Mirren came into Rensa’s sitting room, dragging Bannoc after her, a determined but heart sick look on her face. “We need you. He needs you.” She dragged Bannoc down on his knees beside her in front of Rensa’s chair as the Princess devaunt laid her book aside.
Rensa looked from her lady-in-waiting, guard dog and friend to the man who hated her for what she was and back again. She sat up straight, hands folded in her lap, copying the her grandfather’s posture when he’d sat in audience not really all that long ago. “What do you need of me?”
“Highness,” it was Mirren who spoke, “this man has committed a great and vast wrong that his spirit cannot bear. He is so lost that he does not even know which way he has to face in order to go forward. Your family bore the brunt of his wrong and you are the last of them.” Mirren was adapting an old legal formula to the occasion.
Bannoc interrupted her with the rest of it. “What penance and restitution do you require of me?”
“What wrong did you do my family, Bannoc?” He had to say it. That was part of the formula, an admission to everyone including himself of what he had done.
“My squad and I killed all the children of your family, their teachers and their caregivers.” His admission sat there in the open, no longer the ignored monster in the room.
“I know,” her admission was not in the formula. “That day, when Trode was gloating over me, I saw the six of you coming back from the nurseries and classrooms. There was blood spray on your clothes. Where are the rest of your squad?”
“Boric put a bullet through the roof of his mouth. Gessic, we called him Marrow, went into a burning house to try to save a family trapped inside. Warruc walked into a swamp lake with weights in his pockets. Ludoc’s disappeared and Dennec seems to drink instead of sleep. What do you want of me?” He looked at the floor in front of him like a condemned man.
“No-one can bring the dead back to life,” Rensa felt like she was talking around the edges of a stone in the centre of her chest, “so I want you to spend the rest of your life making this a world where that can never happen to any family ever again. Speak to Tuluc,” she clarified, “and talk about ethics training for the expanded military. Participate. If necessary, terrify them that you will come after them if they do wrong.”
He looked up.
“Oh, I haven’t finished yet.” Rensa leaned forward in her seat. “No more breaking gym equipment. You’re an adult, start acting like one again. If Mirren will have you, then Mirren gets as many babies as Mirren wants. Do you understand me?”
Bannoc nodded while Mirren blushed.
“She might, of course, consult you in coming to that decision,” Rensa allowed, “But that’s her decision too. Now, leave me. I’m sure the two of you need to have at least one conversation alone.”
Bannoc and Mirren retreated from the room, both slightly stunned.
Rensa waited until they were gone then retreated into the bathroom and cried into a towel until the feeling that she might retch and throw up was gone.