Monday, November 06, 2023

Fire Serpent and Water Mountain III

 Beginning -- Previous

Chapter Two: The Terror of the Gods Returns to The City of the Gods

The rest of the summer after the visit of the gods settled into ordinary routines as the borrowed servants were sent back with generous compensations and the Hall of the Fire Serpent became quiet again. Every so often, Ioan, the forester's boy, would drop by for a game of hide and seek, or Tera would spend some time talking with Lyko, the boy who drove the supply wagon up to the Hall each week, or she would let herself be fussed over by Deyavara, the old woman who came up with Lyko each week to look after various housekeeping matters.  Uncle Llew spent much of his time in his workshop, as he often did during summer, although they still met at meals. Sometimes too he would be away for a day, looking after business in the realm of Mizur. Tera. Tera herself, when neither Lyko nor Ioan nor Deyavara were around, buried herself in her studies; she had nightmares of reaching The City of the Gods and being shown up as an ignoramus. Flowers and fires were the subject of study; she enjoyed both subjects more than most, but she was often frustrated at herself, not feeling that she had any good grasp on either.

"You should relax," said Uncle Llew. "Shifting fire requires a precision that can only be gained by trying and re-trying, and living things are among the most difficult things to shift, since they keep trying to reassert their preferences."

"Even flowers?" asked Tera skeptically.

"Especially flowers," said Uncle Llew dismissively. "Extremely stupid organisms, not at all cooperative."

It was the right thing to say; his dry contempt for the cooperativeness of flowers made her laugh, and eased her worries for a while. But she felt at other times as if she must be unusually stupid, despite his firm assurances that most of the gods were much more stupid than she was.

In those days she often thought of her first meeting with Uncle Llew, when she was twelve years old. Growing up as Goddess-Princess of Davir, she had vaguely known that her mother had a brother, and at some point (she did not know when) she had learned his name was Llew, but other than that, she had known nothing about him. Then the terrible time had come, her mother's death, and she had found herself standing in a cold courtyard as Llew's chariot descended from the heavens. She felt dark and numb and slightly bitter inside. The hatch on the chariot opened, and Llew had stepped forth. It was a strange moment. Despite never having seen him, she recognized him immediately. He looked very much like her mother. The sight of him was like a sharp spear to the heart.

Tera's father, the king of Davir, stepped forward, welcoming Llew (calling him "Your Splendor") and introducing him to Tera. Llew politely acknowledged her, then said to her father, "I will need to see her immediately."

Llew was taken into the room where her mother's body lay, covered in a fine cloth. He pulled back the cloth, and it was at that moment, for the first time, that Tera felt that she and Uncle Llew were on the same side. His face crumpled almost immediately, and he sighed, shaking his head, saying, "She was so young." She knew exactly how he felt. He had proceeded to examine the body. At the time she had not known what he was doing, although now she knew he was carefully examining its possibilities. Tera and the king and the rest of the court waited in silence as he did so. Finally Llew raised his head and said in a voice he tried and could not quite succeed in keeping bland, "I can confirm that it was from natural causes."

He sighed again, looked at Tera a moment, then asked her father, "Does she know yet?"

The king shook his head. "No, Your Splendor."

Llew looked off into the distance a moment, then said, "I should see her room and her effects. I recommend you take the time."

Llew went off to look through her mother's possessions, while her father stood there awkwardly with her. She had always been closer to her mother. As king, he was always busy and often away, and when he was not, it was still awkward, because as goddess-princess she outranked him. He was always impeccable in his courtesy, and she did not at all doubt that he had some warmth for her, but their states of life put them at infinite distance from each other, separated by the unbridgeable social chasm between Vilim and Davnan, man and god.

"I am afraid we will be parting soon," he said to her. "Your uncle will take you to Mizur for training as a goddess. Now that your mother is gone, no one here can do that."

"Can I come back to visit?" she had asked.

"Of course," he said. "You will always be the Goddess-Princess of Davir." But the tone of his voice and the sad smile with which he said this suggested that he did not think she would return any time soon.

And that was that; they said no more on the subject, and he went off to look after the complicated matters that arise when a god visits. That evening, however, the Minister of the Right Hand had come to her, saying, "Your Glory, His Splendor wishes to speak with you in the morning hall."

The morning hall was a small side hall in the palace, with a marble floor and a fireplace. They had set a table in the middle of it, at which Llew sat, looking listlessly over what seemed an account book. When he saw her, however, he put the book away and stood, smiling, gesturing to another chair at the table.

When they were both seated, he said to her, "They tell me that you have a talent for finding things. Is that true?"

"I suppose so," she said.

"When you find something, what is it like?" She did not understand the question, and he followed with, "What do you do when you find something?"

She spread her hands. "I just look where it is most likely to be found. That is all."

Llew smiled slightly and sat back in his chair. "It is more than that, though, is it not? You can find things that no one else can. Your father mentioned that you once found a room that no one knew was there. How did you do that?"

"It just seemed like there should be a door where the wall was," she said. 

"But they had to open up the wall to find the door. You could tell it was there when no one else could." She acknowledged it, and he went on. "Our family has a talent for seeing the ways things can be. All the Davnan have it to some degree, but we usually go beyond that." He sat forward, his elbows on the table and his hands clasped just under his chin. "Can you tell the difference between me and everyone else?"

"Yes," said Tera. "You seem less flat and things seem to change around you, like a light, except that it's not visible in the way light is."

He nodded. "That is it exactly. Do you see it all the time, or just when you concentrate?"

"All the time."

"Interesting," he said, half to himself. Then to her: "That suggests that you have a particular talent for seeing the ways living things can be."

He pulled a coin out of some pocket or other and showed it to her. "This is an ordinary coin," he said. He placed it on the table. "This coin has endlessly many possibilities. It is here, but it can be anywhere in the universe." He moved it with his finger. "When it moves, its possibilities in a sense remain the same; it can be anywhere in the universe. But some possibilities are more available. This is the fundamental principle of the art of the Davnan: Everything is possible, but possibilities are not equally available."

He took his finger off the coin, but it continued to move in a slow, leminiscate motion. "The coin can be anywhere, but it is most easily where it is, and then a little less easily in the places right around it, the places you could move it to with a little nudge of the finger. It could also be elsewhere." He tapped the coin and it disappeared -- or rather, it first was there in the center of the table and then it was on the edge of the table. "In the ordinary course of things, those are not as available." He tapped it again, and it was back in the center, moving in its figure-eight. "But we Davnan have a natural talent that lets us shift how available different possibilities are. On a very small scale, we do it naturally, effortlessly, instinctually. You have probably done it without realizing it; things become a little easier to move, a little easier to carry, a little easier to see or hear, than they would likely have done on their own. It is our fundamental difference from the Vilim; we carry our luck with us. With practice, we can do much more. And when you are old enough, you will be Enrolled on the Manifest and have access to the Oracle, which lets you be more precise, and to the Engine and the Vaults, which let you act on an even greater scale."

The coin on the table stopped moving. "Shifting possibilities comes with a cost. You cannot make one possibility more available without making other possibilities less available, and it is not an equal exchange. Make a possibility a little more available and another possibility becomes much less available. I could make things appear from nowhere, but by making these unlikely possibilities very available, other possibilities would have to become unavailable; without training, I might accidentally reduce all the available possibilities of this table, or this palace, or everyone in it, or my own body until it crumbled into dust, able to be almost nothing."

Tera looked at her hands. "You are saying why I need to go with you."

Uncle Llew nodded. "Yes, particularly at your age. You are entering what my mother called the Hard Years; your ability to shift possibilities will increase rapidly, but your sense of your limits is still not very well defined. During that time, you are a danger to yourself and others, unless there is someone who can guide you through it. I am very sorry about it," he said sympathetically, "but you cannot stay here. Things will be different in a few years, when you are trained enough to be Enrolled."

They left Davir the next day, and she had not yet returned.

to be continued