Title: Exile's Unreturn
Author: cofax
Rating: G, gen
Summary: Ael t'Rlaillieu had a niece, who after her shaming at the hands of Kirk and Spock, was exiled from the Empire. What happened to her after Ael was named Empress?

*



Exile's Unreturn


The word came on a day in late summer, when everyone was stripped to the waist in the sun, bringing in the dry pods of pelon that would see us through the winter. I was working with Kess, a youth from the north steading, pulling the pods off the whiplike stems and dropping them in the basket Kess carried on his back. In the lowlands, they have machines and carts to do this work; but the freesteadings in the Western Range are poor, and we earned our nightmeal with our bended backs. At the edge of the field was the big sledge, where the baskets were unloaded for the trip back to the mill on the unnamed creek running down the valley.

As I pulled another handful of pods, a horn sounded faintly from beyond the fields. The carrier must have arrived, bearing goods, the occasional visitor, and news of no moment to me. The news never came from very far afield, and I was an exile; no news from the provincial capital in Goldfields, or even from offworld, could do more than salt the raw wounds of my shame.

In this, however, I was proven to be wrong.

After the last of the grain was stored for drying in the bins outside the mill, I returned to the steading I had called home for four years. I had come here desperate and friendless, with nothing to offer but my despair and my scarred hands--not even a name. And despite the uncertainty of life here on the Outmarches, where hunger stalked the fencelines with the snows, Ridda i-Harkan and Jenevan i-Traehan tr'Leillian had taken me in. I had a place here; and if it was sparer than that of the lowest servant on my father's estate, it was mine, earned by my own sweat and blood.

Most of the household was gathered in the atrium when I came in for nightmeal, still tying back my wet hair after a quick wash in the bathhouse.

"Ek-ti!" cried little Till, who was Ridda's granddaughter and the favored child of the steading. She was skinny, and her hair was still growing out after last winter's illness, but her cheeks were green with excitement as she waved me to the low-set table in the center of the atrium. "Come hear, there is news!"

Ek-ti, she called me, because Ek was all that was left of my name. I had lost my name before the Senate, watched the banner of my House trampled ceremoniously on the ancient marble floors, and so was no longer what I had been. Daughter of a Great House of ch'Rihan, soldier and commander, with an honorable service behind me and a destiny of glorious service to the Empire. None of that was mine anymore, but no one traveled, even in the Outmarches, without a call-name. I had chosen Ek, as the smallest scrap of all I had lost. Till didn't know, of course, and merrily added the dimunitive "ti" for my height. Even in this valley of starvlings, I was small.

As I approached the table, I saw that the good silver platters had been set out, and even--I raised an eyebrow in surprise--a bottle of ale, one of a treasured few tr'Leillian had carried away from Ch'Havran seventy years before.

"Not just news, my granddaughter," said Ridda, and waved me forward to the table. I came, uncertainly.

My life here in the Western Range had not been easy, hard as the work and the weather was. But the hru-hfirh had taken me in as a member of the household, as unceremonious as it was. Ridda and tr'Leillian worked as hard as any in the steading, and harder than some, and I was too long in exile to be anything but grateful for the risk they ran in accepting me. I had repaid them with work and circumspection: I tried to forget that I had been a member of a House that outranked even the highest houses of all the Outmarches, and that even my father's servants had better quarters than Ridda's own. I kept my head down and my mouth closed, and shut my mind to anything but the instant.

The past was a stone in my shoe, a scar I carried with me: I could never be free of it, but I did not have to grant it dominion over me. There were no roads open for me but the trails from the steading that lead up into the peaks of the mountains, and I still wanted to live. So here I stayed; I worked, I slept, I ate my roasted pelon with smoked ellok meat. And I sat at table with the rest of the household, here in the Outmarches where no one commented on my namelessness.

"What news, then?" I asked, folding myself down at my place near the bottom of the table. Berrien, to my left, passed me the platter of jerin bread, and I took a wedge before handing it on.

"The war is over!" sang Till, leaping again to her feet and spinning around on the stone floor.

I hesitated, bread clutched in my hand. "The war is over? So quickly?"

The war had crept upon us slowly, isolated as we were. First it was just rumor: Klingon attacks on some of the wealthier colonies, stories from the ship-clans passed around in the provincial capital. Then shipments of industrial goods from the Homeworlds started coming slower and dearer than before. When Ridda came back from her trips to market, she was always frowning, now.

Then, back during the planting season, the news came through that galvanized the steading. It was more than war with the Klingons, more than border skirmishes, now. It was civil war. The Fleet was taking action against the great colonies, and the old ship-clans were fighting back. There were even stories of treason and betrayal--alliances with the Klingons, and even the Federation.

When I had heard that last, my meal churned in my stomach, and I stopped listening. I could not think of the humans, even now after so long, without shame. My face burned, and I went away, to sit in my spare little room, turning over the stones of memory like wish-beads in my hands. When Ridda and Berrien spoke of the war, I turned away, left them to it and returned to my work. The wood shavings in the craft-shed, at least, did not remind me of all that I had lost.

But now, the war was over. It had passed, without touching us here in this steep and narrow valley.

"Quickly for us, perhaps," said tr'Leillian, his voice still resonant despite the cough that had settled in his chest this past winter and never left. "But this new... Empress, I am unsure of. This is too much like a Ruling Queen for me."

"Empress? What is this, hru-hfirh?" asked Berrien. He nudged me, and I handed him the ale without looking.

Empress?

"According to this," said Ridda, nodding at the console to which the carrier had downloaded all the news and household data, "the Grand Fleet has been destroyed, the Triumvirate captured or killed, and that khre-Riov, the one who stole The Sword--she is declared Empress."

"Someone stole the Sword?" I repeated, my mind spinning. How had I not heard this, that the S'harien had been stolen from the Senate floor? But the reason was my own doing--I had chosen not to know, not to hear, simply to hide away here.

And besides, it didn't matter. Khre-Riov could only be one person--there was no other female khre-Riov.

tr'Leillian frowned, shrugging. "Yes, yes, half a year ago now. What's the name, some woman from one of the Great Houses on ch'Rihan--t'Raellian?" tr'Leillian had never had any patience for the politics of the Homeworlds--it was one of the reasons he had come away, so many years before.

I put the bread down on my platter, and pushed it away. The sound of the household eating was suddenly enormously loud in my ears.

"t'Rlaillieu," I said, although no one heard me. "Ael i-Mhiessan t'Rlaillieu."

My aunt, that tiny figure who had raged on the floor of the Senate when I was condemned, her fierceness far outsizing her stature--my aunt had become Empress of the Romulan Star Empire.

*

Harvest-season nights were chill, even when the days were warm. I sat on a stone at the edge of the garden, Berrien's precious ssailli sprawling behind me and the slope of the hill falling before me, down to the stream. Across the valley I could see the mountain, its highest slopes still snow-spotted, gleaming in the starlight.

Once, when I was an Ael-Riov, I knew which of those stars was Eisn--anywhere in the Empire, I always knew how to find the Homeworlds. Now I was a field-laborer, sometimes a middling cook, and a better carpenter; and all I knew was that Eisn was somewhere in the quadrant above and to the left of the mountain.

So very far away.

I could go back, now. I wouldn't even have to travel: I could send a message, and Ael would--no, she would not come. Empresses do not travel to the Outmarches to retrieve disgraced and homeless soldiers, no matter how much missed. Someone would be sent for me. Perhaps my cousin Tafv.

I thought about that. Thought about landing on ch'Rihan, and walking into the Senate. Seeing all those faces around me, the ones who sneered, who slandered, who turned their backs on me.

But no, I thought, and straightened my back. Humiliation was not a justification to stay hidden here. I had a chance to reclaim my name. It was what I wanted, after all.

There was a footstep behind me; I turned enough to see Ridda approaching, her gnarled hands lifting the skirts of her robe over the vines of the ssailli.

"Ihhei," I said, and nodded respectfully to her.

She nodded back, tucking her hands into her robe against the cold air. She was no younger than her husband, but her step was still light even after all these seasons carving a steading out of the rocky valley soil. I shifted sideways on my rock, but she shook her head, and stood erect, looking out at the mountain and the stars.

Finally, when my nose was cold and my thoughts still no more settled than they had been, she sighed, and put a hand on my shoulder.

"Change is a universal constant," she said, her voice soft but thoughtful. "But it is not an obligation, and it is up to us to take what the Elements give us, and make our own choices."

"Ihhei?" I twisted around to see her face.

She smiled, and patted me once, before dropping her hand. "Do what mnei-sahe demands, Charvanek i-Mnaeha t'Jaihen. That is all the Elements can ask of you."

I sat for a long time under the stars before I went in to bed.

*

Every morning after daymeal the hru-hfirh met in the morning room with Ridda, Berrien, and Steading Master Torak to plan the day's work. This was not a gathering I ever attended. Once, yes, I had commanded a task force, six Warbirds answering to my orders and hundreds of soldiers dying (if need be) at my commands. But here under the shadow of the mountain I was Ek-ti, who worked in the fields and built chairs and cabinets all winter long.

Ek-ti had nothing to offer the hru-hfirh.

But I did.

I stood just inside the doorway of the morning room, watching my shadow stream across the mottled stone floor. When Ridda put her hand on his arm, tr'Leillian turned his head and looked at me standing in the sunlight. "Ek-ti? Yes, what is it?"

"I think it is time that I began my true service to this House, hru-hfirh." And I bowed down, all the way into the formal obeisance that nobody in the steading had made for all the years I had been here.

"But--" tr'Leillian was astonished, his voice stuttering. "You are already in service to this house, Ek-ti!"

"My name is Charvanek i-Mnaeha t'Jaihen," I said. Daughter of Rhien i-Mnaeha tr'Jaihen and Kihaia i-Mhiessan t'Rlailleiu, sister-daughter of Ael i-Mhiessan t'Rlaillieu, cousin of Tafv Ei-Leinarrgh tr'Rlaillieu. "There is a great deal more that I can do than build chairs."

It was time for me to take back my name. If ever did return to ch'Rihan, if I walked across those smooth and perfect stone floors to face my aunt in the Chair that was no longer empty, it would not be because of politics, or worn-out family loyalty.

It would be because mnei'sahe carried me there.




END



My apologies for posting so late. Many thanks to [personal profile] ellen_fremedon and [personal profile] nestra for sponsoring this challenge. Rihannsu information from the Rihannsu dictionary; all errors are my own.
ellen_fremedon: overlapping pages from Beowulf manuscript, one with a large rubric, on a maroon ground (Default)

From: [personal profile] ellen_fremedon


Someone would be sent for me. Perhaps my cousin Tafv.

Oh. The whole story is lovely, but that line got me right in the solar plexus.
midnightsjane: (Default)

From: [personal profile] midnightsjane


This is excellent! Of all the Star Trek books, the Rihannsu novels are the most fascinating, and this is a fine addition to them.
Someone would be sent for me. Perhaps my cousin Tafv.
Oh, Tafv.

teaphile: (Default)

From: [personal profile] teaphile


Of course she'll do it on her own, and it will amuse Ael greatly.

This is lovely.
garryowen: (leaves)

From: [personal profile] garryowen


This is lovely. I am not familiar with the book(s), but I enjoyed it, anyway!
sineala: Detail of The Unicorn in Captivity, from The Hunt of the Unicorn Tapestry (Default)

From: [personal profile] sineala


This is absolutely wonderful. I firmly believe this is what happened to her.
splash_the_cat: (00_exit door)

From: [personal profile] splash_the_cat


Oh, this is a lovey epilogue to the Rihannsu novels.
thistleingrey: (Default)

From: [personal profile] thistleingrey


Reading this a bit after having opened it in a browser tab :) but oh, thank you--it feels exactly right. (I paused on the Tafv sentence, too.)
wendelah1: (Penthesilea)

From: [personal profile] wendelah1


Like most great fic, this made me want to seek out the source material. The next time I am at my local used book store, I will certainly be looking for this series.

Your writing has seduced me again.

From: (Anonymous)

PTkKbEdYFnAahpBWXKS


That's the best asnwer of all time! JMHO

From: [identity profile] tafkarfanfic.livejournal.com


How did I not hear about this? Wow, this is fantastic. You got the style exactly right. And I always wanted to know what happened to her...
obsession_inc: (Default)

From: [personal profile] obsession_inc


Nnnnnnngh, how did I miss this? Oh, oh, OH do I love you for this, and do I ever love this story. Slots right in, tone and alien thought-processes and all, the NAME and oh, God, Tefv, ouch. Oh, well done, very well done.

From: (Anonymous)

jxjHFpFLRXZAUq


Glad I've finlaly found something I agree with!

From: (Anonymous)

fqsFWLvzeCNjpZBBSwe


Stands back from the keyboard in aamezmnet! Thanks!
.