Chapter Seven: Conspiracy
Silence filled the room. Stunned, Dennethom felt as though he had been kicked in the stomach. He sat down, feeling uncertain and looked over at his brother and sister. Suddenly, the door slid open and Yasana popped her head in. “We need to be up early tomorrow. I hope you three are planning on turning in soon.”
“We’ll be heading to bed soon,” Dennethom reassured her, though he sounded mechanical and totally unlike himself.
Yasana heard the tension in her son’s voice. “Is there something wrong?”
Arronanto approached their mother, attempting to guide her back to bed. “Nothing is wrong. We’ll be going to sleep soon. We promise.” Yasana obeyed, leaving her children with one last concerned glance.
“Do we trust Enjawne?” Arronanto asked, turning back towards his brother and sister.
“He has no reason to lie,” Dennethom replied.
“True, but Lossepharr plotting to kill you? That sounds far-fetched. Surely even he wouldn’t be so bold.”
“Oh?” Arjuna asked, her voice tight with barely controlled rage. “All of our lives Arro, Lossepharr has plotted against us to take away Denne’s title. Now that Denne is so close, you don’t think he’s willing to make this last effort?”
“Okay, but murder?” Arronanto asked, even though Arjuna was right. They all knew that Lossepharr was capable of it. They had never imagined he would resort to such a thing, but his rage at the Chran children had been building for many years.
Dennethom beckoned for his brother and sister to sit down, which they did. “We have to believe what Enjawne says is correct. It’s possible Lossepharr put him up to this for some other purpose, but I can’t think what it is.”
“Do you know this Wydun?” Arjuna asked.
“Barely. He replaced his father as Steward only two moons ago. For all I know, he could be part of a plot with Lossepharr.”
“So we don’t go tomorrow. We make our excuses,” Arronanto replied.
“No,” Arjuna responded. “If we don’t go to the outer rim, Dennethom will get suspicious. Besides, this could be exactly what he wants.”
“Arjuna’s right,” Dennethom agreed.
“But if we go, and decline Wydun’s invitation, he’ll still be suspicious,” Arronanto pointed out.
“Precisely why we must go to Regat. We don’t know what kind of fail safe plans Lossepharr will have if this one falls through.”
“And we cant guarantee Enjawne will find out about the next attack,” Arjuna pointed out.
Dennethom nodded his head in agreement. “We go to Regat just as Lossepharr would want and we play into his plan. I have my own connections. I’ve visited the outer rim more recently than Lossepharr. There are plenty of people I can trust. I can get us a ship. I may even be able to get bodies to make it look like the plan worked.”
“And then what?” Arjuna asked.
Arjuna recoiled in horror. “After he tried to kill you, you want Lossepharr to win? He should pay for what he did! You can’t expect me to run. I won’t!”
“Nor I,” Arronanto chimed in.
Dennethom signalled to them to keep their voices down. He didn’t want their mother overhearing them. “We have to run. It’s the only way I can protect us all. Lossepharr won’t stop unless he believes we are dead.”
“But you’re the Future Leader. We can get protection-”Arronanto began.
“From who?” Dennethom demanded. “Arro, this plot could go all the way up to Katha himself.”
Arjuna regarded her brother with a troubled look. “You’re supposed to be the future leader of Boentu. Are you suggesting we just let Lossepharr have the title?”
Dennethom shook his head. “No. If Lossepharr is willing to kill his own kin to become leader then there’s no telling what brutalities he’s capable of. We’ll take some time. Let them believe we’re dead. We still have trusted allies in the system. They will be our eyes and ears. We will build up an army. When Katha is ready to step down I will reclaim my place as rightful leader.”
With reluctance, Arronanto and Arjuna agreed to the plan. They knew Dennethom was right. For the foreseeable future, Lossepharr will think he won.
“Would you believe dear uncle Katha,” Arjuna said with a snort as the trio of siblings collapsed in the living quarters at Boentu Palace. “Rambling on about how we would miss us.”
Dennethom shook his head with bemusement. “I’m not sure what to believe. He seemed genuine.”
“There’s nothing genuine about that man,” Arjuna said as she flopped down on a large cushioned chair. “He says he loves you as a son one moment, and then tries to get rid of you the next.”
“It would be nice one of these days to actually know my position with him. At least Lossepharr makes it clear he despises me.”
“Lossy seemed subdued tonight, didn’t he?” Arronanto remarked as he pulled out a deck of playing cards.
“He did,” Dennethom agreed. In fact, neither Lossepharr nor Andor made any of the usual cutting remarks at the farewell dinner. “Unusually so.”
“At least the food was good,” said Arronanto.
“Yes. How thoughtful of Katha to supply a menu of culinary delights which are hard to find in the outer rim,” Arjuna said drily.
Dennethom suppressed a yawn. He rubbed his eyes, exhausted. “I suppose you two are going to stay up and play cards?”
Arjuna and Arronanto looked at each other as though the idea had only just occured to them. “Sounds like a good idea to me,” Arjuna replied. “Join us. At least for one hand.”
Dennethom began to shake his head, reluctantly. Arronanto chimed in. “Come on. You’re not going to go to bed already like mother. You can sleep on the trip.”
Dennethom took a moment to consider the proposition. It was enticing. Then again, he suspected his brother only wanted to include him because he planned on cleaning Dennethom out. Tired, but about to give in to peer pressure anyway, he spotted a flashing light on the nearby comms screen. He supposed he’d better check just in case something needed his attention before morning. And then he would go to sleep. Yes. That would be the smart thing to do.
The message was for him, as he suspected. It appeared encrypted. The sender’s name concealed. Frowning he punched in a decryption code and hit play. No visual accompanied the recorded message, yet he recognized the voice of his cousin, Enjawne.
“Dennethom,” Enjawne’s voice sounded harried. “I know you are ready to leave for the outer rim, but you must know there is a plot against you and your family.” Arjuna and Arronanto who had been busy doling out cards glanced up, alert yet wary. “Wydun, the steward on Regat, is a close friend of my brother’s. Lossepharr plans to have Wydun invite you to Regat where he will tamper with your ship. I’m not certain of the details, he doesn’t trust me much. However, he plans to kill your entire family. That way he can become the new Boentu leader. I’m not certain when he intends to do this. I do know that they will make it look like your ship is having problems, get you to stay overnight on Regat giving Wydun the opportunity to have his people plant an explosive. Lossepharr means business this time. You need to be careful when you’re in the outer rim. Don’t go to Regat.” Enjawne paused, as though listening for someone to come in. “I have to go now. I will try to get more information to you if I can.”
Lossepharr placed a hand on Karna’s knee. She shifted, allowing his hand to rest on the seat between them. He narrowed his eyes and scowled. He was growing tired of Karna and her teasing ways. Just how long did she plan to keep those legs pinned together anyway? Didn’t she realise what an honour he had bestowed upon her?
He took a long sip of his drink. The fire water burned his throat as he swallowed but he didn’t care. He prefered it that way. He leaned back in his seat to watch the continued game of Kha’Ten Enjawne and Yocan played. He shook his head as Enjawne moved a piece on the board. In three moves Yocan would control the board, didn’t Enjawne understand? But Enjawne was never one to bother with strategy. Lossepharr wondered once again how he could be related to such an imbecile.
“Did you hear?” Andor asked as he strolled in and poured himself some fire water. “The pacifist is leaving for the outer rim. And he’s taking the rest of the Chrans with him.”
“Pacifist” was the little derogatory nickname he and Lossepharr had for Dennethom after the future leader had only reluctantly gone to war in the Arthema System.
“For how long,” Dennethom asked, still glum and just a little resentful as Karna gave up her seat to Andor. Why was she always so damn quick to create space between them?
“Half a cycle,” Andor said, his eyes gleaming.
“Oh?” Yocan replied, glancing up from his game. “Father must really want him out of his hair.”
“Seems that way,” Andor agreed. Noticing his brothers at play, he added, “You do realise he’s about to control the board. Move your piece over there.”
As Enjawne protested at his older brother’s unwarranted advice, Lossepharr sighed. “What good does a half cycle do? Even if father doesn’t think him ready yet, he’s still going to be the next leader.”
“Unless he isn’t,” Karna replied, her voice soft and seductive. The other siblings argued over how Enjawne should proceed. Lossepharr almost didn’t hear her.
“What does that mean?” he asked, eyeing her.
Karna took a deep breath. “It means, Tsalu Lossepharr, the outer rim can be a dangerous place, especially for those who only know life in the capital.”
Lossepharr leaned back, thinking. The brothers continued to argue. Enjawne looked ready to tip the board over. “Quiet!” Lossepharr snapped. “No. It doesn’t make any difference. Even if something were to happen to Dennethom, he still has his brother and sister.”
“That’s not the way your father sees things,”Karna replied.
“True, but not everyone feels the way he does. Take Quani. He’s always pointing out the letter of the law.” He got up and began to pace. His brothers had stopped their squabble and looked to Lossepharr expectantly, uncertain what they had missed in the conversation.
“No. If there is an accident it must be something which wipes out the entire line of Chran,” he muttered.
Lossepharrr’s brothers lapsed into a stunned silence as they realised what their brother proposed.
“It would be difficult,” Karna replied. “Is that something you can do?”
Was it? It was a good question, one Lossepharr wasn’t certain he knew the answer to. And then it came to him. A slow smile spread across his lips. “Difficult, but not impossible.”
Dennethom sat pouring over reports. He was overseeing a new trade agreement with the Arthemians, and though exhausted, he felt determined to get through it all tonight. Which meant cancelling dinner with his family. For the third time in a row. But what could he do? He had so much to learn. Although he knew he would need to rely on the advise of his cabinet, he wanted to be familiar with every aspect of governing. Arjuna thought he was setting himself an impossible task, but he couldn’t imagine leading in any other way.
A tap on the door caused him to look up. The door slid open and his brother and sister entered without waiting for an invitation. Arjuna carried a large platter while Arronanto held a bottle of Arthemian wine and three goblets.
“We thought you might spend another evening down here,” Arjuna said, laying the platter down and removing the lids of several tureens. “So we decided to bring you dinner.”
“And wine,” Dennethom noted. “That’s not really going to help me work.”
“It’s not really supposed to,” Arronanto grinned as he began pouring wine into the goblets.
Dennethom took his glass, enjoying the sweetness while Arjuna ladled up food for all of them.
“You may still want to come join us for a proper meal one of these days. Mother complains that she barely knows what you look like.”
“For that matter, come to the dojo,” Arronanto added, gulping down his wine and pouring more.
“You are looking a little chubby big brother,” Arjuna agreed.
Dennethom chuckled. He was muscular and tall, with not an ounce of useless fat on his entire body. “I do miss my training sessions,” he admitted.
“You’re also missing out on our dear, darling cousin, Lossy,” said Arronanto.
Dennethom took a bite of chunky hot stew. Mmm. It was spicy, just like their grandmother used to make. “And that’s a bad thing?” he asked his brother.
“Oh yes,” Arronanto replied. “You should see him these days.”
“All Lossepharr does is sulk. He snaps at everyone. Even his lover, Karna.”
“He wishes she’s his lover,” Arronanto replied.
Dennethom chuckled. He missed having his brother and sister hanging around him like this. Ever since returning from the Proving Ground it had been non-stop work and publicity. As for Lossepharr, he had hardly seen much of him, save for a brief hospital visit when they first arrived home.
They chatted about various gossip around the palace. Dennethom polished off one bowl of stew and was ready to get a refill when his Comms chimed.
“Ignore it” Arronanto mouthed to his big brother.
Dennethom frowned. “I can’t. It’s a message from Katha marked ‘urgent’.”
He touched a button his screen and read the message. His frown deepened.
“What’s wrong?” Arjuna asked, hurrying to his side.
“He’s sending me to the Outer Rim. He wants me to learn the in’s and out’s of life there and see how we can make a stronger Boentu race.”
“For how long?”
“Half a cycle.”
Arjuna snorted. “He wants you to spend half a cycle in the Outer Rim? I guess he’s hoping you’ll kill yourself there, so Lossepharr can replace you.”
“When does he plan to hand over to you?” Arronanto asked.
“Never it seems like. Every day I feel as though he grows more resentful of me.”
“Great and now he gets to send you off to the Outer Rim,” Arjuna was fuming. “You don’t have to stand for this.”
“Actually, I think I do. He’s still the Steward. Until he believes I’m ready, I have to follow his orders.”
“But half a cycle away from you?” Arjuna replied in dismay, wrapping an arm around her brother.
Dennethom sighed. “I know. “ He paused. “You both could always come with me. It’d be an adventure.”
Arronanto groaned. “Yes. But then we’d have to kill ourselves.”
Every day it seemed Katha had less to do as Dennethom took on greater responsibility as Future Leader. Getting to know planetary stewards, learning of their needs, and even representing the Boentu race on visits to other Systems. The lack of work was frustrating. Every day he received reports of the good job Dennethom was doing. Yet still Katha felt troubled.
He sat in his chair, listening to another audio report of Dennethom’s success, this time on Veran, in the outer rim. Katha threw down the report in frustration, and tapping his communications console he summoned his uncle Draddo, and also his vizier, Quani.
Seeing Katha’s unhappiness clearly etched in his face, Quani eyed Drado wearily as they entered Katha’s office. Katha beckoned them both to sit.
“I have concerns,” Katha said once the two took their seats.
“What kind of concerns, Sire?” Quani asked.
“Dennethom,” Katha replied.
Quani raised his eyebrows in surprise. Even Draddo looked tense. After the events on Hadad, they both had hoped there would be no more questions of Dennethom and the line of succession. “What about Dennethom concerns you?” Quani asked. “By all accounts the stewards have nothing but praise for his performance.”
Katha leaned forward, his chin resting in his hand. “You see that’s my problem Quani. Dennethom is doing an excessively good job.” Draddo inwardly sighed but said nothing, allowing his liege to continue. “I am concerned Dennethom wants to receive the title of Boentu Leader sooner than I would like.”
“Sire, is that such a bad thing? It would give you a chance to spend more time with your family,” Quani replied.
“I am still Steward of the Boentu System, Quani,” Katha said rather icily. “The time at which Dennethom takes office is of my choosing, not his.”
Draddo cleared his throat. “Has Dennethom given you any particular reason to be concerned?”
Katha gestured to his computer. “These reports are plenty cause for concern. The people love him. If he decides to take the position early, he would have plenty of support.”
Again, Quani and Draddo eyed each other. They were unsure what they could say to reassure their liege. Draddo cleared his throat, and spoke, pensively. “Nephew, if you are concerned Dennethom will try to take power before he is ready, you could always send him away.”
Quani stared at his companion in disbelief, but Draddo did not so much as glance his way. “You could send him to the outer rim for a while. I’m sure there is plenty of infrastructure work to keep him busy. It will be a good learning experience for him, while you decide when to step down.”
Quani looked disappointedly at Draddo. He understood this was probably the best answer Draddo could come up with to keep Katha from doing anything drastic, but he was unhappy nonetheless.
Katha on the other hand, gave Draddo his full attention, nodding his head in agreement. “Yes, that does sound like the best option,” he said, when Draddo finished speaking. “It will give Dennethom plenty of opportunity to get to know the outer rim planets. And keep him out of my hair.”