Navarr Ardelay's body was laid to rest in a blazing pyre, as befit a sweela man who owed his allegiance to flame. Zoe stood numbly within the circle of mourners, unable to speak, as she watched her father burn away to ashes. Even as he had wasted away for this past quintile, growing thinner, more frail, uncharacteristically querulous with pain, she hadn't really believed he would die. How could there be a world in which Navarr Ardelay did not exist?
She was so cold that not even the leaping flames could chase away her chill; the weak winter sunlight offered no warmth at all. Doman hovered close, his hand always half-outstretched. Zoe wondered if he thought to catch her when she fainted or to yank her back if she attempted to throw herself into the fire. Doman was the unofficial leader of this little village; he made himself responsible for the well-being of every soul in the small cluster of houses, and he had been tireless in his efforts to ease Navarr's passage out of this life. He had even sent to Chialto for surprisingly effective medicines that would soothe pain and keep the mind clear. Navarr had been awake and lucid as recently as two days ago, continuing to dictate to Zoe how he wanted her to distribute his few items of any worth.
"Doman must have anything he wants from the house, of course," her father had said late that night. "He will probably choose my desk or fountain."
That had caused Zoe to look up in surprise. "ButI want to keep both of those."
Navarr had lain back against the pillows, his face thin and drawn, his body weak, but his mind, as always, working working working. "It will be too much trouble to transport them."
She was even more surprised. "I'm not going anywhere."
His eyes were closed. "Of course you are. It is time you remembered that you are part of your mother's family as well."
She had not bothered to answer that because, as soon as he spoke the words, he was asleep again.
And because she was too astonished.
He spoke of her mother rarely, and her mother's family not at all. He blamed the powerful Lalindar clan for his fall from grace ten years ago, for the long years of exile and poverty. Zoe didn't even know if her grandmother was still alive, and which of her aunts or uncles or cousins would have inherited Christara Lalindar's title and property if the old woman was dead. Not that she cared. She would not be seeking any of them out, even if the unthinkable happened. Even if her father died. She doubted if any of them remembered her more clearly than she remembered themor thought of her more often.
This village was her home now, this house the place where she belonged. She already knew, as her father lay there so quietly, that the tiny house would seem enormous once his spirit had flown it. She did not know how she could possibly fill its entire vast emptiness with her own limp and tired soul.
Zoe would have thought her father's body would sustain any flame for a quintile at leasthis swift, questing, inexhaustible mind should have been fuel for a nineday all by itselfbut in fact the fire began to die down sooner than she would have thought possible. Most of the villagers had lingered for about fifteen minutes and then drifted away, although three women who had been in love with Navarr at various times still stood weeping around the pyre. Zoe herself was prepared to stand here watching until her legs buckled under her, and then she planned to kneel before the fading embers until the world itself ended.
But Doman would have none of that. He put his hand on her shoulder, avuncular, insistent. "Come inside now," he said, nudging her away from the circle of stones, back toward the stand of houses. "The fire is almost out. It is time to go in."
"Not yet," she said, planting her feet.
He turned his free hand palm up. "It has started to rain," he said. So far the drops were thin and misty, hardly an inconvenience, but the pale sunlight had been blocked out by a slowly building mass of heavy gray clouds, and the air felt like it was gathering itself for a tantrum. "Your father would not want you to be drenched in the tears of the world for his sake."
Since this was true, she allowed him to turn her away from the pyre and lead her to her small, sad, utterly abandoned house.
Together they stepped into the kierten, the tiny room set just inside the door. In great houses, Zoe knew, a kierten might be enormousa huge, echoing chamber big enough to accommodate fifty people. A kierten was always completely empty; it was a homeowner's way of saying he was so wealthy he could afford to waste space. Poor villagers could not make such a boast, of course, but none of them were so destitute that they did not have a kierten at their front doors.
Doman stepped into the main room right behind Zoe, and she glanced swiftly around to see the place through his eyes. She hadn't had much time to clean up the detritus of death, so the room was predictably messy. Bed linens were balled up on the floor, clothes and dishes were scattered across various surfaces, and books and papers were stacked in haphazard piles wherever she had tried to get them out of the way. A faint odor of rotting food drifted in from the only other room in the housethe small narrow kitchen that doubled as Zoe's bedroom. She hadn't had time to take her trash to the composting field for at least four days, perhaps longer.
"Would you like me to send Miela over to help you?" Doman asked. "You know she is a reasonably organized woman."
It was a small joke, but Zoe found herself incapable of smiling. Doman's wife was magnificently capable. She had raised ten children and served as a great maternal presence to everyone in the village, even Zoe's father, who had been the last man in the world in need of mothering.
"Thank you, no," Zoe said, speaking with an effort. "If I have something to occupy my hands, perhaps my heart won't hurt quite so much."
"You must come and spend the night with us, of course," he said.
Zoe shook her head. "No. Thank you, but no."
"Then Miela will come here to sleep."
She shook her head again, but it was reflex. She knew if Doman decided she should not be alone tonight, one way or the other, she would not be alone. Doman was all hunti, all wood, stubborn and immovable. It did not matter how much you leaned against Doman, how many burdens you piled on him; he would not change and he would not break.
The rain had started to fall with a bleak and heavy steadiness; it was the kind of rain that could go on for days. Even less light spilled in through the small, high windows of frosted glass, so Zoe stepped over a pile of soiled clothing to light a lamp. Instantly the clutter of the room was even more visible.
She made an indeterminate gesture to indicate the whole room. "My father wanted you to pick something to remember him by," she said. "Anything in the entire house."
It was a common enough tradition, a way for the living to remember the dead. Doman must have realized that he had been given the supreme honor of being the first to choose among Navarr's possessions, for he nodded once, suitably solemn. He was a tall man, thin and sinewy, with brown-bark skin and thick gray hair, and the colorful overrobe he had worn to the funeral made him look like some kind of oracle.
"I am happy to bring a piece of Navarr Ardelay into my own home," Doman said. "But I wouldn't want to take anything that you held especially dear."
"The things I want to keep I have already moved into my room," she said. "Take what you like."
Doman glanced at the carved deska huge, ungainly piece of furniture, bought five years ago from a peddler selling a strange assortment of quality merchandise from the back of his wagon. Next he studied the bronze fountain, a miniature replica of the one that played in the kierten of the royal palace. But then he stepped toward the back wall and pointed at the three pieces hanging over the rumpled bed.
"I would take the random blessings, if you could stand the loss," he said.
For the first time in four days, Zoe almost smiled. "Doman," she said. "Your trait is wood. And you covet the blessings of a man of fire?"
He indicated the first item hanging on the wall. It was a square of hammered copper, perhaps five by five inches, with the symbol for courage embossed in it from behind. He had no trouble summoning a smile. "That is a blessing that should fall on a hunti man," he said.
"True enough," she said.
"And endurance is a blessing for a torz woman, and Miela is certainly that," Doman added.
The symbol for endurance was the most beautiful of the three blessings, embroidered in shades of blue on a crisp white background and contained in a frame of carved wood. "Yes, I know Miela has always liked that piece," Zoe said.
Doman gestured at the third blessing, a stylized symbol vividly painted onto a long narrow bolt of stretched canvas. "And who could not use triumph in his life?" he asked. "I shall be the envy of everyone in the village."
Triumph was the rarest of the extraordinary blessingseveryone knew thatand Navarr had always considered it exquisitely ironic that it had been one of the gifts bestowed upon him at birth. Or perhaps the irony had only become clear to him during those last ten years of his life. Certainly, when he was younger, when he lived in Chialto and had the ear of King Vernon, he had been considered one of the most successful men of his generation. Maybe different blessings exe...