“Requiem - An Honor Harrington Story” by David Carrico
A sense of impending trouble popped into Timothy Hanks' mind when he realized that his little sister wasn't in sight. He quickly disengaged from the conversation he was eavesdropping on and looked around for Elizabeth. From his august age of ten, looking after his just-turned-three-years-old sister was a bit of a pain at any time, but to have to do it tonight was not fair at all, given how many interesting people were in the room. He looked first to his mother, but Rebecca Hanks was in close conversation with Second Elder Jeremiah Sullivan and a couple of other churchmen. No sign of Elizabeth there.
Next, knowing his sister's sweet tooth, Timothy looked toward the buffet table, fully expecting to see her standing on her tip-toes trying to reach a platter. Not there either.
Now Timothy was starting to feel a bit worried, because if Elizabeth wasn't near him, Mama, or the cookies, who knew where she could have gone? He couldn't just call out for her, but if he didn't find her soon, Mama was going to have Words with him when the night was over. Timothy eased away from the groups by the bier and started slipping through the crowd, looking for that little purple dress, listening for the sound of hard-soled little shoes on the chapel's polished stone floor.
A few minutes later, worry was now standing on the threshold of alarm. Where could Elizabeth be? He'd even looked under the tables. Then he looked toward the side door of the chapel, and his heart almost stopped.
Admiral Honor Harrington walked down the hall toward the chapel, under the watchful eye of Andrew LaFollet and Jamie McCandless. Her staff, ably supported by James McGuinness, Nimitz, and Terrible's surgeon, had forced her to rest after the battle already being called Fourth Yeltsin by the simple expedient of turning off her alarms and not waking her for anything less than a communication from Protector Benjamin. As a result, she now, four days later, was merely sore and tired, as opposed to the state of utter and complete exhaustion she had been in when she left Terrible's flag bridge after the battle. She had recouped enough that McGuinness had promised to turn her alarm back on that night. Honor begrudged the time she felt she had lost, but there was no denying she was more alert, and while she wasn't racing along yet, she wasn't exactly dragging, either.
Physically, that is. But the recent events still weighed upon her: the collapse of the Mueller Middle School dome with the attendant deaths of fifty-two workmen and teachers and thirty—thirty—visiting children; the resulting outcry against her; the discovery that the collapse was sabotage; the assassination attempt that downed her pinnace and resulted in ninety-six more deaths, including that of Reverend Julius Hanks, First Elder of Grayson's Church of Humanity Unchained; the discovery that it was Steadholder Burdette who had engineered all of the death and destruction; the duel she had fought with William Fitzclarence, Steadholder Burdette, in which—in her role of Protector's Champion—she had executed the steadholder; all of which had been capped off by the battle just completed in defense of the planet Grayson where the forces she had commanded had destroyed or driven off significant forces of Peep battleships, at a not insignificant cost to her squadrons in both ships and personnel.
Personnel, Honor thought. Such an impersonal word, so neutral, so . . . bland a word to mask the fact that the numbers represented real people who were dead, many of them destroyed so thoroughly there were no bodies to be recovered to provide closure to their families. She was sick to death of the body count of people who had followed her leadership into the fires of battle.
That got a bleek from Nimitz where he sat on her right shoulder, and a feeling both of warmth and of scolding. The treecat supported Honor in her grief, but at the same time wasn't disposed to let her wallow in guilt that wasn't deserved. When evil was determined to strike, people were going to die. All Honor had done was see to it that the deaths were meted mostly to the Peeps and to a lesser extent those determined to defend the helpless. To Nimitz, that was something to view with satisfaction, not riddle oneself with guilt over. Honor understood her furry companion's viewpoint; she just hadn't been able to fully accept it yet. But he'd keep on her about it, she knew. She raised a hand, and felt him press a true-hand palm against hers.
The voice that spoke from Honor's right was not the voice she wanted to hear. It should have been her flag lieutenant, Jared Sutton. But Jared had been one of the ones that had not survived her pinnace being shot out of the sky, and there hadn't been time yet to replace him. So she was accompanied by Lieutenant Commander Abraham Jackson, her staff chaplain, and the one member of her staff who was not just absolutely swamped by the post-battle reports and cleanup and repairs. Yet one more pang, one more death that weighted her soul.
Honor realized her chaplain was probably responding to her hand movement, checking to see if it was some kind of signal. Rather than try to explain where her mind had been, she brought up a question she should have asked some time ago. "So what can I expect, Abraham?"
"To be honest, My Lady, I'm not totally certain," the chaplain said. "You know the official lying in state has occurred over the last several days."
Honor did know that. During the frantic post-battle scramble to recover and repair and re-station the surviving Grayson fleet units, she had caught glimpses of newsie views of the tens of thousands of Graysons who had filed past Reverend Hanks' bier every day where it lay in state in the capital's cathedral. She bitterly regretted that matters had remained too unresolved and chaotic in the system to allow her to participate in the state memorial for the slain religious leader of all Grayson when it had been held the previous evening. Today, though, for the first time in days, things were under control enough that Honor could take the time. Indeed, as Steadholder Harrington, she was obligated to observe this memorial, and her staff had almost bodily forced her on the pinnace when she had started talking about postponing the flight to deal with a ship issue.
"When it comes to family memorials and celebrations, different families, different steadings, will have different customs," Abraham continued. "But in most cases, there is a viewing where the body is presented and the family is available for receiving visitors and condolences."
"I can't see a party happening at the viewing of Reverend Hanks," Honor said with a small smile.
"Oh, no, My Lady. The Church wouldn't allow that. The main viewing was in the rotunda of the Protector's Cathedral. That's over and done with now. Today and tonight are for family and friends and notables such as yourself. There will be a buffet with some small food items, and much good drink. Many toasts and remembrances will have been lifted to the Reverend by now. There will probably be people sharing those remembrances with each other."
Honor nodded. "That I can relate to." She squared her shoulders. "And it's time to be about it."
Their progression was interrupted before they reached the chapel by the sight of a little girl marching determinedly down the hall. She was just as cute as most little girls are, dressed in a dark purple dress with plump olive-toned cheeks shining above a black lace collar and framed by curly dark hair.
"Let her by, Andrew," Honor said.
Her senior armsman apparently didn't think that a small child would be a threat, as he sidestepped her without even a glance back at his steadholder. Honor could see a slight smile on his face as his head turned a little to keep her in his vision as she moved by him.
The girl came to a stop before Honor. She tilted her head up and announced, "You're big." Honor smiled at that announcement. By Grayson standards, she was almost a giantess, so the girl was right from her perspective.
Shifting her gaze to the treecat, a big smile appeared on the face of the child. "Big kitty," she observed.
Nimitz bleeked again, this time one of the sounds Honor recognized as a treecat laugh. The sense of laughter that came to her just reinforced the feeling.
Honor didn't have much warning when the treecat decided to dismount from her shoulder. She felt his weight shift as he turned, then a slight push-off as he dropped behind her.
The girl's smile got even wider as the treecat stepped around Honor's legs. Nimitz stopped and settled his hindquarters, then raised his body up vertically so that he was looking the girl in the eye.
"Big kitty," she said with a gurgled laugh, "pretty kitty."
She reached out a hand to touch Nimitz, and he intercepted it with one of his true-hands. She giggled at that, patting at his hand.
Honor crouched to bring herself down closer to the child's level. "What's your name, sweetheart?" Her experience with her many younger cousins of various degrees was proving surprisingly useful on Grayson.
"Elizabeth." The girl pronounced it carefully, making sure she got the 'th' sound right.
"That's a pretty name," Honor said with a smile. "I know someone else named Elizabeth." She didn't think the Queen of Manticore would mind being compared to the child.
The girl switched her attention back to Nimitz. "Pretty kitty."
Honor stood and held her arms out. Nimitz leapt up into them, then swarmed up to resume his regular position on her right shoulder. Honor held her hand out to the girl. "Let's go this way, Elizabeth."
"Okay." Elizabeth reached up and took Honor's hand, and toddled alongside her as they resumed progress toward the chapel.
The sight of his sister coming back in the side door of the chapel hand in hand with a tall officer in Grayson naval uniform caused Timothy to almost panic for a different reason. He threw a horrified glance at his mother. Seeing that she was still occupied with her conversation with Second Elder Sullivan and actually had her back mostly to the door, he started moving. He didn't exactly run to where Elizabeth was. He didn't even hurry—much—but he also wasted no time in moving to where the officer had stopped just inside the door to view the chapel as everyone in the group passed their uniform caps to the attendant at the door.
Just before Timothy arrived, the officer turned and he saw the animal on his—her, he realized—shoulder. Now he really wasn't sure what to do, because there was only one person in the whole Yeltsin system that officer could be, and that person frightened him a bit. Or maybe more than a bit.
Timothy scowled at his little sister. "Elizabeth . . ."
"Big kitty! Pretty kitty!" She interrupted him before he could even begin his scold, pointing up to the treecat. His gaze followed her finger to the treecat—which was just the neatest thing he'd ever seen—but then to the face of Steadholder Harrington, wearing a smile.
"I'm sorry . . ." was all he could get out at that moment.
"I take it she's yours?" The steadholder's voice was low pitched and very warm.
"My sister," Timothy muttered.
"And you are?"
"Timothy Hanks, St-Steadholder . . . I mean Admiral! I mean . . ."
The steadholder's smile widened a bit. "It can be confusing, can't it? But I'm the same person either way, so it's okay." The smile slipped away. "Reverend Hanks was your . . ."
"My grandfather," Timothy replied. It was a question he'd answered more than once over the last few days.
Timothy thought he saw the steadholder's eyes darken. "I'm . . . very sorry for your loss," she said quietly.
Timothy's response was interrupted before he started it. "Timothy! Elizabeth!" came in his mother's voice; the tone told him that she was not happy at the moment. He managed to not hunch his shoulders, but he couldn't suppress the flinch. He was very certain that Steadholder Harrington caught it.
Honor looked up to see a woman dressed in black approaching, accompanied by Second Elder Sullivan, the man who was most likely to succeed Julius Hanks as Reverend, titular head of the Church of Humanity Unchained. She was tall for a Grayson woman, which made her middle height by Manticoran standards; a pretty woman, even with her face marked with grief—red eyes with circles under them, deeply graven lines radiating from those eyes and the corners of her mouth—although she was dry-eyed at the moment. She was obviously part of the family, given Timothy's reaction to her voice. Honor waited as the other woman stepped up beside Timothy and laid her hand on his shoulder.
Elder Sullivan stepped into the gap. "Steadholder Harrington, please allow me to introduce Rebecca Hanks, daughter-in-law to Reverend Hanks. Madam Hanks, Steadholder Harrington."
"Please, call me Honor, both of you." Honor held out her hand first to the churchman, who showed little hesitation in taking it for a momentary shake. She then held it out to Rebecca, who took it after a moment but gave her a firm clasp when she did.
"If you will call me Rebecca," came the reply from the woman. "And I beg your pardon for my children impeding your way." That last was accompanied by a stern look at Timothy and Elizabeth. He weathered it as if he had experience at it, according to Honor's judgment.
Elizabeth, however, was irrepressible. "Look Mommy, big kitty. Big!" She literally bounced as she pointed up to where Nimitz was sitting on Honor's shoulder. Honor could almost taste the humor that was rolling from Nimitz.
"Elizabeth met us in the hallway," Honor said, "and conducted us here to the chapel. And Timothy greeted us moments after we arrived. Very nicely mannered, both of them." She bestowed a smile on the kids. Elizabeth smiled back, but Timothy was apparently a bit embarrassed, as he flushed slightly. But then, Honor remembered being that age, and that judgments by strangers weren't exactly welcome. Come to think of it, she wasn't too sure they'd be welcome now. Nimitz bleeked at that.
"I thank you for allowing me to intrude on the private visitation tonight," Honor said. "I truly wanted to pay my last respects in person for a number of reasons, most of which I'm sure you can guess. But after the events of the last several days, I just couldn't get here any earlier."
"It was no bother," Rebecca said. "Having this late gathering actually gave many of Papa Julius' old friends in the ministry an extra opportunity to gather together and remember him."
"Indeed it did," Elder Sullivan said. "Most of us here tonight worked with him or for him in the church. This is a time of quiet celebration for us, albeit we grieve at his removal from our lives in the moment." He looked around for a moment. "A very good idea, this. A time for brothers in the clergy to come together. I believe we shall recommend it to the Sacristy as a whole whenever any clergyman passes."
A moment of silence passed, then Rebecca held out her hand. "Come along, Elizabeth. We must allow Honor her time with your grandfather."
"No." The girl's tone wasn't exactly defiant, Honor judged, but she apparently had her mind set. "Go with."
"It's all right, Rebecca." It actually was, Honor discovered. "If you don't mind, she can stay with me. So can Timothy, for that matter."
Rebecca looked unsure for a moment, then said with a bit of a smile, "All right, but send them back to me when they start wearing on you." She turned, and headed back toward her guests.
Honor looked at the two younger Hanks members. "Shall we?" She nodded her head toward the bier.
They arrived alongside. Elizabeth raised her arms up. "Make me big like you." Honor lifted the girl to sit on her right arm, balancing Nimitz on her left shoulder. "My Papaw," Elizabeth said, pointing at the recumbent figure of Reverend Julius Hanks.
"Your Papaw was a very good man," Honor said. She could feel her own grief rising, but tried to suppress it.
Timothy put his hands on the edge of the bier, saying nothing. "Do you miss your grandfather?" Honor asked.
"Yes," Timothy replied, still just looking at Reverend Hanks. "But that's not him." He looked up at Honor. "He's with the Tester, the Intercessor, and the Comforter. This is just what got left behind. He called it his Grayson suit—he'd make jokes about how old and wrinkled it was getting, and how he was ready to trade it in for a new one." Timothy smiled a bit. "Guess he's wearing the new one now."
Honor took a deep breath, then said, "I'd guess so."
She saw Elder Sullivan step up on the other side of Timothy. "Timothy, Elizabeth, you need to allow Steadholder Harrington some time alone with your grandfather. Come away, now."
This time Elizabeth didn't protest when she was set back on the floor. She took her brother's hand and they walked toward their mother.
Honor looked to the elder and said a simple, "Thank you."
"If anyone deserves a time alone here, it's you," Elder Sullivan said quietly. "I'll stand behind you and ensure you have as much time and privacy as you need." And he suited action to words, moving back several steps to stand behind her and her armsmen. At the same moment, Lieutenant Commander Jackson also moved back to stand with the elder.
Honor felt both Andrew and Jamie move in a bit as she placed her hands on the edge of the bier. Her gaze focused on the face of the Reverend. It was still, of course; how could it be otherwise, since his spirit was no longer in the body that wore the face? But by some factor, whether mortician's art or the nature of his own physical being, there was a hint of a smile on that face, one that Honor was sure was echoed in his spirit wherever it was.
Tears clouded Honor's vision, both the natural eye and the artificial one. Her throat ached to say something—anything—but what could she say that would have any meaning? Reverend Hanks was gone, killed in helping stave off the most recent assassination attempt on her, one of the ninety-six men and women who died as a result of the successful attempt to shoot down her pinnace as it approached Harrington Spaceport. It had come all too close to being a successful assassination as well, and it was only Reverend Hanks' desperate effort to shield Honor with his own body that had preserved her life. That had cost the Reverend his own life, and had left Honor with the grieving and grievous burden of knowing that his sacrifice was all that had saved her.
She had been so busy, so frantic, during the last few days; then so wounded, so hurting, so driven to and past the limits of exhaustion and endurance . . . she had thought that she had adjusted to his loss. But now, in the warm illumination of the presence light hanging above the bier, Honor realized that she had only deferred her grief. Now it crashed into her, broke through her shields, and laid bare her soul in all its pain and bruising and bleeding and stark bitterness that she still lived and Reverend Hanks did not.
Tears trickled down her cheeks in very slow motion as she grieved for this good man—no, this great man—who was a man of love and charity, who was a man of grace and compassion, but who was also a man of wisdom and firmness who had at times sheltered her and at times had stood beside her and who had always counseled her. Nimitz pressed close to her, echoing her grief.
For just a moment, Honor absolutely resonated with the Grayson Church of Humanity Unchained's doctrine about the Test. For certainly, Reverend Hanks had been tested to the utmost, and just as certainly she and Grayson were being almost as severely tested as a result.
Finally the tears slowed and stopped. Finally Honor drew back from the precipice of her grief. She reached up and detached one of her collar insignia, the circle of four six-pointed stars, and laid it on the breast of the Reverend's body. What did Timothy say his grandfather had called it? His 'Grayson suit,' that was it. Honor's mouth quirked at that. She could just hear the Reverend's resonant voice delivering that with a smile. She left her hand on the breast for a moment.
"It isn't right," Honor said very quietly, "not at all. I should be lying there, not you. And you can tell God I said so. But since you've gone on and I'm left behind, take my love with you until I can one day catch up with you. And if you see Paul, give him my love, too."
She patted the old man's breast one last time, then straightened, wiped her eyes and cheeks, squared her shoulders, and turned away from the empty shell of one of the most important people of her life.
"Tell me, Elder," Honor said without polite courtesies or circumlocutions as she approached Elder Sullivan, "how do I justify my being alive at the expense of his life?" She jerked her head over her shoulder toward the bier. "I'm not worthy of that sacrifice."
Elder Sullivan tilted his bald head to one side just a bit, but spoke mildly, "You already have justified it, My Lady." Honor looked at him from under lowered brows. "Twice over, as a matter of fact. First, in executing the traitor William Fitzclarence. Second, in leading our Navy to victory yet again last week. Without you to stop them, either of those would have caused much more death and destruction. In the long run, the first perhaps more than the second."
"Someone else would have . . ." Honor began to retort.
"No, Steadholder, no one else could have done what you did—certainly not at the moment, and maybe not ever. But," the elder emphasized that word, "setting those aside, I've never known anyone more certain of his own mind than Reverend Julius Hanks. And if that very good, and very firm, and very resolute old man of God decided that you were worth the sacrifice of his last few years on Grayson, I wouldn't argue with him. On the other hand, it does perhaps leave you with a Test."
"Test?" Honor could hear the capital letter in Elder Sullivan's voice. She wasn't sure she wanted any more tests.
"The Test of living in such a way that you prove Reverend Hanks' judgment right. Otherwise, you leave his last act one of failure."
Honor expelled her breath. "You fight dirty, Elder Sullivan. If Reverend Hanks were still here, I'd report you."
Elder Sullivan smiled. "One of my failings, I fear. He did counsel me about it from time to time."
After a moment, the elder's smile faded, and he grew serious. "And speaking as the acting leader of the Church of Humanity Unchained, on my own behalf and on behalf of the entire Sacristy, I can assure you that there will be no changes in the policies or positions of the Church as a result of the things that have happened recently. What Reverend Hanks chose to bless and support, we will continue."
That statement was not expected. It caught Honor off guard. She had had little contact with the Second Elder prior to this point, but her understanding from all of her steadholder briefings was that Sullivan was an innately more conservative man than Reverend Hanks, and not even Protector Benjamin knew what his path forward would be. But here and now he had revealed it to Honor, and a knot of tension loosened that she hadn't really been aware of.
"Thank you," she responded with a nod of her head. "That means a lot to me."
"It does to us as well," the elder said. "We will follow his leadership and wisdom,"—with a nod toward the bier—"for yet a while."
Honor nodded. After a moment, in an attempt to shake her somber mood, she said, "In all our time together, Reverend Hanks never said much about his family. I see his daughter-in-law and two grandchildren here tonight, which is more than I knew about before. Are there others?"
"No," the elder sighed. "He was the only child of an only son, and despite two wives had only one child of his own."
"A son, I take it."
"Yes. John Hanks. He was a chaplain aboard the Austin Grayson in that first battle."
Honor's shoulders twitched reflexively. So many people had died because she had taken most of her squadron elsewhere at a time when the fanatics of Masada, aided and abetted by the People's Republic of Haven, had inserted a couple of modern warships into the Yeltsin System. She had never known that the Reverend's son was one of them.
"He never said."
"He wouldn't, My Lady."
Honor had to accept the truth of that. "His wives?"
"Two of them: Eleanor and Rachel. Both very good choices for a pastor's wives. Warm, compassionate, supportive, and rather smart, both of them. He could never put anything over on either of them." Elder Sullivan chuckled at that. "Eleanor was the older of the two, and she passed on a couple of years ago. Her heart, that was. She went to sleep one night, and didn't wake up the next morning."
"And his second wife?"
"Rachel died in childbirth," the elder said, sadness on his face. "He never told me the cause."
"So Rebecca . . ." Honor turned to look at the Reverend's daughter-in-law, who was listening attentively to an older man in a clerical collar.
"Is presiding over the visitation as not only the senior wife of the family, but as the senior member of the family altogether. There are a few distant cousins, but there is no one else in the close family except her and the two children."
Honor shook her head for a moment. "Sad."
Something triggered a thought in Honor's mind. "Austin Grayson at First Yeltsin . . ." She looked at Elizabeth, then back at the elder. "Just how old is Elizabeth?"
Elder Sullivan looked to the child where she was sitting next to her brother holding a cup of tea almost too large for her hands. A look of understanding crossed his face. "Ah, yes. It does look a bit odd, doesn't it? But John had been home for a few days leave right before the battle. In fact, strictly speaking he didn't have to respond to the emergency call-up that was broadcast as soon as it was known that the Masadans were in the system, but he did. Navy records indicate he was one of the very last to board the last shuttle that left the planet before the battle. None of Austin Grayson's crew survived, of course. Elizabeth was conceived literally only a night or two before her father's death."
"Is Rebecca the only wife?" Honor looked around, wondering for a moment if she had missed something.
"Yes." Elder Sullivan shook his head. "John had not chosen a second wife yet. According to Reverend Hanks, he felt he hadn't found a woman yet who wasn't more interested in being the daughter-in-law of the Reverend than she was in being married to John and Rebecca. And then it was too late."
"Poor Rebecca," Honor said, feeling a flood of sympathy for the other woman. She couldn't imagine what the woman must have felt like, first losing her husband, then discovering she was going to bear him another child.
"Indeed," Elder Sullivan said. "She and Reverend Hanks leaned on each other to a great extent during that time of testing."
"I can see that," Honor murmured, looking to where the other woman was still in conversation with the older cleric.
As Honor observed Rebecca smiling and conversing with several of those who were lingering at the visitation, several decisions came together for her. She looked around for Andrew LaFollet, only to discover that he and Jamie were standing at the bier. Honor forbore disturbing them. They undoubtedly had as much business with the deceased Reverend as she had had. They felt they owed a special debt, as the surviving armsmen from the pinnace crash, for the way in which the Reverend's self-sacrifice was all that had preserved Honor's life that tragic evening.
Besides, Rebecca was still occupied.
Fortuitously, just as it looked as if Rebecca would be ending her current conversation, Andrew appeared at Honor's side with the barest rustle of sound. She looked at him, and something caught her attention. "You're out of uniform, Andrew." There was a hint of a query in that statement.
"As much as you are, My Lady, and for the same reason," was her chief armsman's response. His face was sober, but there was a bit of a laugh to his tone.
"Ah. I see." Honor said nothing more about it, because at that moment Rebecca turned away from her recent conversation and took two steps toward Honor and Second Elder Sullivan.
"Steadholder . . . Admiral Harrington . . . Honor," Rebecca stuttered through the titles, "thank you for coming. Papa Julius was very fond of you, and had great hopes for you and your steading for the future of our people. I'm sure that where he is now he is still pleased that you have come tonight."
"Rebecca," Honor said after swallowing, "Reverend Hanks was a great man, and I, along with the entire planet of Grayson, grieve for your loss. I was just as fond of him as he was of me, and the knowledge of how and why he died burdens me even more. He did a service for me, and for Harrington Steading, that cannot be repaid. There is no balance I can provide that will fill the hole that has been ripped in your lives. But," she swallowed again, "I must recognize what was done, and make provision for the price that has been paid.
"To that end, first, since Reverend Hanks died in protecting me and preserving my life, just as one of my armsmen might have done, I find that you are entitled to the pension that would be awarded to the survivors of one of my personal armsmen who might have died in a similar fashion; and given the Reverend's rank, his inestimable value to me, and his importance to all of Grayson society, that pension will be the pension awarded to a colonel of the Harrington Steadholder's Guard. This is in addition to whatever provisions are being made for you by the Protector or the Church."
Rebecca Hanks was wide-eyed. Her mouth was open, but Honor held her hand up to forestall any response, because she wasn't done yet.
"Second, given the service performed by Reverend Hanks, Harrington Steading will award citizenship to you and your children. I know that you are residing elsewhere, and may have civic responsibilities there. I will not attempt to entice you to move to Harrington, but I will say that if you should ever desire to relocate for whatever reason, we would be happy to assist you in that.
"Third, Harrington Steading will underwrite the education of your children, when it comes time for them to advance.
"Fourth, yesterday, as Steadholder Harrington, I officially instituted Harrington Steading's first award for valor. Official announcements will be made soon, but you're the first to hear about it. It will be the Hanks Cross, which will be awarded solely to civilians who risk or lose their lives to preserve the lives and wellbeing of others, and Reverend Hanks will be its first and founding recipient. You will be presented with it in his name in a ceremony before long.
"Fifth," Honor pulled up her personal uni-link as she was speaking and keyed in a search, then merged several packets of data together, and swiped a finger through the Send portal, "I just provided you with the direct contact numbers for myself and Howard Clinkscales, who will continue to serve as Regent for Harrington Steading. If you need anything—anything at all—you call me if I am on-planet, otherwise you call Howard. Any time day or night, if you need anything, you call. All right?"
Rebecca seemed stunned. Even Second Elder Sullivan was showing signs of surprise. "M-My L-Lady . . . Honor," Rebecca finally stammered, "that . . . that is unnecessary. It's too much. Papa Julius would never have wanted this."
"I'm sure he wouldn't have," Honor said with a sad smile, "but since he's no longer with us, he can't quite object. And I will not let his family suffer any more than they already have."
Honor's smile broadened a little. "Really, you have no choice. The proper response is, 'Yes, Honor.' And if you don't let me do this for you, I will be unhappy. Does Rebecca want me to be unhappy, Andrew?"
"Ah," her armsman responded, "that would be 'No.' "
"So you see," Honor said, "you really want to just say, 'Yes, Honor.' "
Rebecca was still stunned. Honor was starting to enjoy herself. She shifted her attention to the elder.
"Second Elder Sullivan, I would assume that you have some influence with this person. Please counsel her that she really should accept what I am offering."
Honor bestowed an even larger smile on the elder, to which he responded in kind before he turned to Rebecca and said, "I suggest you give in, Rebecca. I have it on the best authority that no one has ever successfully out-stubborned Steadholder Harrington except the Reverend, and since he is gone, we mere mortals must bow to her will." He gave a slight nod of his head to that effect.
By now Rebecca had regained at least some of her composure. She had a bit of a smile on her face, and as the elder concluded his remarks, she sank in a deep curtsey.
"Let it be as the Steadholder has directed," Rebecca said very formally. She straightened, then surprised Honor with a giggle. "I've always wanted to say that."
"Good," Honor said. "I'm glad you saw reason." The mirth left her face and voice, and she continued in a very serious tone. "I meant that last part; about calling if you need anything."
Honor tilted her head. "'I know' is not the same as 'I will.' "
"I will call if a need arises," Rebecca said as she finally gave in.
"Good." Honor held out her hand again, and this time it was clasped by Rebecca without hesitation, followed by Elder Sullivan. "Again, thank you for allowing me to attend at this time. I am honored by that, and by your allowing me to attend the family service tomorrow. My prayers are with you."
With that, Honor took her cap from the silent Jamie, who had retrieved it from the attendant. "And now, I am late for an appointment with the Protector. Good evening to you all. Andrew, Jamie, Abraham—let's move."
The cluster of uniforms, two in the blue naval uniform and two in the green of the Harrington Steadholder's Guard, coalesced and moved to and through the side door without further delay.
"That was well done, My Lady," Andrew said quietly after they gained the hallway.
"The provision for the family?"
"I meant every word of it, and it's not to be broadcast to the media," Honor said. "This stays known only to us and them for as long as possible. Clear?" Her voice in that moment was the steadholder's voice delivering instructions.
"Clear," sounded from three different voices.
After a moment, Lieutenant Commander Jackson said, "Your direction to institute a civilian medal named for the Reverend is also well done, My Lady. It should be very popular with your people, and it will serve as a fitting memorial."
"Oh, I really doubt that Reverend Hanks would much care for that, Abraham." Honor's voice carried a note of humor. "In fact, I can't think of anything he would have detested more than becoming an object of veneration." Her smile slipped away and her tone sobered. "No, the only worthy memorial to the Reverend is to complete the work he started here."
"As you say, My Lady." The commander's voice was just as serious.
Timothy Hanks stared at the door where the almost-larger-than-life steadholder had left the room. The space seemed to have shrunk a bit, he thought. "I like Steadholder Harrington," he announced.
"You should," Elder Sullivan responded. "She has saved Grayson several times now, and your grandfather saved her so that she can continue to defend us.
"And she is going to change the world," his mother said softly after picking a sleepy Elizabeth up.
Timothy considered that. "Is that good or bad, Mama?"
"Mind you," Elder Sullivan added, "it may not be comfortable—change never is—and there are those who will resent it. But the changes have already started, and as long as she is alive and leading her steading, they will continue."
Most of the rest of their guests began to take their leave, as if the steadholder's leaving was a signal. Before long, it was only the family, Second Elder Sullivan, and the mortuary attendants. They began to straighten up and prepare for the family's memorial service the next morning.
"Madam Hanks," one of the attendants called from the bier. Timothy's mother moved that direction. Timothy and the elder followed. "Look. That wasn't there before."
Timothy stood on his tiptoes to make sure he could see. There were a couple of strange things on his grandfather's chest. His mother set Elizabeth down on a nearby chair, then picked them up.
"One of her admiral's insignia, and one of her armsman's badges," his mother said. "What . . . "
"A private memorial from her," Elder Sullivan said, "and one from her armsmen, recognizing one of their own."
"They didn't have to . . ."
Timothy thought his mother was about to cry, which alarmed him a bit. He wasn't sure he would know what to do if she cried.
"Knowing them, steadholder and armsmen alike," Elder Sullivan said, "should we have expected anything different?"
Timothy thought about that for some time, as his mother instructed the morgue attendants to keep the items displayed as they had been found, and then picked up the now sleeping Elizabeth. At length, he said, "I shall add Steadholder Harrington to my prayers."
"So should we all," his mother affirmed.
Elder Sullivan nodded his head. "Indeed."
Steadholder Harrington had come to say goodbye to his grandfather, Timothy thought. He would remember her.
Copyright © 2023 by David Carrico
David Carrico is the author of The Blood is the Life, a science fiction vampire story, and 1636: The Flight of the Nightingale. With Eric Flint, he is the coauthor of 1636: The Devil's Opera and The Span of Empire, which was nominated for the 2017 Dragon Award for Best Military SF or Fantasy novel.