Chapter Five: Coming of Age
The siblings huddled together in their private family quarters. Yasana, exhausted by the festivities, nuzzled her children and went to bed, leaving Dennethom, Arjuna and Arronanto to speculate about their uncle’s plans. Arjuna politely said goodnight to her mother and watched her leave.
“Strange. She doesn’t seem the least bit concerned about Katha’s news.”
Dennethom shrugged. “It’s no surprise. Before, if I had failed at the proving ground, Arro would have to go next. With our cousins being considered for succession, she risks losing maybe only one of her children.”
Arjuna scowled. “It’s not Boentu for her to think that way.”
Dennethom leaned back in his seat with a sigh. “She’s not a warrior, like us. Anyway, she’s not the one you’re angry at.”
Arjuna snorted. He was right about that. For a time the siblings sat in silent disbelief. Had their uncle really decided to try and take away Dennethom’s birthright? After a while, just sitting wasn’t enough for Arjuna and she got to her feet, her ears twitching as she stalked the room.
“I wonder if we can arrange for an accident for Lossepharr,” Arronanto mused aloud.
Dennethom shook his head. “As much as I appreciate the sentiment Arro, now is not the time for violence.”
“Isn’t now precisely the time?” Arjuna demanded, loudly. Remembering her mother asleep next door, she quieted her tone. “Katha is trying to take away your title.”
Dennethom sighed, leaning forward with his head between his hands. He had drunk plenty over the past few days and had been well past buzzed when Katha made his announcement, but now all that remained was a headache. “It isn’t my title yet. It won’t be unless I can prove myself a leader on Hadad. That was always the case.”
“But Lossepharr-” Arronanto began.
“-will do his best to make sure I don’t become Leader. But I’m not going to stoop to his level.”
“We can’t ignore this. This is an affront to our father’s memory,” Arjuna hissed.
“I don’t see that we have much choice. I’m not happy about this, but our only option is to train hard so I make it back alive.”
Arjuna sat down, exhausted. For a while the siblings were quiet again but finally Arronanto broke the silence. “Usually when a son is sent to the proving ground, the father helps prepare him. It’s not exactly allowed, but according to Quani, it is common practise.” Dennethom said nothing. “He won’t help you. Not if Lossepharr’s going to Hadad as well.”
Dennethom nodded his head. They all knew Arronanto was right. “We’ll just have to train you for every possibility,” said Arronanto into the quiet room.
Arjuna heard Arronanto growl dangerously under his breath. She knew what Katha was going to say before he opened his mouth.
“Both Dennethom and my eldest son Lossepharr are the same age. Lossepharr is just five moons younger than Dennethom. I believe the only fair way of deciding who is the next leader of Boentu is to send both of them to the proving grounds of Hadad. Just as I and my brother did.”
There it was. Arjuna, despite her better judgement, glanced at her eldest cousin who had been standing across the large banquet hall scowling into a glass of sweet wine. Now, however, he stood tall and proud, a wide grin on his face.
Arronanto scowled and seemed to lurch forward, whether to choke the smile off Lossepharr’s face or approach their uncle, Arjuna didn’t care, she pressed a hand against her brother gently holding him in place. He made a barely audible snarl but obeyed. The two siblings eyed each other, both feeling the same sense of betrayal. How could could Katha do this?
Dennethom glanced over at his siblings as he hurried up to the stage to thank his uncle. The two grasped hands, and hugged. Dennethom spoke a few words about not letting down his people. He skipped the speech he had been preparing for the past moon. Katha’s words had rendered it useless. As he left the stage, Dennethom found himself cornered by a well-wisher. Arjuna moved to extract her brother, when she noticed a horrified looking Quani hurrying to meet her uncle.
“Lord Katha,” murmured Quani. “I wish you had warned me you were going to make this announcement.”
“Oh Quani, what difference does it make?” said Katha taking a jovial gulp of wine. “It came to me in a flash last night. And, it is only fair.”
“Tradition says, as you know, that only one Boentu warrior can go to Hadad at a time.”
“Only one from the line of succession, who is of age. My son and my nephew come from two lines of succession.”
“But, my Lord, I think you may be mistaken.” Arjuna could tell that Quani was nervous. “There is only one line of succession. Your brother became Boentu Leader after saving you on the proving ground. And then he was only confirmed Leader once he returned to Hadad for a second time.” Katha’s face hardened but he remained silent, allowing his Vizier to continue. “For all that you have done for the star system since your brother’s death, you are still Steward. The line of succession must run through your brother’s children.”
“That’s hardly fair to Lossephar,” Katha replied with a shrug of his lean shoulders.
Arjuna watched as a flabbergasted Quani was shuffled out of the way by a smug Lossepharr. She suppressed an urge to confront her older cousin. Now was not the time. Besides, her brother would need her.
“As you know, the nineteenth birthday is a significant day in the life of the future Boentu leader. Only when a future leader turns 19 can his ability to lead be tested. This test takes place on the proving grounds on the planet Hadad and must be undertaken alone. Many fine Boentu warriors have died on the proving grounds.” Katha paused. His next words held just a touch of bitterness. “I lost my sight on Hadad.” He took a moment to regroup his thoughts. “I am here today to announce the date at which this fine Boentu warrior, Dennethom, my brother’s first-born child, my nephew, must prove himself to you. This date shall be five moons hence.”
A murmur ran through the audience. There was not usually so much time between a warrior’s nineteenth birthday and the day at which the warrior would prove himself. Most Boentu leaders preferred to get the proving ground over and done with. Not that there was any rule against waiting. It was always up to the future leader to decide on a date and Dennethom hadn’t wished to wait longer than a moon. He distinctly remembered telling his uncle so on several occasions.
“I know some of you are surprised at the date I have chosen, but I can assure you I have a reason,” said Katha. “For, as you know, although my brother Chran became Boentu leader, I was also a future Boentu leader who went through the proving ground. In fact, my brother and I went through the proving ground together.”
Arjuna stiffened. She didn’t like the direction of Katha’s speech, but she saw no way to stop it. She tried to catch her brother’s eye but he simply stood watching his uncle carefully with a curious smile plastered on his face which Arjuna knew was anything but genuine. At least the newsies wouldn’t catch any of the shock he was no doubt feeling.
“Since I currently lead the Boentu people,” Katha was careful not to claim the title of Leader for his own, “we have a unique opportunity. You see, there are now two lines of succession.”
Arjuna chuckled at the perpetual half-grin on her brother’s face. Dennethom had clearly drunk a little too much sweet wine. A birthday gift from Mehar Rennecke. Arronanto had consumed plenty of the wine himself. But he was huge and even at his young age, could easily out-drink most others.
Arjuna wondered at the wisdom of such a birthday gift. Was it really a good idea, when Dennethom would have to be on stage soon, his appearance televised throughout the star system? Rennecke hadn’t anticipated that Dennethom would “celebrate” so much on his birthday. But you only become an adult once. And for a future leader of Boentu, nineteen was a particularly momentous birthday. Three days of celebration and up until tonight, Dennethom had been remarkably stoic. And then the sweet wine arrived.
“Here. Have some of this,” Arjuna said, handing Dennethom a large pickled fruit.
“Always taking care of my, aren’t you little sis,” Dennethom said, taking the fruit in his hands. He examined it closely as thought the fruit were some sort of precious stone.
“Bite into it,” Arjuna ordered.
“As you wish,” Dennethom replied and took a bite from the purple, foul-smelling object. His face contorted and he spat onto the rich stone flooring. “It tastes awful.”
Arjuna sighed. “You have to eat this fruit, Denne, “she explained. “It will absorb the alcohol in your blood so you don’t make a complete fool of yourself in front of billions of Boentu.”
Dennethom clamped his lips shut.
“Eat it, or so help me I will have Arro hold you while I shove this down your throat.”
Dennethom scowled as he obediently took a bite. Arjuna watched him as he chewed and then swallowed. “More,” she insisted.
“How’s our patient?” Arronanto asked as he strolled up.
“Not good, and you’re no help,” she retorted.
“I’m helping,” Arronanto insisted. “I’m using up the sweet wine so Denne doesn’t have to drink it.”
Arjuna shoved at her brother, but he danced away just in time.
“Do you realise just how happy Lossepharr would be if Denne makes a fool of himself?” she said.
“Don’t worry. I won’t make a fool of myself,” Dennethom replied. His voice had lost that strange, giddy tone and he seemed much more himself.
“It’s working, I take it?” said Arjuna.
Dennethom nodded his head.
“How do you feel?” Arronanto asked.
“Fairly clear-headed, actually,” Dennethom replied. He took another bite of the noxious fruit.
“Given how much you drank this evening,” Arronanto said, patting his brother on the back. “My advice is to eat another one of those in the morning. You’re going to need it.”
“People of Boentu,” said the voice of Katha, Steward of Boentu. His voice seemed to resonate from everywhere.
“Why didn’t they wait for you to start,” Arjuna exclaimed as she hurried Dennethom to the stage. It wouldn’t do for him to be late for his own announcement.