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Forgiveness Ceremony

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 would come.

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, T'Vine."

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 Elder."

"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 with T'Oak.

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 satisfaction.


"We are now an integral part of Celta. They will never forget us or underestimate us again."

"Also true."

Ship seemed to sigh. "We have achieved our goals."


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