That night the township celebrated. The siblings had never been to any town events, deeming it safer to keep to themselves. But after what happened, they could hardly say no.
Arronanto watched the towns people drink and dance and laugh. Normally, after a battle like this, he would join in. He would want to embrace life again. But not today. During a lull in the celebrations he took Drapaudi out to get some air.
She gazed up at the deep, black sky studded with millions of stars, and sighed, leaning her head against his shoulder. “I actually thought this place might be home for us,” she whispered mournfully.
Arronanto held his wife close to him. She shivered in the cool breeze. “It was home,” he replied. “For a time.”
For a while they just sat there enjoying the cool breeze and fresh air. Finally, Drapaudi spoke again. “How soon does Dennethom wish to leave?”
“As soon as Xien’s repaired the Aluen’s shields,” Arronanto replied.
Drapaudi turned to her husband. “Must it be so soon?”
Arronanto nodded his head. “It’ll only be a few weeks before word of this victory spreads around the galaxy. If we’re lucky, it will be a moon after that when Lossepharr hears about everything that happened here and decides to investigate. By that time, we need to be far away.”
“Wouldn’t it look more suspicious if we fled?”
Arronanto lifted his wife’s chin with a finger and looked into her eyes. “We can’t stay here Drapaudi.”
Drapaudi’s downcast brown eyes met his own yellow ones and she sighed. “I know.”
The weeks passed once more. The tension between Arronanto and Dennethom had gone, though Dennethom continued to feel uncomfortable as his brother fussed over Drapaudi. It was probably a good thing Dennethom had set his jealousies aside as Arjuna’s scowl seemed to deepen as her pregnancy progressed. She was the opposite of the radiant mother Drapaudi had been. She wanted so desperately to be out hunting and laying traps. Even leaning over to clean her volt cannon had become a chore. Soon everyone was as ready as she for her to give birth.
When the pains first began, it took everyone by surprise. It was early morning and Arjuna writhed in bed. Yasana and Drapaudi got to work right away. Drapaudi sat with Arjuna while Yasana tried to feed her some broth.
“The broth will help,” Yasana coaxed. “It has spices to make the pains easier to bear.”
Arjuna gritted her teeth. “I am a Boentu warrior. I thrive on pain.”
Yasana smiled patiently. “You say that now, but trust me, there is no pain like that of giving birth.” She offered up another spoonful of the broth, and Arjuna, in a fit of rage, slapped the bowl out of her mother’s hand, sending it crashing to the floor, broth spilling everywhere.
Yasana gritted her teeth and called Arronanto in to help clean up the mess. Arronanto entered, carrying a bucket and water. He threw a weary glance at his sister.
“Why isn’t it out yet?”
“How quickly do you think babies arrive Arro? These things take time,” Yasana said with a frown. “You’ll see.”
Arjuna cried out, her body tense as pain exploded through her. In surprise, Arronanto sloshed water on the floor.
“Maybe we should get Arjuna to a doctor,” he said to Drapaudi, who sat quietly rubbing Arjuna shoulders and helping her to breathe through the pain.
“And say that a Boentu monk is with child?” Yasana snapped while she examined her daughter. “Remember, we’re trying to avoid attention.”
“I wish this child would hurry up and come out!” Arjuna screeched as paint took her once more.
“Soon, sister” Drapaudi said in a soothing voice.
It was true it was about time for Arjuna to push. The baby was coming. Yasana and Drapaudi stood with Arjuna urging her to push, while Arronanto and Dennethom nervously waited outside. Arjuna hated that Arronanto had been in there at all. She had expressly forbidden her brothers from being near her when she gave birth. She didn’t want them to see her like that, as just another Boentu female.
At each painful push, Arjuna snarled, her claws extending and then retracting as the pain subsided. Eventually, the labour was over.
“She’s ready for you to come in now,” Yasana said to her sons, as she wiped her hands on a cloth.
They pushed the door open to find their sister, still sweaty and exhausted, clutching a tiny baby. They started to turn away but she beckoned them inside.
“Her name is Nerita,” she whispered, staring as though in shock, at the tiny bundle.
“Her?” Dennethom replied uncertain.
“She’s a female,” Arjuna confirmed with a smile.
“Can I hold her?” Arronanto asked, his voice unsteady, and Arjuna already knew what he was thinking. In a few more moons he would be holding his own child, and they would grow up together, Arkaya, Nerita and whoever his child would be. They would grow up, just as the three of them had done.
Two days after the sandstorm, Dennethom returned to his family. He didn’t like to break his contract, and Nyal was sad to seem him go, but Dennethom knew he needed to stop being the fool, and be there for his kin.
He didn’t tell anyone that he was coming home. He decided to surprise them. He arrived to find Arkaya playing outside, supervised by a very pregnant Arjuna. She smiled when she saw her brother, offering him a quick salute, while Arkaya ran to greet his father.
Dennethom trembled as he held his son. He had been so foolish. Thinking that running away from his problems would be the answer.
Checking to find out what the excitement was about, Drapaudi stepped outside. She looked stunned to discover her husband standing there, but it was nothing to how Dennethom felt. His stomach jolted when he noticed the gentle bump of her belly. She carried Arronanto’s child.
He sensed Arjuna watching him carefully. He knew that pregnant or no, Arjuna would tackle him if he reacted the way he had before. But he wouldn’t. Not this time. With Arkaya clutching his hand, he walked across the yard to Drapaudi and hugged her.
“I’ve missed you all so much,” he whispered in her ear.
“And I’ve missed you my Love,” Drapaudi replied. “You came home early. I’m so glad. We feared you would want to stay longer.”
Dennethom shook his head. “I was a fool,” he said, and gently placed a hand on his wife’s stomach. “Forgive me.”
“Of course,” she replied, kissing him fervently.
Yasana and Xien stepped outside also, realising the commotion. Yasana grabbed her son and held him tight, crying. It was all Dennethom could do to extricate himself from his mother. He felt awful for what he had put them through.
“Where’s Arro,” he asked, turning to Arjuna.
“Out hunting,” Arjuna said, and then added with a smile. “Which means you probably shouldn’t expect a celebratory dinner.”
Dennethom arched an eyebrow. “You let him go hunting by himself?”
Arjuna grimaced. “Had to,” she replied, and gestured at her belly. “This one wouldn’t let me sleep much last night.”
Dennethom sat down next to his sister, lifting Arkaya onto his knee. His son was already walking!
“You’re so big now.”
Arjuna nodded. “I can’t believe I’m only going to get bigger.”
Dennethom gave his sister’s hand a squeeze. “I’ve missed you sister.”
“And I’ve missed you. Now don’t ever leave us again.”
“I won’t,” he promised.
The Arthemian bun had done a little to quell Drapaudi’s anger. She understood how upset Dennethom was that she was with Arronanto. For Arkaya’s sake she was ready to make peace.
Dinner that night began like usual. The morning’s fight was forgotten. Arronanto could never stay angry at his big brother. As Jora cleared out the dishes, Dennethom stood up. “I’d like to make an announcement.”
The family looked at him quizzically, but said nothing. “After my behaviour this morning, I’ve decided perhaps I need some space from the situation here.”
Arjuna sighed. She had been afraid of this.
“I have taken a position in a construction crew building a new township in the southern hemisphere.”
“For how long?” Arronanto asked, his voice tense.
“It’s a six moon contract.” He winced, knowing this would be the most upsetting part.
“That’s crazy. You’re needed here,” Arronanto replied.
Dennethom shrugged. “I must leave, Arro. Honestly, I don’t know how you handled me being with Drapaudi, but I’m not that strong.”
“But we need you,” said Arjuna. “You’re our leader.”
Dennethom shook his head. “I can’t be a good leader, I can’t make the decisions I need to make, while I’m distracted here.”
Drapaudi sighed. “I understand why you wish to leave. I do. But what about your son? What about Arkaya?”
Dennethom walked over to Arkaya and Drapaudi and hugged his son. “I don’t want to leave Arkaya. But you’re a good mother. You can take care of him. You’ll have Arro, and my mother, everybody here to help. For right now, I cannot be here. I don’t want to be the person who throws chairs across the room in a rage, right in front of my son. I need to heal myself.” He turned to his sister. “Arjuna, I promise it will only be six moons. No more. I will be here when the baby comes. And if there are any problems, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.”
Arjuna nodded her head. She felt her eyes welling up with tears and she turned to brush them away. Her big brother was leaving them.
In the days that followed, the structure actually did begin to look like home. When did that happen? Arjuna wondered to herself as she got up one morning. They had even developed a routine. Every day, they would go out and hunt the vermin put down by terraformers to clear up a noxious plant. They tasted surprisingly good. Later in the afternoon, Yasana and Xien, who had become quite handy in the kitchen, would prepare the meat. Jayta was better at eating than cooking, so he devoted himself to keeping the new housing structure operational.
Jayta visited the Aluen several times a moon to run maintenance checks. Arjuna suspected it helped remind Jayta of his calling as a pilot. Dennethom would accompany Jayta to the ship to check goings on in the Boentu System, at least, that’s what he told everyone. Arjuna believed he was simply trying to put as much distance between him and Arronanto and Drapaudi, who were now starting their cycle together. He found any excuse he could to leave the house, visiting the market any time they were short on supplies. It helped him get to know the neighbours. The other residents were obviously curious about the Boentu monks, but reserved, which was just fine for the siblings.
As Arjuna made her way into the housing structure’s dining room, she reflected on how at home she felt on Skora, wondering if her brothers felt the same way. As she stepped through the doorway she heard Dennethom’s voice. He sounded tense. Angry.
“I wish you wouldn’t keep treating him like a newborn cub, Drapaudi. How is he ever supposed to learn to be a warrior?”
“Arkaya has plenty of time to become a warrior,” Drapaudi replied, hugging her son to him.
Arjuna paused at the doorway, surveying the scene but saying nothing.
“This is so like you,” Dennethom ranted as he began pacing around the room. “You don’t know anything about our culture.”
“Come one, she’s trying,” Arronanto said, making the mistake of stepping in his brother’s way.
Suddenly, it was as though a beast had been unleashed. Dennethom’s eyes flashed angrily at his brother, as he picked up a chair and threw it across the room.
“We can’t afford to baby our children. We are the line of future leaders!”
Despite being pregnant and beginning to show, Arjuna shoved Dennethom out the door and followed him outside.
She watched as he stood breathing heavily. “You have to get a hold of yourself, Denne.”
“I cant’ help it,” Dennethom replied. “I just don’t like seeing her with him.”
Arjuna snarled in frustration. “This is what you both agreed to. How do you think it made Arro feel when you and Drapaudi were together?”
Dennethom bowed his head in shame. “I’m sorry,” he murmured.
“It’s not me you should be apologising to.”
Dennethom nodded in agreement. “I know. I need to go for a walk first to clear my head.”
Arjuna smiled and let him go. It was a chilly morning. He didn’t even have a jacket. But it was okay. Perhaps the cold air would do him some good, help freeze the jealous beast that seemed determined to take control of her brother.
Skora was a tiny rock, newly terraformed. It was not uncommon for new territories like these to play host to travelling monks, making the planet perfect for Dennethom’s purpose. They timed their arrival with a shuttle full of new colonists, hoping to make a fresh start. Dennethom had Xien hide the Aluen far away from the new township. The ship was too advanced and far too noticeable on a small planet like Skora. They would have to do without it, instead relying on the one ground transport aboard the Aluen, which they used to go into town and purchase a structure for their home.
“It doesn’t look like much, does it?” Arjuna remarked as she looked at the shiny metal structure. She’d been feeling queasy all day which of course put her in a foul mood.
“I can work with this,” Drapaudi said, surveying her surroundings. She out of all of them felt most enthusiastic to have a place she could call home.
Yasana appeared doubtful, but she allowed Drapaudi’s enthusiasm to cheer her up. “We could probably turn this back room into a meditation area and dojo.”
Arkaya was running around the building excitedly. Drapaudi scooped him up with a smile. “We should create a symbol for our order. Something we can hang up at the entrance to make it look more like a monastery.”
“Why? We’re not going to be having visitors,” Arjuna remarked, sitting down on the bare floor.
“No, Drapaudi’s right,” Dennethom agreed. “We don’t want to raise any eyebrows.”
Dennethom’s limbs flailed as he crashed back down onto the ground. This time he got a face full of dirt as he had lost his helmet during his upward ascension. As he hit the ground for a third time, he heard a loud snap. Pain shot through his left leg. Delirious, he marvelled at hearing the sound of his leg breaking amidst the creature’s shrieks and the wail of the wind, and some other noise he couldn’t make out. The creature didn’t pick him up again. Perhaps it thought he was dead. Dennethom lay still. Nothing. He raised his upper body only to be flattened yet again by an almighty tremor. Sand flew everywhere and for a moment he was blinded.
In a haze of pain Dennethom rolled over onto his back and opened his eyes. Much to his shock and relief he spotted the Aluen silently approaching. The bay door of the ship was open and Arjuna stood in the doorway, a full-size volt cannon heaved over her shoulder, looking down at the dead creature.
A smile played across Dennethom’s lips as he watched his sister casually toss the volt cannon aside, and leap the six feet between the Aluen and the ground. She hurried over to check on her big brother. Moments later, Arronanto followed carrying a medi-kit. In a haze of pain, Dennethom was hardly aware as his brother and sister checked his wounds, and carried him up the ramp of the Aluen.
He was drifting in and out, but he felt Drapaudi tightly clutching his hand as the pain medication took hold. When he awoke, Drapaudi remained by his side. He sensed the whir of the Aluen’s engines and knew they were back in space.
“What happened?” he whispered, his throat felt dry and scratchy.
“You broke your leg,” Drapaudi replied, admonishing him.
“Did we get the kreon?” he asked.
Drapaudi sighed. “Yes. Your brother and sister recovered the extraction device and filled the other one too. We’ve got enough fuel for a good half cycle.”
Dennethom smiled. “I could use some water,” he croaked.
Drapaudi scowled at him but obeyed, wordlessly handing him a small cup of liquid. Dennethom drained the cup before noticing the expression on her face.
“You could have died out there,” Drapaudi replied, her arms folded across her chest.
“You were worried,” Dennethom replied with a smile, but she still looked angry. “I’m fine. I didn’t die. And it needed to be done. We needed the fuel.”
“Why couldn’t Arjuna and Arro go? Or Xien? Or Jora? Why did it have to be you.”
She prefers me to Arro, Dennethom thought to himself. Aloud he said, “I’m the leader. If I don’t take the risks, who will?”
Drapaudi pulled away from him. “It’s not your risk to take anymore. You have a wife to think about. You have a child!”
Dennethom blinked, his ears twitching uncertainly. Surely he misheard. “I’m going to be a father?”
“Yes,” Drapaudi replied, tears springing to her eyes. “I would need to run tests to be certain, but I think so.”
Dennethom frowned. “I thought our two races couldn’t conceive without help from doctors.”
Drapaudi shrugged. “Well I don’t know what to tell you because I am absolutely positive I am pregnant.”
A broad grin spread across Dennethom’s face as he finally understood what Drapaudi was trying to tell him. “I’m going to be a father!”
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.”
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.