This is an edited version of my submission and has had some additions and changes, so it is longer than is permitted in the contest. The original is to be considered my submission as that one was in on time. I wished to post this story in its own thread so as to entice others to read it and comment freely and constructively.
-Child of March-Child of the Fleet-
Disclaimer: This story, though sometimes light-hearted in its writing touches on very emotional topics and social concepts that are not explored to a full fruition. Let me know if you need me to continue this tale as it plays out.
Lady Evalia inhaled as a breeze teased the curtains bringing her spring smells of tilled earth and the heavenly tial flowers. Her hand reached up to stroke Purpurr. The small creature leaned in for a full crest scratch that Evalia offered. Wheat would be planted soon. She glanced up as Mia, the plump serving woman creaked about refreshing the tea nook. Gold floral place mats cradled the white porcelain. Four clean plates were now ready for guests should they come. Her marble slicing board was added to the head. Lady Evalia had procured a fresh cheese, a rare treat of spring, to be served with the tea. God made a beautiful day.
Lady Evalia smiled up from her reading, but only for a moment. There was only one teacup, her casual floral day cup patterned with the dancing furriers.
“Mia, please put out two cups. The formal ones please.”
“Yes ma’Lady. But I thought you had canceled your two o’clock with Ms. Kasilia.
“I have. I am expecting a more important guest. Make a sandwich too?”
“Of course My Lady.” Mia said , bowing.
Purrpur hopped down from her window perch, trilling to announce a visitor to the gate. As a final insistence of an intruder she rubbed her beak and chitinous crest possessively across the seat cushion, the studiously trimmed points leaving no territory mark.
The gate alert sounded from Evalia’s personal com. A cab waited at the curled fence. A quiet breath was taken as Evalia punched the com code to let them in. A well tended engine hummed its approach. The tap of a cane echoed from the hallway. Butler Piatre was on the move.
The door chimed.
“Ma’Lady?” Piatre said.
“Guide him to the nook Piatre.” Evalia called. The entrance way shared a low trace of voices punched by the clunking of luggage.
A tall boy tipped into the nook, ducking as if he was afraid his new hight would knock his head to the chandelier. Overly large feet stepped with care, desperate to find grace on the white woven carpet. One shoulder was slung with a personal coms bag. As his pictures told, he was becoming more and more his fathers image every day. A countenance that made him look as night to the day Evalia tried to spread in her dwelling. Evalia breathed slowly as she rose.
“Carlin, welcome. Gods foot prints have guided you to my door.” Evalia said. Her back straight. She spotted Mia’s shadow as the woman peaked through the kitchen door crack. The tap of Piatre’s cane did not tell of his wander away.
Carlin offered a shallow bow “Lady Evalia, please invite my treaty for your audience.”
“Sit.” Evalia gestured to the table. Carlin first stepped to the seat he was directed to but then quickly stood to pull out Evalia’s chair for her. A proper move for a gentlemen when a servant is not attending.
Evalia rang her bell. Mia appeared with the tea kettle in one hand and the sandwich in the other. The sandwich was trimmed into six pieces for a bite sized nibble. The cheese was set to the board. Then Mia vanished, though with certainty Mia was the reason for the odd shadows creeping from the door crack to the kitchen.
“Carlin, why are you here?”
Broad hands unzipped the coms bag. A leather fold, white and traced in gold was pushed toward her. “Aun-, Lady Evalia, I would entreat you to consider me for a position of Page.”
Evalia took the portfolio. Inside it would be a digital record, all the data on the holder-son’s life, his illustrious blood line back to True Amarr roots, primed letters of recommendation, and finally his plan for the future. Not some dream future, but a hope for a great reality. Evalia did not open it. Instead she poured the tea.
“Carlin, tell me why you are here. With me.” She asked again.
This elicited a response of clenching fists and a shifting of feet. The youth straightened up only to lurch as his chair tipped. He managed to right himself, steadied and dignified. Still, his eyes would not meet hers.
“Because I defended my father’s honor.”
“Carlin, this portfolio was not prepared for me. You were suppose to be attending as honor Page to Lord Holder Galliun. A man who could guide this portfolio from root to flower. Now please, you are not a soul to gloss truth. Tell me, why are you here?”
“I punched Lord Holder Galliun’s son. But he said things!”
Punch was an easy word. The boys had gone into full brawl from the telling. Holder Galliun’s son would be days before the blackened eye would be fit for public.
“Words should not flare the temper. A true Amarrian uses his faith before the fight.”
“He called father a coward, a backless barker, unworthy. And he said vile untruths about mother. Things to me-” Carlin’s lip quivered. His breath slowed as he tried to reign in the passions of youthful emotions. Evalia was certain that his face would have been red with held rage if his skin was not so dark.
“If the words are false, then a voice is dust to be cleansed by the rain of your faith. Gods will, and your actions guide your path. Not the words of a holder brat.” Evalia said. She had not intended the grow in her voice, but happen it did. Galliun’s son had been inexcusably loutish, especially at a public event.
Carlin stilled his twisting fingers, folding them tight as if each hand was holding the other to stillness. “My actions have dishonored us. I can only walk forward with the mark and by God’s grace build a tower of truth over it.”
Evalia fingered her tea cup. The white porcelain played with a decoration of fine gold. She took a sip. A tiny fuster tweet landed in the wide leafed kinal bush right at the window. A few dried winter berries bobbed as the creature poked them, rejecting the wrinkled things with an indignant warble before flitting off.
“And what is the truth of you?” Evalia said.
Carlin grabbed his cup, both hands enveloping around it. Evalia imagined the cup crumbling in his grip. Carlin released it.
“I do not know.” He said.
“Your mother finally told you?”
“You are a bright boy. It is hard to imagine that you considered otherwise.”
“I have considered. An accepted bastard would be one thing, but this truth…”
“And do you fully accept this truth?”
He nodded, a deeper nod. His eyes finding the floor.
Evalia stood and moved to the window. Her words had to be careful, but no fallacy. “War is a thing of terrible truths. A path of deep pain and darkness who’s long victims number most among those who raise no arms. Feral men succumb to a base of primal nature, violence, and rage. It was fifteen years ago in the June of the YC calendar that the Minmatar Eldar Fleet had swept through our lands. But a seed is not the only factor of a harvest. We graft the limbs of the appial fruit. With a stronger root it can bear superior fruit.”
Carlin was looking at her now. Those eyes once child-merry as he toddled after his older sister in this garden. Those eyes that guarded as younger kin hopped rocks and poked at the monsters in the deep lily pond. Those eyes that watched as tiny cakes were stacked, and did not hide the truth as one went missing. No crumb of evidence could be found on him, just the frosting face of his baby half-brother with whom he had shared in the guilt.
“Carlin, I was there when you were born. A tiny squall of force calmed when I looked into your face. There was a moment when they tried to take you away. But your mother said no. You have been wanted ever since.”
The boy smiled then. A quiet, powerful, teasing turn of the mouth edge. The first true expression of his nature since he stepped into the room.
“Carlin, who are you?”
Carlin set both hands to table, then tucked them to his side. He stood, grace befit his movements as he inclined his head to her and then offered his eyes. Those eyes flashed the dark and the light, intense, the eyes of a man to be.
“I am an Amarrian, faithful and true. Son of Lord Kivian and Lady Allia. I serve God and Her Most Sublime and Imperial Majesty Catiz I, First Apostle of the True Faith and Sovereign Defender of the Imperial Rite.”
“Let your heart feel no other truth.” Evalia said. “Carlin, I am aware of your dreams. A stalwart rise of rank in the Imperial Navy, in this I can not teach you what you want to know. But I think I can help you find what you need. Can you accept my humble offerings?”
“Noble Evalia, I will entreat you to teach me.”
Evalia granted him a small nod. She opened the portfolio and pressed her finger to marker. It bleeped the acceptance.
“Carlin, I accept you as my Page.”
She cut a slice of the new cheese and lay it next to three crackers. Then she slid four of the sandwich bites onto Carlin’s plate. The boy poked three of the sandwiches into his mouth before chewing. Teenage boys were very trying to tea with.
“I had not considered a Page. What now should I do with you my nephew?”
Carlin stretched out across his bed on the diagonal. He had to shuffle down to make space for his arms to sprawl. Dinner had been a quiet affair. They had prayed together. Purpurr, aunt Evalia’s pet furrier made a point of nibbling a hole in his pant leg. Aunt Evalia had excused herself to her own affairs and he excused himself to relax. The journey from half a planet away did take it out of one. The journey and the mistake.
“I’m such an idiot!” he told himself for the thousandth time. The mocking face of Gregor, Lord Holder Galliun’s son flashed in his mind when ever he closed his eyes. In the next moment it was the image of that same face broken and bloodied. They had known each other since forever. Why had Gregor become such an ass?
Carlin looked at his hands, open and then fisted. They no longer felt like his own.
Why was I born?
Night sounds chirped and hoo-hooed through the open window. Carlin pounded the service button. It blinked red before going quiet. Someone would be there to attend him soon.
He zipped open his case. In its top was a framed family portrait, the one that included him. Carlin set it on the bureau. The walls were a butter yellow, decorated in framed plant pressings. This felt more like a retreat than a working page position. Aunty had said to be ready by seven. The leisurely way this house ran, he wondered if they would be doing anything by noon time.
Carlin pressed the service button again. The tap of Piatre’s cane began coming down the hall.
By the Masks of the Holy Ones, was there no one else at hand? His father had gone on and on about how aunt Evalia had eleven reclaimed to service just her own needs.
A rap came at his door.
“You may enter” Carlin said.
“How may I serve you My Lord?” Piatre said, offering a bow.
“The windows, I would like them closed.” Carlin said.
“Yes, My Lord. But if I may recommend to close all but this one? It will become thick in this room without the air flow.” Piatre said. An errant bugger chirped out its distinct chorus just then.
“I said close them all.” Carlin commanded. Carlin then reclined, pulling out his P-com and poked out a letter to mother. Short glances up at Piatre told only of the old slave’s inefficient capacity for his duties. He poked a quick note in his log. He would bring up his assessments to Evalia at the appropriate time.
‘Assessment’, that word had come up in a private conversation between Lord Holder Gallliun and his father Lord Kivian, about him. A Theocratic Assessment was a ruling by the church on a matter of doctrine. In this case, it was concerning a certain half-breed noble’s child, and weather that child was worthy of such a standing as lord.
“Am I worthy?”
“Pardon My Lord?” Piatre said.
“Anything else My Lord?”
“No, just go.” Carlin said.
“Yes, My Lord.”
Carlin listened as Piatre’s cane tapping was far enough down the hall. Then he rolled off the bed, and knelt. “God grant me a guild to your true service and my path of righteousness. I would give my life to honor my family, my house, my Empress, and Thee.”
An hour later Carlin got up and opened the window. The air had grown thick.
Dawn seemed to suit Carlin as he came to the breakfast table primed. And though Rella had to toddle to the kitchen a second time for a quantity befit the guard hound, Carlin devoured his portion with some grace. Evalia flustered at not being able to read at the table but such would be rude.
“As you see I keep a small house hold. Mia sets the kitchen and Rella tends table and maids.”
“Father always said you were indulged. There are eleven reclaimed at your beckon.”
“Hm.” Evalia responded. She had not been aware her brother-in-law kept tabs. Her acquisitions were her business, and no one else’s.
“An indulgence for one is a necessity for my needs. Do not expect them to hop to your whim like in your fathers house. My staff has many responsibilities. Lay your suits out on the dressing table and they will be cleaned. Leave them on the floor and soon you too shall belong in the garden. I trust you to know how to care for your needs. We use the Amarr-Mall app for ordering our necessities. Your father granted you a stipend. Stay within your budget. Tutors will be interviewed this afternoon.”
“Father said I was to attend the Heideran Academy.”
“Wish-wash to him. He has resigned you to be my Page. I will handle it how I choose.”
“But I will fall behind!”
“Carlin, your grades are impressively advanced. My selected tutors will suffice.”
“Yes Aunty, but please make sure I keep up with the Imperial Academy requirements.”
“You will be tested at our Theocratic hall twice a month. How well you keep up your requirements will depend on your own will.” She said. “Come now, I have ordered our ride and it will be here in a moment.”
“Do you not have your own planetary vehicle?”
“I have my own plan-va, but I see no need to drive it most days.” She said. Evalia noted Carlin marking a quick note on his P-com. In truth Piatre was the only one in the household with a license, and though the vehicles practically drove themselves she did not trust the old slave’s perception much anymore. Besides, if he drove then he would spend the day waiting in the car. A true waste of everyone’s time. Evalia plucked a spent bloom from the gergans planter as they walked out to the drives gate.
“As you know I arrange silk fabrication from growing the nutrient feed plants, harvesting the spi’da secretions, perfecting the weave, onto delivery. My newest venture is finally taking our fabrics to a full fruition. This summer we are revealing our second line of hand tailored suits and professional day wear.” Evalia said excitedly as she pulled up the ordering site on her p-com.
“Ladies dresses.” Carlin said. The lowering disappointment in his voice could not be more apparent.
“Mostly dresses. Yes.” She said, suddenly regretting that all her products were attire for women. The plan-va took them toward the downtown around the back quarter.
“Carlin, I am sorry. I can not teach you about space, missile trajectory, or how to properly fit a frigate.”
“I know Aunty”
“And what stories I tell of war will gift no Paladin’s heart to anyone.”
Carlin looked out the window.
“But a true man takes what God offers and trusts in his will. I will warn you, at my side you will be tempered. My life is a real life. Not the pageantry of your father’s hold. You must accept the heat and the shock. For you, there will be worse than the words of an equal. But I will be there. I am on your side. Do you understand?”
“Aunty, I will not loose my temper to words again.”
Evalia reached over and squeezed Carlin’s arm.
The plan-va stopped in the roundabout. The factory doorman was there, opening and bowing.
“Quickly now. Kasilia, my business partner will want my full inspection before our ten o’clock. We have an important broker arriving, and perhaps other guests.”
At the factory they entered onto the overseer’s deck. The hum and hisses of the machines deafened conversation. A tone sounded. The room silenced as rows and rows of slaves set down their work, stood, and bowed. At the next tone they resumed their labor. A red silk fabric spun off the line. Bolts were rolled, packed, and stacked.
“Are all these yours?” Carlin gestured to the hundred strong force. Evalia beckoned him to the more quiet hallway.
“We have a few commoners in the mix but that main room is staffed at a rental from Lord Holder Varsque of whom we also rent the land we now stand on.” Evalia said. “But in this next room, these here are my households acquisition’s to our Lady Holder, my mother’s estate, as well as my most talented commoner employees.”
“I do not understand why you rent when Grandmother has plenty of properties.”
“Location Carlin. Mother’s estate is very rural. This city has connections. And Lord Holder Varsque is an old friend.”
They entered a spacious room. Computerized devices lined the walls among a maze of tables. Machines spun, weaved, cut, analyzed, and stitched to the whims of the staff tending them.
The room rose to attention. The only difference between slave and commoner was the depth of the bow. In the next moment all the staff bent up and none could tell the difference.
Tess a favored reclaimed who was Evalia’s personal assistant approached, pressing an ornate tumbler into her waiting hand. The spiced milk-tea was cool to the touch. Just the way Evalia liked it.
“My Lady Evalia. We have a guest?” Tess said.
“Please everyone, I would like to introduce my nephew, Lord Carlin. He will be attending as my Page for the next year.”
“Your nephew? The holder’s son?” a voice burst above the rest. “That is why you canceled our tea yesterday? I would have brought my Kim over to welcome him proper. You should have had us there to greet-” a lean woman emerged from a side closet, stopping short. Evalia knew that Kasilia had been imagining Carlin’s half-brother, the one who was now eleven years old. Carlin stiffened, pulling his shoulders squared and hands to the back into a stance that the commoner’s fondly labeled- ‘the holder at rest’.
“Oh that nephew. I see.” Kasilia said.
“Carlin, this is Mrs. Kasilia Weaver, my business partner.”
“Charmed.” Carlin said.
“By the Imperial toes he is a tall one!” Kasilia said.
“Carlin, this way. I want to show you the fruits of our efforts.”
“Twelve years of work mind you.” Kasilia said.
“I acquired this brood of furrier, hatched out feral in the neighbors wheat field. “ Evalia said.
“Like your bitey pet?” Carlin said.
“Dear Purpurr, yes, but in this brood a very peculiar genetic mutation put a crimp in their fur, yet they were still luxuriously soft. Normal furrier coats are too slippery to spin, but this crimping left exposed scales. This means we can blend it with our silk and weave it. Behold, our first suit made of a silk and furrier blend.” Evalia said.
Carlin looked. Kasilia too was looking, watching him. Evalia snorted.
“Carlin, come feel this. Superior in strength with a soft flow. No synthetic can match its luxury.” Evalia said.
“Eva dear, I, um…” Kasilia said.
“What is it Kass?”
“I do not think his hands should touch the Imperial fabric.” Kasilia said.
“Mrs. Weaver, he to is royal blood. A branch of my holder tree. My nephew. He may handle all that I handle.”
“I would have severed that branch.” Kasilia said. If the woman thought her voice could whisper too softly for anyone to hear, she was very much wrong.
“Pardon?” Evalia said.
“I was just concerned about the natural grease”
Evalia did not offer a response. Her eye flitted to her nephew who only looked back to her with eyes trying very hard not to express. Evalia lifted the plastic cover and took Carlin’s hand setting it to the sleeve of the fabric. At the touch his eyes did express.
“It is very light.” He said.
“We have a broker coming this afternoon. She has connections. We are hoping to maneuver this very garment into the Imperial wardrobe of the Empress.”
Carlin’s eyes widened.
“I knew that would catch your mind.”
Kasilla slowly, deliberately wheeled the stand away, Carlin letting fabric slide from his grip. Kasilla made a visible effort of inspecting the sleeve and patting the covering back into place. “Evalia, we have no time for ogling. We need to finish the preparations.”
“We are ready. But I will indulge you.” Evalia said.
A small boy careened into Kasilia’s leg, reaching up to tug the long braid that hung down his mothers back.
“Mo-ba! Fur-ba!” the child wailed.
“Oba, please grab him.” Kasilia groaned. The children’s nanny toddled over and picked up the fretting child. She was closely followed by Kasilia’s eight year old daughter Kim.
“Sorry ma’am. He’s just going on about the furriers again.” Oba said, bowing even as she held the child.
“Now! Now!” The child said.
“My dear Momon, mommy will take you to pick out a chick after lunch.” Kasilia said.
“His hair, it curls like the furrier hair.” The older daughter Kim said as she pointed at Carlin.
“Be respectful Kim. This is Lady Evalia’s nephew.” Kasilia sad.
“How is that so?” Kim said. Evalia saw Carlin’s scowl, but it was quickly masked to statelyness.
“I want my furrier.” The boy Momon said.
“Kasilia, didn’t he get one for a pet not a month ago?” Evalia said.
“You know it was a cull. Poor stamina. It died a week later.” Kasilia said.
Evalia shook her head. Boys could be hard on creatures. She had little doubt that Momon was not suited to a pet yet.
Evalia turned to her assistant Tess.
“Tess. Please give Carlin a tour. A demonstration of our All-Dimensions 3-D scanner and our testing lab is appropriate.”
“Oh yes, Oba, take the children on the tour with Tess too.” Kasilla added.
“Lady Evalia, I will need access to the development wing.” Tess said.
“Oh bother. Now we will be rushed.” Evalia said
“Don’t you worry about it.” Kasilia said “My Kim knows the password. She’ll open it for them.”
“Kass, I know we talked about giving your daughter the all-access code.”
“Yes, Eva. We need to talk about such things indeed.” Kasilla said. No one missed her side long glance at Carlin.
Evalia set a hand to the arm of Kasilia, guiding her forward. Kasilia wheeled the garment rack as they walked to the conference room.
“The development wing is a good place to put him. We will have to be sure Tess is aware of our progress with the broker, just in-case they too want a tour as well.” Kasilia said.
“What are you talking about?” Evalia said.
“Don’t you think his presence will diminish our brand?”
“Kasilia, you are truly insulting today.”
“Well I didn’t mean your-you. Just that if the broker sees him, and thinks about it. They don’t know your family.”
“Enough Kasilia. We will discuss your pecking later.” Evalia looked back. Carlin was watching her go.
Carlin followed Tess to the development wing. How insulting could Kasilia, that woman, that commoner be? These hands are a branch of Lady Holder Ressalia’s tree, grandmother’s roots by blood. Far more Chosen than any commoner.
Carlin studied his reflection in the polished side of the M-Tensle X9. Half of himself at least was holder. The inside half. He didn’t even look like any of the servants that were kept at the house. Maybe his father was afraid of them, of him. Carlin had done his research in the secret of the night. His other half had to be one of those monstrous Brutor. He prayed to stop growing. More than likely he would break seven feet in the next year. That was their standard growth pattern.
“Lord Carlin?” Tess asked.
“Yes, I am ready. You may begin.” Carlin said.
Oba lifted up the wiggling Momon so that he could poke the blinking marker in tandem with his sister Kim. Inside the clear box the tiny robot hands began to tug and twist the fabric sample. It was sprayed with goop and pelted with all sorts of rays.
“When does the laser come in?” Carlin asked.
“On your command.” Tess answered.
Carlin waved his hand. The laser warning came on screen. The box automatically tinted as a point of light began to hiss across the sample.
Tess at least gave him the proper respect.
“You see it burns but it does not hold the flame. The unique keratin composition of the furrier hairs seem to snuff out the ignition.” Tess said.
“So it won’t catch fire?”
“Oh it will, but it is easy to put out. We have five M-Tensle machines here. It is not the most advanced system, but it works for us. The durability test over here has been running for almost six months. We have a color fading problem, but that is something we might have a solution to soon.” Tess said.
“Rainbow furriers!” Kim spouted.
“Yes, yes the rainbow furriers. We’ll go look at them later.” Tess said.
“I want to see them now.” Kim said.
“Now, now, now!” Momon parroted. Only he did it with more volume, hopping along with the words.
“Kim, we are taking Carlin to see our full body pattern scanner. Wouldn’t you like to stand in the scanner too?” Tess said.
“I do that like-every day.” Kim said.
“Furriers!” Momon started to snivel. He ran over and grabbed Carlin’s hand. Oba sprang over and hushed him away, but the child’s wide eyes looked back at Carlin, pleading. It was just like when his younger brother was that age.
“I guess we could see the furriers first.” Carlin said.