Marking of the Daysby Sincline Koutaishi
Time Flies – Part 1 – One cannot plan for everything...
The summer days flow past, filled with changes. The temples are being rebuilt near and far, the grounds of Manaleh are becoming full of life. Looking for peace in my formerly quiet home can be a trial now. The act of taking a walk is no longer so simple. There are people to bow to me everywhere. I come across all manner of familiar face and the many new ones that have come to see the open temple. At least it gives me confidence that my people are enjoying their new emperor for there are many smiles and compliments that come along with the bowing.
I leave the open courts for the quiet of the private garden courts on a particularly hot afternoon. Here I find Laila with one of the young interns that usually hover around Hanta. This is her new language teacher it seems for they are going over a book of the southern language. I approach to visit my Sianta only to have the new teacher fall down to the ground with nervous formal greeting.
"Sifu..." Laila sighs and shakes her head.
"Rise up young woman." I smile at Laila's frustration with having her lesson interrupted so. The young intern now sits up and bows her head to me.
"Who are you? One of Hanta's students?"
"Yes, Majesty. I am Seriku. Master Instructor Hanta asked of me to teach Laila Syotukan. She is speaking Nuoladn well now."
"Very good." I change my speech to Syotukan, "You are a northern girl, though you claim expertise in the southern language?"
She alters her speech as well, "No, Majesty. I am merely at a place in my training where my instructors, who are experts, feel that I am able to teach another the basics of Syotukan. I am also daughter of a southern mother so I have some knowledge from growing up."
"I see. And you are also skilled in human?"
"I understand a little human, Majesty. Enough to speak with Laila."
Now I change to human, "Enough to speak to me?"
She matches, "Yes, Majesty. I might be able to speak to you a little."
"Very good. Get up and return to your seat, girl."
"Yes, Majesty." She rises to her feet and joins Laila on the stone bench once again, still shaking slightly and unable to look completely at me.
"Are you learning anything?" I inquire of Laila.
"I was until you showed up and scared the bejesus out of poor Seriku."
"It was not intentional. She appears to be rather shy."
"She is so don't scare her so much!"
"Saich... I am only being myself." I smirk.
"Yes, I know." She rolls her eyes skyward.
"So mean, Laila. I would have thought that your coming marriage would have softened you!"
"I'm not mean. Sheesh."
"Well, if you do not appreciate me so much, perhaps I will go annoy Menoh instead."
"I'm sure she'll be thrilled. She's studying too."
I turn my back toward them and go into the palace to search for my other Sianta. I find no better a reception in her rooms for she is indeed working hard on a project that is due.
"Ehnn, you know I love you but... I am so worried I will not get this done in time for presentation!" She hops a little in her chair from frustration.
"I understand. I am not wanted here either." I pretend at hurt.
"I did not mean that! Ahhllll!!"
"I am going now! Perhaps you will find time for me over late meal? Certainly you will take time to feed yourself?"
"That would be perfect." She nods.
"Good good." Off I go again to try and amuse myself with other members of the staff, only to find the palace guard Nagan on his way down the hall toward Menoh's chamber bearing a flower. "Hhnnn..."
"Sire." He stops and bows.
"She is busy. Take your chances if you wish, but she has even chased me from her chamber."
He sighs, looking down the hall to her door, and I leave him there to make his own decision about whether or not to interrupt her. At least I am able to spend some time with them over a meal that evening.
"How was your lesson?" I ask of Laila.
"Once Seriku settled down it was fine. She's a wonderful and sweet person, but so shy! You should be nicer to her."
"I think I was very nice to her."
"I think you have a new sister, neh?"
"She's a nice person and I'd like to be friends with her."
"Then she should become used to my presence."
"Just try and be sweet to her, Sifu. She's such nervous girl... She's very pretty. Lovely long dark hair... Maybe you could have her over to dinner instead of Sachay!"
"Yes yes!" Menoh encourages.
"Do you think so?" I chuckle, "Perhaps she would stop shaking long enough to eat something..."
"Ohhh... Don't you think she's pretty?"
"Yes yes. She is a pretty young northern woman." I wave my hand at her.
"What, you only want for a southern woman? Then what about Sachay?" Menoh makes a face at me.
"Saich... This has nothing to do with northern, southern, or Sachay. Sachay is a friend of mine."
"Friend with benefits." Laila laughs.
"What I mean is that she's more than a friend."
"Oh come on..."
"I do not mean to tell you that she does not want more... But that is all there is. She will not be my wife. She will be a friend."
"That's a bit of a relief. What about the Tastian Princess?" Menoh joins the interrogation again.
"That is where I may have a wife."
"Maybe if you tried dating..." Laila offers.
"We only want what's best for you, you know." Menoh smiles sweetly.
"I know... I know." I wave my hands at them, "Enough of this discussion. Say something that will make me happy, nnh?"
"Seriku is single." Laila and Menoh both grin at me.
"Gods, I think I am being chased away from my own table." I groan.
The following day I find Seriku in the halls with a few of the other interns. All of them go down to their knees, heads bowed, hands to the floor, as I survey their little nervous group. Seriku is by far the most worried by my presence.
"Seriku, stay. The rest of you, go."
They hurriedly bow away and go down the hall.
"Have I displeased you, Majesty?" She remains shaking there on the floor.
"No. Come with me."
She follows me out to the private garden terrace facing the valley and stands there, shaking still. She is a pretty young woman with simple attire and long dark hair. She must have been in university for a number of years already as they are allowing her to intern here at the palace. Her small frame seems to shrink as I watch her trying to compose herself in my presence while keeping her hair from flying across her face from the valley breezes.
"What is your education path?" I ask her.
"I... I am training to be a military advisor, Majesty."
"So shy a girl?"
"I am trying very hard... It is not easy... I do well in my school work... But public speaking and working with highly placed people... It is not my strong point."
"Is that why you are here?"
"Yes, Majesty. They hope that if I am in the most powerful house it will raise my confidence."
"No, Majesty. I am scared mindless every day I walk to these gates. Others competed for this internship. I did not!"
"You did not even put in your name..."
"No... They told me I had to come."
"Am I so frightening to you?"
"Yes, Majesty." She bites her lower lip, "I am sorry."
"As am I. At least you are honest."
"Will you dismiss me from service?"
"I think you hope I might."
"I would not argue with you, Majesty. If I offend you they will certainly remove me." She bows from the waist.
"You do not offend me."
"Ahhll... I thought I might."
"Try harder." I chuckle.
"No, Majesty!" She shakes her head. "If I must be here I will honor you... As much as I can with my worrying."
"Tell me then, how is Laila doing with her lessons?"
"Very well. She already has some small knowledge of Syotukan from being with her future husband. She is a very smart young woman and she will learn quickly."
"She is your Sianta, yes?"
"Yes, I have adopted her as my own. This bothers you?"
"Then why do you ask?"
"Many people ask many things of me since I have come here. You might not know it, Majesty, but there are things that are whispered about you."
"Ahht... This much I know... Now, you are here to learn to be of service to powerful people, yes? To become one of the honored Sisterhood of Advisors."
"Then you will be of service directly to me from here on."
"I... must consult with Master Instructor Hanta."
"You will do no such thing. She has no choice in the matter. If you do not wish to serve me, however... That is different. It is your choice."
"I will do as you ask, Majesty."
"Very good... I need to plan some reconstruction on Waiut. You will assist me with arranging these particulars."
"Yes, Majesty... May I ask a question of you?"
"You just did." I smirk.
"I.... I mean another one..."
"Why are you wanting to have me help you?"
"You need exactly what your teachers suppose...To become used to being in service to a highly placed person. Soon, you will not be worried at all."
"Forgive me... But I am not so sure you are correct. I will probably be more a hindrance than a help to you."
"We will find out." I nod.
"Yes, Majesty." She shakes more as I draw closer.
"Neh, why so worried? We were having such a fine conversation..."
"Yes... I am sorry." Her eyes find the stone of the terrace floor.
"Seriku, so shy... Where is your family? Nnh?"
"Ahht... The eastern hill town."
"Yes... My eldest brother is in your military."
"The 74th, under High Commander Resual."
"What is his rank?"
"Sergeant. He works in maintenance engineering."
"He repairs the wounded vehicles and equipment."
"Yes, Majesty. My father and other brother are both mechanics. My oldest brother was so good that he was recruited into academy and then from there into a division."
"And your mama?"
"She and my older sister are nurses in the Wu'ash hospital."
"A proud and hard working family."
"I am glad. Now we will work. Have you something to write with in that satchel of yours?"
"Then we begin."
After a while of working, her worry settles itself. She is quite efficient and competent, knowledgeable on many levels. Perhaps she is not so fine a public speaker, yet the amount of information in her mind surprises me. She has certainly absorbed her book learning and beyond that. She has interest in almost every part of the planning for reconstruction of the main temple on planet Waiut.
"I am not sure how I will arrange these things..." She muses as she looks over the intricacies of the project that she has drawn out.
"How do you mean?" I relax in my chair and draw on my smoke.
"I have no authority to command any of this." She shrugs.
"Do you know where to begin if you have the authority?"
"I will have Hanta give you all the authority you need to conduct business on my behalf."
"Do you so trust me to do these things?" She bites her lower lip, forehead furrowed.
"I do. More so now that I have spent this time with you. You are a very smart girl, Seriku. I am impressed with you."
"I am glad."
"Go ahead to Hanta. I will send her a message and then you may begin to assemble these things and all the necessary meetings."
"Yes, Majesty. Thank you for your confidence. I will do my best to be worth your trust in me."
"I am glad. Go now."
"Yes, Majesty." She smiles a little and bows away after gathering her papers and satchel.
I begin to think that perhaps Menoh and Laila are correct. She would make a good wife indeed... For Shilne. When he arrives in the morning before the High Military Council I mention her to him.
"Seriku... Hnnn... I know that name... Hnnn nnn nnnh..." He seems to be searching his memory, "Ahht! Yes, I remember. Diya Shodaien. She has an older sister, Nitu. Two brothers. They have a family home over in Wu'ash" He gestures in the direction of the hill town.
"Ehnn? How do you know this?"
"I make it my business to know of all the single women." He winks with a broad smile, "I did not meet her myself but her sister told me of her... She was a shy girl from what I remember Nitu saying."
"She still is."
"I met Nitu when she visited her brother at the academy. Wykaru. He is in the 74th now, engineering. They are a northern family with southern names for their mama is southern. Seriku was the youngest of the family as I understood. Nitu was worried that she would never be able to speak to a man for she was so shy and that she would not be able to take up the female family path of nursing. I wonder if she is as good a kenesh player as her brother..."
I stare at Shilne in disbelief.
"What is that look for?" He inquires.
"Gods, your head contains all manner of information that might never be useful. How do you manage that?" He has always been that way and it helped him to excel in his work at the academy.
"It is some sort of gift from the Gods. They knew I would have to keep track of many females!"
"Apparently so. I am amazed you did not make a point of it to seek her out to add her to your mental collection."
"She was still quite young at the time. There was no reason to." He shrugs and takes out a smoke to enjoy, "She is grown now. In university and even interning here! Her family must be very proud of her efforts." Akti joins us in our leaning against the courtyard wall. "Hoy, Akti."
"Share, neh?" He holds out his hand and Shilne offers him a fresh smoke. "What is the topic?"
"My ability to fill my brain with useless information and a young woman."
"Ahhuu... Now there are two similar topics in your world." He chuckles.
"Quiet then." He frowns, "Baika is trying his hand as matchmaker, or so it seems. Neh, you can help me convince Aktishan to join with my eldest sister, Neissa!"
"You have been trying to pass him off on her, nnh?"
"Baika, not pass off. I am a good man." Akti smirks. "Neissa is a beautiful woman... Huuuaaa." He looks toward the sky.
"Then you should marry her." Shilne punches his arm.
"What would Diya Calpuran do with my large and southern self? I would not be right for your sister. Your uncles already look at me sideways when you have me visit!"
"They are protective of my many sisters. This I appreciate. Your family would likely be far more angry that you would not pass on your ridge."
"Perhaps. No matter."
"If you love her you should marry, fool."
"I am not for her, Shilne. You know that. My life is for the military. If it were not, we would have already joined. I do care for Neissa... Often I wish things were different."
"Then make them different." Another punch and then Akti shoves him in return, beginning a mock battle while still managing to keep their smokes lit.
"And to think, these two young men are such powerful leaders in our empire." I muse as they slow down their play.
"We are still just men at the end of the day." Shilne nods to amplify his statement.
"What does Seriku look like? Her sister and brother had dark hair like mine." Shilne changes his thoughts back to his own desire for marriage.
"She is the same. Smaller than Hanta. Small for a mixed southern girl too for that matter. Quite pretty when she manages to smile."
"I will have to have a look for myself. She may have grown into a shy, beautiful woman for me! It is too bad that I did not keep contact with her family or I might have already been married." His eyes go wide at the thought, "We could have been into our... Fifth child by now!" He finishes his mental count.
"Hnn... Lucky for her then. She would have not had a moment lacking pregnancy if she were your wife! Gods help that unfortunate woman to keep clear of you for some longer amount of time."
"Do not say that! The Gods listen! It is no great wonder that my prayer offerings have gone without answer for the things you say. Saich!"
He has something in his mind very clearly that tells him who will be the one for him. We trade mocking back and forth for a while more and then Seriku shows herself in the courtyard, crossing to the temple. Shilne's eyes lock on her and the last of his smoke falls from his open mouth.
"I knew it would happen one day. His brain has exploded inside his skull." Akti knocks on Shilne's head, Shilne pushing his hand away but still staring at her.
"That... Is Seriku." I tell him.
"Is it? Huuuaaaa... She has grown into a beautiful young woman."
Suddenly he is no longer with us—he is racing across the courtyard, grabbing at the trees for their summer flowers. He skids to a stop before her, blocking her path to the temple and offering the handful to her. Seriku is startled, it is obvious even from our distance. It is no great surprise though. He begins to work his charms with her and quite suddenly Seriku falls. Akti and I stand up straight, surprised by this as Shilne catches her up in his arms before she hits the ground, shocked himself judging by his expression. We two now hurry over as he stands there stunned, flowers scattered, books from her satchel spread around amongst them, and Seriku hanging in a faint in his arms.
"What have you done to her?" Akti wonders.
"I... Do not know! I only spoke to her!"
"Take her to doctor Navatmal. Hurry up!"
Soon she is on a medical bed and Navatmal is rousing her with a sharp scent from a plant. Shilne is on the other side of the door to the room with Akti who is trying to keep him calm and away from the young woman he has just caused to lose consciousness. Her eyes finally flutter and open, looking up at Navatmal.
"How... Did I come here?" She murmurs.
"You fainted in the courtyard." He replies and helps her to sit up to drink water. "Do you feel well enough?"
"I do... I am a little dizzy." She lays back again, and notices me standing there, "Majesty... What wrong have I done?" She worries.
"Nothing wrong, Seriku. You had a bit of a shock, that is all."
"I did?" She tightens her eyes as though trying to focus her gaze and her memories.
"I would say so." I smile a little.
"Do you remember anything, young woman?" Navatmal inquires, taking a chair to sit beside her bed.
"Perhaps just the last thing you remember?"
"I... Was going to the temple."
"Good good. Is anything else coming to you?"
She shakes her head in frustration as I hear a slight whine of despair coming from the hall.
"It is so strange..." She says now, tilting her head.
"What are you saying?"
"All I do remember is so many words! Ahhuuu... I remember a face now!"
"Your High Commander Shilne! My brother knew him in academy and my sister met him when she went to visit Wykaru. She told me he had such unusual hair, that it wouldn't stay down. I have seen him in the news feeds many times since. It is definitely him." Now she blushes.
"I think she almost remembers now." I smirk. "Shilne frightened you with flowers."
Her eyes are wide, "It is not a dream from fainting?"
"No. It seems that he has found some... Interest in you."
"Me??" She squeaks and sits up, "What? Why?"
"I cannot speak for him, I only know I have never seen him react quite the same as he did when he saw you crossing the courtyard. I can only imagine he surprised you so much that you fainted."
"He did! He told me he had waited his whole life to give me flowers!"
"So he has. Will you speak with him or do you think you might faint again?"
"He wants to talk to me?"
"Of course. He is out in the hall now, whining for his worry over your health."
"Really?" She breathes.
"Gods, girl. I do not spend my time at matchmaking. Let him tell you his thoughts. He has many of them." I see her swallow hard and begin to shake, "He is a good man, though a little... Energetic. Will you speak to him?"
"I will try..."
"I will ask him to be quieter for you, nnh?"
"Thank you." She clutches at the sheets nervously and now stares toward the door.
"I send him to you in a moment." So I wander out into the hall.
"Does she hate me?" Shilne asks, his head hung and Akti trying to reassure him that he has not done so poorly.
"Not yet. Give her a chance to know you more." I laugh, "Go and speak to her but Gods, do not use your usual excitement. You have already terrified her once."
He looks up now, "I will do my best."
And his smile is back at last as Akti claps him on the shoulder before he goes into the hospital room to sit beside her bed and try to show her he can be calm. Seriku's blush appears to be lasting but at least she is not fainting.
"I wonder if the remainder of the day will be so interesting?" Akti muses as we go down the hall together, away from the infirmary.
"One can hope."
When we convene for High Military Council at the central hall of Namida Academy, Shilne is nowhere to be seen. Muriwara has come in and Akti is filling her with the story of Shilne's morning.
"Sho sho! The man is likely married to her at this moment if he is not here." She leans forward and smiles toward me, "You should be out to stand for him, Baika."
"I am certain he will contact me when the time comes." I wave at her in dismissal.
"I would like to see this woman who has taken his brain from him." Banrek chuckles.
"Soon you will see her at their joining ceremony."
The story passes around in our seating area until the man himself arrives and a hush falls, all eyes on him. Shilne stops short and I see a dark flush in his cheeks.
"What wrong are you speaking of me that everyone looks at me as though I am new here?" He composes himself and continues to sit himself down beside me.
"No wrong. I hear you are going to marry, farmer Shilne." Muriwara kicks the back of his seat with her boot. "Neh?"
"If I can convince her, yes." He is uncharacteristically quiet about things.
"Let me see an image of her." She leans forward, looking over his shoulder to his katsuna.
"I do not have one yet!"
"You are on the edge of your nerves." She laughs and sits back.
"I have many things on my mind." He growls at her harassment.
"Such a state he is in. I did not expect this." Banrek raises an eyebrow at him.
Fortunately the Sisterhood chooses that time to begin the session, being led by our own Natsuika—Senior Advisor to the 102 division. Through all the discussion and decisions and promotion assignments, Shilne is sitting hunched over his katsuna, pecking away at it. When we have a break from the session to take a meal, Shilne turns around and scowls at Muriwara who smiles quite proudly, holding her own katsuna on her knee.
"You are a cruel thing..."
"Naaiii." She smiles, "Just enjoying my time with you, grass cutter."
"It is a good thing you are off to the military, otherwise your family's wine would all be sour... Grape grower."
I realize they have been conversing in text through most of the goings on, and I laugh.
"It is not funny!" He protests, "It is a difficult thing to rearrange a life that had for so long been arranged. More difficult when someone is constantly interrupting you!"
"Rearranging your life?" I laugh still. "Why are you doing this?"
"I had thought my wife would be a simple farm girl, not a honored student of the Sisterhood! There are many things to consider."
"Such as?" Banrek is amused even as his second Kiatan returns to his side.
"Many things!" He throws up his hands.
"Is this why you are late?"
"No... I was speaking with Seriku." He folds his arms indignantly at all the questioning.
"Seriku... Southern girl."
"Naaii, northern girl with a southern name and mama. I will be able to bring Akti along to visit her family without incident!" He smiles.
"I am surprised you arrived here at all." I mention.
"Navatmal made me leave her!" He sits up very straight suddenly and stares at me, "I did not know he was so angry a man. He told me to go or he would call the palace guard to remove me!"
"Did you upset her again?"
"I did not! She told me that she had a test that she was going to be taking today. I offered to bring her to the university on my way here but she was not convinced so Navatmal made me leave her... I should have at least taken her to the university... To make up for upsetting her." He frowns, "She was going to the temple to make prayer for her test today. She was worried about it... I hope I have not made it difficult for her to pass today."
"Do you think you have made it easier?"
"No... Gods, how is it that I have waited and planned for this moment and I am doing so poorly? This is not how it was supposed to be... But still... I feel so many things!" His smile is back, coming and going like the sunlight on a bright cloudy day. "I will bring her to a good meal tonight. That is what I will do. And apologize again. Yes yes." He hunches back over his katsuna and starts pecking away with the stylus again.
"I can see that Shilne's moods will be like a storm for a while."
"At least until she promises her love to him." Muri nudges him again.
"Stop that or I will have your nine brothers beat you soundly when you return home to visit."
"I will have your seven sisters harass you unendingly about your new love then, to make the beatings worth it! I will send them messages now!"
"Gods, what has this become? So solemn an occasion this used to be."
"I think I like it better this way. Much less argument and room for some humor." Banrek takes up his cup of water for a drink.
At the day's end I return to Manaleh with a large group of higher military to partake in a loud late meal filled with over-told stories and laughter. It is a good thing indeed to have less seriousness and more humor. Shilne is not himself for the first while, having wanted to spend this time with young Seriku for apology. Fortunately he is convinced that another day will come and with it, another opportunity. As the group disperses to find their sleep before the next session, I see Hanta in the hall with Seriku.
"Hanta... Advise me." I call to her.
She parts with Seriku in a moment to join me. Shilne passes us by as though he does not see us, his focus completely on the young woman who is blushing but smiling a little at his approach. She does not faint this time.
"Amazing..." Hanta smiles a little, "What would you have of me?"
"A few words. Come."
She follows me to my chambers where I free myself of my armored coat and boots.
"From the sounds coming from the dining hall you enjoyed yourself." She says.
"I did. These are good times."
"Council went well?"
"Very. We will soon have two new divisions focused on enforcement. One each will be sent to Vioal and Paikur to support them."
"So they will have their own divisions at last."
"Indeed. Mycenea still has half of the 133 which will remain there permanently as that world's own division under newly promoted High Commander Sidainul. More equipment will be sent to support their efforts. Banrek will be permanently installed as High Commander of the Ministry of Communications.. He seems to enjoy this work. All of our battle ships and military transports will be stripped of their symbols of Mahs that father enjoyed seeing so. Natsuika will be sending you a summary of the activities today, I am sure, with more to come tomorrow."
"I am glad to hear that everything is falling into an appropriate place."
"As am I... Now..." I take a relaxing seat by the empty fireplace. "Young Seriku... I suspect she spoke to you of the excitement this morning."
"She did. So did the palace guard. All day there has been conversation. Word has spread very quickly in this happy home."
"What think you?"
"I am surprised... And yet not."
"She may not be a farm girl, but I can see clearly how she could be the one for him. She is a soft spirit."
"And what does she think of him?"
"She is very nervous." She smiles with a laugh, "Again, no surprise, nnh?"
"Not a bit... What else?"
Hanta sits down across from me, composing her thoughts before speaking which always finds the irritation in me.
"Do not decorate your words... Just speak them."
"Saich... I want the best for Shilne, just like you do."
"Seriku is a wonderful young woman... Let me put it to you in this way... Coming up, all young girls find certain men to admire. When I came up, the men of the precision pilots out of Namida Academy were very popular. We all had clippings of them from the news. You were beginning to become a popular young man for your looks and royal standing, but you were still young."
"You were just too old." I smirk.
"Quiet..." She scowls for a moment, "When Seriku was coming up, you were still popular for you had not married and there too Banrek was popular with the southern girls... Then there was Shilne... He was quite popular for his different hair and his smiles and announcement that he wanted very much to be a husband. He made it his business to let all young women know that he was interested in meeting them. Seriku kept clippings of him."
"She did. She confessed this to me. He is a school girl crush become real. Something she never expected but she has always admired him in her own quiet way. To have him approach her in the way he did was just a little too overwhelming to her. He did better the second time when you told him to calm down in the infirmary. He managed to charm her. Navatmal sent him away after a while so she would not become overwhelmed."
"Yes, Shilne complained of this... She had a test today?"
"Did she mention if she did well?"
"She is very worried that she did not... But I know she did well. She always does. Seriku has an amazing mind. Everything she hears she remembers!"
"Much like Shilne."
"Yes, but she remembers useful things." Hanta smiles happily, "His sisters will welcome her. I know they have feared that he would bring home someone like your Sachay."
"She is not mine..."
"Yes yes... As you say. I am happy he has found someone so sweet. Do you remember when a young enforcer cadet decided to press his luck with his little sister Anuea? She bruised his ego by not accepting his advances and he bruised her face!"
"I do indeed. The moment he heard of it he took a contingent to Akanu City and found the young man. Gave him a few bruises to remind him not to raise his hand to any woman. I am proud of him and his devotion to his sisters."
"He grew up well despite having you for his example of how to be a man."
"Ehnnn... I am a fine example of a man."
"You behaved poorly. You know this. You took too much advantage of your position. To his credit, Shilne watched you and made his own decisions. I am glad."
"As am I... I wonder how he will now rearrange his years of planning to fit having a member of the Sisterhood as a wife?"
"First he will have to convince her. Seriku promised her mother that she would finish her education even if she did find herself a man. Of course Seriku never thought that would be an issue for her to face... Shilne will have to wait for those many children he wants!"
"I would not tell him that so quickly. He will be upset."
"Perhaps he will just be happy to be with her."
"What did you tell her about him?"
"Just that I had watched him grow and wanted the best for him. That he would be honest with her, even to the point where it would shock her! He will be a good husband and a good father. Gods know he has spent his life preparing himself for the task."
"Years and years..."
"I also showed her some images of him in his younger days. She very much enjoyed that. I enjoyed embarrassing him without his knowing." She claps her hands happily, "I will yet pay him back for all those years of aggravation! I do swear it!"
"Saich... Do not ruin his chances by telling her all the strangeness of his young life."
"I would not worry on that... I have something to share with you of that strangeness that you may not know."
"What would that be?"
"There were times when you would avail yourself of the services of the brothels... And I suppose you thought to be sharing to include Shilne in your harvest of young willing women... More times than not, he simply found this an opportunity to have a good card game. He would find food and drink for his group and spend all the night playing cards and enjoying his company in that way."
"Nnnh... I did not know this."
"He only would recreate with those who could beat him at his games. Strange thing he is. I think he let them win some times though..." She smiles a little.
"Good. At least he is not completely strange."
In the morning I find Shilne already consuming his weight in food in the small dining room. Laila is smiling as he tells her all about his evening with Seriku between mouthfuls. Hanta is laughing at his dramatic explanations.
"... The most wonderful thing is... She hugged me..." He grinned, "With both arms! Gods, I love her!"
"Is she carrying your child yet?" Akti inquires as he takes a seat at the table.
"Not yet. In good time. Be patient." He fills his mouth again.
"I am amazed she is not pregnant just from standing near you." Hanta mocks.
"Rrrh..." He swallows, "Cruel!"
"Where is Muriwara? I thought she was going to remain the night here." I ask.
"She did. However I believe she kept herself awake late, entertained by Kaitan." Akti nods, "She is likely trying to throw him out of her bed so she can join us."
"The air is certainly filled with romance these days!" Laila smiles.
"Romance..." I scoff.
"Be kind. Perhaps you are not so good with romance, but let those who are alone!" Shilne waves his utensil in my direction, "You had best take a turn with such things before you end up so foolishly married to some royal Tastian female you do not know. That is my best advice!"
"Everyone is so full of advice."
"And you are full of the will to ignore it all. I congratulate you for holding true to your reputation for being stubborn." He bows his head to me mockingly.
"Quiet or I will show you my reputation for other things."
"Sho sho. I will speak with Hanta instead as she is the more pleasant for a change."
"Careful or I will prove you wrong." She warns.
"I will have no peace today." He decides, "Does Seriku come to early meal here??"
"Seriku has early classes." Laila informs him, "She is usually here in the early afternoon and evening."
"Then I was lucky yesterday to see her so early. The Gods have truly favored me... What were you talking to her about last night? Nnh? She would not tell me." His attention goes back to Hanta.
"I showed her images of you as a child." She laughs at his look of horror, "I knew I kept those things around for some purpose. Now the day has come."
"Cruel cruel thing!... But what did she say?"
"Unfortunately she thought you were quite a handsome child."
"I was." He smiles proudly and goes back to the work of filling his stomach.
Despite my scoffing, it is indeed a good time of year for romance. Many things are in transition. High Military Council meets and then shortly afterward promotions are issued, divisions shift, form, and then the new graduates from the academy are reviewed to be selected for commissions, filling the spaces. There are many hours spent watching entry-grade young men proving themselves in close combat. While this is not so much my concern for the 102 now, I have interest in who will be selected for my own division and so accompany Akti and Shilne to some of these events.
At the same time the young male academy graduates are showing themselves off to the young women at the university. There are many couples coming to the temple, seeking the help of our priestesses in joining their lives. The autumn is surely close at hand.
Shilne continues to work his charms with Seriku, surprisingly content to accept that her time in university is not done and she will not marry until it is. This does not stop him from asking her daily to be his wife. He takes up residence in the palace more often than he keeps to his quarters on the carrier Milianu. It is fortunate for him that with my move to Forth, it has also become the home port to the 102. Thus he has little need of excuse to return the palace as often as he is able.
Quite quickly she has grown some comfort in his presence, though her association with him has brought additional pressures down upon her small shoulders. Already a curiosity of her fellow students for having come to serve me so closely, her romance with the Highest Commander of the Imperial Armed Forces has created curiosity for many many more people. She is now on display in the news, much to her chagrin. Her very small and quiet life is now very large and public. He ensures that she is accompanied to and from the palace by our own palace guard. The rest of the time he worries for her safety unendingly.
"... And so you will accompany me to her family home in Wu'ash today to deliver my gift to her mama and to speak well for me to her family. She has a southern mama so I have prepared myself to carry on in a southern fashion. I would appreciate your guidance in these matters." He deposits a heavy, engraved, ceremonial wooden tea box in my hands. It bears his Diya crest and other ornamentation.
"Quite extravagant." I place it on my desk.
"Do you think so? Will her mama be offended?" He worries.
"I think she will be overwhelmed."
"Is that bad showing?"
"Not necessarily if you pair that with some humility and calm."
"I will try."
"Shilne, you were nearly southern raised. You know well enough how to show respect to a southerner. Why are you so taken with worry?"
"This is very important."
"What else should I do?"
"I would suggest that you show her who you are, along with that respect. If she becomes offended then you will need to calm yourself toward formality. Test the footing before throwing yourself over the edge of the cliff. Nnh?"
"Good advice." He smiles at last. "Are you ready?"
"As ever I will be."
"Then we go! Onward to win a great battle!"
"I hope you will not try and fight Seriku's mama."
"Of course not."
"She would surely beat you in the state you are in..."
I have to see this obligation through—try to keep Shilne calm. He is trying to do the right thing in approaching her family formally. He wants them to welcome him, to recognize that he has seriousness about their daughter. Seriku has begged of him to keep things quiet so we will be making the journey to Wu'ash in an unmarked transport with only a pair of the palace guard to keep us protected from the general population... At Hanta's insistence of course. Kituol and Nagan are assigned for this duty. I scowl when I see how they have dressed—all in formal body armor and clothing.
"This is to be as quiet an occasion as possible. Try to be less... Spectacular."
Changed, they drive us toward Wu'ash, into the hills.
"... Who will have you have to stand for you when you are to join with Menoh?" Shilne inquires of Nagan.
"I... Had... Hoped that perhaps Ryuaki would."
"As he is so fond of interacting with Baika?" Shilne laughs.
"I can hardly wait for that day." I growl.
"I will let Ryu know." Nagan seems to sink down in his seat.
It has been many years since I have been to this town. The last occasion was to attend Hanta's joining celebration at the Sansol Kaitenshi, surrounded by Sansol Diya lands and many, many family homes. Theirs is one of the founding families of this community.
The home of family Diya Shodaien is in a mixed community of northern and southern—a place where families who are not living near their Diya Kaitenshis have chosen to make their lives. This is understandable given the southern mother who is surely not in favor with her family for having chosen a northern man for her husband the father of her children. There must be many such families here and I take some joy in seeing southern characters decorating the signs of shops while not feeling overwhelmed by the damnable southern heat.
Seriku's family lives in a simple separate structure amongst many others like it, gathered on curving paths that follow the rolling lands of Wu'ash. Kituol stops the transport in a close lot then turns in his seat to face Shilne and I.
"How shall we proceed?" He inquires.
"As normal visitors might. Try to behave as though we are simply friends going visiting. Friends without titles."
"Please do not go rushing in to examine the residence for safety." Shilne worries, "They are not waiting to attack us. This should be very far from standard procedure."
The rows of homes are all quiet, residents having gone off to see to their work for the day. Seriku's mother will be waiting for us, to begin the examination of her daughter's suitor. No servants come to answer the door—we are greeted by the woman herself.
"Good day..." She looks over the group she has before her, "I see you have brought some friends."
"I have, anai. I would have brought someone more highly placed, but the Emperor was the best I could do on short notice." He smiles and bows his head politely.
"I see the humor in you that Seriku finds so charming."
"I hope you will not take offense, anai. I am more of a man who is humorous and informal."
"A strange way for you to be, given your position in the military... Yet I have enjoyed seeing your smiling face mixed in with those many others that are not, there in the news feeds."
"I am so glad then."
"Though it falls outside of tradition I must speak directly to your second."
"Of course." Shilne bows his head again and steps slightly aside.
"Majesty... I admit that I am not certain how to carry forward with this in your presence. I did not expect your arrival today. My home is not fine enough for you, my manners not formed enough, to treat you as you should be. Will this offend you?"
"I will not be offended. I have come here as a man who is a friend to the one that loves your daughter. Nothing more. Please carry on as you will with no worry."
"I will then, with your release... Welcome to our family home. I am Nerine Diya Shodaien."
"Thank you, anai. I am Shilne Diya Calpuran and I am honored to be welcomed into your home. Please accept this gift." He takes the box from me and places it in her hands most humbly, "I hope that you will enjoy. This tea comes from my home, from my family's own farm. They have given all of their best efforts in the hopes that you will come to know our family."
"I am grateful for their efforts. I have never seen such a thing."
"One of my uncles is skilled in wood crafting."
"Very skilled. Come inside and we will share some of the tea."
Kituol remains inside the front door while Nagan accompanies us to the social room at the rear of the home. Nerine has laid out the room to accommodate this discussion. I take one of the cushions on the floor to the corner of the table so I may be beside Shilne who I am there to support, though out of direct line of site of Nerine as she sits across the low table from Shilne. She has of course expected a gift of tea and the traditional heavy brown metal teapot bearing her Diya emblem is sitting on a heater to one side of the table along with cups. Nagan settles down by the entrance to the room to keep watch.
"We shall see how well I remember my few manners."
She smiles slightly and selects one of the bags of tea to begin to let the leaves of it steep while she questions him. Not in the northern language either. Shilne proudly shows her his mastery of both languages. She is pleased that her daughter's children will be encouraged to speak both and that Shilne was raised in a southern way for a good part of his life, that he has southern friends. When she fills the teacups she has a complete smile on her face. Shilne is winning her.
"You are an interesting young man." She concludes after her first sip.
"I am." He smiles widely, "Tell me what you think of me without decoration. I have waited all of my life for these things to be happening and I wonder how I am doing."
"Hnn... When my daughter told me how you approached her I was shocked."
"Yes, I am sorry for that. I did not realize how shy she was. I was in a great hurry to know her. I wanted to be sure that we spent no more time apart." He pats his hand on the table.
"She explained to me how much you had looked forward to marriage and how dedicated you had been to finding your perfect wife, and then I forgave you. You are as I have seen in the news feeds. You are quite genuine in the way you conduct yourself. I doubt that you are comfortable with practicing deception... Or restraint of your emotions!"
"I wonder how you survived our former Emperor. I am sure that you were in his presence and he was not so amused by you."
"Perhaps I started in the wrong way with him... But he was never impressed with me."
I cannot resist a grunt of agreement and Nerine looks my way, "I suspect you had a hand in his survival."
"Thank you for saving this rare creature so I might meet him." She laughs.
"As much as he did not amuse my father, he did amuse me... Though he did not make things easy for he seemed to go out of his way to cause my father irritation."
"Why would you do such a thing with so angry a man?" She asks him.
"I was trying to find his humor. To make him smile. Once I did... And then he struck me so hard that I swear I saw my next life." He ruffles his hair thoughtfully.
"I also hear that you are eager to have children."
"I am! I want a very large family. I never thought I would be in a financial position to have so many but I am now. She has said she will allow us to have 3 for our first set for she would like to start slowly. I am satisfied."
"Gods, you have her agreeing to numbers already!" She sits up straight in surprise, "Never did I think my little Seriku would be involved in such discussions. How you have changed her!"
"Naii... I have not changed her. I am simply the right one for her." He pats his chest, "So she is happy to discuss. She will want for nothing. I have even changed my military death benefit to include her. She will be the majority recipient of these funds."
"That is strange to do before marriage..."
"True, but I know she is my wife and so it seems to make no sense to hesitate. One less thing to do afterward, one more thing that will make me feel comfortable with waiting until her schooling is done. I will know that even if I should perish she will be cared for. I love Seriku. That will not change whether or not we have started our family or been joined."
"Huua... She did find a good man."
"Then I am doing well?"
"You are. This is not going as I had thought it might. I am pleased."
"Good good. Will you have more children?"
"The four we have are enough for now. It has been a long journey to keep them all fed and clothed until they started to find their own ways. Seriku is our last to see through schooling."
"If paying for her school is difficult I can help."
"No you cannot. This is a family obligation."
"Excuse me." He bows his head.
"I appreciate your dedication, yet this is our responsibility."
"That does not mean that I will be angry if you take her for a nice meal now and again as a reward for her hard work." She smiles again.
"I am glad to do that. The only thing I enjoy more than a good meal is sharing it with your daughter."
"I am not so sure she enjoys the attention when you take her out."
"She is getting used to things."
At this time Seriku's father comes home. He is angry to have been met at his own door by armed men and searched for weapons. Nagan escorts him into the room with us.
"Excuse the interruption... Dainul Diya Shodaien." He introduces.
"Why am I being asked for identification in my own home??"
"Dainul... Calm... They are doing their jobs to protect our guest, the Emperor." Nerine stands and goes to his side as his eyes widen and stare at me. "Shilne, Majesty... This is my husband, Dainul."
"Forgive your treatment." Shilne bows his head. "I am glad to meet you."
"I am glad to finally speak to you."
"Come and join us." Nerine brings her husband to the table and serves him tea.
"How should I behave?" He asks her.
"You should be respectful of the Emperor who is here to act as second, and father to Seriku in questioning this man."
"Yes yes." He tries to gather his wits. "What have you thought of him?"
"He is sincere, he has a strange humor to him, and I like him."
"You like him? For Seriku?" He is surprised.
"I do. It is painfully obvious that he loves her. You will see."
So he begins to question Shilne, only in a more informal manner. Soon they are talking about sports and I can see my work here will be simple. I have nothing to say to speak for him. He is winning the both of them. The next drink is grain liquor which finds Seriku's parents more relaxed in my presence. They are a good family.
Seriku is worried when she arrives home to see how things are going. Shilne gets up to greet her and she talks to him with furrowed brow and wringing hands. Finally he smiles and she smiles and then the happy couple are hugging.
"Now that is a relief to see." Nerine smiles, "My too-shy daughter smiling in the arms of a handsome young man."
"Nnnh..." Her husband grunts, still protective of his youngest child.
"Seri... Come here."
Seriku breaks from Shilne, taking him by the hand and leading him back to her parents.
"Things are going well?" She asks of them hopefully.
"Very much so, my sweetest girl. He is an unusual young man. We will have a midday meal together."
"Wonderful." She sighs with relief.
"Perhaps it is time that I go. I think my work is done here... What little of it I did." I announce and get up.
"Naiii... Please do stay. You have done so little. I have work for you, Majesty." Nerine comes and smiles up at me.
"Have you then?"
"I will need some help in the kitchen."
"I am useless in the kitchen."
"Mama, do not make Baika work on making our meal!" Seriku gasps at the idea.
"He is a strong man. He can carry some plates for me and I will give him more grain to drink. I am sure he will not refuse."
"Of course not." I nod to her graciously.
"Do not let him cook. He is no good at it. This I swear to you." Shilne holds up a hand in pledge.
"I have no doubt that his Majesty has had better things to do than learn to cook, especially since Seri has told me how fine a meal is set at the palace. Come come, Baika. There is work to do."
"As you will."
So I follow her to the kitchen to lean against the counter and be only of use in drinking the very good grain liquor she provides. It turns out that she is happy to speak in southern again.
"... There are many other southern women in these hills. We all get together to talk, but it is not like speaking with a southern man. The male voice makes Syotukan sound perfect, at least in my opinion." She smiles and throws the noodles into the pot.
"Seoni basoda... You have won my devotion, Nerine."
"I make the best, Majesty."
"I look forward... I am not just in here to keep you company. Why not say what you have in your mind?"
"I will. You are a wise young man."
"I know when a southern woman wants to speak her mind in private. I am not afraid." I smirk and she laughs.
"You will be offended but you have your father's smirk and his strong jaw, as well as his strong body. He was not so handsome a man but the Gods saw fit to soften his looks in you... Tell me the truth, Baika... Have you shown my daughter favor in her employment with you because of your caring for Shilne?"
"No. I was impressed with her prior to his discovery that she was his dream for the future. I admit that I did think to myself that he might have interest in her... I did not imagine it would be this much."
"So she managed to show you her true self behind all of her shy behavior."
"She is a very smart girl, my little daughter. She keeps so much inside of her head! It amazes me."
"Yes. She is very much like Shilne in this way. He keeps all manner of thing in his head. He remembers every person he meets. Everything he hears. He came up so quickly in academy after starting so late... He is a good man, Nerine. He will be good for your daughter. You need not worry."
"I know. I can sense that about him."
"You also need not worry so much about your daughter's education costs from here on. I will be offering your daughter commission. With that I will be paying for her completion, for her Mastery."
She stops cutting vegetables and looks at me, "You will offer her commission when she is not finished with her education?"
"That is all a matter of time. My Senior Advisor came to me in almost the same way. She finished and has become a very respected member of the Sisterhood, and a Master Instructor. After so many years of tolerating my company, it is time to let her have more of her own life, to have a family with her patient husband. She has agreed that Seriku will be a good secondary Advisor for me."
"True. She is." I smile again, "Has she told you of the project that she is conducting for me?"
"No. She says she works on many important things that we will see soon, but that she is forbidden from speaking of them until you allow."
"I will tell you one then. The most significant one... I am working at rebuilding the temple at Chiyor. On Waiut. You may be familiar."
"Yes, the middle place temple to Fao."
"When the work there is done in the next spring, your daughter will have had a hand in most of the details of its resurrection. You will be proud of her."
"I already am. Very surprised by how her life has changed." She throws the vegetables into another pot along with spices, "Shilne speaks of you as his greatest friend in life... Is he yours?"
"He is. I have had a few other true friends in my life, but none quite like him."
"You raised him well."
"It is a shame you will not give him the opportunity he has given you. The respect of acting as your second when you meet with the family of your future wife."
"Why must you do this thing? Marrying some woman for a contract. It is shameful."
"It is how things are done among the royals. You know this as well as I."
"More often than not these arranged things can be changed." She stirs the pot. "You need to give your people hope."
"I would have thought that giving myself to a marriage that would yield more trade and a larger base of allies would have given my people hope."
"You will not make your people happy unless you are. You will not give them hope unless you have some." She drains the last of her grain liquor and bangs the cup on the work surface. "Gods know that if there is a man out there for my too-shy daughter, somewhere there is a woman out there that will shine like the stars for you. I know you have heard this before. Perhaps if you hear it enough you will listen. Stubborn southern boy." She takes the bottle and fills the cup again, frowning into it before taking another drink.
"I have gone from a man to a boy so quickly in your eyes, Nerine."
"Hhhrr... You were doing so well too. What would your mama think?"
I stop myself before I say something completely rude to her for the anger that wells up at the mention of my mother... And I think instead.
"She would not be pleased. With other things, she would be very happy."
"I can see this. Think of the happiness that your mama would want you to have. It is what I want for my own children! Just to be happy."
"There are times that a man must do what he must do, regardless of whether it would make him happy, or make his mama happy for him."
"Apparently you still need to hear this from a few more people." She refills my cup, "Until then, come and taste the broth."
The food is delicious indeed, the company quiet and enjoyable over the family meal. I meet her older sister and brother. The eldest is away with his division. Nagan and Kituol are glad to be included on the meal though they must take turns at eating so one may keep watch. Seriku comes back to the palace with us afterward, Shilne bundling her into his lap in the back of our transport and hugging her happily.
"I have a new mama it seems." He kisses her forehead.
"I am so glad. I was so worried... But I knew that mama would love you even so."
"Now you can come to meet my family!"
"I am looking forward to that. Neissa is so nice!"
"Is she?" He is surprised. "How do you know this?"
"Nnhh... High Commander Muriwara gave me her contact information. We have been sending messages for a few days."
"Rrrhhh... That woman is getting involved again! She loves to torment me."
"You have a strange interaction with her. You would think that she needed a 10th brother and you needed an 8th sister!"
"Should I need one, it would certainly not be her!"On to 23