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Lena's Lullaby

By Starsong Lightwing

 

The wrought iron gates were heavy and ornate, the pattern weaving back on itself so many times that it was almost indiscernable. They were wide, large, meant to admit cars rather than single people.

That was okay. She wasn't going through the gate.

Iliana melted into the night and emerged on the other side of the wall, the long-sleeved, long-skirted dress she'd chosen proving only a minor annoyance as she slipped over the top with a nimbleness that belied her age.

The two girls chased their older brother around the massive yard, laughing hysterically as they split up and cornered him. "No fair! I'm outnumbered!"

"You're bigger than we are!" one of them pointed out, giggling.

"So!" The boy looked back and forth between their perfectly matched faces, trying to think of a way out.

"So we're even!" the other sister chimed, grinning brightly.

"Are not!"

"Are too!"

Iliana crossed the great lawn quickly, easily staying under the cover provided by the cultivated grounds, and surveyed the house critically, choosing an entry point. The windows in the lower levels would be heavily secured, but on the second floor, she could hear the tell-tale noise of a flapping curtain.

"Leave it open, 'Lana, I like the fresh air."

"Daddy'll be mad, 'Lena." She tossed her sister a sympathetic look and reluctantly closed and locked the window. She, too, enjoyed the fresh breeze, but neither twin wanted to risk their father's dangerous ire. Elena sighed.

"I feel so trapped in here with everything closed..."

Iliana made her way up an impressive evergreen that grew near the side of the house, and from there the window was easily accessible for an experianced theif.

She felt her feathers raise as she dropped inside. All this was too familiar--the gates, the grounds, the house...too many memories. She shivered involuntarily.

"I told you to keep it locked!"

"I thought it was, daddy, I--"

"You don't ever pay attention to what you're doing! You need to get your head out of the clouds and back on your shoulders where it belongs! How dare you disobey me! I won't tolerate that disrespect you smart-ass little--" She felt rather than saw the blow coming, as her gaze was firmly on her toes, but even if she'd had time to avoid it, she wouldn't have. It just made things worse.

"Stop it! It was an accident, she didn't mean to!" Elena shrieked at him, tears running down her face as she covered her ears. It was a mistake, she new it the moment the words were out of her mouth, and she cringed away, shrinking against the wall as her enraged father whirled on her.

"Don't you dare talk back to me!"

Iliana quickly made her way across the room and into the hall, her skin once again prickling in apprehension, but the reaction was more comfortable this time--the nervousness of any thief would feel in a well-lit, narrow corridor, devoid of both cover and room to maneuver.

But even this hall was too familiar, too like the house she'd known in her childhood. She had known what she had come to do would be hard, but this was an unexpected element that she was not at all happy with.

"Lena?" Iliana padded softly to the edge of her sister's bed, and knelt down. "You okay?" She lifted a slender grey hand to brush back a few strands of silver-gilt hair. "You shouldn't have done that..."

Elena curled into a ball, screwing her eyes shut tight. "I can't take it anymore, Lana, I feel like I'm gonna explode if I keep it all in, I can't--" she choked up and tears seeped past her shut lids. Iliana felt them in her own eyes as well as she hugged her twin as tightly as possible, carefully avoiding the newest of her bruises. After a moment she got up, and retrieved a battered case from the closet. She took her dearest possession in her hands and carefully drew the bow across the strings. Under the cover of her music, Elena cried, long and hard, until she fell asleep. Only then did the more stoic twin bury her head in her pillow and choke down sob after painful sob, in absolute silence.

If the layout were truly as familiar as it felt, then she'd come in the guest room--explanation for why the window had been so carelessly left open; only a guest would have dared. Marcus's room would be to her right. To her left, the door that should have been there was not, a fact that didn't surprise her in the least. There was no longer any need for the door that had lead to the twins' shared room.

She kept her tread soft and steady, moving carefully past the stairs to the corridor beyond.

Iliana froze, unable to take the next step, her beak silently forming the name she hadn't spoken in so many years...Elena...

"Lena? Lena!! MARCUS!!" Iliana found her sister in the bathroom, just past the stairs, slumped down against the wall, one hand closed around a bottle of pills that was nearly empty. She fled, screaming her brother's name, fleeing blindly down the stairs so fast she nearly tumbled down head over heels. She collided with her mother's soft body, throwing them both to the ground, and leapt up again, running flat out. "Marcus!!" She threw her arms tight around her brother and sobbed, not even able to get a word out before her mother's echoing scream shattered her desperate hope that what she'd seen hadn't been real.

Iliana's face was ashen beneath her feathers, and she put a hand to the wall for support, closing her eyes for a moment. She drew in a deep breath, and forced her feet to move again.

It was easier, once she was past that awful place. Her stride picked up confidence again, and she made it to the end of the hall without being further assaulted by the past she had long ago forsaken. She slipped through to the inner room, where a tall man with a hardened face and slate-grey feathers was slumped in an armchair.

"Hello, Marcus."

He jumped, and jerked his head up. He was on his feet in the next moment. "Who are you? Who let you in here? We don't want any more press, can't you just let an old man die in peace?"

Iliana met his deep blue eyes, and his brow furrowed in confusion. "Who are you?" he asked again, stepping back a little.

"Has it been that long, Marcus? Thirty-six years...yes, I suppose I've changed. But then, so have you, and I knew you at once."

His face went hard. "I thought for certain you'd be dead by now."

Iliana chose not to reply to that. Marcus broke the silence first, looking away. "What do you want?"

"A word with my father."

"No."

"I'm not making it your choice, Marcus."

"Iliana--" he faltered on the word, as if it had somehow become unfamiliar in the time she'd been gone. She wasn't surprised. "You can't go in there and start accusing him," he insisted. "He doesn't have the strength for it."

"I didn't come here to accuse him," Iliana replied calmly. "But I will speak to him."

"What if he won't speak to you?" Marcus said evenly. "He won't hear a word about you or Elena since--" A shadow flitted across his eyes. "He won't see you, Iliana."

"He has no choice in the matter. He doesn't have to speak to me, but he will see me." Marcus met her gaze again, anger glittering in his eyes.

"What right do you have?" he demanded. "You disappear, and then come back and expect me to let you in to see him as if you'd been here all along? You deserted him." You deserted me. The words were as plain between them as if they'd been spoken.

"What about Marcus?"

"Marcus is nearly a man now, and can take care of himself. But you know that he can't protect you."

Iliana knew. She closed her eyes, holding back the tears, and opened them to look at her mother's older brother, thier family's greatest shame--so her father told her, at least. The man stood in the moonlight that streamed in the window and pooled on the floor at his feet, wearing a sword and the tools of his trade at his side. As Par waited for her decision, Iliana felt a bitter taste in her mouth and knew that what her father had said was a lie. There was more honor in her uncle than in the rest of her family combined. They raised no hand to help her, to protect her. They let her be hurt, they let Elena's sweet spirit be crushed until life held no wonder for her. "I know I've come later than I should have," Par told her quietly, "I thought perhaps--but I'm here now, and I will take you away from this if that is what you want. But it will be a hard life, and if you come with me, you can never come back again. I am...not a family man," he'd admitted gruffly, "And I can't promise that you won't ever be afraid again, or that I won't ever be angry with you. All I can promise is that you will get nothing from me that you do not deserve." There was a double edge to that promise, Iliana knew.

"Can I say goodbye?"

"No. We go now, and we go silently, or we don't go at all."

Iliana's voice was steady as she replied. "My only regret is that I couldn't say goodbye to you, Marcus. Believe that I loved you."

He looked back at her for a long moment, emotions visibly warring on his face. "How did you know?" he asked after a moment, indecision still on his face.

"Apparently the impending death of wealthy old men is of interest to the more easily entertained. I read of his illness and decided there were things that should not be left unsaid."

Marcus's expression faded into weary acceptance.

*****

Iliana had prepared herself for a bit of a shock. She'd understood that age and illness would change him.

She'd not expected the strength of her own reaction when she saw just how much.

Her father had never been a particularly broad man, but he'd stood tall and straight, with steel-grey feathers and eyes to match.

Those eyes were sunken, his face was hollow. His wraithlike figure was hunched and drawn, and he looked as if he might break at a touch. A mustache drooped listlessly from the sides of his beak.

He peered at her, his face screwed up in a scowl that came quickly and easily to his craggy visage. "Who are you? What do you want? Marcus!! What's this woman doing here?"

"It's Iliana, Dad," Marcus told him gently. "She's come to say some things to you."

The old man looked confused for a moment, and then angry. "Get out," he sneered, "I have nothing to say to you."

"Then you can sit there and listen to me," Iliana replied with a steel in her voice that had become, over the years, a reflexive response to the tone he'd used.

He went red in the face, and spluttered angrily. Iliana didn't wait for him to put together a coherant sentence.

"I have been angry with you for a long time, Father," she said evenly. "And it's time I let go of that."

"You dare ask me for forgiveness?" What would once have been a roar fit to shake the house was now no more than an indignant shriek.

"I ask you for nothing," Iliana said, a little sharply. "I have asked for nothing since the night I left this house, and I will not start now. I will not apologize for things that I do not regret, and I will not justify my choices to you. For what you did give me, I am grateful. Every lesson I learned from you has served me in one way or another, no matter how painful the teaching. I came here tonight to forgive your mistakes."

"My mistakes!" He was furious now. "You abandoned and disgraced your family and now you have the gall to offer me forgiveness? I do not need your absolution!"

"And I do not need yours," Iliana replied in a soft, dangerous tone. "Know that when I have left here, I will leave the memory of everything you did to me behind. You have no power over me, Father, in spirit or in memory. I have always been your daughter, and I always will be. But I have an identity of my own, and the choices I make are mine alone. You should bear neither disgrace or honor for them." She met his eyes. "Goodbye, Father. Go in peace."

*****

"I could have called the police," Marcus commented as they faced each other once more across the outer room.

"You still could," Iliana replied, her tone unconcerned. "But you know Father never wanted that, and I don't think you do either. Though I would hope that you refrain out of love rather than the fear of embarassment."

Marcus looked away. "Iliana--"

She held up a hand. "We must finally have our goodbye, Marcus. You won't see me again after I leave here tonight."

Marcus gazed at her a moment, and then came with a sigh to hug her tightly. "Then go in peace, sister. I have missed you."

"And I, you. I will miss you still. Keep my love and my memory, if it doesn't pain you too greatly."

He smiled. "Goodbye, Iliana."

"Goodbye, Marcus."

*****

She looked back through the gates one final time, then turned to face the road.

"Uncle Par?"

"Yes?"

"Where are we going now?"

"Somewhere safe. I have some things to teach you before we can go home. And I think it best that you not call me Uncle. It might be hard for you if the others knew there was blood between us."

"Yes, Par."

He smiled slightly, the first time she'd seen him do so. "Good. Don't look back, now. It only makes leaving harder."

Iliana kept her back to the house until she was well out of sight.

*****

Iliana closed the door quietly behind her, and went to the corner of her room that held several plain black cases. She chose one that was old and battered, though still well-cared for, and carefully opened the lid. She lifted the treasured wood free of the velvet lining.

Iliana was aware of the quiet knock, the sound of the door opening, and the near-silent step that ventured into the room, but she didn't pause. She let the violin settle into place and took her bow in practiced fingers. One last time, she let the memories take her.

"I don't recall that ye've played that afore," Marshall commented quietly when she finished.

"I don't know the true name, if there is one," Iliana replied softly. "I know it as 'Lena's Lullabye.'"

"Silversong?" Iliana paused a moment and turned. Marshall was looking hard at her, concern in his face. "Be ye all right?"

She wanted so badly to tell him.

"I'm fine, Marshall," she answered, with a faint hint of a smile that did nothing to lift the sadness filling her deep blue eyes. "Good night."

"Aye," he murmurred as he turned. "Sweet dreams t' ye, Lana."

 

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