The Dancing Dove
Ma patched me up well enough after my fight with old Garsay, though I swear she made the stitching harder than it need be. She brewed the blood-fixing tea good and strong and stood over me while I drank every drop.
“Why didn’t you go to one of the better mage-healers?” she asked, folding her arms as she looked at me. “You can afford to do so, now that you’re the Rogue. They’ll beg for your business.”
I slung my unsewn arm around her waist and gave her a squeeze. “Now who’s going to look after me better than my old ma?” I asked her. “Family’s family, when all’s said and done.”
“You mean you don’t know who you can trust,” she told me. “You’re the Rogue now, with the old Rogue’s blood on your hands. Every young buck that thinks you’re weak will be looking to fight you as you did Garsay. And the first folk they’ll want to help them are the healers.”
I was hurt. “I’ve folk I’d trust with my life, and they’d trust me with theirs. You don’t get to this point alone, Ma. And that reminds me, I was thinking there’s a nice little house up on Meadowsweet Way, with plenty of room for a garden—”
“No,” she said, her voice flat. “You may call yourself King of the Rogues, and have gold in your pocket, but I’ll take none of it. I do well enough on my own. I won’t cast you out. We only have each other, after all. But don’t expect me to give you my blessing. You’ve shamed our great ancestress and all she stood for, all I stand for.”
“Ma, not this again,” I complained.
But her eyes had gone black clean through. She seemed far taller, with long, waving black hair and arms wound with snakes. I wasn’t there with my ma anymore. The Goddess, my mother’s Great Goddess, was putting her nose in my business. “Do you think it will be easy now? There will come a day when you will wake and sleep with regret and shame over this path you have chosen. Those you thought loyal will betray you. Your entire life will be upended. Your future is nothing you have dreamed, and the fit will not be a comfortable one. I would say you will be miserable until the end, but you are a scamp, and I love your mother. Still, you will have a love that will stick you like pins.”
She gave me the chills. The Goddess has only taken Ma twice that I know of. This is the first time I’ve heard that god-voice turned at me, and I don’t like it. The Trickster is god enough for me. Let her god stay out of my life.
When the otherworld look faded from her eyes, I stood, trying not to show how much it cost me with all my cuts and bruises. She sat on a chair with me helping her. “Take care, Mother,” I said, and kissed her cheek. I chose not to tell her about the guards I was moving into the lodgings and houses around her. No one would try to make me kneel with threats to my family, as Garsay had made the Rogue before him do.
I stopped at the shrine beside the door. I ignored the Mother Goddess figure. She frowned at me in any case. My business was with the family shrine. All the way at the top was ancestress Rebakah and her black cat. I quickly replaced them with copies I’d had made, and tucked the real ones in my pocket. I meant to put them up where my honored Provost’s Guard ancestress could watch her descendant, the Rogue of all Tortall. It is a joke I’ve been laughing over for years and hope to laugh over for many more.
* * *
Proud of himself, limping only a little from his ferocious battle with the former King of Thieves, George Cooper left his mother’s house and sauntered down the street. Two fellows, both carrying swords, joined him on either side. Ahead of him and behind him, other guards took their places, ensuring that no one decided to attack the newest thief-king while he was still recovering from his rise to the throne.
In the shadows of an alley ahead, a purple-eyed black cat watched George Cooper approach.
You are indeed a clever fellow, Pounce—who would one day soon be called Faithful, and had many more names besides—thought as he watched the youngest Rogue in all Tortallan history saunter along. And your cleverness will be much needed in the time to come. But it does not serve my wishes that you remember that your Beka’s counselor was a purple-eyed black cat. You’re wary of god-touched people, and the sight of me might scare you away from the one who will upend your life. So—forget the purple eyes, George Cooper. Your ancestress had a black cat that went everywhere with her. No more, no less.