The Broken Kingdoms
Page 8

 N.K. Jemisin

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It didn’t last long. Somewhere beyond the eastern rootwall, the sun moved above the horizon. The glow faded quickly after that. After a few moments, I was able to look at him again, and in twenty minutes, he was as invisible to me as every other mortal.
When it was over, my houseguest turned to leave. He did chores around the house during the day and had lately begun hiring himself out to the neighbors, giving me whatever pittance he earned. I stretched, relaxed and comfortable. I always felt warmer when he was around.
“Wait,” I said, and he stopped.
I tried to gauge his mood by the feel of his silence. “Are you ever going to tell me your name?”
More silence. Was he irritated, or did he care at all? I sighed.
“All right,” I said. “The neighbors are starting to ask questions, so I need something to call you. Do you mind if I make something up?”
He sighed. Definitely irritated. But at least it wasn’t a no.
I grinned. “All right, then. Shiny. I’ll call you Shiny. What about that?”
It was a joke. I said it just to tease him. But I will admit that I’d expected some reaction from him, if only disgust. Instead, he simply walked out.
Which annoyed me. He didn’t have to talk, but was a smile too much to ask for? Even just a grunt or a sigh?
“Shiny it is, then,” I said briskly, and got up to start my day.
“Dead Goddesses” (watercolor)
APPARENTLY I AM PRETTY. Magic is all I see, and magic tends to be beautiful, so I have no way of properly judging the mundane myself. I have to take others’ word for it. Men praise parts of me endlessly—always the parts, mind you, never the whole. They love my long legs, my graceful neck, my storm of hair, my breasts (especially my breasts). Most of the men in Shadow were Amn, so they also commented on my smooth, near-black Maro skin, even though I told them there were half a million other women in the world with the same feature. Half a million is not so many measured against the whole world, though, so that always got included in their qualified, fragmentary admiration.
“Lovely,” they would say, and sometimes they wanted to take me home and admire me in private. Before I got involved with godlings, I would let them, if I felt lonely enough. “You’re beautiful, Oree,” they would whisper as they positioned and posed and polished me. “If only—”
I never asked them to complete this sentence. I knew what they almost said: if only you didn’t have those eyes.
My eyes are more than blind; they are deformed. Disturbing. I would probably attract more men if I hid them, but why would I want more men? The ones I already attract never really want me. Except Madding, and even he wished I were something else.
My houseguest did not want me at all. I did worry at first. I wasn’t stupid; I knew the danger of bringing a strange man into my home. But he had no interest in anything so mundane as mortal flesh—not even his own. His gaze felt of many things when it touched me, but covetousness was not one of them. Neither was pity.
I probably kept him around for that reason alone.
“I paint a picture,” I whispered, and began.
Each morning before leaving for Art Row, I practiced my true art. The things I made for the Row were junk—statues of godlings that were inaccurate and badly proportioned; watercolors depicting banal, inoffensive images of the city; pressed and dried Tree flowers; jewelry. The sorts of trinkets potential buyers expected to see from a blind woman with no formal training who sold nothing over twenty meri.
My paintings were different. I spent a good portion of my income on canvas and pigment, and beeswax for the base. I spent hours—when I really lost myself—imagining the colors of air and trying to capture scent with lines.
And, unlike my table trinkets, I could see my paintings. Didn’t know why. Just could.
When I finished and turned, wiping my hands on a cloth, I was not surprised to find that Shiny had come in. I tended to notice little else around me when I was painting. As if to rebuke me for this tendency, the scent of food hit my nose, and my stomach immediately set up a growl so loud that it practically filled the basement. Sheepishly I grinned. “Thanks for making breakfast.”
There was a creak on the wooden stairs and the faint stir of displaced air as he approached. A hand took hold of mine and guided it to the smooth, rounded edge of a plate, heavy and slightly warm underneath. Warmed cheese and fruit, my usual, and—I sniffed and grinned in delight. “Smoked fish? Where on earth did you get that?”
I didn’t expect an answer and I didn’t get one. He guided me over to a spot at my small worktable, where he’d arranged a simple place setting. (He was always proper about things like that.) I found the fork and began to eat, my delight growing as I realized the fish was velly from the Braided Ocean, near Nimaro. It wasn’t expensive, but it was hard to find in Shadow—too oily for the Amn palate. Only a few Sun Market merchants sold it, as far as I knew. Had he gone all the way to Wesha for me? When the man wanted to apologize, he did it right.