Chapter Eight: Youth

Three months prior


 

“Janil, you really need to put yourself out there more. You’re a smart boy. No… young man. You’ll be the perfect addition to someone’s yula.” My mother says to me. Ever since my birthday a few months ago, this topic has dominated seemingly every conversation. It comes up multiple times per day, every day.

When a Camfurdian male reaches physical maturity, he is expected to find his dominus. This person, most often a man, becomes almost all things to him. This person becomes family. This person is a teacher and mentor. Most often, they are lovers, as well. They will shape a young male, molding him to their needs, the needs of their yula, the needs of their community, and the needs of the society at large.

Outsiders don’t realize it, but it is as much of an internal drive as it is a societal expectation. Once we’ve reached maturity, we crave connection and companionship. It’s an overwhelming feeling that speaks to us, sometimes with a whisper, sometimes with a scream. It tells us that in order for us to survive, we must grow. We realize that we cannot continue to grow ourselves, and so we seek the guidance of others. Some feel it less intensely than others, but it is always there.

I feel the drive strongly, but I simply haven’t found the right person yet. I’ll be honest, I’m kind of scared to. I don’t know I’m ready for the responsibilities. It just seems like too much to deal with. I mean… I want to find him. Or her. No… it’ll be a man. I think that’s what I want. I just haven’t met someone who’s connected with me.

I want to, though. Desperately, I want to. Every young man around my age craves that connection, that guidance. It’s a rite of passage, even. When we kneel for the first time to our yarl or yaruel, we do so knowing that this is just the first step. It means that some day, we’ll have the knowledge and experience to take someone under our wing and pass on what we’ve learned.

I nod half-heartedly. The more my mother mentions it, the more I’m discouraged by it. “I know, Mama. You’ve… been saying that for months now. I’ll find someone, I promise. Do you need anything while I’m out?”

“No. Kelimn was going to go out with me later these evening. You go on and go, though. You need the time at the range.” She smirks. “I’m sure you can get better than me someday.” She laughs. She always enjoys teasing me about rather poor firearm skills. She, on the other hand, served with the Bekir – an elite group of women warriors. Women comprise only about one quarter of our population, so it tends to be rare for women to serve among the men in the military. The Bekir, however, are different. They discover their proficiency in combat at a young age, and they will practice their craft until they choose to settle down with a worthy man.

“I’ll be back later then.” I give a small nod to her as I walk out the door. Like most Camfurdian settlements, housing is handled in a very utilitarian manner. Entire families tend to share an entire housing unit. Larger ones may share two, but those families may have two women, multiple men, and children on top of it all. Ours is a small family now. For now, I live with my mother, Arahni, and her mate, Kelimn. Ever since my father, Kelimn’s second, died due to a heart problem, our home has been quiet. Borash, my father, was an arrogant one, but not without reason. He was considered to be one of the best marksmen around, an excellent scout, and even a remarkable cook. These traits caught Kelimn’s interest, as well as my mother’s. In spite of his reputation of being maybe a little too self-confident, he proudly submitted to his yaruel, Kelimn, and his yarl, my mother.

I look around outside with a smile. The sky is bright and clear. The air is crisp and cool. My family has only recently settled on this planet, but it’s a paradise. After years of living on ships and stations, being able to live on a planet like this is relaxing. Our minor skirmish with the planet’s natives, the Focuri, ended in their submission. Now, we occupy the planet alongside them.

The Focuri have adapted nicely to our lifestyle, though many of them still hold to their native religion. In time, this devotion will die out and they will understand our ways better. We were all pleased, and a little surprised, when a Focuri became a lesser to someone in just a matter of months. Still, a Focuri assimilating into our way of life kind of puts more pressure on me. It’s not that I’m not trying to find someone who might become my dominus, I simply haven’t felt that… spark that is needed.

I know I should be training at the range, but that’s the last thing that I want to do right now. It’s not the most traditional Camfurdian thing to do, but I’ve found that I enjoy people watching. There’s a certain amusement that comes with watching others, especially strangers.

It’s a bit of a climb, but one of my favorite places to watch the people below is in a damaged building that is yet to be refurbished on the south side of our town. The stairs and elevators were damaged, so you have to climb a fair bit to get to the top. The trickiest spot to navigate is a section of stairs around one particular corner. It’s too far to jump straight across, and too high as well, but with a careful rebound off the corner, I can make the leap.

I take a deep breath and jump into the corner, planting my left leg and hand against it, then push off as hard as I can. Stumbling, I fall face down against the stairs, barely catching myself with my hands. The rest of the climb up is easy.

When I make it to the top of the building, I look out onto the town below. From up here, you can see pretty much the entire town, including where we established our base. Looking past the town, however, is a long series of rolling hills. Shades of green and blue color the landscape, making it look almost like a work of art.

The town is about seventy percent Camfurdian now. The Focuri who willingly submitted to us were allowed to stay in their old homes. Most of the rest of them were rounded up and sent to a camp in the south. Over time, they’ll each be… rehabilitated… and will eventually reintegrate into the rest of society. With the war with the Focuri settled, the rest of our forces can focus on the war with the Groyin.

I’ll admit, I don’t know much about the Groyin. The reports have just said they’re a hive minded insectoid race that possesses technology that is centuries behind ours. I’ve… never faced a true enemy in battle, but from what I’ve heard, the bugs are fierce combatants.

A few days ago, the spaceport was abuzz with new arrivals. One of the primary vessels leading the assault on the Groyin docked here for a brief resupply and even briefer furlough. Watching the ship fly in was a spectacular sight from this vantage point. I stretch out on the bedroll that I left up here a while back.

Looking nearly straight down, I can see the bazaar. Focuri farmers are trading what few crops weren’t destroyed in the short war. Crafters of all sorts are bartering with others for goods and services. In just a short time, we’ve eliminated all forms of currency on the planet. Instead, individuals deal in goods and services rather than scraps of paper and shiny coins. The basic needs of every Focuri are met without question. They’re provided with food, water, medicine, shelter and clothing. Anything beyond that, they can handle through bartering.

This is the first time I’ve seen a people submit to us. I’ve read about almost a dozen encounters with other species. Some submitted peacefully, realizing that struggling was futile. Others fought and quickly realized the error of their decision. In the end, every race we have encountered has either submitted to us or has entered into a treaty with us. The Focuri were just the most recent to give in to us. I’ll admit, it’s… thrilling to know that my kind is feared and respected by these locals.

Eventually, I close my eyes. It’s an awkward place to nap, obviously. Still, it’s quiet up here.

I’m jarred awake by approaching footsteps a while later. To my surprise, it’s a Camfurdian… an adult.

The tall man grins down at me, his black hair blowing in the wind. “I saw someone prowling around up here and decided I’d check it out. Who are you? Who’s your dominus, boy?”

I study the man’s tattoos and realize that I don’t recognize his family tattoos, either for his biological family or for his chosen family. I can tell that he is second to someone, though.

“I… uh… do not have a yarl or yaruel, sir. I am Janil, son of Alim Arahni and her lesser, Borash.” I work my way up to my knees, but lower my head humbly, my eyes cast at his feet.

“Arahni? Formerly of the Bekir? Quite the pedigree you have then.” He seems amused by the prospect. “Stand up, boy. You’ve no reason to kneel to me.”

“I… do so out of respect, sir.” Still, I follow his request and stand. “I didn’t recognize your markings, so I assume you’re a part of the force that came yesterday. Anyone who has been fighting on the frontier is deserving of the utmost respect.” Still, I avert my eyes and keep my head lowered.

Out of the corner of one of my tertiary eyes, I can see him nodding. “Yes. My yarl, Alim Elikel, is the one leading the charge. We’ve come here to resupply and to take a couple of days to rest. So far, casualties are few, and we’ve taken over three of their outposts.”

“I’m glad things are going well, sir.” I smile, but I make sure to keep my head down.

He chuckles and I feel his hand on my left arm. “Look at me, boy.”

I raise my head and make eye contact, and my heart skips a beat. “Y-yes, sir?”

He moves his hand up my shoulder and brushes my hair out of the way to reveal the rest of my cha’nqua, my family tattoos. He smiles as he analyzes them. “I recognize part of your father’s line, I believe. He is kin to Alim Shirec, is he not? A cousin perhaps?”

“Yes, sir. Alim Shirec is a distant cousin. D…did you know my father?” I ask nervously. I… miss my father dearly. Kelimn is a nice man and has served as a father figure at times, but we never really connected. I’ve always thought that it was because we both wanted each other to be something, or someone, that we simply were not.

“No, I didn’t. I served alongside Alim Shirec, however. Hard to believe that’s been twenty-five years.” He pauses for a second and I instinctively avert my gaze again. He laughs. “Relax, boy. I’m not going to bite. You aren’t in any trouble, as far as I know. I mean, I can help you get into some trouble if you’d like. At least then you’d have a reason to justify that whipped look you’ve had.”

I feel my face redden with embarrassment from his teasing… but I can’t help but to smile. “No, sir, that’s alright. I just came up here to enjoy the view for a while. I nodded off for a little bit. Didn’t mean to.”

“I saw you looking down. I haven’t been here before, so I was taking in the sights. I looked up at this battered building, wondering what it used to be, and was stunned when I saw someone looking down from the top of it. As little as you are, I’m surprised you were able to make that jump up those busted stairs back there. I had a hard time with them, even.” He chuckles softly.

I shake my head and make eye contact again. “I just used the corner for leverage. And no offense, sir, I’m not much shorter than you.” Anxiously, I manage to smile. Finally, I study the man’s face.

He’s fairly young, I’d guess. Camfurdian lifespans are around four hundred years. I’m willing to guess he’s around a hundred, maybe more. His face is free from any scars or gashes, which tells me he’s likely a sniper or some other sort of long distance combatant. His eyes are relaxed, inviting even. He smiles as he finally sees me smile. “Son of one of the Bekir, curious and athletic enough to scale up to here, and tremendously respectful? I’m shocked that you’ve not found your dominus.”

Gently, I shake my head and close my eyes. “No, I just haven’t… connected with anyone yet. Not enough that it felt right to devote myself to them. Sir? I just realized that I don’t know your name.”

I open my eyes and look at him. His grins playfully. “That’s because I haven’t told you yet, of course. My name is Kalarai. I mentioned him earlier, but I am Alim Elikel’s second, and yula-brother to Monrenth.”

“Pleased to meet you, sir.” I lower my head again.

There’s something about him… I don’t know what it is, but it makes my heart flutter. I feel my throat tightening from the anxiousness, but I swallow it down.

“Maybe I should introduce you to my yarl. Being the child of a war hero yourself, you might enjoy his company.” He grins. “Perhaps your family and my yula could get together for dinner tonight. It would be wonderful to share a meal with a Bekir.”

“I’d… need to ask my mother, but I think she’d be agreeable.” He nods to me and I can tell it’s an elder’s permission to use telepathy. I close my eyes and picture my mother.

Mother?

Janil… I certainly hope you have a reason to be speaking to me like this.

Yes, Mother. I have permission from Alimari Kalarai, second to Alim Elikel.

What do you need, son?

Kalarai would like to arrange for dinner tonight with me, you, and Kelimn. Kalarai would be with his yula, Alim Elikel, and his brother, Alimari Monrenth.

And just how did this come to be? I know of Alim Elikel, but I have never met him.

I met Kalarai a short time ago. We… I pause for a moment to gather my thoughts, anxiously. We’ve been talking, and of course, family came up. He wanted me to find out if you were interested.

Very well then, Janil. Now get back to the range. You still need the practice.

Ah, yes. Yes, I do. I’ll see you tonight.

My face reddens again as I realize I’d completely blown off what I was supposed to do. The man in front of me smirks when he sees the sheepish look on my face. “What is it?” Kalarai asks with a chuckle.

“Ah… she said yes, your yula is welcome to have dinner with us tonight.” I look away, hoping to hide the other reason for my embarrassment.

“And? There’s clearly something else. You got this look of “oh, shit” right near the end of your conversation with her.” He crosses his arms, grinning.

Looking down, I mumble, “Ah… it’s nothing. I… sorta… accidentally blew off my range practice…” I pause just a moment, “…again.”

He laughs loudly. “Again? Well, I’m sure you’re a natural, anyway. It’s in your blood.”

“I wish.” I say with a scoff. “I hate admitting it, but I’m an awful shot.”

Kalarai grins. “How about this, then? The two of us go to the range together. I’ll give you some pointers, help you out a little. Impress me, and I’ll conveniently forget to tell your mother that you shirked your responsibilities. Sound like a plan?” His grin turns into a warm, inviting smile as he offers his hand to me.

“I…” I can tell my face is even redder than before now. Is… he… really trying to spend time with me? I nod and put my hand in his. He gives my hand a firm squeeze before releasing it. I smile and nod again. “I’d like that, sir.”

 

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