‘Eat.’ A woman’s jovial voice and the soft clinking of porcelain against wood brought him out of his thoughts. Markendaya Orpehus Jangseung, Shield-Captain of the Aquilan Shield, looked down to see a woman smiling at him while gesturing towards a set of porcelain bowls filled with steaming food placed upon the table adjacent to him. The wisps of white amidst auburn hair and the wrinkles upon sun-kissed skin augmented the gentle light in her eyes as she stared at him in adoration, like a child seeking approval. It was different from the looks of fear and awe that his kin usually received from the masses in Terra. Jangseung was not certain which he preferred.
‘No, thank you.’ With a mind-impulse, he reduced the volume of his helmet’s vox speakers as he gently rejected her act of hospitality. He saw her smile dim, but a burst of either bravery or foolishness prompted her to push the meal towards him.
‘Eat. Please.’ The woman introduced earlier as Nerah had a tinge of desperation in her voice. The Custodian opted to ignore her, hoping his silence would be enough of a signal for her that he was no longer interested in continuing the conversation.
‘Who would have thought that Raja’s guardian angel was so rude.’ Jangseung heard her mutter under her breath in the planet’s dialect of Low Gothic as she shuffled away from him to fill another bowl.
‘I would be a poor guardian if I was infallibly cordial.’ He shot back at Nerah, who jumped when she heard him speak in her language. She flushed in embarrassment at being called out for her rudeness.
‘I apologise, my lord,’ she meekly said. Jangseung simply grunted in acknowledgement before staring at the other, slumbering inhabitant of the hab. His charge, Raja Sedhintu, was Nerah’s son and had been foreseen by the doomscryers to play an integral part in the Throneworld’s safety. When the exhausted man came home with Jangseung hovering over his shoulder, he announced to his mother his desire to leave the planet. Her reaction to the announcement was quite a curiosity for him.
‘You are surprisingly calm. Normally, people in your position would be vehemently adamant about their offspring leaving them.’ She momentarily became still and silent before speaking.
‘My family has lived and died in these fields for generations. I have seen loved ones waste away as their lungs were clogged by dust from the very crops that fed a thousand other souls.’ She paused as she took a shaky breath and wiped her eyes to stop tears from falling. ‘You came with intentions to take him away, haven’t you?’
‘Where he goes, I will follow. I have no say in which path he chooses,’ Jangseung spoke truthfully, seeing no reason to deceive this woman.
‘I would not have resisted anyway. Not because I would never deny the Emperor’s will, but because I would have Raja pursue a life with purpose rather than die an ignoble death on this world.’ Once again, she stared up at him, but not with the eyes of an awestruck worshipper. Rather, it was filled with the warmth of a homely hearth tinged with a deep, aching sadness.
‘After all, isn’t it a mother’s duty to strive and hope for a better life for her children? Even angels had mothers, yes?’
Before he could make a dispassionate reply, a memory sprung forth as if unlocked from the vaults of his mind. He remembered a woman’s face, but her exact features were muddled by the passage of millennia, except for her eyes. They were a brilliant shade of hazel and shone with the same warmth as Nerah. He remembered the sense of safety and warmth as she cradled him against her chest. He remembered her watery smile and gentle kiss upon his brow as he was taken to become a part of the Ten Thousand.
‘Yes,’ he spoke quietly as he lost himself in introspection, ‘She was beautiful.’
In the silence that settled between the two, Jangseung decided that maybe he could bear a few minutes of indignity whilst in the company of such a gentle soul. With a sharp hiss of depressurisation, the Custodian removed his helmet and bore his transhuman features to this humble farmer. Reaching over to the porcelain bowls, Jangseung ignored her look of surprise at the sight of his battered, aged face and took a bite out of the meal.
‘This is good.’ He smiled down at her. She beamed at the praise and poured more broth into another bowl. When Raja awoke from his slumber, he was surprised to see his mother speaking animatedly while an unhelmed Jangseung listened with a small smile on his face. Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, and soon, Raja found the means to leave his home as part of a merchant fleet. After some tearful farewells, Raja went to speak to his overseer about his duties while Nerah spoke with Jangseung one last time.
‘Watch over him, lord.’ Her eyes were puffy and red from her bitter tears, but they still shone with warmth. Her two frail hands cradled his larger, gauntleted hand, which held her parting gift to him: a wooden key—a symbol of good fortune from this world.
‘With my life.’ Those were the last words he spoke to her before boarding the vessel that would take them to the fleet in orbit. Raja and his guardian watched as she slowly shrunk to no more than a speck during their ascent.
‘Do you think she’ll be okay?’ Much like his mother, Raja’s eyes were still red and puffy from their emotional farewell. The Custodian remained silent, not wanting to answer the young man. A time may come when this world will be besieged by the malign forces that sought to destroy humanity. Come what may, he would always remember Nerah Sedhintu, a woman whose kindness helped him remember the future that his kind was made to die for.
About the Author
Ariel has been a Warhammer fan for five years and a writing hobbyist for just as long, mainly writing expository essays and the like. His introduction to writing as a hobby was through fanfiction, and his introduction to Warhammer 40k came via the Dawn of War games, leaving him hooked ever since. Along with writing stories set in the 40k universe, he enjoys working on his homebrew Space Marine Chapter, the Lightning Wraith.