The next sol, in the middle of the afternoon, Sahnassa was addressing some site feedback when her TransNet mail pinged.
Greetings! I hope this message finds you well. Your next moon counseling session is scheduled for the fifth at 22:30 at the same location as before, if that continues to serve. That said, our matriarch has been considering what you shared with me and feels like it would be valuable for a direct and private discussion to take place to review the issues you brought to my attention. Your good judgment, especially evident as of late and proven by successful result, means that even our new dame has unreservedly approved this audience with the Grand Matriarch (tomorrow evening at 24:00 in the Matriarch’s Keep, you are joining her for dinner). Our new dame, of course, looks forward to meeting such an extraordinary young Nephti and learning about you and your life. I have also seen evidence of the dues correction we spoke of, and I have ensured family finance does not misinterpret this situation.
Honor to you, Sahnassa, and thanks from your family.
Astalla, Matron of house de Orturu
Vanarra looked over Sahni’s shoulder and read the message after being called into the Nephti’s office. “Meeting with the matriarch? Everything okay?” she asked, worried.
“Very okay! The bit about my good judgment and the successful result – without question, that means that de Fantar’s matriarch has her little golden ball back. I think we’re clear of it.”
Van just shook her head. “I know the jewelry they wear is important to them, but I never thought that I or anyone else might actually die because of finding a bit of it. Thanks again, Sahni. I was just—“
“Someone’s out front, I think,” Sahnassa whispered back, and Van nodded. As she started walking towards the door, the Nephti joined her. As they made it to the front, Mauft had just asked the visitor to sit down. “Merriana de Fantar, no … de Orturu as I recall,” Van greeted her warmly, ducking her eyes in respect. “It’s good to see you. I’m hoping everything went alright? Shouldn’t you two be off enjoying yourselves or something?”
The shy light purple Nephti looked up at them through her indigo eyes and offered, “If I may have a moment, please, privately?”
“Sure, kit, sure,” Van replied, stepping out of the way and motioning down the hall. “First door on your right.” The Nephti nodded in recognition, as she’d already been to Celebrations by Vanarra several times before the joining. When she entered the room, she sat down on the couch, fidgeting a little.
“I would ask you to please close the door.”
Van nodded and asked, “Can Sahni stay or do you need for it to just be me?”
“According to reports,” Merriana told them, “I believe she should be here with you.”
That made the pair of friends look at each other, and Sahni took her seat on the other side of the couch, angled towards the other Nephti, and Van sat at her desk. “Okay,” Van said, a bit uneasily, “what can we help you with?”
“There are things we shouldn’t talk about, we’re not allowed to, with those outside of our house, but now that I am de Orturu, as well as de Fantar by birth, her presence here allows me to do this.” She nodded and smiled at Sahnassa who smiled back. “Someone gave us a gift, a very special gift, and we didn’t know who it was, at first. The more we thought about it, however, considered all of our guests and who we had confided in about our troubles, there weren’t that many. When I came into this office and … broke down in front of you like that, I was so ashamed, and I thought that you were probably just annoyed by it or put off or thought it ridiculous. You didn’t. You remembered, and it showed in the way you and your staff treated us during the event, but in a certain, special, secret gift.”
“I’m afraid, officially,” Sahnassa put in seeing Van’s unease, “that we can’t offer any explanation about a gift, special or regular, that you received.”
“Officially, I understand that,” the newly joined Nephti told them. “Unofficially, I owe you the deepest debt of gratitude imaginable. I have been to see my matriarch, the de Fantar matriarch, last sol. All of the family resistance to our union has now dissolved.”
“You were joined, though; isn’t that right, kit?” Van asked. “They can’t actually split you up after the fact.”
“They would have tried in a thousand subtle ways. They would have pressed hard on us, tried to drive a wedge between us, claw us apart – me and my love. Now, the Matriarch has issued a Compact ruling on our marriage, justifying it and putting it beyond question or intentional harm by my parents.”
Sahnassa’s mouth dropped open, and she shook her head. “The … the Matriarch claimed the familial protection clause … on your behalf?!” she bleated in a harsh whisper. “That … that can have horrible consequences to your parents!”
“It’s not as if they don’t deserve it, Sahni,” Merriana told her. “They’ve been so ugly about it, so harsh to me! What’s wrong?”
Sahnassa was almost shaking, and her tail and ears were completely flat. “I know it sounds wonderful, and it probably feels wonderful, too. However, as someone who has done what you’re doing, it will put a rift in your family that will last a long time – seasons and seasons, if not forever.”
“Well, it’s not like the mother and father didn’t do that already by what they did and said,” Vanarra put in, her brow furrowing at the speeches coming out of certain Nephti’s mouths during the toasting. “I’d, sure as certain, sting from those for awhile.”
“But this, Van, this isn’t like that. Unless this gets rolled back, and quickly, your parents are going to truly suffer and for a really long time to come. Do they know, yet?”
“I’m sure they do,” Merriana told her, now seeming worried by the other Nephti’s council. “What … what do you think I should do?”
“Request to meet with them in the presence of the matron,” Sahni told her. “Once you do, tell them this. When it reaches full filing across all directorates, it will get back to their employers. Their employers will consider it a disgrace to hold onto someone who mistreats their kids, and they might lose their jobs. Getting employed again will be very hard. If they want to be that stubborn, fight against your joining like that, then it can end up destroying them. If they are willing to call a truce and simply live and let live, then you could go to the matriarch and stop this thing before it goes too far. If you think that gift you were given was special, please understand that this gift is even more special, Merriana. I’ve lived it. Don’t be looking back five seasons from now wondering how you could have let such horrible things happen.”
Merriana looked at Van, and the mixed blood shook her head. “This is all family politics to me, and I’m not well versed in that. Sahni, however, is. I’d also tell you that it’s better to stop a fight before it gets out of control. That is advice you can trust me on.”
For a few moments, the Nephti sitting between them looked at the floor. “They used to love me, you know? He’s just not what they expected, what they wanted. It’s hurt so much, the things they’ve said – you heard them!”
“They embarrassed themselves at the joining,” Sahni told them. “You accepted their words with patience and grace. Everyone saw that. They’ve already lost face. Give them another reason to love you by being gracious to them. That … that will hurt them by forcing them to look at themselves. I’ve seen that hurt in a parent’s eyes, recently. It can change them, I think. It can turn their heart around.”
Merriana hung her head and softly cried, causing Sahnassa to get up and sit beside her, paw on her back. After a few passes, the Nephti had regained control, and she looked at Sahnassa, gratefully. “Strange when we have to be the adults, isn’t it?”
“There’s no better way to prove you are worthy of that role than doing something like this, right?”
“Thank you, and, even though the gift I spoke of originally was unofficial, please know that if there is anything I or my mate can do for you, you have but to ask.”
“If you ever have cause to recommend us, we would be very grateful,” Vanarra told her, humbly, nodding a bow to her client.
“You’ll have to provide an interval-based rate for counseling,” Merriana told them, smiling. “Regardless, both of us just wanted to pour out our hearts in gratitude to you, and now, doubly so. I will work to actively promote your business, Vanarra, and in my new role as executive at a lodging company, I should be able to do very well for you on that score.”
“My sincere thanks, Merriana, and please, let us know if we can ever help you again. Sahni, would you be so kind?”
“I’ll show you out, if you’d come this way?”
The Nephti nodded, stood up and then stopped in front of Vanarra’s desk. Slowly and gracefully, she performed a deep and elegant bow. Then, turning towards Sahnassa, she did the same. Sahnassa quickly bowing in response, a little nervously, signaled the end of the interview, and the two Nephti left the office. When Sahnassa returned, she found Van just staring blankly ahead. “You okay, Van?”
“It’s a pretty far trek, kit, from having accidently stumbled across a situation where someone could have killed either me or Flint to one where … an executive at a lodging company is going to actively promote our business. Love you, kit, you know that?” Van told her, looking up into her eyes. Sahnassa recognized that expression, and it warmed her heart – the realization that Vanarra truly cared for and needed the purebred Nephti, and also, that Van didn’t always feel worthy of that friendship. “Means a lot that you help like that. You don’t have to, but you still do it.”
“I couldn’t do anything else,” Sahni told her. “Talk to you later, Van, alright?”
“Yeah, and … lunch is on me. De Kestos, at 14:30, alright?”
“You’re the boss!” Sahnassa replied, smiling, and as happily, Van returned the smile.
Dressed in the best clothes she owned, Sahnassa passed into the precincts of the Grand Matriarch of her house, Selena de Orturu. How she had been led into the keep was somewhat strange, she thought, as it was through the exact same door she had first entered many seasons ago. There were even the same stools arranged the exact same way in the room where she had been brought in with her matron.
Alone, or so she thought, Sahni hesitated a moment, awash in memories. The visit to the Grand Matriarch was a complete surprise. It was one she didn’t exactly feel worthy of given how she had been caught getting a little too friendly with a keen Faelnar, Dasahar, in her computer class. That episode had been where she felt her relationship with her father start to fall apart, despite his kindness. He never treated her the same way, afterwards. It had also been where Dame Rothnerra had terrified her and bullied her in a way that infuriated her Matron at the time, Shalarra. That first visit was Shalarra’s response to the way the dame had humiliated one of her favorites, perhaps her dearest favorite, Sahnassa.
Stepping around the seats, she stood where the matriarch would have been standing and looked down at the floor between her and the first row of stools. She smiled, remembering how kind the matriarch was to her that sol. A friend of hers from primary, Allilae, tripped on her dress and fell to the floor so hard, Sahni was amazed that the kit hadn’t been rendered unconscious. She was very much stunned, nonetheless, and Sahnassa had rushed to help her. It was at that moment when the matriarch had walked into the room.
“Enjoying some amusing recollections from the past?” a voice asked from behind her.
Whirling around to see who owned the unfamiliar female voice, Sahnassa beheld someone who was, doubtless, on the matriarch’s own staff, one of her aides to judge by the wardrobe. Looking at the face, she saw an attractive light gray Nephti with exotic purple and silver striping, shining violet eyes, and an adorable pink nose. The nose and muzzle were the first clues, the striping along the sides wider and more defined than in the kit’s youth, but still as unique as a paw pad print.
“Not amusing,” Sahni contested quietly, her smile broadening as she suddenly realized who this might be. “Wonderful. Meaningful.”
“More so than you’ll ever know for me,” the other female told her, shyly. “Hello, Sahnassa. It’s so very good to see you.”
“All … Allilae? Is it you?” The quick and happy nod drew Sahnassa into an embrace with the matriarch’s aide. “Wow! Look at you, kit! You work here!?”
“I do; I do! I love it! It’s … it’s all thanks to you, you know?”
Sahni let her go and shook her head. “It can’t be all thanks to me. Only the top studies in family prep ever get chosen for this. You studied in academy for this?”
“Top of my class,” Allilae told her, “with a lot of help. That help started with you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“When you picked me up and took care of me, you helped me save face in front of the matriarch. I felt such kindness from you and from our matriarch. When I told my matron that story and how much I respected and appreciated how understanding she was, she enrolled me in family prep. The rest, as they say, is history!”
Her little pose in her aide’s uniform made Sahnassa chuckle. “Happy to have helped, you know?”
“Well, it’s nearly the end of my posting, here, and I’m about to head off to the other side of Thuratan to one of the ancient familial estates, Deshawn, to begin my tour as a familial research assistant. Who knows, in a few seasons, you might see new things in the Halls of Honor or the Legends Gallery that come from my research!”
“And you really enjoy it, I can tell!” Sahni replied, pleased. “I’m so happy for you!”
The light gray Nephti walked closer to her, her expression still smiling, but also tenderly sympathetic. “I heard … I … found out, that your path has been difficult. I’m sorry.”
“I … did not do the same for you that you did for me. I was attending Dothnaria, and I knew you were at Harnard, but … now, with what I’ve come to understand, I should have sought you out. I got a chance to look at the familial records, and I probably shouldn’t have done it, but when I knew you were coming, I peeked at yours. Again, I’m sorry that I did not do for you what you did for me.”
Sahnassa reached out and rubbed her arm, gently. “It’s okay. I found a friend, a really good one, and she’s helped me in all sorts of ways. My biggest surprise is that I ran into my mother, and … we started talking. It wasn’t altogether pleasant, at first, but now, I think we’ve reached a bit of an understanding. We’ve also compared notes and found out some things.”
“Sahnassa, she’s genuinely excited to have dinner with you. I can tell. I’ve been with her two seasons, so I kind of know what sort of mood she’s in. She really likes you!”
“Thanks,” Sahnassa replied softly, realizing that Allilae had just confirmed her mother’s suspicions in full. “I don’t feel I deserve that honor, but I am truly grateful for it.”
“Well, she should be just about ready for you. Shall we go?” Allilae asked her.
“Yes, please, and Allilae?”
“What she said about us didn’t come true, not yet, about us becoming friends. Do you remember that?”
“I do, and … you are. Ever since that sol, whenever you need me,” the gray Nephti told her, bowing in a nod. “Your kindness changed my life.” Sahnassa couldn’t do anything but put her paw over her heart, tears in her eyes, and follow the graceful gray Nephti into the very near presence of her matriarch.
On a sunny and mild sol, one interval after noon when most of the lunch crowd was thinning out, Sahnassa walked into the Taprician Café for her lunch appointment. Seeing her mother already waiting at an outside table, looking for her, she waved and explained to the hostess who nodded and let her pass. Upon arriving at the table, her mother stood and greeted her, a light smile on her muzzle. “Hello, Daughter.”
Sahnassa reached around and hugged her mother, lightly. “Hi, Mom! It’s so good to see you!”
As they released and began to sit, Holana asked, “Good to see me? I just thought you had made it to the point of tolerating seeing me.” Her statement, said in a bit of a jest, wasn’t fully without its true meaning, bespeaking the doubts the archivist still held about their relationship.
“Yes,” Sahnassa emphasized, “good to see you. I looked forward to this all morning and most of last sol.”
“Really? Why?” Holana asked, bemused.
Sahnassa closed her eyes and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. Then, fixing her gaze at her mother eye to eye, she said, “You were right. I was wrong, and I love you very much for telling me the truth.”
Holana grasped her chest as if struck, and the reaction was honest to how those words impacted her. “But … but why? About what?!” A tear seemed to jump out of her left eye before she even had time to cry, by her normal reckoning.
“Astalla didn’t say no to my meeting with the matriarch, and I sort of now have a commendation from the same.”
Holana’s eyes widened to the size of saucers, “An … official commendation?! For … for what?!”
“Officially,” Sahnassa whispered to her, leaning over the table, “it’s for working to bring peace, understanding, and reconciliation in the family, namely, between me and you, and that part is a commendation we share.” A smile tugged up one side of her mother’s face. “Unofficially, it’s for seeing that a piece of the de Fantar matriarch’s shoulder piece was returned to her without an incident.” That statement killed the smile and gave way to open-mouthed horror. Sahnassa nodded slowly and leaned back into her seat.
“How?!” her mother nearly barked. “The insult is tremendous if its returned from another house!”
“A part of being where I am and the job I now have. We were able to anonymously and securely return that piece to a member of their family by sneaking it into a pile of other gifts.”
Holana was still afraid for her daughter and said so. “Is there any chance they’ll ever learn it was you?”
“Oh, the one who received it suspects, but she can’t prove a thing, and being able to return that endeared her to the matriarch at a time when she really needed it. It was an advantage she almost … misused.”
“Misused?” Holana leaned over the table, whispering the question.
“She almost accepted her matriarch’s offer to declare the protections of the Compact against her own parents. I talked her out of it because of you, well … because of us,” Sahnassa told her, leaning forward but not meeting her mother’s gaze. “Her parents didn’t want the joining, and they were in a position to harm her and drive a wedge between her and her lair-mate. She was thrilled at the prospect, but then I told her what it meant to her parents. She got her matron and talked to them. I received a note explaining what happened. Her parents had just gotten to the point of realizing how bad it was going to go for them, so they swore, on their honor, never to hinder them as a couple and to love them.”
Sahnassa glanced up into her mother’s face and saw both cheeks thoroughly lined with tears and her eyes slammed shut. “You’re … you’re not telling me this to … torture me, are you?” Holana asked, very nearly angry and certainly hurt.
“No, I’m not! I’m telling you this because I love you, and I want you to know that my horrible mistake, even if it’s something I can’t fix – I’ve learned from it! I saved someone else from hurting like we did. I found a kit like me who was just as ignorant of what would happen, and I talked to her, I stopped her! I can’t change the past, Mother. As I told our matriarch, the matrons should have stepped in and mediated between us, not used us to check the activity of their dame, used us like pawns on a game board! They should have stepped in and done what matrons do – make peace within the family. Please, those are the only reasons I’m telling you.”
Holana’s eyes opened, and she understood the truth of that statement looking into her daughter’s desperate expression. “I’m … sorry, too, Sahnassa. I should have done what I told you, earlier. Dame and Gonastir be damned, I should have been your mother and gone to you.”
Sahnassa saw the deeply conflicted look in her mother’s eyes, understanding that the approval of the matriarchy was still an almost irresistible pull on Holana’s soul. Even though she doubted that her love for her daughters or mate surpassed that, Sahni chose to give her mother respect and love in the way that best suited her. “Our new Dame, Dame Prethia, met us at the last part of dinner, and she knows and very much approves of how you spoke to me, and how you opened the way between us.” It was nearly as tragic as it was comical for Sahnassa to see the bolstering effect those words had on her mother, but in kindness, she continued, “She is truly impressed by you, Mother. I think our matriarch is, now, too. That commendation will appear in your family record, as it will in mine.”
Holana’s expression was suffused with a joy and relief that Sahnassa had never seen before. “You … touch me, dear, and you did this, for me? Talked to them about your mother, after all we did to you?”
“Yes, because I love you! I also told them that your reaching out to me the night you won that award enabled me to steer that kit in a better direction, and so you share in that honor, as well, Mom.”
Her mother looked at her, eyes widened and shaking her head. “You … have brought … honor … to me!?” In that moment, Sahnassa saw all the masks and pretenses that seemed to hide who Holana truly was burn away to nothing, and the expression that met her eyes was truly and unapologetically loving. In a way that both disappointed her and brought more understanding than she had ever been prepared to comprehend about her mother’s soul, she saw how broken Holana was inside.
“Something happened to her to make her like this,” Sahnassa realized, almost horrified. “It’s not her fault!”
With that realization, Sahnassa stood and drew her mother up into a deep and loving embrace. Holana felt truly loved and appreciated by her daughter because of the gift of honor she had received, and Sahnassa felt as if she could finally love her mother – if not the way Sahni wanted to, the only way Holana could be loved by her daughter.