Chapter Four: Surrender
Arjuna, Dennethom and Arronanto stood, cramped in the stone atrium. Arronanto quietly munched on some kind of fried food as they waited for Mehar Renecke to finish his speech. Arjuna shifted uncomfortably. She didn’t much care for the smell of Arronanto’s dinner.
Dennethom had suggested they keep out of sight. He didn’t want the newsies picking up images of Boentu warriors walking around. It was bad enough Renecke insisted on wearing the clothing of a Boentu Mehar. Dennethom hated giving the image of the Boentu invading and then putting their own people in charge. Even Jana had voiced concerns about the new arrangement. Although Dennethom suspected she would have much preferred if no one were Prime Minister.
“So how is this going to work exactly?” Arronanto asked, as he licked his greasy fingers.
“The Mehar is staying behind for right now, to get acquainted with politics on Liono,” Dennethom began.
“Which will also be a good time to get reacquainted with his son,” Arjuna pointed out. “I still can’t believe he has offspring!”
Dennethom chuckled. “I know what you mean. Anyway, he’ll primarily be based on Boentu, but, as we’ve completed the bulk of our training, he will also be spending a good part of the cycle here in the Arthema System.”
“I’m not actually clear what the Prime Minister does,” Arronanto confessed.
“It depends,” Dennethom replied. “Under Rashdin Carva, it was a move to keep hold of power. Under Mehar Renecke, I think he is more interested in providing balance. Make sure the good of the people is put first. No more political nonsense like what happened to Orvan Rono. At least, that’s what he said when he had me rehearse his speech with him.”
“He’s rather a good orator,” Arjuna commented.
“I guess all that yelling at us helped train his voice,” Arronanto said with a smirk. He took another piece of the fried food and popped it in his mouth. “You should try some of this, Arjuna. You haven’t eaten anything all evening.”
Arjuna wrinkled her nose in disgust. “No thanks. I’d rather just wait until we get back to the ship. I can’t wait to get home and have some real food,” she confessed, emphasising the word “real”.
“Guess you should’ve taken a seat on Lossepharr’s ship,” Dennethom said, and then jerked away as his sister landed a punch on his arm.
“No thank you! Anyway, the Arthema System is nice and all but…. I never thought I would miss home.”
“I don’t know,” Arronanto said, a faraway look in his eye. Arjuna and Dennethom both followed his gaze to the slight figure of Drapaudi, who happened to be walking by. “There are some things about the Arthema System I am going to miss.”
“Hmm,” Dennethom agreed.
Arjuna hissed as she felt strong arms pull her away from Drasden. Arronanto and Dennethom both had hold of her. She scowled at them, but she knew they were right. It wouldn’t do anyone any good if she were to injure Drasden, no matter how much he may have been asking for it.
Glancing about, she was surprised to see Drapaudi standing there too. But instead of helping her brother up, Drapaudi was yelling at him to go back inside. Pale, visibly shaken from the encounter, Drasden obeyed, but not before glancing back at the Boentu siblings and giving them a look that said “this isn’t over.”
“Well that was fun!” Arronanto remarked dryly as he and Dennethom bent to retrieve the fallen table.
“War is not meant to be fun, Arro. We attacked his homeworld. He has every right to be angry.”
“Give me the battlefield any day,” Arjuna muttered as she sat down.
Drapaudi bent to pick up the fallen cups and empty jug of wine.
“Let me help you,” Arronanto said gallantly.
“Thank you,” she replied, in a small, shy voice.
“I am sorry for what just happened,” Dennethom added, with a wary glance at his sister. Arjuna scowled back at him.
“No. I should apologise,” Drapaudi replied. “Drasden’s behaviour is inexcusable. He’s not been himself since…” her voice trailed off.
“No need to apologise,” Dennethom said with a tired shrug. Arronanto’s head bobbed up and down in agreement.
Still, Drapaudi seemed unsure and looked to Arjuna, who inwardly sighed. “It really isn’t a problem. I would probably act the same way if I were in his place,” she said.
“Let me get you some more wine,” Drapaudi said with some relief.
“I am afraid that may have to wait a spell,” Dennethom replied. “We have work to discuss.”
Arjuna noted Arronanto’s crestfallen expression. She wondered if Dennethom knew how his brother felt about Drapaudi.
“I shall leave you to it,” Drapaudi said and hurried back inside, though not without a backward glance at the siblings.
When she was gone, Dennethom sat down with his brother and sister.
“I just received word from Mehar Renecke. Orvan Rono has declined the position of Prime Minister.”
“So who will take over Rashdin Carva’s position?” Arjuna asked.
“Our own Mehar,” Dennethom replied.
Drapaudi smiled shyly at each of them in turn. It was a sweet smile and Arjuna’s brothers responded in kind. “Would you like me to have some more sweet wine brought to you?” she asked.
The siblings had decided to join Drapaudi down in the garden. They were seated around a small table, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air.
“That would be splendid,” Dennethom replied. Just then his comm link chimed forcing him to step away.
“You know, perhaps later, you can show me around this marvellous city of yours,” Arronanto was saying to Drapaudi, giving her his most winning smile.
“Should you wish to see the sights, I would be honoured to accompany you,” she replied.
Arjuna rolled her eyes and suppressed a chuckle. She couldn’t blame her brother for trying so hard. The more time she spent in Drapaudi’s company, the more captivating she became.
“Drapaudi,” came the stern voice of her brother, Drasden. “You are wanted inside.”
Drapaudi got to her feet, looking startled, her eyes downcast as she hurried inside the residence. Without waiting for an invitation, Drasden took her vacated seat and poured himself the last of the sweet wine, draining his cup quickly.
Arronanto eyed Drasden warily. He saw his little sister sizing the Arthemian up. He glanced about for Dennethom, but his brother was standing amongst a clump of trees, still talking on his comm link.
“My sister is very beautiful, is she not?” Drasden asked.
Arjuna replied before Arronanto could respond. “Yes. She is indeed beautiful. She must have many suitors.”
“She does,” said Drasden. Then after a moment, he added. “She is not for sale.”
“Excuse me?” Arronanto asked with some surprise.
“Don’t think I don’t know about the ways of you Boentu,” Drasden replied, glaring a challenge at Arronanto. “You come here, you remove my grandfather from power. You think you can take what you want. But I won’t let you take my sister.”
“Nobody is wanting to take your sister anywhere,” Arronanto began.
“I see the way you look at her. You and that brother of yours. Do you think I will allow you to defile my sister? Have her offspring be some kind of half-breed?”
“That’s it,” Arjuna replied with a snarl, pulling out a kentarr concealed in her sleeve.
Drasden leaped to his feet, hitting out at her to knock the tiny dagger from her hand, but she blocked the blow with ease. Arronanto tried to make a grab for his sister but she was too quick. Already Arjuna was upon Drasden, her dagger pressed against his throat.
Orvan Rono couldn’t take his eyes off his old friend. Decked out in the regalia of a Boentu Mehar, Renecke looked nothing like Rono remembered. Despite his formal uniform, Renecke seemed nervous; anxious to please. Unsure of himself.
Rono glanced about his house. What must his old friend think of him? When once he had resided in the First Minister’s residence on Liono, now he lived in no such formal housing. He was now a member of the council in a small port town on Vola. He made a modest income, enough to live a comfortable existence, but nothing like the extravagances of First Minister.
Then again, Renecke was barely recognizable himself. He must have gone through many cycles living in unimaginable conditions before he gained his position at Boentu Palace. Boentu Palace! Who would have thought that’s where Tonor Renecke would end up.
He knew his friend left the Arthemian system many cycles ago, but Orvan Rono had spent so much time building a new life on Vola, he had never bothered to track down Renecke. He felt guilty now. After all these cycles, Renecke had never given up the fight to clear their names.
When Renecke was done speaking, Orvan Rono waited, carefully choosing his words. He felt so much joy at being able to return to Liono. For a while Rono had dreamed nightly of such a situation, but those dreams had long passed.
“Tonor, my friend, you honour me. Everything you did. Everything you went through. You humble me.”
Renecke’s mouth twitched into a wry smile. “But?”
“But I cannot. You know I cannot return to the First Minister’s residence on Liono. Too much time has passed. Too many people turned their backs on me. Do you think I can return to that life? Shake hands with the sycophants that couldn’t even remember my name ten cycles ago?”
Renecke didn’t respond. He just sat there, his eyes downcast. He knew that his friend spoke truly. He too had felt the simmering anger as he met old acquaintances on Liono. Yet, he still felt the shroud of disappointment.
“You have given me a gift, Tonor. I can visit my home. I can lay eyes on the planet I was born on. You did a good thing. You did a noble thing. I will never forget it. I just cannot return to that life.”
“Perhaps I should order Carva to dissolve the title of Prime Minister. It is what the Assembly wants anyway.”
Orvan snorted. “The Assembly. More sycophants! No. I think, at least for the present time, Liono needs a Prime Minister. They need a leader who is not corrupt like the Carva family.”
Arjuna leaned back against the railing looking out over the green foliage of the First Minister’s garden. Liono seemed greener than back home. She liked it. Although she wished the temperature was a little warmer. Arronanto let out a sigh. Arjuna cast a sideways glance at her brother. He gazed straight down at something directly below. It didn’t take much for Arjuna to figure it out. Drapaudi, Rashdu Carva’s only daughter, sat curled in a chair with a book, reading. She played with her long dark locks as she read.
Arjuna couldn’t help smirking. Ever since they had arrived, Arronanto had been making eyes at her. Dennethom too seemed to have fallen in love with her. Arjuna supposed Drapaudi was pretty enough, for an Arthemian. In truth, it amazed her that her brothers would be so attracted to her. She was tall, at least for someone from the Arthema system, but still at least a head shorter than the average Boentu woman. Also, her arms were too skinny. They were like twigs. She didn’t look like she had lifted weights a day in her life.
“At some point you’ll actually have to speak to her,” Arjuna remarked.
“I already have spoken to her,” Arronanto asserted.
“Oh?” she replied, trying to keep a straight face.
“She’s nothing like her father and grandfather you know. She seems genuinely ashamed of what her family did to Mehar Renecke.”
“Yes, well, let’s hope she’s not like her brother, either,” said Arjuna. She didn’t like Drapaudi’s brother. He was arrogant and furious at Dennethom. She suspected he would hold a grudge against their family for many cycles.
“You know Dennethom likes her too,” she added.
“I know,” Arronanto muttered.
Arjuna gazed down at Drapaud, trying to imagine either one of her brothers with the young Arthemian female. She couldn’t. “I suppose you could duel for her.”
Arronanto grinned. “As long as it’s hand-to-hand; I could take him.”
“Take who?” Dennethom asked mildly as he stepped out on the balcony to join his siblings.
“Nevermind,” Arjuna replied. “How are negotiations?”
Dennethom sighed. “Difficult. Mehar Renecke insists on getting in a verbal jab whenever he can. Thankfully the First Minister seems eager to make reparations.”
“I’m sure he just wants us off his planet,” Arronanto chuckled.
“Probably,” Dennethom replied with a wan smile. “He wants to name Orvan Rono as Prime Minister.”
“So there’s still going to be a Prime Minister?” Arjuna asked with a raised eyebrow.
“He’s eager to make reparations, but he still plans to hold on to the power he has,” Dennethom replied. “All we have to do is locate Orvan Rono. It seems his family moved around a bit, so it may take some time.” His voice trailed off as he noticed Drapaudi seated below them, still curled up reading.
Arjuna had the distinct impression that the Arthemian knew she was being watched. Tutting in disgust, she left her brothers to their fantasies.
“I have searched my father’s files and it seems there is some sort of discrepancy regarding your position and that of the former Fist Minister,” said Rashdu Carva.
Renecke snorted in disgust. He sat in his chair, leaning back, his whole demeanour making clear a refusal to acknowledge Rashdu Carva with the proper formality of his position.
Carva, for his part, ignored the angry Mehar and continued. “I want you to understand I had no idea what my father did to you and your family.”
Even Dennethom didn’t entirely believe Carva. The First Minister helped his father get elected. It was unlikely he was in the dark regarding his father’s dubious dealings. Still, Dennethom was willing to let it go.
“Because of this gross injustice, I want to install Orvan Rono as Prime Minister of Liono.” Carva turned to acknowledge Renecke. “And of course make financial reparations to you both.”
“Are you quite certain this is an offer you have the power to make?” Renecke asked, his tone filled with menace.
Dennethom took a deep breath. Knowing Renecke’s history with the Carva family, he hadn’t even wanted his Mehar to be there. However, this wasn’t a Boentu matter, and he needed someone to represent the people of Liono. Since they were still attempting to locate Orvan Rono, the old Mehar was their only hope.
“Mehar Renecke, may I speak with you privately for a moment?”
The old Arthemian warrior raised a bemused eyebrow, but nodded his head in acquiescence. The two rose, Dennethom apologised to the First Minister, and strode out of the room.
Closing the door behind him, Dennethom’s heart raced. He felt almost as nervous as he had during the battle just a few days earlier. “Mehar, I brought you in here to re-establish order on Liono. But I will be honest, I cannot do that if-”
“-if you truly wish to re-establish order on Liono, then you must remove the Carva’s from this residence,” Renecke interrupted, his gaze steely.
Dennethom’s heart sank. He hadn’t wanted to go to war with Liono in the first place, but he had done it, for the sake of his Mehar. Up until now he hoped, truly believed, that once Rashdin Carva surrendered, the Mehar would let go of his old animosities. Such was not the case. Ever since Renecke arrived on Liono one day earlier, it was as though Dennethom were watching a different person, one consumed by rage.
“We cannot remove Rashdu Carva from office,” he replied. “He is a democratically elected leader. The Boentu cannot just invade systems and put who they want in power.”
Renecke’s hands clenched, and he had to take a deep breath before responding. “I visited my wife yesterday. She has someone else now, as I told you. I saw my son who I have not seen for many cycles. He is now almost an adult and will be going to university next year. Do you understand how much time I lost because of that family?”