Previously, we saw a major turn in the story at the Temple of Oma. Lilia has gone away with the sanisi Taigan, while Ahkio and the Temple’s oras consider what the Saiduan assassin said about the rise of the red satellite.
And now for chapters 7 through 10.
Zezili Hasaria, Captain General of Dorinah’s western legion is answering a summons from Empress Casanlyn. But when she arrives, the empress’s secretary hands her written orders. Zezili is a bit put off that she came all the way just only for the empress to have a slave hand her orders.
The chapter has a wealth of details about Dorinah and Zezili’s view of the world. The empress’s secretary, Saofi, is like Zezili half Dhai and half Dorinah. We learn that the mother is the ultimate arbiter of the child’s fate. Female children can be sold into slavery (but seem to have a higher status than a Dhai slave, or daijin) or claimed as her own to be raised as an heir. Looking at Saofi, Zezili sees herself, half daijin, half Dorinah, and feels disgust. And therein lies one of her internal conflicts.
It’s worth noting that Dorinah male children fare worse, as Zezili reflects later in the chapter. The pretty ones are allowed to live. This is a matriarchy, where privileged men are allowed to exist and marry women in positions of authority.
As Zezili rides her dog Dakar through the streets of the Dorinah capital, Daorian, we get a glimpse of what life is like there. Religion centers on the goddess Rhea, who is represented as an eye, and her daughters, who are the satellites that rise and fall in the sky. Zezili is pious but not more than is necessary.
Single men congregate in mardanas, brothels that Dorinah’s elite women patronize as they wish. Zezili also encounters Tulana, the leader of the empress’s Seekers, the jistas who support the spear women in Zezili’s legion. They seem to have a rivalry going.
All of that is a lot of rich detail to take in. I really got a lot more out of it the second time around.
Then Zezili rides Dakar out of town. Daijin slaves regularly burn the ground to discourage aggressive plant life from taking hold. She heads to her estate where her housekeeper Daolyn greets her. After bathing, she dines with her husband Anavha.
He’s a cloistered, bored, rather dull young man, a head shorter than Zezili, with long, black hair and a thin form reinforced by a corset. Her ideal of male beauty.
She holds the power in their relationship, and this seems the norm for Dorinah. When he complains that he is not allowed to go anywhere, he breaks down in tears. And she takes her weepy, beautiful husband in the dining room. He is the only thing in the world she truly owns and controls. And despite himself, he loves her for it. Internalized misandry.
Days later, she carries out the empress’s orders by welcoming two visitors. Hofsha and Monshara. Zezili experiences a bit of cognitive dissonance over these two. Hofsha is clearly in charge and treats her dismissively, but she looks like a daijin, darker and shorter than her companion. Monshara has classic Dorinah features–dark hair, a round face, light colored skin and eyes, but she is clearly the subordinate.
They discuss the empress’s plans for a joint campaign, not against a foreign enemy but against the empress’s 8,000 daijin slaves who live in camps throughout Dorinah. And the commander whom she is to work with is not Saiduan or Tordinian but . . . something else resembling a Dhai. Zezili suggests the economic problems wiping out the daijin would create, but Hofsha dismisses her concerns. They discuss a mirror that Zezili owns that belonged to her mother, and being able to see other worlds if one is skilled enough.
But Daolyn interrupts the meeting. Avanha has done something.
Going to his wing of the house, Zezili finds the double bed in his quarters sliced in half and her husband bleeding from his thigh. He has a habit of cutting himself, not in a way that threatened his life–Zezili suspects that of course he did it to get attention. This time there are three cuts. Tears stream down his face.
She slaps him. He cries out and looks like a child, his mascara running, his gold makeup ruined.
“I opened a door,” he says.
Well, that’s mighty interesting. Another powerless person gaining weird powers in the presence of blood.
Lilia sets off with Taigan on a smelly black-and-white fork-tongued bear. She begins to regret her choice, wondering what this man plans to do with her. Some kind of sacrifice–no one even comes to see her off.
There’s some interesting banter between these two. More about the tirajista-induced apocalypse that explains why all the plant life is so, well, lively. Two thousand years ago, it staved off the Saiduan invasion of Dhai. (Dorinah seems to have arisen some time later. Zezili notes that Daorian used to be a Saiduan city.)
Lilia sits on the bear. The bear eats nasty creeping plants. And Taigan tells her it is time to act, not a time to mourn her choice to go with him–and Roh.
Their banter reveals some tantalizing details about omajistas and Lilia. Like Roh, Taigan can see through hazing wards that hide the mark on Lilia’s wrist and make her forgettable to most people who encounter her.
They stop at a wayhouse for the night, Taigan fights off assailants and Lilia takes off on the bear. She wants to make her own fate, not follow whatever Taigan has in mind for her.
First step is finding Kalinda Lasa, the woman she first encountered in this world.
Ahkio sits alone in the Temple, contemplating the Pana Woodlands, the overgrown and wild west country. Nasaka tells him to sit with Kirana before they take her body for preparation.
He ponders aloud what the sanisi meant. If Oma was rising . . . and if Lilia or maybe Kirana are omajistas. Nasaka says he can still step down as Kirana’s heir, but warns him that civil war is coming to Dhai in any case. The leading clans will dispute his right to rule–Garika (his mother’s clan, also Roh’s) will dispute him (favoring Yisaoh, his mother’s rival); Clan Raona will favor his mad aunt Etena. All in all, not a good situation.
But nothing can be done about it immediately. He should sit with his dead sister before the oras come for her body. Ahkio hates politics and Nasaka’s influence on him. She cannot tell him who killed Kirana; but the Garikas seem like likely suspects.
He gets a shock when his sister sits up in bed, hours before her funerary feast, and begins to speak. “The heart is for you. She will let you through, but you must find her. You will see me again, but not as I am. They’re coming Ahkio. You must meet them.”
With that message concluded, the air feels heavy, which means magic is at work. The Dhai believe Sina is where the dead go, so maybe some sinajista is at work.
Finally, he asks her who killed her.
“I did,” she says as she lets go of him.
Lilia is heading for Kalinda Lasa’s wayhouse, based on the address she has used to write to her. The plants have been bad; she cuts them back with the short sword Taigan left on the bear’s saddle.
She arrives to find Kalinda older than she remembered. She dismisses the wayhouse’s other guests and with a tall woman named Gian goes down with Lilia into the house’s cellar, formed form a dead bladder trap plant (which lives underground and traps anything unwary enough to fall into it).
There she tells them the whole story of Taigan and the mark on her wrist and those who attacked them (in Chapter 8). Gian wants Kalinda to tell Lilia about her mother and why they are after her. She says that Lilia’s mother led a resistance against the Kai–not the one she knows–and planned to send six children through the gate. Only Lilia made it.
They leave her alone as they pack. She becomes determined to decide her own fate. “But she’d made a promise to her mother and to herself. She was done with doing other people’s laundry and being pushed around in service to other people’s causes.”
So with some difficulty, leading with her good foot, she climbs out of the bladder plant. “She stumbled out onto the road heading east, to the woodland, to the sea.”
Some important transitions at work in these chapters. Ahkio is accepting Kirana’s death, intent on finding her killer and staying the course. Lilia is putting her life in the Temple of Oma behind her and deciding her own fate. Zezili is another big piece of the puzzle, a counterbalance to the Dhai and Saiduan characters. She is one of the strongest characters in the whole novel, divided against herself, trying to hold onto what she considers hers (namely, Anavha) and serving her empress, even if that means the genocide of Dorinah’s entire Dhai population (the daijins).