One thing I've noticed about my newly discovered themes is that they're all focused on individual characters' choices, failures, triumphs, relationships, and growth. But while reading Kate Elliott's blog the other day, in which she linked to a guest blog entry she'd written for John Scalzi, I discovered that some of her themes are, well, bigger than my themes. Her most recent series addresses:
"...how injustice manifests in a society and how people combat it; how corruption creates and intensifies and reinforces injustice. Who needs a dark lord when people are themselves capable of manifold cruelties? And what gives people the strength to resist corruption and to fight injustice even at the cost of their own lives?"
This inspired another panic attack over a perceived inadequacy (milder panic, this time; just a few sputtering fuses and hissing wires). Should I have bigger themes, more important themes? Collapsing empires? Doomsday devices? World war?
But truth to tell -- I'm not writing about societies in conflict and grand power struggles and corrupt governments. Not yet anyway. The characters in this volume may feel the first tremors of cultural change and societal upheaval--the ripplings under the crust, the roiling threat of a storm on the horizon--and they are in some cases even the instigators of such rumblings. But I'm telling the story from the inside out, from the POV of the pebbles that, mostly unknowlingly, trigger the avalanche. The avalanche itself is for later.
So (reassured) I present my second thematic couplet:
But being a parent has been my life for the last 21 years, 2 months, and 23 days. It's one of the most important things I do in life. Given that, it was inevitable that parent/child dynamics should muscle their way into the story. This theme has flexed itself everywhere, including Saree's obsession with her royal son, Miren's devotion to her children, Darric's unusual relationship with his grandfather, the struggle between Riordan and his father, fraught with secrets--
With the fire gone, the only light filtered down from the smoke hole, a paler shade of darkness. His father's form was barely visible, grayish and amorphous. "Tarra would have wanted you to find the woman you called."
"And what do you want?" Riordan asked.
A pause. "A son who will be strong where I was not, who will follow the path of honor no matter the cost."
"You have one. But you're casting him away."
"Don't be a fool. I am setting him free."
"From the Shirin's cage? Or yours?"
Egon turned his face away. "Leave now." His voice was as brittle as a dead leaf, ready to crumble at the slightest pressure. "While I still have the will to let you fly away."
--and Yakoba and his father's mutual disownment of each other, not to mention his own uneasiness with the concept of fatherhood--
"What is your name?" he said to distract her. He had no liking for weeping children, and he could guess well enough what was happening to her mother: the slow but inevitable wasting away that befell all women the Kadyr used as vessels. Though if he was right about the child's age, her mother had lasted far longer than most.
She sniffed loudly and wiped a hand across her nose. "Jona."
"Why did you go looking for me?"
"You called me. Don't you remember?"
He started to say no, but then memories crowded in, whole and bright, as though shutters had been thrown open in a dark room. He had dreamed of her before, several times. Most recently, on the journey south—when he had managed to chase Elyse out of his dreams, this child had wandered in, an ethereal, flickering presence that he could never quite capture.
Something bound them to one another. For a moment he could not fathom what, and then he knew. He reached out and trailed his fingers along her cheek, touched his thumb to her soft, damp, beautiful mouth. Familiar, yes—because she was born of his seed.
In the ten years he had been a practicing master, he had sired untold numbers of children. Some may have died in infancy, but others would no doubt grow to adulthood, to be harvested, one way or another, by the Kadyr. It was not his business to find them or know them, only to make them. Nor, he knew with inexplicable certainty, had he ever dreamed of other offspring. Only this girl.
An unsettling emotion grew in his breast, one that pricked him queerly. He watched her nudge another stone into place, a deep blue one, like a piece of twilight sky flecked with golden stars. No mere stray rock, that, but a smooth oval of lapis worthy of gracing the throat of a princess. "Where did you get that stone?"
"Mama gave it to me. She didn't want anyone to find it. She gave me this one, too." She dug into a pocket and produced a small white pebble. "It's not pretty, but I like it best. I sleep with it." She darted a look at him that was part defiance and part wariness, as if she expected to be scolded for such nonsense.
"May I hold it for a moment?" he asked. "I'll give it back, I promise."
She hesitated, then held it out.
He took it and rolled it into his palm. It was about the size of his thumbnail and irregular, with a cloudy translucence. Zared might consider the girl a treasure—and she was, in deeper ways than some self-proclaimed jarai thieflord could possibly fathom—but this nodule, even unshaped and uncut, could buy a dozen small girls. He had once possessed a similar stone, though he had traded it for something of greater value to him: the blue sapphire that had proclaimed him a Master of the Kadyr. "This is a very special stone. You mustn't ever lose it." He dropped the rough diamond in her hand and she wrapped her fingers around it.
"I always know where it is," she answered, and something in the way she said it made him look at her sharply. Diamonds were rarely taken as lu'tsahs, being complex, difficult, even dangerous gems. For such a bond to be made by one who was years away from her awakening was nothing short of astounding.
The girl stared at her designs in the dirt, frowning a bit. After a moment she laid a tiny pink clam shell into the pattern. "Kal gave this shell to me. She says she got it from a place where the water is bigger than the sky and huge boats with wings fly on it. I want to fly on one of those boats. Have you seen them?"
"I've sailed on ships." And now he had returned from his latest voyage, with a report to make to the Elder, a red-headed woman to claim, and, it seemed, a daughter to rescue.
"Kal says when I'm bigger I must leave Hazaar, or I'll be made into a concubine. Selki says a concubine has to—" She grimaced. "He's always horrid and he likes to hurt things. I hate him. And I don't want to be a concubine. It's nasty."
"You will not be a concubine."
"Then what will I be?"
He saw the shine of her hopes and dreams in her face and could not utter the bald truth, that she was destined to give her maidenskin and her gift to a Kadyr master, to bear his child and afterwards die.
"You will be my daughter," he said lamely.
Her smile lit the air. "And will we fly together on the ships?"
The smoldering coal of anger grew until it flamed like the sun, though he could not have said why it burned so hot.
"I don't know," he answered, and left the dream.
.......The boy was silent a long moment. Fire blew through Kauldi's encampment. Shadows moved there now, men running frantically, their shouts carrying faintly up the mountain.
"All right," he said at last. "Though how you will persuade my father to give you the child, I don't know."
"If he does not miss his own son who goes trading in the wilderness, he will not miss one small girl who plays with stones," Yakoba said.
"Who said he doesn't miss me?" He slanted an enigmatic glance up at Yakoba. "My father is a dangerous man."
"So," Yakoba observed, "is his son."
In the soft golden backwash from the fire below, Yakoba saw the boy's teeth bared in a brief but ferocious grin. "Always remember that." He settled the wraithcat fur more securely on his shoulders and struck out through the trees, dodging low branches, his limping footfalls barely perceptible on fallen needles. His voice floated back, softly as if he spoke to himself, "Though I wonder what sort of man would deliver his own daughter to her death."
The words stung, though they shouldn't have. "A man with a duty."
The boy answered on a puff of laughter as biting as a winter wind. "I would have said a man without a soul."