Aurelius stood with the little envoy in the center of an open hangar bay of the battle barge, with nothing but a void shield between them and the infinity of stars. The alien’s obvious nervousness and constant motion made his immobility stark. The little creature, barley five feet high, seemed to dance around the knees of his powered armour. “I just wish you to understand, my Lord, that these warriors are not acting in the way of Tau’va. What they have done, they perceive as a great honour, but it has not been sanctioned. We tried to council them, Lord. They know nothing of diplomacy. Please understand...”
A set of harmonious trills sounded from the open hatch of the alien landing boat across the bay. The noise was so high pitched that a normal human would barely hear it, but Aurelius picked up the mournful tune immediately. His eyes flickered. The Water caste envoy danced again, this time his movements in time to the measured beat of the music. “They chose the music to honor the dead, from a recording of old Earth military music. We hope it is appropriate.”
Aurelius could feel the presence of his own honor guard standing rigidly behind him, sixty brothers of his chapter. The ramp of the alien ship slid silently from the lighted hatch, and a column of alien figures emerged, marching slowly in perfect rhythm to the music. Six of the aliens at the head of the column seemed to be playing the music.
At his feet, the little envoy looked up. “Do you know the tune, Lord?”
Behind the first six musicians came six more, these carrying drums. They kept the beat without flourish, their sticks rising and falling like automatons. Behind the drummers came six warriors clad in black singlesuits, marching on either side of a coffin on a grav–pedestal, all matte black. A space marine helmet rested on the top, its scratched red plasteel a contrast in colour and texture to the coffin. A lone warrior, his face badly scarred, followed the end of the column.
Aurelius’ eyes flickered again. “Roslin Castle ,” he said softly.
“Yes. We thought it—”
“Please be silent.”
The column approached to his left, crossed in front of him and halted precisely, the music ending exactly on the end of the verse, so that the coffin was directly opposite and just a few meters away. The lone warrior pivoted on his heel and marched in time to the now silent music until he faced Aurelius from two meters away.
“We, the Shas of Tess’en Cadre, return to you the husk of your Brother Silvanus. He fell that we might achieve victory. Between warriors, there is no need to say long words in praise of such a deed, but only to know it was done.”
He paused and drew a short knife from a scabbard at his waist.
“All of my—“ he stumbled for words, “—kin group perished in this action. I have no battle brothers to share my tasks of burial. So I ask, is there one in your kin group who will share his blood with mine, that together we may mourn our dead?”
The envoy hissed. “This is too much, Shas’vre. Leave speaking to the speakers.”
Aurelius silenced the envoy with a flick of his gauntleted wrist. The alien warrior remained motionless before him, his eyes almost human in their weariness. From behind there was a murmur among Aurelius’ honour guard. This alien was living their only fear. “There is,” he said softly, “Brother Juvenal, my cup.” While Juvenal stepped quietly forward Aurelius wondered if the Shas’vre had heard of their rituals, or this was some unusual coincidence. He undid his gauntlets, which Juvenal took, handing Aurelius a silver goblet, large enough for his hands, but plain. He held took by the foot in his fingertips with his palm upright. Aurelius extended his left hand over the bowl, and with a swift motion Juvenal drew a knife across the palm.
The water caste diplomat gasped as bright red blood flowed from the deep cut into the cup. But the Tau warrior showed not sign of surprise, though his eyes did widen slightly as the flow turned into a trickle, then stopped.
Aurelius looked into the Tau’s dark eyes, “Shas’vre, may the last of us be as brave when all of his brothers are gone.” He stepped forward, dropping to a knee, and lowering and extending the cup so it stood before the alien warrior’s waist. His mind reached out to the alien’s feeling, sharing, savouring his sadness. It went deep. It went as deep as Aurelius’ own, because it went far beyond the camaraderie of shared risk and into harder things.
Now it was the turn of the Shas standing by the casket to murmur. The Shas’vre twitched a hooved boot, an alien gesture that yet managed to convey command, like the movement of a stallion. They fell silent. He opened his odd, three fingered hand and drew his own knife across his palm. Deep purply red ichor dropped into the goblet, dark as passion, thick as milk. The Shas’vre replaced the dagger in a single movement, a hint of ritual display, and it went home with a click. He lifted the cup to his lips and paused.
“Only prey fear change,” he said, and drank deep.
Then he in turn sank to his knee and offered the cup back. Blood was still running down his hand to fall in a slow leak to the deck, like tears. Aurelius took the cup, and twirled it slightly in his fingers , their blood mixing and coating the inside, which shone in the overhead lights, a red mirror reflecting his inverted, distorted face. In a single motion he rose up to tower over the Tau again, and raised the cup to his lips. Aurelius did not drink lustily, as did some of his brothers, but slowly, living the Shas’vre’s life in his body, his blood, and in his mind.
“I know you as you know yourself,” he said quietly. Only the two Tau could hear him. The Water Caste diplomat started and Aurelius could sense his fear, but from the Shas’vre all he felt was – brotherhood.
Korvus 23:06, 8 February 2008 (UTC) Christian Cameron and Nicholas Cioran