Chapter 104: Family Matters
"I... I must to my father's house."
"Do you want me to come with you?"
"It is not... I should not burden-"
"Anomen, I'm coming with you."
"Minsc and Boo will come also. Boo says you should have an extra guard, and two guards is even better, especially if one of them is Minsc."
"...Very well. But no others."
"Go, my friends. Yoshimo and I will tend to matters here."
Anomen took Ember and Minsc to the outskirts of the government district, an area filled with parks, alleys, and the homes of the Athkatlan nobility. They stopped in front of a large house that looked as if it had once been a grand mansion, but now it bore signs of decay; several roof shingles had fallen off, and at least two of the large glass windows had been boarded up. The wooden coat of arms that adorned the door was badly worn, and its paint had cracked and peeled so much that Ember could barely make out the same entwined rings that decorated Anomen's shield.
A single guard in faded livery stood in front of the door. He greeted Anomen, advised him that Lord Cor was in an even fouler mood than usual, and opened the door for them.
"Thank you," Anomen mumbled to the guard. He paused in front of the door and glanced hesitantly at Ember and Minsc, then seemed to steel himself, and led them inside. They passed through a wide hallway that didn't appear to have been cleaned for some time, turned left into another corridor, and halted in front of a half-open door which appeared to lead into a dark kitchen. Anomen peered carefully inside, and swallowed nervously.
"My father is within," he said quietly.
Ember glanced carefully through the door jamb and saw an elderly man in the kitchen, sitting at a table and staring at a collection of opened wine bottles that stood upon it. He looked as though he might have been handsome once, but any strong features he might have had were now obscured by tangled grey hair, a face full of stubble, slackened features, and rheumy eyes. It was only with some effort that Ember managed to recognize Anomen's eyes and jawline in the man's face; they had probably also once been of similar height, but with the way the father slouched over the table, she imagined he'd stand an inch or two shorter than the son.
Anomen carefully propped his shield up against the wall, and removed his helmet. "Please, wait here," he said. Ember nodded, and stepped away from the door.
"The prodigal son returns," a hoarse voice rang out as Anomen entered the kitchen, "heir to his mother's foolishness as always. Well, lemme ask you: how far have you roamed, son, running away from me?"
"Speak not of my mother, drunkard," came Anomen's response. "You were never worthy of being her husband."
"Yet I was, and your father as well. Never forget that, boy! Your mother would still be alive if you children weren't such a handful."
"Shut your mouth, father. We've had this conversation before and I've not the patience to listen to it again."
"You will listen to what ever I choose to tell you, Anomen. Respect your father, knightling! I am still the man of this family and you will obey me!" The words were punctuated by the sound of a fist striking a table.
"Yes, father," Anomen said, quietly enough to give Ember some trouble overhearing it, "I lost my temper and I apologize."
Beside Ember, Minsc shifted impatiently; she placed a hand on his elbow in a gesture of restraint. They'd do Anomen no good by interfering at this point.
"It took you long enough to get here," Anomen's father grumbled inside the kitchen. "It wouldn't hurt you to come and see your father now and again."
"Father, where is Moira, your daughter? What happened to her?"
"Idiot boy! She's dead! Murdered by the Calimshite fiend!"
"Saerk Farrahd? Why would he kill her? She has nothing to do with your enmity."
"Do you understand nothing? He killed her because he could! It was not enough for him to take my business; he had to take my Moira too."
"Where were the guards? Why was she not protected?"
"The guards left months ago. I had no money to pay them with. Soon I will lose my house as well. Saerk has taken all of it... all of your mother's and sister's things..."
"He didn't take it, father." There was despair in Anomen's voice. "YOU lost it... you lost it..."
"I lost it because you abandoned your family. If you hadn't run away, Moira would still be alive. You should have been here to protect her! To save her from the brigands! Never forget that!"
"I'm sorry. I... I did not know..."
Minsc shifted again; as tempted as Ember was to let him go inside, she forced herself to hold them both back.
"It is too late to save her but your work is not yet finished, son."
"What can be done? Moira is dead."
"She can be avenged, Anomen. Saerk and his son must die. It is the only way that Moira's spirit can be at rest."
There was a brief silence from the kitchen.
"I must see Moira's remains first, father. It will take but a moment."
"Go then. She was cleansed on the pyre. Her ashes are with her mother's."
Accompanied by the sound of glassware clinking against glassware, Anomen emerged from the kitchen. He gestured to Ember and Minsc to follow him, and led them back to the main hallway, where they passed through an arched door and into a walled-in, paved courtyard. A pond that had grown murky with weeds lay in the middle of the courtyard, and a small shrine, bearing the symbol of Helm, stood in a corner. Anomen walked unsteadily across the courtyard and picked up one of two funeral urns that lay inside the shrine. He held it gently in his hands, staring as blindly at it as his father had stared at his wine bottles.
Ember placed a hand on his shoulder. "I'm so sorry, Anomen," she said quietly.
"I am well worried by what has gone on in this place," Anomen said in a surprisingly level voice. His hands trembled as they cradled the urn, and his face was very pale, but there were no tears in his eyes. "Though the choice seems clear and right, I am hesitant to take it." He carefully returned the urn to the shrine. "Killing for the purpose of revenge is murder by the tenets of the Order. Yet surely if Saerk killed my sister I must avenge her. I know not what I should do."
"To decide between justice and honour! Oh, it is a conundrum that would tie even Boo up in knots," Minsc cried. "I do not envy you. The decisions of Minsc and Boo are usually easier than this."
"What do you want to do?" Ember asked.
"What I want?" Anomen laughed harshly. "What I want? I want to locate the fiend responsible for this. I wish to lay my hands upon him, and take my righteous vengeance from him! I want him to pay with his blood for what he did to my poor, innocent sister! I want him to feel my pain, to know my wrath, and I want to see him dead and rotting for this deed!" He drew a deep, shuddering breath. "But I cannot do that, can I? Such an act would surely lead to chaos. And... I do not know that Saerk truly is to blame."
"To be honest," Ember said, "I'm not sure that I trust your father's version of events. Everything he said seemed to be coloured by his hatred of this Saerk."
"They have always been bitter rivals, and mortal enemies," Anomen said. "My father's revenge be damned! I have sworn to uphold the law and unlike him, I shall do so. Honour may bind me to find my sister's killer, but duty binds me to see that justice is done unto him. It is not my place to take revenge."
Ember squeezed his hand. "I think you've made the right decision."
"I've lived under the bitterness of my father's spirit my entire life," Anomen murmured. "It has tainted me to the point where I am willing to partake in it." He reached out to the urns and gently touched each of them. "My lady mother and my sister deserve better from me. Come, let us return to my father."
Once again, Ember and Minsc waited outside the kitchen while Anomen talked with his father. As soon as Anomen entered, his father embarked upon a diatribe about how Anomen should gird his heart and slay his sister's murderer.
"Nay, father," Anomen said.
"Killing Saerk in vengeance would be murder as surely as my sister's death was. We must take these charges to the magistrate."
"You fool boy! The magistrate will do nothing," his father shouted. "She is a pawn of Saerk!"
"Bylanna Ianulin is a good and noble woman. You said this yourself before you slipped into the foul clutch of the drink."
"You dishonour Moira's memory! You would allow the killer of your sister to go free? You are despicable! You are an insect!"
"I will not allow him to go free! He shall be taken before the courts if he is indeed the one who murdered my sister."
"How can you doubt such a thing, boy? Saerk is the killer!"
"Do you have proof, father?"
"He has taken everything else from me! Killing Moira would complete my defeat!"
"Aye, now I see. Such has always been the case in this household. This is about you and only you." Anomen's voice dripped with disgust. "Your daughter's death means nothing beyond how it affects your pride and your comfort."
"Boy, you've fallen in with evil! Step back from the line and honour your family before it's too late!"
"I will not, father. I suggest no evil. I suggest the lawful path."
"Again I say, obey me, Anomen!"
"I have obeyed you all my life and received naught but bitterness in return. I shall take this matter to the magistrate, as the law requires."
His father's voice dropped to a growl. "If you step out that door, then you must never come within again."
"Father, don't -"
"Shut your mouth! If you leave now you are forever banished from this place. You will be cast from this family and become a nameless dog, not fit to cower at my feet!"
After a moment's silence, Anomen spoke. "I've been cowering at your feet for all my life," he said coldly, and stepped out of the room. He picked up his shield and violently threw it into the kitchen; it landed on the floor with a deafening clatter.
"Goodbye, father," Anomen called out to him. "Perhaps I shall see you again before you drink yourself to death."
"You are nothing, boy! Nothing!"
"Let us go," Anomen said to Ember and Minsc between clenched teeth. He hurried towards the front door, not once halting or looking back.
The screams of rage followed them all the way out of the house.
The magistrate, Bylanna Ianulin, was about to leave her offices for the evening when the trio arrived, but she gracefully took the time to speak with them. She was very sympathetic to Anomen's plight, and could tell them that the murder was already under investigation. Unfortunately, she could also tell them that the investigation was at a standstill. There had been no evidence, there were no witnesses, no dagger or similar murder weapon had been found, and there were no stolen items to trace. There was nothing to conclusively link Saerk Farrahd - or anyone else - to the murder.
"But... is there nothing you can do?" Anomen asked in dismay. "Surely you know that Saerk is responsible!"
"I know of your family's feud with the merchant," the magistrate said, "but a motive is not enough without witnesses or evidence. The rule of law must prevail... surely you understand."
"There must be something that can be done! Allow me to assist with the investigation; I may, perchance, be able to uncover something your people have missed!"
The magistrate gave him a stern look. "No, Lord Anomen, I will not allow it. You are too close to the matter, and might ...err in your judgement. I am sorry, I truly am."
"As am I," Anomen muttered.
He did not say another word as they took their leave of the magistrate, nor did he say anything on the way back to the Copper Coronet. Once there, he only paused long enough to ask Mazzy which rooms they had been allocated, then headed upstairs, leaving Ember to field the questions about what they'd learned and where Anomen's shield had gone. As briefly as possible, she explained about Anomen's interview with his father, how he'd been cast out for refusing to go after Saerk, and how the magistrate had been unable to aid them. Minsc contributed by informing them all that Boo did not like Anomen's father.
"How terrible," Mazzy said. "To not know where to turn... hopefully, the gods will punish the guilty even if the courts do not."
"It's been my experience that some crimes never end in punishment," Yoshimo said, uncharacteristically dourly, "by the law, by the gods, or otherwise."
"Be as that may, Anomen truly chose the most honourable path in this matter."
"You're more certain of that than he is, I think," Ember said. "We should go upstairs; I don't think he should be left alone right now."
As if to prove her point, a loud crash came from upstairs, from the direction of their rooms. Ember, Mazzy, and Minsc exchanged quick glances, and ran up the stairs.
Yoshimo watched in silence as most of his companions hurried upstairs. His hand strayed to his beltpouch, and his thoughts strayed to his memories.
Once, in jest, he had called young Delryn a samurai of the West. But no samurai would have chosen as Anomen had.
He opened the flap of his beltpouch and gently pulled out the piece of ivory that lay within it. He didn't look at the portrait that was painted upon it - there was no need; he had long since memorized every stroke of the brush - but instead just let it rest in his hands. As it always did, touching the ivory comforted him.
"I would never let down my kin as you have," he murmured at the ceiling, "but then... you are not I."