March 28, 2017

In Which Ylwa Agrees to a Mind-Numbing Chore

November 7, 1203

"That's it. I'm never helping another human again. None of you are ever satisfied with just one enormous favor." And it wasn't as if anything Ylwa or Deian or any of the rest of them did was technically impossible for a human to do; the lazy wretches just hadn't bothered to try for themselves. Her grandson had taken the smart route when it came to humans, finding one tolerable specimen with a wide sphere of influence and only interacting with the rest of them through her.

Ylwa supposed Dora was tolerable enough. Not much of a character, but therefore unlikely to draw undue attention--and her problems did lean somewhat toward interesting, even if she herself didn't. Of course, 'somewhat' interesting wasn't... well, that interesting.

Not when it got to be this predictable. "Let me guess: you want to be able to freely acknowledge your family, but without... I don't know, being burned at stake or whatever you humans are doing to scare each other into conformity these days."

"Uh... I guess that sums it up."

Perhaps 'somewhat' had become a generous adjective.

"I know I shouldn't get my hopes up. I'm sure it's too much to ask, even with your powers--"

"Let me stop you right there. None of what I do is anything special. The only reason you humans can't do all of the things I've done for you is your baffling tendency to label all of your half-decent ideas as heresy. But never mind any of that. There's one thing I can do for you, and maybe I should have offered this from the start, but I really don't like doing it. That said, if it gets you to leave me in peace for a while, perhaps it will be worth the bother."

"Really?" There it was, genuine shock in the eyes. Dora had already dismissed the possibility of anything more, probably ages ago--and yet, she'd still had to ask. How vexing. "What on earth could be a more drastic option than changing my memories?"

"Oh, I don't know... changing the actual past events of your life?" Ylwa flipped some hair out of her eyes and stared back at the human, who was now even more confused if that gaping jaw was any indication. Was it even worth the bother of explaining? "It's really not such a difficult concept to grasp. Take the folds in space and time, rearrange them in such a way that leads to whatever in-utero event that resulted in your initial misgendering not happening in the first place, then otherwise correct the resulting sequence of events so that your life and those of everyone around you remain unchanged at present, apart from the fact that you were always recognized as a woman."

"Change the past?" Shock, confusion... now skepticism. Of course they didn't like new concepts! New concepts, as far as a human was concerned, couldn't have existed. "You can do that?"

"With almost mind-numbing ease." Ylwa yawned. Simple enough, but with undeniable tedium. Like counting leaves, or regrowing limbs. "And it's nothing new. My ancestors have been doing this for centuries. Do you think the Great Hexagonal Prisms of Egypt would have made for an interesting landscape? We even have a name for these modifications: a retroactive continuity."

"It's common enough that you named it."


"And you say it's easy."

"I daresay a monkey could do it."

"Then why don't you do this constantly?"

"For all you know, perhaps some of us do." Not that she or anyone else would know it. After they were done, she wasn't even privy to her own retroactive continuities. That was, indeed, how they worked. It occurred to her then that this one would likely result in her never having met Dora and that added some degree of pleasantness to the chore. "Me personally, though? I don't see much point in life if it's all tailored to one particular result."


March 22, 2017

In Which Searle Is Justice

October 14, 1203

"So." Business as usual, Riona didn't bother with a greeting, which suited Searle just fine. They'd been practically raised as siblings, and they saw each other frequently enough that formality was superfluous. Some thought Riona cold, at least if not compared to her sister--but, frankly, those same people might have found her to-the-point manner admirable had she been a man.

Of course, if she had been a man, who was to say that her sickly mother would have chanced any additional pregnancies, such as the one that had produced said sister? And if said sister hadn't existed, Riona--man or woman or whatever--couldn't have possibly been the person she was today.

"I take it this urgent summons of yours means that our suspicions were correct?"

"Indeed. My contacts within the Retribute itself confirm that they received Danthia's request." Searle fought the urge to roll his eyes. His cousin Danthia, at least, was far too stupid to further her own regicidal plots. It was rare enough that the Retribute risked its own cover on the assassination of a monarch, never mind if her sisters, nephew, and three-going-on-four children were also included in the contract. Selfishness was useful if not necessary to a degree, but it defeated its own purpose if it failed to acknowledge the agency of others, their ability to act counter to the selfish aim desired.

"Dear Lord. Don't tell me: some elaborate scheme to push Roderick closer to the throne."

"Exactly that. She didn't mention Farilon, but I don't doubt she'd smother him in his sleep shortly after if he did end up making her a queen. I don't even think Roderick would be safe, now that he's old enough that he wouldn't need her as regent; she could push for his early marriage and dispose of him once a malleable grandson was in the picture."

Riona sighed. Little as she liked being Danthia's minder, she was the only one left with any shred of affection for the woman. That didn't mean that she couldn't see beyond that love. Searle had once had a beloved brother, one who had become something twisted and irrational to the point of cruelty, one whose death had been a mercy to more than just himself. Danthia would be her own undoing one way or another, but Lord knew who else--what else--would be undone in turn if her demise kept solely to her own hands. "The Retribute isn't fool enough to murder a popular queen."

"Especially without anyone they'd deem deserving of being framed." A Retribute assassin, so Searle had heard, would introduce themselves to their mark in one of two ways: 'My name is Justice', or 'My name is Mercy'. "They see themselves as judge and jury where judges and juries fail. They won't take a contract for the sheer point of being paid, even if someone like Danthia could offer them enough coin to eliminate seven or eight royals."

"And a less scrupulous lone assassin would have lacked the resources to pull off such a feat. A fortunate thing for you and the other puppet masters of the world, such chaos trapped in its own brand of order." Riona clasped her hands together, as if in prayer though Searle doubted she had much prayer left in her. "The Retribute now have Danthia herself on their radar, don't they?"

"Likely. She didn't put her name to her letter, but they'll make efforts to trace a request like that one. They won't kill her unbidden, but if a client marks her as a target, she won't be in the clear."

"'My name is Justice'." Riona bit her lip. Her mother, Searle remembered as well as he did his own name, had often done the same, often when dealing with Danthia. "It may be a selfish thought, but I believe I'd rather my sister die at Mercy's hand."


March 15, 2017

In Which Dora Wishes

September 21, 1203

"I still can't believe Ceidrid's old enough to be starting at the school next week! They grow up so fast, don't they?" Her mother's eyes sparkled with pride, but as usual, a pang of guilt hit Dora's heart at the sight. Her mother was, of course, her son's grandmother, and she loved him and doted on him like any of her other grandsons.

But only her mother and Severin and Ylwa knew who she really was. From what Dora could see, Ceidrid loved his grandmother as a grandmotherly figure, loved her like he loved his other grandmother--but he didn't know she was his grandmother. That had been a conflict of brain versus heart, and Dora's brain had triumphed, ruling that Ceidrid would be better off not knowing about his mother's secret past. That didn't mean her heart was free of the consequences, of the agony of the boy not knowing her family as family.

And her mother! Even if her mother knew Ceidrid for her grandson, it wasn't fair that she wasn't known in turn as his grandmother.

"Dora? What's wrong, dear?"

Dora bit her lip. She didn't like to lie to her mother. Even if she had the excuse of her altered memories--and she didn't, not when she'd chosen them--she'd done enough of that.

"I... I'm so sorry that I chose not to tell him. I think it's in his better interests, but I wish he at least knew who you were. And who Father is, and his aunts and uncles and cousins."

Never mind that her father and all but one of her siblings had no idea.

"No need to be sorry, dear. It's... unfortunate, perhaps, but we both know that we can't have it both ways there. And I did promise you that I'd support whatever decisions you made; Lord knows I have no idea what you've been through, so I won't presume to know better."

"Yes, and thank you for that--and everything." But the acceptance, the understanding... surely it didn't undo the hurt. It certainly didn't for the rest of them, who didn't know, who might never know--who might have benefited from not knowing, but who regardless would never know closure, or what they could have had but never did. Her father. Her sisters, brothers. Her husband.

Her son.

"I just... I wish there was another way."


March 6, 2017

In Which Morgan Has an Intimate Certainty

August 10, 1203

"Happy birthday, sis." Running as late as she'd been--unsurprisingly, given that she was a newlywed herself--Alina wasted no further time in greeting Viridis with a tight hug. "And happy wedding day! You look stunning. Sorry for my tardiness."

"Thank you--and don't apologize! The ceremony won't start if key family members aren't accounted for, or at least Reyes and I wouldn't let it."

"That, and Galahan bought you some time," Morgan added with a sigh. It seemed that six wasn't yet old enough to go anywhere without a spare outfit on hand. Thank God for Honora and her ability to make an obscuring accessory out of anything. "At least when the other children sneak off for pastries, they don't return with jam all down their fronts. Your sister is working on that now."

"As if she didn't have enough of a job with Viridis here! But I see she at least had help, even if it wasn't mine." Alina nodded over to the twins, but without much resulting response. Lysi blushed somewhat in the acknowledgment, but said nothing; Lythe, somewhat bitter about being cooped up inside on such a nice day, only pouted. "Hmm. Well, shy and bored as some may be, everyone involved did splendidly."

Shy, bored, covered in jam. That was three of her children who'd made a terrible start to their sister's wedding day. Morgan hoped that Kay, at least, was behaving himself.

But of course, the younger four weren't the focus of day. Lysi could be shy and Lythe could be bored and Galahan could be covered in jam, but the way Viridis's smile echoed in her eyes assured Morgan that nothing could possibly ruin this day for her.

Morgan's powers didn't extend to the realm of the dead--that was the domain of Vera's abilities--but somehow, she knew with an intimate certainty that Viridis's birth mother took the same delight in those eyes.

"You do look lovely, darling." Morgan took her daughter in her arms and kissed her on the cheek. Viridis's face was just as soft and warm as it had been when she'd been new, bundled in a blanket in her ailing father's arms. "My beautiful girl. I'll always be so proud of you."

"Thank you, Mother." Never mind that she was now the taller of the two, Viridis rested her chin on Morgan's shoulder. "Thank you for everything."