For most of my life, I was raised to believe that this state of affairs was ideal, because who wants a bunch of gods to pray to when one will do? Then the godlings returned.
Not just them, though. Suddenly the priests began to say odd prayers and write new teaching poems into the public scrolls. Children learned new songs in the White Hall schools. Where once the world’s people had been required to offer their praises only to Bright Itempas, now we were urged to honor two additional gods: a Lord of Deep Shadows and someone called the Gray Lady. When people questioned this, the priests simply said, The world has changed. We must change with it.
You can imagine how well that went over.
It wasn’t as chaotic as it might have been, though. Bright Itempas abhors disorder, after all, and the people who were most upset were the ones who had taken His tenets to heart. So quietly, peacefully, and in an orderly fashion, those people just stopped attending services at the White Halls. They kept their children at home for schooling, teaching them as best they could on their own. They stopped paying tithes, even though this had once meant prison or worse. They committed themselves to preserving the Bright, even as the whole world seemed determined to turn a little darker.
Everyone else held their breath, waiting for the slaughter to begin. The Order answers to the Arameri family, and the Arameri do not tolerate disobedience. Yet no one was imprisoned. There were no disappearances, of individuals or towns. Local priests visited parents, exhorting them to bring their children back to school for the children’s sake, but when the parents refused, their children were not taken away. The Order-Keepers issued an edict that everyone was to pay a basal tithe to cover public services; those who didn’t do this were punished. But for people who chose not to tithe to the Order—nothing.