Monday, October 31, 2016

to save my enemy 39

Sector Commander Ranualt of the Third Sector settled into the viewing gallery overlooking the Senate floor and ignored the curious looks being cast in his direction. His public refusal to accept any honor or bribe was still the subject of much speculation, as was his refusal to appear at any of the social events organized by his embarrassing nephew.  Even now Ranualt sat halfway down the side of the visitors galleries, on the border of insultingly low status seats while his nephew sat at the right hand of the First Praetor’s son.  Admittedly three seats away from the right hand, but the preference was clear.   There was even an empty seat at the nephew's right hand, which Ranualt pointedly ignored.  The Senate sessions this week bored him.  Predictably valuable assignments had been given to those who handed over money, but possessed no education or skill. Important matters such as floods and famine on distant colonies had been dismissed as they were a drain on the budget, were not worthy of consideration. Such short term views churned his stomach.  Ranualt only chose to attend today’s meeting as the contract to build two new ships was being awarded and he wanted to be sure that the new vessels were not being assigned to Sector Three when they were completed.  Let someone else suffer that burden. 
On the senate floor three companies competed for the all important contract.  The argument between the Praetors and Senators increased in heat as biases were revealed. One of the company representatives was almost in tears as yet another vote was called and counted, and he realized he had been outbid for one of the Senator's votes.
Ranualt tightened his jaw, refusing to permit any expression to pass across his face.  With all the money being thrown about in bribes and incentives, the ships would have to be built out of paper and spit for the winning company to show any profit.  He pitied the crew condemned to work these vessels.  They would be death traps!  Beneath the notice of the God's protections even before the first support bar was bent.
The Sector Commanders from First and Fifth wandered away from their patrons to sit beside Ranualt.  They had submitted their advice, as they had been paid to do, and now need only await the outcome of the vote.  Gree Don, of the First, bowed in the general direction of the Praetor’s son and leaned toward Ranualt confidentially, his mouth hidden by his hand.
“I hear that the Commonweal have committed an unprovoked attack upon the colonies on Pano and Triment.  Killing innocent civilian’s - women and children. Your retirement is ill timed, Honored Ranualt.  We will miss your direction in the coming resumption of battle.”
Ranualt folded his hands and concentrated on the God's symbol on the Senate floor.  Everyone knew his stand on the subject of conflict with the Commonweal.  Anyone foolish enough to think that the Korum could easily consume that collection of solar systems had never really considered the expense, the loss of life, the damage to both aggressor and victim.  Nor had they considered that the Commonweal fought in a peculiar manner.  They fought seeking victory for everyone, even their enemy.  It made it very difficult to persuade them that they had been defeated in any conflict.  Ranualt shook his head.  He would never understand them. But they fought with honor, so he respected them..  It was difficult to plan a conflict when you respected your enemy more than you respected your fellow warriors.
 “I fear you are misinformed on five counts, Honored Gree,” said Ranualt.  “The Commonweal have never attacked without provocation.  Pano and Triment are not colonies, they are mining prisons and the only women there are . . . few and unfortunate.  Pano is so far within our borders that Korum Dan would be subject to an attack from the Commonweal long before Pano was ever in danger.”
Gree colored and leaned back waving his hand to dismiss the information, the fluttering silks of his fashionable attire brushing against Ranualt’s face.  Pay Forn leaned forward. “And the fifth?”
Gree and Ranualt both stared at Pay with contempt. “All whores are surgically sterilized when they are sent to those places,” said Ranualt flatly, wondering why no one had assassinated Pay Forn yet. Pay Forn held his Sector Commander rank for a year already, and was yet to set foot in a Fleet vessel. 
Perhaps they were waiting for an accident to carry him away,  thought Ranualt, bitterly.  It was not as if the man had the sense the Gods gave a rock.
Gree Don raised his hand in greeting and Ranualt glanced across to see who had caught the Commanders attention.  His nephew was pouring wine for his high ranking companions.  Ranualt’s eyes narrowed. The bottle was the Clan Ranualt design.  The fool boy better have paid for it.  Naoth Roe raised his hand and waggled the bottle in his Uncles direction.
“And how is your beautiful wife and son?” asked Gree.
“My family, as you know, are dead,” said Ranualt, his voice low and calm.  The change of subject was worrisome, the words themselves, deeply offensive.
“So. . .” said Gree settling himself comfortably in his chair and resting his head on his fist. “Will you be changing the boy’s name to Ranualt?  Or shall the Clan name be changed?  Surely the High Families would be diminished should Clan Ranualt fade from it’s rolls.  What shall you do?”

Friday, October 28, 2016

to save my enemy 38

Ranualt departed for the Capital in the middle of the night, unwilling to stay in the presence of temptation.  Reluctant to stay in his own home to test the limits of his honor when it battled against his passion. 
Theresa.
He tested the shape of her name on his tongue, enjoyed the roll of the sound in his mouth.  In all his years he had never met such a contrary and frustrating woman.   No man should ever suffer such an affront as to be told that his seduction hadn’t been noticed.  Ranualt settled his chin on his fist and stared out at the passing landscape.  No. He could not hold her wholly responsible for that.  He had suspected that his movements in the game of love had passed by her attention, but no more.  She was now well aware of him.  His interests, his intentions. . . the strength of his feelings.
Feelings?  Passion he was prepared to admit to, but his feelings were well guarded.   He could not afford any beyond loyalty and love of his home. Even the people within, to whom he owed service in return for their support, even them he did not love.  All that he was, or could be, was directed toward the continuation of his Clan. 
But if that were so, his spirit answered, why do you have a Commonweal woman in your home?  Why do you dream of her in your bed instead of a woman of the Korum?  Someone who could give your Clan children, to continue your line.   With Theresa’?s scent disordering his mind and rousing his blood he could not fulfill his obligation to send her away. 
He had refused until it was too late.  He had chosen to make her presence in his Clanhold common knowledge.
Enough! He could not permit his thoughts to dwell upon her. Her soft mouth with it’s unexpected heat, the drowning sweetness of her body curved into his. The pain as her hands clutched his hair.  His lips curved at the memory.  The fire in her eyes as she threw her fist into his chest. He stroked the bruise with light fingertips and touched his tongue to the broken skin beside his mouth.  Light love bites were his preferred lover’s marks, but for now, he would accept what he received. 
The chauffer glanced back in confusion as the Commander laughed then returned his attention to the night sky.
***
Theresa rested her chin on both fists.   Anhall Cal’s scratched his pen over the paper and muttered soothingly.  A droning piece of music was playing in the background behind the omnipresent Ni.   Elsia Ni was being remarkable resistant to dozing off this morning and Theresa ground her teeth in frustration.  Until she slept there was no way Theresa could talk to Cal. Sign language and talking at the same time was just too confusing.   Maybe Ni’s husband needed lessons in passion from Ranualt.  Theresa slammed a lid on that thought and sat on it. To hell with Ranualt and his kisses.  She had tossed for hours last night, unable to relax for fear he would come to her room and continue the argument or . . something else.  The memory of being trapped against his hard body, suspended off the ground by his strength sent heat rushing through her body, leaving her shaken and weak in its wake.   She flushed and shifted in her chair, facing away from Cal.  The only thing that had prevented her from wrapping her legs around his hips had been her own physicial weakness.  Had she been able to gather her strength in time she would have humiliated herself,  clinging to him.  She was a prisoner of war, and she was not going to submit to being a sex toy.
 It had been after midnight before she had induced a hypnotic sleep, but even with a few hours sleep, she had woken this morning restless and unsettled.
“What is going on here today?” asked Cal suddenly. “The whole Clan is in a twist.  I am certain I saw the Alama shouting at a cleaner.”
Theresa glanced over - Ni was finally asleep- and growled. “I have no idea what the problem is with the Alama. I think she hates me and I don’t know why.”
“What about the rest?  Have you been up to something?”
Theresa gave him a long hard look and her mouth twisted. “You could say that,” she admitted, and gave Cal a heavily edited summary of the previous nights events.  Cal questioned her closely, on the posture of the families, their positions in the room, until Theresa was about ready to scream.  Of course he was learning, he had his mission to consider, but couldn’t he focus on the here and now.  Her problem!
 “Ranualt expects to go to bed with me,” she said finally.  “I punched him.”
To her surprise Cal did not ask any questions about that but continued writing.  
After a moment of silence he looked up. “What?”
“You don’t seem surprised,” she accused.
“I’m not,” said Cal, then blinked. “You’re surprised!”
“Damn right,” she hissed. “I had no idea what he planned.”
“You didn’t,” asked Cal, smothering a grin. “Don’t you remember what he said about you.”
“Of course I remember.” Heat flooded her face. “It’s damn hard to forget having people speculating about . . . but I never took any of them seriously. He wasn't the only one. It was just a form of abuse.  Deception. Harrassment.”
Cal shook his head.
“You were the only one who didn’t take them seriously then,  Theresa.  We were all worried about you.  Didn’t you know ‘Wizard’ Oswald had a guard on you 24/7?  We thought they might try to kidnap you if things went sour.  I was only surprised that the Commander left you behind when you let them go.”
Theresa tried to assimilate the new data.  The ‘Wizard’ set a guard on her? She couldn’t remember seeing anyone.  That Admiral Oswald  had worried enough about her to try to guard her was completely . . but no, it wasn’t.  She was the designer of the triple damned translation program and he would take extraordinary efforts to protect that.
“He couldn’t have taken me.  I told you, he was carrying the Praetor.  Both hands full with him and a blaster.”  She glanced at the lightly snoring Ni and leant toward Cal. “?You’ve got to help me, Cal.  How am I going to get him to leave me alone?”
Cal shifted uncomfortably. “Theresa, I can’t help you.  Gods know, I wish I could, but. . . . Damn.” He slid out of his chair and walked out onto the veranda. Theresa followed quietly. “My Mom and my sisters would slice pieces off me for leaving any woman in your situation, Theresa, but I can’t think of anything.  I can’t wreck my assignment.  I can’t get you home.”
He slumped against the wall and stared at the distant mountains, unable or unwilling to meet her eyes.
Theresa stood at the railing watching small skimming birds dancing between the fruit trees.
“You want me to tell you it’s okay,” she said in a soft voice, “that I’m a big girl and I can look after myself.  If you want me to let you off the ethical hook, then, suffer, ‘cause I’m not going to.” 
The birds twirled into a spiral and Theresa recognized a mating dance. 
Cal paled, and she relented a little. “I was an officer. I’ve had all my training, went to all the rape survivor lectures and my brain still works.  I may not like it, but I’ll survive. Forget it, Cal. Concentrate on your mission.”
“I’m really sorry, Theresa.”
“Yeah.. .” Theresa heard Ni shift in her chair and started back into the solar. “That and a space ship will get me a cup of coffee.   And Cal . . . I’m going to need a sample of the Mentiol wine.”
“Why?  And how the hell am I supposed to get that?” snapped Carl.
Theresa smiled thinly. “I relish my ignorance in the matter.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

to save my enemy 37

Theresa considered and discarded several options, including running from the room.  As if there were anywhere in this building she could hide from him.   The silence grew until it settled over the room like a thick smothering blanket and Theresa found her own anger rising.
“Okay! What the hell has crawled up your butt and bitten you? I have no idea why you are pissed, so say it!”
Ranualt closed through personal space to confrontational, standing hairbreadth away from her, glaring down as if the weight of his displeasure would crush her.  Theresa was in no mood to be intimidated. She spun, and jumped onto the nearest chair and, hands on hips, stared down at him.
“Stuff the ‘bigger than you’ crap and speak!”
Ranualt reached up and wrapped his arms around her hips. “You gave your personal name to children. . .strangers to you. . .before you gave it to me,”? he growled, pulling her off-balance and into his arms, still with her feet far above the floor. 
She dropped her hands to his shoulders to steady herself.  “Uh. . .my name? But you know my name!”
His eyes narrowed and darkened.  “I  know Lieutenant Williams.  I know your clan and rank.” He pulled her off the chair and loosened his grip so that she slid down his body until they were face to face, her arms about his neck.  “?I would have waited until we were lovers to demand it.  I would have given you my name to use in return.  But you gift your name to children, freely, and withhold it from me.  For that  I demand a forfeit . . . Theresa.” 
The first kiss had begun and ended before Theresa had recognized the touch.  Now, with her toes dangling inches from the floor Theresa could not escape his heated exploration of her mouth. His burning mouth suckled at her lips, tongue sliding the length of the seal, probing the strength of her resolve to prevent his entry.  As she twisted to evade his ownership he released her mouth to trail moist heat along the curve of her jaw, seeking the vulnerable hollow beneath her ear, tracing her ear gently with the tip of his tongue. He dragged his teeth over her exposed neck, tasting her pulse and raising a sharp cry from the depths of her thundering heart.  His hand descended to cup and crush the smooth curve of her buttocks, holding her closer to the peak of his heat. Theresa struggled against the intimacy of the touch and the pressure on her damaged muscles and he tightened his grip. 
“Be still,” he commanded, his breathing harsh, his midnight eyes filled with glittering light.  He returned his demanding mouth to hers, arching her body into his, drinking deep of her bruised mouth.
Theresa barely noticed when her feet were lowered to the ground. Her fingers were still twisted in the folds of his tunic, tears of pain trailed down her cheeks.  Ranualt released her mouth and she touched the swollen surfaces with the tip of her tongue, soothing their heat.  He tangled his hands in the mass of her hair, holding her head tilted back as if to admire the damage he hand inflicted on her mouth and spirit.  When she glanced up his eyes were still dangerously dark, his expression sleepy.
“A satisfactory forfeit, Theresa,” he said, bending his head nuzzle her neck and breathe in the scent of her hair.  “You should offend me more often.”?
Theresa shuddered and he chucked low in his chest.
“Yes. It was good.”
Theresa drew herself into battle stance and, accepting the damage to herself both now and later, struck Ranualt three times –? chest, abdomen and jaw.  He staggered back, mouth bleeding and collided hard with a table. Before he could recover Theresa ran for the door.
She managed to reach the second landing before sagging against the wall, chest heaving, her teeth clenched against the rising bile.  Her vision blurred with fatigue and fever, her legs trembled as she rested her body against the cool stone.  Through the roaring in her ears she could hear soft footsteps approaching.  There was no strength left in her to run, and if she released her grip on the wall, dizziness would crush her to the floor.  So she waited.  The footsteps halted beside her and a warm hand lifted hers from the wall and guided her arm about the others waist. Theresa resisted the arm wrapping around her shoulders until she recognized Elsia Ni’s subtle flowery scent.  As the Korum girl half carried Theresa up the last staircase, she made the gesture of supplication to the Gods and sighed. Theresa dredged a smile from somewhere deep in her spirit and echoed the gesture.  She could use all the help she could get.

Monday, October 24, 2016

to save my enemy 36

“It is, mostly,” said Theresa pushing at the heavy chair again.  “That pick up move I used on him is mostly leverage and speed. I could barely stand up afterwards and I did myself a bit of damage with it.”
“Show me,” and when Theresa shook her head, he moved closer. “Show me!.” He demanded.
Theresa turned away and lifted the back of her tunic a little. Ranualt carefully raised the fabric and pulled the few remaining bandages aside.  She had healed to the point that most of her injuries were left uncovered now.  Several of the scabs had indeed cracked and lifted but there was blood staining the remaining bandages.
“You should be more careful, Lieutenant.  I want you to be well,” he said, running his fingers over an area of uninjured skin.
And suddenly, thought Theresa as she shivered involuntarily,  I don’t!
**
The families of  Nea Cam and Mano Bes waited in Ranualt’s library in company with a stiff and silent Alama.  Theresa wiggled her fingers, trying to settle her hands into  the gloves as Ranualt lead her into the room.  The atmosphere of barely controlled apprehension and anger chilled her and she found herself looking to Ranualt for comfort and support.  He regarded everyone in the room with an air of calm and control, as if he had not just shouted and slammed furniture about only minutes ago.  As soon as she realized what she was doing Theresa faced forward, back straight and reminded herself, fiercely, that she was an officer and a gentlewoman and should conduct herself appropriately.  She did not need an enemy officer’s support. 
Facing the concerned parents Theresa made a shallow formal bow and gave Ranualt a cold look. 
“Please ask the parents of Nea Cam and Mano Bes how I may reassure them I intended to harm to the children when I spoke to them.”
Ranualt narrowed his eyes at her tone and manner but translated without comment.
Theresa was not surprised when Mano Bes’s father stepped forward as the spokesperson considering how bold the son had been.   She gave him her undivided attention, picking up one or two familiar nouns in his speech.  She even identified her own name, slightly mangled by accent.  Ranualt’s face darkened as he listened and the look he gave Theresa burned.  Shaken, Theresa reviewed the afternoon.  Had she broken some taboo with the children?  Damn it all to hell, the Commonweal had to deal with second hand information and supposition instead of first hand research, she had no idea what crime she’d committed.
Ranualt faced Theresa to translate. “Mano Kril says, ‘popular report indicates that the lady, Williams Theresa,  is a warrior of the Commonweal.’ He seeks assurances from me, as head of the Clan, that you will not be the cause of any violence against the children of the estate.  That I will keep you controlled and harmless.”  While Mano Kril stood tall and proud beside  his wife, the other family waited slightly behind as if they regretted being involved in anything that brought them to the attention of Commander Ranualt.   Nea Cam’s father kept casting worried looks toward the Alama. 
Theresa shivered slightly,  for some reason Commander Ranualt sounded as angry as he had only minutes ago in her room.  There must have been something said that he wasn’t going to translate that got under his skin. 
“What sort of assurances do they want?” she asked. “Do they want you to keep me locked up in a single room for the rest of my life, or just not to leave the building?”
“If you remember,” said Ranualt coldly, “I did ask you to remain inside until I was able to take you about and introduce you to persons on the estate. You chose not to follow my guidance.”
Theresa refused to back down. If she had stayed indoors, how long would it have taken for her to meet anyone.  There was no guarantee that they would have accepted her, even if she had waited.  Last she heard there was a cease fire in effect between the Korum and the Commonweal,  and while it may not last very long it gave her clearance to at least make a peace overture here.
“I can offer them my promise, on my oath as an officer, and as a child of the five form Goddess, that I will take no action of violence against any person on the estate unless I am specifically attacked first.” Theresa smiled slightly. “Excluding yourself, of course, Commander. You and I have unresolved issues and I will defend myself against you.  Will that be satisfactory to them?”
“Unresolved issues?” Ranualt gazed at her from under lowered lids. “I have the greatest admiration for Commonweal use of language.  But I warn you, I know what the phrase ‘with all due respect’ means, so do not use it to me again.”
The parents had been watching the exchange intently and listened seriously to their Patriarch’s translation.  Nea Cam’s parents seemed willing to immediately accept what Ranualt translated, but Mano Kril wanted more.
“They want to know how binding your oath will be.  They require oaths from me as well that you will do no harm to the estates of Ranualt.”
“What do they need?  What could I possibly say to convince them?” demanded Theresa, puzzled that Ranualt simultaneously translated when usually he waited. “If they choose not to believe me, then any promise I offer is worthless to them. I cannot drag the Goddess down from the sky to stand witness, nor can I call anybody from my past to testify on my behalf. They will either have to accept my word or kill me now, because a person who is considered to have no honor has no life!  I will not harm a child!  I will not hurt anyone on this estate who does not first strike me! Believe me or not. I cannot prove it in advance!”
Silence hung in the room as the echo’s of Ranualt’s translation faded.  Then, first Mano Kril, and the other parents bowed deeply, first to Theresa and then to Ranualt.  At a gesture from the Alama they filed from the room.   Mano Kril paused at the door to speak briefly with Ranualt, who acknowledged his statement with a shallow nod.
“Mano Kril says that his son will wait upon you every evening that he returns from school, should you require him, for the period of one hour so you may practice your speaking.  Thereafter, he must go home to fulfill duties for his parents.”
“Please thank him,” said Theresa, after searching her memory in vain for the right words.
“I have.”
Theresa watched the parents leave.  The Alama flashed her an angry look as she pulled the door closed behind herself.  Theresa smothered a gasp.  She had appeased the parents, but something had incensed the Alama.  Unfriendly, Theresa could live with and even understand, but now the Alama was furious.  She reviewed the last few minutes trying to find the word that could have caused the change, but nothing came to mind.  Everything she said that seemed to calm the parents down had the reverse effect upon the person with the greatest authority in the Clan, aside from the Commander.  Question on her lips, Theresa turned to face the Commander and felt her mouth dry.
If the Alama was furious, Ranualt was the epitome of  rage.  He stared at Theresa, his fingers entangled in the loose cloth of his robes, knuckles blanched, his body held rigidly still.  The Korum, Theresa had heard, considered loud and verbally abusive commanders as the greatest warriors. At this moment, she found Ranualt’s silence the most fearsome.

Friday, October 21, 2016

to save my enemy 35

Ranualt trapped Theresa’s hand against his shoulder and gestured Elsia Ni to the door. The Korum girl fled, closing the door hard behind her.
“What is that ..” began Theresa as Ranualt rapidly closed the distance between them. He slid his hand under her silver blonde hair and cupped the back of her head.  As he pulled her toward him Theresa gasped and braced her hands against his chest to try to push him away.   He stepped forward and wrapping his arm around her shoulders and brought his mouth onto hers with crushing strength.  Theresa lips parted to cry out against the pressure on her injures and Ranualt plunged in to taste and torment her lips and mouth.  His cupping hand tilted Theresa’s head into better position for his ravaging kiss and his arm tightened, trapping her hands and soft breasts against his chest.  Before Theresa could gather her scattered wits to resist he broke the kiss, breathing hard and placed a line butterfly soft kisses on her forehead and rubbed the side of his face against her cheek and jaw.   Releasing her and stepping back he watched the blonde strands of her hair slowly run over his hands.
“Beautiful.”
Theresa brought up both fists and thrust his hands away. “What the hell was that!” she shouted.
“Very pleasant,” drawled Ranualt, his half closed eyes dark and burning..
“That’s not what I meant,” cried Theresa. “Why the hell did you kiss me?”
Ranualt stepped closer and Theresa backed away, keeping a chair between them. “I was pleased to see you, Lt Willaims, you have been gone too long.  I am pleased to see the fire in your eyes again.” His hand wandered down the side of her face.  “I had missed the woman who insulted wine so freely and aimed her ionizer at me.  Missed her strength.”  He smiled at the memory. “You have been so pale and quiet, I feared that woman had died before leaving the pit.  But now. .” he seized a lock of hair and twisted it round his bronze fingers. “Now I see her in you again.”
“But you kissed me . . .” Theresa’s heart pounded in her throat as her head swam dizzily. Whether the breathlessness was from draining kiss or the returned fever, she did not know.
He rubbed his fingers absently over the strands of hair.  “Of course.  You have not been well enough until now.  I know you are still not recovered to consider more but I wanted to celebrate your recovery of spirit.”
“More. .” Theresa’s voice shook and, irritated with herself, she cleared her throat and pulled her hair free of his hands. “What do you mean more?”
“I told you.  I was bringing you here to live with me.” He reached out again to stroke her cheek and Theresa slapped him away.
Eyes narrowed, suddenly chilled to her soul, Theresa clutched the chair for support. 
“Live with in what sense.”
“Sense?” Ranualt shook himself and seemed suddenly to become aware of Theresa’s tone and posture.  “Live with me, as my woman.  Did you not realize I am patiently waiting until you are healed?  But once you are recovered, we will be lovers.  We will spend the hours of our lives together.”
“The hell we will!” shouted Theresa struggling to pick up the chair to throw at him, but when that proved to be beyond her current strength she snatched up the pudding bowl instead and flung it at his face.
Ranualt dodged easily and watched the bowl fly past to shatter against the wall.  He turned back to Theresa hands out and empty. “What is this?  I thought you understood.”
“Understood!” Theresa blushed when she heard her voice rise to a shriek. “Understood! I understood you thought I was repulsive.  That my body did not arouse your lust! That’s what you said!  I thought I was safe from you.”
Ranualt stared at her open mouthed.  “. . . when you were filthy. . .when you were covered in blood . . when you were diseased you truly were repulsive. Any man would say so. But I also said, when you were in health, then we would be lovers. . .did you not hear me?”
Shocked that she would miss something that important Theresa shook her head.  “No. . .no. . I didn’t hear that.  I thought I was safe. . .I never thought you would want to touch me.”
“I have been touching you,” he reached for the hands that were so tightly holding onto the chair, but she suddenly moved them to behind her back.  “I have been trying to seduce you. . .did you see nothing in my behavior at all to attract you?”
Theresa shivered at his tone and reluctantly raised her eyes to face him.  “Nothing. I . . .I am not attracted.” She bit her lip and straightened her spine as he slammed his hand against a table.
“Nothing!  I have been consideration itself, devoted my staff to your needs, and you saw nothing in me!”
“I thought you were being kind,” said Theresa quietly well aware that the word was inadequate considering the lengths he had gone to.  
“Kind?  I burn every night with wanting to touch you! I ache to join with you, and you see only distant kindness.” Ranualt clenched his hands and started pacing the room. Theresa stepped back again, conscious of the anger billowing off him in waves.  He flung his hand toward her, sleeves fluttering. “Do you remember nothing of what was said on Station 5?  I know that my words were brought to you from the spy devices.  They told me that all translations were your duty.  I deliberately spoke of you near them, knowing you would hear of my admiration.”
Theresa tried to pick up the chair again and screamed in frustration when it would not move.  She pushed the chair out of the way and charged across the room to punch Ranualt as  hard  as she could in the chest.  He staggered back and grabbed the wall for support.  “You did that on purpose! You destroyed my reputation, my credibility, deliberately!  You complete and utter bastard. I hope you rot in hell!”
Ranualt seized both of her wrists and lifted them above her head.  Theresa clenched her teeth and rose on tiptoe to try and avoid pulling the muscles of her injured back.  “I thought we would pass the evenings discussing old battles, not engaging in war ourselves,” said Ranualt in quiet, contemplative tones, then released her.
“What you thought, and what is going to happen, are two entirely different things, Sector Commander,” said Theresa coldly.  “Are you aware of how much harm you did me with that nonsense?  Have you any idea how many people read my translations of your words. . .or how many meetings I had to attend explaining that I had not done anything trying to attract your attention?  Do you know how may psychologists and linguists have reviewed every nuance of your  . . .  your. . .crap!”
Ranualt raised his eyebrows and relaxed his grip on her wrists.  “No.  . . I did not think you would pass it on to anyone.”
Theresa let her head hang and groaned.  “Idiot.  How could I possibly suppress any data without breaking a hundred regulations?  Besides, every piece of data is reviewed by three different translators  to reduce error.  Did you know, they sold copies of your speculations about me on the Stations grey market.  I was permanently shamed by your actions.  Lecherous bastards all over the Commonweal have read what you said about me! And they’ve repeated it!  No one trusted me after your people started your campaign.”
“What campaign?,” he asked coldly.
Theresa looked up, startled.  “When all. . . .um. . .  when all the men of the delegation started talking about me. . . they said some pretty . . personal things.”
“All the men?”  Ranualt’s face darkened briefly, his hands clenched. "All the korum?"
“Yes. Pretty close to all.  The bodyguards were particularly bad.  What?  Did you think you were the only one annoying the hell out of me?  Some of the remarks got very . . um,” Theresa stared at her fingers.  “. . .anatomical.”
“Anat . . .oh.” Ranualt watched her for a moment, then scanned her body from ice blonde hair to small delicate feet and started to laugh. “Not just your eyes then.”
“No!” said Theresa with considerable heat, tightening her arms across her chest.  “Not just my eyes!  And I did not for one moment believe that any member of the Korum delegation was being sincere in his admiration.  Not even you!  Especially not you!”
“Well, unlike the other members of the delegation, I have time to convince you of my sincere interest.” He brushed a stray lock of hair off her forehead and smiled. “Now, at least, you know.   Perhaps I was not clear in my intentions before. . .  but now you understand.  As you are still not well enough for what I plan, I have time to persuade you to share . . . my interests.”
“I am not interested in sleeping with you,” growled Theresa.
“No more am I interested in sleeping with you,” said Ranualt and laughed to see her blush. He held his hands over her face, barely touching. “I can feel the heat of your emotions. I know you have blood to be stirred. There is passion in your voice, I look forward to experiencing it.”
Before Theresa could swing at him again he stepped back. “But we are distracted. I came to speak to you on a specific topic.  The complaint!  I must ask you to accompany me downstairs to meet with the parents of the children you spoke to.  It is necessary to convince them that you intended no harm.”
Theresa staggered, confused at the sudden change in topic. She had to make it clear to him that hell would freeze and the suns burn out before she would consent to have sex with him.   From passionate anger to the familiar vague amusement in an instant.  She couldn’?t keep up with his moods.  For the moment she was willing to let the matter drop.  It was hard to concentrate when the fever fogged her mind.  When she could string two coherent thoughts together she would start working on a plan to guarantee that she would spend all her nights alone.  In the meantime. . .
“They thought I was going to hurt the kids?  How could I hurt them?”
“Apparently you picked one of them up and threw him several feet,” Ranualt considered his words and his eyes narrowed in suspicion.  “I would have thought that beyond your strength at the moment.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

to save my enemy 34

 She glanced over her shoulder.  The other youngster was huddled behind the same clump of bushes they had used earlier.  When she pointed him out to Mano Bes the boy jumped up and waved to his friend.
Theresa consulted her notes.  “Do I have ‘invite’?. . .maybe ‘call him’ will work.  Satah ma, lekah.”
 Mano Bes immediately put down his cup and ran down the stairs waving to his friend.  It took a few minutes to convince the other to emerge from his hiding place.  As the boy walked slowly up the stairs Elsia Ni gave a groan and walked back into the Clan, waving both hands in the air.  Theresa rolled her eyes at the boys and they all laughed. 
Okay, that gesture crossed species lines.
The new arrival made a nervously clumsy attempt at the formal bow, unable to take his eyes off of Theresa’s pale hair, and introduced himself as “Nea Cam.”
Theresa stood carefully and made a shallow copy of their bows, “Williams Theresa,” she said and suppressed a grin as they practiced the unfamiliar sounds.  No doubt they wanted to be accurate when they boasted of this meeting to their friends.
It did not take long or much effort to get the boys talking.  Words bubbled out of them in a torrent. They were as curious about her as she was about the language.  It was soon clear that her pitiful lists were never going to meet the demands of a reasonable conversation with them. But with waving arms, shouts and giggles and funny stick drawings, they managed to improve Theresa’s  pronunciation of several words and phrases, and added to her growing vocabulary.  Persuading the boys to talk to each other so she could simply listen was harder, but once they realized that Ni wasn’t listening, and Theresa truly couldn’t understand what they were saying, they began to punctuate what they said to Theresa with long comments with each other.  After Mano delivered one aside, both boys blushed and laughed.  Theresa scowled. 
“If I ever learn,” she said in Common, frowning and pointing a long finger at both of the youngsters, “that either of you have made an anatomical speculation about me, I will skin you both for gloves.”
Apparently her tone and glare was sufficient to rein in their pre-adolescent imaginations.  Shortly after Elsia Ton emerged from the Clan and shouted at all of them.  Ni immediately hustled the boys off the veranda and gathered up Theresa’s papers, carrying them into the Clan.   Theresa followed along meekly.  She was feeling a little odd.  It might be that she had just spent the afternoon giggling with silly kids, but she felt light headed.  Whatever it was, she was willing enough to return to her rooms.
***
The fever returned in the night.  For the first time she regretted sending away her nursemaids as she shivered, teeth chattering under her thin blankets.  There was a bell for summoning help, but it was located in the Solar.  Climbing out of bed was a nightmare and her limbs were trembling uncontrollably as she crawled from room to room.  She used a chair to come back to her feet and swayed, staring at the bell.  The grab and throw with the boys had broken several of her scabs, and had possibly shaken loose some hidden dose of bacteria.    If she called someone to help her tonight then she would be stuck with full time company again and she didn’t want that. Shaking her head she turned to stagger back to bed when her strength faded and she collapsed to the floor.
“Stupid, useless pride,” she scolded herself, and stretched up to the bell pull.
The brightly colored ribbon tore lose as Theresa fell back to the floor and she cried out as her forehead bounced off the wall.  
It’s not as if I don’t already look as if I lost the war  she thought as she gingerly touched her new bruise.  
A few minutes later an unfamiliar woman hurried through the door, and, muttering unintelligibly, began to drag Theresa back to bed.
By morning the fever had retreated somewhat and Theresa insisted on getting out of bed to try and follow her new routine, but it was obvious to everyone, including her, that she would not be able to concentrate on any language lesson that morning and she was soon back in bed, dozing.  Ranualt arrived mid-afternoon as Theresa was arguing with Ni about food.  The kitchen had sent up some unidentifiable pudding and Theresa was refusing to eat.
“That contains Mentiol,  and ingredients that you have had in other foods,” said Ranualt sharply. “Grant, please, that my staff are paying attention to your needs and will not give you what has not been proven safe.”
Theresa closed her teeth against the apology that came automatically to her lips. “What is your problem? Why are you angry with me?”
“I am summoned back from the Capital, bare hours after I left, to answer a complaint from residents of my estate.  Complaints about you!” growled Ranualt, pacing across the room.  “What have you been about?”
“I have been trying to talk to people, or get them to talk to me.  And will you keep still?” Theresa shifted uncomfortably on the bed, “you are making my neck hurt.”
Ranualt knelt so that his face was just inches from Theresa’s nose.
“Why were you talking with children?” he demanded.  “Their parents have complained.”
Theresa rolled out of the bed and came upright slowly, Ni immediately put down the dish to help Theresa to her feet.
“You were the one who said you wanted the estate personnel to get used to me being around.  You introduced me to people from outside the estate and got all bent out of shape when I said I did not want to meet anyone,” said Theresa, eyes flashing with residual fever and rage as she poked Ranualt in the shoulder to drive in her point. “And those kids were the only ones who would talk to me.  Everyone else I tried to speak to walked away.  You’re gone more than you’re here.  So tell me, Sector Commander, who should I be speaking too? How do you expect me to learn a language when all I hear is silence?”

Monday, October 17, 2016

to save my enemy 33

Idiot. Theresa swore again, viciously. Languages are your life’s work, or am I mistaking you for someone else?   There was nothing else to do, she would keep looking for someone who was willing to talk to her.  Even if all they said was ‘go away’, that, at least, would be a few words.  In the meantime, Theresa bared her teeth in a parody of a smile, she would do what she wanted.   If they weren’t talking to her, she couldn’t be told ‘no’.  The only way they could imprison her mind and soul was with her consent.  Theresa fiddled with the unfamiliar door handle and threw the door wide to let in the real air.  Then she walked boldly onto the veranda and stood under the foreign sunshine.   There were the usual metalwork chairs and tables to one side of the stair case leading down to the grass.  Theresa wasn’t certain that she was up to another long walk across the grounds, but a little fresh air and sunshine would be good for her state of mind.  Gingerly she settled herself on the edge of one of the chairs, near the edge of the veranda, and arranged her papers on the table.
After a  few minutes the door behind her banged open as a breathless Elsia Ni rocketed out onto the veranda.
Theresa consulted her page of greetings.
“Good afternoon Elsia Ni,” Theresa enunciated each twisted syllable slowly and carefully.
Elsia Ni seized Theresa’s elbow and tried to lift her to her feet.  Stubbornly Theresa clutched the table and hooked her legs around the chair, gritting her teeth against the pain of pulled scars.
One handed Theresa pushed her pages across the table until she found the right words.
“No!  No! Stop! Release! Let go! Hurt.”
One finger at a time Elsia Ni relaxed her grip on Theresa’s arm.  Theresa pushed her sleeve up to display the reddened area of skin.  Elsia Ni gasped and gabbled out a recognizable apology.
“Forgiven,” said Theresa, settling back into her chair, for the first time in her life grateful for her sensitive skin.  “I stay outside!”? after a pause she added.  “Bendi hai shun, lekah.”
Elsia Ni narrowed her eyes and stared for several heart beats.  “Bendi hai shun.” She repeated slowly.
Theresa nodded and smiled cheerfully.
“Lekah.  Please.”
 Yeah, I know I drive you crazy, thought Theresa and added the gesture of supplication to the Gods.
Elsia Ni shook her head and repeated the gesture, then she pulled gloves from their place on Theresa’s waistband, slapped them on to the table and went back inside the house.  Theresa watched her go, laughing softly.  She had been a trouble maker all her life. No wonder she had been feeling so down lately. She had been too ill to intentionally stir things up.   A few days of Theresa being creatively disruptive and someone would start talking to her, even if it were only to swear.
If she had to live her life out here, she refused to spend all those years trapped in three small rooms.  She might accept being limited to the estate, which looked fairly large, but  . . .  Theresa narrowed her eyes and focused on a small bank of bushes across the garden.  There had been a small movement.  Maybe a small animal.  Theresa pulled a blank sheet of paper free of the pile and felt in her pockets for a pen.  Yes, there it was again.  Not a small animal, unless Korum children counted as animals.  Theresa grinned to herself and started sketching. Her first impression was wrong. Not one child, but two, hiding behind the bushes, heads close together.  While she carefully drew the garden landscape first one, then the other child scuttled to another place of concealment.  For the next quarter hour the children worked their way from cover to cover, coming closer and closer to the veranda where Theresa worked.  Elsia Ni returned quickly with the requested tea and, after pouring out a cup, sat at the other table, glaring at Theresa until she gave up and put on the damned gloves.
If children were a constant in the universe, Theresa thought, then these two . . .  she focused and nodded to herself . . .   boys are daring each other closer to the strange animal they have heard lived in the Commander’s house.   Theresa waited and watched as one of the boys crept along the stone wall beneath her.  He was barely breathing by the time he was alongside her and started to raise his hand.  Theresa kept her eyes on her sketches, listening to the soft scrape of fingers on stone.  Rising swiftly and spinning Theresa forced away perception of pain, reached over the balustrade to grasp the boys’ hand and flip him up and onto the veranda.  Her back and arms screamed in protest as she sank onto the chair and her head swam from the rapid movement.   Elsia Ni jumped out of her chair, shouting, as the boy flew past her to land in a heap on the stone floor.  As the boy scrambled to his feet Theresa pointed at him and shouted- “Stay!” in Korum.  Distantly she heard scrabbling as the other boy raced away from his hiding place.
The boy cringed back from her finger and remained on the floor.  Theresa half closed her eyes and breathed deeply for a few heartbeats, forcing the pain back.  She had probably torn a few scabs loose with that stupid stunt.  She waited until the heat drained from her face and her eyes could focus again before turning to smile at the terrified boy.. Wiggling her gloved fingers at the stunned Ni  Theresa shuffled her through her papers.
“Where the heck is ‘cup’?” she muttered. “No.  Pau Nol.” Theresa nodded to Elsia Ni. “Pau Nol, lekha. Elsia Ni.”
The Korum woman stared back and forth from the youngster to Theresa, then she made the gesture of supplication again and went inside in search of another tea cup.  Theresa beckoned to the confused boy.  Reluctantly he climbed to his feet and came a few steps closer.  Theresa placed her sketches on the table near him and pointed to the bushes she had first seen him behind.  With sketch after sketch she traced his path across the garden to the wall where he had crouched beneath her feet.  The boy groaned as he realized he had been watched for the entire trip across the lawn. Theresa laughed again and settled carefully into her chair. 
“Okay, let’s try this.  Lekha. . .um.. where is ‘sit’… Pouth.”  The boy pulled a chair a few inches out from the table and sat, hands folded in formal posture. 
“That worked. . .next. . .name. . .Jesit, lekha.”
“Mano Bes,” said the boy and jumped up to give formal bow that Theresa returned.
Elsia Ni returned with the extra cup and poured out tea with in long suffering manner.
The boy watched as the sweetening sticks were placed near his hand, but made no move to pick up the cup until Theresa laboriously assembled a sentence giving permission.
“Well,” said Theresa trying to find a comfortable position. “Now we are getting somewhere.”

Friday, October 14, 2016

to save my enemy 32

After Anhall Cal departed Theresa spent most of the morning alone. She stuffed one of the couches with pillows until she was almost comfortable and curled up on her side.  Then she opened the pages Cal had given her, slipped into a light memory enhancing trance and spent the next few hours chanting words.  The meanings she was not so worried about at this point. All she wanted to do today was learn the sounds.    Elsia Ton found her there when she brought the lunch tray, slowly repeating words.  For some reason the sight of Theresa half buried under the cushions amused the usually shy Korum woman.  Puzzled Theresa woke from the trance and focused on the page in her hand.
“Oh sure,  laugh it up,” said Theresa as she read the translations. “Run, jump, leap, stand, flee, charge, scamper, skip . .”  Flipping through her list of phrases Theresa finally found the one she wanted.  “Elsia Ton, I want . . . run, jump, leap.”
Elsia Ton smiled but her reply was too rapid for Theresa to understand.  After three repetitions Theresa gave up.  The words either weren’t on her sheet or Theresa hadn’t picked up the trick of listening to the Korum language yet.  Despite several requests from Theresa for her to talk, Elsia Ton performed the remainder of  her duties in complete silence.  Theresa fanned her face with the pages, chewing her lip.  This was not going to work. If you put a baby in a completely silent room the baby would never learn to talk.  There was nothing else to do, Theresa was going to have to find someone who was talking.
When Elsia Ton gathered up the lunch tray and prepared to depart, Theresa was standing holding open the door. Ton gave her a puzzled nod as she passed.  To the poor servants surprise Theresa followed her out of the chamber and trailed along behind her down the corridor.   Ton made two attempts to persuade Theresa back into the suite before giving up in confusion.  Theresa rolled her up her papers and tucked them under her arm and followed the servant at a trot through the long corridors.  If the behavior of cadets on punishment detail was anything to go by, servants on cleaning or kitchen detail gossiped like birds.  Theresa may not be able to discern any actual words from the gabble, but she it would be getting a good start for learning the sounds and cadence.  Ton turned down yet another corridor and knocked briskly on a door.  Theresa’s experience with large houses was limited, but she believed that kitchens were rarely on the second story of a building far from the dinning hall.  A familiar voice within called to them to enter and again Theresa trailed along after Ton.
The Alama looked up in surprise, then frowned.  Theresa waited while Elsia Ton spoke rapidly to the . . . Theresa had not worked out yet what the Alama’?s rank was equivalent too.   She was more than Cleaner, that much was certain.  
Elsia Ton’s explanation for the woman’s presence in the Alama’s office was waved to silence.
The Alama closed the book she had been working on  and returned it to the shelf behind her.   After a few words Elsia Ton bowed and fled the room. Theresa smiled as the girl passed and swallowed a sigh when the Korum woman looked away.  The Alama stood and collected her omnipresent workbook and stood, face impassive.
Theresa fanned open her pile of paper searching the long columns of words, eventually she said  “Um. . .Learn talk. . .Please talk.”?
The Alama waited a moment considering her reply, then spoke rapidly.
Theresa frowned as she searched her torn scroll again. “Please talk slow . . .talk more.”
The Alama’s response was again too fast to be understood.
Shaking her head Theresa consulted her pages again. “Please talk.  Slow talk.”
“Busy” snapped the Alama, tapping the word on the page. “Busy.  Go, Room,  Ranualt, Return.”
When Theresa began turning over her pages again the Alama pointed back down the corridor toward the Matriarch's rooms. “?Your Room.  Bed. Sleep.” 
Theresa shook her head and remained standing in the corridor. “Please talk. Please. . .I learn.”
The Alama clenched her teeth and snatched the scraps of paper from the shadow woman’s hands.  Scanning the sheets rapidly she found Patriarch Ranualt’?s neat calligraphy.   Tapping each word with her fingertips the Alama read.
“Go, room, wait for Ranualt. Stay. Quiet.”
And she thrust the paper back into Theresa’s ungloved hands, scowled at the naked fingers, and turned away.
Theresa straightened.  The Alama was the ultimate authority in the house in the absence of Commander Ranualt. That much she knew.  She also feared that if she accepted this order she would never be permitted leave those three rooms at the top of the house again, unless Ranualt was right beside her.  Bitter disappointment burned her chest.  The Alama had never been particularly friendly, but that would have been too much to expect to be welcomed when she was an unexpected guest with serious political baggage.  But what had she done to deserve outright hostility?
“Talk someone.”
Theresa muttered and walking as quickly as she could hurried down the corridor to the main staircase.   She would find someone to talk to. . .dammit…? no matter who was offended by her actions.   The Alama retreated to her rooms once Theresa started up the staircase.  Theresa paused on the first landing, listening intently, when she heard the door click closed,  she turned and walked quietly downstairs again.
Despite Ranualt’s declaration  that he wanted the occupants of the house to get used to her presence, the message did not appear to have reached the actual people.  Theresa’?s entry into any occupied room was greeted with identical expressions of shock and horror, followed by rapid evacuation of the room.  No one was willing to meet her eyes, let alone listen to her barely comprehensible requests for conversation.   Theresa was practicing her swear words when she wandered into the ground floor solar. 
To hell with everyone!  Theresa pressed her forehead against the window wishing she had the strength to run . . wishing she had somewhere to run to.   Why hadn’t she died in the pit? Why hadn’t he sent her home?   No one really wanted her here.  The best she could have hoped for was tolerance, but it seemed that she wasn’?t going to even have that much.  The Alama didn’t like her.  As soon as Commander Ranualt was gone, she turned hard and angry.  Theresa ground her teeth and crushed the pages she clutched so desperately in her hands.  Why was she even trying?  Commander Ranualt was the only one who wanted to talk to her, and he spoke Common.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

to save my enemy 31

“No right! But I. .”
“I will hear no more on the subject.  Kray Wal, hopefully, will never meet you, Lieutenant.  He makes his judgment of people based on which wine they choose to drink. What he will make of you, who chooses not to drink at all, I do not want to know.”
“There is nothing wrong with choosing not to drink wine,” said Theresa, breaking a small twig off the nearest tree and sniffing the leaves.  They had the same delicious scent as the fruit, only fainter.  “Some people really shouldn’t drink.  You have a nephew . . .”
“Teah Kree,” said Ranualt, quietly.  “He is a good example for your argument.  His family have sent a message.  The drinking has damaged his body to such an extent that he . . he will die of it soon.”
“Oh. I am sorry.”
“As am I, for many reasons,” said Ranualt and watched as Theresa broke off another two small leaf covered branches.  “What are you doing?”
“Oh, I hope you don’t mind.  I just like the scent and wanted to take some branches for my room.  Make a decoration of them.”
“Breaking branches like that opens the tree up for infection,” said Ranualt.  Ignoring Theresa’s apologies, he cut a few well leafed branches from the nearest tree. “I shall tell the orchard workers to attend to these trees before I leave today.”
He checked the position of the sun and handed her the branches. “It is time for you to go back inside and for me to leave for the city.”
“One thing before you go, Commander. . .”
Ranualt tucked his knife away in his glove and turned to face her.  Theresa suppressed a smile at his formal posture.
“I. . .I think I am well enough, except for getting up in the morning and dressing changes, not to need Elsia Ton and Ni around all the time.”  Seeing Ranualt’s frown she hurried on, it was essential that she not have witnesses around when Callahan visited. “Commander, I have been looking after myself for years and I am uncomfortable with servants.  Ton and Ni have been wonderful, but I am certain they have more important things to do than standing around waiting for me to want a cup of tea. I have to say I am not accustomed to never being alone.”
As Ranualt did not reply, but continued to frown as Theresa plowed on.
“I am accustomed to a certain amount of privacy.   One of the privileges of rank is getting your own quarters instead of sharing. You know how hard it is to get privacy on a cramped starship.   I worked very hard to get my own little room.”
Ranualt nodded. “I had not thought that you were ready for, or even wanted solitude, being so far from home, and myself unable to keep company with you. I did not want you to be lonely.”
“Believe me Commander.  There is a world of difference between company and having someone else following you silently from room to room.  I would much rather have time alone, and occasional visitors to practice the language on.  Maybe if they are about less frequently, they will be willing to talk to me when they do come.”
“Very well, Lt. Williams.  I will inform the Alama that Elsia Ton and Ni may be reassigned, although they will be required to wait upon you for meals, and in the mornings and evenings.”
“Thank you,” said Theresa calmly, while her spirit sang: Yes! Yes!
“But one of them will still be present when Anhall Cal calls upon you,” continued Ranualt as he turned back to the Clan. “I trust them to keep you safe.  Anhall is unknown to me.  I have no wish to discover someone has offered him sufficient bribe to kill you.”
“I don’t think there is a risk of that.”
“Permit me to know my people better than you.  There is a risk.  You will not be left alone.”
Theresa crushed the branches in her hands ignoring the damage to her glove. Damn, damn, damn!
Once back inside the building Ranualt reached out to brush his hand down her arm again and grasped her wrist. 
“I will not be gone long this time. Work hard with your teacher.  We have given you words, now you must learn to use and understand them.   I will inform the Alama you may move about the house freely, as and when you feel well enough.  But I would ask you not try and go outside until I return to walk with you.”
“You are asking me to agree to the limits of my prison?” Theresa asked, biting the words off hard in her disappointment.
“I am asking you to be sensible,  Lieutenant.  I shall see you again soon.”
Theresa pulled her hand away quickly and started up to her rooms without proper farewell. Her disappointment at not being able to speak privately with Ensign Callahan bit hard. 

The first thing Theresa noticed the next morning was that her small low table had been removed and replaced by one much longer and a little higher.  The second thing she noticed was that she had gloves of two different sizes.  She was not certain who had arranged for the larger size for her swollen hand, but whoever it was, since Korum society insisted upon her wearing the damn things, had her gratitude.  Elsia Ton waited  while Theresa settled the gloves in place before pulling open the door to admit Anhall Cal.   He bowed deeply and settled himself at the table.  Theresa had wracked her brain all night wondering how to get time alone with Ensign Callahan.  As soon as her old team mate was ready Theresa beckoned to Elsia Ton. 
Turning to her list of food phrases Theresa found the one for ordering the blue tea and said, “Bendi hai shun!” Then turned to the page of polite phrases. Where the hell was ‘please’.. “Lekah.”
Elsia Ton frowned, then nodded and went toward the door.  Satisfied Theresa, flashed a smile at Callahan.  The smile faltered as he leapt to his feet and followed Elsia Ton from the room.
What the hell?
Theresa started to struggle to her feet and watched Ton hold the door so that Callahan could proceed her from the room.  To hell with that.  Someone must have told Callahan not to be alone with her. Guess who?
Several minutes later Elsia Ton returned with Callahan and a tea service and poured for both of them before retreating to a chair on the far side of the room.  Theresa scowled at Callahan as he rearranged his papers.
Callahan scowled back and said, “Re fian ten, Hailcan” Simultaneously he signed. “Count backwards from one hundred.”
“Are you nuts,” said Theresa, and turned to the sheet of numbers.  Slowly and painfully she started reading from her sheet. “Hailcan, nitrofi, nitroni, nitrokan, nitro . .”
“Slowly,  slower,” signed Callahan, and jerked a thumb over his shoulder at Elsia Ton. 
Theresa glanced over at Elsia Ton sitting comfortably in a soft chair, basking in a sunbeam and smiled.  She softened her voice and crooned slowly. “?Nitro ben,  nitro ki,  nitro li.”
It took until Theresa had counted to twenty seven a second time before Elsia Ton succumbed to boredom and fell asleep, her soft snores buzzing rhythmically in time with the counting.
“Keep counting while I talk,” hissed Callahan.  “First of all. I cannot get you out of here and I cannot get you home. I want you to be clear on that right from the start.”
“Is that why you told me not to hope?” asked Theresa.
“Keep counting,” ordered Callahan and waited until Theresa had resumed before answering.
“Yes.  However it is you got here, you're stuck here.  It took me over a year to make the trip into Korum and I am not going to let you screw up my mission.  There is no way out for you!”
“Well, thanks loads, Callahan . . .” cried Theresa.
He threw a glance over his shoulder before continuing.  Elsia Ton snored on, oblivious. “Never, Never! Call me that.  Forget you ever knew anyone by that name.  Do you hear me!”
“Yes.  I’m sorry.”  Theresa flushed.  “I  know . . .”
“Don’t be sorry. You don’t know.  Just don’t make any mistakes. . . and keep counting.”  He waited until Theresa started the count from one hundred again before sighing, slumping his shoulders.  “I am sorry I can’t help you, Theresa.  I’m here as a sleeper. We don’t have enough information about the Korum culture.  I’m barely making it. A lot of bluff and a lot of luck keeps me alive.   I’ve been sent in to live here for a few years and get a better understanding of the Korum.” He smiled crookedly. “You were wrong about a couple of the words in that program of yours.”
Theresa sighed.  “Educated guesses, most of the time.”
“That’s just it.  To get a lasting peace we need more than educated guesses.  So Star Command sent me to you for language training and for everything else you had worked out.  Your guesses are pretty good most of the time.  I watched all the tapes that were made of the Korum since first contact to learn the mannerisms.  Then they sent me in here.  I’m supposed to stay for five years and then head back. . .and before you ask, no, you can’t come with me!”  Anhall Cal reached across the table and tugged on Theresa’s long blonde hair.
Theresa opened her mouth to protest then shut it with a click. “Of course.  I can’t pass as Korum,” she ran her pale fingers through her hair, closed her eyes and sighed. “All that surgery you went through must have hurt.  Don’t worry. . Anhall Cal, I won’t endanger your mission. It’s too important.  But when you get home, will you at least . . . no, it doesn't matter.”
“I’ll let them know where you are,” he whispered sadly.   
“No, wait.” Theresa fiddled with the pages in from of her.  “Never mind. I was stuck before I saw you, I am no more stuck now. I don't have any messages for you to take back. In fact, when you return don't mention you've seen me. It . . . it. . . never mind. But if there is anything I can do to help you . . .just let me know.”
Anhall Cal laughed softly and leaned across the table to whisper. “You already have.  By getting this job to teach you, I get to have contact with the leader of a High Clan.  A retired Sector Commander.  So far I have only met with Middle and Low Clans. Each rank has different mannerisms and protocols.  Since the High Clans are the ones at the negotiating tables I needed this information. So. . .thanks, Theresa.”
Theresa tossed her hair back over her shoulder and straightened her back as far as was comfortable.
“That is Lieutenant Williams to you, Sir,” she whispered, grinning, while a tear ran down one check.  “As we are not friends or family, you may not use my familiar name.”
Anhall Cal bowed low. “I offer humble apologies for my presumption and error, great lady.” He glanced again at the sleeping Elsia Ton.  “Before she wakes up. . .” He pulled folded paper from between the twists of his scrolls.  “Here is some stuff for you to study.  I’ve included the pronunciation phonetically for you.  Faking your handwriting was easy.  I’ll bring some simple kids books for you to start learning to read in a few days.”
“How did you know she would go to sleep?” Theresa whispered as she watched Ton snore.
“She’s newly married.  Just three months ago.” Callahan’s familiar lecherous grin flashed across the bronze face and Theresa rolled her eyes.
“Wait,” hissed Theresa, as Cal prepared to knock his tea cup against the table to wake Elsia. “I need you to bring me a chemistry set.”
Anhall Cal stared at her open mouthed. “Gods name, why?”
“I am bored to tears, Cal,” Theresa groaned. “There has never  been a time in my life when I had nothing to do and studying all the time will drive me up the wall.”
“Chemistry set?”  Cal asked again, eyes narrowed.
“As comprehensive a set as you can manage. Please. Commander Ranualt told me about how he cannot make wine from Mentiol,  and how I didn’t have the right to offer an opinion on his problem.  I just want to play around for a while and see what I can come up with.” She grinned suddenly touching her fist to her chest. “To honor the memory of the Cadet.”
“To honor the memory of the Cadet,” echoed Cal softly and slammed his clenched fist against his chest grinned broadly.
Elsia Ton grunted and sat up, eyes blinking rapidly.  Cal turned to her and asked a rapid question in Korum while Theresa shuffled Cal’s pages in with her own. She would look at them later.  Even though Cal could not send her home she felt better knowing she had a friend nearby.  A link to her past, to her home, however tenuous, gave her strength.  Tomorrow, after they had bored Elsia Ton to sleep again she would tell him her story.

Monday, October 10, 2016

to save my enemy 30

A stone staircase curved gracefully down from a half circle balcony to the ornamental garden. Theresa paused at the head of the staircase, leaning on the carved handrail.  Six years spent on space stations in cramped quarters, she could barely remember the last time she had walked on grass.  During the last three years her movements had been severely limited.  Now she was five or six steps away from real grass, standing eyes closed, letting the light of a foreign sun beat down on her unprotected face. 
She opened her eyes to find Ranualt watching her intently.  His behavior was beginning to worry her.  His formal manner and his actions were consistent with the profiles prepared and distributed to all officers in Star Command.  He was civil to everyone she had seen him with, both at the peace conference and in this Clan.  Yet he laughed at everything she said, and a sense of humor was not emphasized in the reports.  Being laughed at didn’t bother Theresa too much, she had spent years trying to persuade people not to take her seriously.  She had been the omega wolf of her family, the class clown in school. Anything to make herself look unsuited to the military.  Her family’s almost pathological adherence to tradition had irritated Theresa from her earliest years.  Mother claimed to have almost died of embarrassment when Theresa, protesting the useless tradition of black gowns and silly hats, had given her high school valedictorian address wearing a wedding gown and tiara.  Here, Commander Ranualt was the center of all life’s little rituals, and he seemed to delight in them all.  Everyone in the place deferred to him, the terrified twins watched his every move and competed to keep his tea cup filled.  Theresa was certain that little Ni was in love with him, despite him being old enough to be her grandfather. 
Maybe he was just wondering what tradition or unwritten rule she was going to break next.  She had no objection to people laughing when she told a joke, but she didn’t want to be anyone’s involuntary court jester.  The way he kept meaningfully fiddling with those damn gloves where case in point.  Her hands had not yet shrunk back to their previous size and the gloves were constricting and painful, but everyone insisted that they must be worn if she might be seen by someone other than her small group of caregivers.   Theresa looked quickly around the wide garden with its carefully arranged banks of flowers and rigidly ordered walls of shrubbery.  There were no gardeners wandering about.  No matter what the Commander said about estate workers getting used to her, she was certain that the message had been sent out to clear the garden.  Impatiently Theresa tugged the glove off her left hand and wiggled her fingers in relief.   There had been a definite decrease in size over the last few days, and she had full function, even if she was a little stiff.   She tucked the glove into her waistband and looked around the garden, determined to enjoy her moment of freedom. Ignoring the Commanders presence and his offer of support she started down the broad staircase. 
Once down the stairs Theresa stopped again and concentrated on the sensations.  The subtle give of the grass beneath her feet.  The scent of the flowers and the varying heat as clouds passed overhead, briefly blocking the sunlight. She had been living in a metal shell where light and heat are regulated, and variations could mean potentially fatal equipment failure, Theresa wished she could be alone to relearn the casual attitude of a planet dweller.  
“I have forgotten sunlight had it’s own weight,” said Ranualt, stepping out from under a fruit tree and pausing in an open space.
“I had forgotten that grass and trees had a scent,” said Theresa studying the fruit tree.   All the ripe fruit was way out of her reach.  “It smells wonderful.”
“Ah,  Mentiol is very popular.  As you have found, it is sweet. This is the fruit you had this morning.” Ranualt pulled the knife from his glove and carefully selected an unblemished fruit cutting it into quarters.  “I am not fond of it, nor is any vintner.  Despite generations of attempts Mentiol refuses to render as a wine.”
Theresa accepted her slice with a laugh.
“Refuses!  It refuses.  You ascribe intent to a piece of fruit.  No wonder peace negotiations were so difficult. You probably thought the space station air conditioners were being malicious and meteors were chasing you.”
Ranualt raised an eyebrow. “I know of a least one Praetor who believes that the tables were against him.”
“Well, I guess. At least one table was against him.  But it was just to stop him from table bashing.” Theresa sighed, then her head came up.  “That’s right.  How the heck did you know I did that?  I had three people on watch, as well as someone in the surveillance room.”
Ranualt licked the juice dripping from his slice while Theresa waited and fumed. 
“I had a device planted on the Praetors table so I could overhear their conversations when they were conversing privately during the negotiations,” he confessed.  “When it was reported as moving, my security officer and I monitored it.  I heard you and your team in conversation.  If I had believed that you had planted a weapon I would, of course, have reported it. As I was certain that I would find your action entertaining, I did not.” He bowed. “I was vastly entertained.  Thank you.”
Theresa sighed, “I got into almost as much trouble from what you said after, as for what I did!”
It was Ranualt’s turn to snap to attention. “I had forgotten.  I had meant to ask long ago.  Your punishment! What happened to you after you permitted Praetor Kim Path and myself to leave?”
“I don’t want to talk about it. . . besides, I didn’t permit you and the Praetor to leave. I put you into an escape pod after removing Commonweal personal from it, secured it and initiated the launch sequence.”
Theresa tossed the remainder of the slice under a tree.  It was amazing how quickly food lost it’s flavor when your stomach was churning with old, sour memories.
“I tried to find out what had happened to you, Lieutenant, but there was no information.”
“I’m not surprised.  With the war heating up there were other things to talk about.” She squinted up at the white sun and green-blue sky. “Just like there other things to talk about now.   So Mentiol refuses to turn into a wine. What does it do?”
“Lieutenant . . .”
“I mean it, Commander.  That is a closed topic.  About the wine, what happens?”
“Very well. . if you insist.  Never let it be said I have embarrassed an honored guest.” Ranualt bowed and patted the smooth bark of the tree. “When you attempt to compound a wine from Mentiol it becomes cloudy, and it turns sour or . . .it explodes the container.”
Theresa sighed and pulled a smile from somewhere under the weight of memories.  She had lost so much because of Sector Commander Ranualt.  The respect of her family, her professional standing and her career, everything.  Idly she wondered if it had been any other officer of the Korum who had found her in the pit, what would have happened?  She had to admit even to herself, most would have just placed bets.  One or two might have dragged her off for questioning.  Commander Ranualt was the only one who would have taken her out of the pit just to keep her safe. . . safeish.  Despite the damage to her career, she would not go back and change her actions.  At the time permitting him to leave was the correct action.  She had to accept the consequences.
“But the process is ongoing.” Ranualt pointed the tip of his knife at a long low stone building set in the center of the Mentiol orchard. “There the chief of my winemakers conducts his experiments.  Under the building is a cellar where every week he adjusts the recipe just a little.  Shelf upon shelf of gently fermenting mixtures.  Each time hoping to find the right process for creating the wine.  I admire his patience.  Kray Wal has been working on this for longer than I have been alive.”
“Exploding demijohns, well, that is promising for the alcohol content. Have you tried. . .”
Ranualt raised his hand. “Do not presume to lecture me on winemaking in my own home, Lieutenant.   You have insulted my family business, rejected all wines to my face.  You have no right to an opinion on the matter.”

Friday, October 7, 2016

to save my enemy 29

“Thank you.” Theresa called her thoughts to order with difficulty.  “There are some words and phrases I need to know so that I can speak to him when you are not available.  And. . .um. . .some basic principles of learning a language.  If we can start with those?”
For the next hour Theresa asked questions and wrote down words phonetically while Commander Ranualt and Anhall Cal wrote down Korum symbols and criticized her accent. At the end of an hour Anhall Cal departed leaving Ranualt satisfied that the two could work well together and Theresa wondering why Calahan kept flashing, ‘don’t hope’.

Chapter eight.
“I am surprised that you do not already know this,” observed Ranualt.
Theresa shuffled though her pages again.   After three mornings she now had pages of greetings and a large section of common phrases for getting food, clothing and medical assistance, a page of numbers up to one thousand and a list of nouns all in Common tongue, Korum and phonetic symbols.
“I put all that I learned into the computer, Commander.  It was never my intention to learn the language myself but to teach the computer how to work out words from frequency of use and context.” Theresa shook her head. “At the time I did not envision a time when I wouldn’t have a computer to replace my own memory.”
The commander laughed at her, then paused to translate their few words for Anhall Cal.
 This morning Ranualt and Anhall Cal had started on sentence construction, pronouns and verbs.  All in all a useful beginning,  and if she hadn’t been frantic to speak to Callahan alone she would have been happy with her progress. Each morning she had expected him to try and slip her a note, or flash a sign language explanation of his presence.  She had even tried to signal him her own story, but Callahan had kept his attention tightly focused on the Commander.
“With your permission,” said Anahll Cal,  rising, “I must return to the school.”
“Of course,” Ranualt rose and extended his hand toward the door.
Theresa scowled at their backs.  For the third morning Callahan had been in a room with her for an hour without even looking once in her direction.  Tomorrow would be different.  The  Commander was departing this evening to go back to the Capital for a few days, which meant tomorrow Theresa would be able to speak alone with Callahan.   Elsia Ton chose that moment to begin cleaning the highly polished wooden floor.  Theresa scowled at the inoffensive woman and cursed.  She knew profane and obscene words in ten languages.  Usually she ran out of anger before she ran out of suitable words but today she was running through the list for a third time without any relief.   Commander Ranualt may be leaving but she still had her nursemaids. 
“If you are well enough to use your breath for so many words,” said Ranualt, reentering the room after escorting Anhall Cal partway down the corridor, “then you are well enough for a walk in the garden.”
“Outside?” Theresa froze.  Outside, where people might see her?
Ranualt laughed.  “Unless things have changed in my absence.  Yes, the garden is outside.”
He picked up the gloves that Lt. Williams had removed immediately Anhall Cal left the room and touched the soft fabric to the side of his face, trying to catch her eye.  The lieutenant, as usual, was not paying attention to his flirting.  Whenever he tried to tease her she was gazing out of windows, studying incomprehensible scribbles on paper, or pale with fatigue and pain.  If he should try to engage her in hand play she immediately pulled away.  Soon he will have to stop being so subtle.  His dreams were become fevered rehearsals for the coupling to come.  There was not a moment in the day, when his mind should be on assignments and defenses, when he was not distracted by thoughts of this fragile woman. 
No, not fragile.  He remembered the determination with which she held those small knives while she crouched in the pit.  The strength of that firm chin and the burning will that drove her to survive.  No, she was not fragile, but she was precious.  Precious to him!  He recorded each small movement she made, each twist of her hands when she spoke and each flashing smile for later review.   He rubbed her soft gloves over his jaw and raised the plain fabric to his lips.  Only a few wearings, and already they carried her scent.  He raised his eyes to hers.  Of course, again, she was not paying attention.  He slapped the gloves on the palm of his hand.  A proper seduction required some cooperation from the seduced.  She glanced across at him at the noise, noticed that he was playing with her gloves and looked away without any reaction.  Not even the smallest blush.  Did she not realize he was trying to entice her? 
It was possible that she did not know the rules of the game.  If that were so, he needed to educate her.  Ranualt smiled, watching the Lieutenant bend stiffly to pick up a fallen page.  Still too soon for consummation.  But she should begin to learn something of what was to come.
Which would be the best way to teach her?  And when.
Ranualt’s body tightened as the Lieutenant tugged her unornamented tunic straight and the soft fabric tightened across the mounds of her perfectly formed breasts.
Soon.  She should learn soon, and thoroughly.  There were some things she could tolerate even now.  Kisses and touches that would not yet lead to further pleasure, but would leave her in no doubt of the depths of his attraction. 
The Lieutenant leafed through her piles of paper, frowning in concentration.  Her lips moved as she rehearsed then she turned to face him.  After a pause she said slowly, in Korum, “Go outside.”
Ranualt laughed, her accent was dreadful.
“Very good, Lieutenant. Congratulations.  Let us go outside.” 
He ran the gloves through his fingers again and kissed the fabric fingertips, watching her face intently, before placing them in her hands.  The lieutenant rolled her eyes and turned away to pull them on.  Ranualt shook his head at her back.  At least this time she had seen the gesture. 
And so it begins.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

to save my enemy 28

“I can provide you with legal support, whereby you may approach your debtors for payment.” Trum Dal opened his mouth to protest. Ranualt raised his ungloved hand for silence. “And while I will not immediately grant funds, I will direct the Alama to send workers and supplies from the estate to begin the most essential of repairs.”
“While we are grateful . .” began Trum Dal.
“Wait. . . I am considering,” interrupted Sector Commander Ranualt.  Anhall Cal sat quietly, with neatly folded hands. Ranualt was skilled with working with men.  A necessary skill to learn on the far borders where a sleeping assassin could use many forms to take a life or  a reputation, and a real or imagined slight could swell in the mind of another until rage could explode and destroy a whole ship and crew.  While it was the fashion to hide true thoughts behind extravagant displays of emotion, Ranualt found himself trusting this silent man.  The ones who had nothing to prove, those who could rest quietly at the end of a duty knowing that all was done, they could be relied upon. 
The Clan Anhall was unknown to him.  Perhaps this man was the lucky son whose family paid for him to travel to Korum Dan from a colony.  Sending him to the center of Korum to seek advancement for his Clan. Trusting him with Ranualt’s secret was a great risk, but the need was also great.  How ambitious was he?  Ranualt did not have the time to teach Lt. Williams to speak a civilized language.  A skilled teacher, even one unfamiliar with the language of the Commonweal, might be able to work with the lieutenant until Ranualt could spare the time to take over her education.  She was a language expert, after all and could help her teacher.
A glance to the Alama was enough, she removed the Clan ledger from its shelf and placed it before him.  Ranualt turned rapidly to the section showing balances.  There was some funds, not much, and some payments due. Ranualt made an entry carefully avoiding the Alama’s eyes as he wrote the amount.
“I may have need of the service of a teacher here in this house, Anhall Cal.  Would you be prepared to undertake a task for me?”
“I would be honored, Patriarch Ranualt.” 
There was still nothing to be read in the younger man’s eyes or manner.  .   Silently Ranualt cursed the convolutions of Korum society. With corruption and lies so much the path of life, no one could be lightly trusted. When Ranualt had first spoken to a Commonweal officer, and heard the man speak lightly of family loved, friends respected and fellow officers trusted by reputation, without worrying that he was giving away information about his weaknesses, Ranualt had envied the officer that easy life. 
“In return for your service, for which you will be paid, I would pay salaries, whereby additional teachers could be recruited.  Another two, I think, for the next year.  Would this serve as an inducement for you? That will be in addition to the workers and supplies for essential repairs.” The Alama’s half suppressed indrawn breath he ignored.  An expensive education for Lt. Williams, but necessary.  Now, the Clan could barely afford it. Next year things would be better, and he may even be able to afford to extend the teacher's contracts.
Anhall Cal, rose from his chair to make a formal bow.  “Patriarch of Clan Ranualt, I traveled far to reach the School of Triath Village out of respect for the  . . traditions of the school and the reputation of the school's sponsor.  I have the greatest respect for, and hold in high honor, the Clan Ranualt that formed the school and will do it no harm.  I will be honored to serve you.”
A spontaneous oath. One he could either accept or ignore.  There was never any way to know the truth in a man's heart.  It would have to do.
“Anhall Cal, if you can spare me the time, I would ask you to for a few hours to discuss what I need. Trum Dal, I will arrange for my own transport to take Anhall Cal home when we are done.  The Alama will record my decision for you to take to the headmaster and I hope we may speak again soon.”
The Alama closed the library door firmly behind Trum Dal and positioned herself with her back against the door, face stiff with disapproval.  The Commander crossed the room, helped Theresa from her couch and drew her forward into the light.   As Theresa made her shallow bow, Ranualt turned to watch the face of the younger man.  There was an expression of stunned disbelief on the Anhall Cal’s face as he stared at Theresa  After a pause Anhall Cal took a deep breath and consciously shook off his reaction. 
“Lieutenant Williams,” said Ranualt, in Commonweal. “I would make known to you Anhall Cal, a teacher. He is to work with you on learning our language.  He will be visiting early in the mornings before his classes at a nearby school.”
Ranualt turned to speak to the Korum teacher and Theresa studied the person she was going to be working with.
It did not appear that the Commander had warned Anhall Cal that he was going to be seeing a Commonweal citizen, judging by the stunned fish expression.  Theresa smiled.  Weak as she was, it was amusing to see people so afraid of her.  The teacher must be nervous, his fingers moved restlessly over his shoulder as he spoke, plucking at the fabric as he spoke.
“He is honored to meet you,” the Commander translated.  “I told him nothing of where you were found or how long ago. If you do manage to communicate with him, remember it is important to say nothing of how you came here.”
Theresa smothered a gasp.  The Korum teacher was shaping sign-language words with his hand.
“Um. . There is little danger of that Commander, it is going to take a while to get past simple phrases.”
Anhall Cal’s fingers flickered again in the familiar signs. 
Don’t speak! . . .don’t react!. . . .don’t hope? 
Theresa tore her eyes away from his hands and looked again at the bronze face. Anhall Cal?   The face. . the shape was only vaguely familiar.  Then the stranger winked and made the signs for bell and table.  Theresa bit her tongue.  Callahan!  He was Ensign Callahan!
Theresa brought her gloved left hand up to her right elbow and flashed a recognition sign. 
Ensign Callahan immediately flashed back, ‘I cannot help you!  Don’t hope! Talk later!’
Ranualt selected a roll of blank paper from the nearby rack and placed it on an nearby table.
“I informed him you are but recently recovered from serious illness.” He waited a moment for a reply, when there was none he continued. “I will not be able to devote much time to your education while I am busy with Fleet and estate matters, but I will try and spend some time with both you and Anhall Cal.” 
Theresa brought her scattered thoughts back under control with difficulty.  Why was Callahan here?  How had he come and when?  She became aware of the Commanders expression fading from expectation to  . . what . . .concern?
“Thank you, Commander,” she stammered. “I. . . need. . . someone to work with me.”
Ranualt closed from formal to personal space, positioning himself to block Anhall Cal’s view,  and ran his hand gently down her arm, from shoulder to wrist.   
“I have been busy in the Capital, but now I will be working at home,”  he said, releasing her wrist and ran his fingers along the length of hers, lightly brushing gloved fingertips over fingertips, scratching nails briefly over the center of her palms.  Theresa was startled by the tingle that spread from her hands and up her arms.  Ranualt made no attempt to stop her pulling away, instead he smiled.
“Oh. . .good,” said Theresa, absently rubbing her palms together.  “Ah. . .you can help me get started with my language lessons.”
Damn, I should not have said that!  I need to talk to Callahan alone!
“I will be honored.” Ranualt studied the Lieutenants face.  “If you are feeling strong enough, I can spare some time for translation now so that you and Anhall Cal may speak and plan your first lessons.

Monday, October 3, 2016

to save my enemy 27

“What is going on?” demanded the Lieutenant, distress plainly coloring her words.
“There is nothing to concern you. . .” began Ranualt.
“I am concerned, Commander.  I don’t want to be here. . . not yet.  I am. . .” she searched for words. “I am not ready to meet anyone from outside.” She stood suddenly and clutched the chair arms for support as she swayed dizzily.  “I am not well enough and it would do me no good to be here as I cannot understand a word that is said.”
“I will not have you depart a room just as guests arrive, as if I were ashamed to present you to visitors.” growled Ranualt. “So sit down and wait.”
“With all due respect, Commander,” said the Lieutenant and waved to the Alama.  Pointing at a couch barely visible behind shelves she released her grip on the chair and stumbled toward it.   The Alama caught her firmly under the arm and helped her walk to the couch.  As the Lieutenant settled stiffly onto the couch the Alama drew a curtain across the nearest window, effectively shrouding the alcove in shadow.  Ranualt clenched his jaw. He knew exactly what that phrase meant. To have it used against him burned.  Both women had acted against his wishes.  The Alama he would speak to later.  The lieutenant  . . . His body tightened and his hands clenched on the table.  There were many ways to persuade the lieutenant to value his good opinion and follow his direction.  She would soon be willing to do all that he asked.
While his attention had wandered the Alama had crossed quickly to open the door.
“Patriarch of the Clan Ranualt, Trum Dal and Anhall Call of the School of Triath Village.”  The Alama followed the newcomers into the room and went to stand beside Ranualt’s table, although a step or two further away than was her usual position.
The two men performed deep formal bows.  Ranualt schooled his face to impassivity and  beckoned to servants waiting in the hall behind the men.

“Please accept my hospitality, Trum Dal,  Anhall Cal,” Ranualt recited the formal phrases with a semblance of sincerity.  The petition from the school was unwelcome, but not unexpected. 
The two men made themselves comfortable in the overstuffed chairs as servants silently arranged tea cups and sweet sticks on a centuries old tables beside them, while others assisted with the removal of their stiff gloves and arranged the relatively unornamented leathers on soft pillows.
“Patriarch Ranualt. We are honored by your reception and hospitality.” Trum Dal half bowed uncomfortably in his chair.
“You are most welcome.” Ranualt found the shape of the ritual phrases soothed his temper.  The Alama and the Lieutenant had acted each according to their natures and as they thought best.  There was nothing to be done now but accept, and try to gain their cooperation before the next such visit.  “?Please speak to me as to your purpose here.”
Trum Dal bowed again and clutched the steaming cup for what little comfort it gave.  “The headmaster of the Triath School is unwell and has asked me to come here as his representative.” He paused to take a sip.  Ranualt gestured him to continue with some impatience.  With a cough Trum Dal summoned his courage and continued. “The School of Triath Village has rested under the benevolent hand of the Clan Ranualt for three centuries and. . .”
“I am familiar with the history of the school, Trum Dal.”
“Yes, Patriarch,” Trum Dal said meekly.
“And could tell the story with more detail and considerable accuracy. . .”
“Yes, Patriarch.”
 “So tell me something to add to what I already know.”
“Ye . . .” Trum Dal closed his eyes and raised a hand to summon the intervention of the Gods. “The school is in difficulties.  We need money.  For repairs.  For equipment.  For teachers.”
Ranualt’s gaze did not waver, although his heart sank.  He had reviewed the Clan accounts at length and knew the depths to which his nephew had sunk the family fortune.  To have someone to whom he would be willing to make payments come to him while his hands were empty burned his soul.
“You have not yet undertaken a tour of your estate and surrounds since your return. . .”
“I have other duties,” growled Ranualt and Trum Dal paled.
“Patriarch Ranualt Ti, no criticism was intended. It is merely fact!” observed Anhall Cal.  Trum Dal flashed him a look of mixed awe and gratitude.
“Continue,” Ranualt regarded the other young man over the rim of his cup.  Anhall Cal’s posture was respectful and his manner confident.  He was open in his examination of the library decorations and the titles of the scrolls near his hand. . .interesting. 
“I would make you aware of the state of the school,” said Trum Dal hesitantly.  “It is not a case of seeking luxury, Patriarch.  Granted that wall covers are peeling, but I am more concerned with the state of the walls beneath.  They are cracked and I fear will not long support the roof above.  In recent storms there has been significant structural damage to the oldest buildings.  As for the classes, for which we have insufficient teachers, some children were required to bring their own chairs and tables, the overcrowding is so intense.  It is to the credit of the school that parents still send their children.”
“The Alama informs me the tuition of the estate children has been paid.  Do you have any debtors?  Have you approached any other Clans, whose children use the school, for support?”
Trum Dal flushed as if the memory pained him.  “I have the burden of reporting. . There are some debts, but the Clans will not be compelled.  Other Clans, while delighted to have a school nearby that creates no obligations to attend, always reply that the Clan Ranualt built the school the Clan Ranualt can sustain it.”
Ranualt sighed. At one time, there had been several schools in the neighborhood supplying the needs of the children.  However, when his revered, idealistic ancestor had created a school which required no oath of allegiance to attend, that did not bring servants and funds under the hands of the Praetors or the High families, those other schools had closed.  Not, as it first appeared, because no child was sent to the others, but intentionally, at the order of the High Families, to create a huge financial drain upon the Clan Ranualt.  Another fine idea turned sour, thought Ranualt, turning his tea cup in his hand.