Robert and Shona

This scene was from an early draft of Warring States; if you’ve read Warring States, you can guess what Padrake Delleroy is doing skulking about the ship.  I’m indulging myself by loading it here because Robert gets to talk about Joslire, and there’s a little bit of Emandisan cultural behavioral norms.


Out on the loading apron, well short of the courier ship, the green-sleeves St. Clare stopped Shona with a hand to his shoulder, and looked him in the eye.

“Something I didn’t want to tell you, with my maister there,” St. Clare said.  “About your brother.  Because he doesn’t exactly know, and neither of us ever wanted him to know, but he’d been under Bond for six years when I met him, he knew things I didn’t even imagine.  About how it was for a bond-involuntary in Fleet.  You treat a man rough and he learns rough treatment, and it’s just what your maisters are going to do to you anyway, so why not share with your fellows, first?”

In Koscuisko’s office St. Clare had spoken of times they’d had in common, incidents about which St. Clare and Koscuisko alike could reminisce for Shona’s benefit — except for the end, of course, because St. Clare hadn’t been there, Koscuisko had had to tell that by himself  This was something different; something clearly very deep in St. Clare’s heart.  Shona didn’t know what to say.  There was more to it, surely.

“And your brother, our Joslire, he backed the others off, d’you see?  Until he’d had a chance to explain that the officer would take it personally.  I’d have suffered without Joslire there, Ise’Ilet, and it was his hide, and partly it was for me because he knew I was as stiff as new boot-leather in those days.  Partly because he didn’t want the officer finding out, being distressed.  Partly because Koscuisko would never have trusted the others once he knew, well, he’d have trusted them maybe but it would have taken him time to forgive it.”

St. Clare let his hand drop, but he hadn’t finished, Shona could see it in his eyes.  There was tearing, in St. Clare’s eyes, but his tone of voice was quiet and steady and determined all the same.  “I know some ugly, friend Shona.  But Joslire did his best to stay between me and ugly whenever he could, and I always wondered what I’d done to deserve it, because he’d had more ugly than many and wasn’t any eager for more than any reasonable soul.”

There was movement, in the shadows within the courier up past the loading-ramp.  The Bench specialist, Delleroy, but Delleroy apparently decided there was an important conversation going on because the movement went to one side and was gone.  Shona concentrated on what St. Clare was trying to say, not understanding all of it and sorry that he understood as much as he did.

“And a man doesn’t talk about his past, there’s only grief in it.  Part of him was just older and could see things coming because he knew about them.  But part of that grief he took on him because he knew he had a brother.  I won’t say I could stand in, Shona, it’s not my place.  But there’s things the officer never knew, things Joslire wanted to keep from him forever, and Jos looked after me almost like his.  You should know these things.”

There was something that many people did when emotion threatened to overwhelm them.  Shona had seen it, in his travels.  He hadn’t had the idea that he ought, in Koscuisko’s office; something about Koscuisko was too self-contained — almost Emandisan.  This was different.  Here was a man who had made up his mind to show the things that hurt, so that Shona could see where his brother had bandaged there; it was a picture of Joslire that Shona had never thought to see again, and it reminded him, as the talk he’d had with Koscuisko had not, of how it had been like to have a brother.

How was this done?

Hesitating and uncertain, Shona raised his arms to either side, not moving forward in case the offered gesture was unwelcome.  St. Clare looked at him for a long moment, seeming to measure Shona’s intent — was this an offer from the heart, or simply something that Shona thought St. Clare expected? — before he put his hand to Shona’s shoulder again and stepped forward to wrap his other arm around the top of Shona’s shoulders and hold on to him, pressing hard.  Shona closed his arms around St. Clare in turn and considered the sensation.  It was very strange, but there was something that pleased him in it, something comforting.

His brother had been a brother to this man.  That meant they were related.  After a moment Shona stepped away; St. Clare wiped his wet face with his fingers, sniffed hard, composed himself.  “If you can manage,” Shona suggested, “you and he, you can come and meet the rest of us.  We aren’t many.  But you’ll be welcome.”

It had been several hours.  It was high time he took his crew home so that they could all stand down.  Shona started to move away, to climb up into the courier.  He didn’t know how to thank St. Clare for this piece of his brother; he had heard so much, felt so much, that he was numb.  There would be time later to sit and chew on things and process them.

“And thank you.”  He couldn’t just go.  He couldn’t.  The words came even more awkwardly than the embrace, because there was no language adequate for what Shona was feeling.  “It’s good to know my brother had someone to look after.  I know it must have given him comfort.”

St. Clare raised one hand as though to wave a farewell, but his face went pale; and he only nodded before he turned and started off, breaking into a jog toward the back wall of the loading-slip.  One of the people on one of the maintenance crews working there saw St. Clare coming and hurried to intercept him, calling her fellows to come and help, clustering around St. Clare, leading him away from the loading apron.

Shona believed he knew how St. Clare felt, but he couldn’t stop to look at it in his heart, not until he was home, not until he had a maintenance crew of his own — at Emandis Station — to come and carry him away.

“Specialist Delleroy?” Shona called, crossing the threshold into the carrier.  It was time to collect his crew, if they weren’t here already.  “Was there something?”

Delleroy had gone aft, apparently, checking for something in one of the passenger cabins to give Shona the time alone with St. Clare that they’d needed.  Delleroy had a look of mild concern on his face as he came forward in response to Shona’s call.  “Ise’Ilet.  No, just checking on something but tell me how it went.  How did it go, your interview, I mean?”

The question filled Shona with confusion.  He didn’t think of himself as being on anything like terms of intimacy with Delleroy; it embarrassed him a bit to have told Delleroy in the first place — he could excuse that to himself, Delleroy could be a persuasive man — and he’d certainly had no intention of giving Delleroy a briefing.  And still Delleroy had been very cordial to him, in the past year or two that he’d flown for the Bench specialist; and took an apparently sincere interest in his life.

“It’s the very man, Specialist.”  He’d been fatigued to begin with, and the psychic impact of the past few hours had tried him even more.  He found himself rather more emotional than he had expected to be .  St. Clare’s final remarks, perhaps, Shona thought, but he couldn’t really stop and think because Delleroy was waiting.  “He knew my brother.  One of his men knew my brother.  I think he was as apprehensive about it as I was.”

That didn’t begin to actually answer the question.  Delleroy was still waiting, patiently, leaning up against the wall quiet and receptive, listening to Shona’s heart break.  “Loved him, Bench specialist.  The closest thing to seeing him again, seeing him in their minds.  It was a good meeting.  I’m glad I got here in time.”

Now Delleroy nodded slowly.  Maybe that was all there was to it, Shona thought, suddenly; maybe Delleroy had just wanted to make sure he he’d had a successful meeting because it had been Delleroy’s errand that had sent him off-world and out of system in the first place.  Delleroy was a sensitive man, who didn’t like anybody to be put out of his account.  If Shona had missed Koscuisko after all Delleroy would have felt personally responsible.

“I’m glad,” Delleroy said.  “You’ve waited for a long time for this, Ise’Ilet.  I’m very glad.  — I’ll go hunt up the crew if you want to start your pre-flights, Jils and I’ll be waiting on a courier from Scylla, plenty of time.”

Shona nodded, a little weakly.  It would be good to get back to his boards.  He was exhausted; he needed the familiarity of routine to give him the distance he needed to begin to process everything.  He went forward without further comment to start his pre-flights, anxious to be home.