A knock on the door startles me and Monrenth. Monrenth quickly pulls his pants on and opens the door.
“Ah. Alimari Monrenth, sir?” The young man, maybe Janil or Kenlyi’s age, asks quietly. He’s clearly intimidated.
“Yes?” Monrenth crosses his arms.
“I have a message for Alim Elikel, may I enter?”
“Oh, just come in already, boy.” I saw with mock exasperation. Monrenth looks back at me and grins, allowing the young man to pass.
His eyes remind me of Janil.
I watch his body language carefully. “Who is your yarl, boy?”
“I am second to Alimari Balyr, lesser to Alim Iyton, sir. I am Crahal.” He lowers his head submissively.
“Deliver your message.” I say plainly.
“Alim Arahni would like to remind you and your yula about dinner tonight. Dinner will be served in two hours.”
“Is there anything else?” I narrow my eyes. It’s a bit out of sorts to send someone else’s lesser on such a trivial matter when there’s very little stress. This is clearly a display of power by Arahni.
The young man shakes his head. “No, sir. I… may I… ask a question, sir?”
Monrenth looks at me with a smirk. Oh, this is rich. He says to me in the privacy of telepathy.
I sit up in bed a little higher, taking great care to stay covered up. “Ask.”
“Is… it true what they’ve been talking about? Your seconds consor-”
“Watch your tongue, boy.” Monrenth snaps and the boy cowers. “Kalarai is dead and there’s no way to prove or disprove anything with him. He was my brother, and I’ll not see his name sullied.”
“Yes. It is true, as far as we know.” I say as a matter of fact. Monrenth looks at me confused. I watch the boy. “What Monrenth said is accurate, we can’t prove anything with Alimari Kalarai, although we do suspect. Janil, however, is a traitor. He will suffer the fate that a traitor deserves. I hope we find him alive so that I can flay the worthless piece of excrement myself. I’ll hear him scream, begging for my forgiveness, begging for the pain to stop. He will suffer a slow, painful death for the damage he has done.”
Monrenth’s eyes widen, stunned by my words.
“Now, tell Alim Arahni that I will be at dinner tonight, perhaps a little early. Now go.” I motion the boy toward the door. He nods and rushes out, closing the door behind him.
“What the hell was that about?” Monrenth asks. “I… didn’t see that level of anger coming.”
I shake my head. “Arahni was testing me. Sending someone else’s lesser? Sending someone around Janil’s age? Around his height, weight, even demeanor? No, he didn’t ask that question of his own volition. Arahni wanted to know where I stood, and just how far I was willing to go.”
Monrenth nods. “Damn, that’s… cold. I hadn’t thought about that.”
“She’s… manipulative. She’s probably wrote Janil off completely, and she wanted to see where I stood. I… will do my duty. He’s turned his back on us, but I can’t muster the venom she probably has, even if it is her son.” I sigh and stand, slowly getting dressed.
“She might have just been using you, and them for that matter. If there’s any discontent about the war, any other sympathizers, she wants to snuff it out. What better way than to put her own son, your second, on display as the greatest enemy to the people?” He sighs and leans against the wall. “Damn it, Eli.”
“I’m certain she’ll be out with it all tonight.” I sigh and approach him. He straightens up. “Oh… and… thank you.” I lean forward, trapping him between myself and the wall.
“Eli, you don’t have to thank me. I served. That’s my role.” He leans forward and kisses my lips.
“I don’t have to thank you, no. Thanking you is the right thing to do, though. I wanted you to know that I’m grateful for everything you do. I don’t deserve you.”
He shakes his head in disagreement. “Eli, you do. We deserve each other. We’ve both endured tremendous loss, and yet here we are. We’re fighters. We’re Camfurdian, damn it all. We may lose a battle, but we will never lose a war. As long as I draw breath, I’ll fight at your side. When the battle is done, when the wars are through, I will lay at your side. No matter what, Eli, through life and death, I am yours.”
“Monrenth.” I caress his cheek. “I am yours.”
He holds my hand to his face for a while, then sighs. “We should probably get this over with. I dread this, sir.”
“I don’t know what to expect. I either gave her exactly what she wanted to hear earlier, or she’s going to be shocked at me. I suppose there’s just one way to find out.” I sigh and shake my head. “Arahni could be our greatest ally, but I’m just not sure where she stands with us. I want to trust her.”
“It’s hard to forget her chewing you out, that’s for sure. She’s as brutal as she is beautiful.” Monrenth shrugs. “Do we have enough time to check in on the men?”
“It’ll be brief, but we have time. They’re my men, my soldiers. I don’t care if she’s in charge, they’re still my men and they’ve shown their loyalty. Let’s go.”
We visit the wounded first. They’re the priority, for sure. I… regret us having to leave so many people behind to cover our escape, but it was the logical solution. We didn’t lose anyone thanks to their brave sacrifices. These wounded men here fought valiantly during the final ambush that resulted in more dead and some captured, including Janil.
The visit with the wounded goes quite well. They’re in good spirits now that they’re off that damned Groyin rock. Some ask about returning to the front, but all I can do is relay what I’ve been told. We’re in a holding pattern until Alim Arahni decides otherwise.
Realizing we’re short on time, we check in with Alim Gouhr next. Before this war started, Gouhr and I were acquaintances. We had fought in dozens of battles, but we weren’t close friends, by any means. Over the past few months, we’ve become closer, in part because my Janil was friends with his Kenlyi.
Since Janil’s capture, we’ve been back and forth. There’s times he blames me, and other times he simply acknowledges that Janil made his decision, not me.
Monrenth knocks on the door and we quickly hear a simple response. “Enter.” Monrenth opens the door, then motions me inside.
“Elikel?” Gouhr looks up from a handheld computer. “I didn’t expect to see you this late. I’ve heard Alim Arahni is having you over for dinner.”
“I took a little bit to check on our injured first. We’ll be going to Arahni’s next, but I wanted to check in on you first.” I step inside the small room. Gouhr, now no longer having any subordinates, was assigned one of the smallest rooms on the ship. There’s a small bunk, a footlocker, another storage locker in the corner, and a table with chair in the opposite corner as the bed. I sit down on the chair.
“I’m fine, Eli. I appreciate the concern.” He sighs and looks away.
Monrenth shakes his head. “No eye contact, laying in bed this late in the evening, dinner tray on the table? Gouhr, you’re isolating yourself.”
Gouhr scoffs and nods. “Damn him, Eli. He’s good.” He smirks.
“He’s the best damn scout there is.” I grin, proud of my second. “Now, how are you actually holding up?“
“I lost both of my seconds. Laying in this bed alone hurts. Losing Dulint was hard enough, but I at least know what happened. Losing Kenlyi, though? I just… can’t make peace with it yet. I don’t know if it’s because Janil is still out there or if it’s because I just haven’t found a way to cope yet, but his death is weighing on me. Did I make a mistake ordering him to challenge Janil?” Gouhr looks down and sighs.
“No. Heavens no, Gouhr. It showed he was loyal to the end. He died a true Camfurdian, not some treasonous snake. Be proud. He stood tall in the lair of the enemy and died fighting. When this war is done and we stand victorious, his story will live on. It shows that a true Camfurdian will always stand for his values. It shows that the best of us will always do what’s right, even if it means our death. Be proud.” I say confidently, trying to reassure him.
“Pride doesn’t warm my bed or fill my arms.” He sighs and shakes his head with a small laugh. “Doesn’t get you laid, either. I know almost all of our men have enjoyed some private time now.” He laughs, trying to deflect with a bit of crude humor. Monrenth smirks and looks at me.
“If you’re that horny, I’ll lend Monrenth to you.” I smirk back at Monrenth.
“Hey, not fair, Eli! You’ve worn me out enough.” Monrenth laughs and looks back to Gouhr.
“Don’t worry, Monrenth. You’re not really my type.” He smirks and looks at me. I can see a bit of seriousness returning to him. “I just wish I could’ve done more.”
“So do I. We did all we could. I’ve… thought the same things though. I’ve beat myself up over Janil far too much. Gouhr, my friend, we will recover.” I close my eyes and see Janil’s shy smile. Damn you, Janil.
“Arahni is arranging a few shuttles back to some of the core planets. I plan on going home. I’ve… got to start my life over now.” He looks down, embarrassed.
“You don’t have to. I’d welcome you into my yula, if you wanted to go that route. You’ve served me well as an advisor during the last few months. I’d welcome you by my side.” I look at Monrenth and he nods approvingly.
“I appreciate the offer, Eli, but I’m fifty years your elder, at least. I’m set in my ways, and I’m not used to submission anymore, my friend.” He closes his eyes and lays back.
“If you change your mind… that offer will stand. It’s a way to get back in the fight.” I stand up. “I do apologize for cutting our meeting short, but I do need to meet with Alim Arahni.”
He waves dismissively. “No worries, my friend. Eli… I know this is hard, but promise me one thing. Promise me that Janil will be brought to justice for his crimes against us and Kenlyi.”
“I promise. I’d considered requesting leave to go home to Myraea. I haven’t seen her in nearly a year, and I miss my wife. It’s not time though. I will find Janil and he will pay.” I nod solemnly to him, and then Monrenth leads us out.
“One last stop, I suppose.” My second sighs.
“I hope we’re just overreacting. She has one hell of a reputation, and perhaps we’re thinking more about that than the actual woman. Be on your best manners.” I say quietly to him.
He nods. ”Yes, sir.”