When Saotse was a young woman, the Power of the sea called her and sent an orca to carry her across the ocean. And then the Power left, cutting her off from the spiritual world. Since then she has lived for fifty years in a strange land with no way to return home and no clue why she came.
An army of vicious nomads shatters the city where Saotse sojourns, making refugees of her and her adopted sister Uya, a young woman pregnant with her first child. In the midst of the invasion a different spirit begins to speak to Saotse, bringing her back into contact with the long-silent Powers. This new Power gives her a fearsome magical ability to command the earth, to create earthquakes and bury men alive with a flicker of thought. She strikes back against the invading army, becomes a leader among the city’s refugees, and dares to go after the nomads’ bloodthirsty general. She has found the reason the Powers brought her to this place. Or so she thinks.
But her attacks put Uya and the unborn child in danger. And when Saotse comes face-to-face with the nomads’ general, she discovers that all of their lives are intertwined, and there can be no simple retaliation. There are many Powers moving in the world, some working for war and some for peace, and she must choose between them.
“So Saotse’s affinity with the Powers waxes stronger once more.” Nei sat with her legs crossed at the foot of the bed where they had laid Saotse out to sleep. One of her hands rested on Saotse’s knee. Oire had returned to the lodge with them and maintained the drum’s heartbeat singing the dead into the west.
“But I’ve never seen such a dramatic reaction in her, Grandmother,” Uya said.
“You helped us pull her out of the sea.”
“That was nothing like this! She was weak then only because she had been at sea so many days, but she had all of her wits about her.”
“But she came from the sea, then. This time she touched the earth.”
“What? I don’t understand what that has to do with anything.”
Nei sighed. “I should send you to the Hiksilipsi, you ignorant, superstitious girl. Perhaps you could sit still long enough to learn the lore of the Powers from them. Since you don’t seem to have noticed, I must point out to you that Saotse’s affinity has always been for Oarsa. She knew him by a different name, but once she learned our language she immediately recognized our description of him, and knew that it was he who called her across the sea and sent the whales to carry her.”
“This only matters because the Power who touched Saotse today is not Oarsa,” Nei continued. “You said yourself that she pressed her head to the ground, and that she spoke of the earth weeping. And a few weeks ago when she mentioned the presence of a new Power in the earth, and of its loneliness.”
Uya said slowly, with great fear that Nei was going to scold and laugh at her again, “I’ve never heard of a new Power appearing or arriving from somewhere. I thought the Powers always were.”
“So did I.” Nei lowered her voice and cast her eyes downward.
The baby kicked. Uya startled and put her hand on the place where she had felt the flutter of movement. Nei just glanced at Uya and resumed speaking, in a quieter, more cautious voice.
“Saotse told me once that many of the swift people think that the slow races are actually immortal. Because our lives are longer than theirs, they assume that we last forever. I wonder if the same might be true of the Powers with respect to us. Perhaps we think them to be changeless merely because they change so infrequently. Perhaps they even die.”
“I’ve never heard of a Power that died.”
“Neither have I. In any case, this is just speculation.” She smoothed the bottom of Saotse’s skirt and looked with pity over her wrinkled face. “Saotse herself may be able to tell us, but she should sleep for now.”
“And what does all of this have to do with the raiders?” Uya asked. “Why was Saotse stricken right when we came to the earthworks?”
“Saotse might know,” Nei said. “In any case, it’s not as if we can do anything about it. The construction is almost done. May the Powers help us to hold it.”