The Awakened Kingdom, p.1N. K. Jemisin
The Awakened Kingdom
An Inheritance Trilogy Novella
N. K. Jemisin
Meet the Author
A Preview of The Fifth Season
A Preview of The Killing Moon
About Orbit Short Fiction
Table of Contents
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The Awakened Kingdom
I am born! Hello!
Many things happen.
Hello again! How are you? I am fine. I have learned more about Proper Ways from Papa Tempa. Papa said that what I did before was not the Proper Way to tell a story, so I will do it over. I do not like the way he says I should tell it, though. That is BORING. I want to make you feel like I feel! So I will talk like I thinked when stuff was happening, and I will start from the very beginning, when my thinking was not so good because I was extra new.
I am glad you are with me. You are new, too, and now we can be new together! We have much to learn, everyone says, but I have learned a great deal already! I will share it with you. See, here is what I learned today: how to speak to others without making them angry and how to run if I do make them angry and how not to blur myself into another so that both of us are lost and how to come close to MAELSTROM without dissolution and how to name all the names of all the pieces of EXISTENCE. I learned that besides Maelstrom and existence there is also NOTHINGNESS and it goes on for a long long way. Forever! It is not safe to go there, says Naha. She took me to the edge of the gods’ realm and showed me. It is very scary, but then so is Naha.
Do you know Naha? And Papa Tempa and Mama Yeine? You should know them! They encompass all the fullness of existence that the soul can grasp. I will take you to meet them. They will like you, you’ll see!
Hello! Mama Yeine says I do not have to say hello every time I see someone I already know.
Also, Papa Tempa tells me I am doing a wrong thing again. I am supposed to respect TIME, because that is a thing he has made for the place where mortals live, and you come from there. You might forget this if I tell it to you now, so I will tell it to you later and you will remember it when you reach now. That will happen in the gods’ realm, when you go there, which is where you are now, so don’t forget!
I do not know why you are confused. I explained it fine. OK! Now I will tell my story.
Imagine that you have just been born.
It is very confusing. (Not like time. Time is easy.) There is a lot of pain and messiness and then suddenly everything is new and different and cold and bright! And then something says Be and there you are. And while you lie there screaming there are hands that touch you, and warmth that folds around you, and there are voices, and they are familiar because you have heard them since long before your birth. So you are comforted.
But you scream again because the world blurs and that is when suddenly you discover words like agoraphobia and vertigo and you and other. You do not want to learn these words, but you have no choice! You know world, too, which you sort of knew before, except it once meant something entirely different. Once world was warm and dark and close. Now world is different, and you must start all over again learning how it works. This is not fair, but world—the world—is often unfair.
And then a really bad thing happens.
You were wanted! Mama and Papa and Naha wanted you lots. You know this, and you know there is a space carved into existence which is shaped like a godling, and that godling is supposed to be you! The hole was left when Biggest Sibling went away. By that I mean, he died. His name was Sieh. Now imagine you are supposed to be Sieh! Well, not really. Sieh is dead. But you were made to fill the hole he left behind—to be the Trickster and the wind, mischief and cruelty, the cat and the boy and the cranky old man. Imagine the Three have shaped you so, so carefully to match the hole. You will be different from Sieh-that-was, but you will be important in the same way. You will be powerful in the same way. The planets will follow you and the mortals will tell tales of you and you will steal all the suns, but only keep the ones that want to be your friend. Without a Trickster the universe will not end, but it will be a much duller place.
But when you are born, things are…different. Wrong. You do not feel quite of caprice and wind and man-ness. You try these things, and because you are a god things happen, but they are not the things that should happen, and they do not nourish you. They do not inform you. You are something steadier than caprice. Heavier than wind. And when you curl yourself into various shapes, it is woman-ness that calls to you, except when you make shapes that do not have woman-ness. (Like amoebas. I like being an amoeba! Glurgle glurgle squishchomp.)
You are not what your parents want you to be.
You are not what you want to be, because you love them, your parents, and you want to make them happy, and you just…can’t. In fact, now you have no idea what you should be, instead. You are incomplete.
It is. It is very. Sad. I was very sad.
But then something changed and I got mad. Because it was so unfair. I did everything right. I was born and everything! Life should have been perfect for me and suddenly it was not and everything was just, just awful.
So I went around for a while, mad. I made hells and kicked them and did not feel any better so I let them fade away. I asked Mama to help me make some life to kick instead, and she looked at me in a scary way and said that life was not mine to play with. She gave me some knowledge to study, though, and that made me bigger which is why I am not talking in quite so many exclamations now. But when I had learned it I was bored again and mad again so I went off looking for something else to do.
I talked to some siblings. Some of them did not want to talk to me but others did. One called the Dreamer told me that he had not been able to find himself for a long, long time—so long that he gave up trying, and thought it would never happen, and resolved to just be sad and empty forever. But then it happened. “It will happen,” he said, which made me feel better. I asked him how he’d made himself be less empty during that long time, and he said he had filled the emptiness with other people’s love for a little while. “But without love of the self, others’ love will never be enough.” I didn’t understand that part so I just nodded and went away.
Then I tried to talk to Spider Manysighted, and she just laughed and threw webs around me and talked gibberish and I almost died! I went away before I could. I don’t think I like her much.
Then I talked to Ral the Dragon, which was hard because all it does is spit fire and roar. So I tried spitting fire and roaring along with it, and it didn’t spit any fire at me, so I guess that was OK.
When I was done I felt even more better, but I was still mad. So finally I went to the wall of torn stars which is at the edge of the Maelstrom, and I just sat there and felt bad for a while.
And I thought: This is so unfair! I should be Sieh!
And then I thought: Why can’t I be Sieh?
And then I thought, ooh, I thought: Maybe I can make me be Sieh.
There isn’t any rule against it. It’s what the Three wanted, and it’s important to obey them, isn’t it? Nobody said I couldn’t.
So I went back to Spider and I p
Except…it wasn’t funny. Spider had been mean to me, but Ral had been nice, and…I didn’t like being mean.
I decided maybe I was doing mischief wrong. I tried again, this time sneaking into Elhodi’s Infinite Garden and switching things around so they bloomed out of season and grew next to things that would eat them and making all the flowers be polka-dotted. And then I waited nearby to see what would happen when Elhodi found it. I thought he would get angry, and then I would laugh, and it would be OK because I hadn’t met Elhodi at all and he hadn’t been either mean or nice.
But when Elhodi came in, he started to cry. Really! I felt bad then. I realized his garden had been beautiful, and I’d made it ugly, and…and…being mischievous wasn’t any fun at all.
I came out of hiding and said I was sorry. He let me help him put everything back, which made us both feel better. Then he said, “Why?” Or rather, he rustled a little, because Elhodi only speaks in plant, but I figured it out.
“I thought I could make me be Sieh,” I said. “This is what he would do. Isn’t it?”
Elhodi just stared at me for a moment, then shook his head in a bobbing, windblown sort of way. Then he touched me and took me back to the center of the gods’ realm, where the Three were just finishing whatever they had been doing before. When he spoke to them and left me there I thought I would be in trouble, so I stood before them and bowed my head and waited to be punished for being bad.
They sort of looked at each other and then all of them sort of sighed and then Naha and Yeine vanished and Itempas took my hand and sat me down.
“You do not understand your purpose,” he said, which I thought was silly because duh, I knew that, it was kind of the whole point.
He shook his head. “Not nature. Purpose. Why, not what. You misunderstand the reason for your creation.”
I frowned. “To be Sieh,” I said. “I mean, to be what he was.”
Now I was very confused. “Why did you make me, then?”
I was even more confused! “I’m alive, but I’m not what you want me to be.”
“There is nothing that we want you to be, besides yourself. You are everything we desired of you.”
I really, really, really didn’t understand, so I shut up and tried to think about it and still didn’t understand. Itempas sighed and conjured an image of Sieh in his favorite mortal shape: tiny, mammalian, wavering a little between big-headed boy and spindly old man and sleek black cat. Shapes, plural; I had heard that mortals did not blur themselves the way we did. As if to emphasize this, Itempas fixed the image on the boy, who stared back at us with Yeine’s lively, deadly eyes. And because this was Itempas and he liked to be precise, I did more than see Sieh; I felt him, as he must have seemed to everyone who met him in life. There was so much of him! He’d been nothing like I thought. His soul was so heavy that everything was pulled toward him, everyone thought about him, every event involved him to at least a tiny degree. Wow! He didn’t feel like a godling at all.
I got really ashamed, then, because that was when I knew I hadn’t done my tricks wrong; I just wasn’t enough to do them right.
“What you detect in us is something called grief,” Itempas said, speaking very softly for a moment. “That is the wound left behind when something integral to the self is taken away.”
I gasped, finally understanding. “The hole! I didn’t fit it!”
Itempas is good at words, and he knew what I meant even if I didn’t know how to say it right. “It is a kind of void, yes. No one can fit the one left by a specific soul, however. Such a void is unique.”
So I wasn’t even supposed to try to fit it? I fidgeted. “Wounds get better. What makes grief get better?”
“Nothing. Time can ease it, but nothing ends it.”
That sounded awful! “Grief sounds like a bad thing,” I said, frowning. “Why don’t you and Naha and Mama get rid of it?”
“That would require removing love from existence. Do you believe it would be a good thing to do so?”
I thought hard. I loved Mama and Papa and Naha. I loved some of my siblings. I loved the wall of torn stars and the tiny glowing flowers in Elhodi’s garden that I’d helped him replant. I did not want to stop loving things. “No.”
He inclined his head, which made me feel very grown up. “Such things are better endured than avoided.”
I tried to imagine having a wound that would never heal. I couldn’t. I knew what pain was—I had felt lots of that when I was born—and it was a terrible, scary thing, but usually pain went away after a while. “How do you endure something that never ends?”
“That is something many of us are still learning. Gods are particularly bad at it.” He sighed and let Sieh’s image vanish into the swirls of ether. “Our grief suppurates unchecked and unfading for eternities. We invariably inflict new pain in an effort to ease the old. That tendency has caused so much harm to existence that we now understand we can no longer afford to indulge it.”
“Oh? What do you do instead?”
He conjured another image: a planet, smaller than most, wet, green with life. “We learn from mortals. They are small and weak creatures in so many ways—but in love, they are our equals. In grief, they are stronger.”
“Stronger!” Everything everyone had told me about mortals made them sound like funny little pets.
“Yes. They were made to endure death on a scale we cannot imagine.” Abruptly Itempas made a funny face. I had never seen his face be like this. “So lately, we have…attempted to…change. It is a mortal technique to…to counter death with life.”
Life. Me. Oh! Finally I understood, which was good because Papa Tempa was hurting himself to make me understand. He was trying, though, because sometimes it is better to change than to do bad things. And that was what he was trying to tell me! (It’s hard for Papa Tempa to change. But not as hard as it was for him to be alone, my siblings had told me, so we tried always to make sure he was not.)
But I squirmed, because something he had said bothered me. “You made me so you wouldn’t do more bad things?” Siblings had told me all about the Gods’ War.
“No,” Itempas said, and now he sounded strong again. “We made you because you are a good thing.”
This made me curl up and want to go back to the wall of torn stars. “I don’t know what that means, though.”
He inclined his head. “Your confusion and frustration are normal. This is part of life.”
“Well, I don’t like life, then!”
Itempas’s eyes sort of crinkled and his mouth sort of curved and he touched me for a moment, all proudwarm and firm. “Don’t let your mother hear you say that.” He considered. “Or Nahadoth, if she is bored.” Then he pulled away and gathered himself to leave.
I jumped up. “Wait! Papa—” If there was a Proper Way to be alive, he would know how to get started, at least. “I don’t know what to do next!”
Itempas paused, considering, and then he lowered his sun-colored gaze. “Perhaps it was the right choice for you to study Sieh’s life,” he said. “He lived better than most of us.” Abruptly he leveled a hard look at me. “Do not emulate him, however. That is easy, and foolish. Learn from him—his mistakes as well as his accomplishments. Then become yourself.”
He went away then. I still didn’t understand, but at least I felt better! That is why I like Papa Tempa best.
So I made myself some feet and kicked them for a while, and thought and thought and thought. And finally I decided what you probably know I decided because I have already done it and if I hadn’t I wouldn’t be here talking to you. I decided to go to the mortal realm.
This was really bad, because Naha had said the mortal real
In the mortal realm there is a world that is very special! This was the planet Papa Tempa had shown me. It is special for bad reasons, mostly, like killing a lot of us. But it is also the world most of us go to when we visit the mortal realm, so I packed myself up and wrapped myself in skin and some bones and stuff. I picked stuff that was different from Sieh’s, just like Itempas had said, which meant that when I became a big-headed human I made myself smaller and browner and girlier, and I gave myself pretty gold eyes like Papa’s instead of green ones like Mama’s. Then I took a deep breath with my brand-new lungs, and I went! There!
Now I will skip over some stuff that is not very important.
I did not mean to break that planet it was just in the way when I came into being and I fixed it and I said I was sorry and the planet said OK so since I’m supposed to learn from stuff like that I will tell you don’t break planets, especially the ones with living things on them, or at least fix them if you do break them. Also, don’t go in black holes, no matter how much they look like cute little Nahas. They are not cute! They are actually very bitey and kind of mean. Also just OK I do not want to talk about any of this anymore.
Hello! That’s better. Now I will tell you where you came from, so you can know what it was like for me.
I went to the scary Planet Where Gods Die. (It did not have a better name, it told me, sadly. I promised I would make up a good name for it before I left.) It has two big continents; since Sieh spent most of his time on the bigger one, I picked the smaller one. There was a big city there, and a place in the city where there were many mortals shuffling about doing mortally things. I made myself be in the middle of them all, and then I put my hands on my hips and said, “Hello!”
The Awakened Kingdom by N. K. Jemisin / Fantasy have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes