Mord remained on edge. Nam could feel it through their faint connection, and that, in turn, kept her uneasy too.
While Rogan was warming up out marching tack for a simple luncheon, they had a break in the weather, and she sent Ooe aloft to extend their intelligence. She might have added her hawk Ecoue to the search, but her dove’s eyesight was for some reason more acute than any hawk’s. The spirit’s ability did not always mirror the nature of the living prototype.
While riding above, Ooe spied something else instead: a distant, hazy cluster of buildings like minarets or castle towers, only taller, more tapered and far more numerous. Nam recognized the skyline from pictures, but this was her first time to see Aum in real life.
Seventy years ago, Rogan’s evacuation had passed through that place. The plan had been that she would go through there as well. An Ilidi surprise attack had forced her refugee group through Mawadim instead, creating a drastic detour in her life. In Parha, she would have fostered to a noble house just like Rogan. She would have grown up as a Lady of the Dominion, not an Alyrhian. She would have gone to school and trained to be a Keth-ethen or such. To have never become a Maryahdin, to have never communed with her animal spirits, never joined souls with her Great Tufted Hawk totem spirit… she couldn’t imagine that alternate life, bereft of so much that defined her.
The Great Inland Sea lay just beyond the city, although the dove couldn’t yet distinguish it from the haze. On its far shore lay Surian, the mountainous land that had birthed both her mother and Rogan. Another alternate history lay in that place.
If Chald had never fallen, she would have lived her life there. Her parents’ matchmaking had her moving to that land once she reached ten years of age, where she would have grown to become a sheltered noble wife of the Gireidil agricultural gentry. With her potential as a flux artist, she surely would have played a role in local defense, but otherwise she would worn the Isura’an whilst tending her gardens and her children as a graceful, cloistered flower.
The Earther made a noise, a grunt of realization, pulling her back to reality and the present time.
“Damn,” he commented. “It’s Tuesday.”
Rogan gave a wince for Jack’s coarse language, then glanced over to the man. “It is indeed. You’re missing an appointment?”
The guardsman nodded. “My daughter, at school. She’s on the varsity soccer team. I’m supposed to pick her up from practice a few hours from now. Her mother can’t get off work early enough to drive her home on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
“You wife works, then?”
The guardsman shook his head. “Ex-wife. Our daughter lives with my ex, but we share duties like transportation.”
She glanced away to hide her discomfort. The workings of the Gireidil mind made both divorce and the fraying of marital harmony which led to it nearly impossible for her race. The only equivalent customs among her species involved the annulment of unconsummated childhood marriages and separation to protect those whose spouses had gone mad.
Rogan shrugged. “Sorry about your errand, Guardsman, but we can do naught.”
She wanted to move him to happier thoughts. “What is your daughter’s name?”
“Maya. We call her Meg.”
“Maya is such a beautiful name. How old is she?”
The guardsman smiled. “I think it is too, but she hates her name for some reason. That’s why we call her Meg. It’s her initials. Maya Elena Garner. She just turned sixteen.”
She gave a quick, merry laugh. “Truth? That is my daughter’s age as well!”
To her, it was a pleasant thing, to share something in common despite being from different worlds, but Jack gave no response, refusing to leave his funk so easily. Unfortunately, the pause left her the opportunity to think on her own daughter, and her own peculiar family situation.
“Well,” she observed, “at least you see your Meg every few days. I never know when I’ll see my Alwen, again.”
He looked over, confused. “Why?”
She tipped her head a bit, with a sad smile. “My job is like that, right? I am always running off to do this make of work.”
Brilliant, she berated herself. Now, I’m the one feeling the parental guilt. Stop it, you daft cow.
To fend it off, she gave a light shrug. “She would not live with us anyway, now that she is away at school. But it was my younger son and his wife who looked after her, before that. It was best for her.”
She was telling herself as much as him, to push the guilt away and reassure herself. “His boy, my grandson, is four years older than her and his daughter is two years older. She grew up with two siblings close in age because of it. With my sons on their own before I had her, she would have been same as an only child had she stayed with us. “
They went for a brief time without conversation, but then he swore again. “Damn.”
Rogan sighed heavily. Jack’s repetitive cursing bothered him. Nam studiously avoided foul language in Rogan’s presence, respecting his religious sensibilities.
“What is it?” Nam prompted.
Jack stayed silent for a bit, then finally admitted, “I just realized it. By now, they’ve told her that I’m missing.”