Naamah's Blessing

ONE

Unable to sleep, I stood in the stern of the ship, watching the past fall farther behind me. The moon was bright and full, turning the ship’s wake into a wide, silvery path on the dark water behind us. A handful of seagulls winged across the night sky, following us, their presence lending credence to the captain’s claim that we would make port in Marsilikos on the morrow.

A thousand thoughts and memories crowded my mind.

I tried to still them as Master Lo Feng had taught me, breathing the Five Styles and emptying my mind.

Tonight, it didn’t work.

Four years. By my best guess, that was how long it had been since I stepped onto a Ch’in greatship in the harbor of Marsilikos, and sailed off in pursuit of my everlasting destiny.

Now that same destiny was leading me back to Terre d’Ange, land of my father’s birth, where my patron-goddess Naamah held sway, worshipped as one of Blessed Elua’s Companions.

Naamah, goddess of desire; the bright lady. And Anael the Good Steward, the man with the seedling cupped in his hand, who had given me a gift for coaxing plants to grow.

The thought prompted a memory of marigolds exploding from the earth in a field in Bhaktipur, a riot of orange, saffron, and yellow, blooming in glorious profusion, all out of season. That, and the look of wonder on the Rani Amrita’s lovely face.

It made me smile wistfully. Bhaktipur was far, far behind me now. So were Amrita and her clever son, Ravindra, and the tulku Laysa, one of the reborn Enlightened Ones, who had told me I had oceans yet to cross.

So much lay behind me.

Villains and heroes, the kindness of ordinary folk—aye, and the pettiness and cruelty, too. Battles and intrigue, long, grueling journeys. Epic tales come to life, dire futures glimpsed and averted.

I leaned on the railing, remembering.

Beneath the moonlight, the ship sailed smoothly across the face of the sea. Its sounds had grown familiar; the creaking of timber and rope, the snap and flutter of the sail, the sleepy murmur of sailors on night-watch.

After a time, I sensed Bao’s approach, the divided half of my diadh-anam drawing nearer to me.

Bao, my husband.

Despite the long months that had passed since we were wed, I wasn’t accustomed to the word.

He came to stand beside me, gazing out at the silvery wake, his forearms braced on the railing and his shoulder brushing mine in a companionable manner. “Did you dream of her?” he asked in a low voice. “The White Queen?”

I shook my head. “Just restless.”

“Ah. With Terre d’Ange so close, I thought maybe…”

“I did, too.” I took a deep breath. “But no.”

Bao nodded, and said nothing. In the silence, his diadh-anam entwined with mine, a sensation as intimate as a caress.

Until I was a woman grown, I had not fully understood that most folk do not carry their diadh-anams within them. Although I was half-D’Angeline, Naamah’s child on my father’s side, I was born in Alba to the folk of the Maghuin Dhonn, the Great Bear Herself, who planted a spark of Her soul in each of Her children, a flickering inner light to guide us through our lives.

Never, ever had I heard of a diadh-anam being divided—but mine had been.

It had restored Bao to life.

The deed lay behind us in distant Ch’in, Bao’s homeland, farther in the receding past than Bhaktipur, where we had saved an empire and freed a dragon, where a sorcerer had slain Bao with a poisoned dart.

And Master Lo Feng, in his grief and sorrow, had used his arts and my magic to give his life and