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Jin Li Tam

Jin Li Tam slipped from the manor into the afternoon light. She used one of the many concealed passageways and doors within the large house after telling her escort that she would be bathing. Shed even filled the large marble tub with hot water and perfumed oils. After, shed taken first one passage,

then a ladder down to the basement, its tunnels eventually bringing her to the manors low stone wall beyond its northern gardens.

Eyes constantly scanning for watchers, shed slipped out of a hidden gate she found during her winter reconnaissance of the manor.

She wore nondescript robes and sturdy boots to guard against mud and melting snow. She moved quickly over the ground.

When she reached the River Womans hut beyond the town, she waited in shadows and watched to be sure that the old alchemist was indeed alone with her cats.

Last night, shed used the last of the powders and so far, shed not had the result she was looking for. Twice since winter shed thought perhaps it had taken, but both times came to nothing. Todayo no fa, she would decide whether or not she should keep trying.

It was the longest winter shed ever experienced, a cold and white expanse of time largely spent indoors. The only bright patches were the few days Rudolfo managed to spend with her as he moved between Windwir, the front and the work Petronus and Isaak were doing. She wasnt accustomed to a cold so bitter that it could freeze a river in its track. She wasnt accustomed to a house becoming a cage.

Certainly, Rudolfo would not hold her. But where else could she go?

From time to time, the tropic warmth of her fathers house sprang to mind but she knew she could not face him. After Gregorics death, shed stopped returning House Li Tam messages, even those from her brothers and sisters as they did their part in her fathers work. Eventually, the messages stopped coming altogether.

It was a silence shed never experienced, and a part of her grieved it but another part felt a freedom growing within her beyond anything she had ever known.

Shed always prided herself on being her own woman, a strong woman, self-contained and able to hold her own against any circumstances. But as the time marched on away from the Desolation of Windwir, from her discovery of her fathers hand in Rudolfos life and her realization that she herself was a critical component of that work, she saw clearly now that she had never been her own woman. Shed been her fathers daughter and nothing more. All of these events had shown her that this was no longer enough, that there actually could be a higher calling than the Tam matrix.

To her fathers credit, hed not pressed her. But perhaps, she thought, this too is what he wove into the elaborate tapestry that he and all of those other fathers before him had created.

Smoke leaked from the chimney of the small hut, and she saw movement inside. Jin Li Tam broke her cover and walked the muddy path up to the porch, knocking lightly on the door.

The River Woman met her with a smile. Lady Tam, she said, sounding delighted to see her. Please come in. Ive just put on some tea.

Jin kicked off her boots on the porch, then concealed them behind a chair. Thank you, she said. Once inside, she saw that the small cottage and its connected shop was even more full than the usual

sacks and jars, overflowing from the counters onto the table and stacked in some instances to half her


War is tragic but good for business, the River Woman said. Magicks for hooves, magicks for men,

magicks for blades and interrogation. Even the physicians have orders in, anticipating their own work ahead. The woman clucked. Men and their violenond s fce, she said. She poured tea into two ceramic cups and placed one in front of Jin Li Tam. But enough of death, the River Woman said as she sat

down across from her. Lets talk of life.

Jin Li Tam nodded and sipped her tea. It had a strong lemon and honey flavor to it, going down smooth and hot. Ive used the last the powders, she said. I will need more.

The River Woman smiled. I cant give you any more, she said.

Jin Li Tam blinked and set down the cup. She felt a moment of panic, and it folded in on itself, reproducing more anxiety as she realized how afraid it made her that she might not be able get more of the powders and continue her attempts with Rudolfo. As much as she hated the deception-and had even convinced herself a dozen times that she would tell him-shed gotten quite adept at slipping the powders into his drinks in those hours before they were to be together. She knew that telling him about this deception meant leaving footprints that he could follow back to other deceptions, eventually seeing her fathers work-and her own work in support of her father-in his life.

She could not bear the way he would look at her once he realized that House Li Tam had murdered his brother, his parents and his closest friend in order to move his life in a direction one man thought it should go in.

All of this flashed across her mind, and she felt something squeezing her heart. I dont understand, Jin

Li Tam finally said. You have the recipe. I can arrange whatever ingredients you may need delivered. The River Woman shook her head, still smiling. It would not be prudent, Lady Tam.

Jin Li Tam felt anger rustling awake within her. She could hear her own voice getting cold as she pushed back the chair from the table. I need those powders, she said. If you cant make them for me, Im sure Caldus Bays woman can oblige me.

The River Womans smile continued, broadening as she clucked. Lady Tam, she said, please sit down.

Uncertain, Jin paused, then sat. Suddenly, she didnt feel she could meet the River Womans eyes. She looked around the room instead.

She felt the old, rough hand slide over her own and give it a squeeze. I cant give you any more, the

River Woman said, because they might harm your baby. Jins eyes snapped up. My what?

The River Woman nodded. Its all over you now. The tone of your skin. The brightneso. T"1es in your eyes. Its in the very way that you walk. She stood and walked over to a cabinet, drawing a gold ring with bits of pink and blue ribbon tied to it.

Jin Li Tam felt her heart flutter and expand. You mean-?

The River Woman nodded again, picking up a bucket of river water. Youre with child. Recently, too, Id say. She winked.

Jin Li Tam did not know what to say. Instead, she sat still and watched as the woman clenched the ring and its strings in her closed fist, speaking to them in a mumbled tongue she could not place. The River Woman poured the water into a wooden cup, then dropped in the ring, still mumbling.

Now, she said, we see what your water tells the river.

Jin went into a back room, feeling suddenly awkward and exposed. She felt fear and elation arguing within her over whether she should run or dance. Afterward, when she brought the cup back out, the River Woman took it and set it on the table.

Now finish your tea, dear, the River Woman said. It will take awhile.

Jin Li Tam looked at the cup and the ring at the bottom of it. The threads were tucked neatly beneath the gold circle, their tips waving slightly in the blended waters. What if its wrong?

The River Woman shook her head. Forty years and Ive yet to not know a woman with child when I saw her walk into this hut-even as soon as the morning after if you get my meaning. She grinned and sipped her tea.

They finished their tea in silence and sat, watching the cup. Finally, the River Woman clapped her hands. Delightful, she said. The blue thread had become disentangled from the ring and drifted to the top.

Jin Li Tam didnt need to ask what it meant. She fell back into the chair, letting her breath out. She felt tears in the corners of her eyes, and her stomach suddenly felt uncertain. A boy, she said in quiet voice.

The River Woman nodded. A strong one, by the looks of it. What will you name him?

She didnt even think about it. The name leaped to mind immediately even though shed not thought about it before this very moment. Jakob, she said. If Rudolfo concurs.

The River Womans smile filled the room with light. A strong name for a strong boy.

Jin Li Tam couldnt take on #her eyes off the cup now and its blue thread floating in the yellowed river water. He will need to be, she said. He is inheriting a tremendous task.

The River Woman nodded. He will be strong because he has strong parents.

One of the tears broke loose, and Jin Li Tam felt it trace its course down her cheek. Thank you, she said.

The River Woman leaned in, her voice low. Lady Tam, she said, it occurs to me that you are more concerned about how this child came to be than you need be. Lord Rudolfo will be delighted and he will not question this. She paused. I consider this to be a private matter between you and me.

Jin Li Tam nodded. Thank you, she said again.

As she left the hut to make her way back to the manor, she found herself wondering what kind of mother she would be. Shed barely known her own mother, spending most of her time with large groups of siblings, taking instruction from her father and his brothers and sisters as they raised her to be a Tam. The idea confounded her. Two parents bringing one child into the world and staying near that child until old age carried the parents away. That child creating children of their own and the turban passing down from father to son in the shadow of a new library in a different world.

It was the most terrifying undertaking Jin Li Tam had ever imagined.

Once inside her room, she reran the bath and stripped down, pausing in front of the full-length mirror to study her stomach.

Easing herself into the hot, sweet-smelling water, Jin Li Tam smiled.

Rudolfo | Psalms of Isaak 01 Lamentation | c