102 ~ Molly

Crying on Bellica Anala’s shoulder was like dream and nightmare in one come true.

Anala cared enough about her to try and offer comfort — that was a dream.

She was making a fool of herself by not only crying in front of her childhood idol, but said idol’s major and friends. What a nightmare!

But there was no help for it. Molly had been unable to function as a human being since…since Luis died. If not for Jester, she would not even have been able to send Anala that letter. The rebel leader’s lover, Selene, had a gently compassionate side — but Molly had needed something else. Molly had needed the type of compassion that would kick her in the rump and galvanise her to action — and that was exactly what Jester had offered. Some of what the young woman had shouted at Molly had penetrated the rebel leader’s catatonic state and roused her.

Awake she’d been since the fifth of Primera, but barely human. She could not close her eyes without the vision haunting her, the horror of the Seraglio room. Too, she acknowledged the dreadful truth of what she’d done to Damien’s older sister through her own inaction: because a meeting between the parents of Luis and Damien was not a possibility, she and Autumn as the boys’ elder sisters were to serve that function. Damien had, in fact, told her much about his sister. It pained her to remember that, just before the boys had been taken, she had been scheduled to meet Autumn. The meeting had never happened.

Jester had had to clean up the mess of not only a murdered brother but a future brother-in-law, left as Duchess Danika’s final revenge. Molly had tried to talk to Jester, to tell her how sorry she was, to offer comfort — but the woman had refused, saying nothing was to be done about it now. That was the past. They had to think of the future.

Jester was right, of course, even if there had been tears in her eyes. So she’d set her mind forward — looked to repairing the town, to leading, to awaiting Selina’s reply. Or arrival. She had expected a letter, nothing more –the arrival of three regiments sent to put down the insurrection had been an incredible surprise.

“But how could it possibly be known? We were in complete control of all outgoing mail!”

Dagon, Anala’s Honor Guard, had not had an answer for her when she’d asked him the night before. But Bellica Yarrow had an answer for her now: “But not outgoing people. Seems a servant of Duchess Danika loved her lady so much she traveled from Aeril to Atherton by foot, at age one hundred, to tell the Empress of the insurrection.” Molly could see by Yarrow’s face that the bellica held a grudging respect for the woman who had ruined everything for the rebels.

She shook her head and ran her fingers through her hair in frustration. “And to think we spared the servants’ lives because we thought them innocent pawns of the Duchess!” she yelled.

“Most, if not all, of them were,” came a deep masculine voice. Molly looked up to see it was Major Aro who spoke. Peripherally, she saw movement edge in from other rooms in the hacienda: the servants, kept on because they had no other place to go, were coming out from wherever they’d been eavesdropping. “I’d even say that the woman who betrayed you was innocent as well — Nicole was Duchess Nia’s midwife, you see. She birthed all the lady’s children, and so to her Danika was still a young, lovable child — not the monster she’d became while fostered in Atherton.”

There was a bemused silence. Molly, and no doubt the others, wondered how Major Aro could know this.

Then the oldest of the servants came forward and knelt before the major, taking his hands and kissing them. “It’s the young master! He’s returned!” they murmured, gratefulness infusing their tone.

Molly felt as confused as anyone else. “What’s going on?” she asked, sure the question was on every mind.

Aro shrugged as he helped the servants to their feet. “You’ve no need to kneel to me, old friends,” he said to them softly before turning to address the five he traveled with, and Molly. “I was sent as a young child to be fostered in Atton — my name was changed, as is customary for long-term fostering of non-inheriting children. Danika was sent to Atherton, where the sister I loved turned into the monster I’m glad has been slain.

“The last time I spoke to her was years ago, at court. She’d told me what she’d planned to do about our mother. I’d threatened to go to the Empress with the information but she laughed in my face and said Zanny and Zardria had given her the idea in the first place. I begged her not to go through with it — for all that I’d not seen my mother in years, I loved the woman still. Danika called me weak, a useless male child she should have seen killed years ago, and would have seen killed then had I not been militarily trained. She left then, and when I heard the news that my mother was dead….” he shrugged, unable to finish that thought. “Thank you for releasing my sister’s spirit, Aradia. I hope she and my family can be at peace now.”

“Thank Selene,” murmured Molly dazedly. Major Aro — child of the Ylfen line, Duke of Aeril by rights. Who would have thought it?

There was a long silence, which Bellica Yarrow finally broke. “Well. Confessions, revelations, and past truths told anew all aside for the moment, may I suggest we figure out where to go from here?”

There was a general murmur of agreement, and Molly led them upstairs to the more comfortable rooms of the hacienda, where they could negotiate in peace and safety.

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