“I’m pleased to meet you, Alim Arahni.” Kalarai bows his head in a submissive gesture to my mother. “My dominus is Alim Elikel. He should be arriving soon, with his other second, Monrenth. Let me say this… your son is quite the young man. I’m impressed with him.” A devilish smirk rises on his face. “Even if he’s an awful shot.”
I look away, embarrassed, but trying not to laugh.
My mother, on the other hand, does laugh. “Janil is excellent at working with firearms, at working with machinery, in general just working with his hands. He’s got a sharp mind and a keen eye, but you’re right. In spite of everything I’ve tried to teach him, the boy is indeed a terrible marksman.” I can hear her arms crossing and the weight of her gaze judges me. Still, I know she means well for me.
“Once I had him try one of the newer Model 83 rifles, he did a bit better.” Kalarai nods in my direction. “I think I can whip him into shape if I had the time.”
Mom chuckles. “You’d prove a better teacher than me if that were the case. I’ve tried his whole life. My second, Kelimn, hasn’t fared any better.”
“Well, at least you all are getting this out of the way before Alim Elikel arrives. Maybe you all won’t embarrass me in front of him.” I shake my head and start setting the table. I can hear Kalarai’s chuckle from across the room. The two of them continue to discuss me and my lack of skill, but also about the war.
I’ll admit that I don’t know much about this war with the Groyin. Much to my surprise, Kalarai has seemed reluctant to discuss it with me, short of saying he didn’t want someone my age in the middle of it. I can tell that my mother is leading the conversation about it. It’s… surprising to me to see one of our kind not eager to brag about their conquests. There’s something about Kalarai that seems… more thoughtful. Still, I know he’s an excellent marksman, and that sort of skill can only truly be refined in battle.
Then, there’s a knock at the door.
Kalarai grins and leads my mother to the door. I set the last of the utensils down and approach. With a nod to me, Kalarai opens the door.
Alim Elikel is an imposing figure. He’s a bit taller than most, and wider, too. His body, aside from bearing his familial tattoos, bears dozens of scars from no telling how many battles. His four eyes have a commanding gleam to them.
Kalarai, already a few inches shorter than his yarl, bows his head and shoulders down. “Welcome, dominus.” He rises back up smiling.
Elikel nods to his second but focuses on my mother. “You must be Alim Arahni. Me and my yula are honored to be here.”
“The honor is mine, Alim Elikel. Your second has spoke highly of you, but that is to be expected. He also seems to have taken an interest in my son.” My mother says in a very plain, but calculated way.
Kalarai grins and Elikel takes another step inside, now clearing the way for his other second to enter.
“Good evening, Alim Arahni. I am Monrenth, Elikel’s second and alir to Kalarai.” Monrenth is nearly as tall as his yarl, but he’s built far leaner, even more so than Kalarai. Really, he’s not built that differently from me, other than being taller. I can’t help but to wonder if he’s a scout.
Elikel turns his attention to me as my mother exchanges greetings with Monrenth. I lower my head, being as submissive as I had been to Kalarai. “Meek little thing, aren’t you? Tell me, boy, what is your name?”
“I am Janil, sir.” I say firmly, but I keep my head lowered. I… really want to try to impress him, for Kalarai’s sake.
“I knew a man named Janil once. He was second to Alim Eltur. I only met him once, but he had a reputation of being an incredible engineer. Janil is a fine name, boy. Tell me, what are your talents?”
Kalarai chortles, “Certainly not marksmanship.”
My mother glares at him, not for the comment but for the timing of it. Elikel doesn’t flinch at the comment or at my mother’s reaction.
“Well, Alimari Kalarai isn’t wrong. I’m a terrible shot, but he was doing quite well teaching me.” I pause for a moment as I smile. “I might not be the best shot, but I’m very good at maintaining and repairing weapons. I’m also adept with electronics. I attended two seasons of long reconnaissance and survival training as well.”
“LRST? Damn, I had fun with that when I was your age.” Monrenth comments as Elikel nods.
“It’s served you well, Monrenth. And all of us, for that matter. I’m glad that I can always be proud of my seconds.” Alim Elikel smiles proudly, but still keeps his gaze fixed on me. I know it’s in my head, but I can feel him sizing up every inch of me. I don’t know if he realizes Kalarai’s intentions yet, but given how closely he’s studying me, I can only assume that he does. Regardless, he is a superior, and a fine one at that. Even if I weren’t wanting to impress Kalarai, I would still show a man such as Elikel the utmost respect.
Relax, Janil. And don’t act shocked. I know it’s a bit of a taboo, but… I want this to go well. Much to my surprise, I hear Kalarai’s voice in my mind. You look terrified, boy. Elikel will respect you more if you don’t show fear.
Yes, sir. He’s just… very imposing. I try to stand a bit straighter. “May I show you to your seat, sir?”
Good. That shows him you’re not afraid to address him, but you did so respectfully. Kalarai moves behind Monrenth now.
Elikel smiles at me and nods. “Please do, Janil.”
I give a courteous now and lead him to his seat, quickly pulling the chair out for him. I do the same for Kalarai and Monrenth next. Lastly, I offer a seat to my mother, across from Alim Elikel.
She looks at me and nods in appreciation. “Please, take a seat, Janil.” I do so obediently, sitting off to her right, across from Kalarai. My mother takes a small sip of her water, never taking her eyes off Elikel. “Kelimn should be here soon, then we will begin our meal. Tell me, Elikel… how goes the battle?”
“Slow, but steady. What they lack in firepower and technology, they make up in sheer numbers. Their fortifications are all both above and below ground, so for each base or location we attempt to secure, we’re actually dealing with two. We’ve kept losses to a minimum thanks to superior firepower, but they’re fierce combatants.”
The door opens and Alimari Kelimn steps inside. I smile up at him. Since my father’s death, he’s stepped in the as best as he can to fill the role, but we are very different people. Still, I love him and he is family. Kalarai and Monrenth give respectful nods to him as he approaches Elikel.
“Alim Elikel, this is my second, Kelimn.” My mother introduces him with a smile.
Kelimn bows his head and lowers his shoulders to greet Elikel. “It’s an honor, Alim Elikel. Thank you for being willing to share a meal with us.”
“The honor is mine. It isn’t everyday that one returning from battle gets to share a meal with a Bekir, retired or not. I’m pleased to meet you and your family.” Elikel’s voice has a pleasant, reaffirming tone to it. I can tell that this man is… an exemplar, a prime model of what it means to be Camfurdian. No wonder Kalarai has such admiration for the man.
An awkward silence is cast over us as Kelimn takes his seat next to my mother. Her and Elikel seem to be waiting for the other to make a move.
Finally, Elikel speaks up, giving a nod toward my mother. “Alim Arahni, would you?”
She nods and moments later, one of my hands is wrapped around hers. My other hand reaches across the table for Kalarai and we exchange a rather amused glance. His hand runs across mine affectionately just for a moment before grasping it firmly. Soon after, all six of us are joined together. I close my eyes.
“We’re brought together today by new friends and joined together as family during this meal. Elikel, you are my brother tonight, and may we both guide our families true. Monrenth, Kalarai, and Kelimn – you are brothers. Elikel and I watch over you. Janil, you are not just my son tonight, but the son of all Camfurdians. May we set an example for you and guide you. As Tanril guided all of our kind as one yula, one coterie, one family, we unite together for this meal.” She squeezes my hand for a moment.
I open my eyes as she releases my hand. Kalarai and I make eye contact and he squeezes my hand firmly before releasing it.
“So, Kala, the last I knew today, you were going to check out the market. Monrenth saw you heading toward some dilapidated building, but he wasn’t sure why.”
I look away as I can feel my mother’s gaze upon me. Kalarai’s smirking. “I think I had a meeting with fate, sir.”
My head snaps back to stare at Kalarai. I hadn’t quite expected him to word it like that. From the amused look on Elikel’s face, he knew exactly what his second meant.
Kelimn laughs softly. “My goodness, Janil, did your slacking off actually prove useful for once?”
“I… I-” I stammer nervously, my face red.
“I’ll just be out with it. I think it’s going to be easier on the poor boy.” Kalarai grins devilishly, but speaks with a similar tone to Elikel. “I intend to make the boy mine. There’s something special about Janil, and I want him. With your permission, of course, Elikel. And with your blessing, Alim Arahni. My Yarl, I would wait until after this ordeal with the Groyin. I’d rather not bring a boy of his age into a theatre of war such as that. He doesn’t have the experience.”
I feel my heart in my throat and all I can do is swallow. In a moment, Kalarai’s laid everything out in the open. I look back at my mother, who’s shaking her head.
“Janil isn’t equipped to deal with a war like that, no. Not yet.” She looks at Elikel and a small grin grows on her face. He matches the grin.
“No, he’s not experienced at all… but there’s certainly one way to get experience, isn’t there?” Elikel looks at me, but I can’t muster words. I simply stare, stunned.
“Elikel, surely you don’t intend to make that a condition. I’m only barely confident that Janil knows which way to hold a rifle, and I’m surely not confident in his ability to shoot one.” Kelimn says in my defense.
Kalarai and Monrenth’s yarl studies my mother’s face. I see her give a small nod and Elikel matches it. “Kelimn, I think your yarl and I are in agreement. The best thing the boy could have happen to him is to be thrown straight in. Kalarai, I’ll allow you to take the boy as your second, but only if you agree to bring him with us.”
“Eli… please don’t make me put him at risk.” Kalarai pleads.
I don’t know what to think. In a way, I suppose Elikel is right. What better way to get experience than to be thrown in like that?
“You’ll refer to me properly, Kalarai.” Elikel snaps.
“Yes, sir. I’m sorry, yarl. Please, my yarl, don’t make me put him at risk.” He continues to plead in spite of the admonishment.
My mother shakes her head. “Alimari Kalarai, this is exactly what my son needs. I’ve done the best that I can with him and he still has a lot to learn. You two barely know each other, but it’s clear you both want this. Even if you both want this intensely, you’re going to have to learn to trust and rely on each other. What better way to enforce that than on the battlefield?”
“Arahni is right. It’s not about you two trusting each other, Kala. Monrenth and I must be able to trust him too. We have to know we can rely on him. And Janil has to know that he can trust us without question. So, if this is what you and him want, you know the conditions.” Elikel looks intently at his second for a while, then he focuses on me.
Kalarai looks at me and I can see the apprehension. “Janil…”
He stands and takes a few steps away from the table. I rise up from my seat and step in front of him.
“Janil, I’m leaving this up to you. I want you, but I want it to be mutual under these conditions.”
Those… were not the words I expected to hear. Most Camfurdians in this position would have taken the chance to assert their dominance. Kalarai… isn’t like most of the others. He seems thoughtful and kind, more so than most.
I can feel every eye in the room upon me, yet… my nerves are actually starting to calm. I lower to my knees, turning my palms outward, resting on my thighs. “I offer myself to you, Kalarai. If you would have me, I will vow to always be loyal, to serve you and your yula faithfully. I will submit to your hand and your will, and to the hand and will of your yarl. I offer my will, my body, and my honor to you and to your yarl.” I… can’t help but to cry.
“Then… you are mine, Janil. I will honor your vow for all of my days. I vow to lead by example, first and foremost. May you learn from my service and submission to Elikel. I vow that I will never act in such a way to dishonor you or yula. I vow that I will never harm you. If I must punish, it will be with a steady hand and mind, and never out of rage. You will serve me, but we will serve Elikel together.” He motions toward Elikel.
Elikel stands and approaches us. Kalarai assumes the same submissive position next to me. We both look up at Elikel.
“Kalarai, I am proud that you have chosen a second, and I will gladly allow it. Janil, I accept your submission. Know that I will honor you the same as I honor my seconds. You belong to Kalarai, but he belongs to me. Together, we are one family, one yula.” Elikel smiles upon us both warmly and I feel Kalarai’s hand reaching for mine.
I look to Kalarai and we’re both smiling. “Kala… thank you, sir.”
“No, Janil. Thank you.”