A Lioness in Winter: Tales of Onus

Great Uncle Thalus has been shot. Julia Griswold gingerly touches the entry wound in his forehead. She needn’t be worried she told herself, he’s pulled through worse. She recalled tales from her childhood about the fierce Great Uncle Thalus who was shot on twelve separate occasions. Perhaps it was because this is the first time he’d been shot after he’d already died. Thalus grinned back at her, his taxidermied arms wide in a welcoming embrace. She brushed some plaster dust off his uniform and straightened his medals.

The estate was a battleground. Hatred and greed had marked every surface and there was barely anywhere without a burn mark, bullet hole or grenade blast. Priceless art had been destroyed and family heirlooms had been lost forever. Dozens of her house guard had been sent to the Emperor in the attack and even Father had been shot. He’s old and poorly but by the Saints he is still as stubborn as ever – the house Chirurgeon expects him to make a full recovery. Some small mercy, perhaps.

She was being crushed by the realisation that one day soon, he won’t be expected to make a full recovery from an affliction or illness. With mother gone and her brother in the Navy battling some xenos in some warp-damned corner of the galaxy, she was the only one left to look after House Griswold. Her head was swimming. She hadn’t slept in two days.

All her life she had watched with apathetic eyes as crime tore apart the other hives, corrupting the rulers and exploiting the people. Why change anything? She could debase and debauch all her days without ever concerning herself with the plight of others. She had always dismissed it as a problem for the Magistratum or those below the Wall, but what does one do when it arrives in your house, kills your kin and shoots your Father?

She slumped down in an orkhide chair, a blanket draped about her shoulders and a glass of something foul from one of Father’s decanters. His combi-bolter lay on the table next to her. An exquisite thing of beauty, passed down through the generations.

She found herself tracing the names etched into the case with her finger – Laurent, Thalus, all the way back to Juliana, the first of House Griswold and Julia’s own namesake. Life was simpler back then – if you wanted something, you took it at the tip of a sword or the barrel of a bolter.

The gun was still warm, still limber – like a caged beast before racing day. Plasma swirled behind the cooling vents, throwing a patina of shapes onto the table like light off the surface of water.

There was a single space remaining on the weapon – room for one more name after her Father’s. A preposterous thought crossed her mind and she laughed nervously to an empty room. She felt its weight, how the grip was moulded for Griswold hands, how its spirit responded to her gene-print like a purring animal. What more sign could she need?

She was interrupted by a house steward at the door to the study. He bowed low. Julia drew herself upright to be addressed.

“Apologies for the interruption my lady, it is Lady Collepan for you. She says she has grave news.”

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