Chapter Nine: Drapaudi
Father, I have decided to leave the Arthema System for a while. I realise you wish me to marry Lemarn, but I cannot. I am not ready to marry because my heart belongs elsewhere. I should have told you but I was afraid of how you would react.
You should know I would have been happy had you made me a match with the line of Chran. But it is too late. The ones I wished to marry are dead and gone. I cannot do anything except mourn their loss. I hope some day I can love again, but I need time.
I am leaving Liono, and indeed the system. The other day at the market, I noticed some mysterious Boentu. I spoke with them and learned they are Boentu monks from the Order of Kiriti. They are missionaries and I have decided to join them. I have been fascinated by Boentu culture since the Chran’s first arrived on our world. The monks understand my grief, and offered me a place with their order, to teach me in their ways.
This is an opportunity I cannot pass up. I can see the universe and explore my spirituality. Arthemian culture has taught me much, but there are so many other worlds out there.
Please don’t try to stop me, and do not come looking for me. When the time is right, I will return to you, once I have experienced all that the Order can teach me. Goodbye.
Rashdu Carver sat staring at the message on his screen for several minutes. He read it through once more, and then again. What did any of this mean? His daughter. His own little girl had left? Could this be true? She had never once mentioned anything about an interest in Boentu culture. Although given how her grandfather had been ousted by Dennethom and Renecke, it was no surprise. Rashdu frowned again and tapped a button on his comms link.
“Get me any information you can on a Boentu monk Order of Kiriti.”
“Who are we meeting?” Arronanto asked. He licked his fingers, and found himself eyeing another of the snack packs Arjuna had brought back from the market.
“An important Liono official,” Arjuna repeated, grabbing up the salty snacks before her brother could make a lunge for it. “Trust me Arro, you will want to make a good impression.”
Arronanto flopped on a cushioned seat with a dramatic sigh. “I don’t really feel up to this.” Arjuna didn’t reply, she just gave him a look that told him he was going to comply if she had to drag him kicking and screaming. “Why is Denne bringing the official here anyway? Isn’t that a little risky?”
“Sometimes you have to take risks,” Arjuna replied.
Suddenly, she heard the motors for the ship’s ramp engage. Her heartbeat quickened. “They’ll be here any moment,” she said to Arronanto with a twinkle in her eye.
Sure enough, just a little while later, the doors to the Aluen’s lounge slid open and Dennethom stood in the doorway, guiding Drapaudi inside. She smiled gratefully at him, and then her eyes alighted on Arronanto, still draped across a chair.
He did a double take, almost sliding to the floor. Scrambling to his feet he hurried to greet her. “It’s you,” he said, unable to contain his emotions.
“It is I,” Drapaudi replied with a smile, allowing Arronanto to take her hand and press her fingers to his soft, furry cheek.
“We met up at the market,” Dennethom replied, uncomfortable.
When it was clear Arronanto would not willingly let go of Drapaudi’s hand, Arjuna stepped in front of him, and gave her a warm hug.
“It is good to see you,” Arjuna said.
“Please, sit down,” Dennethom gestured for Drapaudi to take a seat in one of the cushioned chairs, which she did.
The doors slid open once again, and Yasana stepped through. “You must be Drapaudi,” she said, taking a seat next to the young Arthemian. “I have heard so much about you.”
“It is an honour to finally meet you, Lady Yasana,” Drapaudi replied.
“Yasana, please. I am no lady any more,” though Yasana’s smile was touched with sadness, she warmly embraced Drapaudi.
“I understand we should be congratulating you,” Arronanto said, his voice stiff, his body erect, having recovered from the shock of seeing her.
“That is actually why I brought Drapaudi here today,” said Dennethom.
Dennethom dropped the iced fruit to the ground. Suddenly his mouth felt dry and his heart raced. He glanced over at his sister, but Arjuna had slipped away. Drapaudi stopped a few feet from him, frowning, but still staring hard at him. For a moment Dennethom feared she would turn away, but instead she went straight to the iced fruit stand and bought a cool treat. She was mere feet away from Dennethom.
Casually she stood next to him eating her fruit. Dennethom waited for her to speak, but for a while she didn’t. She seemed confused. It took a moment for Dennethom to notice her eyes glistened with tears.
“They said you were dead.” Her tone was accusatory.
“I know,” he replied, feeling guilty.
“I’ve been mourning you,” she said, and couldn’t help glancing at him.
“We had to pretend we died in the accident. There are those that want us dead.”
“I thought that might be the case,” she said, looking straight ahead as she ate. And Denenthom realised, she wasn’t angry at him, she just didn’t want to draw attention.
“I saw Arjuna with you,” she continued. “Does that mean your brother and mother survived also?”
“Yes. They are here too.” He so badly wanted to touch her.
“Who wants you dead?”
Dennethom sighed. “My cousin.”
“What will you do?”
“I am continuing to build contacts. When Katha is ready to step down, we will reveal ourselves.”
“Why are you here?” she asked, in confusion. “Shouldn’t you be in hiding? The Arthemians are close allies of the Boentu.”
“We needed supplies,” Dennethom replied, and then hesitated. He had to say it, even though it made him want to throw up. “Also I wanted to see you.”
She flinched. “I’m getting married soon.”
“I know,” Dennethom whispered.
“I don’t want to,” she replied, her voice sounded earnest. “My father is making me.”
Dennethom suddenly did something he rarely did, he became impulsive. “Come with us. You shouldn’t have to marry someone you don’t love.”
She smiled but her lips were tense. “Then who will I marry? You?”
Dennethom flinched. “I am sorry. I should have realised you couldn’t love a Boentu.”
“No,” Drapaudi replied, and she touched his hand ever so gently. Dennethom felt a thrill go through him. “I do love you.”
“Then what?” Denenthom asked, afraid to hear the answer.
“I also have feelings for your brother.”
The next morning Dennethom, dressed in his monk robes, left the Aluen to explore Liono. He returned midday, looking happy and carrying some local fruit from the market. When Arjuna asked why he had suddenly decided to throw caution to the wind, he said nothing, and left for his quarters. The same thing happened the following day. And the day after that. On the fourth day Arjuna followed her older brother.
Sure enough he went to a local bazaar. The market was the biggest one in the city and bustled with life, as well as intoxicating smells and loud voices. Dennethom occasionally browsed at stands, but he seemed to be moving in a very specific direction. Eventually, he stopped at a fountain where others sat too, resting and enjoying the sunshine.
Like two lasers, her brother’s eyes were pointed to a nearby fabric shop. Arjuna puzzled for a moment at what her brother stared at. Minutes went by, but nothing. She bought an iced fruit from a local merchant as she kept watch on her brother. Not until she spotted Dennethom’s change of expression, did she realise the person he waited for had arrived. She quickly scanned the crowd. The dark skinned, smiling face of Drapaudi could be seen as she wondered into a fabric merchant’s store.
Arjuna lost sight of her, but she knew that from her brother’s angle he was perfectly positioned to just sit and watch her. She finished her iced fruit, while Drapaudi stayed in the store and Dennethom continued to watch her. Arjuna sighed and bought another iced fruit. This time she walked over to her brother and handed it to him. For a moment he just stared at it in surprise.
“Try it, it’s actually quite delicious.”
“Were you following me?” he asked, not bothering to conceal his annoyance.
“You’re upset about someone following you?” Arjuna asked with raised eyebrows.
Dennethom sighed. He knew she was right. He had no business being upset with Arjuna when he had been following Drapaudi for days.
“Technically I didn’t follow her. I did follow her here the first day and when I found out she comes here most days, I decided to wait for her.”
“Was it worth it?” Arjuna asked.
Dennethom looked sheepish. “She didn’t come yesterday.”
Arjuna wanted to make a quip but she felt too bad for her brother. “You know she’s getting married.”
“I know. I still had to see her.”
“I didn’t realise you liked her so much.”
“I don’t think I did either until I saw the engagement announcement.” He stared hard at the iced fruit which began to melt, the juices soaking his fuzzy fingers. “I only wish I could tell her how I feel.”
“Here’s your chance,” Arjuna said, and nodded towards Drapaudi who now stared in shock at the two Boentu warriors.
The trip was uneventful. Passing out of the Boentu System and then into the Arthema System, the credentials Ninsun had created for the Aluen were superb. If anyone asked, they were on private business for the Steward of Veran.
Despite Dennethom’s original hesitation to visit the Arthema System, he found himself eager to arrive. He even proposed they visit Liono, a planet they felt somewhat familiar with, although Dennethom insisted they remain in disguise and attempt no contact with Rashdu Carva.
After a day of seeking out medical supplies for long-term space flight, Arronanto returned to the Aluen with a scowl on his face.
“What is it?” Dennethom asked. Being the most recognisable of the three, they decided it best he stay behind.
Arronanto surveyed his brother and said, “You’re not going to like this, Denne.”
Dennethom felt impatient. He wasn’t in the mood for playing games with his brother and sighed.
Arronanto went to a vid screen and tapped a few buttons before pulling up a local news announcement. But that wasn’t what caught Dennethom’s eye. Instead he spotted a picture of the beautiful dark-skinned Arthemian female. A female he recognised instantly. Drapaudi, daughter of Rashdu Carva. Next to her picture was that of a male Arthemian Dennethom didn’t know. The headline announced their engagement.
Dennethom read through it twice, frowning all the while. “The thing is,” Arronanto began, as he opened a bag of crispy salted leaves- a local cuisine, he forgot what they called it- “Up until we died, she wrote to me fairly often and she never once mentioned this, this, other person.”
“She wrote to you?” Dennethom asked, his eyebrows raised in surprise.
Arronanto shoved a handful of the leafy snack food into his mouth. “Once in a while, yes. But I swear I never heard about anyone, nevermind this skinny little Arthemian.”
“He’s the son of a First Minister,” Dennethom pointed out. “Hmm. It looks as though they haven’t set a date.”
“Thank the old gods,” Arronanto said with his usual dramatic flair. “I don’t think my heart could take it.”
Shoving another handful of salty goodness into his mouth, Arronanto got up, taking the bag with him. “I’ll be in my quarters,” he said with a sigh.
As he made his way out of the ward room, he ran into Arjuna. Noticing the bag of snack food and her brother’s expression, she shot a questioning glance at Dennethom, but he was too busy re-reading the engagement announcement.