(Empire’s Legacy, Book VI)
By Marian L Thorpe
© 2021 Marian L Thorpe
The novel has two alternating points of view: those of eighteen-year-old Gwenna, and her 53-year-old father, Cillian. This is the first section of the novel to be from Cillian’s POV. Cillian is disabled, a result of war wounds. Apulo is his aide. Catilius, whose book Cillian is reading at the beginning of this passage, is my world’s name for Marcus Aurelius, stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor.
To always be the same man, unchanged by pain, the loss of a child, in long illness. I put the book aside. Catilius’s words brought no comfort but that of familiarity, the calm which comes from reading a well-known text again. Had he loved his children as I did mine? If so, his words had been written to convince himself, a bulwark against grief. I closed my eyes, seeing my dead child; our unexpected youngest, her red-gold hair as fine as strands of silk. I could almost feel her, standing beside me as she so often had, her face on my leg, Understanding, even at three, that I could not pick her up. Unchanged by pain. Was that possible?
I listened. The bedroom door was slightly ajar, but if Lena wept, I could not hear her. Her tears might come later, after Apulo had left me, or not at all. I expected not at all, tonight.
The door from the hall opened. Beads of moisture in Gwenna’s hair caught the firelight. “Wine?” she asked.
“If you like.” Handing me the cup, she sat across from me. I took a sip. Stronger than I would have allowed myself. “What is it, Gwenna? I should not leave your mother alone.”
“Just that,” she said. “Tomorrow night, should I stay with Mathàir? You need to sleep.”
My jaw tightened, an involuntary reaction I should have been able to control. But weariness had its hold on me: weariness, and pain, and grief. And Gwenna was not wrong.
“My beloved daughter,” I said, hearing the roughness in my voice. My only daughter, now. “It is for your mother to tell me when I may leave her. As she will.” Soon, I thought. I had seen a change in Lena today; she was calmer. A brittle calm: controlled and tenuous, and it would break into anger before long.
Gwenna flushed, the stain of red on her pale skin visible even in the firelight. “I’m worried about you.” I put my wine down and held out my arms. She slipped off her chair to kneel beside me, resting her head on my shoulder. I kissed her temple, feeling the softness of her skin. She was so young for what might await her. “I’m worried for Sorley, too.”
I stroked her damp hair. Subtly put, I thought. We had never spoken of Sorley, a tacit agreement.
“We have a few minutes, here and there, and for now that must suffice,” I told her. “But your reasoning about taking Colm away is sound, and time without responsibility will help us all. As will the Breccaith, as difficult as it will be.”
I heard her sniff, fighting tears. “What did Mathàir mean, about Lianë being a sacrifice?”
I could not deal with this tonight, not rationally. The dull ache in my leg had begun to pulse; it needed cannabium, and Apulo’s hands. “I cannot speak of this, Gwenna.”
She tensed, misunderstanding: I had not chosen my words well. “Not because you are too young,” I added, “not this time. The implications of your mother’s belief are difficult for me and for us all. I am still weighing my response.”
“But—” She pulled away
“Do not ask me more.”
She nodded. She knew, as all my students did, what the tone I had used meant. “Do you need help getting up?”
“No,” I said, more gently. “Thank you, mo nihéan, but Sorley will have asked Apulo to come to me shortly. I will finish my wine and wait for him.”
“Druise is drinking too much,” she said as she stood.
I, alone of us, knew why, a confession made to me long ago. In Lianë, as in all our children, he had seen his atonement for a deed he regretted. He grieved her death honestly; he had loved her, but he grieved too this lost chance for redemption. “He is,” I said. “We all have our ways to mourn.”
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