Chapter 7

Scar could govern his people with what he hoped was wisdom, common sense, and a deep respect for tradition. Trying to maintain order by these means in his own home over four rambunctious children was not always successful. The battlefield of the supper table had reached a truce between some semblance of rudimentary discipline, domestic harmony, and getting people fed. Family and close friends knew what to expect. Much to her credit, Rose was easily able to balance being children's newest plaything and having an adult conversation.

"Rose, have some more khushuei," Rada said, passing her the bowl of roasted vegetable salad.

"Thank you!" Rose spooned more of the salad onto her plate. "This is delicious! Could you give me the recipe?"

"Of course!" Rada smiled, pleased. "You could serve it at your lunch counter!"

"You bet I will!" Rose scooped up some of the salad with a piece of flatbread and pushed it into her mouth as smoothly as any Ishvalan. Swallowing her mouthful, she added, "Our customers have gotten a little more used to vegetable dishes. Meat was a little scarce while we were getting ourselves back together. I had to get pretty inventive."

She picked up her cup of tea, looking down at the clear spot on the table the cup had left. Running her fingers over the carving of a flower, she said, "This must be another one of Stanno's pieces."

"Yes, it is," Rada replied. "But we're starting to outgrow it. I spoke to Stanno about building us a bigger one, and I hoped to have it by the festival, but he'd already started on those cedar chests."

"Which are beautiful, by the way!" Rose put in.

"Yes, he certainly throws himself into his work," Rada said.

"At the right price," Scar said under his breath.

Rada gave him a nudge. "Shh!"

Rose just gave a hint of a smile and said, "He was telling me how he has to drive up into the mountains to get native cedar. Oh, and he told me about the ruins of old Ishval that are out there. You're going to excavate them?"

Scar nodded. "We are. The idea met with resistance at first."

"Yes, Stanno mentioned that, too! He said that there are some who think you're courting disaster," Rose said.

"Like baata Zulema," Danika chuckled.

"Who?" Rose asked.

"She's a distant cousin of Colonel Miles," Rada explained.

"And she's re-e-eally old!" Danika added matter-of-factly. "She remembers lots and lots of old stuff, like how things were when she was a girl." She chuckled again. "She thinks we're all wicked."

"She thinks we court disaster on a regular basis," Scar agreed. "The Great Earthquake was a crushing blow in every respect, even worse than the War of Extermination, even worse than what happened to Xerxes. It isn't too hard to imagine how our ancestors thought themselves and their land cursed." He sat forward, warming to his subject. "But those ruins can tell us so much about our history. Up until now, our records have been limited to what survived not just the earthquake, but the war. Take our harvest festival, for example. We had always observed a holy day at this time, but nothing like the celebration that took place in ancient times. It was the Xingese that supplied much of what we now know."

"Really?" Rose suddenly perked up. "Oh! The emperor of Xing was at Ed and Winry's wedding!"

"He was. That's how I learned of the chronicles kept by Xingese merchants and diplomats who travelled to Ishval. The emperor was kind enough to send copies of what is a very extensive history. We haven't even gotten through all of it yet. But that is what has motivated us to search for our history ourselves."

"That's got to be a huge job!" Rose observed.

"It's likely to take many years," Scar said.

Rose nodded. "It'll probably be great for local business," she mused.

Scar raised an eyebrow. "You have been spending a lot of time with Stanno."

"Andakar!" Rada chided him in a hushed, slightly scandalized voice.

Rose, however, took it well. She even gave a little laugh. "Well, maybe I have, but I know what it's like to try and get a beat-up economy back on its feet." She gave Scar a shrewd look. "I'm getting the impression that Stanno is not one of your favorite people."

Scar paused and reached for an olive from a plate on the table. He was sorely tempted to give Rose what he felt was fair warning, but it might simply sound spiteful, even to him. Besides, despite his distaste for gossip and the fact that the idea rubbed him the wrong way, he was, in his own way, intrigued. Whatever might develop, as Imir put it, should develop without any prompting or discouragement from him. Not to mention that he could practically feel Rada silently daring him to say so much as a word.

He just gave a slight shrug. "I've known him nearly all my life, so I suppose we have some history."

"And some history doesn't need to be dug up," Rada said pleasantly but rather firmly.

888

Scar joined Rada in the garden where she sat on the bench along the wall. He draped the shawl he had gone inside to get for her over her shoulders and then sat beside her. She leaned against him as he put his arm around her.

"I like Rose!" Rada said determinedly. "I only just got to know her today and I like her so much already!"

"She has a kind soul," Scar agreed.

"And she's pretty!" Rada went on. "And she's smart on top of that!"

Scar just nodded and they both fell silent for a while. He was certain that they must both be thinking about the same thing. He supposed it wouldn't technically be gossip if it was just between them.

"She's too good for him," he remarked.

Rada gave him a gentle push with her shoulder. "What difference does that make? She'd be goodfor him."

"So would a well-placed kick in the backside." Scar shook his head. "He'd make her life a misery. He's good at that."

Rada let out an impatient little huff. "You have to admit, he's gotten better."

"If you mean he's gone from being a misbegotten spawn of a jhavahal to something resembling a human, then I suppose I could admit that. Barely."

Rada waved away her husband's remark. "What he needs is someone to…" She frowned slightly for a moment, then said, "…to inspire him! Someone he needs to strive for instead of just expecting her to fall into his arms if he so much as smiles at her."

"Like you did?" Scar remarked, then flinched as Rada gave him a sharp jab in the ribs. He laughed quietly. "Sorry, my love. I deserved that."

"You did! Andakar, if I can be forgiving toward Stanno, so can you!"

Scar sighed. "Your capacity for forgiveness is much greater than mine." He inclined his head. "But I bow to your better nature."

"That's good," Rada said contentedly. "Because I'm right about those two. I'm sure of it." She turned a little to face Scar. "She kept bringing him up. 'Stanno said this' and 'Stanno was telling me that.' To me, that's a sign that she's looking for approval."

"Mm…perhaps."

"I think she's exactly what Stanno needs!" Rada declared. "And I think I have all the right in the world to say that!"

As much as he was tempted to do so, Scar couldn't entirely argue with that. Perhaps she had a point. "But how long will it take Stanno to realize this for himself? Rose is only staying here for a week."

"A lot can happen in a week." Rada giggled with satisfaction and snuggled back against her husband. "I didn't ask her over just to be hospitable, I'll have you know. I wanted to get her away from Captain Kaihan, who was trying to chat her up."

Scar let out a laugh and tightened his arm around her shoulders. "You interfering little busybody."

888

After closing up his shop, Stanno went across to the hotel and stepped into the lobby. Pashmina was just coming down the stairs with an armful of linen and nearly ran into him.

"Ooh, Zhaarad!" she exclaimed in exasperation. "You keep slipping in here so quiet that I don't notice you're there!"

Stanno waved off her remark. "Is Rose in?" he asked, nodding toward the stairs.

Pashmina smiled a little smile that Stanno wasn't sure how to interpret. "As a matter of fact, she isn't," the girl replied. "She's gone over to Zhaarad Andakar's house for dinner."

Stanno felt a chill grip his insides. "Why?" he demanded.

Pashmina gave him a curious look and shrugged. "To eat dinner, I suppose. Zhaarana Rada asked her this morning when they met over at Havoc's." She said the name to mean the store itself, as it had come to be commonly called, not the proprietor.

Stanno was visited by feelings of dread and injustice. He was about to ask Pashmina when Rose would be back, but he decided simply to leave.

The girl followed him to the door. "Do you want me to tell her you asked after her?" she called as he strode out into the street.

"No."

It wasn't any of her business. It wasn't anyone else's business, damn them all! Stanno went around to the back of his house and unlocked the back door. He slammed it closed behind him and turned into his kitchen to light the lantern he kept by the sink. He preferred to reserve electricity for his workshop. He carried the lantern to light his way upstairs, mounting the steps in a mood of sullen resentment.

As hard as he tried to push it from his mind, he was certain that Rose would be entertained all evening with lurid tales of all his shortcomings. For all his noble ideals, Andakar was a man who took vengeance seriously.

What would Rada say? Yes, she was kind and friendly when she greeted him, but no one could be that forgiving. It certainly wasn't in his nature. It took him a long time to realize the scope of the mistake he made when he rejected Rada all those years ago. He suffered regret rather than remorse. For a time, he harbored the fantasy that fate had been different, that Rada was his and that he made her happy. It made him miserable.

Stanno turned and went back downstairs to the kitchen to retrieve the bottle of halmi that was sitting on the table. He carried it back upstairs to his bedroom and sat down on the bed. Pulling the cork from the bottle, he took a swallow from it and set it on the table beside the bed. He sat back against the wall and stared glumly at the opposite wall.

He had become a spectator of life rather than a participant. He concentrated on his craft, the one thing at which he excelled. He did what he thought was his duty as chieftain of Kanda. He stopped trying to conjure up scenes of domestic bliss, either with Rada or anyone else. Second chances happened to other people.

He had briefly thought otherwise after Rose arrived. Here was not just a fresh face, but a pretty one. Someone who didn't know him. Someone who didn't know what a fool he had made of himself. Even after he intimated a little about his past, she wasn't repulsed. He would have told her the rest eventually. Probably. After he'd gotten her to like him. But after tonight, that slim, nebulous hope would be gone. He picked up his bottle and took a long drink. He was done fooling himself. To hell with the lot of them.