To spend a season in a place is not enough to turn it into a home. Some seasons last longer than others, but do not be deceived. Remember that, daughter-mine, when you level the lintels of whatever house you build someday, when you set a boat with sails or lay soft furs in the bottom of a deep dugout.
You were still a secret moon riding high in my belly when we came to Ksmal. The People of the Butterfly had lived in the valleygreen a hundred years before the war drove us out and into Ksmala arms, but a hundred years was not enough to make that place ours. Before that, our greatmothers and greatfathers sailed the broad seas for many years, when the land they once loved sank beneath the waves. Ksmal is not my home either, and it is not yours.
I had lost weight on the long, long walk up out of Tir Ardol, so much that my clothes hung loose, and that is why the? Ksmala did not send me into quarantine with the other pregnant women. To separate women from their mothers and sisters in their time of need—this is only one of their ways that I do not understand. So I let my baggy shirt hide my stomach and I clung to my mother’s hand.
But their mountains, oh, I remember how the Ksmala mountains soared green and lovelydark like forgotten dreams. I suppose they are still as green now, but my eyes have faded. The city mothers spoke to us that night through a translator, an older Butterfly woman dressed in Ksmala gray. She warned us not to stray close to the slopes, lest the things that haunt the mountain forest find us. “The beasts of the wilds will welcome you into their bellies,” she said. “Stay here, where we only wish to welcome you into our hearts.”
I did not know it then, but the Ksmala sought to devour us just as much as any beast of the forest. A heartwelcome sounds better than a belly, but it is dark and cramped and it squeezes like a fist.
The city mothers assigned us each a barracks-row where we could shelter. There were no walls between our family’s space and the next; only a point beyond which the bunks stacked against the wall were theirs and not ours. The walls smelled of fresh-cut lumber, for the Ksmala had built these barracks against our arrival, and it reminded me of the lee where your father gave you to me. I wonder still if he made it to another of the Ksmala cities, or if he is buried under soft leaves and shadow not far from the valley where we touched so briefly. The armies of both the Tirish and the Sdureck often came farther south than that, and each side claimed that we aided the other.
But then again, perhaps he made it all the way across Ksmal, over the beast-haunted mountains and into whatever lies beyond. Into something like safety. Not a home, no. Don’t forget, daughter-mine. We are the People of the Butterfly, after all, and we have only ever drifted between places, from one to the next. I write these words in silk and canvas so that you will remember.
So few things had stayed with me on that long terrible walk. Two blue tunics, turned ghostgray by weather and wear. One pair of trousers. No shoes anymore, for they had long since worn to string and rags. Besides my clothes, I had only one tattered song-poem, inscribed in precious ink by your father on the soft face inside a dry piece of bark, and the clay idol of the Changing God I had made when I came of age. “You must hand over your books and letters and writings,” the translator told us, that first night. Her face was so still, like a stone polished smooth with use. There were two guards at the door, splendid in scarlet gambesons, waiting with open-mouthed sacks in their hands. “The city mothers must examine these things. To determine if there is useful intelligence about the war in the valley.”
I handed them your father’s poem without a thought. I am sorry. My sister—your aunt Elthau—handed over the two books of hymns that she had carried inside her vest across the past year, across the countryside. My mother had a few poems of her own, their ink faded by time and my relentless, curious fingers. My father had not been a poet, but Elthau’s father had been. We fed them all the words we had brought with us, yet these weren’t enough. The guards checked our clothing, felt along hems and down the length of seams; they rifled through our bedding and checked under the corn-tick mattresses. After inspecting it for inscriptions, they left me my clay god-shape to clutch.
The half-full sacks were closed and carried away, and then there was food for us to share, sticky rice-balls topped with slices of beetroot that bled sunrise-pink. I filled my belly, and when one of the city mothers passed close, I seized her hem and said that Ksmala food was not so different from our own. That it was good to be here. That this waystation between one place and the next was far better than any cave or wind-lashed crooked tree. Better even, perhaps, than a soft green valley where two warm bodies laying close together have left dark imprints in the moss, for it is hard to say what sorrows that dawn will bring to such a place such as that.
The elder Butterflies of my clan looked at my mother’s face and not at mine when I said these things. Half-full with child though I was, there was an adult cadence to those glances that I had not yet learned.
The translator rattled off a string of flat Ksmala syllables, but the city mother shook her head, silencing her. “What is this one’s name? Shemi? Shemi.” The city mother’s words in my language were clear, though bluntly accented, as if someone had pounded their sharp fine edges with a hammer. “We will be lenient in your efforts to learn to speak Ksmala. But for a time only. The gods’ mercies are only bestowed on those who reach for them.” She smiled, not unkindly. “You are not prisoners here. You are Ksmala too, or you will be.”
I did not know it then, but those two things could not both be so. This place is the Ksmala’s home, and it is their cage too.
That night, I woke, coughing, in smoke-scoured darkness. Inside me, you thrashed and fought. You had already recognized the bitter breath of burnt ink. When you were born, I called you Oya because it means bitten by flame.
Don’t forget, daughter-mine. Embroider these things on your heart as well.
In your second summer, you were too big to carry in your sling anymore and too small to toddle along beside me in the fields in the hot sun. Too big was a fact and a force of nature; I could not bend to mind the plants with you on my back; too small, though, was only a burr on the back of reality. You were too small and you did it anyway, your fingers dirt-blackened from digging up the tiny shoots of weeds that I missed. If you complained, you did it in Ksmala, the first language to shape your tongue and your thoughts. But you did not complain often.
I had spent my childhood summers tagging along in my brother’s boat when he fished the river, lying in the bottom singing songs while the dripping net rainbowed cool water over me. I picked the scarletsweet berries that hid in the rocks up at the top of our valley, and sometimes I got picked by the cruel thorns that guarded those treasures. I sat at my mother’s feet while she sewed or cooked or wove, and I picked up the songs that were forever falling from her mouth to put them away in my heart. You, my too-big too-small daughter, did not sing. Even if you’d had something to sing about, I did not dare sing you Butterfly songs in the fields. When we came home at night, there was the communal cooking to do, and after that the washing-up, and then if I had an hour of daylight or candle-flame to spare, most of us spent it bent over our sewing. The people of Ksmala often said there was no one with a defter touch at embroidery than a Butterfly, and we were always glad of the extra coin so that we could sew our own clothes, and put aside scarves and eating-blankets and skirts for our children’s need-baskets.
After days like that, I did not have the strength even to whisper my mother’s songs when you and I curled together in the bunk at night after curfew check. The field work was hard, is hard. To the Ksmala, hard work is a way to wipe one’s slate clean. We had many marks on our slates, the Ksmala said. The way we love our men is impure, they say—but what is more perfect than a butterfly lighting once upon a soft blossom, drinking its fill, and leaving the flower to share its beauty with another? I have seen these Ksmala youths going down to the river for their marriage-blessings, their faces like raw chicken-flesh after the ritual scrubbing. I do not want this purity of theirs. I do not want it for you either.
But here is what I do so dearly wish: for the tapestry of your life to be soft unbroken cloth, not rags and tatters stitched together with forest-vine. Not a thread torn short by a Tirish spear.
A week after your second birthday, my mother died quietly in her bed at night. We found her before the morning checks and I wept trying to wake her, but you did not. I was still weeping, my sister Elthau too, when the city mothers arrived. “Now, Shemi,” they asked first, “had she been sick at all?” No, I told them, I did not think so, but they took the body away anyway, and as they had done two years before with our words, so too they did with my precious mother, instead of giving her back to the earth that had given her in turn to us.
When your grandmother was burned, still you did not cry, so I cried for us both, wailed and wept and screamed. The other Butterfly women held me back to keep me from trying to pull the shrouded body off its pyre, to tear the veils away and kiss my mother’s face. To let her sleep in the ground’s soft womb and not be plucked at by the cruel sharp fingers of flame. They held me back but when I screamed, I screamed in the language of my youth, and so the next morning the city mothers came to take me to be cleansed. It was only when they took me away that you cried. Oh, how you cried.
As for what passed in the cold dark halls beneath the City’s Hand—I cannot linger there. The city mothers brought me back to you after, and though I had been scrubbed till I bled, my sister called to our neighbors for warm water. You lay in my lap while my sister washed away the crimsonsting beads of blood that wicked up through my skin. All the thoughts I’d stoppered up until then—my songless daughter, your old-woman childhood, the empty basket of your wants and needs—poured out of me, rinsed away with the lukewarm bathwater.
My sister dried my back and kissed my cheek and said into the secret shell of my ear, “Shemi, my heart, after the cocoon, the butterfly can never be the same. There is no unspinning the silk.”
“And the world is our cocoon,” I whispered, in the old tongue, but she laid a finger on my lips until silence led me down into sleep. I dreamed of butterfly wings whose scales fell away in the storm. When I woke, I could not remember what shape lay beneath the scales. But with your head pillowed on my arm, I whisper-sang, without staccato consonants to wake you, in my mother’s silksoft voice.
I will give you the words of the songs, too, another time, when I have more room to write and the thread is cheap again.
You turned five, and the city mothers took you to their school for four hours each work-day morning. You swam the seas of the Ksmala tongue fish-fast and nimble; in later years Ksmala parents would come to slip you coins and sun-cakes and little trinkets in exchange for tutoring their children in mathematics and natural philosophy and even in their precious hymn-work. But when you joined the parade of Butterfly-daughters trickling up into the city from the barracks, it was not your agility in the Ksmala tongue I thought about.
Each morning when I watched you go, I would sketch the Changing God’s chrysalis against the palm of one hand. Let her skim lightly over the day’s breezes. Let her be warmed by the sun, not battered by the rain. Let her drink deeply of what is sweet and good and be spared bitterness.
You do not pray, daughter-mine, but these are good things to meditate upon.
I remember one day when your aunt and I went out to the fields together, as we often did. It was harvest season for the cabbage-turnips, and we crawled between the rows with our sharp knives to part the firm round stems from their roots. The morning was almost pleasant, while the shadows of the mountains sheltered us still from the heat.
The week before, a mountainbeast had come down off the slopes to pick off Ksmala cattle. The guards had slain the creature and dragged it through the city streets trailing copperstain blood. It was a terrible thing, a heavy jaw full of needleteeth and half a dozen bottomless black eyes. But it was a thing that could be slain. In my most foolish fancies, I imagined the far side of the mountains dotted with colorful awnings and rough-hewn cabins, a new homeland for our lost Butterflies. My other sisters, my cousins and nieces and nephews, even your father, safe and happy somewhere on the mountain’s sturdy shoulders, though their spears were sometimes blackened by beastblood.
Too fanciful, even for me, to imagine that my kin might fly back over those snowy peaks looking for those they’d left behind. But Elthau caught me looking, sometimes, and when my careless gaze cost me a bloodied fingertip, she reached out to still my knife-hand. “Her future is here,” she said to me. A funny word to me, future. The future is a vast house with many doors. In the wild forest of the language I walked as a girl, there are many strange and lovely things, but there are few tools for building such a castle of air. Fewer still uses for one, once it exists. “There is nothing on the other side of the mountains but icewater and bones.”
“Perhaps they built boats, then.” My knife flashed free of her grip, and another stem leapt free from the soil and into my basket. “Perhaps they sailed the wide sea, back the way our great-great-great-grandmothers came into this world.”
She scoffed and seized my bleeding hand to bind it with a strip torn from her apron’s hem. “Then they are sailing it still, in search of land that fell below the waves. Or they have learned to be not Butterflies but fishes, to live in a country where air is water and forests are kelp.”
“There may be other lands, far out past the horizons the Ksmala understand.” Or perhaps our kin could make their own country, an island forged from overturned wooden hulls and lashed together with knotted canvas rope. I could picture them, then. I see them still when I close my eyes and beg for sleep to come on its shy little hooves. “We are not the last Butterflies.”
“Look around you, Shemi.” My sister stood and shook out her soiled skirt. Around us, other women were bent, brown braids dim with sweat or covered by straw Ksmala bonnets. Dressed in dovedrab browns and grays, not the gay raiment of a flowered hill. “There are no more Butterflies.”
She moved off then, to work a different row. By the next year’s harvest, she had married your uncle Ksit Malon Marro. His aunt was one of the city mothers then, I don’t know that I have ever told you that. Do you remember when your aunt would come back to visit us on sevenday afternoons, while we still lived in the barracks? I was always grateful for that, though I am not sure she knew it. She is the only one besides me who still remembers our mother’s songs, after all, even if she does not sing them.
You joined us for the noonday ration that day, and if you noticed the set of your aunt’s jaw or mine, you said nothing. After we ate, you bent your back beside mine in the rows of cabbage-turnips. You hummed to yourself, the notes to the harmony of a Ksmala hymn that you’d been neglecting your sewing-work to scribble upon in the halflight evening hours. This is not to nag you so long after the fact, daughter-mine, only to set the day in your memory properly. When we were dismissed and paid out the day’s wages, you walked home beside me, chattering in Ksmala, and you did not stop at our barracks doors, as I did, to kiss the poor ragged homeblessing that hung from the lintel.
I went to the table and joined you, as you took out your sewing-bag and upended it. The Ksmala suffer us our idols and our needlework and the bright bits of cloth we hang in open doors and windows; they do not deny us our butterflies. To them the brightscale wings are those of a celestial messenger, not the God and mystic that we see. But they did not often buy our embroidery in its customary patterns unless we muted our butterfly rainbows into moth-shadows. Because the Ksmala praised the virtue of industriousness, we had begun to sew black ants and golden-brown bees in neat soldier-rows at the edges of tablecloths and the corners of napkins.
Your project was to add a cluster of ladybeetles to a burghess’s lacy handkerchief; the apple-red shells of the insects flashy but not so much so that they would pain a Ksmala’s pigeondrab eyes. Me, I had started a new design for a Ksmala wall-hanging commissioned by a city mother, on the occasion of her son’s first hymn being sung in the Hand. I had chosen spiders for the pattern, cribbing from our neighbor Chayen, with whom I had shared a bed from time to time once you were grown enough not to report your mother for aftercurfew departures. Do you remember our dear Chayen? Do you remember her spiders, how they danced across her designs with delicate grace? Mine have always come out stretched too thin across the fabric, poor things, as if they could not decide where to be, or what.
No one wanted my spiders ... but perhaps something adjacent. With a fragment of charcoal I began to sketch out a new pattern, an asymmetrical spiderweb for each corner of my belabored tablecloth. There is a level of abstraction to a silkspun web that a busylegged insect’s form lacks; and though a dewglitter morning web is beautiful for its own sake, it is also a thing of work and purpose. I marked out with pale pink chalk where an imagined beam of sunlight might highlight the strands of silk, and when I marked those sharp hard angles, I thought to myself how much they reminded me of the letters I had grown up reading, the lines I had scratched in the dirt to leave messages for my younger siblings.
I looked up at you, daughter-mine, waiting with your needle and looking back at me. And that was when I knew I could give it to you, this one bright brief glimmer of the sunny life you should have known.
By the time you saw your first decade through, you hadn’t outgrown your childish habit of thrusting your tongue between your teeth as you sewed. A charming look of concentration, in my eyes. But your schoolmothers, when they called me in, did not ask me what I thought; they told me what to think. During my evening hours, of course, so as not to deprive the fieldmaster of my time.
They sat me down upon the benches where the children your age sat with their slates propped upon their knees and told me that a proper young lady must soon leave such childishness behind. Not a word about your accomplishments in voice and word and wit. No, only the innocent light that burned in you, whose soft glow they recoiled from. How, they lamented, would you ever come by a fine Ksmala husband if you kept at such loutish behavior—even with a good trade to your name?
They clucked, too, over how close your heart had entwined with Enet’s; it was not proper, they insisted, for two souls to close themselves off from the love and goodness of the rest of their peers, their community. My fingers, too, had tied many a worry-knot about you and Enet and your tight-twisted hearts, though the ply of my yarn ran opposite theirs. I smiled and thanked them for their thoughts—do not be wounded, please, daughter-mine, that I did not rise to defend you, for my soul was weary and small then. And do not begrudge me my fears, then, about dear Enet. It is not too late for a woman grown to feel the breeze from the Changing God’s wings.
When I stepped outside, I let the sun burn their peevishness away from me. I hoped that you would never have a Ksmala husband. Nor a Butterfly one either. As if that is all a person could amount to, to be anchored one to the next.
I walked home to the apartment we had rented by then, over a glass-blower from whose rooms the hot acrid air floated up to us. It was cheap, though, and we did not suffer so badly from the cold winters in the shadows of Ulgon Lis as did our Butterfly friends and cousins who had otherwise fared better finding housing in the city. A few Butterflies, especially the eldest, still lived in the barracks. I missed them sometimes, missed the easy warmth of Chayen or Kitu as I had for years now missed the bodies of the men whose barracks lay on the far side of the city from ours. There was no creeping between houses after curfew as there had been between beds. But it was good to have our own space. To be away from the noise and the forever-smells of other women’s feet and other children’s sick.
You had already set the pot to boil with the potatoes for our dinner. Strong enough to carry the water up the stairs and tall enough to work the stove without the little wooden stool; I knew you would soon be taller than me. Your father was tall, or at least the shadow he casts in my heart is a long one. Beside the stove you sat, tongue between teeth as you bent over your work. Already we were well-known for our spiderweb patterns, so delicate and intricate. Other Butterflies had long since begun to make their own, but they let us be the only family to sell them to the Ksmala. A way of thanks; a gift given in return for our own. So clever, how you captured it, silk for silk, the Ksmala would say, and we would smile and take their coin and let them think we were clever, in their elder-sister head-patting way. We were cleverer by far than they ever allowed for in their rules and rows.
We had halfway finished our supper when a client came to our door, ducking her head around the houseblessing in order to knock. Another foreigner to this city, a Tirish jeweler, though never as foreign as we; not so long as Tir Ardol follows the same gods of order and rule as the Ksmala. Surely you remember this woman, who had ordered an altar cloth, made to order for her daughter’s wedding feast, with our cityfamous spiderweb patterns. She scarcely haggled when you brought out your work—only praised your steady eye and confident hand.
You smiled the easy happycat smile you had already learned to turn on Ksmala in their kindest moods. In the web’s silver highlights you had picked out a rude shorthand missive in your bloodborn language, jagged angles spiraling outward from the center in a list of the customer’s shortcomings and two paired couplets comparing the bride to a buffalo. I had already long cautioned you against what might happen if, one day, the Ksmala realized our game. But I think you would rather play it than live without it. Risky enough without sewing daggers into every pattern, but you might have lost interest had it not been for the dangerdance you could work into it.
Maybe I worry for nothing. They have never yet figured it out; perhaps they never will. Our writing is so different from the Ksmala script, the hardfast lines instead of soft easy curves, the spiral outward instead of back and forth oxplowing. The Ksmala look into the world as if it is their mirror, and they only smile when they recognize themselves in the reflection.
The woman gave you her coin, which helped us make rent, may tomorrow’s wings blow kindly on me for how much I leaned on you in those days. And before she left, she made charmed murmurs over the work laid out and the finished fineries on display. “This is your best yet,” she said, lingering over the great tablecloth that you had folded over, unfinished. “The complexity of the pattern reflects the divine plan. Is it already spoken for?”
“It isn’t for sale.” You smiled again, as bland as ever. You put a Butterfly flutter into your accent, though I know you wield Ksmala like a handborn blade. “It is for my someday-chest.”
The woman clucked her disappointment. “So much time spent on something that will only sit idle for so many years!”
“My future household will be worth the wait.” You bowed a student’s proper bow. “And it is said that busy hands do the gods’ work.”
“It’s true, it’s true.” The client winked at me on her way past. “Such a virtuous daughter you’ve raised!” Her gaze rolled over me and my home: the faded-dye green of my jacket, the scarlet flowers growing out of a broken teapot on the sill. The idol on its own high shelf. “And at such a disadvantage,” she said, with knifetongue kindness, and slipped out.
You watched her go. A familiar disdain curdled your face when her shadow faded from our doorstep. Supper had gone cold, but I made you sit back down, finish eating; no day will come where I will let food go to waste. You dragged the potato through the redspice sauce and gulped it down in huge angry bites. That way, I think, you could pretend it was the redspice sauce dragging the tears from your eyes.
I volunteered to mind the dishes after, and you silently went back to your sewing-work. The bubble-burp of the soapy water; the slip-slip-hiss of the thread. We both worked separate and in silence, and it was only to my back that you said, between the kiss of needle to fabric, “I don’t want to be Ksmala.”
Oh, my heart. “It is not safe to be a Butterfly,” I told you, “in a place like this. A moth, perhaps, with moon-faded wings. But still a thing of beauty, something gentle and precious.”
I did not look at you, so that I would not shatter this moment and send the broken pieces of you skitter-scatter across our home. After a moment, your fabric rustled again, and I went back to my dishes.
That night after we had gone to bed, I opened my eyes on the darkness to see a shadowghost shape slide over the floor to the shelf where the idol slept. Your lips did not brush it in reverence, but you did whisper to it, and what things you said I do not know, will never know, will never ask you. The way you never ask what it is I bend my neck to, every night, the manytreasured embroiderings that never see their day in the marketplace. It had been years, many years, since I’d seen you let the Changing God carry your worries away. That night I cried myself to sleep with silent tears.
I should have asked you then whether a Butterfly was even what you wanted to be, but I didn’t think of that until it was already too late. Daughter-mine, I am sorry.
My daughter, a woman all but grown, you have hands as strong as steel from long hours of sewing. At night, when I come back from the fields, you still have the strength to massage my aching shoulders and back. Are you not exhausted from the long days you spend as midwife-assistant in the Halls of Confinement? Would your hand not be rather be occupied with Enet’s? While you work my knots, I try to count up all the hours of needlework you’ve put in; to convert them to weeks, months. Years? How much of you has been tied up in spools of silversilk thread?
I dream of the day when I can give you these silken letters, so that you can understand some fraction of the whys I never gave you. But I dream in shame, for understanding me should not be your duty. Your mother is a selfish woman.
My other letters are yours, now. This one is for me, to remember, to pretend that you will press it, too, between your palms someday. There are some paths a mother cannot follow except in the dark secret hallways of her heart.
Let me set you down in silk this way: sitting on the floor of our little apartment with your head in Enet’s lap. Enet, braiding your hair with strands of gaily-colored thread, hiding rainbows in between the thick dark curls. Enet has been your companion through such a long string of years now—a strange thing, in my eyes, to spend so much time bound to one heart. But you love her, and Enet loves you. It is not good to eat from only one tree, I would have scolded once, for what will you do then if the fruit sours? But you, daughter-mine, are not a Butterfly like me, nor Ksmala either; something in between and far away. I tried never to nag you for what you are, for what your life and I have made you. But I weep sometimes for the bright colors you might have unfurled to a different world, a different time. Then I dry my tears, and I count the ways that I am learning to love this strange enduring union too.
You were humming softly to yourself. You used no words, but I recognized the shape of the sounds you made: the song-poem your father wrote for me nearly twenty years ago. You wore the same oversized blouse every day now, and your fingers were laced over the generous folds of fabric. Together you and Enet had both lain with a Ksmala man, though only your belly grew hard and moon-round. How my daughter eats, I joked with the Ksmala matrons, the city mothers, our clients. Like a horse! I am going to have to marry her off before she eats me out of house and home. And then we would all laugh together, but I did not mean it and neither did they. Behind those kindly smiling faces they were always sniffing for deception and sin. And ready to sew some from whole cloth where none could be found.
Your eyes were closed, but as if you felt my worrywatch gaze, you turned your face toward me. “Don’t worry about me, mama,” you said. Your eyes opened, two golden suns to warm my face. “It’s you I’m worried about.”
A backward thing, for a daughter to bear up under concern for the mother that bore her. But our whole world is upside down, ground flipped with sky, and what was strange has become what is ordinary.
I shook my head. “I’m too old.” True, though not to the heart of the thing. Someone had to be here to flutter her wings, to churn up the winds of distraction and deceit. “I’ll be fine,” I promised you, and that was true and it was not, which is a thing that can be so in such a wrong-side-up world. I have your aunt still, ghost of my sister-gone that she is, and my mother’s songs are sewn too deep into my heart for any scourging stone to reach. That is more than many are granted, in this sorrowstrange world.
“Almost curfew,” said Enet, her voice apology soft.
You stood, your hair all bound up. That outsized shirt of yours fell past your hips, so that your father’s loving words could be seen spiderwebbed all about the hem. I wonder if Enet ever wrote a poem for you, to be shared with your child. But that is none of my concern.
Enet put on her warmest cloak, the one you had sewn with rosethorn endearments on the inner lining. She reached for the packs without embracing me, as was ever her way, and I could see my best kitchen knife where it winked inside the cloak’s folds.
You folded me up in your arms so tightly I could feel the child leap and twist within you. I held my granddaughter too, then, in the only way I ever will. “Stay here,” you said, daughter-mine, against my ear. “If you’re seen with us tonight, they might—”
“No,” I said, gentlehard, and your shoulders shook against me. Even in an upside-down world, a mother’s word is final. You will understand this, soon enough.
The last time I saw you, daughter-mine, it was as a darkcloak shape sliding into the shadows of the mountain pass. Your outline and Enet’s crossed one over the other up the switchback path, so that I could no longer tell you one from the other. Up you went until you disappeared, swallowed up by the forest where the evergreens grow stout and close together like fat wise old women, where the beasts which the Ksmala do not dare to name roam. The forest is full of shatterdream darkness, but the forest is not forever, and you have the strength of doublelife to carry you over to what world waits beyond.
I stayed until I lost sight of you and after, until sun had rolled nearly out of the sky, and then I went home hurryhard before curfew. Your bed was heaped up with blankets in a woman’s sturdy shape, and I made excuses for your exhaustion to the under-mother who came to our door. An extra night, for you to hurry away into the forest. To slip further out of reach.
I lay down on my bed with the Changing God idol against my cheek—you refused to deprive me of it when you left, though in leaving it you deprived me of something much greater. I will never begrudge you that. And it was some comfort yet to have my idol with me, when I had little else. I didn’t have the breath to whisper my worries, so I wept instead, and the old clay drank away my tears until at last I slept. There would be punishment, on the morrow, but I will not bind it into my memory with silk. Our choices bear their consequences, and so must we. I would not change mine.
Because I dreamed then as I still do: of my daughter welcomed with open arms into a rainbow-clad Butterfly village on the far side of your mountains, with your father there to welcome you; of you and Enet all alone, building a cabin and holding off the forest with song and blade; of a world of strangers who share with you no common tongue but who make room for you in a cozy corner of their homes, their cities, their stories. I dream that you and Enet steal aboard a boat and put to sea and cross the globe searching for an island that drowned long before you were born.
I dream of you, my spider-daughter, who, unlike a butterfly buffeted by trouble and change, will creep into what crevices you may, who will make a home wherever one can be found.
You, my spider-daughter, will spin yourself a new world out of silken steel, and into that world will your own child be born. Another spider-daughter, perhaps. Or maybe something just as new and strange and wonderful.