Amid the Green Corn: Part Eighteen

by V Rose Dahrke

“You asked for me, sir?”

“I did,” Mercy said. “Were you busy?” Star Between the Peaks shook her head. “Good. We need to talk. Come sit with me. In front of me, please.”

“Like mom does when you comb her hair?” she asked, laughing.

He held up her mother’s comb–a worn piece of wood made beautiful by age and oil and use. “Exactly. You need to start wearing yours up. Come, sit.”

She sat. “Any particular reason?”

“Because you’re going to be the queen of the Rilikan. Bend your head down.” She jerked away, turning to stare at him. “Ada, please.”

“She’s been gone a week.”

“I didn’t say now. Good God, child. Come here.” Slowly, still glaring, she obeyed. “Eventually, though. If she comes back–as I’m sure she will–it’ll fall to you eventually. The transition will go more easily if we all get used to the idea now. You don’t have to make plans. You don’t have to lead the charge against the Men of March or anything like that–so help me I’d slap the thought out of you if you suggested it. They’ll not get my girl while I can help it.” He worked carefully, unused to her curls. “All I ask is that you plant the tiniest seed in the minds of your people. Give them a hint of what’s to come. Wear your hair up.”

“Be like mom. Ow!” she cried as he tapped her on the crown with the flat of the comb.

“Don’t you dare.”

“I meant no disrespect to her.”

“I meant ‘don’t you dare be like her’.”

“Oh.”

Mercy resumed combing. “No one on this planet has ever loved your mother the way I do. No one. I spent ten years without her once, and I’d rather have spent ten in purgatory. If some catastrophe arose wherein I could only save one person she’d be my ninth choice, no questions asked. That being said, your mother is perennially blind with rage. She’s damaged. More than damaged. Ruined. She is a reckless, angry, wild woman, and the safest thing you could ever do is to be as unlike her as you can. If you’d like to call your sisters in I’ll give them the same advice in a heartbeat.”

“It’s so strange to hear you say this.”

“Well, one of us had to say it, and I’m sure it’d be even stranger coming from her.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean we decided I’d have this talk with you while she’s away, because it’d be harder for the two of you to talk about. I’m not calling her crazy behind her back.”

“So, what, you two sat down before she left and decided as a couple how best to tell me that mom’s mental and I should try not to be the same?”

He stopped. “Of course. Why? Is that strange?”

“I wish I could say it was.”

“None of that’s the point, though. The point is that people need to be aware of the line of succession, even if only subliminally. It helps them feel secure, helps them trust. Fear of instability can destroy a clan just as fast as actual instability. There’s a war on, and your mother’s fifty. They’re starting to fear for their future. They don’t know it, but they are.”

She shrugged. The stress and loneliness of her mother’s absence was making the old man paranoid, but she’d never say it. “So they need to know four steps down the line?”

“Four? Who do you think is in front of you?”

“You. Bridei.”

“Bridei is your mother but quieter and with a different set of bits. He’s endured every single thing she has, plus some things of his own. He’s stood by every grave she’s dug. My God, he lost a child he’d named after the child she lost. The rage hasn’t set in yet, but if he was here I’d say to give him ten years. Considering why he’s gone, I’d say give him five. The rage will come. It’s natural. It grows on their grief like mold on cheese.”

“And what about my grief? What about my anger?”

“Yours is different. Not less–not a single bit less–but different. There is a difference between righteous anger and bitter anger. Young anger and old anger. You chased Michael.  You left your brother in the dirt and chased his killer, and I swear Ada I was never prouder of you. Turn your head left.” She did, shutting her eyes to hide the tears. “Anger came first, and when anger comes first it fades to grief with time. Anger like that can be outgrown. It can be fixed. That’s the anger that heals if you outlast it. And you will outlast it. Believe me.

“But theirs isn’t an avenging anger. It builds. They don’t get over things. Your mother made this clan out of her anger, and that’s why Bridei can never be king: his anger feeds on hers. When the rage comes it will be the rage of the son of a murdered father and the brother of a murdered man and the brother of a butchered child and the father of a short-lived son–with all of your mother’s anger underneath that. He will be Triumph multiplied. The Rilikan can’t safely exist on that level, but they can on the level on which they were founded: righteous anger. One reaction to one act. Clive and Maxie for her, Alastair for you.”

They sat in silence for a moment while she thought. “It seems to be a Brastas thing.”

“Mullen, I’d say.  Sweeter Spring and Light Come Early are like you, but the other four have it too.”

“Either way. You’re not like that.”

Her father laughed. “Well thank you.”

“So I’m third in line, then.”

“Second. I think I’ll make a wonderful king dowager, don’t you?”

“Dad…”

“It’s been discussed.” There was no severity in the way he said it, but Star understood there would be no argument. She waited for him to explain.

“So,” he said, setting down the comb and giving her hair a slight jiggle to bring some of the curls back to shape, “what’ll it be? French? Rope? Five strand? You used to like a five strand when you were little. No Dutch. Your mother wears a Dutch braid. Give them a little taste of the difference. No Dutch. What about a crown braid?”

Star buried her face in her hands. “Dad, I don’t want to do this.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Can you…could you maybe manage a waterfall crown? Not a full crown. I just…”

“I certainly can. I think that’d look lovely on you.”

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