Publius Cornelius Tacitus - "The hatred of relatives is the most violent."
[Romulus, rural edge of Nn'Verih]
Night had fallen since Shiarrael left her family's estate. She had ordered the driver to take her to the rural outskirts of Nn'Verih- an hour later the flitter was still lofting above a now fog strewn landscape. The rural street lamps appeared to be merely bright globs of misty light in the haze. She stared dreamily through the window at the dark landscape feeling as if reality had betrayed her. The gentle hum of the flitters engine caused her exhaustion to flirt with slumber but sheer will kept the weight of her eyelids at bay. It had been a long day and she feared it would be an even longer night.
"We have arrived." The driver stated in a raspy baritone that lifted Shiarrael's mind back into the present.
"Good." She stated, her voice tinged with the exhaustion that threatened to overwhelm her. The globs of light in the mist began to grow as the flitter descended. She could hardly discern the ground from the blackness that surrounded them until the flitter jerked suddenly as it touched the surface. The side doors opened and Shiarrael stepped out. She could barely make out the structure ahead of her through the dense fog but a familiar voice called out to her.
"Shia...?" The voice was age-worn and hoarse but it was filled with a warmth she had almost forgotten. Making her way through the fog towards the structure she could see the arched glow of an open door. When she neared it she could see the slightly hunched silhouette of Maiek tr'Vaelet, her family's old hru'hfe. When he saw her his head lowered "I am truly pleased to see you Shiarrael. It has been so long."
Shiarrael smiled and nodded her head as she reached out and patted the old Rihannsu on the shoulder "I have missed you greatly hru'hfe." She then sighed and stopped "I believe you know why I have come."
He looked up and her and nodded his head somewhat taken aback by her action. She had changed- being with the humans and the others had definitely changed this girl. Maiek looked into her eyes and then nodded gravely "yes, I know, I can see it in your eyes Shiarrael. " He took a slow step back and beckoned her in with a welcoming swoop of his arm towards the interior. "It is not much but it is warm and my home."
"It is very quaint Maiek but lovely nonetheless." Shiarrael stepped inside. The interior was dim save for the flicker of firelight from a stone fireplace that dominated the center of the main room. He motioned to a plush couch to one side of the fireplace and she accepted his invitation by sitting down. The old Rihannsu disappeared into the darkness only to return moments later with a tray of glasses. He handed her a glass and then took the chair opposite of her setting the tray down between them.
"Rhennish- I heard from your mother, many years ago, how you have grown to like this stuff while you were in the Galae. I hope it still holds true. I have kept a small amount- in the case you visited me one day." He held up his glass towards her.
Shiarrael had started to sip the liquid but then stopped with her lip hovering just above the glass's edge. She looked at the old man whose figure was mostly obscured by the dimness and felt an aching for her grandfather. The two had been so similar- but then as she recalled it Maiek became the Rehu hru'hfe because he had served with her grandfather over a century ago. "I am sorry I have been so late in this gesture."
"No it is all right Shiarrael- I am now an old man with only his memories to cling to. I still remember you as this young bright eyed child always holding her mother's hand." He sipped his drink "but that was long ago. Things have changed." He sighed "I have lived a very long time Shiarrael. Not quite as long as the old Praetor AAnikh but long enough to see what my eyes can't tell me. When I looked into your eyes I saw that young girl but I could also feel the vengeance fomenting in your mind. If I asked you leave here- leave Romulus and continue with your current life without concern for what happened to your parents- you would not be able to would you?"
"How can you suggest such a thing?" Shiarrael set her glass of rhennish down on the tray "because of me they were..." her voice trailed off as she stared at the hru'hfe "I cannot leave without my right of blood. I will never be able to live with myself after what I have done. I must find out who did this and return to them tenfold what they have given me."
Maiek sighed "and even with all this time amongst those aliens you still haven't learned to keep your temper in check." He pointed at the tray "take a spoon full of that salt and pour it into the cup of water. Drink it, and tell me what it taste like."
Shiarrael stared at her hru'hfe a bit dumbfounded but complied and dipped a spoonful of salt into one of the other glasses. She lifted it and took a sip cringing as she did. Looking at the hru'hfe she frowned "it taste bitter."
"I once poured salt into a lake." Maiek said and pointed to another glass on the tray "and then I drew water from it. Taste it."
"I don't have time for-"
"Taste it!" Maiek slammed his foot into the wooden floor as he barked at her. A flash of her childhood slipped into her mind as she recalled the old hru'hfe disciplining her as child once for playing with her thrai in the kitchen. With a simple nod she complied and picked up the other glass and taking a small sip of it.
"It taste normal- like water." Shiarrael said wondering if the old man was senile.
"Bitterness is a part of life Shiarrael." Maiek said as he pointed to the tray again. His voice was hoarse as he continued "whether or not that bitterness overtakes you depends on the container you keep it in. Remember it well."
She simply nodded at him somewhat understanding the point he was trying to make. But her mind lingered on why. Why was he trying to do all this? Did he know who killed her parents? The tension in the fire lit room began to increase as she waited.
"I don't remember it as well as I should. What happened that night. But what I remember best is the loudness- the rudeness. The shouts and screams as those fools tore through the grand door. I was uncertain- was my old mind playing tricks on me? It cannot be?" He looked across at Shiarrael a flicker of a smile shown on his face "it was hard for me to imagine that anyone could be so bold. Your parents were always well known for their ferocity. Yet, it was true. They tore through the door and were met by the house guard who they killed simply by numbers. When I realized what was happening I made my way through the hall towards your parents bedchamber. Several of the other servants behind me were being butchered by this advancing hoard as well. It was truly like a dream however, when I neared the bedchamber the door burst open. Your parents emerged with their gleaming Kaleh. They rushed past me and began slaughtering the hoard."
Shiarrael stared at him, as her mind pieced together what he was telling her. She imagined the people that broke inter her family's estate: a rag tag group but a large number of them. They easily overcame the small number of guards her family kept in the house. The servants flurrying to find out what was going on became obstacles which the attackers simply cutting through them- and then her parents emerged to aid the house staff. No doubt they did. To allow them to be slaughtered would have stained the house. She sighed "and what then?"
"It was such a sight but there were simply too many. Your father told me 'leave, Maiek! Leave! She will come looking for you!' He had one of the other servants take me away, afraid my own legs wouldn't carry me far enough." He sipped his rhennish "we watched from a distance as the fire began- wondered if it would all burn down and through this all..." his voice trailed off as he stared into emptiness "not a single fire battalion not a single security commandant. Nothing. Except silence and flame."
"and do you know who did this?" Shiarrael asked. She studied the old man- his features were mostly hidden by the firelight but she could still discern the look of uncertainty on his face. He knew something. Something he was afraid to share. "You must tell me whatever it is you know."
"I am not sure if what I know is helpful Shiarrael." Maiek said "it concerns me too much. You should not have come. It is too dangerous for you here." He paused "but then you knew that, yes, you would have known it. Very well." He stood up and slowly meandered to a large window in the corner of the room "I doubt it was one of your adversaries Shiarrael- do not blame yourself so much. To kill the heads of S'Rehu is truly a great scandal few could survive. Very few. The day before this happened I heard your parents in heated debate. It was about your cousin Ro'Wena- she wanted them to reject you. Remove your name from the house. They refused..."
"Ro'Wena?" That was a name Shiarrael had not heard for many years- decades even. The last time Shiarrael had seen her cousin, Ro'Wena was just a young girl and Shiarrael had just joined the Galae. Is this what Taleirrh meant about distant blood? Shiarrael was stunned by the revelation. If she was responsible it would be a very difficult affair.
[To be continued]
Captain Shiarrael t'Rehu