Chapter Two: Renecke’s Story
“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.”
“What happened then?” Arjuna asked, her voice a whisper.
“Rashdin Carva rushed an election through and he won,” Renecke replied. “Orvan Rono lost his ethics trial and he and his family left Liono in disgrace.”
“Why did he leave?” Lossepharr asked, incredulously. “Why didn’t he stay and prove his innocence?”
Renecke took his time responding. “He was exiled. It doesn’t happen very often on Liono, but occasionally it does. He could have tried to stay, but he wouldn’t have been able to find any employment. There are those of us who thought he should have stayed, but I understand why he didn’t. He had a family to protect. So he left to make a new life elsewhere.”
“He must have had his followers who would help him,” Lossepharr insisted.
“He did, at least at first. But those of us that continued to seek out proof of the conspiracy found our own dealings scrutinized. One by one people just stopped asking questions.”
“But not you,” Arjuna replied.
Renecke smiled faintly. “No. Not me. I continued to make inquiries. Track who could’ve gone to Chi-Tra and had access to the records. So Carva pressed forward with an ethics trial against me. I lost. I too was exiled.”
Arronanto looked puzzled. “What happened to your family?”
“They stayed on Liono. My wife didn’t want to, but I insisted. Unlike Orvan, I wasn’t about to let Rashdin Carva win. My wife comes from a wealthy family. Her whole family is there on Liono to take care of her and my son. I wasn’t going to make her leave her entire family behind. So I made her stay and I promised to clear my name.”
Master Renecke now had the cousins rapt attention as he continued to relive the painful journey that had driven him to the Boentu system, to become a warrior and abandon his home forever. “My first few months, I continued to bounce around the Arthema system, quickly using up the funds my wife’s family had given me to prove my innocence. Rashdin Carva had many friends, and not just on Liono. Of the speculators who would benefit from Rono’s removal, there were plenty with friends in high enough places to get into the hall of records. And none of those friends were about to talk to an exile of Liono.
“Finally, I went to visit Orvan Rono on Vola. I thought perhaps together we could finally make the truth come out. But the Orvan Rono I met on Vola was not the man I once knew. He wanted nothing to do with Rashdin Carva. I think Carva’s wealth and powerful friends scared him. As each of his friends on Liono disappeared, Orvan began to make a name for himself on Vola.” Renecke’s face hardened. “He even tried to convince me to start a new life somewhere with my wife and child. But I couldn’t let it go. I wasn’t going to let Rashdin Carva win. That was the last time I ever saw Orvan Rono.”
“It was your basic discredit the First Minister plan. They worked to paint him as a corrupt leader that needed removing immediately. And when they couldn’t find the corruption they needed, they made it up.” Renecke’s voice was grim, his eyes flashed with anger that surprised even himself.
“First there was the mag-rail. Orvan had brought in outside labour from the Gaian System to build the rail. We simply don’t have the same kind of workforce on Liono. It kept the cost of the mag-rail down, but businesses on Liono still benefited from the project. Except the opposition, led by one Rashdin Carva, leaked out information, false information, suggesting that Orvan had bought and sold slaves from the Gaian system to build the rail. Slavery, as you know, is still legal in some part of the Gaian system, but not in Arthema.”
Arjuna let out a gasp, her face flushed with rage. She couldn’t quite believe what she was hearing. Surely no one could act in such a dishonourable way.
“Then there were the trade negotiations Orvan and I had brokered with outside systems. There the lies just kept increasings. There were accusations of hidden bank accounts where Orvan Rono had skimmed off the profits for his own benefit There were also accusations that Orvan Rono was receiving kickbacks from other system governments which is how he was able to offer such lucrative contracts.”
“But surely if there was this level of corruption, they would need proof. Baseless accusations cannot take down a leader of a planet.” Lossepharr remarked.
“Not if the accusations aren’t baseless,” Renecke replied. “That is, not if you can create the evidence to make the lie appear as truth.”
“How?” Arjuna asked, baffled. “He’s the leader of Liono. Who could possibly have the power to do that?”
“You forget Arjuna, these speculators are wealthy, powerful people. They had enough resources to create evidence out of thin air, and enough money to bribe highly placed Arthermians. I suspect also, that some within Orvan’s own government were part of the plot. After the slavery scandal, the minister of labour stepped down in disgrace. I tried to go speak with him, but he refused to see me. I believe Rashdin Carva either bribed or blackmailed the minister of labour into stepping down.
“When the reports of skimming and kickbacks arrived, I knew that I needed to seek out proof that this was a plot. I needed to find the evidence and prove to the people of Liono that Rashdin Carva was behind all this. So I left in search of the evidence. I had negotiated these contracts. And while Rashdin Carva and his fellows could pull fake contracts out of thin air on Liono, I knew copies of the contracts and our dealings with the other systems, could be found in the hall of records on Chi-Tra, where all records of trade and profit for the entire Arthema system are stored.
“I hadn’t planned to be gone that long, but I ran into problems. Our contracts were missing. The evidence that we needed had disappeared. Someone very powerful had gone as far as the hall of records to cover up the trail. Then my ship was sabotaged. At least, that’s what I believe happened. Someone was trying very hard to keep me away from Liono. When I contacted my wife,” Renecke smiled thinly, “Yes, I am married. She said that there was new evidence linking me to the kickbacks, and they were now calling for my immediate resignation. I was finally able to catch a transport ship travelling to Liono. However, by the time I arrived home, Orvan Rono had been forced to step down after an emergency vote of no confidence. A new election was going to be held with Rashdin Carva favoured to be First Minister.”
“For ten cycles,” Renecke continued. “Orvan Rono was First Minister of Liono. He worked tirelessly. Liono is a small holding, relatively insignificant, compared to other planets in the Arthema system. Yet, he managed to raise the profile of the planet and take our people out of a recession. His most significant achievement was probably the implementation of a mag-rail system from the southern hemisphere where our most important medicinal plants are cultivated, up to our processing centre. It simplified transportation, and even though he had to raise taxes to pay for it, it created jobs and upped our overall efficiency.”
Renecke smiled wistfully. “We spent many a meal seated in his chambers, poring through contracts negotiated by previous First Ministers of Liono. He and I renegotiated all of our old contracts. Extending the length, while lowering the price. The mag-rail was cheaper than transport ships, so the government was still turning a profit. It was during that time, that I first met Isaur and Chran.” Renecke paused, trying to regroup his thoughts.
“Anyway, not everything that Orvan Rono did made him popular. Certain important minerals needed for our pharmaceuticals were becoming too expensive. Part of the problem is that they are relatively rare. Orvan authorised more excavation in the southern hemisphere where there were known untapped deposits. But Orvan was smarter than most politicians. He knew that was only part of the problem. The thing that was really driving up the price of these minerals was the speculators.”
Arronanto frowned. Nervously, he glanced about him, to see if he was the only one confused. Thankfully only Dennethom nodded his head in understanding.
Seeing the blank looks on the faces of his students, Renecke waved a hand. “Basically, it just means a few very rich Arthemians were buying these minerals and driving the prices up for everyone. Orvan wanted to stop this from happening. So he introduced regulations that got rid of speculation entirely. And he was right, too. The prices fell and Liono prospered. But his actions had made a few very rich Arthemians quite upset. So, I believe, they took matters into their own hands, and schemed to bring about the downfall of First Minister Orvan Rono.”
The cousins gaped open-mouthed at their Mehar. This was highly irregular. Mehar Renecke was paid generously for services to the Boentu palace. Not to mention that there was no higher calling in the system than training the future leaders of Boentu. So what, precisely, did Mehar Renecke mean by “payment”?
Renecke gazed at his charges, amused at their expressions. “Do you realise that I have known you all for over ten cycles, and yet you have never once asked me how an Arthemian might end up as Mehar of the Boentu Palace?”
Arronanto squirmed uncomfortably. He had always wondered how Mehar Renecke had ended up in the Boentu system, but feared him too much to ask the question. Before he could address Renecke, Dennethom spoke, “Personally I have always felt that if my uncle appointed you the Mehar-At-Arms, then you must be as good a warrior as any Boentu. To question your past would be to question your skills as a warrior.”
Renecke suppressed a smile. From any of his other charges it would have seemed as though they were trying to suck up to him. Dennethom, he knew, spoke honestly. “I understand. However, now I believe it is time to speak with you of my past.” He eyed his charges once more, and then sat down on a mat in front of them. “As you know, Arthemians are not a warrior people. We tend to produce more scholars and healers. Although I have always enjoyed challenging my body, I was no different in that regard, though I wasn’t a healer or a scholar. Instead I worked for the government on a small planet called Liono.”
This time Renecke smiled, ever-so-slightly, as he noticed the raised eyebrows on the faces of his students. He could see them trying to picture him as a stiff, government official.
“I was the minister of trade. I reported directly to the First Minister of Liono. It’s also how I met the last leader of Boentu.”
Arjuna looked surprised.
“That’s right. I once worked with Chran. I even met your Grand Sire, Isaur.” He paused a moment, allowing the young warriors to take in that last bit of news. He had only met Isaur once, shortly before he died, but he knew this news would be enough to stir the hearts of his warriors.
“As you already know,” he continued, “the Arthemian government is very different to the Boentu System. They do not have just one ruler. Instead, Arthema has 14 elected ministers, representing the 14 system planets. Each minister is allowed to govern his planet according to his own conscience. Each minister has a vote in the Assembly on the space station Chi-Tra. The First Minister of Liono, when I lived there, was a person named Orvan Rono.”
As he spoke, the cousins observed a change in Renecke. No more was he the grouchy weapons mehar. The Boentu demeanour he had long ago adopted, seemed to fade away. Suddenly they could easily imagine him as an Arthemian scholar.