Mary sat perched on one of the turrets of her aunt's fortress in Normandy, enjoying the slight drizzle of rain on her face. Her favourite type of weather.
It had been a few days since they'd returned to the Earth-realm, through Tostig's guidance and knowledge of the location of the In-Betweener. They'd met with Mariqah's serving lieutenant, Irwin, who was guarding the Earth-realm entrance along with the commanding general of Mariqah's ally, Emperor Seth. There had been a lot of explaining to do, but Mary had insisted that they return home before any talking began. Khadir had told her that she'd need to be present during the meetings. Mary replied by showing she didn't care.
She was still jarred by Mariqah's death. Now that things were done and dusted, it was easier for unpleasant thoughts and memories to creep in. Mary sighed, feeling the weight of the Damascus in her belt once more. Her own mother's death has set in also. The gravity of the matter had yet to set in, but Mary could feel it coming.
Mary had killed her mother. It was a burden as much as it was an achievement.
She drew the sword out and held it between her hands.
She wondered how much of what her mother had said about Mariqah was true.
Mary didn't turn to greet Khadir, but she moved up a little so that he could sit beside her and gaze at the view below them. It was beautiful. She hasn't considered it before, but Mary was certain that there wasn't a place in the world - in any world - quite like her home in Normandy.
“Is it all true?” she said, “The things I told you my mother mentioned?”
Khadir paused a while, “Mariqah did not speak often about her family, less still about her mother. But there were things she regretted, memories and arguments and actions she never came to terms with. I know it caused her grief and anxiety, one of the reasons why your aunt turned to drugs and narcotics when she couldn't cope. But she did have a... What did she call it? A 'fling' with a pirate, a man named Callum O'Brien who became infatuated with her until the day he died. But she was not cruel. She made it clear that she did not love him, he tarried after her through his own choices. As for me and her,” Khadir scoffed, “I hated your aunt for at least six months after she came to my family, and I got married sometime within that period. I didn't like a thing about her, and my father's interest in mentoring her made me all the more envious. As for her and your father - I shouldn't think so. She supported him for a time, ran his errands, believed in his cause - but she didn't like him overtly. She always thought he was a little self-righteous and big-headed. There was another man, your father's biggest rival, whom Mariqah was old friends with. A man named Reynold Evans, who led a group named the Order, as opposed to your father's Brotherhood. Mariqah hated Richard from the day he ordered Evans's killing, and despised him all the more when he murdered Callum in secret.”
“I only really wanted to know about Aunt Mariqah's mother,” Mary said.
“I'm aware,” Khadir said slowly, “I know that Mariqah's mother suffered from a terminal illness before she died. But that's the extent of my knowledge. What Britney said may or may not be true - your mother was an abbess after all, and Mariqah often confided in her, even though she wasn't a Christian,” Khadir brought something out from his back-pocket, and handed it to Mary.
Mary sheathed the Damascus and looked down at the book that Khadir gave her. It had a beaten, weathered cover - the pages bulging out in the centre from having been written on and scraps being stuck in. Mary suspected it had suffered some water damage also. A faded print of small, colourful butterflies dotted the ruined cover.
“Your inheritance,” Khadir explained, “Or part of it, anyway. Mariqah left you a substantial amount of wealth, but in her journal you might find some answers.”
“Thank you, Uncle Khadir,” said Mary.
“You're welcome,” Khadir replied, “You should start packing, though, Mary. You will be off to Masyaf in a few day's time.”
“According to Mariqah's will, no-one inherits the army or Normandy. She made it expressly clear that leadership should be taken up by someone who can manage it - not by next of kin or by closest confident - and if this could not be done, then Mercenary Normandy is to be dismantled. The soldiers will be migrating to the other compounds - in Ethiopia, Bengal, Nassau and Masyaf,” Khadir explained, “Unless you want to go to the other compounds, or start a new life - I thought Masyaf would suit you best.”
“But... this is Normandy!” Mary protested, “This is where I grew up! This is my home!”
“And you'll get to know Masyaf in the same light with time. There's a man there named Sean Dean. He was a good friend of your aunt's and will see that you are welcomed over there. Masyaf may still be a Brotherhood stronghold, but they will never forget what Mariqah did for them,” Khadir paused to regard Mary. He put a hand to her shoulder, “Don't worry, Mary! If we can find leadership, we can take this fortress again. The price we sell it all for should be enough to buy it back when the time is right.”
“I know... This is all just so...”
“Both Ead and Tostig will join you.”
“They're still here?”
“Ead has found purpose for himself - to protect you where and when he can - and Tostig claims that he has become too infamous to return to the Grey Havens - though I believe that's just his cover-up for saying that he's grown quite fond of you.”
Despite herself, Mary laughed, “It can't be, Uncle Khadir. Elves fall in love once. Ead told me that.”
“Yes, but that doesn't mean they always show it.”
Mary furrowed her brows and gave Khadir a look, but didn't comment further. She tucked Mariqah's journal in one of her pockets and stood up, “Can you help me with something, Uncle Khadir? Do you know where Aunt Mariqah had Uncle Darim buried?”
“I know the place, yes.”
Mary took off her sword belt and passed it to Khadir. She pulled out the Damascus halfway, taking one last look, “Could you have this buried beside him?”
Khadir raised his brows, “Mary... are you sure?”
“Well... We couldn't get her body here and... I don't know. This isn't mine, it's hers. I didn't earn it.”
“She meant for you to have it.”
“I know. But...” she looked away, “My arms will never be strong enough to carry the sword Mariqah lived by. I don't care about what she may have done before, I loved her and I miss her. But I can never be her.”
Khadir paused a moment, before he took the sword and nodded, “Alright, Mary.”