(Part I) (Part II) (Part III)
The next day a heavy new snow had fallen, and after breakfast the Matriarch proposed to Darin that they go for a walk before tackling the business of the day. Bundling into snow gear, Darin in dark blue and the Matriarch in white, they set out from the chalet as if they were heading toward the sulfurous springs, although they did not plan to go so far. They walked, or, rather, tramped in the snow, for about twenty minutes, when Darin suddenly realized that the Matriarch was no longer at his side. He looked behind, puzzled to see her standing still several yards behind, watching him inscrutably.
She held up her hand. "Do not come any closer. Bedros has snipers at the treeline who will kill you if you move any closer." She continued to give him that inscrutable look for several moments longer, then suddenly looked at the sky. "Honestly, Darin," she said. "Did you think such amateur cloak and dagger was protection enough from the intelligence agents of the Matriarch? She knew, and I knew. I always knew."
He stood there, saying nothing. The wind began to pick up, blowing through the Matriarch's hair and making it flicker like flame.
"The Matriarch always told me -- my predecessor always told me that the only way to be Matriarch was to extirpate every weakness. I thought I had done that. But I have begun to realize that I left the greatest weakness of all untouched. And such a weakness! I knew. And all the time some persuasive part of me kept convincing me that, when it was all done, you would give it all up for me. But the man who would do that would never have been involved in your treacheries in the first place. There is no other way it can go. A Matriarch must extirpate every last weakness."
Like a cornered animal that knows its life is at stake, Darin sprang at the Matriarch. He was fast, but the Matriarch, who had been ready the whole time, was faster. He never made it to her, but, clutching his throat, fell down thrashing a few feet from her.
The Death of Darin is another one of those scenes that the painters of Syan love to paint, and there are many more versions of this scene than of the Accession of the Matriarch because the Matriarchs themselves more often encourage it: in this scene, there is no dead Matriarch. As it is usually painted, the Matriarch of Syan stands gazing out to the viewer. The white of her coat, the paleness of her face, almost blend in to the snowy landscape and gray sky behind her. Almost she looks like Winter personated, except for the vivid sea-green of her eyes and her hair, gilded flame, flickering in the wind. She seems impersonal, a force of nature, although under the brush of a true master, a Misson or a Valer, there is a hint in the set of her face of some hidden but infinite sorrow. Darin lies at her feet in dark blue, dark blood pouring out on the white snow from the wound in his throat, a wound caused by a beautiful dagger with a golden hilt of ornate leaf-and-flower tracery. The composition of color is something no painter could resist.
But here, as always, the question I ask is what the painter does not show. Paintings abstract from time, and treat as timeless what is no longer-lasting than a heartbeat. They do not portray the subject of an action, but only a mere surface for viewing. And thus all the paintings of the Matriarch lie, for no Matriarch is in reality a mere surface for viewing, and every Matriarch, by virtue of what she is, is in every moment of her life the subject of actions that move nations and worlds.
The Matriarch stared down at Darin until he was quite dead and then bent down to retrieve the dagger. Her hand hovered above the hilt a moment then withdrew, empty. She turned and began to walk back alone.
She had not made it more than halfway, when Bedros came rushing up to her. "Matriarch!" he shouted. Then recovering his dignity, and lowering his volume, "Matriarch! Where have you been? We have been looking all over for you."
"I have been on a walk, Bedros," she said. "That is all." She then passed him without further explanation.
As she continued her way back to the chalet, the snow began to fall again.