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From the window in his quarters, Ruis watched the line
of penitent robed Noble Council wend its way through Landing
Park and toward Nuada's Sword. A small boy of about six
dressed in his House colors of shaded greens, the new
T'Vine, led the couples. A dark purple-clad T'Blackthorn
strode at the end of the line. Ruis's heart sank. Those
were the only two dressed as usual. He'd hoped that Ailim
In saving the nobles lives at the expense of his own,
he'd redeemed himself before all of Celta except
Ailim D'SiliverFir. The trial ground into him his lack
of trust in her. Even in deep dishonor, she had still
been able to clear his name.
The bright autumn day dimmed a bit.
He'd asked the to nobles meet him at the South portal,
where the airlock led to the largest omnivator. He had
a surprise for them.
He swallowed his last sip of coffee, adjusted his new
Captain's uniform, and went down to the portal.
A few moments later, the first of the couples -- T'Birch
and D'Birch -- shifted uneasily outside the door. Ruis
loosened his muscles, sucked in a deep breath, and hit
the "open" knob.
The huge iris door slowly enlarged with a quiet hiss.
The Birches stumbled back, causing the nobles behind
them, the Alders, to weave. The whole bunch of the FirstFamilies
wavered, then steadied.
Ruis suppressed his smile. Coming to beg his pardon was
hard enough on their pride, let alone being found nervous
and clumsy, especially since the whole thing was on Live
Scry for all of Celta to watch.
"Merry meet," Ruis said, smiling wide.
T'Birch looked pallid, his wife had spots of red color
in her cheeks.
"Merry meet!" piped the small boy, T'Vine.
He held a jeweled staff a couple of feet taller than himself.
Ruis held out his hand, the boy put his in it, then shock
changed the color of his eyes from green to green-blue.
"Fab!" T'Vine said. "You really do cut
the Flair, don't you?"
Ruis inclined his head. "A pleasure to meet you,
The boy thrust out his chest. "That's me."
"I respected your GreatMother'sMother highly."
The boy's face crumpled, he sniffed and stood straighter.
"She's on the Wheel of Stars." He pulled his
hand from Ruis's and peered around him. "Are we going
in? I thought everybody would kneel right here for you."
Ruis noticed most of the nobles shivered in the cold
and biting wind since their weathershelds vanished in
his presence. Massive D'Saille had Family houseguards
helping her stand. She must have had some sort of locomotion
spell in place. T'Ash sheltered his wife close to his
side beneath his arm.
Ruis's aunt Calami, who should have been at the last
of the line as D'Elder, stood with her brother, T'Reed.
Her lips showed a blue tinge.
Ruis walked to one side of the portal and gestured them
in. "Come in."
"We weren't notified that we would have to go inside
the Ship!" complained T'Birch.
T'Blackthorn raised his voice to be heard over the crisp
breeze. "I believe that the Judges Panel's orders
wished for a Live Scry of all events, the walk from the
GuildHall, the kneeling and request for forgiveness, and
later the Purification Ritual."
"I want to go in," said T'Vine.
Ruis matched gazes with T'Blackthorn. "Every noble
house and all representatives of the GuildCouncil should
have received a report on the functionality of Nuada's
Sword, and an explanation that the problem with sonics
that plagued visitors has been long since corrected. I've
also been sending articles to the newsheets. Furthermore,
the Ship has technology that matches your scry stones,
called cams. They'll project live holos of all events."
He waved to several small spheres that bobbed above him.
T'Blackthorn stared at the little machines.
"Fab!" T'Vine said.
T'Blackthorn nodded. "In that case, GreatLord T'Vine,
I agree that we can enter."
"Good!" said the boy. "Let's go."
Samba took that moment to rub against the youngsters
legs. He jumped. Ruis smiled.
Let's go play! she said quite distinctly.
T'Vine giggled. The Birches looked sour.
Ruis led the group through the airlock and into the omnivator.
During their trip through the Ship, the crowd shifted
and shuffled and whispered uneasily. Then the doors opened
and the Great Greensward lay before them. Heady scents
of a full Earth summer wafted in, overcoming the metallic
smell of the omnivator. A gasp rose from the nobles.
Ruis turned his back to them and let himself grin. He,
the garden robots, and the Ship itself had worked hard
to put this portion of the Greensward in shape to dazzle
the nobles. They cherished their planet and their plants
and their names. Time to show them that Nuada's Sword
wasn't solely the big mechanical behemoth they viewed
on the horizon.
After a short path between bushes, Ruis stopped in the
middle of the circle of trees. The circle of trees, each
small section of the soil and environment regulated for
the maximum benefit of the trees.
"Welcome to the Great Greensward of Nuada's Sword.
The trees around you are those you take your names from."
Ruis knew a few of them had not survived transplanting
to Celtan soil. He swept his hand in a wide gesture. "Birch,
Rowan, Alder, Willow . . . ." he named them all.
Another sigh of awe escaped the nobles. Ruis treasured
the wonder on their faces.
"The Ship and I will be offering Earth herbs and
plants for sale shortly, all profits to benefit the upkeep
of the Ship and for my own NobleGilt."
T'Ash eyed him. "Everyone on Celta pays a tithe
for upkeep of the Ship already."
Ruis frowned. "Paid grudgingly and barely enough
to keep the museum rooms open, with most of the gilt going
to those who collect and account for it, not the Ship
itself." He waved a hand. "The Ship and I will
be self-supporting. We have DNA samples for ALL Earth
species, plant and animal. After the ceremony, there are
refreshments from ancient Earth recipes for you to try."
Ruis had sampled everything before allowing Ship to put
it on the menu.
Quiet blanketed the group.
"What about space?" asked young T'Vine.
"I doubt the Ship will ever fly in space again,"
he said, "but it has dagger ships that are functional
and can explore our local system."
Blank shock appeared on most faces.
"You nobles didn't know what you had left to rot
and molder, what you didn't appreciate, what knowledge
and power you denigrated."
T'Blackthorn's gaze sharpened. "Knowledge....I'd
pay a lot for information that would end my Family's curse."
"Let's do this forgiveness thing," T'Ash said.
"And get on with our lives."
His HeartMate slipped her arms around him, but sent Ruis
a lovely smile. "Our very much enriched lives, with
you and Nuada's Sword."
To Ruis' surprise, he didn't gloat as much as he thought
he would when each noble knelt and asked his forgiveness.
Oh, it was sweet to hear D'Birch's faltering vows, but
her gaze told him that she still despised him. That she
resented being forced to this humiliation. Ruis merely
smiled at her with all his teeth and mentally added 300
per cent to the cost of any goods to T'Birch.
T'Oak was another matter. When the big man sank to his
knees, he held out his hands. Startled, Ruis put his own
into them. "I have additional faults. My g'niece
was your mother. I did not watch over your welfare as
I should have. Forgive me for that, too, young Captain
"Ah, yeah," Ruis said.
The older man rose slowly and brushed off his robe, but
kept his gaze locked on Ruis. "Your perseverance
and your honor have made me proud. Your father and mother
would also have been proud of you."
Ruis felt heat at the back of his neck and could only
think of the time when he'd lost his Ailim, when he'd
been full of rage and vengeance against his uncle Bucus
that he wanted to kill the man with his own hands and
damn any consequences. But he said nothing and T'Oak walked
away to look at his tree.
Calami was the last. Ruis took her trembling hands in
hers, also, but her faint whispered words didn't reach
his ears, even when he bent over. When she lifted her
face, her lips moved and her eyes filled with tears, and
he knew she was reciting a long list of how she felt she'd
wronged him, with "I betrayed my vows," coming
every third sentence. Finally he raised her to her feet
and put an arm around her, amazed at how easily the gesture
came to him. He put a finger to her lips. "That's
enough, Calami. It's over with and done."
She took several shaky breaths. "The Elder family
is the thirteenth month, the last GreatHouse . . . the
end in the beginning and the beginning in the end . .
Ruis kept his sigh from escaping. "Yes."
"You know your youngest second cousin, Aurea, has
been named D'Elder," she said.
"I heard that."
"Of those that never swore allegiance to you and
betrayed their vows, she tested the highest for Flair
with T'Ash's stones. Flair for rebuilding, a new beginning."
Ruis felt at a loss. He hadn't wanted the estate itself
since he was a child. Now his whole future was bound with
the Ship. "That's good."
"I think so. She isn't taking the name of 'Ruis'
out of respect for you."
He started. Maybe he'd make a point of meeting Aurea.
Calami's lips trembled. "Bucus was a bad man. I
never stood up to him, not for myself or for you, or anyone
else." Her shoulders slumped.
Ruis licked dry lips. "You lived. You survived.
Sometimes that's a triumph in itself."
She blinked rapidly, pulled a handkerchief from sleeve
and wiped her eyes. "If he'd been banished, I don't
think he'd have been able to survive. Not like you and
I did. And flourish, like you."
"I don't think so either."
Calami blew her nose, hugged him back, and folded the
handkerchief back into a sleeve pocket. "I have a
little influence with my brother." Her smile was
grim. "I know all his secrets." She glanced
up at him. "I'll make sure that he approves the loan
for the SilverFirs and helps them keep their estate and
grow their riches. We can't make up our mistakes with
you, you've managed well for that. But we can help the
SilverFirs, and you'd like that, wouldn't you?"
"Yes," his stomach clenched at the name. What
he wanted the most was for Ailim to be happy.
"Good." She patted his arm and drifted away.
A few moments later Samba, as hostess, led the nobles
back through the Ship. They'd begun to look strained and
twitchy without access to their Flair.
Ruis took some of the leftover food and went to a table
and chair to lounge. "Screen!" he called.
A squat robot came and sat in front of him. Its large
visor darkened then flashed the scene of the nobles leaving
the Ship. As they stepped into the sunlight, a blue aura
hit each one -- their Flair and spells were back in force.
They walked easily, and almost with each step they seemed
to don their old arrogance. Ruis hoped that it was a bit
less than before, that most of them were a bit wiser.
He wondered idly what sort of relationship he could develop
The little parade walked to GreatCircle Temple and Ruis
rose, edgy. He let robots take his plate and goblet, and
clean up the last of the feast, tidy up the clearing.
But he tromped through the greensward.
At one point of his wanderings, he came to a spot where
gray ship-wall showed through the underbrush. He pounded
at it affectionately.
"We did very well today," Ship's tones oozed
"We are now an integral part of Celta. They will
never forget us or underestimate us again."
Ship seemed to sigh. "We have achieved our goals."