Fullmetal Alchemist Fan Fiction ❯ Arcanum Paterfamilias ❯ Chapter One: Deagdizh ( Chapter 1 )

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Arcanum Paterfamilias -- Chapter One: Deagdizh
Authors: mfelizandy & fractured_chaos (aka: "Whips'n'Dozers")
Genre: Drama/Political Thriller. Futurefic, Genfic, Plotfic, Light Romance. No Sex.
Rating: Teen, for violence and Ed's potty mouth.
Chapter Word Count: 7400
Main Canon Characters/Pairings: Scar/OC. With nods to: Roy/Riza, Ed/Winry and Al/Mei. Hints of: Jean/Rebecca and Ling/Ran Fan. Appearances by other canon characters.
Warnings: Spoilers for the end of the Manga/Brotherhood. Futurefic set primarily in the Manga/Brotherhood universe. Some past incidents have been changed to render this story “Divergent”. Elements from the first anime have also been woven in.
Summary: Fifteen years after the ‘Promised Day’, secrets better kept buried come to the surface. Against a backdrop of political tension, a family fights to keep from being torn apart by one man’s dark past.
Disclaimer: Fullmetal Alchemist (Hagane no Renkinjutsushi) was created by Arakawa Hiromu and is serialized monthly in Shonen Gangan (Square Enix). Both 'Fullmetal Alchemist' and 'Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood' are produced by Funimation. Copyright for this property is held by Arakawa Hiromu, Square Enix and Funimation. All Rights Reserved

Special Thanks: To evil_little_dog and alchemyotaku75 for the beta, and dzioo for the awesome artwork!
Thank You To: havocmangawip and Sgt. Jody Sunday (ret) for their patience and wonderful technical advice on paraplegia and blindness, respectively.

Written for the 2010/2011 FMA Big Bang Challenge

She was winning. Her nose was bleeding and her ribs throbbed, but she'd landed a good kick to Ewan's knee and ducked his answering swing. She savored the fear on his face as she closed in, pulling her arm back for one more good punch-- then a much stronger hand closed around her forearm and yanked her aside.


"Go home," he ordered the knot of boys who'd gathered around to watch the fight. They scattered like mice.

"He insulted Momma," Naomi protested as her father turned to Ewan. "He said she--"

"Your mother needs no defense against the thoughtless words of children." Papa's tone ended the argument. To Ewan, he said only, "Tell your uncle I said you have too much idle time and too little sense to put it to good use." He finally let go of his daughter's arm as Ewan backed away, then turned and ran for home.

Papa crouched on one knee and took Naomi's chin in his bandaged left hand. He ran the rough pad of one thumb over her bruised cheek, then sighed and took his sand mask from his belt. He put it to her bloody nose. "Are you hurt beyond this?"

"I'm fine, Papa." Naomi took the thin cloth and dabbed her nose. "I was winning."

"You were fighting without thought or purpose," her father answered.

"He called Momma a dirty sivar!" The word was enough to cause the faint tightening around Papa's eyes that warned of his anger, and Naomi pressed her advantage. "He said--"

"Does calling your mother a demon make her one?" Papa stood up and took her right hand in his left.

"No, but--"

"Ewan repeated his grandmother's words. She is a resentful old woman using a boy to strike at those she blames for her troubles." Papa's face relaxed, and he released Naomi's hand in favor of hugging her to his side, against the scabbard of his falcata, the sword that was both a weapon and a symbol of his calling. "Her petty insults are worth neither your bruises nor your anger, minya."

Naomi shrugged out from under her father's arm. "I'm not a little girl anymore, Papa. I can take care of myself. And I'm not going to let anyone insult Momma, whether it's Ewan or his grandmother or the Elders themselves!" She turned away from him to stomp off.


Papa’s voice stayed calm and low, but it stopped her all the same. She turned around to see him bend to pick up a bright blue cube enameled with branches and pink blossoms and colorful birds: the empty tin Naomi had been taking to the tea merchant before she'd been sidetracked by Ewan's insult.

"Even when your anger is justified, look past this moment to the horizon," Papa said, as he tossed the tin to her.

The tea tin had barely landed in Naomi’s hands when a voice called, “Mishyael!”

Papa turned toward the speaker.

“Welcome home, sovar,” the other man said. He bore the family and tribal marks of the southern tribes on his arms, much like Papa’s, but they were difficult to see against his dark skin. Makhu took Papa’s offered forearms in greeting. The beads on the ends of his waist-length braids clicked as he touched his forehead to Papa's.

“Makhu, my brother,” Papa answered courteously.

“The words sting my tongue, but the Elders have said you are to go to the temple. They have come to a decision.” Makhu nodded at Naomi, then leaned in and spoke to Papa too softly for her to hear. The tightness of Papa’s face and the twitch of muscle in his jaw told Naomi that whatever Makhu had told him wasn’t good news.

Papa nodded, then turned his attention back to Naomi. "There are three fountains between here and the market. I suggest you make use of one of them before you face your mother again."

Naomi sketched a quick bow and darted off.

The market had been a few tents among the ruins when she was born. It, like Naomi and the rest of Xerxes, had grown, new buildings sprouting among tents and blankets spread on ancient broken streets. Now it was an entire district of shops and tents and carts, jammed together without plan, with pens for animals down the hill from the rest of the market. Xerxes had been a trading city in ancient times, and it was becoming one again. Traders and merchants from as far away as Caledonia and Xing bustled through the twisting alleys between tents and temporary stalls. It was the sort of place anyone could get lost in, since it changed almost daily. Most of the denizens of Xerxes' market district could tell you how to find whatever it was you were looking for, but Papa and the other yevarshedaht walked the market day and night to make sure that people kept to the business of buying and selling.

Naomi twisted and trotted through the narrow paths between stalls and sale blankets, past the sweet smells coming from the traveler's inns and the stronger scents wafting from the tent of a Bharati incense trader, and climbed two stone steps into the shade of Shifa's patched, wooden awning.

The tea merchant had chosen her location well. It was early in the afternoon, and the small tables under the awning were surrounded by customers chatting over tea served in Shifa’s funny handleless Xingese teacups. Naomi's people said, "No one dislikes the tea woman," and in Shifa's case it was entirely true. Naomi grinned at the short, plump woman behind the counter as she set the empty tin on the spotless dark wood.

"Here for the emissary's tea, Naomi?" Shifa beamed at the girl. An instant later, her expression became concerned. “Oh dear. Did you get thrown from a horse? Or did you get into a fight?”

Naomi frowned and her gaze darted to the side. “Ewan insulted Momma.”

“And you got caught, didn’t you?” Shifa said, gently. “Only God sees more than the yevarshedaht.” she quoted with a smile, and turned to the jars arrayed on shelves behind her counter. It had been two years since the emissary and his wife had last visited Xerxes, but Shifa flipped open her big customer book and set about mixing the Amestrian’s preferred blend with expert skill.

Naomi grabbed a honey stick from the jar on the counter and stuck it in her mouth. She sniffled as the strong flavor of cinnamon bloomed through her mouth and nose, and grinned. It was a private game. The honey sticks looked the same but were all flavored differently, and finding a cinnamon one was a sign that she was going to be lucky today.

"My brother sent a message with the day's rider. The fighting has stopped, but his house is rubble and three of his horses are dead," a young woman at one of the tables under the awning said to her companion.

Naomi all but forgot the honey stick melting in her mouth. Someone had killed horses.

“My nephew sent word asking me for money to buy goats.” the older woman at the table answered. She shook her head, and the red glass beads woven through her white hair rattled against each other. “He escaped the fighting and set up a tent in the desert.” She slurped her tea, then added, “Yasha said our yevarshedaht fought like it was old times.”

Shifa turned back to the counter and set the tin in front of Naomi. “Are you ready for your kevarkal?

Naomi frowned and slumped, her chin resting on the counter, the events of far away Ishvar forgotten. “I’m ready for it to be over. Everyone keeps asking me if I’m ready, or if I’m scared, or if my dress is finished.” She scowled. “Momma talks about it like it’s more important than the train station.” The honey stick wobbled and bobbed in her mouth as she spoke. “It’s just a Crossing ceremony, not a king’s coronation.”

Shifa smiled and brushed a lock of hair from Naomi’s eyes. Hair that was still stubbornly child-dark, when even Nadira, who was a year younger, had a finger’s-width of white roots.

“It’s important to a mother to see her little girl growing up,” Shifa told her.

“What’s so important about a Crossing ceremony?” Naomi demanded. “The Elders ask questions about things everyone already knows and then I say my name, as if no one knows who I am, and I... and I have to pretend to be drowning in the temple river in a dress.”

“You know it’s more than that, silly girl.”

Naomi scowled. “I don’t see why I have to do all that just to prove I’m not a child anymore.”

“You could tell your parents you want to wait another year.”

“No! Then I’d...” Naomi trailed off. “I don’t want to wait another year.”

Shifa chuckled softly. “Because you’d have to keep going to morning Temple and practicing your brush script and reciting the texts?” She smiled as Naomi’s cheeks heated. “Did you think that was a secret? Jinjing has two more years but she can hardly wait for her kevarkal, so she can spend her time learning how to build automail.”

Tumaz, who sold oxen down the hill, bounded up the steps and only stopped when he hit the table between the young woman and the older one with the clacking beads. His face was flushed and his eyes wide, and he was grinning. “Anadil, did you hear the news? The Scar has returned to Ishvar to avenge us and chase the Amestri--" He broke off as Shifa snorted and slapped her customer book shut with a loud snap.

"When will those fools in the south open their books again? The war is long over, and all this talk of vengeance is just idle noise.” She turned to Naomi and nodded at her. "You had better get that tea back to your mother, before the emissary arrives."

"I'm going! I'm going!" Naomi huffed. She grabbed another honey stick and hopped down the steps. The words came back to her as she made her way through the twisting and turning pathways "...our yevarshedaht fought like it was old times...” “The Scar has returned to Ishvar...”  She snorted and shook her head. Momma’s voice spoke in her memory. “Rumor runs faster than truth because it’s made of nothing but fanciful exaggerations.” The story of the Scar was just that, an exaggerated story told to little kids to make them behave. There might have been a real person who killed alchemists, in the old days, but the demon-hero the little kids were so afraid of wasn't real.

What was real was Ewan's insult. Naomi had every intention of finishing what she’d started teaching him. She just needed to figure out how to do it without Papa interfering.
Mishyael strode through one of the maze of corridors that spidered out from the central chamber of the temple. He passed an open door leading to one of the practice yards, stopped, and backtracked. On one end of the yard was a thicket of poles of various heights and diameters, crisscrossed by catwalks and ropes. Four ungwaiyar sparred on and around the posts and ran along beams inclined at different angles. Their practice sticks rapidly clacked against each other in every direction.

The other side of the courtyard was flat. Twelve little boys, including his twin sons, Izyan and Diyari, were doing their exercises, all stomping and shouting in unison. Makhu strolled down the line, like a general inspecting his troops. He stopped in front of one small nksun and ordered, “Baju.” The entire line stopped and went into a ready stance, sticks angled in front of lunging young bodies.

Makhu settled down on his knees and spoke softly to the little nksun. He took the boy’s hands, guiding them. “Move this hand higher, to protect your throat and your face. This hand will turn the strike and give you space to kick.” He let go of the child’s arms and moved back, offering his own muscled forearm. “Now-- step forward, strike and kick. Slowly.” He caught the boy’s foot on one arm and the stick’s strike on the opposite shoulder. “Good. Again.” He repeated the exercise twice more, then got to his feet and set all of the boys to starting the pattern again, counting the rhythm for them as they worked through the exacting, balanced turns, thrusts, and kicks.

Makhu glanced up and saw Mishyael. “Keep to the pattern,” he said to the boys, as he strode toward the doorway. “When you reach the end, start over.”

“I thought this was Kashif’s class,” Mishyael said when the younger man reached him.

“Asya’s in labor,” Makhu said. “So he’s making himself useful by pacing the floor and wringing his hands. What was the verdict?”

“Half of them wanted to strip me of my falcata, the other half wanted to put me down in the records as a hero,” Mishyael said ruefully.

Makhu scowled in confusion. “There are three elders, how can the vote be split down the middle?”

“Hamzhya couldn’t make up his mind.” Mishyael sighed. “They decided to make me walk the Sinner’s Path.”

“That’s not too bad.”

“The whole path. On my knees.”

“Oh,” Makhu said, flat.

Mishyael gazed back along the corridor, and rubbed the back of his neck. “I think it’s largely for appearances. I’m not to let it interfere with my other duties.”

Makhu grinned. “Well then, Old Man, before you find time to do your penance, want to help me show these little knee-kickers what a real yevarshedaht can do?”

“If you won’t be embarrassed by this old man putting you in your place.”

Makhu snorted and jerked his head toward the center of the yard. “Baju!” he ordered again, “Clear the field.” The boys came to a stop and scrambled to the end of the yard, hopping up on the low garden walls and jockeying for the best spots. As Mishyael followed the younger yevarshedaht, he cast a sideways glance at Diyari and Izyan. Diyari elbowed his twin brother, and both boys were grinning widely.

The rapid clacking on the other side of the yard came to a halt, and the four ungwaiyar jumped down from their perches and trotted to the wall to join the nksun.

Makhu went to the sheltered rack of weapons tucked against the wall of the practice yard, and selected a staff nearly his own height in length. Then he turned to Mishyael with a challenging grin. “What will it be, doddering old man?”

“Since these boys are learning the long stick, I’ll demonstrate how effective it can be in experienced hands,” Mishyael responded mildly.

Makhu’s grin widened. "I'm not sure this'll be a fair fight," he said. "Not with that injured hand of yours."

Mishyael glanced down at his bandaged left hand and flexed it stiffly. "True." He met Makhu's gaze with a raised brow. "I could have one of your ungwaiyar tie it behind my back so you would have an even chance."

Makhu chuckled and tossed his fellow yevarshedaht and friend another long stick. Mishyael caught it... then caught Makhu’s first blow and turned it away from his midriff. Makhu paused, and spoke to the children now watching with wide, eager eyes from the tops of the walls. “Did you see that? He had to move his arms to block my strike. Where is he unguarded?”

“You could hit his ribs on the right,” one boy piped up, “if you move fast enough.”

If  he was fast enough,” Mishyael commented. He stepped back and into a spin that aimed the stick at Makhu’s head and one heel at the younger man’s side. “Unfortunately, all that extra height and reach he’s so fond of means that it takes far too long for his thoughts to reach his hands.”

“I’m fast enough to get out of your reach, Ancient One,” Makhu teased as he dropped nearly flat.

The twins giggled and drummed their heels against the stone wall. “Do a face strike, Papa!” Izyan called.

“I can hardly do that when you’ve told him what my next move will be.” Mishyael stepped over Makhu’s snatch at his ankle, then took one long stride and swung the stick toward Makhu’s shoulder blades as the other yevarshedaht bounced up. Makhu stayed low and swung his legs around, catching Mishyael’s stick and twisting it almost out of his hands. Mishyael grunted, and followed the motion into an airborne cartwheel that set him down with his stick just barely deflected by Makhu’s.

Baju,” another voice interrupted. Both yevarshedaht froze as though trapped in amber.

Abrahn, the master yevarshedaht was a sturdy, though elderly, bald man with a thick mustache. He approached with a calm stride. “All very well to show off for children,” he went on. “Something else again to prove yourselves to one who knows a thing or two.” He took hold of Makhu’s left wrist and pulled it back a fraction. “Carrying your sword in this hand is an advantage, but beware of relying on it too much. The blade doesn’t care which shoulder wears the sash.” He surveyed Mishyael, and frowned. “I taught you better than to pinch your elbows in like that.” He tugged at the offending arms until they satisfied him, then stood back. “The rule is no bloodshed. Begin.”

The senior yevarshedaht swept into motion, their sticks blurring and sashes flying as they leapt and thrust, swept and spun. The boys on the walls cheered and gasped as Makhu escaped a broken jaw with a back handspring that rotated in midair and brought him back to his feet with his stick moving to catch Mishyael under one arm and flip him forward. Mishyael gave to the pressure, rolled over his shoulder, then stayed crouched close to the stone floor of the courtyard and twisted Makhu’s feet out from under him. Abrahn watched with a calm, weighing gaze as the two men wrestled. Makhu finally got one foot against Mishyael’s chest, and kicked him away -- and back to his feet. Makhu came up in a whirl of beaded braids and age-darkened wood, drove his stick down toward Mishyael’s groin, then ducked and flipped his head at the other yevarshedaht’s stick as it came back for the return stroke. With his opponent’s weapon caught in his braids, Makhu grinned and wrapped his arm around Mishyael’s stick. “You’re getting predictable, Old Man.” He flexed his shoulder and arm, and tossed Mishyael’s stick away across the stones.

Mishyael snorted, and grabbed Makhu’s stick. “Your vanity will be the end of you someday.” He hooked the end of the stick with one foot and twisted, forcing Makhu to let go before being flipped over the older man’s knee.

Baju.” Abrahn kicked under Mishyael’s fallen stick, bringing it into his hands. “That’s enough practice on the flat. Draw swords and up on the beams. Makhu to the narrow high, Mishyael to the angled low. The rule is the same.”

The younger boys haggled over the best vantage points near the posts while the older ungwaiyar held hurried negotiations of bets on which of the yevarshedaht would force the other to the ground first. Makhu lifted an eyebrow at Mishyael as he wrapped the training guards into place around the edges of his sword. Mishyael slid his eyes toward the children clustered on the wall, and one side of his mouth turned up a little.

With both swords safely wrapped, the seniors took their places, Makhu standing higher than the outer walls of the temple compound, Mishyael only waist height off the ground. Abrahn chose a seat, and settled his hands on his knees. “Begin.”

Makhu stepped along the slender beam, then reached one long leg and took a ready stance, his sword laid neatly back along his left arm. Mishyael sized up his opponent, then jumped and swung one-handed up to a higher perch, his sword closing on Makhu’s legs before he’d landed firmly on a platform less than the length of his own feet. Makhu flipped aside, dancing lightly among the poles until he hung upside down in midair, the passage of his sword forcing Mishyael to arch backward and balance precariously on one hand for a breathless moment before twisting down to get a foot on the pole to jump to one of the high beams.

The boys on the walls watched with bated breath and shining eyes as first one, then the other of the seniors seemed to snatch the advantage. The betting reached a fever pitch--

--then there were two pained grunts as both men hit the ground: Mishyael reflexively tumbling into a somersault and Makhu catching himself on both hands.

Master Abrahn stood perfectly balanced and completely unruffled atop the slender center post. He held up his belt knife, then tucked it back into its sheath. “Remember this, children,” he said, including the two seniors in his gaze. “The enemy you see is less dangerous than the one you overlook.” He held up his other hand, and everyone in the courtyard sucked in a breath... then the ncksun giggled.

In the warrior master’s hand was one of Makhu’s braids, complete with its beads, and six inches of Mishyael’s ponytail.
Naomi barged through her front door. Momma startled, then her bright green eyes filled with dismay as she took stock of her daughter's battered and bruised face. "Oh, Naomi," she sighed. "You've been fighting again."

"But--" Her defense was interrupted by the wailing of her infant sister, Zhevah, in the other room.

Momma jerked her head toward the kitchen as she glided past to tend to the fussy baby. "Put the tea in the basket, then go clean up."

Naomi paused at the kitchen doorway and gazed back through the hall to the parlour, where Momma wove her cloth and Kezhiya made dresses. The cradle Papa had built for Naomi stood beside the loom, where it was easy for Momma to watch the baby. She lifted Zhevah and rubbed her pale, speckled cheek against the infant's darker one, humming softly. Within a moment the cries became whimpers, then quieted altogether as a pudgy hand batted at the shell at the end of a string of fresh water pearls Momma wore woven through her thick copper braid.

Naomi's eyes started to sting. Momma was a good woman, better than most. She had known where to look for Madeya and how to soothe her fears the morning of her wedding day. Momma knew at least as much about babies as Daima, the district midwife, and she helped with the washing -- and made Naomi help, too -- every time there was a new baby among the neighbors. Momma raised the herbs to soothe Ewan's grandmother’s gout, and now the spiteful old crone was calling her a sivar!

Momma glanced up, and her expression softened. "Why so glum, minya?" she asked. "Could it really be as bad as all that?"

"I'm sorry, Momma," Naomi murmured, then spun and darted into the kitchen, nearly bowling over Kezhiya, Momma's helper and adopted older sister to Naomi and her four siblings.

"Look out, Kezhi!" Naomi squeaked as she narrowly dodged the open oven door.

"You look out," the sixteen year-old teased as she gracefully pirouetted around Naomi, then slid a loaf of steaming bread from the paddle onto the the baking counter near the hearth. "I was here first."

"I wasn't staying anyway," Naomi grumbled. She reached for one of the baskets sitting on the long kitchen table. Several bottles of the family's wines, enough to serve Naomi's family three or four times over, waited beside the baskets of fruits and vegetables from their garden, as well as dried herbs and exotic spices from the market. Fresh breads and good cheese sat on the glittering marble counter Papa had salvaged before Naomi was born.

The back door was open to let the breezes through, but the screen was closed. Naomi jumped when it banged open and an Amestrian with yellow hair and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth wheeled himself over the wide threshold with a grunt. "Damned pony tried bite me," he complained in a thick accent, then spotted Naomi and brightened. "Day’s blessing, Naomi." He almost pronounced it correctly.

"Blessings of the day, Mehstar Havoc," she replied with a grin. She'd always liked Jean Havoc, the emissary's assistant. He told stories about his family that were just a little too outrageous to be true, and he had taught her how to call someone mouse-brained in Amestrian.

He scowled, though not seriously. “Haven’t I said it’s just ‘Jean’?” He snatched a roll from the basket on the counter, and laid a finger to his lips. “Don’t tell your mother.”

Momma came in, carrying Zhevah. "In my house, children are expected to show respect to adults. You’re an opportunity to practice being polite." Her tone and expression took the sting out of her words, but Jean Havoc ducked his head in deference to her.

“The custom here is little girls say ‘Zhoji Jean,’ right?” He took a bite out of the roll, and rolled his blue eyes toward the ceiling in mock ecstasy. “You make the best bread in Xerxes.”

Naomi tossed the tea in the basket of produce, then darted across the kitchen to snoop through another basket as soon as Kezhiya had turned her back to tend the oven and Momma reached for a cup to offer water to Jean. She sifted through date rolls, barley bread, dark rye, and muffins laced with fruit and cinnamon, trying not to make enough noise to alert the adults and Kezhiya.

Jean caught her eye and grinned when Naomi put her finger to her lips.

“And you set a terrible example for children,” Momma told him tartly. She shot a glance over her shoulder. “Naomi, shouldn’t you be getting cleaned up?”

Naomi jumped back from the basket as if it burned. “Yes, Momma.”

“Your wife must think she has five children instead of four,” Momma said to Jean as she handed him his cup. She put Zhevah in the baby swing hanging from the ceiling by the table, and gave it a gentle push to set it rocking.

“She has no doubt I’m a man,” Jean answered. He added something in Amestrian, his eyes dancing with mischief, and Momma gasped, then chuckled and replied in the same language, giving the emissary’s man a light swat on his thickly-muscled shoulder.

Naomi crept back to the basket and rearranged the rolls while Momma was paying attention to Jean and Kezhiya was wrapping the still-warm loaves on the counter in cloth.

“Behave yourself, or you’ll be buying your bread in the market,” Momma added in the common tongue.

He grinned, then jerked his thumb toward the door. “The crew cleaned most of the consulate up, but the vandals did more damage to the kitchen than we first thought. We need to send for a repairman from Amestris to fix the ovens. I’ll talk to the emissary; tell him you need more help.”

Momma waved him off. "Whether I cook the meal here or there doesn't matter. It's the people who sit together to eat it."

Jean looked around at all the food that was already prepared. "I don't know how you did all this."

"I was doing this before your people insisted on installing those gas-burning ovens." She shook her head. "I like my method. The food tastes better."

Naomi found the almond cookies hidden in a tin at the very bottom of the basket, like a priceless treasure someone had buried to keep it from being stolen. But, like any other buried treasure, it was just begging to be found and taken.

Jean grabbed a basket from the sideboard and set it in his lap. He said something teasing in Amestrian, and winked at Momma.

“Sorry, Jean, but if ‘stepping’ into the twentieth century means using those infernal gas ovens, I’ll pass,” Momma replied with a snort. She then turned him around and pointed him at the door. "Shoo! Before the pony gets tired of waiting and wanders off to find something to eat, and takes the emissary's dinner with her."

Jean laughed, but obeyed, letting the door swing shut behind him with a bang.

Kezhiya turned away from the stove, then spotted Naomi pilfering. She lunged to slap the lid down on the cookie tin, barely missing Naomi's fingers, but the younger girl not only avoided a pinch, she came away with the prize as well. "You'd better put that back, Naomi."

Instead, Naomi licked the cookie, then grinned triumphantly.

Kezhiya grimaced and groaned softly. "You're so disgusting. No man is going to want you to wife. Better to lie down in a filthy stable than next to you. At least there would be good reason for the stench."

“Horses don’t smell as bad as sweaty men, and they don’t think they can buy you as a wife for a few kerchiefs and some stupid poems.”

“Kezhi, Naomi, that was childish,” Momma scolded. “I hope you two intend to show better manners to the emissary and his household at dinner.”

Both girls snapped straight. Kezhiya bowed respectfully, and mumbled an apology. Naomi said. “Forgive me, Momma. I'll behave as an adult, tonight. I promise.”

Momma nodded once, curtly. “See that you do.”

Behind her, Zhevah began to whimper, and Momma turned to tend to her. Kezhiya stuck her tongue out at Naomi. The younger girl crossed her eyes, sticking her thumbs in her ears and waggling her fingers, making Kezhiya cover her mouth to smother a giggle. Naomi grinned, then shoved the cookie into her mouth, and turned to run upstairs.

“Bathe first,” Momma called. “And put on your long skirt before you go with Zhoji Jean to watch the train come in.”

Naomi rolled her eyes, and trudged toward the bath-house.
The Amestrians came by train. It wasn't an ordinary work-camp train. The squat, soot-blackened locomotives that dragged rails, ties, and ramshackle living quarters and cafeteria cars for the building crews had been chuffing past the city walls for years. Even the horses and dogs ignored them. The train that glided through the switch and up the new spur to the still-undedicated Xerxes station was as different from the camp trains as a golden stallion was from a peddler's donkey. The sleek passenger engine and its cars were all painted in dark blue with a pair of red stripes running down their sides. Two Amestrian flags fluttered from holders set on either side of the locomotive's nose. The train slowed as it approached the platform, like a young woman sashaying past her admirers in a new dress. The locomotive let out a deep hissing sigh like a live thing, and came to a gentle halt.

Naomi hung back as Jean Havoc wheeled up next to Papa. She knew she was staring like a little girl, but couldn't quite collect enough self-control to match her father's calm acceptance of the train and the passengers climbing down from it. There were so many Amestrians, and they were all talking animatedly in their language, many of them running up and hugging other varisti who made Xerxes home, and some of them even being welcomed by Ishvarun. The crowd was swelling, and Naomi would have never seen the emissary and his wife disembarking, if it hadn’t been for the respectful path that opened ahead of them as they glided toward Papa.

She knew the Amestrian emissary, of course. He'd brought his wife (and in the past, his daughters, but Naomi scanned the crowd and didn't see them this time) and come to eat with Naomi's family at least once every time he'd come to Xerxes. As a child, she'd been afraid of him, with the blank gray spaces where his eyes should have been and his strange accent when he offered formal courtesies to Momma and Papa. There were a few streaks of silver in his black hair now -- and now she knew that Roy Mustang was only a blind foreigner with a foreigner's thick accent. He was a man, for all he spoke for his country.

Two of the emissary’s aides debarked from the train, each of them filling the narrow space of the compartment's opening. They nodded in greeting to Papa and Zhoji Jean, then took over unloading their baggage from the station's porters. The big men still scared Naomi a little, but Darius and Heinkel had never been anything but polite to Papa and his family.

“[Roy Mustang, son of Amestris. Be welcome among us, thee and thine,]” Papa said as he strode up to the emissary. It was properly phrased and delivered without any hesitation or slipping of the tongue around the difficult ancient sounds. Papa made the temple tongue sound elegant and important, instead of dried-out and crumbling.

Roy Mustang turned toward Papa, and offered his hands, palms up. “Mayyuu bles-t been for hoztalody.”

Naomi suppressed a wince. Her teacher, Mahala, would accuse a student of drunkenness for such sloppy pronunciation. Still, at least Roy Mustang tried to say the formal greetings. Most varisti learned enough of the common tongue to make themselves understood, but didn't even attempt to learn the temple tongue.

Papa accepted the greeting with a slight inclination of his chin, placed his hands on the emissary's in a sign of peace, then shifted into the common tongue. “There is a place ready for you, with tea and a good meal prepared.”

“Thank you. Perhaps you will sit down and eat with us?” The Amestrian was much better with the common tongue. He knew good manners, too.

“You honor me. I will eat with you.” Papa turned, and spotted Naomi. His face lightened just a fraction. “Naomi, my daughter, come and walk with us.”

She couldn't help the grin, but she did manage to keep herself to a dignified walk rather than running to her father's side. He put his hand on her shoulder, and she bowed respectfully to the emissary and his wife. “God’s ruth,” she greeted them.

“God’s ruth, Naomi,” Riza Mustang said in return. “You’ve grown so tall since I saw you last.”

Roy Mustang reached toward Naomi, then paused. “May I?”

Naomi understood what he was requesting and stepped into his reach. His hand found the top of her head, and he smiled. “Taking after your father, I see,” he teased. He cupped her face and his brow furrowed a moment, then his lips twitched. After all this time, you and your mother...” He trailed off and stroked Naomi’s cheek with one thumb, and said in a much different tone, “You and your mother surprised me the day you were born, and you continue to surprise me.” His empty eyes came unnervingly close to meeting hers. “You’re going to be a beautiful woman.”

“Are you still playing that game, Roy Mustang?” There was an edge under the lightness of Papa’s tone.

“There’s no harm in pointing out the obvious, is there?” The emissary tucked a piece of Naomi’s hair back behind her ear. “How am I supposed to maintain my legendary charm otherwise?”

Papa whuffed. “Practice charming your wife. She might at least challenge you.”

Riza responded, deadpan, “I’m immune.”

The emissary immediately looked tragic and spread his hands. “You see? She’s so harsh and cold. What man wouldn’t go looking for a sweet young girl to laugh at his jokes and lead him to dinner?” He fumbled in the air in front of him with theatrical dismay. “Naomi? Won’t you be a kind girl and lead a blind old man home?”

Naomi hesitated. There was a private joke going on over her head, and none of the adults seemed inclined to explain it to her. Fortunately, Jean cleared his throat. He spoke to the emissary in Amestrian in a businesslike tone. The emissary listened, then nodded, and took his wife’s arm. “Let’s go to the consulate, where we can discuss recent events over what I know will be a wonderful meal. Shall we?”

Papa and Naomi strode along beside the Amestrians, the emissary's head held high. He tucked his wife's hand in his left elbow and rested his right on hers. The emissary almost appeared to be leading her, rather than the other way around. Naomi relaxed and beamed at the people lining the streets. This arrival was important and she was part of it. There were even some Xingese people in embroidered robes watching the procession.

The emissary leaned toward Papa a little, and spoke to him in Amestrian. It was a slurred tumble of sound. Naomi picked out the varisti words for “fight” and “leader”... then the one Amestrian word that every child knew. “Scar.”

Naomi searched the Amestrian’s face, then looked up at her father, and felt like there was a bird fluttering in her chest. Roy Mustang’s closed expression gave no hint of his thoughts, and Papa-- Papa looked angry about something.

“Treason!” A voice rang out, loud and angry over the hubbub. Someone came storming out of the smithy. Biyal, old Manahem's apprentice, wearing his leather apron and carrying his hammer, strode right up to Papa and addressed him in the temple tongue. It was an insult to both Papa and the foreigners, to scold the yevarshedat in the holy language in front of guests Biyal thought didn't understand the ancient words. “[Why thee, warrior of the People, walkst with an enemy of us?]” His grammar and pronunciation weren't even close to Papa's. “We were told by the prophet Avidan--” he continued on in the temple tongue, ”[Say to the king thou has defeated ‘Pitch the tents and tie the horses in the valley below mine gates,’ for the foreigners thou defeateth hath be deaf to God and will seek to strike thee down and make slaves of the people.]”

”[God hath spoken and commanded, 'Therefore I will make of thee priests to all men and all women.’]” Papa tucked Naomi closer against his side and went on, his voice deep and thunderous as one of the old-time prophets speaking with the voice of God. ”[‘When those who are deaf come among thee, speak fair to them, and deal with them as thou would deal with thine own brothers and sisters.']”

“You show too much mercy and patience for a warrior of God!” Biyal snapped. ”Have the charms of your foreign wife so clouded your eyes that you can’t see the mark his kind--” he stabbed his hammer toward Roy Mustang, who frowned “--left across your face?” Biyal crowded up close. ”Did the sivar give you a potion, to besot you with her and her dust-born chil--” he stopped with a gasp as Papa moved, so fast he was on the ground with Papa's arm under his chin and his hammer kicked far away before Naomi could open her mouth to answer the insult.

“Do not insult my wife and children,” Papa growled.

“Yes,” Biyal croaked. “[Arise, warrior of God, and defend thy people!]”

Papa snarled, and took hold of the smith's shirt, tugging him close as he came up to his knees.

Naomi found herself backing away -- right into the Amestrian emissary's wife. She looked up reflexively, and her mouth went dry. Riza Mustang held a gun in both hands, her expression set and calm. Next to her, Jean Havoc also held a gun, his cigarette clamped between his lips and his eyes hard and strangely dull in his usually cheerful face. Behind them, the emissary's aides were also pointing guns at Biyal, and Naomi's stomach flip-flopped. Their stony expressions and the slight curl of Heinkel's lips made Naomi think of the great golden lions of Aerugo.

"Put away your gloves, Roy Mustang," Papa said, his voice frighteningly hard and level. Naomi shot a confused glance from Papa to the emissary, who was tugging on a pair of white gloves, his face coldly alert.

Papa's eyes never left Biyal's as he spoke to the smith. “You speak of things that came and went while you were a fat toddler clinging to your mother's skirts, and you have learned nothing since. You try to claim a grudge that was never yours, and demand that I be the instrument of your stolen revenge. I deny you my burdens, and I say you are a witless young coward.” Papa got up, then went to pick up Biyal's hammer. “I will take this to the temple. Go there and pray to God to give you a mind befitting a dog, who bites the man who struck him, then lies down to guard the innocent child in the cradle.” His voice and eyes were hard as desert stones.

Beside Naomi, the guns disappeared almost as quickly as they had come, and Roy Mustang took his bare hands from his trouser pockets.

Naomi stared at her father, her heart pounding in her ears. He drove Biyal to his feet and back toward the smithy with his glare, then turned toward Naomi and the Amestrians. He met his daughter’s eyes, and his face clouded, then softened. Papa held out his hand, the bandages across his palm tinted pink. “It’s all right, Naomi.” His voice was again Papa’s familiar rumble. “Come and walk with me.”

Naomi found herself glancing at the emissary’s wife. Riza Mustang offered her a gentle smile (had she really looked so implacable a moment ago?) and nodded, taking her husband’s arm again.

Naomi turned back toward Papa, and went back to his side. His big hand felt heavier than usual resting on her shoulder. She shivered, and did something she hadn’t done since she was a little girl. She reached up and traced Papa’s sword belt around his back until she found one of the metal buckles that held the scabbard straps, then wrapped her hand around it and clung to her father with all of her strength.
NOTE: For the definitions of Ishvarun words used in this chapter, please go to our Ishvaran Glossary

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