When the gods scheme, mortals
should just get out of the way...
Silent as smoke, a wind that was not a wind swept boldly
through the gathering dusk. Laden with the chill of the desert
night, it slid through towering rocks smoldering in every color
of the sunset sinking to ash in the west. It ruffled the red
sand shaken from the broken hills; rattled the spindly gray
spines of a hayak bush; killed a curious borer rat sniffing the
indifferent skirts of the breeze as it passed. Finally it
whispered into being atop a hilltop cloven long ago by some
tantrum of nature. In the fading pearl dusk, orange robes
gathered themselves from nothing, shaping nothing, and yet . . .
"You are late," Seev's voice sulked, a petulant
hiss out of the dusk.
Slim, long-fingered hands took shape at the ends of orange
sleeves, plucking voluminous folds into order. "I did not
have to come at all, brother." Fate's voice was no warmer
than the wind.
Seev shaped himself from the sand, a hulking, faceless thing
in robes the color of old blood. "It is time. You promised
"Ah? Are you taking to yourself my prerogatives now,
foretelling when and how mortals should die?"
The god of death paused, a slight, fatal hesitation. Fate
drew back her hood and smiled at him. Seev shrank visibly.
"I thought not." Fate's chill, ivory face, perfect
as the darkening arch of sky overhead, tilted sideways. "Stoneshaker
has corrupted you." And when the huddled, bloody robes
stirred in protest, her laugh froze the ayak. "Do you think
I haven't watched you conspiring together? You are greedy,
brother. Have the grace to acknowledge it."
"You promised me an Aravoni. When the youngest was born,
even you said House Aravon was now over-blessed with sons."
"You have already claimed an Aravoni. Can you not be
content with the father?'
"His death is long forgotten. It is of no profit to me.
Fate turned her face away, her strange, amber eyes brooding
into the north. "I remember."
"Then choose." Seev lifted his head, the
blood-colored robes falling together over the empty air where
his face should be. "Or is it that you cannot? House Aravon
has ever been your favorite. For too long, say I."
"Because they scorn your best traps and laugh in your
face when you finally win." Fate looked around then, and
laughed as sand swirled up around her with an angry hiss. But
her smile faded when the sand rained back in a spray like blood
across the blue-purple stone at her feet. Blue for House Aravon.
Blood for a death she owed.
She sighed, gusting wind down the hillside to trouble a sand
farmer a dozen kay away with its unseasonable chill. Seev
stirred, sensing victory. "Shall I choose for you?"
"Are you but Stoneshaker's hound, then?" Her
contempt sent him shrinking to the far edge of the broken hill.
At his feet a sheer cliff gaped over a valley ringed close with
jagged stumps of hills around an oddly smooth floor. "I
know which you would choose. He is mine. Of the other
She spread her long fingers wide, erasing the dusk and the
hillside and the vivid rocks of An-Utah. Three faces laughed at
her out of the night, young men striking in their beauty. Seev
stirred behind her. His eagerness to set a royal house mourning
disgusted her; to spite him she tarried, studying these three
upon whom hung so much: the smiling eldest with hair the color
of grain in a harvest basket and eyes the midnight blue of his
house; the second tawny as a trafe, wide-shouldered and solid,
steady-eyed as a hound; the youngest with eyes the deep violet
of the top of the sky and hair like molten silver tinged with
gold. Eldest to youngest, there could be no doubt they were
brothers, and brothers of that rarest kind in Sevakand, three
who had no quarrel with each other.
Fate sighed again, so softly it--almost--went unregarded by
Seev. Regretfully she closed her fist. One of the faces
shivered, and vanished.
"You may have that one."