Chapter 255: Mutually Assured Assurance

on October 8, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Knows Just What To Say

When I explained the winter guard to Amaranth and made her the offer, I made sure to tell her that it had been Eloise’s idea to ask her. As much as Eloise found Amaranth to be a bit of a pest, Amaranth was the one more likely to take things personally, as much as she strove to be above that sort of thing. She wasn’t actually that catty, though, so I knew she wouldn’t dismiss an idea just because it was Eloise’s, meaning the net effect would be positive.

“She’s right, you know, baby,” Amaranth said. “You really should have asked me first. I can’t do everything she can, but I’m a better healer and I can be more hands-on with any natural defenses, even without the fact that she won’t be there on the ground. Can you tell me who else is in the guard?”

“So far, it’s you, Steff, Dee, and Pala, with support from Eloise, and one other person who’s on the line but hasn’t said yes,” I said.

“Huh,” Amaranth said. “I guess that to be fair, I don’t think I would have thought of me, either… not with that as a line-up. I mean, I’m not exactly intimidating. But it is a good idea.”

“Yeah, the intimidation factor is the main thing I was going for,” I said. “As much as I’m trying to avoid a fight, the best way to do that seemed like filling the place up with people who would be imposing fighters. I mean, that’s still the case… if things work out the way I hope they will, then you could end up spending your whole break stuck on campus with nothing to do.”

“Except for Steff, I’d bet… and anyone else who’s looking for some holiday cheer,” she said. “I’d be sorry to miss the festivities back home, but… I’d also be missing a lot of awkward non-versations, so there is something of a trade-off. And it’s not like this would be an annual tradition.”

“So you’re cool with this?” I asked. “I figure the earlier Glory can contact the valley, the more likely they are to say yes.”

I didn’t feel the need to leave that to the last minute because I wasn’t worried about word of that being intercepted, since it wouldn’t directly connect to me or Glory. Even if someone in Treehome guessed that it did… well, honestly, while I didn’t want them to know exactly what we had in store for them ahead of schedule, I would be just fine with them thinking that Eloise was firmly on our side and ready to come down like a ton of badgers on any shenanigans directed our way.

“Absolutely,” she said. “I can even help Glory frame her request in a way that would make saying yes seem the only response in line with our charter. I mean, I can’t guarantee my availability, obviously…”

“That’s okay. I figured it would ultimately come down more on the side of whether you could or not than whether you would or not, but still, I’m glad to know you’re willing,” I said. “It would have been so weird if the first person who turned me down completely was you.”

“Really?” she said.

“Well, I mean, you don’t owe me anything, much less something that requires you to basically sit there with a target painted on you, but…”

“No, I meant that no one had turned you down yet?”

“Nope,” I said. “Everybody’s said yes, except for one maybe. Some of them were kind of on the fence about it, and I had to get some concessions for some of them, and Eloise made it clear I can’t be her highest priority, but… yeah. Broadly speaking, everybody who’s given me an answer has said yes.”

“I suppose it helped that you weren’t asking people at random,” she said. “I have to imagine you had a pretty good idea that the people would say yes before you approached them.”

“Actually… for most of them, I approached them because I thought they’d be good at it,” I said. “In some cases, I honestly couldn’t think of a single reason why they would want to do this, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask.”

“Really,” she said. “That’s… quite an increase in your confidence, baby. I guess you’ve really blossomed over the last year.”

“I guess I have,” I said. I thought about mentioning Dee’s concerns that I might have grown manipulative, but I figured that would be more likely to make Amaranth think poorly of Dee than anything, and I didn’t want to do that, especially since Dee had trusted me enough to tell me that.

“Really, when I think about how different that is than the way you might have handled this last fall… you used to get sick to your stomach if people even noticed you.”

“Well, I hadn’t thought about this, but I guess the whole secrecy thing helped me here,” I said. “I don’t think I’d be that much more comfortable standing in front of a crowd these days, but in every case, I was dealing one-on-one and I think that made the difference.”

“I guess it must have,” she said. “Well, I’m proud of you, either way… I think you would do much better dealing with a crowd. You certainly didn’t have any problem performing in front of an audience last Veil.”

I blushed.

“As far as I’m concerned, that was one-on-one,” I said. “My attention was all on you.”

“You’re such a sweetie… but on that note,you know you’re going to have to address your guard as a group at least once before you fly away with Glory, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” I said. “And I hadn’t been looking forward to that, but I figured I can deal with it as it comes up. Ideally Glory can handle the brunt of that. Addressing the relative masses is really more her thing than mine.”

“In a way… in a way, it’s almost reassuring to hear you say that,” she said. “I’m almost afraid to say this, baby, but… I have mixed feelings about this.”

“I you don’t want to, don’t feel like you have to,” I said. “Like I said, the first line of defense is heading off a fight. You’d only be there if that fails. And while I’m sure you’d make a difference, I don’t want you doing it out of a sense of obligation.”

“I didn’t mean this… particular endeavor,” she said. “I meant the whole thing.”

“Me being with Glory?”

“No! Maybe, but that more as a symptom,” she said. “I meant you growing, blossoming… it’s something I’ve always hoped to see, something I’ve looked forward to since the first time I pulled you onto my lap. But now I’m faced with the reality that your growth might mean we’re growing apart.”

“Amaranth… I don’t have any intention of leaving you,” I said.

“I know, baby,” she said. “And it’s probably selfish of me to even mention it, because now you’ll be thinking about it, worrying about it… but with or without intentions, it might happen. It might be happening. People change, people grow. Polyamory means that the start of a new relationship doesn’t have to be the end of an existing one, but I’ve… I’ve been in a position to watch people grow apart. Plural relationships don’t change the basic fact that not everyone works together.”

“We do,” I said.

“We have,” she said. “But… people change.”

“But I love you,” I said.

“And I love you!” she said. “And I’m not giving up on you, or asking you to give up on me. Like I said, I probably shouldn’t have said anything… this is just my insecurities talking, and I’m not used to having them. Not about this sort of thing.”

“Amaranth, your insecurities are absolutely something you should talk about,” I said. “How many times have you dropped everything to soothe mine? How many times have you come running because I need you?”

“But I’ve been an adult for eighteen years!” she said. “I should be over… this kind of thing. Better than it.”

Pointing out that her first seventeen years had been very sheltered in most ways wouldn’t have helped, so I took a different tack.

“And when I’m thirty-six, I can promise you that I will still have problems and I will still need support,” I said. “Your insecurities are real and valid, no matter how old you are, and… whatever you need, I’ll do it, okay? Like, if you’re concerned about how much time I’ve been spending with Glory, I could scale back after the break… or you could spend time with us. Helping with the guard does entitle you to provisional membership.”

“Oh, baby,” she said, laughing. “I’m not jealous. I can see she’s good for you, and I think you’re probably good for her. The time you spend with her isn’t a problem. It’s the future I’m thinking of, and while I can’t see it any more than you can, I can still think about all the ways it might go. While joining the two of you in Oberrad House might strengthen things between us for a while longer… I’m not sure it would be a good idea to stretch things out, if they’re fading away. Not if we don’t have anything to look forward to beyond it…”

Having gone down these paths myself, I knew exactly what she meant. Somehow, though, the appropriate argument came more easily when I was faced with Amaranth’s doubt and fear than when I was staring down my own. That was probably as strong an argument as any for talking these kinds of things through.

“Amaranth… whatever we think the future might hold, we don’t know what it will hold,” I said. “And yeah, it’s hard to figure out what kind of future we might have together, but Amaranth… I couldn’t have imagined this present. Anything about it. You. Glory. Me. This would have been completely incomprehensible to me, a year and a half ago. So who knows what things will be like in another half a year? Another year? When we graduate? Maybe a lot of things would have to change for us to really be together, but a lot of things have changed. Anyway, if that’s what you’re worried about… then maybe the fear that we’re growing apart has more to do with the idea that this would be less painful than saying goodbye down the line because we have to.”

“I… you’re right,” she said. She let out something that was like a sob being burst like a bubble by a laugh. “If my mother could see me now… I mean, if she happened to be looking at me right now… here I am, ready to give up on love just because it might not be easy. I mean, I do think about if we’re growing apart, but you’re right. There’s not any reason to focus on that, except for fear of the future.”

“Amaranth, if things… end… between us, I will be grateful, so grateful for everything you’ve done for me,” I said. “Everything you’ve taught me.”

“I’m glad, baby,” she said quietly. “That’s… that’s exactly what I hoped for, in the beginning.”

“But I don’t want that,” I said. “And I’m not going to plan for it. Okay? For however long we can be together, let’s just be together. And if we reach the end of the road that’s easy for us to go down together and we haven’t actually grown apart… well, we’ll figure out things when we get there. We’ll take the hard road. We’ll make our own road.”

“You make it sound so simple,” she said.

“I’m sure it won’t be,” I said. “But that’s all the more reason not to complicate things now.”

“Come here,” she said, drawing me into a warm embrace that I willingly gave myself up to. “I don’t know how you did it, baby… but consider me reassured. You said exactly what I needed to hear.”

Blue Author Needs Food Badly Regularly

Hey, folks! Sorry for the interruption. I haven’t pushed the fundraising much lately, as I’ve been getting my feet underneath me after the move and all, but we’re very close to the next goal on Patreon… just $13/month away from the benchmark for implementing an ad-free login for patrons.

Ebook sales are better than ever, but I still have people telling me they just noticed/heard about them for the first time, so I’m going to take a moment to say that I have ebooks, they’re up on Amazon and in my own personal store, which sells multi-format bundles that include Kindle, standard epubs, PDFs, and HTML.

If you’ve liked the way things are going here (the recent disruptions to my life notwithstanding), this would be a really great time to show it with a tip. I’m getting myself back up to speed pretty well here, but financial worries always take up more headspace than they should, and that wears me down and slows me down.

Anyway, that’s it. Thanks for reading!

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28 Responses to “Chapter 255: Mutually Assured Assurance”

  1. Dani says:

    So is Amaranth property or isn’t she? Indications are running about 2-to-1 in favor.

    Current score: 0
    • Order of Chaos says:

      She is by mortal law but her mother owns the world so no one’s stupid enough to give her a hard time. She’s not a slave in the way a mortal could be thou.

      Current score: 2
      • zeel says:

        It’s a weird legal gray area. She is a person, whose body is a piece of land – owned by someone else. However you can’t enslave a Nymph.

        My guess is that Amaranth could say “screw you guys” to the commune, but they could probably sue her for the value of the land she is on – not to mention they would be under no obligation to tend the field.

        Current score: 2
  2. CBob says:


    And using her father’s talent for good?

    (without knowing it hopefully)

    Current score: 0
  3. Christopher Martin says:

    Watching the plot… I just expect, and kinda really want to see a meeting between Mackenzie and Amaranth’s “Mother”.

    Is it just me who wants to see that?

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      Nobody, least of all Mackenzie, want’s to see that. Not that she would be seeing it for very long, due to the whole annihilation thing. . .

      Current score: 3
      • Cadnawes says:

        I would, however, like that to be able to happen. Mackenzie shouldn’t just be taking it for granted that divinity is her destruction always and forever.

        Current score: 3
      • Nocker says:

        That’s what Mirrors are for.

        Though given her actual appearances I don’t think Mackenzie would like her all that much as a person. She may not care for the whole half-demon thing, but that’s mostly because she also doesn’t really care about the whole “mortal lives” thing. Even without counting casualties or dodging the issue of the Tsunami, whenever the OT’s mention nymphs that aren’t domesticated they’re invariably described as hanging out in the company of flesh eating monsters(and the ones on the hill, closest to The Mother herself, are implied to do a fair bit of it themselves).

        It’s important to remember that Amaranth hates dwelling on regular people’s flaws, and this is her MOTHER we’re talking about.

        Current score: 1
      • Ilya says:

        I’m sure gods can find a way to not radiate their power if needed.

        Current score: 0
        • Seth says:

          Oh I can see the press conference now: “Yeah, as a Goddess I have nearly limitless abilities. Limitless except… you know that glare of disapproval you give when your daughter brings someone home to meet you? I’m still working on how to do that without actually vaporizing them, but I’m confident it’s something I can pull off with another 200 years of practice.”

          Current score: 2
  4. Anthony says:

    So Amaranth’s been an adult for 18 years, and still looks like she does. Hmm… do nymphs age? Like, at all, ever?

    Current score: 0
    • D. D. Webb says:

      I wouldn’t think so. I mean, Amaranth has been pretty explicitly described as a divine being.

      Current score: 2
    • zeel says:

      Based on what we know they don’t. However we do know they can lose/relinquish their immortality – in which case I assume they would start too.

      Though that bring up an interesting thought, if a nymph becomes mortal do they lose connection to their field? If so would they still live as long as the field is intact, or would they eventually die and the field with them?

      Current score: 2
    • Tomo says:

      unless I’ve misread the story, nymphs emerge from their fields immortal(well, their bodies can die, but they just come back out of their field again fully formed), and taking the appearance of the ideal woman based on the visions of the men who ‘seeded’ their field.

      they’re also ‘born’ fully grown.

      Current score: 3
      • zeel says:

        I’m guessing their bodies are mostly symbolic. They don’t actually digest food, their reproductive system doesn’t work, they don’t age, and their bodies are essentially disposable. It’s like they have a perfectly human body with most of the essential life functions shut off, replaced with their spiritual energy.

        Current score: 0
    • Nocker says:

      The oldest Nymphs claim to be older than humanity itself and some of the older ones in Paradise are implied to be reeeeeally old, even if it’s “only” a couple of human generations before Amaranth.

      Even having a physical body of any kind is entirely optional for them.

      Current score: 0
  5. pedestrian says:

    I would doubt if Mackenzie could survive any Divine Entity such as Mother Kheila.

    (did I spell that correctly?)

    Current score: 1
  6. Zathras IX says:

    There may be nothing
    Quite as reassuring as
    Calm self-assurance

    Current score: 5
  7. Lantern says:

    “As much as Eloise found Amaranth to be a bit of a pest, Amaranth was the one more likely to take things personally, as much as she strove to be above that sort of thing.”
    May be a little overuse of the words/phrase “as much as.” The same phrase appears in the fifth paragraph, which is just seems like a lot of use within a short span.

    “I you don’t want to, don’t feel like you have to,” I should be If, unless I’m mistaken.

    Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      Typo Report

      but on that note,you know you’re going to have to address your guard

      Space needed between “note,” and “you”.

      Current score: 0
  8. Readaholic says:

    Awww 🙂

    Current score: 2
  9. Whoever says:

    Amaranth “is” technically her field. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I’m just waiting for Mercy to watch MacKenzie long enough to figure out that MacKenzie keeps claiming that Amaranth as an owner, even going so far as to write “Amaranth’s Toy” or whatever on her forehead.

    Then, here’s what’ll happen. Mercy will will produce some forged document saying that MacKenzie sold herself into slavery, and will leave enough hints laying around that Amaranth and MacKenzie will try to “prove” that Amaranth already owns MacKenzie and that MacKenzie thus could not have sold herself to Mercy. Once that basic fact is proved and Mercy is “foiled”, Mercy will then produce completely legitimate papers showing that she owns Amaranth’s land and thus technically owns Amaranth and thus owns Amaranth’s property, MacKenzie. The court will rule with Mercy, the matter of the document showing that MacKenzie was sold to Mercy will be dropped as it’s moot since Mercy owns MacKenzie anyway, and Mercy will walk away with her new female half-demon slave, ready to start breeding a new line of half-demon slaves.

    Then Daddy will come down on Mercy like a bag of bricks and there will be an enormous clusterf**k as everyone gets involved in a giant fight, and even Callahan and the Inn Owner and Embries all get involved and the land is laid waste and… ok, so this last part isn’t very likely. I do expect Daddy to get involved at this point, though. Ain’t nobody going to be breeding half-demon slaves except him. Plus, she’s kin, you know and only kin get to f**k(over) kin, pun intended and literally.

    Current score: 0
    • Glenn says:

      Judging from what we’ve seen of Paradise Valley, I doubt that it’s possible for anyone to buy Amaranth’s field. It seems to be a religious based collective where all land is held in common by the whole community.
      Here’s an excerpt from A Boy’s Prayer, the story where we saw what happened in Paradise Valley just before Amaranth was created.
      “Roy Wilson, an elected foreman of the Paradise Valley Farming Collective, was making a final check of the valley’s newest resident, a cluster of stalks planted in dark, wet soil. Both plants and ground had been hauled there from over a continent away.

      In addition to Carson, a farmhand, he’d also brought his nephew Zane along. The boy’s mother had been after him to get out and spend at least some of his summer break out in the fresh air and sunshine, and the boy had shown so much interest in the new field from the moment it had first been proposed at the winter meeting… he’d wanted to see the new barley field before it was seeded, too, but since school had been in session he hadn’t had a chance.

      While Roy and Zane checked the ground for rocks, weeds, and any foreign objects that might contaminate it, Carson was “walking” a big roll of blue tarp around a series of wooden poles to create a privacy fence in a wide circle around the stand of plants.

      Once the priestess of the mother had consecrated the ground, the men would move in and add their own bit of consecration. They’d get as many volunteers from the valley as they could, both to ensure the most potent calling and to make sure the nymph that was—Khaele Willing—raised would represent a nice blending of a broad cross-section of aesthetics and desires.

      The farmers of Paradise Valley had done this dozens of times before, using wisdom handed down for generations. They knew what they were doing.

      “What exactly is so special about this ‘aramanth’ stuff, anyway?” Carson asked, stopping to wipe the sweat of the summer sun off his brow.

      “Amaranth,” Roy replied. “The elves call it ‘the flower that never fades.’”

      “Elves say that?” He whistled. “That’s what you call staying power, right there.”

      “Well, there’s a bit of poetic license involved, I’m sure,” Roy said. “But the plant is plenty impressive for all that. It grows fast as weeds, and harvests easy… with seeds that are more filling and more nutritious than any common grain.”

      “If it’s so great, why isn’t everybody planting it?” Carson asked.

      “Maybe someday, everybody will. Elves do,” Roy said. “But on a small scale… well, they don’t have big production farms like we do. Some people grow it as greenery, but the only humans who cultivate it for food are far to the south. It’s just our good luck that our Juliana’s travels took her to a village that had a nymph and was willing to trade.”

      “Seems awfully hasty, though,” Carson said. “I mean, we just brought the barley nymph… what, a year ago?”

      “About that,” Roy said. “It was early last Astera, I think. But, we voted on this… and that was after we voted to expand our cultivations quicker in order to keep pace with our population growth.”

      “Yeah, but I figured we were talking about every five years or so,” Carson said.

      “The council saw an opportunity,” Roy said. “And we all got to have our say.”

      “Don’t you think the barley nymph might feel a bit… put out?” Carson asked.

      “How so?” Roy asked.

      “I don’t know,” Carson said. “But she’s kind of been the belle of the ball, so to speak, and now she’s going to have another newcomer to compete with.”

      “I don’t see where there’d be any conflict,” Roy said. “It isn’t like there aren’t men to go around. The roster makes sure each field gets ‘tended’ often enough, and everything after that’s just gravy.”

      “Yeah, but, this fall will be the first harvest festival where the new nymph’s strong enough to leave her field,” Carson said. “Don’t you think she might, I don’t know, resent sharing the spotlight?”

      “I don’t know,” Roy said, shrugging. “But have you ever known a nymph to be jealous, about anything?””

      Furthermore, any attempt to “buy” Amaranth would probably lead to the direct intervention of Mother Khaele. Even if she wasn’t especially interested in Amaranth, I very much doubt that she’d want to allow such a legal precedent to stand.

      Current score: 0
      • Nocker says:

        You’re forgetting that Mercy has enough gold to test ANYBODIES faith. Remember, she got Lulu II from an “institution” set up by the old empire. They were shutting down anyway but they don’t seem to have given any thought to handing over a squad of half demons to a cannibal terrorist.

        I expect that she’d just write down the symbol for platinum, then a number, then a bunch of zeroes. They’d quickly rationalize it as being enough to get land for a hundred new nymphs and pocket the cash.

        In any case, I doubt Mercy would be so crass so soon. She’s an immortal playing a centuries long game. She’s far more likely to wait until Mackenzie graduates and the inevitable break up happens, even if ‘inevitable’ means decades in this case. Because after grad Mackenzie will be out in the open, outside of Emberies’s direct attention, away from her epic paladin grandmother, her priestess soldier friend will have gone home, and every other wild card will dissipate. Unless Mackenzie dies, she already HAS her one needed half demon, and is probably scoping out a bunch of others already. Unless Lulu has died in the last year she’s already probably got her first female birth on the way.

        Trying to cheat a system that already captured and sent her on a suicide mission once is too much risk vs too little reward. She already thinks Mackenzie will be desperate enough to say yes one day, she doesn’t need to rush it.

        Current score: 0
        • Glenn says:

          Saying that Mercy will choose to wait for decades before making a serious effort to recruit Mack is just another way of saying, AE will decide not to use Mercy as a significant character again in Tales of MU. And of course we don’t know for sure where AE plans to take the story. Are all the plot threads AE has created going to come to some huge climax years from now in book 4, or won’t they?
          It all depends on how dramatically AE decides to change her world. If truly massive changes occur, I suspect Callahan will be the driving force behind them. For instance, suppose Callahan managed to use an improved version of the mock boxes to create a huge number of duplicates of herself, and used them to kill Mother Khaele?
          If that happened, might Amaranth, as a favored child of Khaele, be a possible candidate to replace Mother Khaele as a Goddess? If Amaranth did become a Goddess, might she try to introduce some science into the world? If the story developed to that extreme, Mercy and all the other characters AE has been creating might have some really interesting roles to play.

          Current score: 0
  10. Arancaytar says:

    address your guard as a group

    “Go forth, guardians of Oberrad! Spear shall be shattered, shield shall be splintered! A sword day, a red day, ere the sun rises!”

    Current score: 0
  11. spess imvader says:

    It’s an odd guard she’s gathered, to say the least. Looks like Mackenzie has provided Glory a pretty invaluable service right now.

    Current score: 0