Fullmetal Alchemist Fan Fiction ❯ Arcanum Paterfamilias ❯ Chapter Two: Hoilao Tenaga ( Chapter 2 )

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Arcanum Paterfamilias -- Chapter Two: Hoilao Tenaga
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: 10,000
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 (Go see her dA gallery!)!
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

A/N: The “Spires”, “Mahas”, “Holy Ground”, and “Saza’s Temple”, are all based on the “Fairy Chimneys”, and “Hoodoos” in Cappadocia, Turkey.


Colonel Roy Mustang stared at the haphazard towers of files and boxes creating a maze of the office belonging to Major Maes Hughes, proud father of Elysia, doting husband to Gracia, and (if the rumour mill was accurate), soon-to-be Head of Investigations. He saw no sign of the man who supposedly occupied the office. He heard something shift from the general vicinity of the center of the labyrinth, then the sound of a heavy file folder slapping to the carpeted floor.

"Heya Roy! Watch your step."

Now with a general idea of where Hughes was hiding, Roy took a few cautious steps, moving sideways between the precarious piles. "What in the hell are you--" he winced as his cavalry skirt caught and folders and papers slid from one of the stacks to hit the carpet in an avalanche of dull slaps and flutters. "Dammit." He twisted and knelt, and attempted to gather all the papers and photographs back together.

With a low grunt as knees popped from sitting cross-legged on the floor for too long, Hughes rose to his feet and chuckled. "I warned you." He waved dismissively at the mess on the floor that Roy was attempting to clean up. "Don't worry about those. I haven't gone through them yet."

Roy shot him a glare that didn't hold much heat, then straightened, letting the papers fall where they may. "You know if you didn't spend all your time terrorizing your staff with pictures of Elysia, you might actually get some work done."

"Speaking of which..." Hughes said with a predatory grin, stalking his best friend and reaching into the inner pocket of his uniform jacket.

Roy held up a hand to halt him, then pointed at the clock on the back wall. "This isn't a social call."

Hughes glanced back over his shoulder, going from amused, to panicked. "Oh Hell, I'm late," he muttered. He bent and scooped up slides and files from the floor, leaving a trail of detritus in his wake. He deposited the remainder on one side of his desk, then snagged a folder from a teetering stack on the other. "And I forgot to let the sentries at the gate know she was coming,” Hughes said as he blew past the desk.

"I took care of it," Roy said as he carefully backed out of the office. "Professor Durham is already set up in the auditorium. We're just waiting for you."

"Thanks," Hughes said, as the two men fell into step together down the wide corridor. "By the way, still coming over for dinner tonight?"

Roy nodded. "Of course. I'm looking forward to asking the Professor some questions about the details of her treatise."

“Tread lightly, Roy. We've had eyes on her for years, and she'll probably take questions from a high-ranking officer as some kind of interrogation, family dinner or not.”

"I'm not planning to ask about defensive strategies or the specifics of the training of warrior priests in northern Ishbal. I'm just curious about some of the things she mentioned in her books but didn't describe in detail."

"Like what?"

"The naming ritual, for starters. From her description it sounded like infants are named three days after they're born, but then there's another ritual when the kid is thirteen. Why?"

Hughes groaned. "If you ask her that, be prepared to sit there in the dining room until tomorrow morning."

"She can't be any duller than McGuffin."

"McGuffin wouldn't notice if you fell asleep in the middle of his lecture. Professor Isobel Durham will, and she'll wake you up with a taunt chant in Ishbalan, then interrogate you to find out exactly when in the lecture you dozed off."

"That sounds like the voice of experience."

"Wasn't me. I was just one of the ones who had to sit there for an extra half hour because she went back to the middle of the lecture and stopped every few sentences to ask the guy who fell asleep, 'What do you think prompted the development of the child-use honorifics, Mr. Warner?’ ‘Do you have any questions, Mr. Warner?’"

Roy huffed out a short chuckle. “Now I know I’m looking forward to meeting her.”

"Oh?" Maes arched a curious brow, then gazed up at the ceiling, thoughtfully rubbing his chin as a slow, lecherous grin spread across his face. "Well, she is attractive, and sometimes these kinds of relationships can work."

"Have you finally started believing the rumors you start, Maes?"

"Well, everyone knows there's a grain of truth in every rumor. And I've heard you have a thing for older women."

"You're not funny."

"Of course, with all the traveling she's done, I imagine she might be able to teach even you a thing or two."

"Give it a rest, Maes."

"And a May-December relationship might actually be advantageous to your career; especially with her social conn--"

"Hughes!" Roy roared as his friend pushed open the doors into the auditorium, causing a hundred sets of eyes to turn on the two of them.

Most of them belonged to higher-ranking officers, but one set belonged to a handsome, sixtyish woman who stood in front of a white screen. She wore a grey wool dress that hugged her curves and emphasized her femininity without the slightest hint of immodesty. Short dark hair shot with silver framed a round face that crinkled with gentle amusement around deep blue eyes.

Hughes snickered as he trotted down the aisle ahead of Roy. "Thanks, Colonel, but I didn't need an introduction."

"Indeed, not," Professor Isobel Durham said. She stepped off the low stage and strode toward the projector in the center of the aisle. "I can always count on you to be late for class, Major Hughes," she added, mildly. “If you'll take a seat, gentlemen. Your commanding officers told me to cover most of a culture in three days of lecture, so we'd best get started."

Hughes quickly found a seat, and settled in with an embarrassed clearing of his throat. "Heh. Sorry. I was caught up in work." The roll of soft chuckles from the other officers in the room betrayed him. Most of them had, at one time or another, been cornered by Maes Hughes crowing about his daughter.

Roy slipped in and took the seat next to him, smirking over his small victory.

Professor Durham nodded at the lieutenant by the door, and the auditorium lights dimmed. She flipped the switch on the film projector, and it clattered to life. The light within sputtered a few times, then flared brightly, casting images in black and white and multiple shades of silver dancing across the big screen on stage. "The southern Ishvarun tribes in Aerugo..."

As the professor narrated the film, Hughes leaned close to Roy and murmured, "Gracia packed maple-cooked ham for lunch. She made enough for you, too."

Roy shook his head. "Give her my apologies, Maes, but I'll have to pass today. I have a prior engagement."

Hughes’ face softened, and he lowered his voice another notch. "She doesn't even know you're there."

"Don't be so sure of that."

Hughes’ lips pulled down in a thoughtful frown, and he whispered, "After three years, maybe it's safe to--"

"Don't even suggest it, Hughes."

"She's not going to get better, Roy. You tested that the day we found her."

“That’s not the point.” Colonel Mustang ended the conversation by fixing his gaze firmly on the film projecting on the screen.
“You're going to have a special visitor today," a feminine voice said. Roy Mustang paused outside the open door of room 207 of the Shady Acres Convalescent Home.

"We need to take special care in making you look presentable," the pleasant voice went on. She was new since Roy’s last visit. Shady Acres had a deplorably inaccurate name but an excellent reputation, and Roy did what he could to see to it his ward was treated well, including ingratiating himself with the nurses. He leaned on the doorjamb in his best casually confident pose and watched the young nurse gently run the silver-plated boar's hair brush through the short copper hair of a girl. She sat silently with her hands in her lap next to the window.

Though the girl never responded, the woman kept up the cheerful prattle. "It looks like it'll rain today, and it's a little chilly. You should wear your sweater when you go outside for your walk. You wouldn't want to catch cold, now."

Roy allowed himself a moment’s small smile, then shifted the large stuffed rabbit and the bouquet of brightly colored flowers in his grasp. The paper around the long stems crinkled, announcing his presence. The nurse glanced his way and blushed. "Oh. Hello."

Roy took that as an invitation and entered the room. He nodded at the silent girl in the chair. "You talk to her."

The nurse smiled and returned to brushing the girl's hair. "The doctors say she doesn't know it, but I think she does."

Roy crossed the distance between the door and the girl in the chair, and knelt in front of her. Her blank green eyes continued to stare out the window at the heavy, grey sky. "Happy birthday, Rachel." He set the stuffed rabbit in her lap, taking her hands and placing them around the toy. He cupped his own hand over one of hers and moved it over the soft fur. "Do you feel that?" He let go and smiled as she continued to stroke the rabbit.

"Thank you," he said as he stood. "The other nurses don't talk to her like that.” He offered his hand to the nurse. “Roy Mustang."

"Ah-- Nancy Case. I’m pleased to meet you, sir," the nurse said as she took his hand and nodded at the bouquet. "Would you like me to put those in water?"

"Yes, please," he said as he passed her the flowers.

As the nurse went to the supply cabinet and took down a water pitcher, Roy took her place behind Rachel and picked up the brush. He gently stroked her hair, occasionally brushing the girl's pale cheek and forehead with his knuckles as he moved a curl or her bangs in the wake of the bristles.

"She likes that," the nurse said.

Roy paused and glanced over at her. "Pardon?"

The nurse gestured at his hand, now resting on Rachel's shoulder. "She likes to be touched. You can tell by the way she closes her eyes."

He gazed at the girl, and lightly brushed his knuckles over her cheek, then smiled as her eyes slid closed. "So she does." He faced the nurse again, but his hand remained on Rachel's cheek. "How is she doing?"

"I'm sure the doctor can give you all that information, sir."

Roy shook his head. "No, I want to know what you think. You spend more time with her."

Nancy Case hesitated.

Roy gave her his best encouraging smile. “I know you’re not licensed to give a diagnosis, but that’s not what I’m interested in.”

The girl blushed, then met Roy’s eyes with a smile that said she was as susceptible to his charm as most young women. "She seems to be much happier after she's had a visit. Especially if it's--" the nurse stopped herself. "Especially some of her other visitors," she continued. "They talk to her a lot, and they take her for walks when the weather is good. That’s how I know about her eyes, the-- her other visitors are always touching her: holding her hand, or brushing her hair, and she closes her eyes."

Roy nodded, then graced her with his most charmingly conspiratorial grin. "I'm aware that Madam Christmas and some of her girls come to visit Rachel. They're doing it at my request."

She stared for a long moment, then appeared to realize her mouth was hanging open and clamped it shut. "If... if you don't mind my asking, sir, but... who is Miss Smith to you? She doesn't look like family." Her eyes flicked from Roy’s straight dark hair and Eastern features to Rachel’s wavy red hair and freckled cheeks.

Roy came around the chair and knelt in front of the silent girl once more. "Rachel is... a friend." He reached up and brushed his fingers over the girl's cheek and murmured, "I'm sorry, Rachel, but I have to go. I'll come back when I can, okay?"

The girl continued to stare out the window, but her arms slowly pulled the stuffed rabbit tight against her chest. Roy's eyes widened, then he turned a questioning look at the nurse, who shook her head. "She responds more to familiar people, but I've never seen her do that before."

Roy got to his feet, taking a small notebook from inside his jacket pocket. He scribbled a note and tore out the page, offering it to the stunned nurse. "Please call this number and ask for Doctor Knox if she does anything else unusual..."

“...it’s not that unusual,” Jean Havoc said.

Riza’s elbow in Roy’s ribs was enough to make him realize he’d missed most of what his aide had said. “I’m sorry?”

“Long trip?” Jean chuckled. “I was just saying that it’s not all that unusual for a new Prime Minister to flex her muscles as soon as she takes office. Things should calm down as soon as she’s done rearranging the furniture and putting her friends and relatives in the cushy jobs.”

“She’s broken the treaty,” Mishyael responded.

“She hasn’t. Not technically,” Roy said. “She’s exploiting an ambiguity, though.”

”Would you like more wine, Zhoji?” Kezhiya asked Jean, quietly.

”No thanks,” Jean responded. ”Why don’t you relax and enjoy your dinner, Kezhi?”

“Then the treaty needs to be changed,” the yevarshedaht said flatly. “The Ishvarun pay land taxes, but they were given no vote in the elections and to their eyes, the ore they dig from the hills crosses the border for nothing, but comes back as tools at three times the price a man pays in Amestris.”

The baby started to fuss, and Roy heard Ysa, Mishyael’s wife, cooing to her softly. A dish was pushed away, then Jean murmured in Ishbalan, “Here, let me take her for a while.”

“You haven’t finished your dinner,” Ysa responded.

“And you haven’t had a chance to eat at all,” Jean scolded lightly. “I know women love babies, but share a little, okay?”

Ysa laughed, and handed her youngest over to Roy’s majordomo. “She just ate, so don’t bounce her too much.”

Down at the far end of the table, Mishyael and Ysa's four other children were talking quietly among themselves. The common tongue rolled rapidly and lyrically between them in a sing-song rhythm that Roy had only heard from Ishbalan children.

Zhevah burbled as Jean got her settled. He picked up the conversation in Amestrian without missing a beat. “At least half the price of those expensive tools is the shipping cost,” he said briskly. “A pack mule can’t carry anywhere near the load of a truck, and she can’t go very fast, either.”

“Let me put your plate in the basket to stay warm,” Kezhiya slipped in.

“Don’t worry about it, Ysa’s cooking’s almost as good cold as it is hot. And trust me, I’ve had a lot worse.”

”Kezhiya,” Ysa said gently, “Please stop. You’re not a servant, you’re a guest.”

”Yes, Jzhallei,” Kezhiya murmured.

“The price of tools is hardly the only complaint,” Mishyael said quietly. His fers clicked audibly as he spun one or the other of the sticks to put a different tool to use. “The Ishvarun were promised a road as far as Haringura Gyagi years ago, but the only road goes to the iron mine, and there are no refineries or foundries in the country.”

“Every time we try to survey a path for the road or choose a place for a refinery, someone goes to the Elders with an argument about either sacred land or grazing and water rights,” Roy said. He found the edge of the thick slab of bread beneath the extravagant lamb piled on top of the fresh vegetables, and took a bite, holding it with the cupped ends of the fers in his right hand. “As is usually the case, everyone wants the roads and the factories, so long as they’re built in someone else’s front yard.”

Havoc was making nonsense noises -- and knowing him probably encouraging Zhevah to grab his nose and ears.

“The tribes are reclaiming their lands,” Ysa commented. Amestrian was her first language, but long periods of disuse had left her with an Ishbalan accent and slight hesitation in her phrasing. “With those lands come the long-standing feuds over the territorial boundaries. You’re being used as a bargaining chip in those squabbles.”

“Great,” Havoc said. “So whatever we do, we’re the bad guys and someone grabs a gun and comes after us for siding with the guys in the next town and building a highway through their pastures.” He tickled Zhevah with some more meaningless syllables, and the infant giggled. Jean murmured, “I’m gonna get those toes. Nom-nom-nom.” The baby started to belly-laugh. Roy heard a muffled smack, and Jean grunted. ”Got your daddy’s kick, don’cha?” he said with a chuckle.

“In another year or two she’ll wrestle you to the floor, Jean,” Roy said mildly. He turned his attention back toward Mishyael. I hear some Ishbalans are rallying behind their old defender.” He lifted an eyebrow toward the yevarshedaht.

Zhevah let out an infant’s high, happy squeal, and Jean grunted again. “She’s definitely got her father’s legs,” he commented. The little girl then made a much less pleasant sound. “Whoa!” Jean exclaimed, laughing, “Good shot, kiddo.”

“Your shirt!” Kezhiya wailed, even as Ysa’s chair scraped back. “Hurry, go put on a new one so I can wash it before it’s ruined!”

“You stay put,” Havoc said firmly in Ishbalan. “I’ll go put on something clean and put this one in some water.”


“But me no buts. You’re a guest here, sweetie, not the chambermaid.”

“I warned you,” Ysa said to Jean, chuckling.

“It’s not the first time,” Jean said, as he backed away from the table. “Probably won’t be the last. Better her than Breda, at least.”

Zhevah burbled a bit, apparently unfazed by the commotion, as Ysa left to clean her up. Jean retreated to his bedroom for a clean shirt.

“I’d still like to know what happened in Mahas, Mishyael. I’ve had six separate sources tell me some pretty disturbing things,” Roy said in Amestrian.

“It was a disturbing negotiation,” Mishyael answered. “Holding the talks on holy ground may have seemed like a good idea to those who planned them, but in fact it only made the tensions worse. We are not to commit violence among the Spires, but no one trusted that your people would obey the same rules.”

“Well everyone knows better now,” Riza spoke up from beside Roy.

Mishyael paused as he took a bite of his dinner. “Unfortunately, the ones who drew their swords first were the mozhkarishki tribal leaders.”

“I thought they didn’t care to get involved at all,” Roy said. “They’ve rejected every offer and invitation we’ve made for the past fifteen years.”

“I heard three of the leaders from the nomadic tribes showed up,” Riza said, “including the yevarzherih. But why wasn’t it in the official report?”

“It’s the mozhkarishki way,” Mishyael said. “Our names are gifts from God and aren’t to be shared casually. Those of us who trade with foreigners make concessions, but the mozhkarishki don’t allow their names to be listed in any foreign records.”

“And ‘foreign’ to them means even the settled Ishvarun,” Ysa put in.

“That must make it hard for them to negotiate,” Riza commented.

“Usually when the mozhkarishki need representation, a jhastovar from one of the settled districts is selected to speak for the tribe. It is his name that will be part of the record,” Mishyael said. “It says something that the tribal leaders came to speak for themselves.”

“Unfortunately, we can’t do anything to benefit them, if we don’t know who they are, or how many of them are out there,” Roy said.

“That is the point, Roy Mustang,” Mishyael said. “They neither want, nor need Amestrian money and interference.”

“Those mountains are rich in ore, though. They could certainly benefit from that.”

“The mozhkarishki still live as Ishvarun did a thousand years ago. They are God’s chosen custodians of the holy lands, and they take that seriously.”

“Yes, but at what price?” Roy frowned.

“That depends on what you want and how soon you want it,” Havoc answered genially as he returned from his bedroom. “If it’s a really good cup of coffee, I know just the place and I’ll only charge you ten Cenz to show you how to get there. You want a trainload of really good coffee beans; give me a radio and a few days.”

“How about a pretty redhead with a Caledonian accent to order around my office?” Roy said lightly.

“Redhead, no problem. Caledonian accent -- I’ll need my fee up front to cover the cost of placing ads in a few dozen newspapers.” Jean paused, then went on with his mouth full. “Someone who’ll put up with you? Gimme a few years, I’ll have to find one young and train her up to it.” He was eating with his fingers. Jean never had mastered the art of using the traditional fers. Fingers, however, were acceptable in polite Ishbalan company, and Jean took full advantage of that... and a lot of napkins.

Ysa returned with Zhevah, and Mishyael said, “Let me have her, nayinha. Finish your dinner.” He settled his daughter in his lap, and murmured softly to her, “Take this, ’zizha, it’s sweet.”

“How drunk was Rebecca when she decided to marry you?” Roy asked Jean.

“Don’t know, I was pretty drunk myself,” Jean said cheerfully. “But at least I asked her myself instead of getting someone else to do it for me.”

“Not funny, Havoc.”

“Take the wine away from him, Kezhiya,” Riza said with a bit of reproachful humor in her tone. “If we let them go on like this none of us will get any sleep tonight.”

“Cruel. But I suppose we can switch to the stronger liquor a bit early,” Roy commented as he finished up his plate. “Rum or whiskey, Mishyael?”

“Do as you like, Roy Mustang, but I don’t intend to have a headache tomorrow morning.” The yevarshedaht sounded as if the very thought was making him ill.

Roy chuckled. “Suit yourself.” He got up and went to the sideboard.

Zhevah began to babble, then the slapping sound of infant hands drumming on an adult’s arm told Roy just what the baby was doing. She sounded pleased with herself, and her father didn’t chide her.

Roy smiled to himself, and instead of setting the bottles on the sideboard, he put them on a tray with the glasses and turned toward the table. “Riza, would you clear my place, please?”

“Oh boy,” Jean groaned with mock dismay. “And me without my raincoat.”

“Just for that smart remark, you get to go fetch the fruit and juice,” Roy retorted.

Havoc laughed. “Sure thing Boss,” he said as he wheeled back from the table then into the kitchen.

Roy shifted into Ishbalan. “I’m going to make myself a drink. I brought some special fruit juices to share, along with a few crates of fruit.”

The doors to the kitchen swung open a moment later, and Havoc returned. He opened up a basket, and Roy could smell the tart mixture of citrus and tropical fruit juices mingling with fresh strawberries, bananas and mangos. Ysa and the children made happy sounds as Jean set the rare treats on the table in front of Roy.

“If any of you would like a little something--” Roy took hold of the rum bottle “--speak up.” He gave the bottle an end-over-end toss to his other hand, and enjoyed the gasps and giggles as he fixed himself a Dublith Double Punch.

The children were duly impressed with Roy’s theatrical method of pouring even fruit juice. Mishyael contented himself with another glass of wine while Zhevah sat quietly in his lap and examined a strawberry. The talk wandered through innocuous topics, then trended back onto weightier matters.

“We’re still looking for the ones who vandalized your home,” Mishyael said heavily. “I walked the walls myself that night, but I heard nothing, and none of the watchmen noticed anything unusual.”

“From the looks of it there were at least two or three people in on it,” Jean said. “You can’t rip that much steel out with just one guy and a horse. You’d need a couple guys with big horse teams, or a whole lot of guys willing to pull on a block and tackle.” He’d had two Rush Valley Wrenches and sounded stone sober. “This wasn’t some bunch of angry drunks looking for something to tear up. This was organized.”

“It’s not the only one, either,” Riza said quietly. “There have been attacks on Amestrian homes and businesses all over Ishbal, and lately more and more assaults on people.”

“And most of the time the only description the victims can give is, ‘He was a big Ishbalan’,” Roy said ruefully.

“That’s why the Elders sent me south,” Mishyael said. He shifted into Amestrian and went on. “I carried the words of the Elders of Xerxes. They see what’s happening, and they gave me words to say to their brothers and sisters in the south.”

“And sending you added more punch to their point,” Jean said. “You had a whole country scared shitless, after all.”

“That man died fifteen years ago,” Mishyael growled.

“The rumour mill says he’s risen from the dead,” Roy countered.

“Fools start that nonsense every time there’s trouble in Ishvar,” Ysa said firmly. “The cowards want someone else to do the actual fighting, so they try to resurrect a man from an oversimplified and exaggerated story.”

“Yes, but not with this much conviction.” Roy paused, then changed tracks. He pitched his voice softer. “What happened, Mishyael? The reports conflict. Some of them say you killed an Amestrian soldier, others claim it was an Ishbalan.”

“I didn’t kill at all.” Mishyael hesitated. “The negotiations broke down. Miles and I and the local yevarshedaht were too badly outnumbered, and there would have been deaths. I-- I put a wall between the Amestrians and the Ishvarun before they could kill each other.” He took a deep swallow of his wine, then set his glass down on the table again. The entire table had gone silent, except for Zhevah’s cooing. The older children were obviously aware the adults were talking about something important. “The Elders have heard the story, and they chose the punishment for the breach.”

Roy nodded. “Miles said in his report that you acted only to prevent bloodshed.” He rubbed his chin. “If it would help, I can talk to the Elders about reducing your sentence. I’d rather not see you suffer some lengthy or humiliating punishment for saving the lives of my people.”

“This isn’t something to discuss in front of the children,” Ysa said chidingly. “The official dinner party is tomorrow. You can argue the treaty with the Elders and yevarshedaht, then.” She paused and tapped the table. “This is a night for old friends to catch up with each other.”

“I thought they didn’t understand Amestrian,” Havoc said. “Do you understand Amestrian?” he asked Zhevah. She squealed happily, and Jean responded, “Well pardon me. You’re a very smart baby, indeed.

“They don’t, but they understand when adults are talking over their heads. You should know that, Jean, you have children.” Ysa shifted into the common tongue. “How are they, by the way?”

“Growing like puppies, eating like horses, and running rings around their poor slow-witted dad in school.”

Roy picked up a barely-there scent of joss and mulberries to his left, and hesitated with his glass raised. His lips quirked as he mentally started counting down, five, four, three, two--

"So your little ones are taking after their clever mother!" said an overly cheerful voice with a strong Xingese accent. The baby gasped and started to whimper. Ysa blurted a curse in Ishbalan. Naomi and Jesu squeaked, and dishes and cups clattered as the twins jumped up. Roy obligingly let his wife shove him under the table and he heard Havoc murmur, “Get down.”

He jumped when something bumped against his knee, and Kezhiya whispered, “Sorry, Zhoji.”

Mishyael calmed the baby, then said in an exasperated tone, "When will you learn to use the door, Ling?"

"The big, scary guards wouldn't let me in!" the Xingese Emperor complained in a falsetto. He plucked something off the disordered table and ate it before going on. “They didn’t even look at me!

“Probably because you were up on the roof,” Roy said as he pulled himself out from among the table legs. “If you showed up at the gates dressed like the Xingese Emperor rather than a cat burglar, you could walk right in and sit down with us.”

Darius and Heinkel thundered in, and Roy knew their guns were drawn, in spite of the "no weapons" rule at an Ishbalan dinner table.

Naomi let out a strangled cry, then the table thumped twice as she and Jesu dove underneath. Two young voices cried out in challenge, and Zhevah squealed with delight.

There was some scuffling and a few grunts, then Darius spoke in a tone of utter disbelief, “You’re kidding, right?”

“I don’t think they are,” Heinkel responded. “Hey kid, why don’t you go attack the little guy who just sneaked in here?”

Nobody points a gun at my mom!” one of the twins declared with conviction. “Put down the gun and surrender, I’ve got you!”

Zhevah shouted a string of excited baby-babble, and enthusiastically slapped her father's bare arm. Mishyael sighed. “Please forgive my sons’ enthusiasm, gentlemen.” He used the Amestrian word in the midst of an Ishbalan sentence. “They have as yet not had many chances to test their training.”

“They’re not doin’ too bad,” Heinkel answered. “I’ve never had a little kid doing an impression of a glove on my arm before.”

“You’re supposed to get a broken arm and surrender!” the child told him indignantly.

“Take a few years and grow into that attitude, short stuff,” Heinkel advised him. Then he said to his partner, “Don’t hang him up like that for too long. All the blood’ll rush to his head and his brains’ll pop out through his ears.” This last was delivered with a near purr on the part of the blond body guard.

“What’re you gonna do with yours?” Darius asked as the twin he was holding made boyish threats and demands.

“I figure I’ll just let him wear himself out, then I’ll feed him to the snarks and boojums down in the basement. They haven’t eaten yet.”

The twins struggled with renewed energy... and vociferous commentary.

Baju”, Mishyael finally ordered. “You’ve imposed on the emissary’s men enough. Return to your seats.”

“Put me down, please?” a twin asked, meekly.

“Sure,” Darius said. “Allez... up!

“Whoa!” The boy hit the floor with his feet, and stumbled a few steps. “Dizzy now.”

“Sit down, then, Diyari,” the child’s mother said.

“Yes, Momma,” Diyari said, and shuffled back to his seat. His brother thumped to the floor a moment later, probably in one of the more unbelievable acrobatic stunts Ishbalan boys started learning almost as soon as they could walk.

"Sorry, Emissary," Heinkel said as he snapped the safety on his sidearm with an audible click and slipped it back into the shoulder holster hidden under his jacket, "We never even heard him."

Roy waved the apology off. "You know you wouldn't have. But stay alert, I have no doubt Ran Fan is lurking nearby. Just call up to the roof and invite her in."

“No need,” said another Xingese-accented voice from the staircase.

“I’m going to have to put the ungwaiyar through another round of nightwatch training,” Mishyael said matter-of-factly. “One missed intruder is a moment’s inattention. Two is carelessness.” He shifted in his seat, then his low rumble came from below the level of the table. ”You can come out, Kezhiya.”

“Carelessness or Xingese.” Jean’s grin rang clearly through his words. “Don’t go too hard on them, it’s not like anyone sees Ran Fan before she’s good and ready to be seen.”

“Where’s the fun in walking in the gate?” Ling said laughingly. “Oh, it’s Kezhiya! Good evening, my beautiful lady! Have you chosen yet? Which other suitors must I challenge for you?”

Kezhiya gasped and giggled. She could still be easily embarrassed by Ling’s harmless flirting.

Zhoji Jean,” Izyan answered promptly. “When she’s old enough she’s going to come live here and be a slave-wife to Zhoji Jean.”

Izyan!” the girl protested in horror.

“It’s true!” Diyari piped up. “She--”

Ye’en!” Mishyael bellowed. Zhevah whimpered again, and he softly shushed, quickly calming her.

Roy heard a sob, then running feet. “Riza--”

“On it.” She went after the distraught girl.

“I apologize for my sons’ behavior, Jean Havoc,” Mishyael said stiffly.

“They’re little kids,” Jean answered. “And I think Kezhiya’s the one they need to apologize to.”

“Yes, they do,” Ysa said, stern. Roy heard the boys shift uncomfortably.

“Perhaps I can offer a suggestion?” Ling said, his tone abruptly much lower and more measured.

“Please do, Your Majesty,” Roy replied in Xingese.

“Your accent is still appalling, Emissary,” the Emperor of Xing told him before shifting back into Ishbalan. “In my country, if the one accused is guilty, the victim or the victim’s family chooses the punishment. So perhaps Kezhiya will choose what the boys must do?”

“They are Ishbalan children,” Ran Fan said. “There is a punishment usually given to children, isn’t there? A maze in the temple courtyard?”

“The Sinner’s Path,” Mishyael stated. “Yes, but that teaches them nothing about why their words offended.”

“Maybe you could take away their favorite toys?” Jean suggested. “We can give them all to Princess Zhevah, huh?” he cooed. The baby squealed and Mishyael grunted softly. “Such a flirt,” Jean added.

“Or more than that,” Ysa said. “I think, since the boys believe Kezhiya is a servant girl, rather than their sister, perhaps they should try on her clothes.”

One of the twins yelped in wordless protest, then abruptly fell silent, probably at a parental glance.

“Try on...” Jean trailed off. “Oh, you mean-- wait. I’m not sure what you mean.”

“She’s talking about having the twins try on being servants,” Ling said.

“Now that’s something I wouldn’t have thought of,” Roy mused. “I’d be willing to take them for a day or two.”

“Three,” Mishyael rumbled. “As penitents serve for three days.”

“I’ll take one, you take the other, Roy,” Ling said more cheerfully. “I can always use another pair of running feet to fetch me this and that.”

“They still need to go to Temple in the morning, for their studies,” Ysa said.

“Of course,” Roy said.

“Their time will be shortened,” Mishyael added. “They will be expected to return to the consulates after their classes, and they will miss their nksun training.”

“But--” Diyari complained, then cut off abruptly.

“I can send Darius to pick them up,” Roy said, lightly. “Just to make sure they don’t get lost.”

“Done,” Mishyael said. “Do you understand what your punishment will be?” He asked the boys.

“Yes, Papa,” they answered in glum unison.

“Do you understand why you will serve the Emissary and the Emperor?”

“Yes, Papa.”

“But it’s still true,” Diyari muttered.

“Kezhiya cares about Jean Havoc,” Mishyael said in a severe tone, then quickly modulated it when Zhevah started to fuss again, “That does not mean she intends to destroy his marriage vows, and it is both false and cruel to suggest otherwise. You shamed your sister and Jean, embarrassed me and your mother, disrupted a dinner with old friends, and made fools of yourselves. Therefore you will spend three days as servants.”

“Three days,” Ysa murmured in Amestrian, with a hint of a waver.

“They will be safe, Beloved,” Mishyael said gently. “Frightened and lonely, as Kezhiya once was, but safe. And when they come home they’ll carry a valuable lesson with them.”

“Yes,” she answered faintly. She took a deep breath, then returned to Ishbalan. “Will you and Ran Fan sit and eat with us, Emperor?” She scooted plates along the tabletop. “There’s plenty.”

“I was hoping you’d ask!” Ling’s clothing rustled as he seated himself. “I haven’t had a bite since we left the imperial train.”

“Why didn’t you stay with the train?” Mishyael asked.

“Because I wanted to relive old times--”

“--and the locomotive broke an axle,” Ran Fan finished.
Riza found Kezhiya in the depths of the pony shed. Mayshi, the sturdy draft pony on loan for the convenience of the Amestrian Emissary and his staff, put her head over her stall door to investigate the movement as Riza carried her lantern past. Riza rubbed the animal’s  jaw, then slipped into the closet where the pony’s harness hung neatly awaiting use.

Kezhiya, with her embroidered green head wrap draped loosely around her shoulders, sat wedged between a feed storage trunk and the wall, with her face pressed to her knees and her shoulders shaking. Riza set the lantern down on the floor, then sank down beside it to wait.

“I want to go with you,” the girl finally choked out.

“You can ask Roy to bring it up with the Elders again,” Riza answered.

“I can sew,” Kezhiya said. “I’ve been working hard, and... and I can make fancy dresses like Amestrian ladies like.” She hiccuped and sniffled, then went on. “I can work for Zhoji Jean’s sister. She makes dresses too, and I can help.”

Riza hesitated, then sighed softly. “Kezhi, have you thought about it carefully?”

The girl looked up at her, her tear-stained face reminding Riza of that scared thirteen year-old child the Elders had put under the Emissary’s -- and by implicit extension the Amestrian army’s -- protection three years ago. Kezhiya swiped at her cheeks and straightened. “I--I wouldn’t try to be Zhoji Jeans slave-wife! I swear it.”

Riza smiled and tucked a lock of hair behind Kezhiya’s ear. The silver-white roots had reached past the girl’s shoulders now. She’d be trimming off the dark ends soon in the final act of leaving childhood behind. “I know that, Kezhi. So does Jean.” Her smile disappeared. “There isn’t a gentle way to put this, so I’ll just say it. There are still people in Amestris who don’t like Ishbalans. If the thoughtless words of two young children upset you this much, how can you stand against an adult who would use worse words... or threaten your life?”

Zhoji Jean and Roy can make them stop.”

“It’s not that easy,” Riza said, “And they can’t be there to protect you all the time.”

Kezhiya fingered her scarf, tracing a line of stitches that had repaired it after she’d been assaulted in the market almost three years ago. The mending was exquisite and difficult to see, unless you knew where to look. Riza was certain that those stitches, applied by Jean Havoc, were the reason the girl had chosen to become a seamstress. “I hate it here,” Kezhiya whispered. “The girls laugh at me, and the boys don’t... don’t like me.” She started to sob into her arms again, and Riza was hard-pressed to hear what the girl said next. “The men in the market s-say that if I c-claim an Amestrian tribe, I-I have to act like an... an Amestrian wo-woman. And then... then they o-offer me m-money to... to...” She broke down and cried openly.

This stilled Riza. “Have you told Mishyael?”

Kezhiya’s head snapped up and her eyes went wide as she frantically shook her head. “He’d get mad! And he’d-- he’d--” she broke off and shook her head again. “Please. Don’t tell him.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Kezhiya,” Riza said, rubbing the girl’s back. “Mishyael wouldn’t punish you, but he might have a talk with the men who are treating you badly.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

“I don’t understand.”

Zhoji will get mad at them.”

Dawn struck, and Riza couldn’t keep from smiling. “I’m sure that Mishyael can control his temper better than that.”

“But he did that at Saza’s Temple,” Kezhiya practically whispered, then she covered her mouth, as though saying it out loud would invoke the incident again.

Riza’s brows shot up. “You’ve been practicing.”

Kezhiya nodded. “I kept learning after you went back to Central City. I listen to the Amestrian traders in the market, and-- and reading the letters Jean’s family sends me.” She hung her head. “I wanted to be able to speak your language when I went to visit his family, someday.” Kezhiya sniffled. “Jean must hate me now.”

“I don’t think so. But let’s ask him.” Riza got up and offered the girl her hand.
Jean scrubbed at a serving dish, inspected it, then sighed and attacked a stubborn lump of something. The stack of dishes awaiting his attention didn’t seem to have shortened much.

At least the sink had survived the vandalism, and finding someone in Xerxes who could repair the pump-handle wasn’t difficult. The gas ovens, however, were probably a complete loss, and Jean Havoc was glad he hadn’t had a lit cigarette when he’d first opened the door. The original brick ovens and chimneys would have to be cleaned thoroughly before they could be safely used, but the pit in the courtyard was still functional. Two ungwaiyar were out there now, tending the whole lamb that would be the centerpiece of tomorrow’s ‘official’ dinner.

The kitchen door creaked softly, and Jean turned to see Riza step inside, followed by a tearstained and bedraggled Kezhiya.

“Well good evening, ladies,” Jean greeted them with a grin. “What can I get for you? Food? Music? A tame unicorn each?”

“One of these days I’m going to say yes to the unicorn, just to see how you would get a mythical animal,” Riza answered with a small smile.

“A good Jean-ie never reveals his secrets,” Jean quipped, glancing to Kezhiya’s face. The girl’s expression lightened a little. Jean gentled his tone. “You didn’t finish your dinner, sweetie. There’s a plate there on the table for you.”

“Oh.” The girl went and sat at the table, staring at the upended serving bowl placed over the plate and the clean fers atop a green napkin with the emissary’s seal. “Thank you.”

“Is Roy taking his bath?” Riza asked.

“Nope, he’s upstairs putting Diyari to bed.” Jean returned to the sink.

“Diyari?” Kezhiya said sharply.

“Yeah. Ling and Roy flipped a coin, and we got Diyari.” Jean glanced over his shoulder at the girl. “He’s with us for three days; sort of a live-in errand boy who doesn’t get to go to his ass-kicking classes. Izyan’s spending three days with Ling.”

“Whose idea was this?” Riza asked.

“Ysa’s. She said that since the twins seem to think Kezhiya’s some sort of servant, they should understand what that actually means.”

Kezhiya bit her lip. “I’m supposed to be their sister.”

“And you are,” Jean replied. “Trust me, brothers do that kind of dumb thing to sisters all the time.”

“Then your sisters turn you into a living mannequin and auction you off to the highest bidder,” Riza said lightly.

Jean grinned. “Luc out-cheated me. I’m so proud.” He turned to Kezhiya. “I taught him everything he knows about rigging the odds.”

Kezhiya offered a hesitant smile. “Your sisters didn’t really auction you...?”

“Wanna bet?” Jean stretched his back and flexed his shoulders, then struck an arrogantly relaxed pose, his eyes dancing. “I brought a very high price, you know. The ladies got into a pretty impressive bidding war.”

Kezhiya’s cheeks flushed bright red.

Jean.” Riza got up and took the dishrag from the counter, slapping the blond man lightly in the head with the damp fabric. “Your sister Katrin auctioned off your services as an embroiderer, with a few hours of your company thrown in for whoever would want it.”

“She put me in a red shirt and had me sitting on a pedestal trying to embroider a pegasus on ladies’ underwear while Ciel took bids on me.” Jean shook his head in mock dismay and plunged his hands back into the sink. “My own brother and sisters, auctioning me off without even giving me a cut.”

“It was a charity auction,” Riza told him with fond humor. Her manner changed. “Speaking of people coveting your attention: Kezhiya has something to ask you about.”

“Hm?” Jean turned to look over his shoulder. “What’s on your mind, honey?”

Kezhiya’s blush darkened still more.

Jean’s expression softened. “Is this about what Izyan said?”

Kezhiya ducked her head and nodded. “Do you hate me now?” Her voice came out high and choking.

“What?” Jean exchanged a glance with Riza, then dried his hands and eased over beside Kezhiya. “Hey, I think my stupid just kicked in. How do you get from a little kid making a dumb comment to me hating the girl who founded the Havoc tribe?”

Kezhiya sniffled. “I don’t want to be your slave-wife. I like you. You’re nice to me, and you’re funny.” She took a deep breath and went on, wavering a bit. “But it would be wrong.” She looked down at her plate, still untouched.

“Yeah... and it wouldn’t be fair to you, either.” Jean fished out an Amestrian-style handkerchief. “I’m a lot older than you are, for starters.” He offered her the hankie.

“I want to see your country,” Kezhiya said, drying her face. “Maybe there’s someone there...”

Jean waited, then when Kezhiya didn’t go on, he patted her arm. “Could be. I’ll get Roy to try again with the Elders. Now that the rail line is open it’ll be much easier and safer for you to come for a visit, and I know my mom would love to show you around Stonebridge and point out every place my brothers and I got into trouble.” He paused and looked into the distance for a moment. “That by itself could take days, and it’s not a big town.”

Kezhiya giggled weakly. By the time Roy came down from tucking Diyari into bed, Kezhiya was crying again -- but this time from laughter as Jean Havoc told one outrageous tale of his family and his childhood after another. Roy’s arrival only added more fuel to the fire.

The girl was exhausted but much happier when Heinkel finally escorted her home.
Ysa cooed softly to Zhevah as she changed the sleepy baby’s diaper and dressed her for the night. It didn’t take long for the infant to fall into a deep sleep while Ysa gently rocked her and sang a soft lullaby. Zhevah didn’t stir when Ysa laid her in the crib that sat at the end of the bed she shared with her husband, and tucked a blanket around the baby.

She climbed the stairs, and softly entered the room on the right. The full moon was shining through the thin curtains, casting a pale light across one bed with a small lump curled up under the covers. Across the room, the moonlight shone on the empty top bunk, highlighting the tangled blankets. The bottom bunk was cast in deep shadow, but Ysa was sure it was just as rumpled. She started toward the beds with the intention of straightening the covers, then stopped herself. Instead she went the other way, and settled on the edge of the single bed under the window. She gently brushed the hair off Jesu’s forehead, then leaned down and gave him a light kiss. His slow, even breathing never changed.

She located one of the twins’ satchels, and quietly packed enough clothes for three days for each of them. She started out of the room, paused, then returned to the bunk beds. She felt around on the indifferently made bottom bed, then found the leg of Diyari’s stuffed dog sticking up between the mattress and the wall. Puca was worn, missing half his fuzz and one eye, and had had each of his limbs stitched back on at least once, but Diyari would be miserable without him.

She held Puca up to her face, breathed in her son’s scent, then closed her eyes and nuzzled the battered, much-loved toy. With a deep, steadying breath, Ysa reached up to the top bunk to fish Izyan’s well-worn baby blanket out from under the quilt, then stuffed Puca and blanket into the satchel, tied it closed, and left the room.

She crossed the hall, and pushed open the door with a creak. Naomi was in bed, but she stirred at the sound.

Ysa set the satchel on the floor next to the wide bed Naomi shared with Kezhiya, and settled on the edge. She brushed a stray lock of hair out of her daughter’s eyes. “I thought you’d be sound asleep by now.”

Naomi yawned and shook her head, then frowned. “Why are some people so mean?”

“Your brothers aren’t deliberately mean. They’re still little and need to learn.”

“Izyan and Diyari are just bratty,” Naomi said. She stared out the window for a long moment, and Ysa started to lean down and plant a soft kiss on her daughter’s cheek, but paused when Naomi spoke again. Her voice was soft and low, and she didn’t look back at Ysa. “How did Papa get the scar on his face?”

Ysa sat up, took a deep breath, and brushed her hand lightly across her daughter’s cheek. “That’s not my story to tell, minya. You should ask your father.”

“Did he have it when you married him?” There was something tense and frightened in Naomi’s question.

“Yes, he did,” Ysa answered quietly. “The rest is his to tell you, but for now, you need to sleep." She got up and smiled reassuringly at her daughter. “You’re going to have a tough time waking up in the morning.”

Naomi yawned again, nodded, and rolled over. “‘Night, Momma.”

“Sleep well, sweetheart.” Ysa padded out of the room and down the stairs with the satchel for the twins. A light rap on the front door alerted her before she’d reached the bottom step.

She opened the door, and saw Kezhiya first. “Hello, Kezhi. You look flushed. Did Jean play his fiddle and ask you to dance again?” she asked, lightly.

Kezhiya started to giggle, then covered her mouth. Ysa exchanged a glance with Heinkel, the big blond body guard who’d escorted the girl home, and he whuffed softly.

Kezhiya crossed the threshold and Ysa wrapped her in a hug. “I apologize for the boys, Kezhi.” She held out the satchel for Heinkel to take. The body guard took it, and nodded to her. As he started to leave, Ysa said, “Oh, the stuffed dog is Diyari’s, and the blanket is Izyan's.”

“I’ll make sure they get them.”

Ysa let go of Kezhiya, and murmured softly, “Go on to bed, sweetheart.”

“Yes, Jzhallei,” the girl said, then headed up the stairs.

“How are the boys?” Ysa asked Heinkel.

The large man hesitated, sympathy in the pull of his lips and the softening of his gaze. “They’re settled in for the night, Ma’am. But they cried a little.”

Ysa’s heart lurched and her eyes stung. “Oh dear.”

“I can bring them home...”

Ysa shook her head. “No. No, they’re safe. This is a hard lesson, but they need to learn that their actions have consequences.” She gave him a weak smile. “I’ll survive three days.”

Heinkel nodded, then took his leave. Ysa closed the door and leaned against it as she wiped her eyes and took several deep, steadying breaths before passing through the kitchen and out the back door in search of her husband.

Ysa found Mishyael at the back wall of the garden, gazing up at the full moon. As she joined him, he draped an arm around her shoulders. She gazed up at her husband’s face. In contrast to the sharp edged shadows and the monochromatic silver of the ruins below, his expression was open and his body relaxed. Even the scarring on his face had softened around the edges in the cool light of the moon.

She snuggled in close, wrapped her arms around his waist, and pressed her ear against his chest. His heart thrummed slow and strong and soothing. He held her close, his thumb stroking her shoulder.

“Heinkel brought Kezhi home,” she said, after a while. “He said the boys were settled in--” her voice grew husky and choked. “They cried.” Ysa tried to hide a sniffle.

Mishayel’s arm tightened on her shoulders. “You’re a good mother, nayinha. And the boys will be fine.”

Ysa sighed, and sniffled again. “I know, nyeri. And they’ll probably forget their family in all the fun they’ll have.” She leaned back and gazed up at her husband. “You know they’re going to, even if they work.”

Mishyael’s expression lightened. “Yes, but when they go to bed, they’ll think about how lonely they are, and they will remember how Kezhi felt when she first came to live with us.” He frowned and gazed directly at her. “Would you rather I had argued for only one day? If you’d have spoken up--”

“No, it’s fine.” Ysa sighed and shook her head. “It’s just... none of the children has been away from home overnight since they were born.” She leaned into her husband’s solid form. “I think I’ll miss them more than they’ll probably miss us.”

Mishyael hugged her close and kissed her softly on her temple. “And the other children?”

“Kezhi has recovered from her humiliation. Jesu was asleep before he finished climbing the stairs. Naomi was still wound up about the day. She’s going to be tough to wake up in the morning... and Zhevah got so worn out playing with Jean that she’ll sleep through the night.” Ysa slid her palms up her husband’s broad chest. Her head tilted a little as she gazed at him through her lashes.

Mishyael’s brow rose. He gently lifted her long, thick braid, then let it snake through his palm until he found the shard that hung at the end of the string of pearls. He thumbed the shell and murmured, “May I take down your hair, Beloved?”

NOTE: For the definitions of Ishvarun words used in this chapter, please go to our Ishvaran Glossary

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