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The Shadow of Kin

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Had any of his relatives asked, Pat Rin would have denied that he had been avoiding the Tree deliberately. However, since he was also avoiding -- after a fashion -- all of his relatives, perhaps it was not surprising that none made the observation.

It was not that Pat Rin had a great need to avoid his relatives. He'd simply grown used to not seeing them, and it was hard to create new habits just for form's sake -- or whatever purpose it served, to drop in and visit with relations he'd not had much need of since he'd become a self-sufficient adult. Certainly, he would not have minded spending time with his foster father, or even his Uncle Daav. But both those gentlemen had duties which kept them busy; Uncle Daav's daughter needed him elsewhere and surely Val Con had a greater claim on his long-missing father's time than a nephew on his uncle's.

Pat Rin was no halfling, clamoring for the attention of his elders simply to feel appreciated. He'd outgrown that as quickly as the clothing he'd sprouted through in mere weeks, and now he had surrounded himself with a family of his choice, if not a little circumstance, and that was the greater reason he did not seek to spend time at the Clan Korval's new abode in the countryside.

His work was in town, and thus so were Inas and Cheever, and they made family enough for Pat Rin's needs. Silk, as well, Pat Rin hastened to add to his mental list, knowing the cat of the house would be certain to notice his failing. That and the sheer amount of work as the Boss of Bosses kept him away from the new Clan House -- a job and title he'd attempted more than once to pass along to Val Con, but his cousin had left him to it, claiming that serving as head of the clan would suit him fine.

Pat Rin thought privately that Val Con was simply avoiding the pile of work involved. He thought back to the stack of papers left on his desk, and the long list of calls he needed to make, visiting neighboring bosses and residents of his own neighborhood, tending to one thing and another to keep the place running smoothly.

All in all, perfectly reasonable explanations for why it had taken him nearly six months to attend the Tree, now planted outside the great house the Clan had built up alongside. Pat Rin had been assured that Jelaza Kazone's roots had taken well hold upon arrival, encouraged by the Turtles his cousin had scrounged up from God knew where. Pat Rin had never attempted to follow his cousin's litany of adventures, but he felt that he was not the only one who failed to completely understand how that had come about.

Be that as it may, it was little excuse for why it was only now that Pat Rin found himself standing beside the Tree, waiting a few steps away from its massive trunk. He paused, then gave a deep bow of apology for his neglect -- despite Val Con's being Delm, and thus truly the one responsible for the needs of the Tree, Pat Rin knew that it did not mean he had no duties of his own.

He felt a brief tug of emotion as he thought of the pilot's jacket which he kept in his closet, the one he still refused to wear despite his awarding of his license and the confirmation of it by his own kin. For, indeed, had he been a pilot from the beginning, there was little doubt that it would have been he who was made Delm, as the eldest of his generation. That duty had been passed to Val Con as Pat Rin had been essentially cast aside.

He understood how it had happened, how his own mother had suppressed his abilities just enough to prevent his success -- though he did not know why, and had no intention of ever speaking of the matter with her. But he could see it as having been a potential destiny, to have been Delm of the Clan Korval in place of his cousin. But of course then he would not then have avoided this duty, Pat Rin told himself. It was only because of those reminders of his failures and his years of feeling useless to his kin, that had created the habits that made it so easy to neglect what duties he had towards them.

Pat Rin straightened and took a step forward. Jelaza Kazone had played no part in any of that, he knew. As a child he had been as welcome among the Tree's branches as any, encouraged to climb as high as he dared and to take whatever seed pods Jelaza Kazone saw fit to share. He looked up, now, into the branches and saw with delight and relief that it looked the same; only the sky peeking through was any different.

He took another step, then tentatively held out his hand towards the Tree; feeling a gentle whisper of acceptance he then placed his palm flat upon the trunk. Pat Rin felt a ruffle of a breeze lifting the edges of his sleeves and the back of his hair; it had grown long, again, and Inas was sure to remind him to have it cut, soon. He'd brought her to meet the Tree, early on, but that visit had not been this particular duty.

Pat Rin bowed his head and whispered his apologies. Though it had not been his own doing, he still felt responsible, as the one to have fired upon the city and thus force his clan to flee their home. All for reason, and not of his own choosing, but still Pat Rin knew it had been his hand that fired the weapons and thus his melantí that held the consequences of his kin and the Tree being cast out from their home and made to come here to begin all over again.

He'd heard none of his kin speak words of blame, but again -- he had been avoiding them, hadn't he? He'd found he could accept their censure, or grief, or whatever they might feel for what had happened. But there was one being's forgiveness he needed, and thus he'd finally come here to ask for it.

He closed his eyes and saw a wide expanse of land, filled with green grasses and growing things; not wild land, but not settled, either. It looked nothing like the landscape of Surebleak, nothing like the valley that surrounded the Tree now. But there was something in its quality, something calm and encouraging, that made Pat Rin think of the climate control satellites they'd ordered and would be soon set to orbit the planet. The cold, inhospitable winters would soon be gentled and the summers would be warm and fruitful -- and this, Pat Rin realised, would be their future. Someplace his kin would grow to love, and the Tree a part of it.

Pat Rin let his hand fall and took a deep breath before folding himself deeply into a bow of gratitude. He had not dared hoped for true forgiveness, despite coming to beg for it. That he had been granted it made him feel almost light-headed.

He was prepared to step away when he felt an image form. The Tree had more for him, so he waited. A moment passed, then he saw an image of his cousin, Val Con, sitting in a parlor. Val Con's wife and Shan were there, Pricilla just stepping into the room as the image grew more clear. There was laughter, and expressions of joy; Pat Rin saw the flash of the Delm's ring on Val Con's hand and he felt a cold spike cut through his chest. He was not Delm, Pat Rin knew, and in fact it had not ever truly been his destiny. Coveting his cousin's place as head of the clan--

The image rippled and changed, and he saw himself, sitting at his desk. Beside him Inas stood, leaning against the back of his chair. On the other side of the desk Cheever was sitting with feet propped upon Pat Rin's desk. Pat Rin was writing something, but his attention was on the other two; he saw himself smile as Cheever spoke, and Cheever and Inas shared a similar smile as the Pat Rin at the desk set down his pen.

Beyond the desk, Pat Rin could see the radio set up, and thought of the chain of Bosses that used them to communicate with him. The city was well settled into the new era of Bosses who cooperated rather than shot whomever disagreed, and the settlements outside the city were eager to join in, seeing the profits from the open port bringing economic stability -- and promise of prosperity -- to them all.

And there, Pat Rin saw, was himself, sitting in the middle of it. He was no Delm of a Clan, head of an out-flung family. But in name at least, he served as the ruler of a planet. For all he delegated responsibilities and demanded cooperation from the committee of Bosses to serve as the governing body.... There he sat, in the center of it. The other Bosses did as they saw fit, but still looked to him to approve and support their ideas. He might tell them they ruled, but it was still him they listened to.

Pat Rin blinked, feeling a sudden shiver at the magnitude of it all. He'd known, of course, what he'd been doing. But knowing it, and to see in Jelaza Kazone's own images, what surrounded him....

The image shifted once more, and he saw himself again, Inas and Cheever at his sides. And beyond them were figures, shadowy images moving around -- small images, he realised, scampering about in play.

A family. Inas was holding his hand and Cheever had his own on Pat Rin's shoulder, and they were looking back at the children playing there, and there was a voice, saying his name....

"Pat Rin?"

Pat Rin started, and looked over to find his cousin, Anthora, watching him with a concerned expression on her face that quickly vanished when he met her gaze.

"Yes?" Pat Rin felt he might have answered more politely, more invitingly, but he felt cold and stiff. There was a cold wind, now, pushing through the valley and Pat Rin could smell the promise of snow.

Anthora smiled. "It is only that you have been standing here for some hours, now, and the Tree thought you might wish to come inside. There is a fire, and tea."

Pat Rin looked back, surprised, and found his hand still pressed upon the Tree's bark. He pulled his hand away, curling his fingers with some difficulty. Which image, then, had so held him that he had not noticed the passage of time?

Well, it could easily have been all of them, he knew. He nodded his thanks to Anthora, and let her lead him inside. He felt the cold throughout, now, not able to fight back the shivers as he entered the house. His feet were slightly numb and his face felt chapped. But the last images of his family, the children playing-- he could almost hear their voices, calling out to one another.

"Tea?" Anthora asked, and Pat Rin let himself settle into the chair she'd brought him to, accepting the cup she held out for him.

"Thank you," he said, and held the cup in his hands for a moment, letting its heat seep into his fingers.

"You are welcome," Anthora said, as she took her own chair and poured herself a cup. She looked at him again, and said, "You know you are welcome any time, cousin." Her tone held no reproach, though her words were exactly that. Pat Rin felt some shame, that she had even noticed his avoidance of them. But as he opened his mouth to speak, she spoke again as if he had done nothing. "We know of course your work keeps you busy, and it is a long trip to make all the way out here. We do not expect you to visit often; indeed, many of our kin are as often off-planet as not. But as long as you know you are welcome." She gave him a look, then, and Pat Rin inclined his head.

"Thank you," he said, and he took a sip of his tea. He thought perhaps it was not simply the tea which warmed him.

the end