“Welcome, Alim Elikel.” Alimari Kelimn says to me as he invites me and Monrenth inside.
The commander’s dining room is a fairly small room, all things considered. It’s meant for small meetings and family gatherings, such as this. Alim Arahni is seated at the head of the table, smiling.
Monrenth and I lower our heads submissively to her before taking our seats. Kelimn circles around the table and sits to her right.
“It wasn’t long ago that our two yulas sat down as one. We do so again now, but things are so different.” Arahni says with a sigh.
“I wish things had gone different, obviously. I… mourn both of them. Kalarai, for all the years of loyal service, and Janil for what could have been.” I look down and shake my head. Monrenth’s hand finds its way on to my leg.
“Still, given everything that has happened, we have reasons to celebrate. You and your remaining men survived against all odds. You live to fight another day. In spite of everything, Elikel, you’ve done well.” My eyes widen a bit listening to her words. She’s… actually pleased? Perhaps I misjudged her in my paranoia.
“Alim Elikel, would you?” She looks at me as she extends her hand out to me. I take her hand and Monrenth’s. She takes Kelimn’s, and Kelimn reaches across to hold Monrenth’s other hand. We close our eyes as we are joined.
“Tonight we gather as one family. We celebrate survival, and yet we mourn our dead. We celebrate fortitude, and yet we must mourn those who turn their backs on us. We mourn tonight, for tomorrow, our son is our enemy, our second is our target. We come together now to set our woes aside and to become as one yula. As Tanril guided all of our kind as one yula, one coterie, one family, we unite together for this meal.”
I open my eyes as Arahni squeezes my hand. When I start to look at her, I notice that her attention is on Alimari Kelimn. We all release hands, and Kelimn stands.
A few moments later, he is preparing each plate. He fixes his yarl’s first, then mine, Monrenth, and his last. We each thank him as he does.
“So, rumors are already spreading wildly. The ravenous Elikel is willing to hunt to the ends of the universe to find my traitorous son so that we can flay him alive.” She chuckles and shakes her head.
“We?” I say without hesitation. The truth is that while I want, and even need to see Janil brought to justice, I would make it a painless death. The truth is that I still love the boy. I mostly wanted to point out the presumption on her part.
“Yes, we.” She grins. “Alim Elikel, you have no ship, no commission, and we’re far enough out that I’m not certain some other Alim is going to want to come all the way out here just so you can commandeer their ship.” The grin grows into a smirk.
Monrenth sighs and watches her closely. “Ma’am, I-”
“Know your place, second.” She snaps at him.
He lowers his head. Beaten, he says, “Yes, ma’am.”
This… this is Camfurdian politics at is finest. It’s all about dominance. Who will dare stand up and who will kneel in submission. This display is nothing more than her posturing and preening. My Monrenth is simply caught in the middle.
“Rest assured, Alim Arahni, if I want a ship, I’ll have one. If I wanted this ship, I would have it. Judging from the reactions of the crew, I’m certain Alim Khunsza would be more than happy to help me take control of this ship with the mere promise that it would be his again once my goal was met.” My tone is firm, but my voice never rises too high. I make it clear that I am calm and confident.
She laughs. “Elikel… Elikel.” She grins. “I am an old woman. I bore Janil when I was over three hundred. You are younger, still in your prime, and you are quite experienced. Where would be the challenge in fighting someone like me?”
Unlike many species, our kind does not grow feeble with old age, barring injury. She is every bit as capable now as she was a hundred years ago. “Save your words, Arahni of the Bekir. I know your capabilities. You are a more than worthy foe.”
“Remember that then, Elikel.” She smirks.
Damn her. I… walked right into her trap by essentially praising her. Damn her!
Not wanting to admit my frustration, I turn my attention to the food. I look up at Kelimn after eating a few bites. “The food is excellent, Alimari Kelimn.”
He smiles and nods. “Yes, it is. Thank you, my yarl.” He turns and lowers his head to her.
“He simply served it, though, he did help peel the vegetables. I thought I would prepare the meal for us tonight. I wanted this night to be special, to have a memorable touch to it.” I watch her carefully now. Everything she is doing is all about control.
“Tell me, Elikel. All bluster aside, what will truly happen when we find Janil? What happens when you look my traitorous son in the eye?”
“I will kill him without hesitation. I will mourn him, as he was still once my second, but he will die. I will kill him.” I say plainly, unsure what to make of her reprising the subject.
“So you will hunt him? What if he’s managed to track down the Aevocar?”
“The Aevocar will deliver a wanted criminal, and if they do not, I will take their ship by force.” I growl as I grow increasingly angry.
“With what ship?” She folds her arms, smirking arrogantly.
Finally, I stand, growling. “With this ship, woman!”
Slowly, she rises. “Alim Elikel, know your place. Sit.” Her voice is firm and commanding.
Damn it all… she’s done it again. I can either yield to her or confront her. I’ve played right into her game. I look back at Monrenth and he’s got his eyes closed, realizing the mistake I’ve made. I look back at her.
“Know your place, Elikel. Sit down.” Her eyes are staring daggers while she smiles, knowing she’s likely won.
I sigh and lower my head. “Yes, Alim Arahni.” I lower down into my seat.
She circles around the table, my gaze following her moves closely. She reaches out and sets her hand on my shoulder as she lowers to whisper to me.
The whisper is a mockery. Everyone in the room can hear it. She says, “I’ll give you what you want, Elikel. If you truly wish to hunt my son, we will do so together. No one runs my name and legacy through the mud and lives.”
I look up at her, waiting to hear her terms.
Reacting to the sudden sensation, I jump as she touches my cheek. “Submit to me, Elikel. Submit and take your place at my side. Together, we will hunt him, and see that he pays for what he’s done. We will see him beg for his life, and then we will end it, together. Or… you can sit there like a beaten mongrel, begging for the scraps. The choice is yours, Elikel.”
Eli… this is… not right. She’s manipulating you. Monrenth whispers to my mind.
No shit. I… she… has me backed into a corner.
Eli, I swore to stand by you no matter what, the choice is yours, but this just feels… dirty.
I look into her eyes. I… hate her, yet…
“I will take my place at your side.” I rise from my seat again, still staring her in the eyes. “I vow to serve you, until the day one of us dies or until you see it fit to relieve me of my duty to you. I vow to honor you and our yula. My second, Monrenth, shall be your lesser, and your second, Kelimn, will become my brother, my alir. My yula shall be yours first.” I slowly lower to my knees. Monrenth gives a small sigh as he lowers to the ground as well.
“I will submit to your hand and your will, Arahni. I offer my will, my body, my honor, and my yula to you.”
Her hand strokes the top of my head. I… feel so conflicted. None of this is right. I feel trapped.
“Then rise, Alimari Elikel.” She offers her hand to me now.
I take it, and she helps me to my feet. “Thank you, my yarl.”