A few sols later, there was a chiming sound from the first level of the lair, and Lyssia’s eyebrow fur went up. “Wonder who that is?”
“What was that?” Tanatta asked.
“The door chime,” Lyssia whispered as she flipped down a control panel on the landing. Looking, she pressed a couple of buttons and on a small screen, and the image changed to one of a Perratti matron waiting outside their front door. “Oh, crap! It’s a matron, probably from our house!”
Tanatta froze, realizing they had been talking so long she’d been putting off a certain bodily necessity. “What … what do we do? I really need a quick break, if you know what I mean.”
“We can’t pretend we didn’t see her or hear her; your hover is parked out front.”
“Are you sure she’ll be okay with me being here? This could get you in trouble!”
“Too late for that, and I don’t care! Now, go!”
Tanatta sped down the stairs and found her way to the facilities and closed the door. Stepping to and opening the door, Lyssia bowed slightly. “Hello, Matron.”
“Are you Lyssia de Oterbythe, joined with Bushor?” the somewhat elder Perratti matron asked, a little unsure as she checked her PawLink.
“Yes, I am.”
“I am Matron Calla de Oterbythe. May I speak with you for awhile?”
“Certainly, would you like to come in?” Lyssia offered, and with a smile and nod the matron walked into her lair. “Can I get you anything?”
“No, no, thank you. I need to speak with Bushor, as well. Is your mate at home?” she asked.
“He is, but he’s upstairs. He’s not feeling well. He’s taken something to help him sleep. He won’t be downstairs for intervals,” Lyssia offered.
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Well, if we could sit, then I could tell you, and you can fill him in later, I suppose,” the tan matron replied and shrugged. As they sat, a door opened, and Tanatta walked into the room. “Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you had company,” the matron said, apparently a little unnerved.
“Matron Calla de Oterbythe, this is Tanatta … Fireclaw,” Lyssia stated carefully, unsure of how the matron would react.
“Oh my goodness!” Matron Calla breathed. “You’re her – the negotiator for the Allegiance of the—”
“We would prefer to now simply be known as the Allegiance, Matron,” Tanatta replied in a detached and careful tone. Lyssia was surprised at how cool and unemotional her friend now seemed, but then realized that Tanatta had stepped back into her role as the head negotiator, and in that role, she necessarily commanded a degree of respect. Looking at the set of her ears, tail, and body, Lyssia smiled inwardly at how skilled Tanatta was in summoning up this assertive and confident part of herself – far different than the fragile soul who desperately needed Bushor’s forgiveness just sols before.
“Tanatta Fireclaw and I have become … friends since the protest at the Pinnacle Center Archive,” Lyssia explained.
Appearing uncertain and somewhat worried by Tanatta’s appearance and Lyssia’s statement in particularly, Calla replied, “I’m not sure I fully understand.”
“What is there to understand, Matron?” Tanatta asked with just a slight bit of distain in her voice. “Every member of my cadre saw how your Lyssia was willing to comfort one of our own who was injured defending the archive. Mixed blood after mixed blood has been greeted at the archive with respect, with honor, and with kindness by this intelligent and competent kit – a kit who, by her history, has very obvious reasons not to trust or accept those of mixed blood.”
“Really? What would those … oh, the scars?” Matron Calla asked, delicately.
Lyssia nodded. “I was attacked when I was a child by someone who my father hurt. My father destroyed their family, and in anger and pain, someone did this,” she answered, pointing at her muzzle. “Tanatta has given me, as an archivist, access and insight that I believe is truly valuable to our family and to the history of Thuria. It’s one of the many kindnesses she has shown me.”
“You … have mutual respect for one another, then,” Matron Calla observed, almost to herself. “I’m sure that this unique friendship will, while undeniably one that will require great care and … discretion, will offer both of you opportunities for understanding. I can see that.”
“It has granted me understanding,” Lyssia replied, “and allowed me to reconcile some of my past. I am grateful for her friendship.”
“As I am for hers,” Tanatta replied, solemnly, but still showing no weakness in front of the matron.
“Very good. I did come to impart some rather difficult news to you, Lyssia. I wondered if we might have a moment?” she asked Lyssia, but her head was pointed in Tanatta’s direction.
Looking a little disappointed and annoyed – just the right amounts, Lyssia observed – Tanatta stated, “I suppose I could find something to occupy myself in your study, Lyssia, if that’s what is required.”
“Tanatta’s my friend, Matron. If the news is truly that difficult, I think I would appreciate her … support.”
“But what I have to impart is very humiliating for our house, Lyssia,” Calla warned. “I’m not sure that it is the sort of thing we should discuss in front of others.” Lyssia noticed that Calla wouldn’t make eye contact with Tanatta, and she could see Tanatta’s brow furrowing. “I don’t know if you’re aware, but our house was actually under siege on the home continent.”
Tanatta nodded and answered, “By de Gonari, de Orturu, de Dothnar, de Kestrick, and de Khaetria. I also know the reasons why, Matron, as does Lyssia. We were both swept up in the paw-strikes de Gonari made initially, and we were both taken prisoner.”
Matron Calla looked at Tanatta in surprise. “I … I didn’t know that! I’m sorry, but I just arrived on Thuratan last night! Well, then, since you both know the heart of it, what I have to tell you will not be that surprising, I suppose. I … would just not feel comfortable with such news and details being widely spread across the whole of Thuria.”
“Matron, if you wish, you may ask Tanatta to keep what she learns here a secret. She will,” Lyssia replied, nodding to her friend. When Calla looked at Tanatta, the mixed blood closed her eyes and nodded, sealing the promise.
Matron Calla sighed and agreed. “Very well; please, I ask you, keep what I am about to say to yourself, Tanatta Fireclaw, for the sake of Lyssia’s honor and her trust in you.”
“I will, Matron,” Tanatta replied firmly.
Calla returned her gaze to the petite archivist and folded her paws in her lap. “Lyssia, your matron and dame have been … disavowed. Ongoing investigations have discovered that they actually participated in the diversion of funds, a very large amount of funds, from our house treasury to killers, hired assassins – intended to kill Matron Vanarra de Gonari. For the time being, until things settle down, you may consider me your new matron.”
Tanatta looked at Lyssia, who was clearly impacted by the revelation. “She – they both were?” The Perratti archivist leaned back into the sofa, her eyes losing focus.
“I’m afraid so. Were you close to your matron?” Calla asked.
“I … was. She’d been my matron ever since I was an archivist. We’d had her over here, numerous times, for celebrations and dinners. I … I’m … very disappointed, to say the least. For my house, for my family, I’m … ashamed and saddened.”
There was a long silence, and Tanatta could tell that a big part of her friend’s world was being shaken, and it hurt the mixed blood to see the doubts and fears which swept across Lyssia’s face. Tanatta offered softly, “I’m sorry, Lyssia and to you, also, Matron. In our own ranks, we, too, have had grave disappointments. One of our cadre leaders, Burrost Talifero, was also involved in that same conspiracy. How … shameful and dishonoring it is to both of us that members of your matriarchy and our leadership would work together, not to try to strengthen the bonds between us, but to act like common criminals, without conscience and without honor. We thought ourselves better than that. We’d hoped we were better than that. I can tell, you two feel the same.”
Calla looked at Tanatta carefully, given that statement. “I … I didn’t know any of that, either,” Calla offered. “Not many details have been given out. Then it’s … truly disheartening all around, isn’t it?” Tanatta nodded, solemnly, her eyes closed. “It sears and scars my heart to think that someone our house trusted to watch out and care for our own has now destroyed so much … opportunity by diverting so many resources to such a fruitless and ill considered enterprise. Dame Geistana, disavowed in dishonor, and those who aided her have … nearly impoverished our house. Thankfully, the other houses were merciful and did not require any financial payment as recompense for the insult to their honor, but nonetheless, our house is now in debt. It will take seasons to recover what was lost. I’m afraid you will see the impact of this not only in the reduction of services your family can provide you, but in the increase of your house dues. The matriarch truly regrets these measures, but given our present reality, they are necessary.”
“I understand,” Lyssia replied sadly.
“I can imagine that your group is having to make similar reexaminations?” Calla carefully asked Tanatta.
“Indeed,” the mixed blood replied, just a little less guarded than before. “Burrost’s entire cadre is … warped and … damaged. The disgraceful things he forced them to do bring … dishonor to all mixed bloods. Yes, we do feel dishonor, Matron. In many ways, Burrost lived as if he wanted to prove that everything de Caterra said about mixed bloods was true. For those of us who want to never be like that, hoped we never were like that, it’s a blow to how we see ourselves. Now, we’re trying to determine how we can accept that, recover from that – insure it never happens again.”
“Both sides injured,” Calla observed, a note of promise in her voice. “Both sides grievously dishonored and shamed, but here you two are – friends, despite everything.” Her soft smile drew two more as they realized that the matron not only accepted but now welcomed Lyssia and Tanatta as friends.
“Friends,” Lyssia replied looking at Tanatta, who nodded and said the same.
“There is one other requirement that has been placed upon us by the houses who took offense at the actions of our once dame and her co-conspirators. Matron Vanarra de Gonari, as you know, was the target of the assassination attempt. Because our house dishonored her by treating her life as if it was of no value, we are now required to acknowledge her with honor every time we see her. Simply put, we are to bow to Matron Vanarra whenever we see her. It is a requirement of the agreement which kept our house from being utterly destroyed, and failure to perform that action risks that such danger might return to our gates. The requirement is absolute and not arguable. Failure to do so would mean … disavowal.”
“I understand,” Lyssia replied. “She deserves honor, and our house has certainly not paid her that. I will tell Bushor all of this.”
“Very well,” Calla replied, standing, and Tanatta and Lyssia both stood with her. Reaching out for and hugging Lyssia gently, Calla added, “It is a difficult time for our house, Lyssia, but if we all bear the burden and learn from our mistakes, we can again be a family of honor on Thuria.”
“I am sure you will,” Tanatta offered.
Breaking the embrace, Calla just looked at Tanatta for a moment. “You know, you are not what I expected. I look forward to perhaps getting to know you, too, when time permits.” Tanatta nodded and smiled – just a little. Turning back to Lyssia, Calla stated, “Well, I must be going. I have so many stops to make. It will be ten sols before I’ve visited everyone. Please be patient with us in the matriarchy, for awhile. We have lost a number of matrons, but because of the impact of this on our house, we cannot induct new ones to replace them until the funds to support them are made available. As it is, everyone in our house is having to do with less, right up to the matriarch. Love and honor to you, Lyssia, and my best to Bushor.”
“He will be grateful for it. Thank you.”
With the matron safely away and the door closed, Lyssia and Tanatta both breathed sighs of relief as they leaned against the front door. “Didn’t seem to mind you a bit,” Lyssia said. “I think she even liked you.”
“Hey, it’s not that strange for Thurians to like me,” Tanatta teased a bit.
As they mounted the stair, Lyssia observed, “You know what wasn’t totally normal for me was seeing how you managed the matron. You turned back into that cool, calculating negotiator pretty quickly.”
“Sorry about that,” Tanatta offered. “I … I guess I have a tendency to get defensive around family jewels, if you’ll pardon that. I hope I didn’t upset you or get you in trouble.”
“You were brilliant, and I thought you were very kind to her. I could tell by the set of her tail that she was pretty intimidated by you. As far as I can tell, however, you successfully managed to get her to accept our friendship.”
“But what if she hadn’t, Lyssia? What then?”
“Well,” the Perratti admitted, “it would make things more difficult, but I will never give up on being your friend.” Tanatta hugged her around the shoulder as they continued up the stairs.
After they had settled back Lyssia’s library, Tanatta ventured an observation on a more serious subject. “Hey, I could tell that news about your house upset you a lot, kit. I’m … really sorry about that.”
“It’s … pretty devastating,” Lyssia admitted as she sat down on the sofa, closing her eyes and shaking her head.
Tanatta looked at her for a moment and couldn’t help herself. “Kit, I … I don’t understand. Okay, I get the fact they’ll be asking for more money – I mean that can’t be good news, and you won’t have direct access to a matron as easily, but…” Tanatta left the rest of the question unsaid, giving her friend time to respond.
“It’s more than that, much more,” Lyssia replied, quietly. The set of her tail and ears, the cant of her head, and the slight rising of her blush furs told of nothing other than intense disgrace.
“I want to understand, Lyssia. You’re hurting, and it’s in an area I know nothing about. Please, if you … could share what you’re feeling and why it matters so much, at least I could maybe…”
Lyssia opened her eyes and looked into the earnest expression of the mixed blood, her friend. She could tell that Tanatta had nothing other than a desire to learn and a need to help her in some way, comfort her. So, she confessed, “Alright. Every member of our family works hard to maintain a good reputation, not just for ourselves and our own careers, but for our family. We are all identified by our family, and, in many ways, we are judged not only on our own merits, but on those of our family. If someone is applying for a job, and their past is a little thin on the experience that’s needed, then the family name can help make the difference. If it was a name like De Dothnar, for example, everyone knows who’s backing that name – the Grand Matriarch Rahnahi de Dothnar and her key dames, like Dania. The prospective employer would know that de Dothnar is putting forward the applicant because they are willing to stand behind this individual, hold him accountable for his performance on the job.”
“So, even if there is a more qualified candidate from … a lesser family, then the employer would go with the less qualified de Dothnar candidate?” Tanatta asked, curious.
“I’ve seen it tip the scales when there were two equally qualified candidates, and I’ve even heard of a good family name doing exactly what you just said. Now, think of what happens when our whole family falls into dishonor. Every de Oterbythe seeking a job and who is put forth by our matriarchy as a potential candidate now goes into the interview process … wounded, at a disadvantage. Now, Tanatta, I know this is nothing aside of what mixed bloods have had to endure with no sponsorship, but … just so you know one part of it. The second part of why this hurts so much is because … well, I loved our matron. She was very nice to me. Matrons are generally seen as caring and kind, but ours – perhaps because of who we were and what we do – was doubly so. She completely ignored my father’s complaints against me, and yes, he still complains about me.”
“Why? What right does he have?” Tanatta shot back angrily.
“Oh, he thinks he has all the rights on Thuria, but still. I’ll have to, at one point I’m sure, explain the whole situation to Matron Calla, hope she finds in my favor and doesn’t create trouble for me by trying to force me to reconcile with him.”
Tanatta leaned back and shook her head. “Oh, kit, now I can see – that’s … really tough.”
“There’s at least one other part to it,” Lyssia shared. “I’ve grown up my entire life identifying myself with de Oterbythe, cheering when we succeeded, grieving – like now – when we fail. There are times when thinking about my family and its honor have gotten me through. It may have been a difficult task, a test, or bearing up under a surgery or something else. I am a de Oterbythe, and we always strive for the best, never settling. Lovely phrase, but this sol, it sounds … hollow. I feel like even in my own body, I’ve lost some of my own strength and willpower. It’s like … a part of my soul has had the life drained out, like I could walk through the sacred places in my family estate, where we recount the good we have done, and feel … nothing – no awe, no sense of pride. The connections to my family are … weak. When I return to work tomorrow, I’ll … it won’t be the same. I’ll think about it, I know. I’ll remember every dinner and event we went to with our matron, and I’ll grieve for her like she’s died.”
Lyssia looked over at Tanatta who stared angrily at the floor, her back fur raised slightly in annoyance. The Perratti sighed and said, “I’m sorry. For someone who doesn’t have a family, who has never had one, this must sound … pathetic.”
Tanatta shook her head. “You never know what losing something truly means until you have it. I was angry at those in your house who conspired against Vanarra because they wanted to kill a mixed blood, keep us held down! Now, I’m … doubly angry! Now, I can just taste how they harmed all of you! Mange!” Tanatta stood and stamped around, her tail swishing angrily. “Mange! They … they had no right to risk … all of this! They … they could have debated! They could have argued against giving us rights! They could have pursued their own belief in a legal way! They … they could have petitioned! Yeah, and they could have protested, too! They could have done something other than…” Tanatta was standing and sank to her knees in front of the Perratti. She put her paws on Lyssia’s knees and leaned forward. “Instead of hurting all of you,” she uttered, tenderly. “By the moons, kit! What … what were they thinking? How could they have done this and still had a Thurian heart?”
“Oh, Tanatta,” Lyssia wept, leaning over and embracing her friend. “You do understand! You understand! Oh, thank you.” For a few passes, the two held each other and simply cried. Lyssia laid her head alongside of the mixed blood’s neck, and although the pain of her house’s failure and loss was still deeply felt, the realization that the hardened mixed blood who had once clawed her now wept with her, comforted her was transcendent. It was a reality that made her truly grateful beyond words and covered over so much of the pain she had felt in her life. Tanatta was now as much her family as anyone else, regardless of her breeding, her past, or her last name.
Author’s Commentary (warning: some spoilers):
Before you walk, you have to crawl, and that is the lesson of Tanatta Fireclaw. Having bathed herself in the glory of a cowardly act for season upon season, even inserting the revenge-based mauling of Lyssia into her very name as a trophy, Tanatta was as bitter as they come. Oh, she wasn’t completely blinded by it, but she was willing to support violence against the purebred to get what she wanted for her movement. That is, until, Lyssia de Oterbythe appears in front of her in The Summit (available as an eBook from Amazon)!
Her once victim and her mate become the only true way Tanatta can learn to trust and live with purebreds as equals. A shared history of pain turns her into a sister and brother of the couple. Eventually, this first small start of trust, understanding, and family will allow Tanatta to become something she could have never guessed – a matron and then a dame in house de Oterbythe a name that echoes well beyond the scope of a normal Thurian lifetime.