The sky was blue where Mara sat on the river bank, her head in Vala’s lap as their lover Perend sat beside them. It was a terrible day for mourning.
Nonetheless, Vala announced the presence of another spirit in the river just before Danec rose out of the water.
“My father is dead,” the river spirit said. “My sister and I call on you to join us in avenging him.”
Mara froze briefly at the request. “I’m sorry, Danec,” she stood to face her niece. “I am not interested in fighting further.” Danec would not take that for an answer, and she argued, invoking family and honor and vengeance, balance and order, and Mara barely spoke in reply. But she had lived with, and listened to, her brothers. She knew the way they spoke when dwelling on the wrongs that had been done them, and she heard their echoes in everything her niece said.
“But he was your brother!” Danec finally shouted. “And they killed him!”
“And our parents pursue him and our brothers because they killed my father,” Mara said, her voice as even as she could make it. Perend and Vala stayed back, melting into the forest’s edge to give them space, but they watched like hawk and serpent. Rivers are dangerous when riled. But now Danec was silent, and then Mara realized that her face was not only wet with spray.
“Come here, child,” Mara said, stepping into the river. She wrapped her arms around Danec’s shoulders and held the younger spirit tightly. “I didn’t know my father, but I know how hard it is to wear the mantle left behind.” Danec broke down sobbing on her aunt’s shoulder, and the river foamed around them.
In the end Mara sent the river spirit on her way, but before she could so much as turn around, she felt another presence.
“We haven’t met,” Mara said, turning slowly, but the woman had much in common with Chenek and the Iron-Hearted Woman, so she could guess.
“I am Oc Ha, your brother’s sister,” she said. Her words were beautiful and fleeting as her flames, as she tried to persuade Mara that she really ought to be avenging her father, working alongside the Lady of Fire.
“There is a seat at the table for you,” Oc Ha finished. “Your father’s place is empty. You would help restore balance.”
“I have heard a great deal about balance today,” Mara answered. “And while I appreciate your offer, I have met the Lord of Air and I do not think I would be welcome at your table.”
“Oh, Chenek would do as I told him,” Oc Ha answered, a little too quickly.
Mara shook her head. “As I told Danec, I am not interested in taking sides. My loyalty is to the world itself, my mother, if it is to anyone.”
Oc Ha’s facade cracked, and sparks flashed in her anger. “Come with me or so help me I will burn your pretty forests to a cinder and take your blood as your father was bled, child. I care nothing for this world, but I will offer one more time – let me show you a greater one.” She had intended the offer to sound persuasive on the heels of her threat, but Oc Ha’s voice cracked as she saw two huge figures rising up behind Mara. A great Serpent hissed and poised to strike, while a huge Hawk spread its wings wide enough to darken the sun, and for a moment Oc Ha felt very much like a mouse.
“Play with monsters if you like,” she told Mara. “You will regret refusing my help.” Then Oc Ha sputtered like a flame and went out. Mara let out a great breath she didn’t know she was holding, and in a moment, Vala was at her left side and Perend her right. They held her as she sat down beside the river, beneath a blue sky and bright sun that still seemed much too beautiful for what it witnessed.