Sir John Bedford was an excellent leader, but he was not a miracle-worker. It had taken much longer than any of them had anticipated for him to reform the Reigner Organization on Earth. He had to first weed out so much corruption and shut down so many secret projects that he was often red-faced with shame as he gave his progress reports to the Reigners.
Arthur told him not to worry about it. "Corruption sneaks into even the best places," he said. "I should know."
"And it was our dear previous Reigners that set up those projects behind your back," Vierran added. "They made sure you didn't know about them."
Sector Controller Borasus wasn't left in charge of Albion in the meantime, of course. After some debate, it was decided that the younger nephew of the head of Cash, who had been in the Wood with them when they were named Reigners, would take over Albion until Sir John could be spared from Runcorn. They expected that to take no more than a year. In reality, it took three.
Mordian still looked horribly awkward in the official Reigner robes, Vierran thought as she stood beside him at Sir John's promotion ceremony. She made a mental note to see about getting them redesigned into something that would suit him better -- and perhaps wouldn't remind him of the previous Reigners so much. Fitela, on her other side, pulled her mind away from those darker thoughts with a loud laugh at some anecdote a junior executive from Earth had just finished telling to the crowd.
"And that's when I knew our Director was not someone to be messed with!" the man said once the laughter had died down a little. "I know he's going on to do important work, and I congratulate him, but I don't mind saying we'll miss Sir John terribly around Runcorn. I can only hope that, as the new Director, I'll live up to his legacy."
He stepped back from the podium to a smattering of applause, and the departing Controller took his place. Then the "official" bit of the ceremony commenced. The nephew from Cash gave his Key, with great formality, to Mordian, who hung it around Sir John's neck. Sir John recited the oath of office, Mordian pronounced him the new Controller for the Albion Sector of the Reigner Organization, and it was done. Vierran joined in with the applause enthusiastically.
The party that followed was lively by Earth standards and downright rowdy by Homeworld ones. After an hour or so, Vierran found she was getting lightheaded and had to excuse herself from a conversation with Sir John's wife, Fran, to find a sofa in a quiet spot. Mordian found her sitting there and the point of his eyebrow lowered right down onto the bridge of his nose in concern.
"Are you alright?"
Vierran gave him a closed-lipped smile. "I'm sure I'll be fine once I've rested for awhile. Half of it is probably just the color scheme in this place."
Sir John, who was standing nearby, overheard. "I know; it's awful," he said, coming to take a seat on the sofa next to her. "I'm afraid redecorating has been quite far down the list of priorities. But Fran has already picked out new paint samples. It won't be steak-and-mustard in here for much longer."
"I'll get you some orange juice," Mordian said distractedly. "You'd like that, right?"
"Yes, that would be lovely," Vierran said. They didn't have oranges on Homeworld, and besides, it gave Mordian something to feel useful doing. Once he'd gone, she turned to Sir John. "Fran seems happy. And your children? How did they take the news of what you actually do for a living?"
"Well, it was a bit of a shock for all of them," he said. "My youngest, Bethie, took it best." He gestured across the room to a teenage girl with the same round face and curly brown hair as Fran. "She's always been into science fiction. Doctor Who and all that. I thought she might like to take a position in the Organization herself when she's older."
"If she takes after you at all, we'll be lucky to have her," Vierran said.
"Oh, she's much better than me," Sir John said, looking at his daughter with such pride that Vierran felt the tingle of tears in her eyes, watching him.
"Perhaps we should cancel dinner with your family this evening, if you're not feeling well," Mordian said later in her office in the House of Balance.
"I've told you, I'm fine now," Vierran replied, not looking up from the report on the situation in Riskenbak that she was reading, "and besides, Martellian would never let you hear the end of it if you abandoned him to face Uncle Dev alone."
"As though your cousin needs anyone to protect her."
Offhandedly, Vierann said, "Overprotectiveness of daughters seems to be a trait of the Guaranty men."
There was a few moments' silence, and then Mordian said, "I'm going out for a bit." Vierran looked up to remind him what time they needed to leave, but he was already gone.
When it was within half an hour of the appointed time and he still hadn't returned, she saddled up Reigner Six and went to find him. It was winter in this part of Homeworld, so night had already fallen, though it was only late afternoon. The light of the stars and the twin moons turned the park into a silver-gilded fantasy that was a joy to ride through. Reigner Six seemed to be enjoying it as well, until she steered him into the small wood at the center of the park. He shied and tried to turn back, which let her know that she was close. Horses refused to be near Mordian when he was like this. She dismounted and ground-tied Reigner Six, then pushed through the bushes between herself and the clearing that was Mordian's favorite place to brood.
He was magnificent in moonlight. It glinted off of all his scales and reflected in his huge eyes with such brilliance that he might've never left the Bannus' sky at all. She knew he had smelt her already, but he didn't turn his massive head to look as she approached.
"I didn't mean anything by it," she said, resting a hand softly on one of the lethal claws of his front left foot. She was standing so close to his nose that when he exhaled it washed her in warm, spicy-smelling dragon breath.
"You did," he said, not accusatory. "You know, don't you?"
"I'm not sure, really. It could be Reigner power, or it could be just a false intuition."
"Would you like to be sure?" he asked.
He nodded his head, a gesture that she always thought looked ridiculous on a dragon.
She smiled, not entirely because of that. "Yes, I would. Would you?"
In answer, he rose up on his hind feet until he towered over her, spreading his great wings to help him balance, and looked down with a fierce, piercing glare that was focussed entirely on her abdomen. Vierran held perfectly still. Then she stepped back, startled, because Mordian had shifted back to man-form so quickly she would've thought he'd translocated if he wasn't at that very moment pulling her into a tight hug. Just as suddenly, he let her go and pressed both his long, elegant hands to her midriff.
"You're right. It's a girl," he said, grinning brilliantly.
Vierran grinned back. "Well, we'd better go tell my parents they're grandparents, then."
"In a minute," he said, and kissed her. It took rather longer than a minute.
As they stepped out of the clearing, he frowned at Reigner Six. "You shouldn't be riding."
"Mordian," she said, laughing, "you're going to be a wonderful father." There was doubt lingering in his eyes, but no matter, she thought. She could keep telling him until he believed it.