Elia put down her teacup; the red sleeve of her mourning dress fell down to her elbow. She was holding onto her composure with fingernails, but her hands would not shake. Pride and training made sure of that. "You are bold to ask anything from me, Jedi Atris."
The woman did not drop her eyes. "I know, but I would not have come here if you were not my best hope for what I am trying to accomplish."
Accomplish? Atris wanted her daughters to become prison guards to Force-addled users. She had no doubt that the children would be excellent prison guards, but they were born for a better fate than that.
The Jedi put her teacup down and stood up. "I have asked much of you today. I ask only one more thing - consider my proposal. I'll return tomorrow for an answer."
Elia did not want this woman on-planet, let alone in her home, but she was Echani and she would not defy customs. "Please - stay with us. We have many rooms and food to share, and you have not even met my daughters."
Atris smiled tightly. The Jedi knew that the offer was not out of real hospitality "My shuttle is comfortable enough. I shall return tomorrow."
Elia did not insist and had one of the droids escort Atris off the grounds. When the Jedi had left the courtyard, she went to the security room and sent mini-flyers to track the woman and nest in the pines at the edge of the clearing where sthe Jedi had left her shuttle. Atris would notice them; that was the point.
She realized that with the girls sequestered in the training quarters, she couldn't hear anything but the click and whir of the cogs in the house droids.
It would always be this silent if she allowed her daughters to go with Atris.
Elia felt the sudden bead of sweat on her forehead and her heart lurched. She hurried out of the security room and into the hallway. The droids kept the hallway shined in ivory and steel. The floor tiles reflected her image a thousand times, a flash of red trapped in flat sliver.
She stood outside the door to the training room, but didn't go in. She just... listened. They were all practicing; sparring against each other again and again until they knew their siblings just as well as they knew themselves. She knew she was hard on them, but they were not the daughters of a general and a soldier for nothing.
Elia's heart slowed to normal again; a cold molasses in her chest, and she ran her fingers over the plasteel door. Her memories were so heavy and she had no choice but to care for them, feed them, kiss them goodnight - every day for years, alone.
Elia wondered now if shielding them from society had been the right thing. Many years ago, she had worn blue for the endless, blue for the soul. She and her five daughters had worn the blue and stood on the dais and watched as Yusanis body had been burned on a pyre. Much of the planet had watched it as well; the beloved general and senator burning.
That had been difficult, but it had not been the worst.
There had been the reception at the house with those who knew the truth, coming in and eating food and talking small. All the while they knew he hadn't shared the house with her since he'd left for the Mandalorian Wars, not even since he'd come back since the end of Malachor V - since the end of that woman.
Her fingers curled. She broke a nail on the door and watched the blood come.
The old bitterness flowed through her. This is why she shunned requests to spar in festivals; any one of her people would know how she'd rotted from the inside. She was an apple with a worm deep in her heart, eating her from within.
It had always been that way. Their marriage had been arranged, but she and Yusanis had become familiar with each other and then, she thought, friends.
Friendship was not enough though. Their children were the product of a series of fumbling nights between a man and woman who had never grown out of being two teenagers in each others presence. And like any one-night stand, they were always awkward strangers in the morning. Only the mornings had become years and years together...
It had seemed reasonable at the time to be so very unhappy. Duty and the coming war hadn't left much room for thinking about personal happiness when their people were dying. Then one day she had received a holocron. In it, he had apologized for his infidelity and she might have been able to forgive him for it. But he had stayed with the Jedi - and fought by her side the next morning - an act so intimate that when he had spoken the words, she had choked on the betrayal.
He said he had known he loved the Jedi after one night. He had said it so certainly. So sadly.
She hated him for his sadness. He had no right to be sad, to be humble, to be penitent. She had thrown the holocron at the wall and screamed, one of the most unseemly displays of temper and emotion she'd ever had in her life.
And then the ice had come. She had daughters. She had duty. And she had no choice but to soldier on. That was the Echani way.
The blood on her finger was dry and her heart was slow. The ice was back. Sometimes it cracked violently, calving like a glacier and echoing across the ocean. But only sometimes.
She opened the door to the training room. Her daughters knew she was there, but they continued their exercises. Stopping to acknowledge her presence earned them reprimands and worse.
Five identical fighters, flowing like quickice. Then there was his daughter, one step ahead or behind, never in sync with her half-sisters.
It was frustrating. Whoever her mother had fostered her with initially had not trained her properly at all. Shamed the woman should have been (and no doubt burning in hell, she was now), but the least she could have done for the girl was get her a competent teacher.
And once again it was up to Elia to put the pieces together somehow.
That was another holocron she'd pitched across a room.
The solicitor had come, unannounced, immediately after the funeral. He was an off-worlder and had no idea of propriety. He had brought the holocron with Yusanis' last will and testament - an empty document as Echani law required all things to go to a rightful spouse - and she had made sure to never divorce him. It had never been for herself; only for their daughters. No other person would have anything that her daughters deserved.
And then...and then...
"Elia. I have no right to ask this, but I must." The blue shadow of himself moved aside and a small girl came into life. "She - she will have no one when I am gone."
That was Yusanis. Always asking, never offering. Asking for a divorce, asking for forgiveness, asking for her help...asking things for himself.
Her fingers touched the railing lightly; it would take so little to hold on tight and rip it from its plascrete holdings.
He had never asked her if she was unhappy.
It was Brianna who lifted her eyes for just a fraction of a second, who had broken concentration at the moment when her grief and anger was the highest. Elia knew that the child had much of her mother in her; perhaps too much. It frightened her; this hybrid creature who might be able to read her thoughts.
And she had worked so hard to make certain Brianna knew nothing. That is why she had never sparred with his child. Elia could not help her emotions; she could not help them and would not inflict them on the girl.
She raised her head and clapped twice. The children stopped immediately and listened.
"Come here," she ordered. "You have received a great honor."
She had decided. They would go. All of them.
Her daughters would go to save a universe from Jedi. And his daughter would go so that Elia could save herself.
That was how she ran this household at the edge of civilization and far from the capital city.
Originally she had come here to escape those triple threats to her sanity; his infidelity, his return, and his child. She had been so afraid to see him again in the capital that she had sequestered herself in this place.
Now she stayed here because no matter where she went, she found him.
And yet sometimes it was so hard.
They would never falter, never waver in whatever they had to do. They would crack and crumble before they would yield - and those who had seen a glacier calve would know the damage unyielding ice could deal.