Mieu and Wren proved to be indispensable yet again. Even more valuable were the hundreds of cyborgs Siren had left behind on the Satellite. After Siren fled a cyborg who called himself Thoren assumed control of the mechanical army. It was he who put it best when he first addressed King Rhys and Queen Maia, who feared that Thoren and his troops might still wish harm upon the Layans. "You were all one people once," Thoren said. "My people still remember that."
Sari was a constant presence on Satellite during the restoration. Supplies were brought from Landen and skilled smiths were called in from Rysel and Agoe to aid in the rebuilding process. During that time, it was evident to everyone that Sari was doing her best to avoid contact with Rhys. Her tenderness towards young Ayn was just as obvious, but so was the love that had blossomed between Ayn and Thea. Not even lovesick Sari could fail to notice it. She was clearly sad when the restoration was over and she had to leave the Satellite, and Ayn, but she was also noticeably relieved. And so it came as a surprise to everyone when she invited the entire royal household to come back to Landen with her, as a sort of vacation for them.
"I don't know about this," Rhys said to Ayn when Ayn told him of Sari's offer.
"But Father," Ayn said, "I've been to Landen myself. The people have lost their hate for the Layans. And it's all due to Sari. She's the one you...." Ayn looked to the floor and swallowed. "She's the bridge you've been waiting for."
Rhys and his son were in a lounge room in the area of Satellite which had become the royal palace. The room's entire western wall was a window that overlooked Alisa III. As Rhys looked out the window he could see Draconia dome sparkling like a sapphire below him. Surrounding it was the velveteen surface of space. It was beautiful, and it seemed to carry promise. But it was also desolate. Rhys thought that Sari had struck him the same way.
"I just don't know, Ayn," the king repeated. "Perhaps the people of Landen have renounced their hatred of Layans. But what about me? Am I just another Layan? Am I a Layan at all in their eyes? Surely they look at me as a traitor. By Laya, I never so much as paid a visit after I married your mother. I left my people no way of understanding my reasons. No, I've decided. We will not go."
"We will go."
Rhys and Ayn turned around and saw Maia step into the chamber. She walked to her husband and wrapped her arms around him. Rhys put a hand in his wife's silver-blue hair, which was more silver and less blue than it had once been.
"Sari is trying to tell you something," Maia said.
"Me?" Rhys asked. "Why 'me' and not 'us?'"
"Sari's made her peace with Ayn and Thea. Even I spoke cordially with her after we arrived here, and she's warmed up to me more during her stay. This is about you, Rhys. She has to put your ghost to rest."
Rhys sighed. "I don't want that girl to be tormented the way...." His voice faded out and his wife kissed him gently on the lips. They smiled at each other.
The next morning, Ayn told Sari that her offer had been accepted.
Sari and the entire royal house of Cille-Shusoran descended upon Landen early one morning, silent as the dew. Sari planned to formally introduce Rhys and his family to the people of Landen later that day. But, she wanted the family to have the morning to themselves, to sort through whatever emotions they were experiencing and to ready themselves for the public ceremony that afternoon. Rhys and Maia agreed that this was a very good idea.
Sari led the group, followed by Rhys and Maia. Ayn came next, with Thea on his arm. Thea was already wearing a gorgeous promissory ring Ayn had given her -- a laconian band set with a massive blue diamond. Behind Ayn and Thea was a small group of dignitaries from Cille-Shusoran, which consisted of aunts, uncles, and cousins of Maia and Thea. Behind the group were Mieu and Wren, who had acted as the royal party's bodyguards, and Thoren brought up the rear. Despite the harshness of the half-day journey, everyone had worn their best clothes. Rhys wore the silver armor and white satin cape he had worn on the day he left to find Maia. The Sapphire of Satera which Lyle had stolen from Lena gleamed in his belt buckle.
Before leaving the Satellite, Sari had sent some of her cyborgs ahead of her. As a result, Landen castle's small staff was ready to receive its large number of guests. A light but rich breakfast was ready for the party when they arrived. Everyone was allowed to eat right away and then introductions were given. Rhys and Maia recognized no one, though everyone seemed to know them. A few women near the age of the king and queen wept openly when they first saw Rhys. Rhys smiled and behaved graciously, but he felt enormously uncomfortable. He gripped Maia's hand tightly and tried to slink away whenever possible.
Come late morning the guests had settled into their own affairs. Sari led Ayn and Thea on a detailed tour of the castle. The royal relatives relaxed in the rooms that had been set aside for them. Maia was exploring the orchard outside the castle proper, where she had picked sweet fruits during her courtship with Rhys. And as for Rhys, he stood as if in a daze and stared dumbly at the walls.
At one point Mieu found him in such a state. She took Rhys' shoulder and asked, "Master Rhys, is there anything I may do to help you?"
Rhys sighed and was quiet for a moment. Then he took a few meseta from his pocket and handed them to Mieu. "Go to the general store in the town," he said. "I hear that shop is still run by the Lobria family. If so, they probably have what I want...."
"Might this not cause undue attention?" Mieu asked. "Sari prefers for us not to reveal our presence until this afternoon."
Rhys shook his head. "Don't worry about it. Sari has brought lots of cyborgs from the other domes. If anyone asks you where you've come from or why you're here, just say you are on an errand for the castle. It's the truth, after all."
"Very well," Mieu said with a nod. "What shall I purchase for you?" Rhys told her what he wanted. "That is an odd request," Mieu replied. "But if that is what you want, Master Rhys, I shall get it for you right away."
"Thank you, Mieu," Rhys said. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
Refreshments were offered as the afternoon approached. Sari walked the grounds at that point to check up on all of her guests. She saw Ayn and Thea sharing wine near the fireplace in the main hall. Sari said hello to them, and then she found the extended family enjoying sandwiches in the west wing, and having pleasant conversations with Sari's family from Satera. Outside, Sari saw Mieu, Wren, and Thoren sneaking back into the castle with a parcel, but they ran off before the queen could ask them what was afoot.
Sari found Maia in the only unused bedroom in the house -- the room that had belonged to Rhys so long ago. Maia was standing in front of the mirror that was hanging along the far wall. It was the only piece of furniture still in the room.
"I hope you are enjoying your stay, Queen Maia," Sari said.
"I am very much, Queen Sari," Maia said as she studied herself in the mirror. "It has brought back a lot of memories...for both of us."
"Were you at Landen long?" Sari asked.
Maia shook her silver-maned head. "No. Well, now that I think about it, it must have been an entire summer. I'm amazed by how little the castle has changed since then. It almost feels like I never left at all."
The queen of Landen smiled. "My mother worked diligently to preserve the castle. She thought of it as a historic place. Orakio is said to have visited Landen, you know. In ancient times there was even a legend that Orakio was Landen's first king."
"Really?" Maia asked. Her voice was soft, distant. She was lost in her own memories.
"Do you know where King Rhys has gone?" Sari asked.
"I believe he went walking in the rear yard," Maia said. "You should find him there."
Behind Landen castle was a garden. There were no trees there; all of the trees were in the orchard at the castle's front. But the garden was filled with countless blooms from a thousand flowers and shrubs and ferns. Simple cobblestone walkways wound through the complex, and at the crossroads of those paths rested small fountains and finely-carved benches.
And at the very center of the garden rose a rectangular stone hewn from lavender marble. Carved into that stone was but one word, a name.
Rhys stood before the grave. In his hand he held a single sapphire-blue flower. Dozens of other flowers of the same type were arranged neatly all around the grave. The pale pink stone looked beautiful amidst that sea of perfect, shimmering blue.
Sari came up beside Rhys. "What lovely flowers," she whispered. "Where did they come from?"
"The gardener was tending them when I arrived," Rhys whispered back. "He must have known who I was; he shuffled away as soon as he saw me coming."
There was silence for at least a minute as Rhys and Sari looked down upon the spot where Lena lay resting. But then Rhys asked, "Am I to understand that your quest for revenge against me has ended?"
Sari blushed and turned away. "I...." Quiet. Then, "I wasn't aware you knew about that."
Rhys chuckled. "Ayn told me, though not until he was sure you had changed your mind. I wanted to discuss this with you back on the Satellite, but after I saw you working so hard to help us get the Satellite operational again, old feuds seemed unimportant." Rhys took a deep breath and savored the sweet, heady aroma of the flowers. "But now, being back here, in this place, with you.... It seems...very important again."
Sari shook her head. "King Rhys, I...apologize. I was wrong about your son, your wife, your family, your people...and you."
Rhys stared at the headstone and asked, "Did your mother speak so badly of me?"
"No, never!" Sari cried, turning to face Rhys again. "My mother spoke of you rarely, but when she did, it was never with anger or bitterness. She spoke only with warmth. Truly, I think my mother understood you better than anyone. Maybe even better than you did yourself!"
Rhys nodded. "It was Lena who began my quest, and it was Lena who completed it." A pause. "But why, if not because of what your mother told you, did you think me to be such a monster?"
Sari thought about it for a while, twirling one of her laconian knives in her left hand. Then she put the knife in its sheath and said, "You know, it was all because of one, simple thing."
Rhys faced her.
"All of my ideas about you sprang from the fact that you made my mother return here alone. It wasn't so much that you rejected her, or that you didn't love her, or that you didn't return home to Landen, although all of those things did trouble me. But the final straw, what made me truly hate you, was that you didn't even have the gentlemanly courtesy to escort her back home. It seems kind of silly, almost a trifle. But...."
Rhys considered Sari's words, and then he began to gently, quietly laugh.
Sari looked at him, horrified and confused. "How can you laugh at that?" she asked.
"Sari," Rhys said. "Your mother did not sulk home alone."
"She didn't?" Sari asked. "But mother told me you never returned to Landen...."
"I didn't," Rhys told her. "I traveled with Lena as far as the Aquatica-Landen passage. But even after that, Lena was not alone."
"Then...who was with her?"
"The King of Shusoran. Thea's father, Lyle."
Sari looked at Rhys in amazement. "The king of that Layan land walked right into Landen and right back out again?"
Rhys nodded. "And it wasn't the first time he had done so. You must remember, at that time, no one in Landen had seen a Layan for a thousand years. Many people believed Layans no longer existed. So, no one suspected Lyle to be anything more than a stranger from some unknown, faraway town. In fact, he stayed with your mother in Landen for quite some time. He didn't return to Shusoran until he was certain she had settled down comfortably."
Sari smiled. "I never knew."
Rhys smiled, too. "Lyle was like that."
There was quiet a while longer. Then Sari added, "Thea had quite a father. I only met him briefly. I wish I could have known him better."
"Yes, Lyle was a good man, and a good king. And he was my best friend." Rhys took a step closer to Sari and said, "I've been meaning to ask you, Sari.... What was the name of your father?"
Sari blinked. "What? Oh, my father. You think you might have known him?"
"I knew almost everyone who lived in Landen and Satera back then, by reputation if nothing else."
"Well, his name was Saerin. Mother told me he was a commoner from Satera. He died around the time I was born. I never knew him."
"Saerin...." Rhys mumbled, rubbing his chin. "It's funny, but I don't recall ever hearing that name."
An hour later, as the royal party prepared to make their presence known to the people of Landen, Maia found Rhys staring into the mirror in his old room. She looked into the crystal blue reflections of his eyes.
"I saw those enchanting flowers that have been set around Lena's grave," she said. "I've never seen such a beautiful plant."
"It's called the 'Satera violet,'" Rhys said. "It doesn't grow in Aquatica."
Maia smiled. "A beautiful sentiment as well. I wonder who sent them."
Rhys turned and took his wife in his arms. He kissed her tenderly and said, "I did."
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