Archive for June, 2012
A murmur arose in the crowd. Is it true? Even the Boentu Guardians seemed unclear whether they should allow the challenger into the stadium.
Mehar Renecke frowned at the woman, his blue eyes narrowed with displeasure. The tourney had been going so smoothly up until now. He had no clue whether this custom was true or not. In all his years as Mehar, he had not heard of it. Only one person here would know for certain. He strode to the stands to speak with Katha and Quani, who were already deep in discussion.
“I know of no such tradition,” Mehar Renecke said flatly. “However I am not Boentu-born. Is there some chance that this is true, or can I finish my tourney in peace?”
Quani chewed on his lip thoughtfully. “It is said that in older times Boentu could challenge warriors in the tourney.” He then added hurriedly, “However, this was many generations ago. We have not followed such traditions in over a hundred years.”
Unhappily, Renecke turned to Katha. “What is your decision, my liege?”
Katha shrugged. “It seems to me that this person has a valid claim. Let her enter the arena.”
Sighing, Renecke turned towards the confused Guardians and with a slight tilt of his head, indicated that the woman be brought into the arena.
All around, spectators leaned forward to catch a glimpse of the mysterious woman that interrupted the festivities. Yasana, who was seated next to Quani also leaned forward, curious about this girl who dared challenge her daughter. She wasn’t worried for Arjuna. Of all the competitors today, Arjuna was easily the most skilled and the most ferocious. It would take some courage to want to challenge her daughter, and for that, Yasana had to see the woman for herself.
Into the arena stalked the tall, haughty figure, glaringly challengingly at the audience. Some of the audience had begun to boo her, but the boos quickly died down once they saw her features. The woman was not full Boentu. Although she had the ears of a Boentu, her limbs were slender and completely hairless.
Doctor Onan finally let us see our sons. It was much more difficult than I thought it would be. Seeing them both so helpless. I still cannot believe that my eldest son is blind.
If only that were the end of our problems. One can be a leader of Boentu and be blind. However, when Doctor Onan met us in the hospital ward, I could tell just by the expression on his face, he had more bad news. I thought perhaps it was to do with Katha, but Onan assures us that aside from a broken leg and being blind for the rest of his life, he is well.
So he is talking about Chran. I actually thought Chran was fine. He looked exhausted and hungry, but mostly healthy. Chran’s not injured. Not precisely. According to Doctor Onan he will live a long life. However, there is a strong possibility he will never be able to have children. Apparently he was exposed to too much radiation inside the glowing caverns.
I know I should be grateful he’s otherwise unharmed. I should. Except… I’ll never get to meet his children.
He’s taking the news well enough. He’s young though, he doesn’t yet understand the full implications. He also has a lot on his mind.
Isaur hasn’t had a chance to yell at him. I doubt he will now. And that leads me to the biggest news of all. I’m still not sure how this all happened. We went to visit Katha. Chran was sitting watch by his bed already. He looked so guilty when he saw me. More so, when I hugged him.
Poor Isaur. The whole time he’s been worrying about his sons, he’s also been worrying about protecting the star system. You see, the proving ground must only be undertaken alone, and Katha wasn’t alone. For a moment, I thought Isaur was saying he would have to return to Hadad. I don’t think I’ve ever been so upset at Isaur than I was just then. Katha wouldn’t last on Hadad, not when he cannot see. But Katha, foolish, loyal son that he is, he looked ready to go back in that moment. And then Chran, poor Chran, asked if there was any other way.
Isaur shook his head, saying the only other way would be to keep this all a secret. It wouldn’t be a lot of work. Just a few of us, Quani included, knew that Chran had hidden aboard the Atten. But Katha refused. “Lying is dishonourable,” he replied, and I admit I felt torn. On the one hand, I knew I had raised him well, that the warrior tenets are strong within him. On the other hand, I am selfish and just want my son safe.
My poor husband, I think he hoped Katha would agree to the lie. Sometimes I forget that Isaur doesn’t have the luxury of being just a father. He solemnly asked Katha “Do you honestly believe you can survive Hadad in your condition?”
I felt faint. I didn’t think I could breathe. And then a miracle happened. Katha said that he would forfeit his title as Leader of the Boentu. My joy is selfish, I know. And I hope in the days to come, Katha will not regret his decision.
Chran argued with him but Katha wouldn’t listen. Instead, he told us about Hadad. He didn’t go into detail, but he explained what happened there. How Chran had saved his life. How he had become trapped in the room of sunrise within the No’Sha cave. That’s how he lost his sight. Chran saved him. Although, Chran denies having played such a huge role. But Katha insists Chran kept him going, throughout the proving ground. According to Katha it is Chran, not he, who should be leader.
Isaur pointed out that the law still requires that the future leader must go to Hadad alone, and Chran, my foolish, brave boy, volunteered to go again. He didn’t even hesitate.
And so everything has changed. The son I thought would be leader, is now blind. While the son I thought was safe, will now return to the proving ground for a second time. If he lives, he will become the childless future leader of the Boentu star system. I am filled with pride for my sons. Chran, for taking care of his brother and saving his life. Katha, for giving up the title he had dreamed of for so long. I just hope Chran stays safe on Hadad.
Finally, Arjuna and Lossepharr showed off their targeting skills beginning with small handheld volt cannons, before moving to full-size sling volt cannons. Lossepharr, still angry at losing to Dennethom, struggled to keep pace with Arjuna. Arjuna could sense his frustration coming out in waves. Being stabbed earlier was an ugly reminder that she needed to keep her focus, and so she chose to ignore him. Instead she concentrated on her breathing, allowing her hands to automatically do the work necessary to target the little floating Ballistic Orbital Bot.
She thought she could hear Lossepharr chuckling at her, and after a delay in her brain, she registered the insinuation he had made that she couldn’t handle a weapon as large as an SVC. She merely smiled and continued to work refusing to engage his petty rivalry. She could see that her shots were remaining dead centre while his were becoming increasingly erratic the further away the target was placed. Eventually, while she set up for the next floating B.O.B., she became aware of the applause from the audience. Looking up she noticed that her cousin had tossed aside his weapon claiming that the sight was faulty.
Seated in the stands, Katha listened closely to Quani as he related all the details of the tourney. He was disappointed to hear of Lossepharr’s issues with his weapon and made a mental note to have a word with Mehar Renecke. Lossepharr is the son of a Boentu leader, he shouldn’t go into a tourney with a faulty weapon.
Quani for his part was growing weary of the tournament. Every time the crowd cheered, his leader would lean in close and ask questions. “Is it Lossepharr? Did he hit the target? How accurate was the shot?” Quani could see the eager expression in his leader’s face. Katha so wanted to hear that his sons were making him proud. Which they were, up until Lossepharr had stalked off the field. But even Quani noticed just how much the crowd seemed to adore the children of Chran.
When Katha would ask him if the cheers were for his own sons, Quani was tempted to lie and say “yes.” But he knew it would make matters worse. He just wished the tournament would hurry up and finish. In Quani’s opinion it encouraged far too much rivalry between the two families.
As Arjuna finished her final volley, which were mere dots in the distance, the crowd went ballistic. Getting to her feet and facing the audience she felt a surge of pride that she had never known before. More than mere pride, it was a moment of clarity. The pure knowledge that she was doing precisely what she had been born to do.
Silently, she thanked her father, Chran, and her grandmother, Tari, for guiding her even now, in the after life. Politely she took a bow, dimly aware that her name was now being chanted in the stands. Any moment now Mehar Renecke would blow the whistle to end the tournament. Arjuna cringed at the idea of meeting all those visiting dignitaries. Battlefields she could do, but small talk was not her forte.
The whistle did not come. Instead, a loud, clear contralto voice called out “Wait!” Arjuna did not recognize the voice and so she peered out into the crowds, trying to determine who had been so rude as to interrupt her big moment. Instantly she spotted the speaker, a tall figure of a Boentu woman, not much older than Arjuna herself. She was being roughly held back by several Boentu Guardians.
“I believe tradition dictates that participants of the tourney can be challenged,” the woman was saying, still struggling against the guards. “I challenge Arjuna, daughter of Chran and Yasana!”
“Boentu Atten is returning triumphant.” I have never heard more beautiful words than that one sentence. It’s still too soon for any actual communications, blast the electrical storms that surround that rock! But we know that someone made it back and is piloting the Boentu Atten. It is too soon for me to feel relieved. What if something happened to one of them? Or both of them? Just because the Boentu Atten isn’t on automatic pilot, doesn’t mean they are both in one piece. And yet, at least one of my boys is alive. I should be grateful for that much. I wish I knew more. I loathe feeling so helpless. If I could just know that everything was okay. But I don’t. All I can do is trust.
Personal Journal: 1274.0601.0940
They’re home. Doctor Onan hasn’t let us in to see them yet, he’s still patching them up, but they’re both alive and they’re both safe. It’s the most I can ask for at this point.
The doctor did take a moment to speak with us as they wheeled my boys to the hospital wing. Katha is blind. “He will never see again,” is what Doctor Onan says. Never. I want so badly for him to take back those words, but I must be strong for my family. Which means I cannot allow myself the luxury of denial.
They both looked so dirty and bloody when they were taken off the ship. Chran’s clothes were shredded. Clearly Isaur was wrong and he didn’t stay aboard the ship, but at least he seems in better shape than Katha.
I wish they would let us in to see them. Isaur looked more relieved than angry when he saw them step off the craft, but it won’t last. As soon as Chran’s patched up he’ll be in for it. And well he should. In the entire history of our people, I don’t think anyone has ever actually sneaked on to Hadad before.
I always knew Chran would be legendary in his own way. In fact, from now on Chran must be Katha’s right-hand man. It is difficult for a Boentu warrior to rely on others, but I suppose that is what Katha must learn to do from now on, so that he can be the best leader possible.
Arjuna’s confidence was low and she found herself just a little off as she moved into kentarr fighter practice with her cousin Enjawne. She was barely able to block Enjawne’s blow. Deciding to take back control of the fight, she arced her dagger up and over in a risky move, only to find herself not only blocked by her cousin, but feeling the pain of sharp metal in her side. She stepped back and her hand touched the wetness. Even training kentarr were sharp enough to break skin. Boentu never trained with completely blunt instruments.
The look of shock on her face was almost matched by the one on her cousin’s. She glanced towards the tent that housed her brothers. Dennethom and Arronanto were both watching from the doorway. Catching her eye, Dennethom pressed his palms together and held them close to his chest in a meditative pose. Breathe. He was right of course. She wasn’t centred.
Taking a breath, she bowed once more at Enjawne before they began to spar again. This time it was Enjawne’s turn to be overly confident. As he came at her with his knife, she caught his arm, disarming him and shoving him to the ground. As he lay in the dirt, she held the dagger to his chest and the crowd roared their approval. Enjawne grinned, accepted his cousin’s outstretched arm, and the two took their bows.
“I knew when I came at you that you were going to grab me. I don’t know why I kept going,” Enjawne murmured to her.
“Momentum,” Arjuna replied. “Same thing happened when you stuck me.”
Enjawne grimaced. For a Boentu, he didn’t much care for blood.
Dennethom was up for the next few demonstrations. First, there was a demonstration with the arbo, the wooden staff that is the first traditional weapon all Boentu warriors must master. His opponent was his cousin Andor. They began with basic drills before moving on to combat. For several minutes a hush took over the arena with the only sound being the clackity-clack of wood. Several times Andor almost bested Dennethom, but he was able to jump out of the arbo’s reach. Dennethom’s fingers smarted as another of Andor’s swipes met its target, but still Dennethom clung to the arbo, determined to keep his hold just a little longer. Andor grimaced when he realised that Dennethom wouldn’t be so easily beaten, and struck out with his leg, hoping to take his cousin by surprise. Anticipating the reckless move, Dennethom reacted, choosing this moment to slam his arbo down in two swift motions that quickly disarmed his cousin.
Demonstrations in traditional mounted combat and aerial manoeuvres followed. Dennethom and Lossepharr led the mounted trials. First, they circled the arena to the sound of thunderous applause, as hooves kicked up clouds of red dirt. Then, clutching full-size blades, the pair competed in three rounds of combat. Dennethom won the first round, managing to quickly disarm his cousin. The second round was taken by Lossepharr, who managed to unseat Dennethom and cut his cousin’s arm for good measure. However, the event was eventually won by Dennethom when he was once again able to disarm his cousin and force him to the ground. Dennethom rode his own mount close to the cheering audience in a victory lap before handing the reins to a nearby attendant, and leaping down to help his cousin up. Lossepharr was not amused.
Arronanto showed off his piloting skills, taking his personal shuttle soaring into the sky before hurtling back down as though it were going to crash. At the last moment, he skimmed the shuttle so close to the ground that his mother, Yasana cried out in fear. After landing the nimble craft, Arronanto stepped out of the shuttle, giddy at the wave of cheering that greeted him, but his happiness quickly faded when he met the disapproving gaze of Mehar Renecke.
Chran’s on Hadad with his brother. How did this happen? How did nobody notice my boy sneaking aboard the Boentu Atten? I just want to scream at someone. At Chran especially. And then I shall hug him tightly to my breast. How could he do this? To us? To his brother? I know he just wants to be with his brother but doesn’t he realise how dangerous this is? He’s endangering both himself and Katha.
Isaur says I’m being silly worrying like this. He says Katha will never let Chran set foot on Hadad. Perhaps he’s right. He probably is. But suppose he is wrong? What if Katha doesn’t even know Chran is on the ship? Or what if Chran follows him anyway?
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. One son going to the proving ground, I could handle. Just barely. I knew what I was getting into when I married Isaur. If and only if Katha failed, would Chran have to go to the proving ground. That is the law. That was what I had agreed to. Now both my babies are down there and there’s nothing anybody can do about it.
Isaur worries. I know he does, despite what reassurances he might try to give me. If something happens to both of them, what then? I’m too old to bear a new leader. It would hurt the entire star system. I could claw out Chran’s eyes right now for what he’s done.
Isaur’s sitting with the comms officer waiting for word. We won’t hear anything for some time though. I should probably be with him, except, I don’t know that I can be right now. I should meditate. Perhaps pray to the old forgotten gods. Please, please just bring my sons back to me safe and unharmed. It’s all I ask. It’s all I want. Please.
The trio stepped out of their richly embroidered tent to an almost deafening round of applause. Thousands of Boentu seated in stands surrounded them, all cheering the Houses of Chran and Katha, proud to show off-worlders the kind of warriors that the Boentu people produced.
From an adjacent tent, Lossepharr and his brothers also emerged. They too were greeted by yet another exuberant round of applause. The second tent was almost as lavishly decorated as the first, though it had been hurriedly built. Lossepharr had made it clear he had no intention of preparing for the tourney in the company of his cousins. He and his brothers no longer joined them for training either, except to heckle. Instead he requested separate training with Mehar Renecke. It meant more work for Renecke but was ultimately less of a headache. At least there were no more scuffles between Arronanto and Lossepharr to contend with.
As the cousins bowed, Dennethom studied the crowd. He could see his mother seated with his aunt and uncle in a box seat. Nearby sat a horde of aliens, one of which chatted amiably to Dennethom’s great uncle Draddo. Unlike the other guests, this particular alien was not dressed in rich yet ultimately useless fabric. Instead he wore strong leathers; practical clothing for a warrior raised in a rugged environment. Dennethom wondered if this was the mysterious Zutival, leader of the Luzuviq. He had never seen a citizen of the Luzuviq system except in pictures and vid. They were usually too busy warring amongst themselves to bother with other systems but Zutuival had once been the Luzuviq ambassador to Boentu and still held a close friendship with the Boentu leader.
At the sound of a whistle from Mehar Renecke, the tourney began. Each of the young warriors would put on a display using their favoured weapons. First, there was hand-to-hand combat. Arronanto dazzled the spectators with a display of his physical prowess going up against his poor cousin Yocan. The pair bowed to the crowds and each other before beginning their merry dance.
Yocan, though smaller in stature than Arronanto, prided himself on his footwork, particularly his ability to evade the blows of larger opponents. Unfortunately, Arronanto was surprisingly spry for someone so large, and before he knew it, Yocan found himself on the ground, bruised, slightly bloodied and spitting out dirt from his mouth as he agreed to yield. The fire that had lit Arronanto’s eyes like burning coals, quickly disappeared, and he cheerfully helped his cousin to his feet. Bowing both to the audience at large, and to their family, Arronanto reached out to shake his cousin’s hand, but the look of hatred in Yocan’s eyes took him aback, and he was glad when the audience’s applause finally died down and they could return to their respective tents.
The kentarr event was next, and all the cousins lined up to show off their skills by throwing the small daggers. All did well, but none as impressive as Arjuna who never missed her target. Confidently she gazed out at the audience, taking in their cheers, listening to her name as well as those of her family being chanted aloud. Brimming with over-confidence she asked that her target be placed further back, even though that portion of the demonstration was now over. When the target was placed, she turned towards the crowds, allowing their cheers to rise to a crescendo, before taking a small bow and throwing her kentarr at the target. The tiny knife hurtled past the wooden board and out into the field beyond. Oops. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Mehar Renecke ever so slightly shaking his head.
Katha has left for Hadad. I knew this time was coming and yet I still cannot believe he is gone. Blast protocol, all I wished to do was hug him. But Isaur would never forgive me. So I let him kiss my hand, just as a proper future leader should do. Isaur’s mother would have been proud of me. I was careful to hide my emotions until after the cameras were gone.
It’s such a foolish affair. We send our future leader’s to prove their worth on a planet that could very well kill them. We should be clutching our children to our breast and begging them to stay a little longer, but instead we must bear witness to their departure, knowing that even if they return triumphant, they will never truly leave Hadad.
Isaur still carries memories of that forsaken world. Sometimes he cries out in the night. When I awaken him, he pretends that nothing is wrong, but I know. I see it in his eyes. The way he clutches the scar on his left side. He remembers. How can we call ourselves a civilised star system if we allow such nightmares to pursue our young? I often wish we would dispense with the old ways. Some wife of the Boentu leader I’ve become. What would Quani say if he knew what the illustrious Lady Tari was thinking?
I hope the proving ground doesn’t change Katha. To me, he is still my little boy, helping me care for his younger brother. Speaking of which, Chran is missing. I have not seen him since breakfast. Isaur is furious. We are supposed to represent a united family as we send Katha on his way, and yet Chran is nowhere to be found. Isaur was calm during the ceremony but I can tell he was ready to explode. I hope he’s not too hard on Chran. Chran and Katha have always been so close. I know it upset him to have his big brother go away. Personally I wish I could have run away and hid too, but I had to go and play wife of the Boentu Leader, mother to the future leader. In truth, Chran shouldn’t have run away. That is not the way of the Boentu.
“Nervous?” Arjuna asked, coolly observing the crowd continuing to fill the stands of the great Thalasa arena. “Arro’s polished his kentarr so much, I wouldn’t be surprised if it slips right out of his fingers.”
Arronanto growled a warning at his sister. “I have to polish it. If I step out there with a grubby kentarr Mehar Renecke will have my hide!”
Dennethom smirked, as he studied the crowd, trying to pick out the visiting dignitaries here to watch the Boentu feat of arms. “I’m not nervous. So long as I best Lossepharr,” he murmured.
Arjuna scowled at the mere mention of her cousin. “That shouldn’t be difficult. He can barely tell the pointy end of a kentarr.”
Both her brothers chuckled. Dennethom admired his sister’s spirit, often wishing that he could replicate it in himself. He thought too much. He didn’t have the same fighting energy that she had. “And you, Arjuna mastered the volt cannon as soon as you were big enough to hold it. No doubt you will do fine.”
“Had to, so I could keep up with my brothers,” Arjuna replied as she examined the sight on her full-size volt cannon.
“Do you suppose he’s out there yet?” Arronanto asked while putting away his polishing gloves.
“Zutival?” Dennethom shook his head. “I am uncertain. Supposedly he travels with a guard of twenty warriors, but I cannot tell from here.”
“It will be an honour to meet him.”
“Just make sure you have me give you the once over first, I don’t want you embarrassing us,” Arjuna replied giving Arronanto a playful shove. Arronanto staggered back, losing his footing and comically flying halfway across the floor. Of course it was an exaggeration. He was so big he could easily carry Arjuna and Dennethom both at the same time.
“Arjuna please save your unarmed combat skills for inside the arena,” said a grave voice from behind.
The three teenage siblings turned at once to greet Renecke, the old mehar-at-arms standing before them. Though his blue eyes were narrowed they sparkled with mirth. He looked stiff in his formal uniform with its gold trim and shiny medals. It was quite a difference compared to his normal attire in the training dojo. Here stood before them Renecke the Warrior.
Not a Boentu warrior, to be sure, for he had grown up in the Arthema System, which reflected in his appearance. He lacked the sleek, muscular build of the Boentu. Instead he was short and stocky, and his skin was virtually hairless. His head was large and didn’t have the small, pointy ears that were common in these parts. Most people who did not know him, assumed he was a visiting philosopher or healer, like many from the Arthema System. That was, until they attempted to beat him in combat. Renecke had a cunning and fierceness that could easily match any Boentu warrior.
“Are you nervous?” he asked, eyeing his students.
“No,” Arjuna replied with a steely gaze that betrayed just how long she had been anticipating this moment.
“Good! Because a nervous warrior is a sloppy warrior, and I don’t train sloppy warriors. Now get out there, and try not to show me up!” Renecke said, in a gruff tone that barely concealed his genuine fondness for the siblings.