“How old are you, Conlyn?” they were quickly running out of the more usual conversation starters, and Hana had enough pain relief in her right then to feel loopy enough to ignore normal social protocols. She wanted some answers, and even if she never got them, they couldn’t say she hadn’t asked.
“I–uh, I’m not sure.” Conlyn answered, “Older than you, younger than Harlowe I think. I don’t really celebrate my birthday, I don’t know. This year, I’ve said I’m 24, and maybe I could be—but I could be younger, I could be older. You see, once my dad left, my mom didn’t really care anymore. She never wrote down when I was born. There were those who tried to help me when I was younger, to make sure my mother couldn’t actually kill me when all was said and done, but they weren’t exactly the kind of people to be overly concerned with paper work either. And they, of course, abandoned me as soon as I could show any level of self-sufficiency, so even if they had known my birthday I wouldn’t even begin to know where to ask now. When I knew I had to join the *BAD GUYS* I knew they wouldn’t take me unless I was 15, so I told them I was 15, even though I’m pretty sure it was a lie. But, that was nine years ago, so 24 I am.”
“Oh,” Hana was quiet, subdued, and “Okay then.”
Conlyn counted to three in his head and then sighed. “Just ask, Hana… I know you want to know, I know we’ve danced around the subject a hundred times before. And if you ask, Hana, I’ll tell you.”
Hana weighed the pros and cons of that in her head. She wanted to be strong enough for him, to say she didn’t care if that meant they wouldn’t be digging up a bad thought from his past.
But in the end, she was too curious. And she did want to know. She wanted to know terribly. “What happened to your dad, Conlyn? Why did you have to raise yourself?”
“As far as I can tell from the pieces my mother slurred out. She was essentially some noble man’s doxy. But she loved him and she believed that he loved her too, and that he just needed a reason to choose her, to take her away to the high buildings and give her all the splendor she felt she deserved. So, she ignored all the rules that women learn working on the street to keep themselves from getting pregnant, and might have even actively done things to encourage a pregnancy. But–he never loved her for more than piece of ass and the thrill of sneaking around with someone below his status. He learned she was pregnant, denied it was his, and vanished.
“I’m pretty sure I know who he is, though. Some of the big wigs used to talk about how I reminded him of Charles, a lord of something or other, about 12 or 13 places away from the throne. When I first joined the King’s guard, well before I could have ever dreamed of getting badged, I heard that he was going to be at some dinner for something or other, so I snuck in to see him. There is no way that I am not his kid, we’re practically identical expect for the fact that I’m younger.
“I didn’t want anything from him, I never had. I just wanted to see him, you know? Know for a fact who he was. But I guess he saw me, and knew who I was. Later that week, I was approached by his daughter–my sister, I guess–who offered me a kind smile and a small purse, but said with no uncertain terms that money was mine if I never approached Charles again. I wasn’t supposed to talk to him, go to the same events, allow myself to be put in a situation where we could be compared or people could make assumptions about any relations between us.
“If I didn’t the money was enough, I could send her a letter pretending to be a suitor to make my demands and within reason they would be met. I didn’t know what to say, so I took the purse and promised to never contact him again.” Conlyn looked up and offered Hana a little smile, “I was badged within the year, and the only person to have ever done it faster was your older sister. Charles had to be there, though, he one of the top members of the King’s Guard. He had to look me in the eye and congratulate me. He had to shake my hand directly in front of the King, who had to see us standing side by side, face to face. Nothing makes a better motivator than knowing for a fact you’re unwanted. Really fuels a fire. And as petty as it is, I loved seeing him embarrassed, I loved seeing him squirm. As long as I never ask him for anything him, or challenge him, he’ll never have to admit he’s my father, but everyone knows what he is. And, Damn, if that doesn’t feel good.”
Hana laughed, at the look on his face. “Sorry, I don’t mean to–”
“No, it’s okay. It’s petty, and juvenile, and I should probably act my age, but hell, I could be acting my age for all I know.” He grinned, and Hana laughed a little louder, holding her side for a second where her stitches must have tugged. “I haven’t even told Harlowe this.” Conlyn admitted, suddenly looking more sober than before. “I mean, I assume she could see the resemblance that she is one of those court people who now knows exactly who he is, but I never confessed that I did it to spite him. That’s probably not the kind of trait they really value in their badged guards.”
“You’re secret is safe with me, Conlyn. I won’t tell her.”
“I know.” Conlyn looked up at Hana, and she didn’t recognize whatever was going on behind his eyes, “I know, Hana. I can tell you anything. I’d trust you with my life.”
Hana had a feeling that something very important had just happened, but she didn’t know what it was. And that scared her just a little. But she smiled back. If she was going to get scared, she’d like to be scared with Conlyn.