A/N This missing scene actually takes place before The Thief, but is referred to in several different places in the book.
Thanks to KrisEleven for being a picky beta! If you need a thorough beta for a Thief fic who knows the series like the back of her hand, I suggest you check out her profile.
Disclaimer Since this scene takes place before The Thief, I think the characters in it actually belong to ME, right? Prior claim and all that? (Don't puncture my dreams, people!)
A Sword by the Hilt
"Father wants us both in Gen's rooms."
Stenides looked up from the delicate gears he was probing and met his brother's impassive gaze. "This isn't going to be pleasant, is it?"
"Right away," was Temenus's only answer.
Stenides reluctantly put down the watch and rose from his workbench. "Has he stolen some duchess's favorite earrings again?"
Temenus folded his arms across his chest. "You wish."
"What then?" Stenides snapped, his patience at an end. Obviously, there was going to be a scene, and he wanted to know the worst at once.
"Oh. Oh gods!" Stenides paled. "Father doesn't actually intend …"
"What do you think?"
"But Grandfather …"
"It's been three months. Father is determined to lay the past to rest, and I think he's right. The title of Thief is archaic."
"But why drag us into it?" Stenides moaned, following his brother out of the workshop and locking the door.
"Tradition. You don't expect him to acknowledge this isn't going to go smoothly?"
The workshop was located in the upper regions of the palace; the library and their youngest brother's room somewhat farther down. They were halfway there when Stenides abruptly stopped. "I forgot something." Before Temenus could grab his arm, he ran back up the stairs.
"I'm not waiting for you!" Temenus shouted at his fleeing back, but Stenides ignored him.
By the time he had completed his errand and arrived at the library, Temenus had settled into the most comfortable chair, wearing a stoical expression that Stenides privately thought was a requirement for enrollment in the Guard.
He had a sudden, horrible thought. "Tell me none of our dearly beloved cousins are coming."
Temenus shook his head. "Just us."
That was some relief. If Father had insisted on gathering all the male members of the family, or just the ones already in the Guard … Stenides repressed a shudder. This was going to be bad enough.
The door swung open and he tensed, relaxing when it only proved to be his father. The older man carried a scroll, elaborately sealed with red wax and dangling golden tassels, and a sheathed sword. He nodded at his sons.
"May I?" Temenus asked, already reaching for the sheath. He drew out the blade and gave a low whistle of appreciation.
Despite himself, Stenides was impressed. The length of glittering steel gleamed with fine engraving, while the intricately wrought hilt was inlaid with multi-colored gems. But he wasn't misled by the weapon's elegant appearance—any sword commissioned by his father would be as impressive on the battlefield as in the ballroom.
Admiration didn't mask the sinking in his stomach. Tradition declared that when a new recruit was enrolled in the Guard (enrollment was always in the spring), the male members of his family presented him with a new sword, as fine as they could afford. Clearly their father had spared no expense.
Stenides felt a stab of sympathy for his little brother. He hadn't wanted to join the Guard either, and had been pleased when his swordsmanship failed to become more than passable. Gen, on the other hand …
"Looking for a good book?"
Stenides started as he realized Gen had slipped into the room. The tone of the question was light, but there was an ominous set to the boy's shoulders as his eyes darted from their father, to the sword Temenus held frozen mid-flourish, to Stenides trying to be unobtrusive against the wall.
"But I forgot. Reading is only a skill for those who don't have more important things to do—like skewering people or chopping off their limbs. You must be here to look at the pretty pictures. I mean maps."
Temenus shoved the sword back in its sheath and opened his mouth to respond to the insult, but his father's hand on his arm stayed the words.
"Unless Sten was going to read to you?" Gen pinned his oldest brother with a shrewd look, and Stenides felt his expression slipping toward apologetic. Out of loyalty to his father, he tried to assume that expression of military stoicism, but ended up looking like he was in pain.
Eugenides's brilliant soldier-father was a man of few words. He lifted the tasseled scroll and handed it to his youngest son.
Gen took it gingerly, as though it felt nasty, and broke the seal. He stared expressionlessly at the contents before saying with formal politeness, "I beg your pardon, sir, I don't seem to have made myself clear. I have already chosen my profession."
Their father's eyes narrowed, but Temenus replied first. "You call slinking through sewers and rummaging through people's bedchambers a profession?"
"You call stomping around in heavy boots and lopping people's heads off a profession?" Gen shot back. "Oh it's all right for you, I suppose, since you're too stupid and too ugly to do anything else. But some people in this family have talent."
Temenus started forward, no doubt to demonstrate a few of his professional skills on his little brother's body, but his father's iron grip pulled him back.
"Enough. Both of you. Eugenides, you are enrolled in the Guard, an ancient and honorable profession. The title of Thief should have been laid to rest long ago."
"The last Thief of Eddis is barely cold in his grave! Or did you think he lingered too long as well?"
"That is not what I said."
"But it's what you meant, isn't it, Father? You think the embarrassment is finally dead, and you can't wait to bury the memory too!"
"Enough," his father commanded, but Gen ignored him.
"A little hard to lay the title to rest when you named me Eugenides, isn't it?"
The Minister of War was beginning to lose his temper. "I honored your mother's wishes, but no son of mine is going to waste his life as a thief."
"If you dislike thieves maybe you shouldn't have married one! Were you glad when she fell too?"
Stenides watched his father's face turn white, and his sympathy for Gen evaporated.
The older man's voice was low and deadly. "You will not say such a thing again."
Gen gripped the top of the scroll and in a single, swift movement ripped it from top to bottom. "I honor my mother. And I will never, though the gods themselves compel me, waste my life as a soldier." Dropping the paper to the floor, he turned on his heel and left.
Lycidas rubbed the jade beads and gold filigree of his new fibula pin. It was the finest jewelry he'd ever owned and he found the ornament flashy, but the shopkeeper had assured him that the pin was the height of fashion.
"They've been selling so fast I can hardly keep them in stock," he promised, as he wrapped up the purchase. "Everyone must be replacing them now that the old Thief is gone."
He winked and Lycidas, the younger son of a rural country squire, smiled back in confusion. It was his first time in the capital, and he wanted to make a good impression. Glancing over at two well dressed courtiers, he hoped to see them wearing pins similar to his own, but was dismayed to find they both fastened their cloaks with plain iron pins.
Bitterly, he cursed the shrewd shopkeeper who had accurately sized him up as a country bumpkin and considered going home. But this might be his only chance to wait in the palace courtyard at this hour, when the queen was rumored to walk with her ladies.
Lycidas had seen Eddis only once, when he and his uncle had gone to petition for extended grazing grounds. Uncle Petros had been thrilled when the petition was granted. Lycidas had been thrilled by something else. He spent one half of the night wrestling with classic iambic pentameter and the other half dreaming of the queen's smile. Reaching inside his tunic, he felt the small scroll tied with ribbon and Hespira blossoms. His heart fluttered, and he prayed he wouldn't lose his nerve. Perhaps he should have taken a gift to the altar of Aoide.
He had been leaning against one of the columns that bordered the courtyard for half an hour, watching the loitering crowd, when the palace door burst open. Lycidas straightened up hopefully, but it was only a young man with long, dark hair who strode straight toward Lycidas's pillar. He was still a boy, but his face was grim and set, and Lycidas felt suddenly chilled. Several other spectators scattered out of the youth's path.
The boy stiffened and spun, glaring at the new man who had emerged from the same doorway. "Still trying to recruit me, Temenus? Your measly handful of brains must have gotten knocked out during the last campaign."
Lycidas's jaw dropped at the short youth's sneering tone. The other man was large, obviously a soldier, and not someone Lycidas would have wanted to tangle with under any circumstances.
The soldier drew back his arm and threw. The sword flashed through the air and clattered onto the pavement at Eugenides's feet, skidding against his boots. Lycidas felt his jaw dropping again as he took in the jewels flashing on the hilt and the fine engraving that decorated the silver blade. The weapon was easily worth half his family's landholdings.
"This isn't mine," Eugenides spat.
Temenus strode close. "Yes. It is. You may have no respect for our Father, and you may not have a drop of nobility in your scrawny corpse, but will you for two seconds consider Eddis?"
"Don't you dare bring her into this," Eugenides hissed. Lycidas took an involuntary step backward, even as his heart pricked with jealousy.
"She could have had you flayed a dozen times, but for gods knows what reason she stays her hand. Consider the debt of gratitude you owe her."
"That has nothing to do with this."
"Doesn't it? How do you think she holds her throne? Who keeps the Sounisian dogs from her doorstep if not her loyal Guard?"
"I can serve the queen better than any hundred of your loyal, stupid Guardsmen."
"Don't be naïve, Gen. The day will come when you will run that sword through an enemy of Eddis and rejoice."
Eugenides stared at his brother, and then he grabbed the sword. With sweeping, double-handed swing, he smashed the flat of the blade against the stone pillar.
The sword shattered. A dozen shining pieces rang on the paving stones. One shard flew toward Lycidas and he jumped backward, bumping into someone but too mesmerized by the drama in front of him to apologize.
Eugenides turned back to face Temenus, the broken hilt still gripped between his hands. "Not this sword."
Temenus laughed derisively. "You always were one for dramatic gestures. But when an Attolian guard puts his blade to your throat, will you agree to bleed out like a pacific little lamb? I don't think you're that noble."
The courtyard audience held its breath, waiting.
Eugenides's nostrils flared with his short, rapid breaths. "Maybe not," he said at last, so low that Lycidas had to strain to hear.
And then Eugenides grabbed his brother's hand and forced it around the glittering hilt, so that they held it between them. He spoke again, and this time the burning fierceness of his voice carried the words to every frozen witness.
"But by the great goddess, this I will swear, that if ever again I take a sword by the hilt, it will be only to defend my life."
Lycidas was horrified. Such a vow was insane—it could never be kept. And to swear it by the greatest of the gods was doubly crazy.
Temenus must have thought the same because he jerked his hand away and the hilt clattered to the ground. "You little fool."
"Better a fool than a butcher," Eugenides said coldly and strode away, nearly running into the gaping Lycidas. "Sorry," he muttered, reaching out a steadying hand, and then he was gone.
Lycidas regained his balance and picked up his cloak from the ground, wondering just how many rivals for the queen's affections he had.
Eddis shifted restlessly before the desk in her bedchamber. Shut up in her room since lunch, she regretted having to give up her afternoon walk, but she had been forewarned.
Three brief notes lay on the desk. The first was stamped with her Minister of War's official seal.
Your Majesty, I have the honor of informing you that my youngest son, Eugenides, will this day be presented with his enrollment papers for the Eddisian Guard. I pray that his service to you may be long and fortunate.
The second was from her cousin Temenus.
My Queen, I wished to advise you that my father is giving Eugenides his enrollment for the Guard. I do not think he will be pleased, although not, I am sure, from any reluctance to serve you.
The third was shortest of all.
Helen, Father's trying to force Gen into the Guard. Duck if you can. –Sten
An hour earlier, one of her ladies had burst into the room, breathless and eager to relate the public argument between Temenus and his brother. Apparently there was now a large crack in one of her courtyard columns.
At last judging enough time had passed, Eddis pulled off her rose silk afternoon dress and stuffed the loathed garment into the bottom of her wardrobe. She dropped to her stomach and pulled a box from beneath the cedar closet where it was safe from her ladies-in-waiting. Inside were her training tunic and pants, too small since she'd given up sword practice a year ago, but still serviceable.
Dressed, she pushed open her bedroom window and crawled out onto the broad tree limb that extended almost to the casement. Once down, she slipped out a back door into the gardens and found herself on the edge of the city, the steep mountainside rearing before her.
The path was faint and often treacherous, but Eddis knew her way, even in the fading light. It was only during the last part, a stiff climb through a cleft boulder, that she ran into trouble. Grunting, she tried to pull herself up the last few feet, but her fingers slipped out of the crevice, and she only just saved herself from falling. She snatched a handful of gravel from a cranny and threw it up toward the top of the rock.
A moment later, an answering rain of pebbles fell on her head, and then Gen's face appeared above her. "It was obvious you were coming. You didn't have to stone me."
"You could have offered help before I got to that point."
"I didn't want to offend you by assuming you needed it," he said condescendingly, and Eddis bared her teeth at him.
He hauled her up to the top, and they both sat with their feet dangling over the edge, watching the sun set over the Attolian lowlands.
"So," she began, "my courtiers have all begun fastening their cloaks with iron pins. I assume I have you to thank for this new fashion?"
Gen assumed a modest expression.
"I thought you preferred earrings."
"I do, normally. This is for something special."
"A memorial offering?" she guessed.
"One for each year of his life. I thought it was appropriate."
Eddis groaned inwardly. Her last Thief had not fallen young.
"I'm sorry about the pillar," Gen offered.
"If the masons decide it has to be replaced, I'm telling them to use you for temporary support."
He smiled wryly, and Eddis decided it was time to push a little.
"You don't want to join my loyal Guard?"
He winced at the echo of his argument with Temenus. "My Queen, I will serve you with my life. But not in the Guard."
"I can't say I'm surprised. It's no secret you want to be Thief." She paused and wryly contemplated her own words. To be honest, Eugenides was Thief. He just hadn't taken the oaths. "I suppose we should make it official."
His face lit with hope. "When?"
"I will accept your oaths at midsummer, if …" She glared at him. "If you apologize."
He stood up, defiant, but she had been expecting that and hooked her hand around his ankle, tumbling him to the rock. A moment later she was kneeling on his back, one hand latched firmly in his hair, the other securing his right wrist. He flailed at her with his left hand, but she bit it, hard.
"OW! You're killing me!"
"Hardly," replied Eddis, pleased she could still pin him after a year of no training. "No apology, no oaths."
"I am not going to apologize to Temenus," he snarled, almost twisting free, but she dug her knee into his ribs until he howled.
"Fond as I am of his blockheaded loyalty, I don't want you to apologize to Temenus, stupid. I want you to apologize to your father."
Gen ceased his piteous moaning, but there was a stubborn quality to his silence. Eddis slowly stood, and when he didn't bolt, she resumed her seat on the edge. The evening star was rising.
"I can't have my Thief and my Minister of War at each other's throats," she told him briskly. "It's bad policy." When he didn't respond, she added in a quieter tone, "Besides, I'm fond of my uncle. I don't know what you said to him, but I'm sure it was horrible."
Gen finally sat beside her, but he remained angry. "He hates the title of Thief. I think he was actually pleased when … when Eugenides fell."
Eddis regarded him with equal parts pity and exasperation. "If you believe that, you really are a little fool."
Gen walked across the courtyard, gently rubbing his hand where Eddis's bite mark remained. His cousin had teeth like a horse.
A small group of men were talking just inside the doorway, but they fell silent as he entered. He recognized two of his cousins and sent up an automatic prayer they would let him pass in peace.
He almost ignored it, but the flicker of a shadow made him turn to see the sword flying at his head. Automatically, he reached for the hilt. Just in time, he twitched his wrist and grabbed the blade instead.
Phaedrus was bent double, laughing. "Watch out, little cousin, or you'll be violating your oath to the great goddess."
Gen stared in disgust at the sword, its gaudy gold and silver hilt set with an enormous emerald. "If I owned something as ugly as this, I'd be trying to call the wrath of the goddess down on it, too."
It wasn't a very good insult, but it didn't take much to offend Phaedrus, who glowered.
Timon laughed and elbowed his brother. "Better watch out, or he'll do the same thing to your sword that he did to his."
"It wouldn't be worth breaking an oath to any god," Gen snapped, and threw the sword back to his cousin before escaping down the hallway.
Phaedrus must be mad to try something like that with him, he thought furiously, blowing on the shallow cut that crossed his palm. Everyone knew how much the oaf valued that hideous thing. Reaching into his pocket, he tried to find something to push over the cut, but instead pricked his finger. Pulling out the fibula pin, he stared at its jade beads, puzzled at first. Then he remembered the young man with the vacant face in the courtyard, the one he had run into after the fight with Temenus. He had been too furious to even think of picking the fellow's pockets, so his reflexes must be even sharper than he had realized.
Laughing softly, Gen pushed open the door of the library and walked in without bothering to double check that the room was empty. He had shut the door behind him before he realized the Minister of War was sitting in front of the hearth in the library. Gen stopped in dismay, his clenched fist dripping blood.
His father looked at him with his eyebrows raised. "Cleon?"
Phaedrus's uncle nodded in understanding and offered his handkerchief.
Gen wound it tightly across his palm, and, bracing himself, muttered, "I'm sorry for what I said about Mother." Half-defiantly, he added, "That's the best I can do."
His father reached inside his tunic to pull out a tiny box. "Your grandfather asked me to give you this. On the day you became Thief."
Slowly, Gen reached out and took the box, trying not to smear blood on it. Inside lay a pair of square cut ruby earrings, their depths blazing with red fire. "What are they?"
"They belonged to the last queen of Sounis. He took them right out of her bedchamber."
Gen laughed, but sobered as his father glared at him.
"He endangered an entire reconnaissance party. I wanted to strangle him." The Minister of War's gaze grew distant. "Still. We ran a campaign or two together."
Gen cradled the box, watching the flames dance in the gems, absorbing this admission that the title of Thief was not quite as archaic as most people believed.
A hand rested on his shoulder a brief moment, and then his father left, shutting the library door behind him.
The next morning, a sword set with an enormous emerald rested on the altar of Eugenides. Artfully arranged around it were seventy fibula pins.
Notes: Aoide is one of the names for the ancient Muse of song.
Although the red flowers that inspire Eddis's story about Hespira in QoA are never actually named (that I can find), I figured Hespira blossoms was probably a good guess.
I realized I should add an additional note. I do realize that according to canon, it's "in the middle of an argument with my father" that Gen makes his rash vow. However, I simply couldn't imagine MoW as we know him getting into a shouting match in the middle of the courtyard. So my justification is that although it's literally Temenus that Gen's arguing with, it's actually all part of the fight with his father. I don't think he would get so angry if it were really just about his brother. (I may have to try rewriting this scene one day according to the letter of the book - it will probably have to be a different kind of argument.)
A/N Thank you so very much for reading! Reviews warm the cockles of my heart! (And make the ink flow through the nib of my pen.) (Not to mention, people who read and don't review clearly have the desired character traits of a soldier. If you're lurking, the Guard wants you. Stop inflating my hit count and go lop off heads.)
For Sounisians: Anonymous reviews from members who don't have accounts here will be answered in the LJ thread.