They walked through the sitting room. Aderyn’s cheeks were still hot but she tried to push away her frustration and irritation. Her mother never changed. Her children were assets or liabilities, just like good soldiers to her father’s fleet. If one was not pulling their weight, they were reprimanded or discarded. She needed to be strong.
“I have secured us a place next to the Nevans, a minor House with only a single world to their name, but growing wealthier. They’ve discovered two Jump Nodes in their system that lead directly to Orion. I’m sure Lord Kellen will move quickly to secure them, so an alliance with Nevan would mean an alliance with the Orions. You understand, of course.”
It was not a question. Aderyn did not say yes or no. She was not expected to answer, but to merely understand. Marry a Nevan and we gain a connection to the Orions. Simple enough. Or it would be, for a full Blooded.
They crossed through the sitting room and into the observatory. Showcasing an enormous bubble viewing window, the observatory was a great round room made for sitting and watching the grandness of space. Aderyn saw ships docking with the Starkeep. Some were merchant ships, but most were warships. Carracks and cruisers and destroyers. In the distance, she even saw a massive carrier. Father’s flagship has arrived.
“Mother,” Aderyn began, speaking tentatively. “I thought the war would be made on the Querra homeworld? Why has father called the fleet?”
“Hm?” Her mother sat on one of the long, arching benches that hugged the observatory’s bubble window. She glanced outside and then waved a hand dismissively. “Your brothers wished to fly down. It will make a great spectacle for the Querra House and impress our liege lord as well. Honestly daughter, I sometimes wonder if you are as slow as you are late.”
Aderyn turned away, determined not to say another word. While angry, she knew that was simply mother’s way. If Aderyn asked why she said such painful words, her mother would be confused, not understanding why she was upset. Several minutes passed in silence before she spoke up, a question unable to be contained.
“Why are we waiting here mother? Shouldn’t we be going to the ship too?”
Her mother did not answer right away, but sat staring out at the carrier ship. Her gray eyes seemed far away, a slight frown pinching the corners of her mouth. Is she troubled? Aderyn wondered.
“Mm? No, we shall be going in the transport ship. Sir Loran will pilot, as always. We best make for the docking chamber.” Her mother stood and Aderyn rose after her, frowning. Something felt out of place, but she had no idea what it could be. Just when she was about to ask again, her mother turned and regarded her with a serious expression. Those gray eyes were cold and hard. They made Aderyn feel five years old and stripped naked.
“This will be your first war. I’ve not allowed you to see others but I’m afraid that your unwillingness to Spark has forced me to take you out in public regardless. You must be perfect. Despite our best gene therapy you did not turn out as beautiful as you should have so you will have to be charming.”
Each word felt like a nail being hammered into her heart. They stung and she struggled to remain composed. Crying now would make her mother exasperated and there was no telling how badly that would go. She swallowed her pain, forced it way down inside with the shame of her Null-Blood and kept her face smooth and stoic. Perhaps if she showed poise, her mother would at least be proud of that.
“Do you know why I impress this upon you?”
“Yes, mother. Because I am a Null.”
Her mother looked sharply to the door and then back. “Do not say that so loud. It’s bad enough you must cover your back without announcing to those who can’t see you.” Aderyn refrained from mentioning that everyone in the Starkeep was well aware of her condition by now, but simply looked down in mock shame. “I’m sorry mother, please tell me.”
“I know about your… interest in the Groundlings. I have heard you asking about them to your brothers and don’t think I’ve forgotten that ridiculous request for a Groundling maid. Horror! Now listen to me. This war is important to us and to you. So I do not want to see you cringing or protesting when Groundlings are killed. This is a war. That is what they are for. Do you understand?”
The shame was hard to hide now. Her face colored, deepening crimson at her cheeks and neck. Until that moment, Aderyn had not wanted to think about that part. She’d also hoped that her mother would have forgotten about the maid request. So many are going to die… well, perhaps not so many this time? Perhaps it will be a short war. With this thought bolstering her, she raised her head and nodded.
“I do, mother. I will not shame you.”
Without another word, her mother swept out of the room, white and yellow skirts swishing. Her bodice opened wide in the back, a scoop that dipped just below the small of her back. Plainly visible, her Spark brand glowed bright white. It was so bright that she could have lit up an entire room with it. Aderyn touched her own back, felt the smooth skin and closed her eyes. You must be perfect. The words nearly made her laugh. Nothing would ever be perfect in the eyes of Lyana Medani.
“Must I wait so long?”
I’m sorry, she thought before opening her eyes. “I’m coming mother.” And then, she went to join her in the hall toward the docking quarters.