“I know what you’re going to ask, and the answer is emphatically, unequivocally, no,” said Ilena Hemetal without looking up as her oldest son entered her study. Belfamor couldn’t help but grin at this greeting. His mother had always been one to take no crap. He suspected that was a large part of the reason why his father had fallen in love with her in the first place. Nobles had a tendency to be surrounded by fawning yes-men and -women. The most successful Heads of Houses were the ones who found themselves a spouse who would keep them grounded and remind them that they were not automatically assured of success just because of their birth.
“Well, hello to you too, Mother,” Belfamor replied, sitting down in a chair across from her desk. “I’m so glad you’re willing to take time out of your busy schedule to spend time with your beloved son.”
“Belfamor, if you were really here just to spend time with me, I would drop everything in a heartbeat,” Ilena said with an exasperated sigh. “But I know that all you want is to try and convince me that Shala should go with your father to Trisitania. No. Absolutely not. I will not have it on my conscience that I allowed that child to return to her Nerzaga-spawn of a father.”
“Shala wants to go, Mother,” Belfamor said firmly. “She has no desire for House Hemetal to be destroyed because of her.”
“Shala is a scared little girl who thinks her life is worthless because she’s spent it surrounded by people who tell her she’s worthless,” Ilena retorted. “If she tells you she ‘wants’ to go to Trisitania, it’s only because she believes she’s not worth protecting. I aim to change her opinion of herself.”
“Is that worth the devastation of the power and honor of House Hemetal?” Belfamor shot back angrily.
“What good is power if we refuse to use it to defend those who are powerless?” Ilena exclaimed heatedly.
“What good is spending generations building up power if we throw it away over one pitiful husk of a woman?” Belfamor countered.
“I don’t know why I’m even arguing with you,” Ilena said, shaking her head in exasperation. “It isn’t as if I have to justify myself to you, and I’m not going to convince you.”
“I don’t see why you think that,” Belfamor said with contempt. “After all, I am the heir to this House. I have more right to determine its future than you do. You’re just a caila.” As soon as those words left his mouth, Belfamor regretted them, but it was too late. His mother turned as white as a sheet, and she looked as if he had slapped her across the face.
“I see,” she said in an emotionless voice. “Well, if you feel that way, by all means, do whatever you want. Send Shala packing. Have her murdered, for all I care. What does it matter what I think? I’m just a caila, after all.” Belfamor shook his head.
“Mother, I’m sorry. Please-,” he started, but his mother cut him off.
“Don’t even start,” she said in a taut voice, like a knife cutting through tightly wound strings. “You wouldn’t have said what you did if you didn’t feel that way deep down inside.”
“Mother, I…I was frustrated, I-,” he began again, but Ilena cut him off once more.
“Do not call me ‘mother’,” she said in a scathing voice. “A high and mighty noble lord such as yourself could not possibly consider a lowly caila such as myself to be his mother. Please, refer to me as ‘you there’, or ‘wench’, or even ‘whore’, if it pleases Your Lordship.”
“Mother, I’m sorry,” Belfamor pleaded. “Don’t you think you’ve taken this too far?”
“Forgive me, Your Lordliness, but I believe you’ve already gotten what you came for,” Ilena said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “If it pleases Your High and Mighty Worshipfulness, I do have work that I need to get back to. After all, even we lowly cailas have roles to play, as pitiful and demeaning as it may be compared to the grand and glorious work of a noble heir.” And with that, she turned sharply away from him. Belfamor stared at her back for a few moments, and then sighed deeply and left her study.
He looked up as the door slid shut behind him and was surprised to see his father standing there. “That went well, did it?” Lorgad said with one eyebrow raised and his hands clasped behind his back.
“You, uh, heard all that, did you?” Belfamor asked with an ashamed half-smile.
“I heard enough,” Lorgad confirmed. “You touched a nerve there, son. Your mother is very touchy about the fact that she is no longer legally my wife. Never mind that she is still a full member of House Hemetal. Never mind that my feelings for her have nothing to do with her legal status. And never even mind that my marrying Shala was her blasted idea in the first place! She’s very sensitive about being a caila, irrational as it may seem. I know that you just blurted something out in the heat of the moment, but if you had been deliberately trying to hurt her, you couldn’t have done a better job.”
“I know,” Belfamor sighed. “I feel absolutely awful, but she didn’t even give me a chance to apologize.”
“Give her time, son,” Lorgad said, giving Belfamor an affectionate pat on the shoulder. “I know you didn’t mean what you said, and she’ll figure that out, too. In the meantime, what are you going to do?”
“What do you mean?” Belfamor asked, his brow furrowed.
“Your mother gave you permission to send Shala to Trisitania, even if she did it in anger,” Lorgad replied. “The ball is in your court. Your mother, Shala, and I have all told you what we think, but we’ve given you the chance to make your own decision. So what will your decision be?”
“I…I don’t know,” Belfamor said, sounding surprised about that. “I thought my mind had been made up before I came home, but…things have not unfolded the way I expected.”
“They never do,” sighed Lorgad. “Well, I’m leaving in five days. Let me know what you decide before then.” He gave his son another friendly smack on the back, and then strode away down the hallway.
To be continued…