Marking of the Days

by Sincline Koutaishi

Avasjan Port Kyerst – Part 2

How should one measure happiness? I have only known it in such small amounts over the many years. Often I could not have even identified the feeling of happiness. Now I know there is so much to be had, for I experience it in untold volumes every day that I watch her recover.

The bruising of her face is ending as the days pass and the scars are healing over. After five days of being confined to a hospital bed the nurses are ready to have her start moving about. She is in a sad state still despite the accelerated healing therapy they have been giving her—a cast upon her leg and compression bandages around her middle to support her spine and the one deep wound that is still taking its time about knitting. It causes her pain every time she moves but the Overseer insists that after so many days laying still she must begin to walk again. With a smile she expresses her jealousy that my wound has healed so rapidly. I do what I can to encourage her during her first therapy session, but I am not skilled in such things.

"I can't..." She stops, looking panicked, resting on the walking bar.

"You can." I tell her, "Keep going. It will get easier."

"Augh... No it won't, you big fibber." She winces and takes a few more labored steps.

"There you are... Do not stop now! You are moving swiftly, my lady!"

"Very... Funny." She scowls at me.

"I can hardly keep up with you." I go past her and sit in a chair on the other side of the room, "Look at how angry you are with me... Come along. If you can make it this far you can punch me as hard as you like."

The nurses are amused by our interaction and keep away from the Princess for she seems to be responding better to my harassment than to their entreaties for her to keep on.

"Errghhh. It's not worth it."

"Yes it is. Come along, lumpy. Show us what a warrior you are... Fight for it!"

"Oohh... Be quiet." She gasps, her tired legs trembling.

"No! Stop your complaining and move."

"I can't!"

"Nonsense." I get up and go to stand behind her, leaning close, "Enough of your drama. Pick up your foot, you weak little girl." I speak close to her ear in a half growl.

"You are so lucky I can't stop leaning on this, or I would punch you right now!"

"Turn your anger into motion, lazy thing. GO!"

She finds enough anger for me to make it to the end of her first therapy session. The nurses applaud her and she frowns at me.

"You have won! Well done. Now would you like to punch me?"

"With my luck...You'd punch back." She tries to slow her breathing.

"I swear I will not. All I ask is that you do not strike my face. I cannot have myself looking any the less handsome than I do. I would so hate to disappoint the women."

"Just for that I will punch you!"

But she loses her balance instead when she lets go of the bar so I catch her up in my arms most happily.

"Perhaps later." I smile and return her to her bed.

"Can that be my next therapy session? Punching you?"

"I would say yes if you had broken your arm."

"That could be arranged."

"Princess, we are here to heal you not damage you further."

I step back so the nurses can check on her largest knitting wound. It all seems to be holding quite well and so they bring us both a midday meal.

"For your next therapy session, you will be given a gift if you get through it." I say, waving my eating utensil at her.

"A gift? I thought I got to punch you! You're changing the rules already, you big sneak."

"I will not break my word to you... But I will give you the gift first in hopes you will decide I am sweet and then not hit me! Those powerful arms of yours could damage my tender flesh very easily."

"Tender... Humph!"

She turns her attention to her meal and away from my mockery as I laugh at her.

The afternoon is spent with her watching the Imperial news feeds out of Gyokete though not understanding them as they are in northern language with Avasjan subtitles. She seems amused enough and keeps quite silent as I work near by.

After her evening struggle to walk about she is surely ready to strike me a number of times. I leave to let her temper cool a bit while the nurses see to her dressings and bathing her. When I return she is watching the Avasjan news feeds for a change.

"I regret that we cannot bring in the human feeds from here." I say upon my return and she looks over at me.

"Oh, I don't mind. I like hearing the way they talk and just watching the images. I've never seen any of it before and as we humans say, a picture is worth a thousand words... I see you've changed into more familiar clothing."

"Yes. I had a bit of laundering done and so I am not like a... Nnh... Colored arc in the sky?"


"Rainbow." I nod, marking the word in my memory.

"Come closer so I can punch you." She beckons.

"Saich! I think not. Gift first. Punching after... If you still feel like it."

"Oh, I will still feel like it."

She says this with some confidence. Perhaps I was too harsh with her in this last session.

"We shall see." I offer her the jeweler's box, "There has been something missing from you... While it cannot be returned, I hope that this will be able to take its place somewhat."

She takes it from me, not sure what to expect... And I am pleased when her eyes grow large as she gasps upon seeing what I have had made for her.

"I had completely forgotten..." She says softly, "It probably fell off me when I hit my head."

"And left a nice mark there for you to remember it by. Perhaps when that mark goes away completely, this can take its place."

"Yes it will... It's beautiful. Thank you." She smiles brightly through her healing bruises and scrapes.

"You are very welcome... Will you punch me now?"


"Yes??" I am shocked that my gift has not softened her will to do me harm.

"You're not getting out of it that easily."

"Hhhrrr... Have your best at me then." I sigh and join my hands behind my back.

She puts down the box, tightens up a fist and pulls back... Then just barely taps me.

"There. Now I feel better."

"That is all??"

"Yes. I wouldn't want to harm your tender flesh." She shakes her head, and returns to admiring her gift. "I have never seen you wear a crown or anything like one. Your father always did."

"I have never been fond of that practice. I am a military man, Princess. I value honor and duty, not gold and jewels. When my father died, I had all of his royal finery melted down and put the gems back into the treasury. I have never worn a crown."

"Hmm... Do you think less of me for having worn one? Even one so little?"

I smirk, "No. You wear very little else in the way of adornment. I suspect that this small circle of gold must mean more to you than displaying your position."

"You are very right... My mother gave it to me when I was small. She wore one just like it. I wear it more for her than for myself."

"When did your mother pass?"

"A long time ago. When I was 8 years old. She got very sick..." She sighed. "And then my father..." She looks up at me suddenly in an expression of shock and hurt.

I sit beside her in my usual chair, not at all looking forward to this avoided topic, "Princess... I am sorry for that. I tried to prevent it. I swear this to you..."

"What? Then why didn't you?"

I fight with myself over telling her the truth but it must be done.

"You did have something to do with it..." Her eyes are wide at my stalling.

"No... I did not... It was my father's doing completely. Did you see me on that day? No. Did you see any of my men there? No. It was all his men from the 53rd Division."

"Where were you?" She is simply burning through me with her eyes.

"I..." I stop and shake my head. Is my embarrassment worse than the pain of her loss? No. "Chained to a wall in my father's prison." I bury my face in my hands for shame.


"Yes... Many men died that day, Princess. Not just your troops and your father." My hands drop again, "My men fought to release me. But it was too late. The only reason that they withdrew from your planet that day was because they had to contend with a full war at Galrea."

"I don't understand..." Her wounded forehead furrows.

"I was trying to defend you!!" I bluster and she gasps at my anger, "Forgive me..." I try to soften myself. "I discovered my father's plans and moved to defend you from them. I did not move quickly enough and he put me to the wall. Shilne realized I was missing and saw the movement of the troops... You can thank him that you are not dead or imprisoned today from that attack."

"So he released you..."

"When they finally reached me yes... And then we took up arms against the rest of those left in the castle... While I labored to get to your world to fight there, his troops withdrew to face us in battle. By the end, nearly every Imperial Division had chosen a side in our battle. It was like nothing that had ever been known in our military history... We beat them down harshly. The battle was mine, my father lost to us. I faced he and his second in combat on the command deck of his own lead carrier. With my blade to his throat, he admitted defeat. In that moment the Empire became mine and he my prisoner... But it was too late for what happened to your world. It could not be undone..."

"I didn't know..."

"Of course not." I mutter and look away, feeling her hand come to my arm.

"Why are you so angry now?" She asks.

"Because I failed. I do not like to fail... It was important that I not fail."

My sword hand tightens into a fist. She tugs on my shirtsleeve to bring my hand to her, gently pulling my fist apart.

"You did your best." She says, no longer angry with me, instead trying to soothe.

"That was not my best!"

"Shh... You did the best you could under the circumstances... And for that... I thank you."


She is stroking my hand now, taking the air out of my anger.

"Why did you try to stop him? Isn't that what you wanted? To take Altea for the Empire?"

"My thinking had changed on a number of subjects. It became my belief that we had no right to be acquiring worlds that had not been ours to begin with. Your planet of Altea was not taken from us. It was taken from no one. There was no native population of sentient nature and so I began to think it wrong to take any such worlds, including your own. Even before then, I placed my claim on your world, preventing any other from taking it and effectively protecting your world from Imperial strikes. My father was enraged by this... He wanted you all dead or enslaved to repay all of the Alliance insults. It was his intention to put to an end my claim and continue in conquest of your people's worlds... And so now that he is dead and gone... The move to absorb all of your people into the Empire has ended. The only worlds that have joined with the Empire are those of allegiance and trade and the borders are heavily guarded to prevent any further intrusion... I will now tell you something more that you and your people have never known..."

"What is that?"

"While you have thought we have not been near your world since that day and since I had the borders closed, that has not been the case. The troops of my own division—the 102nd—have been keeping watch over your borders as much as possible since that time. I wanted to be certain that your world would never be troubled again. Now you know there is no need to worry of any type of invasion, including pirates."

She nods in understanding, "I am learning a great deal about you. You are not the same person who had frightened me so much over the years... I am so glad I have had this opportunity to learn the truth." Her fingers curl around mine, "Please don't be angry any more. I know you did what you could... I am so grateful that you did... Why didn't you ever tell me?"

"Would you have believed any of it?"

She frowns. "I don't know."

"And so now you know why I did not try to tell you. There were too many fresh wounds for any truth to be known... I did want to offer your people assistance in recovery from the unwarranted attack once I had taken the throne of the Empire... But that would not have been possible either."

"You're right... But I appreciate that you had that desire... I want to know more truth now. Now while my own wounds heal..."


"Or are you done with it?"

"You will have as much truth as you care to hear." I nod, "You may not always like it."

"I am willing to accept that."

"So we will make a bargain, you and I."


"Yes... If you will do your best with your physical therapy, I will tell you any truth you care to hear, I will tell you any stories that you like. You seem to enjoy them... And I may be less bruised as a result."

"Hmm... I am not sure if that would be as fun for me as punching you. May I think about it?" She smiles now, squeezing my hand with both of hers.

"You had best think quickly as the time has almost come for your next torture."

"Oh good." She rolls her eyes.

"Just one more short session for the day and then you can have your late meal."

"Can you be encouraging at least? Having you make me angry does work very well, but I would like it better if you could just be supportive."

"I am not well skilled in this, but I will try."

"That is all I ask."

So I try being supportive. It seems to work. She concentrates on the task at hand and is rewarded with her evening meal and her choice of things she would like to have me tell her about. I am surprised that she has taken in what I have told her already so easily. She does not like to see me angry, that much is certain. She has taken to the local food quite well too, though she is not eating as much as I think she should. Over the next few days this is how things work, and every night still I see her to sleeping before I depart to my own rooms.


A change in perspective...

On her eighth day in the Avasjan medical center she woke to find a strange thing—The Emperor doing a very familiar set of movements in the open area by the window. Exercises. A slow, flowing dance of sorts that seemed to have him rather in a trance-like state. Some of her nurses had stopped concentrating so much on working and were watching him. At last he noticed his audience and stopped, the nurses giggling and blushing, bowing to him as he smiled slowly and spoke to them in their own language. After a short conversation they hurried to bring him a glass of water, practically tripping over them selves to help him. She frowned at him as they bowed away and then hurried along to tell their friends.

"Good evening, Princess. I hope you will excuse me for using your room to exercise... Yet I thought I might remain close at hand if you needed me." He nodded his head in a gesture of respect.

"It seems that at least the young nurses are enjoying watching you."

"Yes." He smiled toward the door and then back to her, having another drink of water before the small group of nurses came back in to offer him some sort of snack before exiting in a cloud of happy banter.

"Goodness but your head is going to get big from so much attention."

"Ahhuuu, Princess. It is a good thing to know I am still handsome to the women." He raised his glass and selected something from the tray to eat, "No matter the race."

"Apparently they haven't known you so well." She looked up as he came toward her bed, bearing the tray to set on the table beside her and took his place in his usual chair.

"Strangely enough, Princess... In my own realm those who know me well think of me as a savior, a protector. Young women think of me as their perfect husband... Desirable... A handsome and powerful warrior Emperor... And so they play at flirtation."

"At least you'll have your selection of bodies to warm your bed tonight."

"Saich, woman... That will not happen. What you think of me!" He offered her a confection, "Eat one. They are very good. Apparently they had these made specially for me!"


"You will benefit from my good looks."

"I'm not hungry."

"A shame... They are delicious." He ate it himself. "Perhaps later you will want some."

"Perhaps." She watched him eat a few more, not ready to give him the satisfaction of having one herself, "What was that exercise you were doing?"

"Rehoto... It is a meditative exercise, and combat training depending on the form and level. It teaches your body to respond to your will. It teaches you to naturally flow in combat from becoming used to these motions. I have been fortunate, in the last cycle, to have a teacher who has mastered a very high level and so I have learned much."

"I have seen that done before..."

"Have you?"

"Yes... Something like it. Not the movements you were doing... But then you said you had a high level of training..."

"I have. Where have you seen Rehoto?"

"Sergeant Pailo. He does that almost every morning."

"Nnh. Morning Rehoto. To warm the muscles for the start of the day. It makes sense. He is Baltan. He probably learned in youth academy."


"What is wrong?"

"You said you would tell me the truth..."

"I did." He nodded.

"Is Pailo an Imperial spy?"

"Pailo Tslaikis? A spy?? Gods, no." He chuckled.


"Never that. Why would you think so?"

"Well... Many people have concerns and I've always dismissed them... Because he seems like such a nice person and I've never had a reason to suspect him... But he is from Balta... And they're behind the Imperial borders..."

"And he has had many friends who were of my coloring..." He continued, holding up a blue hand to examine.


"Let me set your mind at ease." His hand dropped to his knee and he leaned forward, "He is no spy. In fact he has been very vocal about peace between humans and the Empire. Should I tell you what I know about him?"

"Please do.." She nodded.

"He used to teach at the university in Mykonos City there on Balta. Engineering. Over the cycles he has had his place in increasing our technology. I am sure he has done his part to assist your people as well."

"Very much so."

"He has grown up as do most Baltans, alongside we blue-skinned people. His family lives in a primarily southern neighborhood. His father is a well-known trader, partnered with a southern trader. They live in the home across from the Tslaikis home. Pailo's sisters work in the trade. He is a well respected member of the community..."

"How do you know all of this if he is not a spy?"

"When the scouts found his arrival on Altea and learned his name, I of course went to have him investigated. I sent enforcers to his family home."

"How very like you."

"Nnh... What they found was surprising... The entire neighborhood came out to make sure that their family was safe and fairly treated. The senior enforcer kept things very civil for he also knew their family. Most of his reporting I believe was based upon his knowing them for many years. I had no choice but to honor his claim of yustunai... I hope that he has explained this to you, that it is not something to enter into lightly."

"Well yes, he did a little. Said something about a military code and evening the odds in an unbalanced conflict..."

"Yes... Perhaps he did not tell you what a powerful thing that is to our military culture. Most enter into it knowing they will likely never survive their sacrifice. It is also a breath away from treason... He is an extremely honorable and respected man. Do your best to appreciate his intent and his sacrifice. He will not fail you."

She nodded and sighed, "Thank you. I am glad my feelings about him were correct."

"You should listen to them more often. They will likely be your best counsel."

"How strange a thing to hear coming from you."

"Not strange, just truth."

"Still, it is strange." She smiled a little, "Are you going to let the Baltans go free from the Imperial borders one day?"

"You speak as though they are forced. They are not. It was their choice to stay behind our borders and separate themselves from your people. I presented the options to their government bodies and they took a vote among the general populous. They find humans... Annoying."

"Now..." She gave him a warning look.

"It is truth. Why do you think they left Earth so long ago?"

"I know why they left."

"Do you? Or do you know what your Alliance has told you?"

"No, I know. My ancestors were part of the scientists that lead the project. I know why they left... Partly for science, partly for freedom... a chance to live elsewhere happily. Things on Earth were not so nice when they left. They were going to sacrifice themselves to give hope to our people that there was something else out there... And then they disappeared."

"Yes, they suffered massive system failures."

"Will you tell me how you met them? We've only gotten to hear the story through Alliance filtering and I have seen Pailo roll up his eyes when he hears that version of the tale..."

"Gladly! It will change your mind about our people."

"Try not to be too dramatic in your telling..."

"I will do my best to simply relay facts without decoration... Your people were found by traders who were making their usual run to stop over on Balta. It was used as a waypoint for a trade route and not much more. They had no idea what they had found other than four ships floating in space, seemingly dead, with strange markings on the hulls and one phrase in galactic trade. Something on the order of... We are glad to meet you."

"I remember that." She nodded in agreement.

"The traders contacted the border guard and they came to examine the ships. It was found that the four were tethered together and only one had any signs of life in it. The entire population of the four craft had gathered into one for a chance at survival. There was no signal, no ability to contact them, and so a large carrier came and pulled them inside. The air content inside the working ship was evaluated and we determined that they could breathe our air. Internal shields were thrown up inside the bay and our technicians opened up the craft then found your people all congregated in several large holds. They were shocked to see who had saved them but greatly relieved to be free of their dark prison. They came out into the bay by the hundreds. We met our first humans then. Very friendly people, grateful for our help, and surprised that galactic trade language was not just some joke that had been played on them. It seems they found the language in some space junk and it had been dismissed as false... They learned it though."

"My distant grandfather bought it from NASA. He was convinced it wasn't a hoax."

"He was correct. Wise man." He nodded, "Our people kept them quarantined, treated them for health issues, and then asked them if they wanted their ships repaired so they could continue their journey. They responded that they were looking for a world on which to settle and asked if they knew of any that would welcome them. That is how they were brought to Balta. After a 30 nation vote they were set free at the waypoint port where their ships were laid to rest. They were given access to the dormitories and tools while they decided on their next steps. Half a cycle later they had homes and crops starting. They were telling our officials about where they had come from and such. We knew for certain then that your people would be a problem for us in the future, even if these people were good friends. They have made Balta their home and drawn many of our people and others to live there as well. It is no longer just a trade waypoint. It is a very active world."

"I would love to visit there some day."

"I will see that you do then. It is a beautiful place. The higher gravity does take time to become used to however."

"I am just glad that they found a safe place to live even though things didn't go as planned. I am surprised that they have been getting along so well with your people given everything that has happened."

"They have separated themselves from humans. Genetically even at this point. I know you do not want to hear me say that they were annoyed by your people... Suffice it to say that there were politics involved that made them even less pleased to interact with the Alliance than we were. They have had their concerns of course... But they have let most things flow as they will."

"I'm just glad we got a chance to meet him. He is such a help. Such a good friend."

"It makes more sense to me now why he chose to risk so much to help your people. He sees you as his relatives perhaps. Others like his own people. The same origin at least. The same ancestral project...Your ancestors were remarkably devoted to keep working for so many generations."

"They were a unique group." She laughed, "My father told me so many stories about them that have been passed down. They had such humor, and such skill at the same time."

"You come from good stock then." He sipped his water again.

"Not royal stock, but good stock." She sighed.

"You say that with some amount of shame in your voice. Why is that?"

"Well... We've had these royal titles conveyed upon us over the years... But we're far from a royal family. Mostly scientists and dreamers. It sometimes makes me uncomfortable."

"It should not. All royalty was at some point not royalty. That is how it is. My own line was at one time not royalty. There was no royalty at all. Through the Diya wars we gained power, superiority, and eventually royal standing. I could just as easily be a factory worker if things were different." He offered a smile.

She nodded, "I see your point."

"Do your best for the position you have found yourself in. That is my advice. Remember your responsibilities. They are larger than those of others."

"I do. It is just difficult with so little to give to people who need so much."

"I understand... However your people gave your line this title for a reason. They want to look to you for hope.. Do your best to give them that."

"I... Don't know how... Jacob, our Colonial Minister, he does his best to teach me. But I am still young and untrained and I have no confidence in my decisions." She frowned, cheeks coloring at admitting all of this embarrassment to a former enemy.

"Nnh... Princess, I can offer you my counsel at any time you need it. Though our cultures and ways are very different, perhaps I can be of help. In the end, decisions are yours to make and you must make them. You are Princess to your Colony. You cannot step down from this."

She looked his way instead of staring at her sheets. His face held an expression of sincerity. She smiled a little.

"So you don't want to take my admission of weakness as an opportunity to take over our world?"

"No. It is your job, woman. I have enough work of my own." He laughed.

"Oh well." So strange to joke with him over such things, but a relief.

"You know you do not want to run away from this, you just want to know how to do better."

"True... How do you handle things? You have an enormous responsibility both military and civilian."

"Which worries you more? Military or civilian responsibilities?"

"Goodness, they both do!"

He laughed again, "You are not making this easy."

"Sorry... Military leadership seems to come easily to you though. I couldn't imagine being responsible for so many lives."

"You are responsible for many. Lives are lives, regardless of the numbers."

"But I could never decide to send people off to fight and lose their lives. I just couldn't ever give that command."

"Your people have fought ours. Defensively, yes..."

"We never had to, for example, say... Go here and fight these people. You came to us and we had to fight..."

"Military action is not taken lightly. It is examined before it is undertaken. My own Division, I always took pride in their kill record... But more so their lives, their ability to return home to their families. It is never easy to speak to a family that has lost a member to combat. But we do, as commanders and friends to the fallen, return their ashes to their families for funeral rites and mourning. I have lost my own friends and family in combat many times."

"I'm sorry..."

He nodded, "It is the path my line chooses. With that comes pride, power, and a shorter life. You are well trained for it, however. I can hardly remember a day in my life that did not have some trace of training in it... I do not think your people ever thought they would have to fight. They were looking for peace... I would offer military training, but as we discussed before, it would likely not be received well."

"You are correct on that... But I am so glad you would offer... Thank you."

"Sha sha, Princess... It is no reason to start your tears."

"It is. It is a great relief to not have to worry about all of this any more."

"You just have other things to concentrate your worry on instead, nnh?"

"Yes. I don't mind having less to worry about."



One evening I find that Shilne has made himself at home in a chair beside her bed and is stealing food from her tray as he talks to her. Her smiles indicate that she is well entertained by his usual enthusiasm.

"Hello again!" She smiles my way as I enter the room and raise an eyebrow at Shilne who stuffs a little more stolen food into his mouth.

"Hello... Are you allowing the good Princess anything to eat?" I inquire.

"Here and there." He shrugs.

"Good of you."

"I am a very generous man." He nods.

"They feed me too much anyway." She smiles at him. "Shilne has been telling me about his family. What a huge family too!"

"The Calpuran love to have many children." He agrees, patting his chest proudly, "I will have many too."

"Then you'll have to have a really good wife."

"I will! I have found the perfect woman for this! Let me show you how beautiful she is!" He opens his katsuna quickly, always having images ready to display.

"Gods, Shilne..." I frown at him.

"Oh, don't ruin his excitement." The Princess waves at me, seeming eager to see what he is preparing to show her.

"Here is the woman herself. My spirit, life and breath." He shows her an image of the two of them together.

"She's lovely. What a sweet smile. And what a pretty dress!"

"I bought for her on one of our goings to my home city Akanu." His human language is as bad as ever, but she seems to be understanding between his poor pronunciation and missing words.

"When are you getting married?"

"Soon, I hope! She is finishing her school. Her mama has not to let her marry before she is done. Not much longer now. Even so, I have shared bond with her and I am not worried about future."

"What is that? Share bond? Is that like a little marriage before a full marriage?"

"Ahht, no. I remember that your people do not do this. When we bond, we breathe in the scent of another to mark them... Ehnn... Not sure how to say to you. My human language is not so good."

"You're doing very well." She assures.

"I believe you would call it imprinting." I interject, "We bond ourselves by taste and scent receptors on the roof of our mouths. We taste bond, is how it is said literally. Breathe in deeply to mark another individual as family or mate or close friend. What Shilne is saying to you is that he has tasted bond with his intended before their marriage, thus creating the marriage bond at least between they two, if not so yet in the eyes of the community. Such a thing usually happens after the marriage celebration."

"So he's very committed to her and she is to him too, is that right?"

"Very." Shilne agrees. "Bond is special and not be broken." He smiles happily at his image of her. "Look here." He brings up another image, "She is here with her school friends."

"Oooh.. They're all very pretty. How did you choose?" She giggles at his dreaming expression.

"Naii... Only she is for me. I know inside of myself from first seeing her. I loved her then. I love her more every dawn."

"How wonderful for you, Shilne."

"Yes! I invite you to our marriage celebration! Will you come?"

"I will do my best. Would it be allowed?" She looks my way.

"Arrangements can be made if you like. I am able to assure you that you will enjoy yourself. His family has been having a long while to make detailed plans for a large celebration. You may not know it from looking at him, but he is the pride of the Calpuran. They will celebrate for his happiness accordingly."

"How long are your marriage ceremonies?"

"Ours will be a brief morning at the temple of Hest in Akanu for blessing with few family then we will return to home to celebrate there with everyone."

"Temple of Hest?"

"Hest is God of the Harvest and Autumn." I clarify. "That is the patron God of Akanu city and the area. There are many many farms there."

"I am learning so much. Thank you both. Congratulations, Shilne. I am very happy for you and your future wife."

"I am also." He grinned and she laughed.

"It's so nice to get to know you after years of only being on the opposite side of weapons."

"I agree. Better to be in peace than war. Bigger celebrations." He throws up his hands in drama, she laughing at him again.

"Saich." I sigh as the nurses come to see her again.

"My time is done. Must go do things again. Take care, Princess."

"You too."

He rises up and nods a bow to me, "Excuse me."

"I do too often." I smirk and he departs.

"What a lovely person." She comments.

"Who has cleared your plate for you."

"It was well worth it for the stories he told."

She settles in for the arriving nurses to tend to her and measure her progress along with my translation of their inquiries to her. At last they leave her be and she resumes where she had finished.

"It is funny... I have only known him as the serious looking man that stood on your left. Now I know he is in love and he has a huge family that all care about one another so much. I know his enormous smiles and his humor."

"There is a time for everything. Serious looks and large smiles. He takes his duty seriously for it means the difference between lives lost and saved. He also takes his humor seriously for it means new friendships and snatched food." I chuckle and she smiles widely, "Shilne is a good young man. I am proud of him for having come so far so quickly."

"Mmh." She nodded, "I am learning so much about your people. While this has been a horrible experience, it has been wonderful in so many ways."

"I am glad you have come to a place in your healing where you can find some good from the situation."

"So am I... I had never even seen your women before. Or your children. I've only been faced with your angry, uniformed men."

"Nnh... What think you of them?"

"Shilne's little relatives are adorable... And your women seem to all be perfectly beautiful. Perhaps he just has an extraordinarily good looking family!" She muses, "What is your future wife like?" She asks suddenly.

It sends a shock down my back and through my stomach, "Hrrrh... Do we have to speak of this?"

"Yes. You promised to tell me any story or truth I wanted to hear, and this is the one that I want to hear. So out with it. Are you not happy? Do you not love her as much as Shilne loves his future wife?"

I smirk, "I have told you it is obligation. I have not even met her!"

"No? How can that be?"

"It is an arranged union by Tastian custom. I will not meet her until the marriage ceremony."

"Oh... I would not like that at all."

"Nor would I... But it is their way. My only hope has been that we would find some common ground so that our lives together would not horrible."

"Do you know anything about her?"

"Very little. She is a Princess of a high family that controls a vast territory out in the western arm. I have an image of her. Other than that, I know that when my vacation is over, I am meant to be married to her."

"So soon?"

"This has been in the workings for a long while. I have put it off. I could not any longer. I had to take to my responsibilities."

I go and rest my forehead against the thick pane that separates us from the void of space, looking out at the stars. I have to do something about that situation rather than just ignore it, and soon.

"Is she a warrior?"

"No!" I laugh.

"Does she have potential?"

"I would think not... Not every Princess has the desire to become a battle-ready maiden. This may come as some surprise to you, royal pilot." I turn back to her with a sarcastic smirk.

"Ha..." She shakes her head, "Let me see her picture."

"Rrrhh..." I wince.

"Come now... I'll bet she's beautiful."

I take out my katsuna and flick it on, scrolling through the menus until I find the one image I have of her, handing it over.

"She's lovely."

"I suppose she is... Mostly it irritates me that they will not let me speak to her until the joining. I would like to at least know some of her mind!"

"Now that surprises me."

"Ahhuu, please!" I take the katsuna back from her, "What must you think of me? Rrrhh..." And I switch it off again. "Mercifully at least I will be rid of you shortly. You love to scratch at my wounds..."

"No... I am simply curious about you after all of these years."

"I hope you will be satisfied some time soon."

"We shall see. Tell me more about Vidon? Hmm?"

That I am glad to talk about and even switch the Katsuna back on to show her some images I had taken during my last fateful trip there.

"Why don't you have escort when you go?"

"Because there I am not the Emperor. I am simply another vacationing merchant and so I travel alone. They know me as Vikoa there."


"Yes. I picked a different name for myself. It is one of our Gods. Vikoa and Fao. They represent the perfect union of male and female aspects. I suppose you would think of them as the highest Gods."

She laughs at me, "It figures you would name yourself after a perfect male! Such an ego!"

"Hrrr... Enough stories for you! Go to sleep, cruel thing." Again I switch off the Katsuna and rise from my chair by her bedside with a scowl for her.

"Please stay." She whispers and stops my anger and movement both. She did truly hate being alone there. "I'm sorry... I really shouldn't be so harsh. I know how difficult this must be for you... And maybe I'm just giving you a hard time because I am afraid of that very same future coming for me... Please stay."

"You would love to hear me snore yet again, hnn?"

"Yes... And in honesty you do not snore at all."

And so my shoulders drop and I settle back down into the chair and relax, "Another bit of humor at my expense."

"True... But it doesn't mean anything hurtful."

"Sha sha, I know. It is a wound for me, that which comes. The rest of your humor with me I do not mind, and even enjoy... But not with this."

She nods slowly, "I'm sorry."

"You are forgiven... As I hope that you will forgive me for some humor that might be painful for you."

"It's a deal."

"Close your eyes then."

"Mhh hmm." She settles into the pillow and reaches for my hand, finding it already beside her. She laces her fingers into mine with a sigh.

"Dream of something beautiful, Princess."

"I will dream of Vidon."

I am in joy as she falls to sleeping beside me once again. In 3 days the doctors say she will be able to travel with no worries for her condition. 3 days and I will be in misery, taking her back to her people. What then? I will write up my statement ending the marriage tonight... But will it even matter? Will I ever see her again after this point? It has been such a piece of bliss to watch her sleep, comforted by my presence rather than disturbed. I want to have her sleep beside me for the remainder of my days in this universe... And she has warmed to me, she considers me perhaps a friend? How will I feel once she is gone from me? I know the answer to that and it makes my mind hurt. Those who defend her, they will never let me see her again.

Gods, please make something good come of this.

I leave her to sleep and go to my rooms, settling in and trying to think of what to say to the Tastian King.

"Though I am meant to marry your daughter, I love someone else... And even if I cannot be with her, being alone is a better thing than marrying your child." I muse, "Yes, that will surely bring a war." There must be a better way to put it, "Sorry I took so long to say so.... Rrrrrrhh... Where is Hanta when I need her?" I have to do this on my own.

I go for a run in the gym to try and clear my head and then try again. Finally I have something more presentable and I read it over a good number of times before sending it off. I have set things in motion, now I will have to wait for the results... But I have been honest to my emotion in some small way, and now I can freely and in good conscience concentrate on the one most important to me.

The following day they placed a new lightweight walking cast upon her leg and changed her compression bandages. Then the nurses clothe her in some brilliant colors and make her walk about in the halls. She is not amused by this but does her best to do a single course around the hospital wing. My sergeants follow her along patiently and she is almost done with her walk when I come to find her. I cannot help but smile at her, dressed even more brightly than what they have seen fit to do to me. She frowns and I laugh heartily. She is not happy when she hears one of the sergeants snicker and her eyes flash at him. He snaps to attention.

"I sense a conspiracy." She says and labors on, leaning on her crutch. "I wish I had known that your people had such a sense of humor."

"You do not like the clothing? But it looks so attractive on you."

"I prefer more gentle colors. The bright orange and blue hospital gown was bad enough..."

One thing does please me greatly about her appearance. She is wearing the gold circlet I have given her. It seems to be quite fitting regardless of the remaining light bruises.

"I will keep that in mind. We will have to find you some dull flight clothing shortly. I will not tolerate this much color on my cruiser!"


Shilne arrives then and the sergeants bow to him. "Majesty." He takes his turn with bowing and greets her as well, "Good morning, Princess! You are rather bright today."

"Mmh." She frowns.

"Aich! And not happy either!"

"No, because you are all making fun of me."

"Never that." He assured.

"She is not fond of her borrowed attire." I explain.

"Ahht... Much like my Emperor."

"Very much. What have you to say?"

"I have good news."

"Do tell..." I take him into the Princess' hospital room to talk. She will be taking a little while longer to get here herself.

"We have the false skip generator, and it is on its way to be deactivated. We have 10 pirates that we found still manning that skip, and they are on their ways to Galrea detention center. We have a good idea of where to find those that escaped you and are actively looking for them. I also have the answer for you regarding this." He gives me back the metal rod.

"Ahht, good."

"It appears that our favorite colorful Princess fell ill a short while after you had first met with her and her father. There is something that does happen to their people that is quite usual but requires surgery. I cannot even pronounce it so do not ask." He waves a hand, "The Alliance saw fit at that time to send one of their own surgeons out to examine her. Coincidence? No... It turns out that they noted your fascination with the pretty one and your attempts to acquire her once she had flatly refused your offer of marriage... And so out came the infected bit and in went the little death rod. She knew nothing about it."

"I am very relieved in some ways... Yet I am very angry still."

"And well you should be! They tried to blow up yourself and your Princess."

"She is not mine." I notice that she has come into the doorway and smile.

"Nnh... So say you... I have talked to Hanta."


"Yes. What are you going to do about it?"

"What can I do?" I shrug and watch her settle into a chair by the window.

"Tell her!" He punches my arm and the Princess looks up. "Idiot!"



"Close your large mouth."

"No! What is to prevent you from going over there right now and telling her how you feel?"

"Good sense." I nod.

"You are just going to send her home and be done with it??"

"That is the plan indeed."


"Because it is what she wants."

"You have asked I suppose?"

"Enough sarcasm."

"Have you?"

"No." I sigh, "I know what I have done to her and I know I cannot say such things to her. If she should some day come to me on her own in such a way I would not turn her away."

"Idiot." He shakes his head and leaves me alone.

"What was that all about?" She asks.

"He has said that they have captured the skip generator, and some pirates. They are busy tracking down those that escaped me when I found you. They will be dealt with accordingly."

"Oh good. At least they won't hurt anyone else."

"There are so many of them, Princess. Their numbers seem to be growing again. We do our best to keep them down... And now we will be more aware to look for their skip generators. So in some way you have been of assistance to ending their danger to others."

"You're right then. Something good did come of this."

"I prefer to see it as a number of good things."

She nods and I come to stand beside her as she looks out the window at the stars and the various craft that are making their ways slowly to and from the port.



The following day I am contacted by the Communications Ministry with a message that I then bring to the Princess.

"It seems that your people are interested in speaking with you again now that your homecoming is close at hand. Are you feeling up to a discussion?"

"I am. They're probably just checking to make sure I'm doing better." She smiles and puts down the magazine the nurses have brought to her.

"And to ensure that I am not causing you worry." I smirk.

"That too."

"I will set up the routing then. A moment if you will..."

"No hurry."

I set up the connection to the video screen in her room and find her Minister who looks relieved that I have answered their hails at last.

"Good day, Minister. I hear that you are eager to speak with your young ruler."

"Indeed we are. Everyone is very anxious to hear how she is doing."

"Much better. I will turn the view and leave you to speak."

"Very good." He nods and I turn the screen, "Ah, there you are, Princess." There is a smile in his voice though I cannot see it.

"That's perfect, right there." She makes a circle out of her thumb and index finger and I tilt my head in curiosity of the little hand symbols her people use in regular conversation.

"When you are finished simply close the connection here." I hand her the control plate.

"This one?" She points to a button.

"Yes. Enjoy."

I smile and nod a bow to her then depart with her saying her thanks to me for my efforts, then hurry back to my borrowed rooms to eavesdrop on their conversation. It is all very regular conversation, she relaying the details of her daily routine with medicine and mineral baths and such. The Minister praises her healing.

"I've been a very good patient." She smiles in the left frame, "And they've been very good doctors and nurses. They really are lovely people. I hope I will be able to adequately express my thanks to them once I'm home again."

"We will see to it." He assures, "Avasjans... Where is their world relative to the rest of the western arm? Do you know?"

"Oh... Now..." She clicks her tongue, "I cannot tell you that without permission. I'm sure that the boys have been trying to figure it out so they can... Come and pay me a visit here in the hospital?"

"They have indeed. There are no records of those people so of course there is curiosity as to whether that is a fabrication or the truth."

"It's the truth. I've met a couple other races that I've never heard of while I've been here. All lovely people who are quite happy to be allied with the Empire."


"It is rather. I've learned a lot and you would be proud too! I've used my Galactic Trade language skills a lot. My head positively aches some days for all the new and different things I've been experiencing... So while I'm not so happy to be injured I am happy I am having this opportunity to meet so many people and see so many things."

"I am glad to hear you've at least found something positive about this horrible thing that has happened to you."

"I have indeed." She nods, "It's good to see you. I'm looking forward to being home again in my own bed. Hopefully I'll have the strength to get into it by myself by then!"

"I hope so. Your tutors will be eager to see you too. You've found an interesting way to get out of some school work." He smiles at his joke.

"Actually..." She leans out of the frame and back in again, "I've been given an electronic tablet and I'm doing what I can to practice this and that. I have no excuse really since I can't go much of anywhere other than to take my one lap around the hospital wing." She shrugs. "I'm making the best of my laying around."

"Well done... Another of the concerns here has been how your royal savior has been behaving..." He raises an eyebrow.

"Like a true gentleman." She states with surety.

"Are you sure?"

"Positive. He's been helping me with my walking and all sorts of things. He has even been quizzing me... You see? That's his handwriting, that's mine." She shows him the tablet again, "My hands are still a bit shaky..."

"So he has become a teacher since last we met... Perhaps he is not the same Prince I am thinking of then." He chuckles.

"I think the long time of not having to deal with the Alliance so much has been good for his outlook. I know that I could stand to do with a little less of the type interaction we usually have with them." She sighs, "I know everyone is worried, but he truly has been a wonderful person to be around. Helpful... Concerned... Even educational. It's funny... I am so far away from everything I've ever known and he, of all people, is my source of comfort and familiarity!" She smiles again.

"Yes... Well... I suppose you have to see it to believe it."

"You do."

"Your lieutenant would like to have a word with you too before we end the transmission. Are you feeling able to tolerate his enthusiasm?"

"I think I can handle it, yes."

"Wonderful... I will go retrieve him. Just a moment."

She waits patiently and soon he flashes across the right frame and then back into it again.

"Oh, hey." He grins, "There ya are! I almost skidded right past you."

"I have no idea where you get all your energy." She laughs at him.

"Wheaties, babe. Breakfast of champions!" He knocks on his chest, "You're looking not so messed up as last time."

"Thank you, I think." She rolls up her eyes.

"So... How's it going? Or can't you talk because what's-his-butt is sitting there?"

"He's not here, silly."

"Good... Remember what I taught you about how to deal with a guy who's getting fresh with you? Use it if necessary. And don't hold back!"

"Oh my goodness!" She squeals at him, "He's being a perfect gentleman!"

"Yeah yeah. We'll see how long that lasts. Just remember, don't hold back. Bang zoom! Right in the royal family jewels."

"I can hardly believe I'm hearing this." She shakes her head.

"Believe me, that'll get his attention."

"And it's entirely unnecessary!"

"Oh come on... I bet he's loving having you as a captive audience... Oiling his way across the room and trying to get you to tell him how good-looking he is. Ass..."

"Hush!" She laughs at him, "I can hardly imagine how much this discussion is costing and you're just insulting the man who's paying for it."

"BFD. He can afford it... Seriously... You're okay, right?"

"I'm perfectly fine."

"Because if you want us to come out there all you have to do is say the word."

"I'll be home in just a few days."

"You sure you don't want us to come there?"

"I am sure!"

"Yeh, well don't get all friendly and forget he's the enemy. He's probably trying to milk you for information."

"Not so. He's been giving me more information than I have been giving him. Just by the fact of my being behind the Imperial border... So suspicious!"

"I'm suspicious of him to begin with... The fact that you're defending that fucker worries me."

"Oh, my." She shook her head, "Such language..."

"It's the language of truth. Looks like, talks like, walks like, is." He wagged a finger at her. "I mean, haven't you thought of what an amazing coincidence it is that he just happened to be right where you needed him to be to swoop in and be your knight in shining armor? Noodled it around in your royal noggin? Hum?" His voice drips with sarcasm. "It all seems very staged to me..."

"I have actually thought about it." She told him, "And your theory, which was also my own initially, has some critical flaws."

"Do tell..." He folds his arms over his chest to wait for the details.

"Firstly, how would he have known that I was going to take an impromptu trip on my own like I did? I didn't tell any of you. I didn't tell anyone."

"So? They must have spotted you in transit."

"Alright, assuming that is true... How did they know where I would head off to and have time to set up a phony skip point?"

"They estimated your path by trajectory... Keep going."

"In that case, if they did set up a phony skip point, why not point it somewhere closer to the Empire?"

"More dramatic. That's why."

"Oh, goodness but you are difficult."

"I'm just being realistic."

"Then I will keep going... So assuming all of this to be true, how did he get so far out there himself? He was three days gone from this point..."

"Another skip generator."

"So you think he just hung around for a while to make it seem like he was gone and hopped a skip point to where I was being attacked?"

"Sure, why not?"

"Because then again he was gone for days before I even left and couldn't possibly have known I was going to be in transit anywhere!" She says rather emphatically, "It's just not possible that this was staged... And if he did, it would have been far more dramatic than you're suggesting. He would have had support troops. He wouldn't have let them actually ground me and possibly kill me in the process. He would not have been so far out of range of support or even communications. He wouldn't have risked the days of transit to bring me to a hospital... I have thought about this from a lot of angles. It just doesn't work in any case. It was a coincidence. The Avasjans have told me that he comes this way every time he is heading off on vacation. This was just typical travel for him until he heard my distress signal."

"Yeah yeah." He scoffs still.

"He has been a perfect gentleman since we've been here. I have appreciated his concern and attention and everything he has taught me. This has been a very good learning experience for me on many levels... So you don't have to worry! I will be home in a few days."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because I trust his word to me. He didn't even need to tell anyone he had me, when you think about it. I would have simply disappeared." She shrugs. "There have been no conditions to my release, no bargaining... Nothing."

"Then what's the catch, Princess? What's in it for him? He don't do shit for free."

"No catch. It appears that despite everyone's thinking otherwise, he can simply be a decent person."

"I'll bet you dollars to donuts it's not going to be that simple and neat."

"I'll take that bet."

She has confidence in me and I am strangely proud. I have done well for her to defend me against such harsh criticism. She has even held her tongue remarkably regarding the confidential details I have shared with her.

"I just wish I actually had a donut." He shrugs, "I'll be happy if you get home all right. If not... I've got this much to say, since I know smart-guy is listening in... Boy, I am going to hand you your ass. You're gonna get a good old fashioned beat down when you and me next cross paths. Guaranteed."

I scowl. No matter his threats. Even if we should have occasion to fight, he is no match for me. Never has been as proven during our past skirmishes.

"More and more dramatic..." She rolls up her eyes and laughs softly.

"Look, I'm just being your big bro, and I don't like Slick being there alone with you."

"I completely promise you that he's being absolutely wonderful to me. I've even learned to play some new card games and met his second in command who is quite funny and charming despite his stern expressions when I've seen him before. I'm learning all sorts of things, including an unfortunate few naughty words in their trade language when he is working and talking to his politicians from my room. He likes talking to politicians as much as I like talking to the Alliance Generals! I just wish I had more energy. I would really love to see more of this place. It's amazing... It really has been a good experience. Even though I've been hurt I wouldn't trade it for anything... And I will be home soon."

"Come on... Just let slip some coordinates... I'm begging you..." He clasps his hands together.

"No! No more asking."

"Sister... You must look like a corn cob to him." He drops his hands with a frown.


"Because he's been buttering you up like mad."

"Oh, now..."

"Seriously... The dude's a mass murderer and a total dick-head. Just keep remembering that. Right?"

"Yai..." She surprises me by using one of the expressions she has heard from my own mouth, "Tell me something... What is the difference between being a mass murderer and being a soldier in an army during war?"

"Come on..." He scoffs.

"I am completely serious... When you think about it... You've killed people before. Haven't you?"

"Well, yeah..."

"So... Are you a murderer? Or were you doing your duty as part of war? As part of defending people's lives and your own?"

"I was doing the right thing, Princess. The more of them die, the less of ours do."

"I don't believe that. I don't believe the answer is killing. But I do believe that there are people on both sides of any war that believe, truly believe in their fight. They want to keep their people safe, their families... And so they kill. I don't think they're murderers... I think that perhaps they are not so happy about it as you might think. I think you're not so proud as you speak."

"Sure, I'd rather have peace. But given the situation, I have no regrets. And here's the big difference... He gets off on it. I know it. So I do think he's a murderer. And I do think that on top of that he's an asshole. He'll never change. So if I get the chance, I'll kill the bastard myself and put him out of everyone's misery... Don't you fall for any crap from him. He's still the same dude."

She sighs wearily, "I am keeping things in perspective but also being open-minded... I believe that people can change and I believe there is a way to peace."

"Yeah yeah... Belief doesn't cover it. You've always believed I would stop swearing. Have I?"

"No... Not yet." She smiles and winks at him, "But I have faith."

"I'm not gonna. From my mouth to God's ears. I'm never going to stop swearing. Have faith in that."

"I have rather gotten used to it, though at times you still do surprise me with some of the things that come out of you."

"I've still got my allure, baby-cakes." Her returns her wink, "We miss you."

"I miss you all too. Now... I am so tired. Do you mind if I cut this conversation short?"

"Sorta... Can't you just keep this thing on so we can take shifts watchin' you?"

"No. Be patient."

"Right... Patient..."

"See you."

"Soon." He nods and the connection goes blank.

I wait for a short while and then return to her. She is resting and looking sleepily toward the view of space.

"Excuse me..."

She turns my way, "Hello."

"Is all well at home?"

"Yes. All is very normal at home." She smiles a little, "Thank you for that. I was trying to keep things brief but my Lieutenant had a lot to say."

"It is his way to speak until long after his audience tires of him."

"Mmh. I do wish I had half of his energy. I have no idea how he keeps going the way he does... The Minister was worried he was taking some sort of drug for a while when he first arrived! But years later, we know it's just the way he is. He doesn't even drink coffee..." She laughs softly and yawns, "Excuse me."

"You are entitled to your yawns. He must have worn you out." I approach her bedside and take the controller, placing it on the table beside her. "Do you need anything or would you just like some rest?"

"I'm fine but I will be asleep shortly."

"Then I will turn the lights down and depart."

"Thank you... I have a question though."

"Do ask it." I take up my usual chair beside her bed gladly.

"Who... How is all of this being paid for?" Her brow furrows with concern.

"Paid for?"

"My being here in this private room, receiving all of this advanced care... How is it being paid for?" She smiles a little, "Will I be getting an enormous bill at the end of my stay here? Because I haven't any money with me."

"A shame Princess. We will have to have you work it off then." I chuckle.

"I suppose I could wash dishes." She smiles more.

"There is nothing to worry for. All your care has been seen to."

"How? Are you paying for it personally?"

"In a manner. Not with currency. I have been told that they will not expect any payment for your care. They are pleased to have had the chance to bring a human back from so poor a condition. You have done well in giving them a challenge. I have told them that I will pay for the medicines and so on even if they will not allow me to pay for the staff. They would not accept that. They try hard not to offend, just to be pleased with their relationship with the Empire. What I have worked on with them is a trade of services."

"What services?"

"They have long wanted to have an Imperial engineer spend time conducting a detailed examination of this port. I have promised them two of our finest military engineers. Two have already presented themselves for the task. Most likely they will arrive as we depart. They have also wanted for a survey to be conducted of one of their valleys for possible expansion of the capital city. I have asked for a few retired military rangers to come out and see to this task. I received word this morning that there are five members of their family on the way to take it on."


"Yes, this particular family has long been known to be the finest of the Rangers Corps. They have gone into the roughest territory and come out time and again with amazing information, detailed maps, geological, plant life... They see it all and understand it all it seems. They love the land. That is the best way to say it."

"So they'll go off into the woods and tell the Avasjan people if it's alright to build there?"

"Yes. If they will disturb what is there in nature with their work."

"How wonderful."

"I hope that they will come here before we bring you home so you may meet them. I have met members of their family who were still in the Military and they are all the highest caliber of people."

"I'm glad that the Avasjans are being repaid for their efforts... But I had no idea how I might begin to repay them."

"They are well compensated. I never intended for it to be your burden. You have enough to worry about in your healing."

"Mmh... I would still like to find some way to thank them myself."

"Once you are home, give it further thought. Until then... Rest."

On to 28