Together, Kalarai and I spend just over an hour at the range. During this short time, I see how gentle and patient he is. In spite of this demeanor, he still commands authority. His confidence is… intoxicating.
I put the rifle down for the last time and begin gathering supplies to clean both of our weapons.
He looks at me, grinning. “Damn though, you weren’t kidding about being a had shot. You are awful. I think you might’ve managed to hit the other guy’s target more than your own until we switched you to a lighter rifle.” Kalarai laughs heartily and pats me on the arm. “You were getting better though. Give me time, Janil. I think I can make a decent shot out of you yet.”
“Time? I thought you were only going to be here a short while. Restock and respite?” My tone is a mix of curiosity and disappointment. We’ve only spent a few short hours together, but I’m really enjoying the time with him.
For once, Kalarai is the one looking a little sheepish.
“Yes, sir?” I look at him anxiously.
“You’re right. I’ll only be here a short while. Another day or two at most. I… would like to spend more of it with you. There’s something about you, Janil.” His embarrassment quickly fades and a grin slips on his face. “Maybe it’s all the ’sirs’ and your quiet submissiveness, but I’d be doing a disservice to both of us if I didn’t acknowledge this. You’ve been stirring something in me. Something deep, primal, instinctual. I like it, Janil. I like you.”
I begin to blush. “You… do?”
“Come, let’s finish cleaning these rifles. Then we can talk some more. We still have a little time before dinner.” He flashes me a warm smile that tells me that he was serious.
“Yes, sir.” I nod submissively and begin to disassemble my rifle. The simple design of our rifles allow them to be broken down into a handful of easily maintained pieces. While I might not be the best shot, I’m quite good at field stripping and maintaining the guns.
He watches me carefully and I can tell he’s wanting to evaluate this part of my skill set. Seeing a chance to impress him, I keep a fast, steady pace while I work. When I’ve finished the basic cleaning of my rifle he gives an approving nod.
“Impressive. Faster than I can do that, to be honest.” Kalarai grins.
“Thank you, sir.” The compliment makes me smile. I reach out for his rifle. “May I?”
He studies my face curiously and nods after a moment. I can’t help but to wonder what’s going through his mind. He gives another firm nod. “Of course, Janil.”
He watches on still as I clean his rifle, a heavier, more complex rifle. Still, Camfurdian weapon design has evolved to keep similar enough construction, so I have no issue taking care of the weapon.
When the weapons are finished, we turn them into the range’s quartermaster and begin heading back toward the housing units, weaving through the various back streets and alleys.
He turns back to me and smiles as he stops suddenly. The long alley is empty except for the two of us. “You know, a man could get spoiled by your servitude, Janil. Like I said earlier, there’s something about you that just… makes me wonder. Part of me has been wondering what my yula’s marks would look like on you. Tell me, boy… what do you think? Have you been thinking about this sort of thing, too?”
I nod, smiling. “It’s been on my mind a lot over these past few hours, but it’s probably far too soon to act on anything, I think. It’s… been stirring in me, too, sir. There’s a part of me that wants to throw myself at your feet.”
“Young Janil…” Kalarai reaches out and touches my cheek, sending a rush of anxious pleasure through me. “It probably isn’t meant to be, at least not yet. This battle with the Groyin is really only just starting, and a war zone is no place for a boy your age, even if you’d be protected.”
I stammer, unable to come up with words. My mind races and I don’t know what to say or do. The fact that he’s actually considering me… is overwhelming. He barely knows me, yet he’s already showing that he’s protective of me. He… wants to take care of me.
All I can do right now is lean into his touch. “It… probably is far too soon, sir, but I… didn’t expect to trust you like I seem to.”
“It’s like Tanril herself guided me to you. It reminds me of how I felt when I met Elikel.” His face reddens as he smiles.
“Tell me about your yarl?” I ask with a smile.
Kalarai finally pulls his hand back. “He is a calm, steady man. Kind, caring, devoted. As much as me and Monrenth serve him, he serves us. He takes care of us and always keeps a steady hand. In battle, he’s like no other. He has a keen strategic mind and always seems to have an advantage. In quiet moments, he’s warm, loving. I’m so proud to be his second and I always said that I wanted to be the kind of dominus that he is someday.”
He pauses for a moment as he looks down at his hand, clearly contemplating the earlier touch.
“I think from what I’ve seen of you today, you’ll fit that mold nicely, sir. Alim Elikel seems a fine man.”
He nods. “He is. You’ll meet him soon enough. Janil… is there truly nobody else that you’re considering? You said you hadn’t connected with anyone, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone you’re interested in.”
“No, sir. At this point… you’re the only man I’m… actually considering. I… hadn’t thought that I’d be considering someone so quickly, but like you said… it’s kind of like Tanril herself brought us together. How’d you and Alim Elikel meet?” I look down, nervously. This is all happening far faster than I’d ever imagined.
Is this how this is supposed to go? I’ve been told all my life how important it is for someone to find a dominus once they are physically mature. Yet, for all the emphasis, there has rarely been talks about how to find the right person. We are a very social people, driven by our hierarchy, but it’s still something we have to learn and adapt to.
Kalarai smiles warmly as he leans against the wall of a building in this alleyway. “By accident. I was about your age and I was still hoping to find the right person. So, I caroused, hoping that I’d find some warrior trying to take the edge off in the bar. Instead… I got a little too drunk and got into a fight with Alim Dyleri.”
I can’t help but to laugh. “Dyleri? Butcher of Eltron Dyleri? That man is a legend in battle!”
“Of course he is. After my third or fourth drink, I made some sort of comment about how I didn’t think the Battle of Eltron was really all that impressive. Yes, they say he killed fifty, but they were in a heavily fortified position. Anyone could have. Well, one of his many seconds heard my comment, and you can guess how well that went.”
I shake my head, still chuckling. “You, just a kid running your mouth. Oh, I’m sure this went well. You’re lucky he didn’t have you flayed.”
Kalarai smirks and nods. “So, I’m saying how a good sniper could have taken out even more of the enemy at Eltron, how any idiot with a fully automatic weapon could have mowed down fifty there. Dyleri hears me still running my mouth and confronts me. Of course, he starts in on how a child my age should have respect for authority and that I needed to learn my place.”
He shakes his head as he grins. “Then he threatens to invoke alimasra. Now, the last thing that I wanted at the time was to be second to anyone. I was intent on showing the world that I would be the next Tanril. I sure didn’t want to be forced into being someone’s lesser.”
That is something that certainly worries me. Once a male is of age, he is given a year to either swear himself to another or to have someone else become his second. After that time, he is subject to alimasra, or honor bonding. An Alim or Alimari may invoke the rite of alimasra to attempt to forcibly claim a young man as their lesser. The young man is then given a day to contemplate his future. This rite can also be invoked for matters of honor when dealing with a man without a dominus or without lessers.
The young man is presented with a few ways of continuing. He may choose to submit to the invoking Alim or Alimari. This is not uncommon.
If the young man objects to the person’s claim, he may fight it. The first option is quite literal. The young man can challenge the one invoking. These fights are to submission. Should the person invoking lose, they may never invoke again, and they will bear a mark forever showing this failure.
Lastly, the young man may seek to petition others to counter the claim. If three Alim or Alimari choose to vouch for the young man, the claim is withdrawn.
Needless to say, invoking alimasra is a very serious threat. Still, it has been a long-standing tradition, and most yulas formed or added to in this way do result in very productive relationships since, once the initial bitterness is overcome, the new second has a newfound respect for their new dominus.
I watch Kalarai curiously. “So, what did you do to appease him?”
“I didn’t appease him. I simply challenged him to something else. I told him if he was really that concerned with his reputation as a fine marksman, surely he could outperform a mere boy. The way I saw it, it was a win-win. I could challenge him this way, appealing to his pride, and in doing so, have a chance of showing him up without risking myself. If I lost, I’d simply brag on him, play up how good he is, inflate his ego. If I won, I’d have the bragging rights of saying I out-shot the Butcher of Eltron. I’d instantly have a point of pride that I could use to either try to show the others that I could lead, or to help find the right dominus for me.”
He smirks. “I out-shot him fairly easily, to be honest. He was furious but he relented. As the crowd that had gathered around us at the range began to clear, I noticed one man in the distance watching me. I didn’t recognize him, but his markings showed that his dominus had died. His yula was just him and his wife.”
I smile softly as I see him start to beam. I give a nod for him to continue.
“Finally, I approached him, my curiosity running wild. He complimented me on not just out-shooting him, but on outsmarting him as well. I thanked him and he congratulated me. It didn’t take long for him to ask why I hadn’t joined a yula. We started talking about family in general, and ultimately, well, I felt a spark. So did he. We… just knew.”
I can’t help but to keep smiling as my heart races. For so long, I’ve wanted to find the right person, and my instincts are finally telling me that I have. Even if I must wait, my vow will be his. “I… think I’ve felt the same sort of spark, sir.”
Kalarai grins and nods. “We spent the next few days together, getting to know one another. We were inseparable. A few days later, I asked Elikel how he felt about the prospect of us as a yula… of him as my dominus. He said nothing, but he just smiled. There was something about that smile. He was confident, assertive, commanding. Something about him just screamed to me in a way I hadn’t expected. Then… he gave a single nod.”
I bite my lip as he tells the story and already I can’t wait to meet Elikel myself. He must truly be something else to have that sort of a presence to someone as capable as Kalarai.
“I dropped down to both knees before him. Without hesitation, we began reciting the oaths. I’ve been his ever since. Janil… if you truly want this, we will find a way to make this happen. You’ll be mine if that is indeed your desire.”
Kalarai approaches me slowly and touches my cheek, sending chills through me. I start to go down on one knee and he grabs my arm, halting the gesture of submission. “Wait until you have met my yarl, boy. That is my one condition, since you must submit to him as well.”
I nod obediently. “Yes, sir.”
“You… were really going to do it, weren’t you?” He chuckles as we start to walk again.
I nod and reach for his hand. He obliges with a smile, and I give his hand a squeeze. “Yes, sir. It just felt right. I… know you’re hesitant about taking me into a combat area, but I trust you. I’d come with, if you and your yarl will allow it, or I’d stay here, a sworn second in waiting.”
“I wouldn’t want to risk you as young as you are, but it would be Elikel’s decision in the end. Janil? I’d like you beside me tonight as we eat, regardless whatever happens. Even if Elikel declines my wish to claim you, I’d share a meal with you at my side at least once.” Kalarai squeezes my hand this time.
It’s strange, but I can sense him around me, almost as if he’s telepathically projecting himself around me, even if I’m right here with him.
I feel safe.