“The woman, too?”
“They’re not women, they’re females. And a female’s primary duty to her family is to protect her lineage and ancestry, and to build the best possible alliance for her children. They do this by picking the best male lineage they can legally tie into. As the undisputed holders of the blood lineage, females are sacred. They can be thrown out of their homes, but they will never lose their lineage. However, if a male does something unworthy, he can be thrown out of his family’s lineage. Forever. And the last thing any male wants is to be thrown out of his family.”
“Andarions have a very stringent and rigid caste system. When you lose lineage, you are totally outcast from your blood family, and it cannot be undone. No Andarion is ever supposed to speak to such a being again. They are considered worse than dead. And if found in Andarion territory, the Outcast can be imprisoned or killed, without trial. It’s why all their paperwork requires a dual lineage to be listed. And why they methodically check it.”
That was so harsh. Not to mention the fact that the rest of the universe hated and feared Andarions, passionately. Even in times of peace, Andarions weren’t welcomed into the populations of other worlds. In some worlds, they were killed on sight or instantly enslaved.
The prejudice against them was extremely severe, and since they stood out, there was no way for them to hide or blend among the other known races.
“So how does an Andarion know if another has been disinherited without the paperwork?”
Thia rubbed noses with her lorina. When she met Sumi’s gaze, rage burned bright in those green eyes. “Their fathers hold them while their mothers slash them across both their left and right biceps and pectorals in a specific pattern so that everyone who sees it will know they’ve been disinherited and are Outcast. When they say ‘present arms’ they’re not talking about weaponry. They mean for their males to literally bare their arms for public inspection and scrutiny.”
Sumi vaguely recalled seeing those scars on Fain’s arms and chest when she’d been a girl, but she’d had no idea that was what had caused them. She’d assumed it was from some kind of accident. Never would she have dreamed his own parents had injured him so. “Is that why so many of the Andarion male fashions and formal military uniforms show their upper arms and pecs?”
Thia nodded. “It’s done to prove they’re legitimate sons. Fully lineaged. And those who have tattoos are either paying homage to their noble or heroic bloodlines, or to those they married into… it’s considered bragging when it’s their blood lineage. Noble when it’s the wife’s.”
Sumi sat back as she remembered all the scars that bisected Hauk’s flesh. He’d had something similar to what Thia described on the left side of his body. “What about the claw marks on Hauk’s arm? Is that —”
“No. The single claw marks, like he has, are a public chastisement from his mother for Keris’s death… One set of claw marks just means he’s displeased his matriarch. And it was done to eternally embarrass him in front of other Andarions whenever he has to make a formal public appearance, or go to temple on holy days. Should he displease his mother again, the next marks will be those of lost lineage, and he will be cast from his family.” Thia sighed. “The worst part though, is that those scars kept him from his obligatory military service that’s required of all non royal Andarion males and females after graduation. His mother should have just killed him. It would have been far kinder than marking him like that and leaving him for the rest of his breed to sneer at.”
Sumi didn’t know why, but that made her ache for him. Whether he’d been responsible or not, he must have been traumatized by his brother’s death. What kind of mother would further injure him, especially given how young he’d been at the time it’d happened?
“How did Keris die?”
“He fell during their climb. Uncle Hauk tried to save him, and ended up falling himself. He survived his own fall by crashing into a ledge and broke about a dozen bones. Even so, he managed to climb down and make it back to the pickup spot.”
Sumi gaped. “How in the Nine Worlds can they blame him for that?”
Thia rolled her eyes. “I know, right? They claim Uncle Hauk slipped first and slammed into Keris. My father says that had Uncle Hauk not been recovering from his last surgery, he would have probably been able to hold them both. As it was…” She sighed heavily.
None of this made sense. “It was an accident. Why blame him for it?”
“Because Keris’s rope had been cut with a knife. Deliberately.”
“What?” Sumi breathed.
Tears welled in Thia’s eyes. “I’ve heard different things, but from what I understand, the belay and anchors weren’t set properly, and weren’t capable of holding their combined weight. Even so, Uncle Hauk continued to hold on to Keris and was trying to pull or swing him to safety before the anchors gave way. Since it was obvious they would both die if something wasn’t done fast, Keris cut the rope, hoping to save Uncle Hauk. But neither Dariana nor his mother believes it. They think Hauk cut the line to save himself, and let his brother die, then lied about the events to save face.”
Her stomach constricted to the point she feared she’d be ill. The horror Hauk must feel over that day. She couldn’t imagine watching her sister die so horribly. Right in front of her…
And then to be blamed for it?
No wonder people called the Andarions barbarians.
In that moment, she wanted to go over there and kick Darice for his cruel words against Hauk. How could he be so mean? So unfeeling?
Gods, it was so hard to live with the death of a loved one. Especially when they died young. It was something she struggled with every single day of her life. She missed Omira so much that it still burned like a fire in her gut. She could only imagine how much worse that had to be for Hauk, who probably blamed himself even more than they did for it.
How many times had he relived that event and had no one to turn to for comfort?
Deep inside, she needed to soothe him, and she didn’t know why. Other than she understood the lonely pain of coping with the fear that maybe you could have done something to save your sibling. That you were to blame for it, even though you weren’t.
And unlike his family, she believed Thia’s version of Keris’s death. Hauk’s loyalty to his family and friends went too deep for him to have killed his brother to save himself. That wasn’t the warrior who’d thrown himself into the thick of League fire to cover his friends in the prison raid.
Hauk did not value his own life. Anyone who’d ever seen him fight would know that beyond a doubt. Fearless, he battled like he had a death wish. Not to mention the photos she’d seen.
No, he hadn’t hurt Keris. He would have fought to save his brother with the same ferocity and determination she’d seen him use against her League brethren.
“Have you ever talked to him about it?”
Thia shook her head. “My father told me that I should never mention it to him. That it’s too painful for Uncle Hauk. And I would never do anything to bring him hurt. He’s been too good to me.”
Sumi remembered the pictures of Thia playing and sparring with her uncle. He did love and adore her like a proud father.
But that also made her wonder about Thia’s Andarion family lineage. “So your father… was he disinherited for being with your mother?”
Thia snorted at the question. “My dad is only half Andarion, through his mother’s blood. Again, females are the keepers of the lineage, so in theory, they can bolster it with the blood of other species they deem worthy, either through marriage or adoption. The males cannot.”
“That’s not right.”
“No, it isn’t. And while my father has the predatory nature and lethal skills of an Andarion warrior, he wasn’t raised in their culture, so his beliefs and customs are more human than Andarion. And what he knows of their culture, he learned later in life. Mostly from Uncle Hauk and Fain.”
Sumi wasn’t sure if that was a blessing or a curse. Given the horrors her sister had been subjected to, she couldn’t imagine what life must be like for Thia and her father. “Do you ever take flack for being Andarion?”
“Nah. Until eight years ago, no one, except my mother, knew I had any Andarion blood at all. I just thought I had some unique quirks.” An odd half smile toyed at the edges of Thia’s lips. “Since I moved in with my father, no one, Andarion or human, has dared to say a word to me over it. He’d spill their entrails if they did. But he wasn’t so fortunate, especially when he was a kid. Since he has some very obvious Andarion and human features, people tend to give him a wide berth, and they’re not always polite or pleasant about it. Even now.”
“Yeah. My sister was with an Andarion male for a while, and it was extremely harsh for her after they broke up. Once a guy found out about her ex, he hit the door running.”
Thia inclined her head to Sumi. “And that’s why my mother never told my father she was pregnant with me from their affair… Humans are brutal.”
Sumi glanced over to Darice, who had yet to stir. “Andarions have their moments, too.”
Thia stretched her legs out so that her cat could lay her head in her lap. “Yes, they do. Every time Darice snarls to Uncle Hauk that he’s not his father, I want to cut his treacherous throat.”
“To you, it sounds like he’s being a snotty brat. Which he is. But what he’s really saying to Uncle Hauk is that his mother finds Uncle Hauk unworthy of adding his DNA to her bloodline. It’s the worst sort of insult an Andarion youth can say to an elder.”
“Then why’s he allowed to say it?”
“Dariana taught him to use it against Uncle Hauk to hurt him.”
“I told you, she’s a bitch.” Thia kept saying that like it explained everything.
Sumi scratched at her cheek. “Could you elaborate on the concept of bitch as you see it? It’s a vague, insulting noun that covers a lot of territory.”
“Yes, and the head queen of all bitchery’s only child lies over there.” Thia cut her gaze toward Darice before she looked back at Sumi. “While normally a female can withdraw from an unwanted pledge with no drama, Dariana’s is a special case. There are only two original and completely pristine Andarion bloodlines that females and their families will sell their souls to tie into. One is the direct royal bloodline of the ruling house.”
“The Most Sovereign Blood Clan of eton Anatole.”
Thia smiled at Sumi’s knowledge of their world. “Very good. The other bloodline belongs to the family of the first thirteen Andarion heroes. The Warring Blood Clan of… Hauk.”
Legendary warriors who’d been regaled since the beginning of interplanetary travel. Before there had been a single noble bloodline established on Andaria, the Hauks had stood united as a family to defend their race from the offworlders who’d come to conquer, kill, and enslave them.
It was a story of raw grit, patriotism, and exceptional sacrifice that everyone learned in school, no matter what species they belonged to. Seven Andarion males and five Andarion females. Brothers and sisters, along with their father, who was a retired veteran and shaman. When the first offworlders had come to Andaria to conquer them, their father had led their family out to stall the enemy’s advance, while their mother ran to spread word of the invaders and warn their people.
Single-handedly for three days, the Hauks had battled the tech-superior army, and held the invaders back from their capital city walls, until the Andarion chief could mount a counterattack. But the cost to their family had been a high one.
When that battle ended, only two Hauks remained. Father and son. The father died just days later of his injuries, leaving his son to found what was considered the first true blood lineage of Andaria. A hero who would later refuse to be the chieftain of his homeworld when they’d offered him the first united crown of Andaria.
“A Hauk is not a politician. There is no room in our hearts to sit in peace with those who would do any Andarion harm. We are, and will forever be, protectors of our brethren, family, and homeworld. So long as a single War Hauk lives, no nation will defeat us. No race will dare to invade our air, lands, or sea. We will stand and we will defend.
“For we are not bred of mercy and we are not bred for peace.
“We are born of fury.
“And forever fear the Warring Blood Clan of Hauk.”
Sumi had learned to recite that speech as a class project to honor Fain’s Andarion heritage. He’d never once said a word about it being his direct ancestor who’d originally given it.
She looked at Thia. “I didn’t realize that was his lineage.” Because of the legend of the Thirteen War Hauks, Hauk was the most common surname on Andaria – taken to honor the family that had given so much to protect their freedom and planet, and to remind their people that it only took a handful of brave Andarions willing to fight and die for their brethren to hold back a superior army.