"Did I wake you?"
Shalee shifted languidly, on the cusp of sleeping, "No. I was just thinking."
Nola, an older Brutor woman with skin the color of tobacco and eyes as dark as space settled down beside Shalee on the marbled steps, "I noticed you haven't gone upstairs yet."
"I just...haven't gotten around to it yet. I will."
"Take your time child, you capsuleers sure have plenty of it. Have you decided what you will do with this old place, then?" Nola swayed her hand, motioning to the plantation house.
"Not really. A part of me wants to burn it down. To torch the house, the gardens, the cathedral. But...that's really not going to solve anything at all, is it? It's not going to erase what happened here. It wont change anything."
"I imagine it wont. So why did you come back?"
"I'm not sure. I heard it was for sale...and... I don't know. I wanted to buy it and destroy it but now I think I want to save it. I've been thinking about maybe turning it into some kind of safe haven for newly free'd slaves."
Nola eyed her curiously, almost skeptically.
"The Empire is changing, Nola. The Empress's Emancipation to the Ninth Generation was just the beginning. A new world is on the horizon, one where the children of God are not judged by what blood runs in their veins, but by the sincerity of their hearts."
"You always were a dreamer, just like your mother."
"It's more than a dream. There are many in the Empire just like me who fight against slavery," Shalee explained.
"But you fight for the Empire in your militia do you not?"
"I don't fight for what the Empire is, but what it can become. Will become. The Empress will bring about a 'new age of light and reason'. I wholly believe that."
"I don't remember you being so devoted to the Empire when you were younger..."
Shalee turned her head and lifted her chin to the stained glass window pane, her face bathed in a kaleidoscope of light. "You weren't the only one free'd that day, Nola."
"What do you mean?"
"When the Imperial soldiers came and seized the property and arrested my Father, they set you all free...but I got my freedom too. During all the chaos...I ran away. I would have never been able to escape otherwise... I would have been a prisoner to him my whole life. I was just as much a slave as any Brutor or Intaki that he owned."
Nola nodded sympathetically.
"I owe her my life and I would do anything to repay that debt. So that is why I fight as hard as I do, that is why my loyalty to the Empire cannot be questioned nor doubted. She saved me and I owe her and I will fight and defend this Empire, her Empire, as long as she commands it."
"Your mother would be very proud of you, I'm sure. I see a lot of her in you. That rebellious streak, stubborn chin, those sparkling blue eyes and that mass of curly hair is all your mother."
Shalee absently ran her fingers along the staircase railing, "I can barely remember her."
"You were just a baby when she died. What were you, six or seven?"
"Seven. I had just turned seven."
"Poor soul, to die in childbirth."
Shalee winced at the lie. They both knew what really happened but some truths were too painful to relive. The lie was kinder, and really what did it matter anyhow. Dead was dead. "What was she like? Weren't you her maid even before she married my Father?"
Nola's gaze went blank as she peered into her memories, "She was beautiful....warm. She had a way of making everyone love her. She was like...like a bright light and everyone wanted to bask in her glow. When she married your Father and came here, this place came alive, they said. She enchanted everyone here, we all loved and adored her."
"...did he love her?"
"My Father....do..do you think he really loved her?"
Nola's expression darkened. "It was love, or something like it," she said mysteriously.
"What do you mean exactly?" Shalee asked.
Nola seemed to hesitate, "It was a long time ago child, maybe you shouldn't be drudging up old ghosts."
"Please tell me?"
"Your Father was pure Amarr and though he was wealthy, your Mama's family was more so, even if they were Ni Kunni. Anyhow, he had met her at some ball or other and had fallen in love with her at first sight. He courted her, courted her parents and eventually they agreed to the marriage. He always was a charmer."
"Did she not want to marry him?"
"He was an older widow with three little boys. She was young and beautiful and Ni Kunni."
"It must not have mattered so much...?"
"She was Ni Kunni of the Old Realm."
"What does that mean?"
"Her family still practiced what the Amarr had tried to abolish all those years ago. In public they appeared to be the model of Amarrian faith...but they kept many of their old practices and customs alive, in secret mind you."
"So my mother...." her words trailed off.
"She followed polyamory. She was involved with two other men when her parents married her off. She had to give them up, of course, once she was married."
"Did Father know?" Shalee asked.
"He found out eventually...."
Shalee furrowed her brows, feeling as if someone had just walked over her own grave, "...are you saying...are you saying what I think you're saying?"
Nola twisted her hands together nervously as she looked over her shoulders. "Leave the past where it is." She stood up suddenly, "Now, let's go have a walk around the gardens, shall we? It's such a pretty day outside."
"Nola please, tell me the truth, I have a right to know why it happened."
The Brutor blinked several times, "Look. How should I know what really happened between them? All I can say is what she told me before she died. Your Father found out about the Old Realm long after you were born. But he became obsessed with it, of what she had done and who she had done it with. When she became pregnant...well. He went out of his mind, started accusing her of seeing her old lovers and...."
"...and he killed her and the babies she was carrying."
"He murdered her but he let me live....why?"
"I think that he tried to turn you into what he always wanted her to be. A proper Amarrian wholly devoted to him."