She never intended to let herself get attached to anyone. It wasn’t that she was cold or aloof — she enjoyed socializing and counted a number of her associates as friends. But deep attachments to other people were, quite simply, impractical. Arete had no desire to pass on her bloodline or heritage. She had no desire to reproduce, no mothering instinct demanding to be fulfilled. She was content to let her legacy be one of deeds and achievements. She was happy to fully devote her life to her duty. She credited that devotion to duty for leading to this moment.

   She thought back to the day her devotion to duty took her to Region Bragi to crawl around the pile of burned rubble that had been the Sparks house. She recalled finding the frightened, guilt-ridden boy in what remained of the cellar, coaxing him out, promising him that she could help him. She recalled the way he clung to her as she took him back to Arion. She recalled the ways he acted out with mean-spirited pranks in his anger and guilt over the deaths of his parents and siblings. She recalled the night she broke the news that he had not started the fire that claimed his home and family — the night she told him his family had been murdered. She recalled the way his guilt turned to a violent fury.

   She thought back to the day her devotion to duty called her to Dagr — another fearsomely powerful child at the center of another tragic situation. She recalled the doubts when she suggested Rett may be able to help. She recalled her own hesitation to tell him about the mission. She recalled the change that came over him and his insistence that he be allowed to help. She recalled the look in Everett’s eyes when he first saw the boy in the Orrat Mountains. She recalled the determined set of his jaw when he said he wanted to be the one to approach him. She recalled he used the word “please”.

   She thought back through the years. She recalled the day when Kenneth went to live with Bethany Solace — and the way Rett shyly approached her, asking if he could stay with her. She had never wanted to be a mother, but felt a curious flutter in her heart at his request. She recalled the day he first called her Mom. She recalled all the mischief and mayhem the two teenage boys would often get into. She recalled the fights, the make-ups, the pranks. She recalled the disregard for rules, the incredibly effective teamwork, the inviolate bounds they set for themselves as they grew into young men.

  She thought it no small irony that  she — the woman who was too practical to let herself get emotionally attached — now stood here letting her infant grandson gnaw toothlessly on her finger.  She bounced Lincon in her arms while Meli fussed with Rett’s hair and Bet brushed motes of lint from Ken’s dress uniform.

   “So how do we look, Mom?” Rett asked as Meli finally stepped away and collected Lincon from Arete. Ken bent slightly so Bet could give him a kiss on the cheek, then straightened to stand at attention next to Rett.

   Arete straightened her own uniform before looking them both over. Her heart swelled with the pride of a mentor and mother. “You look like you’re ready to make history.” She quickly wiped away a thoroughly impractical tear and turned to lead her protégés out to the assembly where they would become the youngest paladins accepted by the Order.

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