Archive for August, 2012
Arjuna glanced at the time. Had it really only been a few moments ago that she had last checked? Why is it whenever she wanted time to go by quickly it slowed to a crawl? She glanced over at Arronanto who sat slumped forward in his chair, his head resting against the desk. He was snoring softly.
She should go to sleep herself, she knew. It was going to be some time before they received Dennethom’s response while he was in transit, even if he did respond right away. The Comms Officer on duty was instructed to route Dennethom’s message right to her quarters, so there was really no need to stay awake. But the sleep would not come.
She was still so spitting angry at Lossepharr. What could he hope to gain from this? He could continue to undermine Dennethom all he liked, but in the end, the line of succession ran through the Chrans. If, the old gods forbid it, Denne was killed on Hadad, then Arronanto would go through the proving grounds to become leader. Still, Lossepharr clearly had something else in mind.
A chime startled Arjuna awake. She blinked blearily. Had she managed to fall asleep? Her comm link chimed again. She shook Arronanto. Her brother sat up, wiping sleep from his eyes, while she quickly scanned the message on her comm screen.
Gods, this is precisely what I was trying to avoid! I don’t want the other systems to see the Boentu as some kind of right hand of vengeance. Thank you Arjuna and Arro, for the letting me know of the situation. It does not surprise me that he planned this. Of course Lossepharr would decide to lead the way into battle without waiting to try the diplomatic approach. I will send word ahead to Chi-Tra station to expect Third Fleet. I am unsure how they will respond. All I can do is lay bare Rashdin’s crimes, and explain that our quarrel is with the Prime Minister of Liono and not with the Arthema System.
Of course, if I notify Chi-Tra station, Rashdin Carva is sure to find out about Third Fleet’s imminent arrival. He may decide to fight it out. I don’t like giving him an advantage over our own people. I don’t know what Lossepharr has planned, but it is doubtful he will stick with the original attack plan. That is why I need both of you to go to the Arthema System. If you leave before high sun, Lossepharr will only have a slight head start. I need you to gather a small force of ships. Eighth Fleet is on manoeuvres in Zeni. Admiral Dusairh is in charge. We trained with him two summers ago. He was really impressed with your flying skills, remember Arro? I think he could be trusted to help us. How you proceed is up to you. I hate leaving you on your own, but you have been trained for this.
If Rashdin Carva wants a fight, I am happy to oblige him, but I won’t do it Lossepharr’s way. We will fight with honour. One last thing. Don’t let Mehar Renecke know what you are doing. I doubt he approves of Lossepharr’s plan to lead Third Fleet, but I fear he has a greater desire for bloodshed than I do.
The son’s of Katha slept in a different wing from their cousins. Arjuna wasn’t sure if it was because of all the constant fighting or because her uncle wanted to give his children better sleeping quarters. She always assumed they were more luxurious, and upon entering this part of the palace, she felt proven right. She instantly knew which one was Lossepharr’s room. Upon the door was a picture of a ktep, with its massive leathery wings and prominent crest. The predator was a national symbol, and Lossepharr, fancying himself true leader of Boentu, often wore variations of the ktep on his clothing.
She stormed to the door, only to be stopped by a Guardian who was apparently returning to his post. “I am sorry but you cannot enter,” he said apologetically as he physically blocked her way.
“Then you will wake him up now!” Arjuna exclaimed, not caring to lower her voice.
“I cannot. I am under strict orders not to disturb Tsalu Lossepharr.”
Arronanto smirked. Why did it not surprise him that Lossepharr insisted on being addressed by the formal title “Tsalu”? Tsalu was a title reserved for the children of the Boentu Leader, but not even Dennethom required such formality.
Arjuna’s eyes narrowed. “Tsalu Lossepharr?” she asked, her voice dangerously low. She tossed back her head defiantly. “You do realise who you are addressing, yes? I am Tsala Arjuna, daughter of Chran. My brother, Dennethom, is the future leader of the Boentu. You will let me pass.”
The Guardian’s eyes were pleading as he took a step back. “I do know you, Tsala Arjuna. But please understand, I cannot let you in. Tsalu Lossepharr would have my rank stripped if I disturbed him while he is sleeping.”
Arjuna folded her arms, unwilling to budge. Arronanto couldn’t help feeling sorry for the Guardian, who appeared new and unused to the constant fighting between the cousins. “It’s all right. We’ll speak with him in the morning,” he said as he took his sister’s elbow and guided her away.
“Why are we leaving? You know he couldn’t have kept both of us out,” Arjuna said, rather more loudly than needed.
“Of course,” Arronanto agreed. “Being sworn to protect us, he would have done nothing to defend himself. And then Lossepharr would have booted him out of the palace. You do realise, sis, that Guardian was more afraid of Lossepharr than of us.”
“Well he shouldn’t be!” Arjuna spat, still fuming.
“True. But, talking to Lossepharr wouldn’t have done us any good. You and I both know he won’t let us get in the way.
Arjuna sighed. “You speak truly.”
Arronanto smiled a little, glad to see his sister finally begin to relax. “What do you think we should do now?” he asked, uncertainly.
“We send a message to Denne. He needs to know what Lossepharr has planned.”
“Do you believe this?” one of the workers grumbled. “Katha’s son expecting us to report for duty in the middle of the night to prepare his ship?”
The worker’s companion shrugged his shoulders. “He wants to conduct a surprise training mission.”
“Just because this training mission is a surprise for Third Fleet, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be on the schedule. Typical warrior caste mentality. They decide to be spontaneous and we just have to salute smartly and somehow make it all come together.”
Arronanto frowned. Third Fleet was in the outer system, getting ready to deploy to Liono. The only reason Lossepharr would be preparing a shuttle in secret was to rendezvous with Third Fleet and try to beat Dennethom to the Arthema System. Arronanto didn’t like it one bit. True, he preferred battle to diplomacy, but this was wrong. This was purposely undermining the future Leader of Boentu.
Quickly Arronanto slipped away. He retraced his steps back to the palace and made his way to his sister’s quarters. Light sleeper that she was, Arjuna regarded her brother with alert yellow-green eyes just moments after he tapped at her door.
“What is it Arro?”
“May I come inside?”
She stepped aside to let him in, pulling the flimsy robe she wore more tightly about her. Arronanto hurriedly related to his sister what he had just seen. Arjuna regarded her brother, suspiciously. This wouldn’t be the first time he awoke thinking a dream was real. This time however, Arronato seemed wide-awake; not at all like he had just been asleep.
“Are you sure about this?” she asked, as she pulled trousers and a tunic from a drawer.
“Yes. They are out there right now.”
Together they slipped out and walked to the landing strip, taking care not to be noticed by the palace Guardians. Arjuna let out a low growl as she watched the workers hurriedly moving about the shuttle. She was not going to let Lossepharr get away with this. Quickly she spun on her heel leaving Arronanto to catch up.
“But Denne’s got a day’s head start. Third Fleet won’t get there in time,” Arronanto was saying as Arjuna stalked back inside the palace.
“No, but they may arrive before Denne has a chance to speak before the Assembly. It will be an embarrassment for Dennethom. Lossepharr will claim the victory for his own and paint our brother as a coward.”
“What are you going to do?” Arronanto asked, increasingly alarmed by his sister’s rage.
“What am I going to do? I’m going to kill that little piece of khrussk!”
Arronanto lay in bed, his sheets tossed aside. He tried to focus on breathing, breathe in for five, hold for five and release. But no, there was always something. Either he was too hot or too cold, or there was that faint metallic whirring sound. What was that noise anyway? He never seemed to notice it except on nights that he couldn’t sleep.
He felt apprehensive. Dennethom had left the morning before, on his way to the Arthema System. His brother was all set to meet with the assembly on Chi-Tra station. There he would explain that the Boentu had no quarrel against the system as a whole, and that the palace was simply helping their Mehar right a wrong committed by the Prime Minister of Liono. It was his brother’s first diplomatic mission. If things went well, Dennethom would give the signal for Third Fleet to move in, and they would give Rashdin Carva the choice to quietly leave office.
Arronanto didn’t know what made him so anxious. The plan, as Dennethom had laid out, would most likely result in no battle at all. Still, Arronanto was antsy. Sighing to himself, he sat up in bed and pulled on his boots. Sometimes the brisk night air helped lull him to sleep.
Quietly he crept out of his sleeping quarters. He wondered briefly if Arjuna still slept. Typically it was the other way around, with Arjuna pacing around and Arronanto sleeping soundly, but lately their roles seemed to have reversed. He thought about checking to see if she was up, but decided against it. If she were awake, he would more than likely run into her on his walk since she too enjoyed the occasional nocturnal stroll.
The night air felt pleasant and he breathed it in deeply, allowing its coolness to wash over his large, muscular body. It had been so oppressively warm in his quarters. He felt glad to be outdoors. He meandered about the palace grounds, not paying much attention to where he was going. Boentu Palace was a very different place at night. Guards were minimal and they lacked the formality usually seen during the day. He preferred it that way. He hated all the saluting and such. At least he didn’t get bowed to like his older brother!
Without even remembering how he got here, Arronanto found himself walking towards the palace’s private landing strip, where he had said goodbye to Dennethom earlier. As he approached, he heard voices. Not just of a couple of guards talking quietly while they waited for their shift to end, but people shouting orders. There was a whirring sound of machinery. What could be going on the in the dead of night? Arronanto wondered. The landing strip was usually shut down at this time, except in the case of a special shipment or if one of the family was expected to arrive soon.
Bright lights illuminated the landing strip. A large shuttle was being prepped. Workers busied themselves loading crates, while a handful of Boentu warriors stood around waiting. Arrronanto crept closer, not wanting to reveal himself just yet. He couldn’t help feeling as though he had just stumbled upon something he shouldn’t have.
“It was a shock for me to come back into the fold of politics. In truth, I believed I had said goodbye to that world. I was happy as a warrior. I hadn’t been this content since I first held my son in my arms. But fate had stepped in. It didn’t want me to simply disappear into a unit of Boentu warriors, or even join a dagoba priesthood. Fate put me in a powerful position in the palace of a race of fighters. I believe a course was laid out for me to finally avenge my honour and that of the true First Minister of Liono. Fate has put me in a position to lay waste to my enemies.”
Silence filled the dojo. Obviously Mehar Renecke was done speaking, but none of his students, not even Lossepharr, knew what to say. This was the first time they were hearing this story. Renecke was prepared to give them a moment to fully digest the situation. And so he waited.
“What is the payment you wish from us, Mehar?” Dennethom eventually asked. He already knew the answer, but hoped that once Mehar Renecke put voice to the words, he would realise the absurdity of it. The Boentu were a race of warriors, true, but they were peaceful enforcers. They didn’t meddle where they weren’t wanted.
Renecke’s reply remained even and balanced and Dennethom knew there would be no changing the mind of the Arthemian. “I do not wish to return to Liono. There is nothing left for me there. However, I do want nothing less than the banishment of Carva and the reinstatement of Orvan Rono to the position of First Minister.”
“But,” Dennethom began, “If the Arthemian System elects their leaders, how do we know Rashdin Carva still First Minister?”
Renecke smiled grimly. “Oh I have been keeping watch over Liono, do not fear. Rashdin Carva was First Minister of Liono for ten cycles. His son, Rashdu, was elected First Minister after him. However, Rashdin Carva remains as leader of Liono through his position as Prime Minister, a title he created, which is not an elected position. The Carva family has become quite the political dynasty- albeit a dynasty that came into play only through lies and subterfuge. I understand Rashdin Carva’s grandson is being groomed to be First Minister once Rashdu steps down.”
Dennethom shifted uneasily and glanced about him. He could see looks of excitement and promised glory reflecting in the faces of his cousins. Even his brother and sister were eager for battle. Not Dennethom though. He only felt wary. This is wrong. This wasn’t the Mehar Renecke he knew. He needed to choose his words carefully. He did not wish to offend the Mehar, after all, but he had to diffuse the situation. This would be his first real task as future Leader of Boentu.
“I must speak with my father first, however I am sure he will be willing to pledge as many warriors as needed for your campaign Mehar.” Lossepharr had spoken, having immediately sensed his cousin’s hesitation. Dennethom glanced at his cousin, stunned. Arronanto and Arjuna also glared at Lossepharr, looks of fury on their faces. Only the Boentu Leader could make such promises.
“Thank you, Lossepharr,” Renecke replied. “You will find Liono is a tiny world with few planetary defences. It will take only a small show of force, say, half of third fleet, to convince the Carva family to flee.”
“You shall have it.” Lossepharr announced, smiling triumphantly at his cousins.
Renecke smiled at the children of Chran who sat up straighter every time he mentioned their dead father. “Your sire was a fine warrior. The best I’ve ever sparred with. He kept me on my toes as we went rounds with bo, kentarr and hand-to-hand. I could see the old Mehar’s influence on his training. Personally, it felt like sparring with my master except, perhaps a younger, more sprightly version. Just like the Mehar, he bested me in the end. This was no surprise. However, when he slid to the floor instead of offering me a hand, panting and sweat glistening beneath his fur, I knew I had more than held my own.
“When we could both catch our breath, Chran surprised me by chuckling uproariously.
“I never saw an alien fight as well as you,” he declared.
“My master, who had been watching, approached, giving us both a help to our feet. ‘Indeed. I have not had a better student in many cycles. Not since you and Katha. What this one,’ he indicated me, ‘has learned in just a few short cycles, others take years to master.” As he handed us each towels to wipe ourselves off, he added, ‘far be it for me to tell the Boentu Leader what to do. But, if I were in your position, I would make Renecke the new Mehar-at-arms.’
“I was stunned. I understood what the position meant to the Boentu Palace. I thought for certain my master was joking, but nobody laughed. Chran genuinely seemed to give it some thought. Finally, however, he shook his head. ‘Make a non-Boentu Mehar-at-arms? I’m not sure even I could explain this to the people.’
“The old Mehar quickly rebuked him. ‘Really? You, the second son who never should have inherited the title of Boentu Leader while your brother still lives? You who have blood children even though you have not the seed for it?’ He gestured to me, thumping my chest with a curled fist. ‘Renecke may be Arthemian but he has a warrior’s heart. He is a Boentu not born of Boentu, and you will find no other more knowledgeable and worthy to teach your children the ways of our people.’
“A Boentu not born of Boentu?” Chran murmured, and I knew that voice. This was the voice of a politician, knowing he could sell the phrase to his people. I had to step in at that point. Most warriors trained their entire lives and didn’t know enough to be a Mehar. Now I was to be one? ‘You honour me with your confidence in my abilities, however I believe you overestimate my knowledge, Mehar. I am not ready to take on such an illustrious position.’
“The old priest looked bemused. ‘Do you think I would hand the title of Mehar to just anyone? Ask the Boentu Leader here, he will tell you, I am a tough teacher. I think by now, even you would realise praise from me is hard won. Do you have all the skills needed to be Mehar? Perhaps not. Nonetheless, I have taught you all that can be taught in a dojo.” The old priest turned back to Chran. ‘Let him spend a cycle on Amaunet training at the barracks with your warriors. If you still do not believe he is ready, I will find a suitable alternative.’
“And that was that. Chran was satisfied with the arrangement, and less than a day later, I was in a barracks full of Boentu warriors. It took time, but soon they learned that despite my appearance, I was not to be trifled with. Although I missed my old priest, and often spent my leave on visits to the dagoba, I relished experiencing war games. Sadly, during this time, your father, Chran passed away. However, the Steward of Boentu honoured his Mehar’s wishes, and continued to keep watch over my progress. One year after my cycle came to an end, Katha offered me a permanent position as Mehar within the Boentu Palace.
“For two cycles I continued to live at the dagoba absorbing the teachings of my friend, the old priest. My knowledge of tactics and advanced weaponry continued to grow. It never occurred to me a sling volt cannon was an unusual weapon for a priest on an outer system planet.
“One day the dagoba had a visitor. It was non-other than the Boentu leader himself, Chran. He sought out the old priest himself, and, to my amazement, the Boentu leader greeted my master with reverence. Chran was also kind enough to remember me, and greeted me with formality I had not experienced since I worked for the First Minister.” Renecke smiled. “I remember how delighted he was to hear that I was learning the ways of the Boentu warrior. Chran, however, was on business and wished to converse with the old priest in private. But my master would not hear of it and insisted I stay. I had a feeling the old priest knew exactly why Chran was there.
“That conversation changed the way I saw my master. I assumed my experience at the dagoba was typical on Boentu. I believed all Boentu studied what the priest had been teaching me. I was wrong.
“You know why I am here, Mehar,” Chran began.
“The priest, the Mehar, claimed ignorance, but Chran merely chuckled. ‘I know you still have spies at Boentu Palace,’ Chran insisted.
“Yes. The old priest was a Mehar – the former Mehar-at-Arms, who trained both Chran and Katha. Chran explained that his household needed a new Mehar to teach his children, and he could think of none better than his old mentor.
“My master, for his part, was having none of it. He claimed he was too old and frail to return to the position of Mehar. Personally, I didn’t believe it. He had already proven to have a strength far greater than my own. However, I wasn’t about to contradict him. Chran suggested they go practice a round or two in the training dojo, for old times sake. My master scoffed.
“I am too old,” he protested. ‘I am tired. Sparring in the training dojo is for young people.’ Then he turned to me. ‘Why not spar with my student here?’
“I sensed Chran’s amazement. I could feel him studying me with renewed interest. He knew, even though I didn’t at the time, the old Mehar was very specifically singling me out. I shrugged my shoulders, bowed to the Boentu leader, and we retreated to the dojo.”
Renecke began to pace the room, circling his students as he continued his story. “I returned to the dagoba the next morning and sought out the priest in his usual meditation spot. Since he didn’t acknowledge me, I sat and meditated with him until he finally stood up to leave. He didn’t look at all surprised to see me there. I had the feeling he was waiting for me although he still gave me no greeting. So I looked at him and I said, “Can you teach me to release my anger?”
“He smiled serenely. ‘You have to want to release the anger.’
“I do,” I replied, and I spoke the truth.
“The priest bade me come with him on a walk of the dagoba gardens. He didn’t speak, so neither did I. It was my first walking meditation, though I did not realise it at the time. Afterwards, he invited me to stay at the dagoba. I slept on a reed mat outside the priest’s sleeping quarters. I fetched the priests food and water, ran messages for them and cleaned their clothing. All of which is a mighty fall for one who had been so close to the First Minister of Liono.”
Arronanto had trouble concealing his amusement. He had spent many an evening cleaning Renecke’s quarters after having gotten into some fight or other with his cousins. It was nice to hear that Renecke too had to pay his dues.
“For several weeks, I spent my days in sunrise, high sun, and sunset meditation. In-between those times, I spent them either taking care of the needs of the priests, or doing walking meditations in the gardens. The priest forbade me from going anywhere near the training dojo. At times meditation was excruciatingly painful for me. I couldn’t stop my thoughts from overwhelming me. At least when I pounded away in the dojo my anger would disappear, if temporarily. But the old priest insisted I learn to meditate. He said there would be time to enter the dojo, but only when I had done the proper work to release my anger.
“It took time, but eventually I was able to clear my mind. The old priest could sense the change in me, and allowed me to spend my afternoons in the training dojo. Slowly, just as I did with you, he began to teach me the tools of the warrior, beginning with the bo. I learned the warrior code and how to use my emotions on the battlefield. He even taught me to strategise, although at first, I thought we were only playing simple children’s games. Slowly I opened up to him about my life on Liono. I told him of Orvan Rono, my wife, and our betrayal at the hands of Rashdin Carva. It wasn’t easy to talk about, but I could sense the residual anger leaving my body. I didn’t like the situation, but I accepted it even if some small part of me still hoped for revenge. The old priest scoffed at my talk of vengeance. No wonder! I had no money. I was now living off the kindness of the priest.” He paused. “I was powerless.”
I liked being at the dagoba, training under the old priest. The truth is I felt more alive on an alien planet than I ever felt on my home world. When my wife contacted me to tell me she had met someone else, it was a painful reminder of all that I had lost. Old fury bubbled to the surface once more. But the strange thing is that I also felt free. I was finally able to pursue a new life in the Boentu system.
Renecke paused to take a sip of water. He hadn’t planned to reveal his dealings with the Vashkriya and he needed to take a moment to collect his thoughts. Not a single student uttered a word. They simply sat, waiting for him to speak again. Good. He still had their attention.
“After the Vashkriya turned me away, I was… lost. I didn’t know where I would go. I couldn’t return home. In my panic, I found the only way to hold my fears at bay was to keep moving. If I kept my body busy and focused on the present moment, I couldn’t dwell on my failure.
“At first I found myself visiting various markets and other places where people congregate. It was at one of these markets that I learned about a local dagoba. A priest there had set up a training dojo for ordinary Boentu citizens to use. The anger that remained tightly coiled around my mind wasn’t releasing its hold on me yet, so I decided to visit the dagoba’s dojo.
“As you can imagine, I was the only Arthemian at the dojo.” He chuckled. “I still remember the strange looks I received that day. Not least from what I assumed was the old priest. He watched me intently. I didn’t know what I was doing. Although I had participated in fighter practice back home, I didn’t know about Boentu techniques and nobody wanted to train with me. At the time, I assumed they were prejudiced because I was an alien. Still, I visited on a daily basis, and used the equipment by myself; training on bags and pounding on straw posts with my bo.”
Arjuna smiled softly and squinted, having trouble picturing the Mehar as the younger man he described.
“Then one day, the old priest came to me. He said, ‘Do you know why no one will train with you?’ He was very softly spoken, I remember.
“Obviously because I am not Boentu. I don’t have the skills necessary, and no one wants to sit here and teach me.”
“He laughed. ‘You are vain if you think you are the first alien that has decided to learn the ways of the Boentu. I would happily personally teach you the warrior code.’
“So teach me,” I replied.
“He shook his head at me. ‘I cannot. Your anger prevents you from learning what I can teach.’
“I was surprised. ‘I would think anger would help a warrior.’
“It can sometimes be a useful tool,” he admitted. “But when rage goes unchecked, it can be a destructive force.”
“I left the dagoba after that conversation. Once again I walked the markets, but this time, I was lost in thought. The priest was at least partly right. I needed to get rid of this rage. I could feel its hold on me. Every time I thought about the Arthema System, my wife, my old life, I found myself consumed once again; shaking with frustration, with anger at all that I had lost. I couldn’t go on like this anymore.”
Renecke gazed upon his audience once more, as though coming out of a dream. He noticed that Arjuna had angry tears in her eyes and he looked away. He didn’t want anyone else noticing her tears. The girl had spent so long developing a reputation as a warrior, besting her siblings. He didn’t want them to see her crying. It would be perceived as weakness.
“So how did you decide to join the Boentu?” Enjawne asked. He was beginning to feel fidgety, and even though he was still fascinated to hear his mentor’s story, he was ready for Mehar Renecke to finish.
“I knew I couldn’t fight them politically. They were too powerful. But I wasn’t going to be like Orvan Rono. I wasn’t going to let them force me out of my home. I was,” he took a shaky breath, his eyes downcast in shame. “I was consumed by rage, I admit. I decided my only recourse was an army. I’d heard of the Vashtriya and decided to come here and hire them.”
This caught his students’ attention, and they all sat up just a little more. The Vashtriya were warriors for pay. All were former Boentu military, once part of the honourable Kashtriya class, but now they were considered little more than paid mercenaries.
“Oh, I told myself that my real reason for going to the Boentu System was to talk to Chran and get copies of the contracts from him. But I didn’t have to travel all the way out here to do that, and besides, Rashdin Carva would have just declared them falsified documents from a traitor. I hitched rides on any craft travelling to the Boentu system. When I arrived on Indra, I began making enquiries about the Vashtriya. I met with their representative. I explained my position, that I had no money, but once Rashdin Carva was ousted, my finances would be restored. They weren’t too happy to hear that. Vashtriya rarely go into combat without being fully paid in advance. I had made my way to the outer rim of the Boentu system for no reason.”