In a fragile whisper, she said, “They have flying machines,” and watched, desolate, as the understanding changed their three faces, bullying out the last defiant shred of hope, leaving nothing but despair.
She felt like her mother’s daughter then.
Sparrow’s hands flew to her mouth. “So that’s it, then,” said Ruby. They didn’t even question it. Somehow, in the night, they’d passed through panic to defeat.
Not Minya. “Look at you all,” she said, scathing. “I swear, you look ready to fall to your knees and expose your throats to them.”
Sarai turned to her. Minya’s excitement had brightened. It appalled her. “How can you be happy about this?”
“It had to happen sooner or later,” was her answer. “Better to get it over with.”
“Over with? What, our lives?”
Minya scoffed. “Only if you’d sooner die than defend yourselves. I can’t stop you if you’re that set on dying, but it’s not what I’ll be doing.”
A silence gathered. It occurred to Sarai, and perhaps to the other three at the same time, that yesterday, when Minya had scorned their varying levels of uselessness in a fight, she had made no mention of what her own part might be. Now, in the face of their despair, she radiated eagerness. Zeal. It was so utterly wrong that Sarai couldn’t even take it in. “What’s wrong with you?” she demanded. “Why are you so pleased?”
“I thought you’d never ask,” Minya said, with a grin that showed all her little teeth. “Come with me. I want to show you something.”
The Godslayer’s family home was a modest example of the traditional Weep yeldez, or courtyard house. From the outside, it presented a stone facade carved in a pattern of lizards and pomegranates. The door was stout, and painted green; it gave access to a passage straight through to a courtyard. This was open, and was the home’s central and primary room, used for cooking, dining, gathering. Weep’s mild climate meant that most living happened out of doors. It also meant that, once upon a time, the sky had been their ceiling, and now the citadel was. Only the bedrooms, water closet, and winter parlor were fully enclosed. They surrounded the courtyard in a U and opened onto it through four green doors. The kitchen was recessed into a covered alcove, and a pergola around the dining area would once have been covered with climbing vines for shade. There would have been trees, and an herb garden. Those were gone now. A scrub of pallid shrubs survived, and there were some pots of delicate forest flowers that could grow without much sun, but they were no match for the lush picture in Lazlo’s mind.
When he stepped out of his room in the morning, he found Suheyla pulling a fish trap out of the well. This was less strange than it might seem, as it wasn’t really a well, but a shaft cut down to the river that flowed beneath the city.
The Uzumark wasn’t a single, massive subterranean channel, but an intricate network of waterways that carved their way through the valley bedrock. When the city was built, the brilliant early engineers had adapted these to a system of natural plumbing. Some streams were for freshwater, some for waste disposal. Others, larger, were glave-lit subterranean canals plied by long, narrow boats. From east to west, there was no faster way to traverse the long oval of the city than by underground boat. There was even rumor of a great buried lake, deeper than everything, in which a prehistoric svytagor was trapped by its immense size and lived like a goldfish in a bowl, feeding on eels that bred in the cool springwater. They called it the kalisma, which meant “eel god,” as it would, to the eels, certainly seem that way.
“Good morning,” said Lazlo, coming into the courtyard.
“Ah, you’re up,” returned Suheyla, merry. She opened the trap and the small fish flickered green and gold as she spilled them into a bucket. “Slept well, I hope?”
“Too well,” he said. “And too late. I hate to be a layabout. I’m sorry.”
“Nonsense. If ever there’s a time for sleeping in, I’d say it’s the morning after crossing the Elmuthaleth. And my son hasn’t turned up yet, so you haven’t missed anything.”
Lazlo caught sight of the breakfast that was set out on the low stone table. It was almost equal to the dinner spread from the night before, which made sense, since it was Suheyla’s first opportunity to feed Eril-Fane in over two years. “Can I help you?” he asked.
“Put the cover back on the well?”
He did as she asked, then followed her to the open fire, where he watched as she cleaned the fish with a few deft flicks of a knife, dunked them in oil, dredged them in spices, and laid them on the grill. He could hardly imagine her being more dexterous if she’d had two hands instead of just the one.
She saw him looking. More to the point, she saw him look away when caught looking. She held up the smooth, tapered stump of her wrist and said, “I don’t mind. Have an ogle.”
He blushed, abashed. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m going to impose a fine on apologies,” she said. “I didn’t like to mention it last night, but today is your new beginning. Ten silver every time you say you’re sorry.”
Lazlo laughed, and had to bite his tongue before apologizing for apologizing. “It was trained into me,” he said. “I’m helpless.”
“I accept the challenge of retraining you. Henceforth you are only allowed to apologize if you tread on someone’s foot while dancing.”
“Only then? I don’t even dance.”
“What? Well, we’ll work on that, too.”
She flipped the fish on the grill. The smoke was fragrant with spice.
“I’ve spent all my life in the company of old men,” Lazlo told her. “If you’re hoping to make me fit for society, you’ll have your hands full—”
The words were out before he could consider them. His face flamed, and it was only her holding up a warning finger that prevented him from apologizing. “Don’t say it,” she said. Her affect was stern but her eyes danced. “You mustn’t worry about offending me, young man. I’m quite impervious. As for this . . .” She held up her wrist. “I almost think they did me a favor. Ten seems an excessive number of fingers to keep track of. And so many nails to pare!”
Her grin infected Lazlo, and he grinned, too. “I never thought of that. You know, there’s a goddess with six arms in Maialen myth. Think of her.”
“Poor dear. But then she probably has priestesses to groom her.”
Suheyla forked the cooked fish into a dish, which she handed to him, gesturing toward the table. He carried it over and found a spot for it. Her words were stuck in his head, though: “I almost think they did me a favor.” Who was they? “Forgive me, but—”
“You apologized again. I warned you.”
“I didn’t,” Lazlo argued, laughing. “ ‘Forgive me’ is a command. I command that you forgive me. It’s not an apology at all.”
“Fine,” allowed Suheyla. “But next time, no qualifiers. Just ask.”
“All right,” said Lazlo. “But . . . never mind. It’s none of my business.”
“You said they did you a favor. I was just wondering who you meant.”
“Ah. Well, that would be the gods.”
For all the floating citadel overhead, Lazlo had as yet no clear context for what life had been under the gods. “They . . . cut off your hand?”
“I assume so,” she said. “Of course I don’t remember. They may have made me do it myself. All I know is I had two hands before they took me, and one after.”
All of this was spoken like ordinary morning conversation. “Took you,” Lazlo repeated. “Up there?”
Suheyla’s brow furrowed, as though she were perplexed by his ignorance. “Hasn’t he told you anything?”
He gathered that she meant Eril-Fane. “Until we stood on the Cusp yesterday, we didn’t even know why we’d come.”
She chuffed with surprise. “Well, aren’t you the trusting things, to come all this way for a mystery.”
“Nothing could have kept me from coming,” Lazlo confessed. “I’ve been obsessed with the mystery of Weep all my life.”
“Really? I had no idea the world even remembered us.”
Lazlo’s mouth skewed to one side. “The world doesn’t really. Just me.”
“Well, that shows character,” said Suheyla. “And what do you think, now that you’re here?” All the while she’d been chopping fruit, and she made a broad gesture with her knife. “Are you satisfied with the resolution of your mystery?”
“Resolution?” he repeated with a helpless laugh, and looked up at the citadel. “I have a hundred times more questions than I did yesterday.”
Suheyla followed his glance, but no sooner did she lift her eyes than she lowered them again and shuddered. Like the Tizerkane on the Cusp, she couldn’t bear the sight of it. “That’s to be expected,” she said, “if my son hasn’t prepared you.” She laid down her knife and swept the chopped fruit into a bowl, which she passed to Lazlo. “He never could talk about it.” He’d started to turn away to carry the bowl to the table when she added, quietly, “They took him longer than anyone, you know.”
He turned back to her. No, he really did not know. He wasn’t sure how to form his thoughts into a question, and before he could, Suheyla, busying herself wiping up the cutting board, went on in the same quiet way.
“Mostly they took girls,” she said. “Raising a daughter in Weep—and, well, being a daughter in Weep—was . . . very hard in those years. Every time the ground shook, you knew it was Skathis, coming to your door.” Skathis. Ruza had said that name. “But sometimes they took our sons, too.” She scooped tea into a strainer.