Marking of the Days

by Sincline Koutaishi

Entertainment for a King

In the morning I wake from a mercifully dreamless sleep to my usual pillow attack. It is Menoh this time.

"Good morning, Baika!" She cheers when I pry open an eye, "You are looking well today!"

"Am I?" I yawn. "What wrong have you done that you are filling me with flattery so early in the day?"

"Nothing." She shrugs, "Your bath is ready!"


I rise and bathe then go to sit to my morning meal, still not quite myself from the events of the night before. Shilne will be back tomorrow from his rounds of the troops and Laila will be leaving for school at Aykovas. Comings and goings. I yawn again as Laila arrives with Hanta.

"Are you almost ready to leave?" I ask her.

"No. I'm really really going to miss being here."

"I think you are going to miss Ryuaki more than this place." I smirk.

"I will miss both." She says. "It'll be better that I go now so he can concentrate on his placement exams... Is angry-lady still coming to have dinner with you tonight?"

"Yes she is." I laugh for the way she has chosen to name Sachay.

"That's too bad." She sneers.

"I will enjoy it. Stop making that face."

I have put Sachay off long enough. She was very angry when I missed her spring performance opening. I had to invite her to have a meal and talk at least and actually see it through.

When she arrives in the evening Laila and Menoh are still setting out our meal. Laila offers to take Sachay's coat and gets a nasty look from her.

"What is that?" She asks and recoils from Laila.

"This is Laila, and that is Menoh. They are my attendants while here at the palace. They help to take care of me so that Hanta may have a life of her own on occasion."

"A human??"

"Yes, a human and a northern girl. Problem?"

"Did it touch the food?"

"Humans do not cause poison, Sachay. Stop being rude. Give her your coat."

She takes off her coat and gives it to Laila who curtsies a little and takes it away. Unfortunately for Laila she understands most of what Sachay is saying about her now, though Sachay thinks she does not. Laila manages to not let it show though. She has been well worn with all of my royal visitors it seems.

"Well... It is about time that I get to see you in the flesh instead of just in news feeds." She looks up at me sweetly. "You are cruel to keep me waiting so long."

"I have been very busy, Sachay. For every moment you saw me in a news feed there where many being spent at the doings behind the news."

"You can find time for me." She says, "I am still very angry with you for not coming to see my opening."

"I apologize."

"Perhaps you can make it up to me tonight."


She smells glorious and she looks beautiful tonight. She has dressed herself in a rather alluring manner, intended toward turning my head I know. To her credit it is working. Sachay is very aware of what it is that can break a man's resistance to her charms and she has done her best work tonight with the clothing she has selected and the scents she has decorated herself with.

"Can I get you a drink?"

Laila has returned to us, breaking the moment with her happy little voice. Sachay growls at her for the interruption and I take her by the arm to stop her.

"Saich, woman. Do not growl at her."

"What does it want now?"

"She is trying to be of service." I change language, "I will see to our needs from here. Thank you Laila."

"Welcome! Don't let her kiss you! She's very mean!" She says cheerfully so that Sachay will not know she is speaking poorly of her.

Menoh giggles at Laila's humor and the two of them leave us alone.

"There. Now you have me to yourself."

"Perfect." She smiles again and I pour some wine for the both of us, "Thank you kindly."

"And so... What is it that you have been so eager to tell me these many days?"

"Nothing specifically. I just wanted to spend a little time. I have missed you. You have been gone so long for one thing or another!"

"I have. But I have come back now."

"And with dedication indeed. I am amazed by you." She sips at her glass.

"Are you then?"

"I am! You are so changed. You used to be such a piece of your father."

"He was not so much a father as he was a commander and master with his boot on my throat. He is gone and I am glad."

"So am I. He was a horrible old man."

"Yes." I wander to the window that faces the city in the valley below and watch the lights and motion, enjoying the wine and the moment of peace to reflect on these things. I smile slowly and then laugh, "I am King. Emperor."

"Do you keep forgetting?" She stands beside me.

"Nnh... Not so much forgetting as being entangled in all of what that means. My father ignored our civilian population. My father hardly ever lived here! I will never understand what he could have been thinking for all those many years... And now I am climbing up a mountain of work in trying to fix all that he has done... Or rather what he has not done over the years... Tell me honestly what is it like down there in the city now? I have not been there in a while."

"I do not want you to think I am flattering you... But it has been quite wonderful. People are proud to be imperial citizens now. Not just for a war record. You are helping so many. There is one ugly section of Namida that is changing day by day into what it used to be. There is music in the streets, the arts are coming back, people are opening their businesses and keeping them open into the evenings, the entertainment district is no longer a dead place, people are wearing smiles!" She enumerates, "The feeling at the University is one of hope. The spring opening performance was incredible! So many people came out! I wish you had come. You would have been pleased."

"I am even so. Tell me more."

"Ahht! I meant to tell you this... The Ministry of Information opened up the Public Waves again. Within the taik the University had four stations back on link. Students had repeaters up in the high windows of the dormitories, sending music out into the courtyards. There was an enormous party from it! That was a great day. We started that day to organize the summer music and arts festival to be one of the biggest ever held. You will come to that!"

"I will indeed."

She continues to relay the little day-to-day details of life in Namida and how things are changing. I bring her to the table and serve her late meal then sit with her, listening for a change instead of speaking. It is a relief in a way. A fantastic break. It is also a great thing to hear that things are going so well.

Sachay stands up from the table as the meal is done and pours herself another glass of wine then tries to fill my glass again but I lay a hand over it to her surprise.


"I am not so much interested in wine these days. If you wish to fill this glass, water would be most welcome." I smile at her surprised expression.

"If you really want water, water you shall have."

She crosses the room to where there is a pitcher of water waiting on a console. My eyes follow her movements quite happily. The skirts she wears are split far up and as she moves I have a fine view of her legs. When she stops the splits fall together and give the illusion of a solid bit of fabric. She returns with the pitcher, fills my glass then takes a piece of the sweet fruit from one of the plates and offers it to me, placing it in my mouth.

"There you are." She smiles sweetly, climbing into my lap where I sit. "Thank you for seeing me at last."

"You are quite welcome. Thank you for being so determined."

"My determination is quite rewarding." She moves my hair away from my neck and leans in, kissing my throat, "Or so I hope it will be..."

"You know, you are not going to be exploring uncharted territories tonight." Hanta had mentioned earlier in the day, making insinuations about Sachay's purity.

"I wonder what you are implying." I raised an eyebrow at her.

"That her territories have been explored so much, towns have sprung up!"

Regardless of Hanta's accusations, at this moment I am the envy of many men. Sachay is not short of male companionship. She can pick and choose who she will spend her time with from many. Her beauty is added to by her fame for song and entertainment. She has been pursuing my affections and attentions for years and while I have been holding her at a distance—preferring to be the pursuer instead of the pursued—her lips taste quite glorious against mine tonight. My hand moves the fabric of her skirts and finds the warmth of her thigh as I pull her closer, embracing her deeply.

Take her to your bed, fool. Stop sitting here in the dining hall and have what you have not enjoyed in a long while. She is willing, eager... Delicious... Beautiful... Ahhh, to feel her beautiful body against mine... My fingers find the lacing at the front of her shirt and pull at it... Just a few moments of pleasure... To forget everything...

"Take me to your bed." She breathes.


But my mind will not let me just have some pleasure and peace. I see her face in my mind... So beautiful... My heart aches... The lips that I kiss are not hers. The warm flesh beneath my fingers is not part of her... And this feeling is so empty.

Gods... How can I miss someone so much that I do not know??

I break from Sachay with some difficulty, placing my fingers on her lips.


"No?" She wears a look of shock as she removes my hand from her face. "No??"

"I cannot. Sachay, do not push at me."

"Kou... I want for you... I can feel that your body wants for mine." She kisses me again... And again I push her gently away.


I can no longer bury myself in alcohol and coupling. It is so empty a feeling compared to the emotion that fills me every time she comes to my mind. I am overwhelmed.

"What is wrong? What is that look on your face?"

"Simply accept that I cannot take you to my bed, Sachay. Forgive me for being weak for you."

I look away from her, removing my hand from her warm flesh. She does not protest.

"You have changed so much..." She shakes her head slightly.

I am no longer driven relentlessly by my base yearnings, if that is what she means. She expected to bring herself to me with what she knew of my past wants.

"Are you all right?" She asks gently.

"In a manner..." I turn back and press my forehead to hers, "Thank you for being here tonight. I am sorry that I have not had time to spend with you."

"Ahhll... I forgive you. Will you come to one of my performances at least?"

"I will. I will bring Shilne along."

She smiles and strokes my cheek, "I will be sure to line up a number of women for him to meet. Is he still interviewing?"

"That he is."

"I will have information sent to Hanta. Perhaps she can schedule you some time to be entertained."

"If I am lucky."

She hugs me tightly for a moment and then climbs off me, "I had better get home." She gathers her things.

"If you must... Sachay..."


"I am sorry."

"I know..." She looks back toward me for a moment, "Good night."

She hurries out of the dining hall, leaving me there feeling empty as I stare blankly out the window. After a numb while I grab the nearby bottle of wine and pour myself another glass, taking a long hard drink. My jaw is set against what I feel rising inside of me and I shut my eyes tightly, feeling my body shake.

More to drink... More... More... No! No more drink!

I squeeze the glass too hard and it shatters in my hand, shards of it embedding in my palm. The pain stops the rush of voices and emotions. Laila's squeal breaks me out of the depths of this hollow feeling that has made a home for itself in every part of me.

She has come into the room and rushes to me, seeing what I have done, my hand bleeding. I have added to its wounds once again... She is trying to uncurl my fingers from around the remains of the broken glass. Finally I manage to relax and she picks the bits out of my hand hurriedly.

"... What's wrong?? Are you all right??" I can hear her speaking to me again, "Talk to me!"

"Laila..." I can only say her name.

"What did she do to you??" She wraps a table linen about my wounded hand and I watch in a haze as my dark blood seeps through the white cloth.

"Nothing. I have done this to myself."

I rise from my seat like a dead man and brush past her, heading toward my rooms. I can hear her little feet padding down the halls behind me. Inside my rooms she closes the doors then tugs on my sleeve until I go with her to the bath where she unwraps my hand, cleaning my wounds under a stream of warm water. It stings quite horribly but I cannot react to it. She then pats my hand dry and wraps it in bandaging with antiseptic, pushes me toward my bed and sits me down. She removes my shoes, she removes my coat and ushers me under the covers.

"I'm going to call the doctor." She says.

"No. I am fine. Let me sleep."

"Are you sure?"


"I am so worried about you right now." She sighs.

"Let me sleep."

"All right."

She bends and kisses my forehead then shuts out the lights, leaving me to hard sleep that comes from mental exhaustion.

In the morning I wake to feeling sharp pain in my hand and warmth. Laila is snuggled against me under the covers... My heart swells as I hug her to me.

"Sianta..." I sigh.

"I'm not going to Aykovas." She says, her fingers curling into my shirt.

"Of course you will."

"I can't leave you like this. You've been so upset lately. And now you hurt yourself. I'll never forgive myself if I go away and something happens to you."

"Laila, I will be fine."

"No. Don't say that. You've been all locked in your head and it worries me. You won't even let me get the doctor for your hand..."

"Tsshh." I shift and look her in the face, "Laila... I will tell you true. There are many things from my past that I struggle with. I am doing my best with it but there will be things that I have to fight... You knew how I was, Laila. You saw me marching through the halls of the Eastern Port. You heard my voice. You were terrified of me... So you cannot say that I have always been so forgiving and patient and interested in the comfort and safety of others. Nnh?"

She nods slowly, "I don't like to think about that. You're not that way any more. Don't go back to being like that. Please."

"I will not. I have made more efforts than you can imagine to change all of that. I will never go back. This little pain in my hand is nothing in comparison."

She nods slightly, seeming satisfied with my words though her brow keeps its furrows.

"It always seemed like your father was so mean to you. He was mean to everyone! But it wasn't fair that he was mean to you."

"Fair?" I laugh.

"You were his son! I could never be mean to my kids."

"Hnn... I was his genetic son, yes. I was also his greatest embarrassment."

"I don't understand." She furrows her little pink brow even more.

"Think of it. That angry and prideful old southern man...Now that you have been with Ryu for a while you know how things are... His southern family would only be slightly happier with you if you had been a northern girl." I share a smile with her, "My own royal Diya is very much the same. The matchmakers did their best work to provide my father with a highly placed southern wife... But many powerful marriages ended because he could not produce an heir. He could not even plant his seed in the entirety of the brothel he kept... Until my mother... My human mother... Everything he fought against had given him his heir. No matter how many women he tried to couple with afterward, he never had another child. He had to own me though his pride did not want to, for I was his only child. That is why he was so mean to me, as you say." I smile at her.

"It was still wrong." She says. "Please see the doctor. Then I'll feel better."

"I will... And you will go to Aykovas."

"I don't want to."

"You do. I will be fine, Laila. I have been alive for a very long time and survived many difficult times. I doubt that this will be my end."

"How long?"

"Nearly 48 galactic standard cycles."


The worry leaves her expression now to be replaced by a look of surprise as she begins to examine my face for signs of the age she thinks she should see.

"Yes. I am not a young man."

"You look like you are."

"I am flattered." I smirk, "Relatively I am young. My people live much longer than yours."

"Oh... Well... Will you see the doctor now? Please?"

"In a moment... Laila, hear me very clearly now... If ever I do fall back to the way that I was, all you need do is find Shilne and he will take you away from me. I would not want to have you suffer for my condition."

"I don't believe you'd ever hurt me."

"You are kind... But you are incorrect."

"Nooo..." She looks so sad, so hurt.

"You need to know the truth, Laila. That is the truth. In the way that I was you would have been harmed in my presence."

"I don't believe that."

I sigh and hug her to me again, "Laila... Do believe me. And do go to Aykovas. Giihio and his family will take care of you. I know you will be safe with them. Soon enough you will be back and I will still be here."

"With no more injuries!"

"I will do my best."

Laila pushes me along to see Doctor Navatmal before she feeds me. It must look quite humorous to have this young human pushing on my back to hurry me down the halls. The guards are trying to look as though they are not paying attention but I can see the verge of laughter on their faces. Laila and Menoh are the humor of this place and there will surely be another story floating around after this.

Navatmal sees to my wounds without offering any commentary—though I can see from his expression that he has many things to say—then I leave the infirmary with my hand re-bandaged and Laila feeling happier. Menoh is in my rooms when we return, setting out the morning meal.

"Oh! I forgot. This is for you." Laila gives me a small piece of folded paper. "From Sachay when she was leaving last night."

I open it and find a link sig and a note, "Music for your ears, from your hard work."


I find my katsuna and open it, entering the sig. Music pours forth, overwhelming the little repeaters it has. I turn the signal down and switch to the larger repeaters in the main room. Again the music flows and I smile. It is fantastic—from one of the public wave stations at the university. I can see the sig has also brought up the listing of the other channels and I switch amongst them.

"Wonderful!" I laugh and choose one of them to enjoy my morning meal.

The one who is running the particular channel I have found speaks for a bit, talking of the upcoming arts festival at Namida University, encouraging students and civilians alike to come and participate. And lastly he thanks me! He thanks me for opening the communications again that they may broadcast freely.

"If you see our Baika, give him your thanks for this music!" He says at last and turns back to music.

I look forward to my next journey into the city to see with my own eyes and ears how things have changed. Shilne arrives at my table in due course and steals food from my plate.

"Neh... What have you done to your hand?" He inquires of my bandaging through his mouthful of stolen bread.

"I have realized that wine glasses are more fragile than I thought." I smile at Shilne who appears to be enjoying the music as well as the food. "Not bad, is it?"

"I have been listening to it all the way in. It is wonderful to have the music back again."

"Perhaps in the next few days we can find some musical entertainment in the city."

"Good! It is about time you had some fun. Where has the man gone who had me entertained so much? The man who was so fine to be near for he dripped with women and wine? I liked being out in fun with you for you always found many women for me to talk to."

"All you ever do is talk!"

"I like talking to women." He smiles widely, "I feel I am closer to the one, my old friend. I can feel it! So I must make more efforts. I can almost see her before me... A beautiful face and a sweet heart for me. Hnnnn."

He settles back in his seat with a look of dreaming on his face and his boots go up on my table. I laugh hard at the expression on his face and he sneers in response.

"Jealous!" He accuses.

"Not ever of you. You are insane."

"Sho sho... You seem in good spirits... How was Sa-chay?"

"She was doing well."

"Not what I mean. How was Sa-chay?" He winks.

"I would not know."


"I am not a liar!"

"She has been aching for you. I doubt you left her company untouched." He crosses his legs and the tips of his boots tap together as he tries to look through me.

"Nnh..." I frown and push at the food with my utensil.

"Tell me!"

"I only did kiss her."


"I did not let her stay with me."

"Ahhlll! You are a strange thing! So many men would give a limb from their own body to have her lips against theirs! What could you be having in your head to not take her to you??"

"It was not what I wanted."

"Why not??"

"Jealous." I accuse him now with a wry smile.

"Never the case. She is not the one for me. She has a beautiful voice and a beautiful body... By the Gods she has a beautiful body!... Yet she is too experienced for me. I would feel returned to my boyhood with her."


"You have far more experience in such things and could entertain her well no doubt. With me, she would be sleeping as I was doing all of my best to please her. How embarrassing! I hope that she would not snore." He muses.

Again I laugh, "I fear she might be drowsing with myself as well."

"Not likely... What are you thinking?? Do you not know that I depend upon you to do these things that I cannot and tell me of the wonders of them??"

His boots come down from the table and he leans forward, pounding his fist on the wood. His eyes are wide and the unruly hair he has always worn on his head adds to his comic appearance. I smile so much that my face hurts.

"Gods I have missed you! I have been pressed on all sides by females for such a long while. It is so good to have a male to talk to."

"A male that you have disappointed! I was certain I would come here to a grand tale... What was it like to kiss her?"

"Like kissing any other woman."

"I do not believe it. I will not believe it!"

"It is true... She does have a beautiful body though..." I remember.

With that he unleashes a long dialogue regarding my failure on the part of all men for not having taken Sachay to my bed. At this point Hanta enters my chamber with a frown for both of us.

"Telling your tale of conquest, are you?" She asks accusingly.

"There has been nothing to tell." Shilne fumes.


"He has failed every man!"

"Surprising. I am proud of you!" Hanta pats my head as though she is praising a child.

"Do not say that to the man! You have a chance to redeem yourself. Contact her now!" Shilne presses.

"I will not. You will see her soon enough when we go to see her performance. She has assured me that she will find you a number of women to interview."

"Wonderful! This almost makes up for lack of story... It has been so long... Even Hanta is looking attractive!"

"I will make you regret saying that." She snarls.

"I already do!" His attention is redirected as Menoh arrives. "Ahhl, you have indeed been surrounded by women while I have been gone... Helloooo Menoh."

"Hello, High Commander Shilne." She smiles for him.

"You are looking lovely today."

"Thank you." She blushes.

"Menoh... Stay clear of Shilne. I believe he is in season." I warn.

"Men do not have that." She clicks her tongue.

"He behaves as though he does."

"And my great task for today? To take your little Laila to Aykovas. To Giihio?"

"Yes. You will enjoy meeting him."

"Amazing. A deadly priest."

It takes some convincing still to get Laila to leave me but she finally boards Shilne's cruiser after a hug for me and a long embrace for her future husband. She leaves me to the care of Menoh and Hanta, with Ryuaki looking to be a bit of a mess. He watches the sky for a long while and then goes silently on his way back to the university, accompanied by a sympathetic few of the palace guard. He does love her and I am pleased. As she is in flight I am speaking with Giihio.

"I trust you to care for her." I tell him.

"You know that you can. She will be safe here and kept in comfort and friendship... I know that you love her and nothing I can say will set you completely at ease... Yet trust me." He smiles warmly.

"I will do my best to."

"Gods keep you, Baika."

"And you and yours." I close the channel.

It is a shame that Shilne was unable to meet Giihio when he brought us to Aykovas. For all of his new responsibility he was left behind in the cruiser to talk with the many many people he has to contact daily. I will be interested to hear what he thinks of the man.

At the day's end Shilne is back with me. For all of my complaints, he has been determined to do some hard training with the palace guard to bring up their skills to the point where he will feel satisfied with leaving me in their care instead of leaving members of the 102 scattered amongst them. His smile is wide as he sits down at my table again.

"What is that smile for?"

"Giihio is an amazing thing." He says, "I have convinced him to come here and train the palace guard. He insisted that he is no longer a fighter... But I did get him to agree."

"How did you manage that?"

"He is a priest! So I asked him if the Gods wanted you to be the King for a long while. He said that it seemed to be the case and so I said that he should help to see that you were well protected to keep your reign long. He agreed to come if he could bring his family. I told him that should not be a problem. I want to see the man fight for myself, so you had better agree to it."

"Of course. I would like to see that as well."

"Good good. Then I will only have to beat on your palace guard for a little while by myself." He rubs his hands together happily.

For the next little while I spend my mornings with Shilne and the palace guard, pushing them to their limits and beyond. Hanta keeps my schedule as usual and Menoh finds that for a change I am up from my bed before she arrives in the morning.

"Come and have a late meal with Yuki and I tonight." Hanta invites after the third day of hard training.

"Eat your cooking??" I pretend at offense.

She scowls, "I retract my offer."

"I joke with you. I would enjoy that."

"Good. I sent the location of our new flat to your katsuna... And now I am leaving before you mock me again."

Hanta departs early to gather some things from the market, leaving me to make my way to her home on my own. Menoh lays out my clothing and smiles up at me.

"What do you think?" She asks hopefully.

"You are learning my ways." I smirk at seeing that she has laid out my comfortable clothing.

"Good. Have a fun time!" She leaves with a giggle and a flourish of skirts.

Once clothed I go to the livery to find the keeper who gives me a shikan to take into the city. I see that it is the same one I have been taking and that he has changed it. He has painted southern characters across the black surface that state my title and then there is the Diya marking.

"Have you done this painting?"

"Yes sire." He wipes his dirty hands on a rag, "Do you like it? I have also raised the torque on it at the lower end. I think you will enjoy."

"I like it indeed. I will let you know how the adjustments are."

"Gods keep you, great King." He bows away as I climb on and start it.

I find the modifications he has made a thing of beauty and go racing out the gates of the palace into the streets, laughing. This will be a good night. An opportunity to leave behind my title, just to sit with a regular family and talk. I will also be able to find out more from Yuki how things have been in Namida. As an Enforcer he must see much of life and from a different perspective than Sachay views the city.

As I come down into the valley and around to the Eastern rim it seems as though there is more life in the city then when last I visited. I see more people out and going about their lives. Perhaps it is just because of the better weather but I like to think I have had something to do with it. When I stop in traffic for the yield signals I notice that there is music coming from all over. The enclosed transports here and there have music playing from them to entertain those who travel in them. The shops are open and they too have music flowing from their doors and windows.

A loud squeal draws my attention—a small child has recognized me and presses his face to the glass enclosure of the transport he rides in. His family turns to see what has caused his outburst. They are startled to see me but they bow their heads. I raise a hand to them in hail then pull away from the traffic, racing on ahead with the wind in my hair and a smile on my face.

The shikan I leave in the lot below the building that is home to Hanta and Yuki. It is a small structure—only 5 levels high with large balconies that face the valley for the view—in a well kept residential area with narrow transport streets and wide walkways. The people are friendly and smiling. Some are startled to see me there amongst them and bow respectfully, coming to a stop where they are walking. Some of them praise me. I wonder if my father would have had such a reception, walking on his own in this city. He never would have walked alone.

The doorkeeper allows me entry to the building and directs me with many bows to the residence of Hanta and Yuki on the third floor. Yuki greets me at the entry with yet another bow for my eyes.

"Welcome welcome! Come inside."

"Gladly I will."

He takes my armored jacket and puts it out of the way then takes me to the cooking area where Hanta is toiling away.

"Baika! Hello!" She smiles and brushes back some hair that has come loose from the tie she is holding it back with. "Yuki, get him something to drink and keep him entertained, hnn?"

"Both things I can do. Come along, my king. We will leave Hanta to her mess."

I follow him to the balcony where we sit together with some sweet wine. Another good thing about this—I can talk again to a southern male in the southern tongue that I have not had much occasion to use lately. He tells me many things about his daily work and I enjoy the stories immensely. They mostly relate to changes that have come, the happiness of the people he has made it his life to serve.

Hanta comes out for a rest from her work to have a drink with us, then mocks our speaking in southern.

"Ik tik tik tik aku naki dita."

"We do not sound that way." Yuki pokes her in the side with a finger as she passes us by, going to lean on the balcony rail.

"Yes you do. Odd old southerners." She makes a face.

Down below there are some of Yuki's comrades coming along the walkway, heading home after a long day of service. They start talking loudly as they approach the balcony we are sitting on.

"Do you smell something burning??"

"I do I do!"

"It must be that Yuki's wife Hanta is cooking for him again!"

"Do you smell something rotten??"

"I do I do!"

"It must be Yuki's wife Hanta was cooking for him again and killed him!"

"We should go visit and take up his dead body for final rites!"

Yuki laughs and Hanta throws a piece of fruit at them as they pass.

"At least he has a wife to go home to!! Ugly, rude things!!"

"Careful old woman! You may break!"

"Oooh!! I am coming down there so you better run!"

The exchange continues until I get up and go to lean on the railing and watch. The four men who have been trading insults with her stop and bow down.

"Forgive us for interrupting, Baika." Says their senior officer.

"No worry. Carry on."

They stand again and look at each other for a moment and then back up toward us.

"Cowards!" Hanta yells.

"Aiy old woman. Are you going to poison our Baika? He is the first good one we have had! Do not kill him!"

"I cook just fine!"

"Then why is there always a black cloud over your home?"

"Rrrhhh... Strange how you come here so often for a meal and stuff yourselves so well and then survive!! And ask for more!!"

"Off we go old woman! Good fortune to you Baika! Do not eat anything!"

I laugh, "Thank you for the warning."

"Do you see what I have to suffer?? After a day of your playing with me I have to come home to this."

"Ah they mean no harm, Hanta. You know that." Yuki chuckles.

"Men..." She turns and goes back inside.

"It seems you have developed a good friendship with your co-workers."

"I have. I love my job. I love the people in my sector. I hope you do not truly think I have gone soft because I am not a part of the military any longer."

"No no. I am glad you have found a good place in the Enforcers. You still serve and protect our people. Just in a more personal manner."

"It is more relaxing and I can spend more time with Hanta. That is what I wanted now that I am getting older. And next some children."

"I am in hopes that things will settle down over the next year as I begin to wrap my mind about the vast task that my father has left me. I never could have imagined so much difficulty. But things are coming along... Perhaps then Hanta will have to be with me less and will have time for children. I think she puts it off because I am like her own large and difficult child." I smile. "I will do my best to grow up that she may have a child of her own."

Yuki smiles and taps his fingers on his glass, "She does care about you very much. You have been her great life work. I think she feels she has finally molded you into something she does not have to pay so much attention to, if you will forgive my supposition."

"You are correct. I am beginning to behave." My smile grows. "I am thankful for her and her patience with all she has suffered in my employ. You are a lucky man to have such a patient wife."

"I am. I too am thankful... I am glad that you have come to be this way that you are. I can see the changes that your rule has brought and hope you will stay on the course you are on. That is how many of us feel."

"There will always be detractors."

"Mostly those who are angry you have removed their slaves from them, or those who notice your lack of a ridge." He taps his forehead with two fingers, "Do not worry about them."

"I have no time to worry about them. I am enjoying just sitting here with you and talking. It is a welcome break."

"It is good to spend time with you in a less formal setting. I see so few southerners in a social manner. I am looking forward to Laila coming home as Hanta wishes to have she and Ryuaki come for a visit. Another southerner. It is wonderful!"

"He is a good young man. You will enjoy his company. Very serious though. Give him a good bit to drink and he will be fine."

"I will have no trouble with that!"

Hanta comes out with our food in a little while more. It looks as though we will be having a family style meal. I have not seen one of these in a long long while. She brings our tea and sets a plate with spices before me.

"Enjoy enjoy!" She cheers and takes her place beside Yuki.

The meal is delicious, not at all poisoned. I am just myself now and it is a relief. When the meal is done we all rest back in our chairs to watch the sun go slowly down, the sound of soothing music drifting out the doors toward us. I take a deep breath and my mind is taken away. How wonderful it would be if she were here now... Just sitting beside me and talking with us. I can almost feel her presence... My eyes close and I can see her in my mind's eye.

"Such a look, Baika."

"Hnn?" I look toward her, coming out of my thoughts.

"What were you thinking?" Hanta asks.

"Things that make me happy, Hanta. That is all. Thank you for this time. It has been wonderful... Yet I must go." I get up from my chair, "Thank you both for having me into your home."

"You are very welcome."

"Do come again. Bring Ryuaki with you, neh?"

"I will."

Before the sun is completely gone for the day I go on my way back to Manaleh where I plan to attempt to hide further from my title by locking the doors to my chambers and reading.

In the morning I wake where I had fallen asleep on one of the wide sofas beside the fireplace. I gather my book off the floor where it has fallen and stretch and yawn then ready myself to go running with Shilne and the palace guard. It is good to wake without being beaten by cushions.

Giihio will arrive today for a brief visit. He will see how the guards are in skill level and then go home to put together the best course of training. The palace guard is nervous but eager to meet him. I am eager to see him fight.

We assemble the entirety of the guard in the courtyard that is part of the main entry to Manaleh along with those members of the 102 that have stayed to see to my personal safety. Giihio arrives as he chooses—coming simply on the public transit—and walks calmly through the gates. He seems quite at home and perhaps fittingly so for Manaleh used to be a temple, home to many priests and priestesses. I cast a glance across the wide court through the archways toward the locked doors to the main temple, wondering if he has been alive long enough to have seen this place as a temple instead of a palace.

Giihio comes forward and bows to me, smiling that steady and calm smile that he has. He does not seem like a skilled killer. After introductions are made we move into the larger courtyard in front of those doors. There he watches the men in some practice melees, all the time wearing the same calm expression on his face.

"What do you think of them?" I ask at last, trying to shake the quiet out of him.

"They want to do well." He replies simply, his eyes still fixed upon the latest pair of combatants.

"But do they?"

"Unfortunately, they do not. Yet they have the want to and so they are trainable."

"Show me your skill, Giihio."

He turns his head toward me, regarding me in silence for a good while.

"Do you think me an unskilled fighter?" I press.

"I think you are very skilled... I have not fought in a long while, Majesty. I worry I may harm you."

"Ehnn??" I frown, "You think that you can best me?"

"I can." He nods.

"Prove it!" I feel challenged and draw my blade, "Give him a weapon!" I bark to Shilne. This quiet man cannot be what his marking shows.

"I will take up no blade. You may fight me with yours. You will still not win." He says and moves away from me a little way.

"If you think so. You may regret your decision... Shoch!" I race at him.

Never have I seen a person move in such a way as he did in that moment. It seemed as though he was not even a solid creature, just like the air. I could not land a blow and I was trying as hard as I could.

I try to keep my focus, not to let my anger grow from frustration... But to no avail. I find myself face down in the dirt, hearing the palace guard muttering in shock and disbelief. I haven't been able to best an unarmed priest!


I vault to my feet and turn on him with a vengeance. No luck still, despite the fine thrusts and swings from my blade... I taste the soil again. Now the palace guard claps at the display.

"QUIET!" Giihio erupts at them quite surprisingly and they obey immediately.

I pick myself up off the ground again, "A fine display, Giihio..." I do not have time to praise him further as he launches at me and I have to defend myself... Toumai goes flying from my hand. I find myself falling hard onto my back with Giihio's fingers digging into my throat.

"YIELD!" His expression is wild.

"I do!" I am shocked.

Giihio releases his grip, rises with a shudder, then trudges across the wide court toward the temple doors that have been shut for so long. There he falls to his knees and begins to pray until his calm has returned. All of our eyes are wide as we stare at him in silence. Again he rises and comes back to the group, bowing to me where I am standing again.

"Forgive me, Majesty."

"Forgiven. That was incredible! I have never been beaten that way!"

"It is likely you will not be again. You are strong and skilled. A worthy opponent. I can clearly see the strength of the Marhud training you have received. I have some skills that are not part of a regular man and so I have used them to best you. You see now part of my ability. You should also see now why it is that I had gone to be a Priest. The Goddess Umutiri holds me in her hands and I am her willing servant for the calm she brings to my gifts... I know your family has not allowed the Gods, and so I hope my words do not offend."

"If I could tolerate your brother always calling her name in battle, I can surely tolerate your beliefs that bring calm to you." I nod to him in respect of his skill, "Will you train the palace guard?"

"I will for you are worthy of a fine guard, Baika... Shilne... Please return me to my home."

"Baika?" Shilne seeks my leave.

"Do as he asks. Come back soon and bring your family along."

"Yes. Gods keep you, Baika." He nods and goes off with Shilne to the landing pads, leaving the rest of our group to disperse in quiet amazement.

When Shilne returns to Manaleh I am still in shock, in my mind running through all of my moves and Giihio's moves to see what I could have done better. Nothing much. I am glad he is not my enemy.

"I have not seen you beaten before." Shilne remarks.

"Do you lose your respect for me?"

"No. If anything I have more for how you fought him. No one could have lasted longer. I have never seen such a thing! The way he moved... Like he was walking in spirit, not flesh... Like the air. There is a power to him that he keeps well in check, my king. It is no wonder your father wanted him dead, for if Giihio sought revenge for the destruction of Aligar Temple your father would have been ash long ago. Amazing."

"Yes. Amazing."

Shilne remains at Manaleh for a few more days, going over many details of the military with me. He has taken to his new position as highest leader of the armed forces with great enthusiasm. He only seems to lament that it is cutting into his time for finding a wife.

"... Since you are ruining my life with this responsibility, I have a gift for you." He winks at me as we lean on one of the intricate rails of the upper exterior halls to have a smoke, watching the summer rain creating rainbows across the valley.

"Ruining your life... Saich..." I roll up my eyes and exhale, "What is this gift then?"

"Tonight... We are going to have some fun!"

"How do you suppose this?"

"I have... In my pocket... Passes to a women's club in the old entertainment district. A fine one that has only just recently reopened its doors... I have heard that many similarly fine women gather there. Many women for me to interview." He pats his chest. "So you can make up for my lost time. You had best agree to go!"

"If I do not?"

"I will cry like a child and embarrass you." He laughs. "Come come. Do not act such the old man. It will be great fun." He punches my shoulder, "Neh?"

"Nnnh..." I grumble.

"Neh??" Another punch.

"I will consider it if you will stop hitting me." I scowl at him.

"Consider it more quickly. I can feel these passes burning a hole in me... Escape from Hanta! You know that you want to... Spend some time with poor Shilne! Shilne who feels sooo lonely..." He pouts dramatically, "Have you no sympathy?"

"If you feel so lonely I will fill your time better! With many many Commanders and High Commanders and Armory Commanders and-"

"Enough! You have no heart. I will now proceed with crying!" He stands up straight and draws a deep breath, opening his mouth wide.

"DO NOT do that." I warn him and thankfully he smiles instead of screaming.

"I thought you might enjoy a reminder of my past, my sweet childhood."

"If you give me that reminder I will remind you of how I used to react to it." I smirk.

"Ahht! Go and make yourself useful and polish my boots or there will be no food for your big mouth." He mocks my treatment of him as a child. "You were a terrible parent. You never took good care of me."

"I was not meant to be your parent, Shilne. I did with you what I could."

"Ahhlll... I joke with you! Do you remember your father knocked me senseless and locked me in a closet for mimicking him? You could not find me for days! That was when I knew you cared for you had such a look of worry on your face when you found me." He smiles widely then takes another pull on his smoke.

"And you were half starved... But still you did not have a healthy enough fear of the man."

"Never did I say I was a smart child." He shrugs.

"Good, for you would have been lying!"

"But will you go??"

"Yes yes yes." I wave him off, exasperated. Perhaps it will be entertaining after all.

"Ahht! I have won a great battle today. We will have such fun! It is a shame Akti cannot join. His family is having him attend a matching pool in Kianumatne City. He does not want to go to it! Foolish man..."

"Not everyone is so keen on marriage as you."

"They should be." He waves a pair of fingers at my face.

"I would send you in my place to the matching pools of my Diya if they were not so purist in their ways."

"I might be chased out of town." He chuckles. "Shilne the impure northerner." He rubs his forehead to indicate the lack of ridge there, "Diya Calpuran has some nice matching pools of their own, thank you. I will go to one soon... For now I will go and find some others to bring with us this night. Some to guard our fine King and some to enjoy with us. Bailu, great Emperor!"

"Nnh... Bailu strange one." I watch him go down the exterior hall into the interior, "Why do I sense I will regret this decision? Hnnnn..."

I return my attention to the colors in the sky and the scent of the rain dampened world around me. It is a glorious day even for the rain. Perhaps it will not be all so bad to find some diversion tonight.

In the end Shilne assembles a group of forty men to go with us. This is more than what I had expected. Even so we climb into transports when the night has come and are taken down into the entertainment district on the eastern rim of the lake—Old Namida.

"I feel as though I am in my academy days." I grumble.

Across from me in the cramped transport Geten—Commander of the Palace Guard—grunts his agreement.

"Enjoy your reclaimed youth then." Shilne grins.

The Women's Club is situated on the lake itself and is enormous. It is drawing in business to those establishments around it, for every restaurant is open and every thoroughfare is filled with life. Our group joins the throngs and we are granted entry before many others.

Inside, the numbers surprise me. The place is filled to the walls. Many large men stand as security about the place, watching the goings on. The environment washes over us all—the voices, the music from the performers on stage, the lights, the motion and then there is the scent... Ahhhhh... The scent of dozens of women in season. We stop and take it in.

"Yes... It is a good night." Shilne grins, "Can you feel it? Can you taste it? Come come!"

We gather in a seating area and I settle on one of the couches beside Shilne. Here we have a good view of the performers, the dancers on the stage and those who have come to dance themselves. It is a feast for the senses. Shilne waves down some of the servers to bring us drinks and shoves one into my hand.

"DRINK!" He yells at me over the noise.

He then pulls out a piece of silver fabric, which he ties about his left upper arm. This will signify that he is looking for a wife so that the appropriate women may easily find him. The others are doing the same, indicating their availability. These places were started for women to come to find themselves males to recreate with or to relieve their seasonal urges, and for those who are looking for husbands yet their Diyas may be far from them or they do not prefer to go by their Diya matching pools. We are on their ground here. Everything is made for their enjoyment even though the view is quite pleasing for any male... There are many many beautiful women present this night.

As I am looking over the crowd I feel one of the sashes going around my right arm, tied there by Shilne.

"Since I know your heart is already won, perhaps you can have some enjoyment tonight instead!" He laughs, having indicated that I am available for recreation.

"I will surely kill you later." I growl at him.

"Naii... You will thank me."

He gestures to the side of the stage where I see Sachay watching over the performers. She has evidently brought out some of her own troupe for this night's entertainment. I realize now that I have been part of a scheme.

"Shilne..." I scowl at him.

"No no... Do not thank me now. The best thanks I could ask for would be the story of your night! You have a chance to redeem yourself, man. Take it." He laughs, clapping a hand on my shoulder then jumping up and hurrying off to mix into the crowds before I can strike him.

"It seems young Shilne is trying to help you, Baika." Geten offers, his sash indicating that he is married and only observing for he is on duty.

"Help is not the word I would have chosen."

Shilne makes his way through the crowd until he reaches the side of the stage where he waves down Sachay, apparently letting her know that I am present and marked as available. I am done for.

At least Shilne is happy with his surroundings. He leaves Sachay to her work—I can see from the papers on the table that she will be singing as well as conducting the entertainment—and heads out into the crowds. He finds himself amidst a group of young women, seemingly just past their first season. They are with slightly older women who are teaching them what they should know to best select from the many men that are available. Most likely they are older sisters, escorting groups of their little sister's friends out for a night of fun. The younger women are shy and worried yet curious as he works his charms with them.

"My name is Shilne. Forgive the foolish hair, will you be the wife for me? I would like many children." Geten mocks what he is most likely saying to them and we laugh.

The older women show the younger that Shilne is harmless regardless of his high position in the military and soon they are all taking turns in kissing him. He is surely pleased with his life at this moment though I can see from his behavior that he has not found a wife among these women... He is simply doing his part to settle the nerves of the younger ones so they may relax and mingle with the men. He has many sisters and I know that he worries they will not be bold enough to examine their possibilities for their shy, small town upbringing. Thus he feels it is his duty to open doors for many young women, even if they are not the wife he seeks. The embraces he receives tonight are a fine reward for his efforts.

Shilne came to my life as a slave, purchased in the markets of Kianumatne while I was still just assembling the tattered group of souls that would become my first Imperial Division. I had thought to make Kianumatne City my home when I was not with the troops in battle and so I had begun to build myself a rather lavish home in a Sugarai community known as Ryojand Jiih. At that time father was very anxious to fill me with luxuries for I had only just returned to his side. He had offered Numaiial Palace on the sea—where I had taken up temporary residence—but it never appealed to me as a home. I decided that I would have my own preferences built in to a vast property. Funds were not an issue.

That day Banrek had come along with me to the wide, open market rows to see what I would next waste some currency on. Hanta was trailing along, muttering this and that about how people were starving while I enjoyed myself.

"Close your mouth, woman!" I snapped at her and gave her a wry smirk over my shoulder, "Perhaps I will buy you something nice if you find some sweetness in your mood, nnh?"

"Then you will buy me nothing, for you will find no such sweetness on this day."

"So be it. At least do me the kind favor of keeping your curses inside your mind so that I do not have to hear them."

"I will think on your proposition."

"Neh, Hanta... Be happier. It is a beautiful day!" Banrek smiled.

"Perhaps it is for a heat-loving southerner such as yourself. To a northerner, this is a piece of misery." She continued to fan her angry face.

"With any luck we will have some heat storms tonight. I know how you enjoy those." I chuckled at her further souring expression.

Furnishings were bought for my home that day. Hanta was busy with setting up delivery schedules as Banrek and I escaped her to find our way to the employment section of the market. Many personnel companies were there to offer services. I found one there that had come well recommended then began to select some servants for my sprawling new residence. When I had almost finished with my business—and another glass of wine gladly given by the company officer—Hanta found us.

"You... Should not go off without me." She favored us with more of her finest scowl.

"I am safe. As you see the palace guard are keeping watch over my health and welfare." I gestured lazily toward them.

"Still... What have you done here?"

"Found myself some help to keep my wonderful new home!" I raised my glass to her along with Banrek.

"I should interview such people on your behalf... Highness." She finished her sentence with some ire.

"She is not so happy that you have come back." Banrek remarked and raised an eyebrow.

"Not so much." I nodded. "Interview them if you must."

"I will."

"We are done here then." I stood from my comfortable chair and returned the empty glass to the desk of the company officer.

"Thank you most kindly for your business, Highness. You will be pleased, I guarantee."

"I had better be."

"Do not go far." Hanta warned as we headed for the door.

"You are like a leash, woman."

"Then I do my job well." She went about her interviewing while Banrek and I wandered back out into the market rows.

In the employment section borders there were often people sitting and waiting with signs, stating what their skills were so that they might find some work for themselves. Also there were those who were selling lives. Many families who had found unfortunate times and could not feed their numbers would come to sell hungry male children to feed the rest.

There I found Shilne and his odd head of dark hair, running and playing with other children and wearing a piece of paper hung on a length of twine around his neck. The paper read 'for sale' with a price that had been crossed out and lowered. Young Shilne collided with me quite harshly for he was not looking where he was going while running. He fell back hard, landing on his back end, knocking the air out of himself. He shook his head and looked up at me, blinking with surprise at seeing what he had run into. His uncles came hurriedly to gather him up and bowed with their apologies.

"I can see why you have reduced his price." I frowned upon them.

"For true. He will not be still." His older uncle agreed.

"There you are..." Hanta had caught up with us, still looking angry for this day I was forcing her to enjoy.

"Lady! You will not be so ugly if you smile!" Shilne shrieked suddenly, his uncle hurrying to clamp a hand over his mouth as Hanta's eyes bulged in shock.

"Forgive him. He is full of energy today."

I looked from the struggling child to Hanta's expression and then made a rash decision.

"I will buy him!"

"What??" Both Hanta and Banrek chimed.

"I like him. He has made Hanta angry with far more efficiency than I do. Here then, man. Here is your payment for him." I offered him the noted amount on the piece of paper.

"Highness... You should not take him. He will be nothing but trouble." The younger uncle bowed to me.

"Then how do you expect to sell him??"

"We are hoping he will find a home on a farm such as he grew up on. Somewhere he will be able to run his energy off."

"Nnh... I will find something to do that. I guarantee."

"Highness ... Certainly you cannot be serious."

"I am."

They told me then of why they were selling him. His parents had died in an unfortunate accident on the family farm, leaving seven daughters and Shilne to the care of their uncles. While they had covered the cost of keeping the daughters by selling some of the family farmland, they could just not afford to feed Shilne for the amounts he consumed. They therefore made the decision to sell him so they might at least feed his sisters. While the remainder of the family was off in the market selling their farm wares, these two uncles were trying again to sell Shilne. Apparently when they had come from the northern continent in the previous season they had been unable to find him a new home.

After some discussion and assurances that their family would be able to visit with him I paid the two uncles and took Shilne by the arm. There I heard his first cries that he threatened me with if I did not go to the women's club. He was horrified by leaving his uncles' care. Fortunately the noise did not last for he was easily distracted.

"I cannot believe you have done this! This poor child has lost his parents and now you have to buy him??" Hanta scolded.

"What of it? He will entertain me."

"He is a child not a toy!"

"Lady! You should not be so angry!" He yelled at her from his position hanging from my arm, as though he were a rolled up rug I was toting. "Angry makes ugly!"

I laughed loudly and looked at Hanta sidelong, "You were saying?"

"Gods, what a mouth!"

Back at Numaiial palace I set him free on the beach and watched him run as though possessed by some energy demon. Hanta clicked her tongue, folding her arms across herself as she stood beside me.

"Poor child..."

"He could do far worse than to be owned by the Imperial Prince." I told her.

"He could do far better."

"Make yourself of use and go find the tailors to make him some clothing. I think he is going to destroy these things he wears with his enjoyment of the seaside." I laughed and sent her off.

"He needs to be in youth academy." Banrek noted.

"Indeed he does. Some discipline will do him good." I agreed, "We will bring him with us when we go to meet with the 3rd contingent. Perhaps he can learn to be an Imperial warrior."

"Him? Ahht! I will bet you much money that he will never calm himself."

"I will bet you more that I will make something of this child."

"Hnn... What rank think you to bring him to?"

"I would say... Commander. By the time he is 20 years." I nodded to which Banrek laughed heartily.

"You are truly insane, my Prince."

"Will you take the bet or not, coward?"

"I will certainly take it! I will be a rich man!"

"So you think."

"I have a doubt he will even survive until he is another year older with the mouth he has on him."

"If he entertains me I will protect him from the repercussions of what he says."

"You had best not show him to your father."

"True true."

Unfortunately young Shilne met the man himself that very evening. Hanta had the tailors working hard to fit him into new clothing while he struggled to be free and I enjoyed his antics. Father had come in to see if I was in residence for a shared meal, the old witch in his shadow. Shilne freed himself at that moment and went running... Right into my enormous father as he entered the archway of the room. Again he fell hard onto his back end. He shook his head, dazed, and looked up at the pair of them... Then his eyes grew huge and he shrieked in terror, scrambling to right himself and get far away. Father reached down and took him by the back of the neck, hauling him to his feet.

"What is this??" He growled.

"Father... That is Shilne."

I stood and went to gather him, feeling surprisingly protective of the boy. Once released from father's grip Shilne came to hide behind me quite happily.

"Why is this boy here?"

"I bought him in the market today... He amuses me."

"What are you going to do with a child slave?" He scowled and proceeded to pull his long white hair back into a cord.

"I have a wager with Banrek that I can make a commander of him. He will go to academy."

"I see..."

"What happened to her face?" Shilne hissed from where he clung to my jacket.

"Shht..." I told him as the old woman growled at him.

"Aiwulan will be here for late meal so we may discuss your armory. Keep the child still or he will be dead."

I heard Shilne swallow hard.

"Of course, father." I nodded to him. Mercifully they departed.

"That is your father?" Shilne let go of me, sniffing at the air to assure himself that they were moving away from us still.


He looked up at me, "You do not look like him."

"I am fortunate for that fact. Do not upset him. He means what he says to you."

"Unn hnn..." He nodded. "The lady scares me."

"Nnh... I know that feeling. Keep clear of her too."

"I will." He nodded, suddenly not so eager to run around. "Are you really going to send me to academy?"

"I am."

"Ahhlll... Am I going to be an Imperial warrior?" He smiled.

"You seem to be happy with that possibility."

"I want to be a pilot!"

"You will be. You will have to work hard at it."

"I will! I will!"

"Tonight you must be calm over our late meal. There will be important people present."

"I will!"

"Good. Now go back and let the tailors finish with you."

He did so gladly. From the way his eyes were rolling around in his head I could tell that he was busily working through the facts of his new life. At the table that night he kept his calm surprisingly well until the food arrived... And then he set upon it savagely. He certainly had the appetite that his uncles had mentioned. We all looked upon him in amazement.

"Have you been starving him?" Aiwulan asked and tried to harass Shilne by pulling his bowl away, only to have the boy snarl at him and snatch it back. "Saich!"

"His uncles told me he was difficult to keep fed. That is why they sold him. I will feed him as much as he likes and see how big he becomes."

"He will be a giant at this rate. What is wrong with his hair?? He looks frightened."

Once filled, Shilne curled up in a large chair by the fire and slept contentedly. When our company had departed Hanta woke him enough to put him into clothing to sleep in then lay a blanket over him and smiled.

"He is adorable when he is not talking." She laughed quietly and sat beside me to go over lists and calendars.

In the morning she woke him to come eat his morning meal. He came to my table yawning widely and rubbing his sleep-sticky eyes. Hanta helped him with linen and then filled his plate. Again he proceeded to fill himself hastily.

"Shilne... You must learn to eat more slowly." I told him.

He swallowed his latest mouthful loudly, "I am always hungry. I never got so much to eat before!"

"You do not have to worry about being hungry again. Slow yourself."

"I will try."

After a while passed I heard something and looked up from my katsuna to see that he was now eating and crying both.

"What are you doing?" My question only caused him to cry more, "What is wrong, boy??"

"I miss my mama and papa!!" He wailed. "Mamaaaa!!"

"Enough!" I struck the table with my fist, sending the settings clattering and causing him to jump and quiet from surprise, "Stop your crying!"

"But I miss them." He sniffed at his tears and hiccupped.

"Of course you do. You do them no good by crying. Stop it."

"But... It hurts..."

"Many things will hurt you in life. Come to be used to it!"

"Tch... Be kinder to him!" Hanta snapped.

"Hnn... Listen to me, boy... I know what you feel for I miss my mother as well. She is gone now. The only thing I can do is carry on and bring her spirit pride with my actions. You can do the same. You have a large opportunity before you to make your mama and papa proud of you... You will also be able to help your many sisters."

"How?" He whined.

"When you become a pilot you will earn wages. You will be able to send your family funds to keep themselves well. You will be able to feed your sisters and your relatives. Do you think this would make your parents proud?"


"The better you do in academy, the further you will rise in the ranks, the more you will earn to help your family."

His tears slowed as he thought about it, "Then... If I am a very good pilot I will make mama and papa proud. I can help my uncles keep their farm too?"


"Teach me to be a very very good pilot!" He pounded his little fists on the table, his expression one of great determination.

I smirked, "I will teach you to be the best pilot in the Empire."

"The best?"

"Nnh... Well one of the best. You may never be a better pilot than I. It takes great skill."

"I will learn. I will be better than you."

"So you say now. It will not be easy."

That discussion and that day made his life for him. He went for his first flight with me from the palace to the academy grounds of Baiaryu University where Banrek and I met with some of our new recruits from the military academy. Such a rough bunch. Shilne sat quietly on the ground beside where I stood, listening intently to all the goings on. He watched as the young men proved themselves worthy of commission in hand to hand combat and swordplay. Afterward I brought him along to the clothiers on the academy grounds where I found him a child's uniform to wear which made him rather puffed up for the remainder of the day. Hanta smiled at him endlessly as he mimicked our behavior and seriousness.

"See lady? You are prettier when you smile." He told her and broke my mood into laughter once again.

"You are handsomer when your mouth is shut!" She retorted.

"Gaaahhh." He made a face at her then hid behind me.

"A warrior does not hide from his foe. He faces it proudly." I told him.

"But she is scary."

"True enough but you cannot show a beast your fear."

"Beast??" Hanta yelped.

As another reward for his ability to amuse me I gave him his first blade from the academy armory.

"... You must treat it with respect. Never draw it unless you intend to use it. This is not a toy for you. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Prince." He marveled at it, "Is it sharp?"


"I cannot believe you are arming him. He has never even been in academy." Hanta clicked her tongue.

"Shilne... Do you see her worry?"

He looked away from his blade to where Hanta stood with furrows in her brow, "Yes, Prince."

"It is for good reason this time. You may hurt yourself if you play with it as a toy. Look at me..." He looked up and blinked, "Do you hear me clearly that this is not a toy?"

"Yes, Prince. I will not play with it. I will wear it with pride and wait for you to teach me to use it."

"Very good. Then Hanta will not worry and make her ugly face. This will also make me happy."

"Me too." He grinned and I laughed, ruffling up his strangely standing dark hair.

Shilne became my shadow, learning all he could from me and also entertaining me with his strange humor here and there. He entered youth academy and took to his studies with enthusiasm and dedication though his instructors doubted he would become much for his late start. He proved them wrong. He caught up with and then surpassed his peers. When I brought him a year later to visit his family in the prefecture lands surrounding Ankanu City—The southern part of the northern continent—he had been awarded best student in his age level. He wore his pilot's primary colors proudly and told them that he had even been co-pilot of my cruiser on the journey to them.

"... I will be one of the best pilots in the Empire and help you to keep our farm." He told his uncles.

Every year he returned to them to visit and I became quite familiar with his family. Shilne was their pride. Every award he won was placed on display in their large farm home. Almost all of the money he earned once he became a commissioned pilot went to them. He still visits them every year and still provides their farm with much support. One of the greatest things he did for them was to have a newer and much larger home built on the property. The old home was torn down once the extended family moved into their new residence. The entirety of the property is now in his name along with the property that his uncles had to sell to keep his sisters fed. He sends funds to his Diya so that they may host matching pools that he can attend to see if he can find the farm girl of his dreams and then return to his family land to begin a large family of his own.

While I mock his farmer's desires I hope that he will find the woman that he seeks and the family that he hopes to have. He is one of the finest people I have known in my life. I have taken pride in him as though he were my own little brother for that is how he has been to me... Family.

Some of the palace guard begin to gravitate toward him for they see he has gathered a good group about him with his strangeness and smiles. Soon each man has at least one woman talking with him. I wave to the servers for another drink and just watch.

"Nnh... It looks as though you will have some company yourself." Geten notes.

I have been fortunate so far that the women here are too worried by my guards to come toward me. My fortune is at an end for Sachay is making her way toward us after her set of songs. Nothing worries her.

"Gods help me..." I am into my fifth drink now and at the sight of her approach, I feel that my body certainly has control over my mind.

On to 19