This is Issue #58 of DeathWatch, Book II: tentatively called Heart Of Ilona, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find DeathWatch, the first in the series, or start from the beginning of Book II!
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Coryphaeus opened his eyes, wet with tears, and looked over the doll. It had been repaired, good as new. He marveled at its little clothes, laughing to himself at its stitched smile. He brought it to his face and breathed it in. “It smells of my mother’s perfume,” he said quietly, running a thumb over the stitching that sewed back together the doll’s body. He looked at Jules, saying urgently, “I need my mother.”
She stepped back, away from the door, out of his way, uncertain as to how he wanted her to proceed. Turned out, that was all he needed. Once she stepped to the side, he bolted.
A moment later, Nixus looked in, and saw Jules alone. “…where is my brother?”
Jules bowed her head and murmured meekly. “The Legatus has left to see the lady of the house.”
Nixus stared for a long moment, absorbing the way Jules behaved, here in her family house. She did not smile, but finally nodded. “Good. Wait here.”
Jules nodded in return, and did just that.
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It was hard not to run; Coryphaeus hurried through the house until he reached the main hall, and then turned to go toward the room he remembered as his belonging to his parents. Guards stood outside the door — this, he was used to. He knocked at the door without addressing them, but no answer was forthcoming. He did not see the looks they gave one another as he knocked once more, and then simply tried the handle. The door was open, and he let himself in — the guards watched, but did not stop him.
Rather than the warm smell of his mother’s incense and perfumes, he was assaulted by the thick tang of aetheris, and the sharp tastes of copper and iron. Coryphaeus said nothing, but shut the door behind himself and looked around, taking in the changes. This was no longer his parents’ room — this room belonged solely to his father.
His father — who was dead.
He moved through the antechamber and into what was clearly his father’s study. On the vidscreen, a playback was paused; he saw himself kneeling before Immanis, offering himself up to the man, begging for death or forgiveness. He nearly walked past the desk to get closer to it, but as he came around the side of it, he saw the great swath of red that had yet been cleaned up. He stared at the crimson in astonishment. He’d seen blood on battlefields, but this was one man.
This was his father.
He tentatively reached out a hand, fingers going for the dried stain of it, and then laid his hand right atop the once-sticky puddle, felt the way it flaked and scaled beneath his fingertips. He pulled his hand away and retreated immediately, leaving the room, his heart in his throat.
He pulled the door shut behind himself, and left the wing immediately, boots clacking on the marble floor as he went back to the receiving hall. He stopped a servant and bade the woman take him to his mother immediately. She nodded and led him to the wing he’d originally thought of as the guest wing, but he could see had been remodeled, made more elegant. The servant led him to a set of great doors, and then scurried away. He knocked, and as the sound of it echoed down the marble hall and back, he felt suddenly small.
“Introeo,” she called.
He opened the door and walked inside, then pulled it shut after himself. When he turned around, he took a breath to steady himself, and was overwhelmed with the warm, sweet scents that filled the room. “Matri?” he wondered.
“Sum en fenestra ad textrinum,” she called.
He went back to the windows, where she sat at a loom, weaving a tapestry.
The back of the loom was to him; he only saw the edge of her hair, her robes, her arm, working. She stopped her weaving, and moved to get up, to come around from her working, and greet him.
He watched her walk toward him, her dark eyes taking him in, as he did her. They stood for a time, facing one another, gauging the moment, and he marveled at both her age and beauty, at the fine lines around her eyes, the way there was a heaviness to her expression, and yet such warmth. Was she smiling? He found he wasn’t certain, because his own eyes were blurring, running with tears.
“Matri, paenitent mei,” he said, the words coming in a rush as he dropped to his knees at her feet, bowing his head. “Ego sum tuus maximus infelicimus filius.” I am your unhappiest son.
She stepped close, and he felt her warmth as she reached down. For a moment, he thought she might take his hand — instead, she gently pulled Poppa from his fingers. “Te videtes, filius meus?” she said quietly.
He looked up, and saw that she was displaying Poppa too him carefully, showing the stitches, so measured, so carefully done. The thread was a rosy gold against the deep tan of the skin, a vibrant contrast, rather than something made to be invisible.
“Cicatrices sunt videri,” she said. Scars are meant to be seen. “Et hic,” she added, turning the doll so that he could see the way the uniform had been remade — not with the symbol of Mirus’s command, but with his own. The doll had been mended and made whole, and had been lovingly decorates with his own insignia. “Noli esse tristis, filius meus,” she said. “Est laeta dies.” Her words were a whisper, meant only for him. Do not be sad, my son. It is a day of joy. He looked up at her, and her eyes shone as his did, full of wonder, full of tears. “Filius meus,” she said, lifting her chin and nodding, reaching to cup his cheek. “Quod pulchrum ut pulchra soror eius.” My son. As beautiful as his beautiful sister.
Coryphaeus stood, then, and was folded into his mother’s loving embrace. He tucked his head against her shoulder, and let himself be held.
It was a wonder to be home.
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