They had been pretending, desperately, almost aggressively, that everything was the same as it had been, that nothing had changed. It had lasted them several weeks, and Ambrus could tell that his mistress would be willing to maintain the fiction indefinitely. He, however, was growing increasingly uncomfortable, balancing the desires to please her, to be good, to not make waves, with his anger and frustration, anger that just kept growing the longer he tired to ignore it.
He served dinner Tuesday night, as he did every night, as if everything was the same. He’d been serving her dinner since 1979, after all, and doing so on a nightly basis since the mid-eighties.
“This is delicious, Ambrus,” Regine murmured over the soup. He swallowed the bond-push wash of happiness that still came with any faint praise from her.
“Thank you,” he replied, because that’s what you said to complements, even if they were thin, even if you were angry. He couldn’t bring himself to eat, though; it tasted like ashes in his mouth.
“Are you not hungry?” she asked, more a scolding for his sullenness, he was sure, than genuine concern. He opened his mouth to give her a polite half-truth.
“I’m pissed,” he said, instead, and closed his mouth, wondering where that had come from. Well, he was pissed. But still.
“Angry?” She nodded, and set down her own spoon. “You have cause to be, I believe.”
That startled him, but he recovered quickly. “Not at Manira.”
“I didn’t imagine you were still angry at her. You’ve had a chance to punish her.”
There was a question there; she hadn’t asked what he’d done to the girl, and he hadn’t volunteered the information. But she wasn’t asking directly, and he was angry enough to refuse to be redirected.
“My daughters,” he said, biting the word off.
“Yes,” she agreed, sounding tired. “I imagined that was what you were angry about.”
He glared at her. She was acting too calm for his tastes; she always acted calm, of course, but he wanted her to care that he was angry. He wanted it to mean something to her.
“You could have just taken the memories away again, if you didn’t want me to be angry,” he snapped. “Just have Reid run an eraser through my head again. Make me compliant.”
“I could,” she agreed. “It wouldn’t be good for you, in the long run, after what that woman did to you.” The vehemence in her voice at that woman startled him every time, in such stark contrast to her still-water calm.
“Would you rather that?” he asked, finding himself hedging around his own anger in avoidance of hers. “If you could just make me what I was a month ago?”
She hesitated before answering, leaving him wondering if he’d crossed a line. It had been a long time since he’d pushed her too far, since she’d felt the need to punish him.
“It would be easier,” she said slowly, “because, unchanging, you were very predictable. I knew I could rely on you to be the same from day to day.” He cringed, fighting the urge to bow down on the floor and apologize for not being reliable, but she was still talking. “But it’s been pointed out to me that people, at least, other people, grow and change, and that I would be doing you a disservice to keep you static.”
“I’m yours,” he said quietly. “You can do what you want with me.”
“Yes,” she agreed, “but, as was also recently pointed out, ‘can’ and ‘should’ are what separate the Children of the Law from the Oathbreakers. Have out with it, Ambrus. You’re angry with me; I give you permission to ‘let me have it.’”
He blinked at her, momentarily too stunned to process either the order or the authorization. Then training and residual anger kicked in, and the words poured out of him.
“My daughters,” he growled. “You took them from me – don’t tell me their mothers did that, you took the memory of them away. How many do I have? There’s still holes there; I can see the sons, but there’s walls around most of the girls. Why?” He stopped, feeling cold. “Oh, gods. I know why.”
She nodded slowly. “Yes. You know why, although the circumstances have not yet presented an opportunity for such; perhaps now, they won’t ever. As of this June, you had twenty children, eleven of them daughters.”
Eleven daughters. Twenty children. There were more holes in his mind than he’d known. “I want to meet them all.”
Copyright © 2009-2011 Lyn Thorne-Alder with Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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