Chapter Three: Respite

Our once daily meals are always a time of camaraderie. Being cut off as we are, it is one of the few luxuries we have. Aboard our ships and our settlements, mealtime is considered one of the most important social gatherings – we honor that tradition now. It is a time where all of our families come together. Any feuds or arguments are set aside. In the field as we are, we are one family, one yula.

We gather in circles, two or three yula in each circle. The eldest Alim in each circle leads that circle in a prayer to Tanril.

Ah… Tanril. Words cannot express how much I long for the day we build a temple to Tanril on this moon and on the planet below. It is in these hallowed temples that we formally dedicate our lives to our people. Each Camfurdian devotes themselves to Tanril, our only Goddess. She is not a deity in the traditional sense. No. She is a paragon of our kind, the embodiment of what it means to be Camfurdian. She was a conquerer of worlds in the Old Time, a fearless leader like no other. At one time, all Camfurdians were united with her as our Yarl. We honor her still to this day, hoping that someday one of us can rise to her stature. We don’t seek to do this out of some primitive desire to war with our brothers, not at all. A true leader would never turn their weapon on their brother without just cause. Instead, a true leader seeks to unite, and whoever would be the next Tanril would ascend to to their godhood by uniting all Camfurdians in their yula.

I look around the small circle with a smile. Kalarai is to my left, Monrenth to my right, and young Janil is next to Monrenth this time, not his dominus. Alim Rusel is across from me with his seconds, Lakei, Sirune, and Oghalm. Rusel’s lessers, Thenalem and Inciim, are beside Lakei, their dominus. Two yula, ten men, but here now as one family.

Rusel looks at me with a warm smile. He motions toward me and gives a yielding nod to me. “After you, Alim Elikel.”

I nod and offer my hands to my seconds. Within a few moments, the circle has locked hands. We all close our eyes. “Today was an easy victory. Our enemy was defeated in short order, and only a few were wounded. May swift recovery come to those wounded, and may swift deaths come to those who caused those wounds. Rusel, you are my brother this evening. May we guide our yula true. Lakei, Monrenth, Oghalm, Sirune, Kalarai – you are brothers. Know that your yarls watch over you as you guide yours. Thenalem, Janil, Inciim – you are brothers. Your yaruels guide your way as your yarls guide theirs. As Tanril guided all of our kind, one yula, one coterie, one family, we unite together for this meal.”

I feel Monrenth, my younger second, squeezing my hand. I smile and open my eyes. “Let us eat.”

———————

Our meal comes and goes all too quickly. Still, any chance to spend a meal with family is a joyous one. Now, for those of us not on guard duty tonight, it is time to rest. Monrenth, Kalarai, Janil, and I begin preparing a pair of sleeping mats and sheets. When we are finished, Janil lays down next to Kalarai. I watch with a smile as my second wraps his arms around the young man. It has been a long day, and tomorrow could feel even longer, so it warms my heart to see them making the most of the situation.

I lay next to Monrenth. He’d been out in a scouting mission during the day and had missed the excitement. Fortunately, he was unhurt. It doesn’t take him long to drift off to sleep. A soft snore rattles in his throat and I have to smile. The poor man is exhausted. I hold on to him just a little tighter, my head laying on his shoulder and chest an arm draped over him. More often than not, I am the one holding my wife or my seconds in this way. Still, it is comforting to be able to relax in such a manner. There are only a few people in my life that I feel comfortable completely letting go around; Monrenth has always been one of them.

Monrenth offered himself to me when his first died. A damaged shuttle crashed on re-entry and the entire complement of the ship was killed – including Monrenth’s first, Gilhyin, and the rest of his yula. In a moment, he went from the eldest second to his yarl, with five other seconds at his side, to being alone. I knew his yarl well. Gilhyin had been a fine commander, a fine Alim in his own right. What happened was a freak accident, one that Monrenth did not deserve.

I did not know the man well, but I knew he had to be of good character given how Gilhyin had been. I did not hesitate to offer him a chance at my side. The offer was made not out of pity, but out of respect for his first. Monrenth accepted. He knelt to me and we’ve spent the thirty years since evolving our friendship. It is rare that I feel the need to just let go, yet when I do, I let go falling into his arms. Perhaps in a different life, I might have been his second instead.

My eyes close and I try to simply relax, taking time to focus on the moment. I focus on what I feel, what I hear – his skin against mine, rising and falling as he takes small breaths in his sleep. Eventually, I drift off to sleep.

The ground rumbles and the watchmen scream, the combination rudely awakening even the soundest of sleepers among us. I’m not sure how long I’d been asleep, but frantically, all of us are trying to get our bearings.

The Groyin are attacking once more… and this time, they may have the upper hand.

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