And Donna was totally alone.
She explored, hyperaware of every sound, every smell – pine needles shifting and quietly crunching beneath her feet, the varying scents of oak and cypress, and of the animals that must not be very far away. Night after night, she learned this place, cliffs to brooks to the ocean, narrow strip of wet sand and rock of a beach.
Until, one night, there was someone there.
She’d been exploring again, and had found a grove that she hadn’t seen before – no, that hadn’t been there before, she was sure of it. There were shields on it, shields like the Library’s, that parted before her like the Library’s, warm and familiar.
And, before her, in the heart of the grove, leaning against one of the seven enormous trees that circled it…
I am not alone.
The woman smiled – a kind, soft smile. No, Donna. You’re not.
Donna’s eyes widened, mind racing. This isn’t how this dream goes.
The woman shrugged, long dark hair spilling over her shoulders. This is not a dream, sweetheart. Not really. Nor is it really a memory.
What is it?
Everything, I suppose. This is the beginning of our people, this forest, this grove. And this – what you’re experiencing now – this is the awakening of your gifts. And of your responsibilities.
This - Donna took a deep breath – Am I to be Kithraya of my House?
Such a large thing to be, the woman murmured.
My mama says that I’m a likely candidate. I – I’ve had training.
What manner of training?
I’ve studied. History and government, stuff like that.
The woman nodded. It’s a start. It’s certainly more than I had.
You were Kithraya?
I was, yes. And now you will be.
Donna closed her eyes, and she sank to the cool, crisp grass. She felt the woman kneeling beside her, felt her concern. It feels – it is such a big thing. The responsibility.
It is. But you will grow into it. I have faith in you, Donna. And, of course, I will be with you. I will always be with you, me and all of the Kithrayna before me.
She opened her eyes and studied the woman. She had a quiet, graceful, ageless beauty, and Donna wondered if she ever would grow into it, ever be like this. You said it was a start. The studying. What do I do next?
A smile of approval, and – Now you study people, as well as books. Do not wall yourself away in the Library, Donna - know your people. Know as much of Shayara as you can. And let your heart lead you. Too many have not. Do not be afraid to love. Your heart will be needed, I think. She squeezed Donna’s hand. And now, you wake.
Please, no – not yet. I’m not ready to leave the grove yet.
None of us ever have been. She helped Donna to her feet, pulled her close. And darling, please…
Tell your mother it was not her fault.
The woman backed away, deep eyes full of sorrow and love; she squeezed Donna’s hands one last time and was gone, grove and forest and world fading around her, her soft smile and grace.
And Donna woke. Knowing.
* Donna's about 12 here, average age for starting to come into her powers.
* I knew that Margaret - the previous Kithraya - knew Donna's mother, but Tell your mother it was not her fault came as a surprise.
* The heart platitudes may sound cheesy, but they're true; for too many years, the Talthar Kithrayna have closed themselves off from their people, lived separate lives. Donna will be the first... in this century, at the very least (that being the 20th at the time) to have associates rather than servants, to have a House open to all. And it's Donna's heart that will lead her to rebel and to seek out the true Lishaya, and to help bring her to healing when she finds her. Donna is, at this point, one of those children who takes everything so seriously; without Margaret's gentle nudging, here and in the future, she could just as easily have walled herself off into ascetic study, and none of our story would ever have happened.