Wednesday, November 30, 2016

to save my enemy 52

One day she would like to get him back for that, even though she understood his reasons. He was a warrior first and foremost.  Star Command needed the translation program.  It was a weapon and a means to establish peace if that chance ever came again.  So he had taken the appropriate action, even though, if he were ever found out, it would land him in the same situation as Theresa.  Facing court-martial.
Something her family had never understood about Theresa, was that she didn’t want to be a solider.  She liked civilian things,  liked being able to ignore orders, choose your own clothes. . .little things. . . important things.
Theresa glanced around her little workroom.  Well, she was a civilian now.   Question was, how to best enjoy it? She closed one closet door and opened the next to check on yesterdays treated wine.  The first two were still clouded, the next had a slight foggy appearance and a thick layer of precipitate on the bottom.  Theresa picked up the last test bottle, held it to the light and grinned. 
“Better living through Chemistry,” she said, bouncing a fingertip off the bottle.  The previously cloudy contents were now a clear, glowing gold. There was a layer of precipitate but sediment was not unusual in some wines. In fact, it was expected. 
“Vely, vely goot.  Now, if the specific gravity, pH and the glucose content is consistent with the lab’s prediction . . .Ladies and Gentlemen, we may have a winner.”?
She dropped a sample into the mini-lab to process, watching the barely understood symbols flickering.  She had laboriously worked out what symbols would show if she had the desired results. If the sample gave her anything else, she would have to copy them down and wait to check with Cal.  Theresa leaned against the wall and studied the grain of the wood.  She would be happy if she was successful.  The next task would be to work the problem from the beginning. It was possible that she would be able to make two or three different varieties of the wine.  Now would that be a kick in the pants for the vintners who had been working for centuries on the problem. . . 
Ah, there was nothing like being hated for being good, she thought, sadly.
The lab buzzed softy.  Theresa compared the readout with her carefully prepared list and grinned furiously.
“Vely, vely goot.”   Now all I need is a taste test.  She’d wait for Cal. He drank. . .anything.
A distant thud and Theresa almost dropped the bottle.  Her early warning system today was a broom carelessly blocking a turn in the staircase.  She shoved her books and bottles back into the closet.  So far no one had found her hiding place and, goddess willing, the mini-lab would never be found.
She slid into a chair and picked up her pen just as Elsia Ton knocked and entered followed by Ranualt and Cal.  Theresa looked up, trying to maintain a distracted air.
“Ah, look. . . . Commander, you have found my missing teacher,”  she smiled at the unusually unhappy Cal.
“Your teacher has been much occupied at the school,” said Ranualt.  “There has been a lot of damage, a mixture of long term neglect and the bad storm we had recently to be attended too.  Anhall Cal came today to advise me regarding injuries that have occurred during the repair process and I thought you might like to demonstrate your language progress before he departed again.”?
Theresa shot her friend a worried look.  He had no visible injuries but, depending on how deep the disguise went under his skin, if he was hurt the fact of his disguise might be exposed.   There was nothing she could do about it except worry.
“I am sorry to hear the school is in such bad shape,” she said.  “The children have been trying to tell me about it.”
Ranualt frowned, briefly, “The children . . .possibly are attempting to ask your intervention, Theresa.  I would prefer that you change the subject when it comes up.  Do not offer them any promises that I will be expected to fulfill.”?
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
Ranualt waved her to silence and sat beside her at the table, straightening her papers idly.  “I cannot do anything for the school even though I might wish to.  The Clan finances are not as well as they could be.  In a few more years, yes,  it will be one of my early concerns. . .”
“You need money?”  Theresa studied his face intently.  “You really want to help them?  Why?”
Ranualt’s smile was feral and his hands tightened on the papers. “It is the most effective way of frustrating the High Clans that my family has devised.  The curriculum of the school is broad and not directed to a specific goal. History is taught and the importance of honor, but so, also, is independence of spirit and creativity of thinking.  The graduates are sought after because of the breadth of their education and the fact that they have given no oaths in order to gain it, but they do not make good obedient servants for the same reason.”
 “Why am I not surprised by your reasons?” Theresa laughed quietly.  “But, if you had the money, you would give it to the school?”
“Certainly.  But as I do not. . .please make no promises to the children.” He unfolded her crushed sheets and turned to gesture Anhall Cal into a nearby chair.  “For today, Anhall Cal and I will work with you on improving your syntax.  It is time for you to construct your statements with more skill.”
Theresa waited until Ranault was looking in another direction, glanced across at  Cal and signed, ‘Wine ready for taste test. Make your pitch.’ 
Cal barely nodded and half bowed to Ranualt. “My Patriarch, if you would permit. . .I acknowledge Lt. William’s need for teaching, but I must put the school’s needs before you in urgent tones . .”
“Anhall Cal.  We have spoken. At this moment there is nothing more to be said on the subject. I have provided as I see fit for the school and will continue to do so.  Your continued requests at this time serve no one well.”
Theresa followed the words as closely as she could.  Both were speaking  fast making understanding difficult so she found herself reading their expressions instead.  Cal continued to look unhappy and Ranualt, stern.
“How bad the school?” she asked, in Korum, directing the question to Cal
“Theresa, nothing more can be done until there is more money.” Ranualt’s expression closed over, the dark unyielding expression that chilled Theresa’s heart and had probably frightened the life out of more than one subordinate over the years. “In a few years,” he continued, “I shall be in a position to do more.  Not now!”
Theresa forced herself to smile at Ranualt’s stern face.  If she permitted him to frighten her she would not be able to finish.
 “It’s just that I might have something for you in a few days that you could sell and I want to make sure that the school benefits.  I . . .I like the kids I have met and want to do something for them.”?
 “What do you mean?  What could you have for me to sell?”  Ranualt rested his arm on the table and turned completely to face her.
 “Well. . .” Theresa was suddenly uncertain. . .there hadn’t been a taste test, and she hadn’t yet performed a replication of her experiment.  “I might have something in a day or so.”
Ranualt made to wave everyone from the room. Before anyone else could move, Theresa jumped to her feet.  Whenever he sent people away he started touching her and that was something she wanted to avoid.   And, more importantly, if she moved fast now she might be able to keep the location of the mini-lab hidden for a few more days. 
“I’ll get what I am working on,” she said and ran to the store room. 
Why hadn’t she waited a few days more to mention the stuff?  Because she wasn’t certain of when Cal would visit next. Because she was excited about her success.  Because she hadn’t realized until today that Ranualt needed money that badly.  Finally she had an negotiable asset, something she could use, to offer him, instead of herself! 
Because. Because. Because.
Before anyone could react and follow her out she snatched up two clear bottles of wine, put the mini lab on the lowest shelf and shoved it as back as she could with her foot, and ran back to her sitting room.  Ranualt and Anhall Cal were standing, speaking intently together when she returned.  Theresa held up the clear bottles for inspection.  She’d carried it quickly, but carefully, making certain she had not jostled the contents.
“Mentiol wine,” announced Theresa proudly. “You said once that the creation of this wine would be profitable for the Clan that succeeded, so I have  been working on the problem.”

Monday, November 28, 2016

to save my enemy 51

Theresa took a ragged breath, her stomach was churning painfully, her chest ached with unshed tears.  “I was on a maximum security transport on the way to the prison when it was attacked by a cross boarder pirate.  The ships manifest said I was a dangerous prisoner.  Maybe the people who attacked thought I was some sort of big fighter, so they sold me to the pit on Tallis.”
Ranualt smile was weak, “They were right as it turned out.”
Theresa tangled her fingers in his loose tunic. “Yeah. . .maybe. . .you know what was the hardest part.”
Ranualt hesitated before replying, as if fearing to hear more. “No.”
“That. . .before the trial, that my parents never came to see me. . no messages . . .not even once.  As far as they were concerned it would have been better that I was never born.  There’s no justice in that, since I never wanted to be in the military.  I wanted a civilian life.  They had me kidnapped from the university.  They should have shared in my shame but they didn’t. They cast me out. Just like you would if it were one of your people.”
All the tears, suppressed and swallowed for years flooded out, pouring down her face. Sobs shook her small body and she collapsed to the floor.  Ranualt pulled her up and draped her across his chest, holding her tight, stroking her hair and face as she screamed and wept out her humiliation and pain.
“Theresa. .”
“Shut up.”  Theresa rubbed her face dry against his chest, thumping his arm with her fist.  “I never want to mention this again, but don’t you ever talk to me about owing you anything. I've paid. I've paid with everything I am.”
“I am sorry, Theresa. I had no knowledge of this.   This debt can never be paid.  You owe me nothing.”
“And you know,  legally, what they did wasn’t wrong.   I was wrong!   I should never have let you go. I should have shot you. They would have given me a damned medal if I'd killed you.”
Ranualt said nothing, but he held her until the tears stopped, until her breathing calmed and she slept.

Ranualt lay on the floor for hours holding Theresa, measuring the length of himself against her.  For the first time he was enjoying the sensation of her hair spread over his face and chest, her breathing soft in his ears.   He wrapped her curled fingers in his hand, lifted her fingertips to his lips to be kissed and watched her sleep.   Of all the outcomes he had considered for her actions, he had never considered a trial.  Somehow, despite knowing they had a complicated legal system and degrees of honor, he did not think they would seek to punish her - to that degree.  Nor did he consider they would do something so cruel, so Korum,  as to fake an execution without informing the victim.  No wonder she hated him.  In this moment, he hated himself. 
After all that they had both lost, after the damage to Praetor Kim Path’s health and authority,  to Ranualt’s reputation, and Theresa’s career and life, they were no closer to peace.
If there was justice in her sentence, he could not see it.
So. . .now he must convince her to salvage what she could of her life.  Surely his estate was better than any maximum prison cell.  Ranualt lifted a handful of silver hair and let the strands drift slowly down.  He needed to plan this carefully.  A prisoner for almost three years, he could tempt her by giving her freedoms.  Give her pleasures she thought lost forever. There were ways he could do that.   Trips into the mountains to walk far from other people.  More time out of the Clan house . .that was important.  As she had been kept alone for so long, alone and nameless. . . she needed friends.
Ranualt swore under his breath and shifted on the hard floor. Elsia Ton and Ni were not enough.  Despite every encouragement, they were still afraid, if not of Theresa, then of public opinion.  Of what might happen if someone of high enough rank tried to take her.  Troubled by the inheritance rules.  They didn’t want to feel anything for this lonely pale woman.  If they did not like her, then they would not mourn, or feel they had to act to help her.
There was little choice. He would have to bring back Anhall Cal.  Theresa had spent a lot of time with him, according to witnesses, quietly and apparently in good fellowship.   Anhall Cal spoke of her with respect.  If they were supervised. . . or, Ranualt could speak clearly to the teacher, let him know ,. . .no. . .pride forbade he act as if a mere teacher was a threat to his . . .to his status.  Anhall Cal already knew the situation and the rules.  A sensible man will not step beyond his place.  There was too much benefit to be gained for the teacher, from association with the Clan Ranualt, that aspiring to Theresa’s love would loose him.  Ranualt tilted Theresa’s face up and kissed her gently on the forehead, resting his face on her hair.  She would have a least one friend.
Ranualt, however, would be her love.   There was no longer any question.  He loved the complicated tiny moon-flame woman.  She was his every thought.  She might prefer now, not to know of that love, but it waited for her.
Theresa stirred, shifting uncomfortably on the cold floor.
“Wake, Theresa, wake.” Ranualt lifted the sleep confused woman to her feet, “Enough sleeping on the floor, it isn’t healthy.”
“What?” Theresa rubbed her face and blinked in the dim light.
“Lean on me, I will take you to your room,” he laughed at her sleepy suspicious look, “I will merely walk you to the door, beautiful Theresa. No further.  I do not want you getting lost in the corridors at night.”
“Why was I . .”
“Consider the why’s tomorrow.  Now, to your room and sleep.”

Theresa poured the carefully calculated and measured amount of her test solution into the cloudy wine and set it back on the closet shelf.   She made a small notation in her book and moved on to the next bottle.  After a week of testing she was running out of half fermented mentiol  wine.  Cal was unlikely to volunteer to do another run down to the experimental cellars, so she was running her tests on smaller and smaller samples.  The wine was proving to be  . . .difficult, although the mini-lab simulation for the last few test mixtures seemed promising.   She allowed one corner of her mouth to lift.  What had Ranualt said about the fruit?   It was resistant?   She dropped her note book on the shelf and leaned her head against the open door.   
Ranualt. . .Sector Commander Ranualt.  . . she went and told him what she had sworn to herself she would never say.  It wasn’t his fault her life had gone to hell. Not really. It had been her decision, all of it, and she had known the risks at the time.  Her shoulder and the corridor cameras had shown that clearly.  Ranualt had not made any threat, nor made any requests.   He had appeared and she had, all by herself,  endangered Commonweal citizens to let him go.   The prosecution had not been able to make a case for her involvement in the sabotage, although they had given it a good try.  In the end the fact that the engineering crew had declared it a badly timed accident and not sabotage had been reluctantly accepted.   Her own reputation for creative disruption had told against her.  Years of practical jokes, career self sabotage, landed on her head during the trial, recited with satisfaction by all the senior officers forced to try and turn her into a proper office of the Fleet.
She snorted.
If it hadn’t been so terrifying, it would have been funny.  The ultimate joke played on the joker.  Then when she thought she was safely dead, there was the ‘Wizard’ Oswald, yelling: “surprise.”
Impossible though it was to hope for the opportunity, one day she hoped she be able to return the favor.

Friday, November 25, 2016

to save my enemy 50

Ranualt wrapped his hands around the cup again, face carefully impassive. Theresa had no way of reading how offended he was, not that she cared.   He might say he wanted something different in his life, emotional displays and friends. But he behaved just as he described.  All feelings, all thoughts hidden.  Except. . . the children would never see their parents touch hands?   Theresa could remember her parents kissing, been embarrassed about it as a child.  Ranault sent everyone from the room when he was going to kiss her . . .but . . . but he kept touching her hands  in front of everyone.   Elsia Ni had introduced her husband only a day ago and the two of them stood on opposite sides of the room and had barely glanced at each other.  Yet every morning Ni came to work yawning, happily exhausted, as you would expect with a young newly-wed.
How much was Ranualt hiding?  And did she care to find out.
“Tonight, I shall read to you,” Ranualt announced. “I promised to read a history book, if I remember correctly.”  He stood and held out a hand to help her to her feet.  Instead Theresa handed him the basket of children’s offerings and stood without assistance.

Later Theresa shifted on the cushion covered couch and smothered a yawn.  Ranualt’s reading was soporific. . .unintentionally so, if the looks he kept throwing in her direction was any judge.  He had chosen a history of Korums distant past, which, while containing vast quantities of noble, adventurous warriors, engaged in complicated maneuvers, at exotic locations, was boring to someone who didn’t know the reasons for the fight.   The story was obviously one he knew well, judging by the enthusiasm with which he read certain battle scenes.  But now, Theresa could sense a little foreshadowing. . .the Commander of the Troops was speaking intently to the Lady Mayor of a captured town.
Theresa blinked, then realized where the conversation was heading and choked on a laugh.  “Oh, Goddess.  I thought you said this was a history book.  It isn’t, is it?”
Ranualt colored slightly and stiffened in his chair.  “It is based on historical events.  Although these particular persons did not take part, people did engage in similar activities.”
Theresa giggled, curled up in her chair.  “This is a historical romance you’re reading. Fiction. A novel.”
His face closed over.  “It is one of my personal favorites, concerning an important period of Korum history.”
“Ahh.. then I am sorry I said anything.  Please continue and I will try not to fall asleep.
Ranualt rolled the scroll closed, placed it gently on the shelf, then stood and crossed the room to kneel beside her couch.
“I had intended that this book should teach you.  That you should learn certain important aspects of the Art of Gentle Touch.  As you are still too fragile for me to teach you directly, I though this the better way,” He drew one finger across her eyebrow line and down the curve of her cheek.  “My consideration amuses you.”
Theresa hugged one of the cushions tightly to her chest, suddenly worried, and tucked her hands out of sight. 
“Um. . .your consideration would be unnecessary if you were to give up the idea of touching me.”
Ranualt continued passing his hand gently over her face, tangling his fingers in the loose strands of her hair.  “Beautiful Theresa, there is no one for me, but you.  You are my only lady.  And, it must be admitted, you have life and home because of my intervention.  You owe me your life, your comfort.”
“Life, for life,” said Theresa, biting off the words. “I have already paid for your life, with mine.”
Ranualt tangled his fingers in her silver hair. “Theresa, taking you from the pit was in balance for your actions at the peace conference.  That you live in my home, part of my life, that is more.”
Theresa pushed the pillows of the couch and sat up, “I lost my life because of you. That is beyond more.”
When Ranualt tried to reach for her, Theresa slipped a foot under his knee and pushed, tumbling him ignominiously onto the floor.   She knelt beside him, hand hard on his chest and pushed him back down.
“Listen you.  You have no idea what you cost me… there is no way that you will ever achieve balance for what I suffered, because I showed you mercy.  Because I was stupid enough to let you go.  The fact that you went back to your ship and continued the war, refusing to acknowledge any message that was sent to you, was taken as proof of my bad judgment, my criminal misjudgment.”  Theresa’s eyes flashed, her breathing fast and ragged. “You asked me before what happened to me after you left. . . I'll tell you.  I was arrested, charged and tried for treason! Giving aid and comfort to the enemy! That’s what it’s called.  Because I let you go, I  was stripped of rank, and rank in my family is more important than life.  My family refused to see me, never visited all the time I was in prison awaiting trial. They tried to have my name changed to protect our family history. They didn’t want a “Williams’ standing trial for treason. To be cashiered out of service.   At the trial, given all the evidence of your actions, your words, all those god damed recordings of your admiration...all that was read into the record -  I let you go, I was found guilty and sentenced to death.  Do you understand?”
Ranualt paled.  “Theresa, I cannot. . .”
“No, you cannot.” Theresa brushed her fist across her face. The tears she had swallowed, unwilling to let anyone see during those months in prison, flowed now. “There is nothing you can do to make up for that.   They had to convict me.  They had to do it publicly because the peace conference was such a public failure.”   Her face crumpled and she covered it with both hands for a moment.   Abruptly Theresa stiffened and she raised her face, stared at him.  “You know what the kicker was?   What they had me do while I was waiting for trial?  While I was waiting for execution?  They had me working on that Goddess be damned Inter-Species Translation Program.  Admiral Oswald actually tried to postpone the execution date so I could finish.”
Ranault paled. That degree of callousness was almost Korum.
“But they did not do it, Theresa.  You are still alive.”
Theresa laughed, a harsh hollow sound in the dark library. 
“Yes, they did.  They went through with it.   I was taken into this room with the military tribunal standing by, all the lawyers and official witnesses. . . .my parents didn’t come, none of the family came, but that was no surprise.  They completed the whole circus, death by poison. . . .and I died.”
Ranualt ran his hands over her trembling shoulders and hips, as if seeking reassurance that she was actually kneeling on the stone floor beside him.
“When I woke up. . .Admiral Oswald was there.  He told me that he needed the translation program more than he needed to see me dead. He bribed the executioner to give the wrong dose.  He had abducted my body on the way to the morgue and had me revived.  No one was going to know who I was, he said, except him.  I was prisoner one-six-seven-two until I finished the program and then, just in case he needed me later, I was going to be sent to a maximum security prison and kept in solitary confinement.  He said, I was to consider this as commutation of my sentence to life imprisonment.”
Ranualt continued to stroke her shaking body. “How did you come to be on Tallis?”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

to save my enemy 49

“Send for her and I will ask.”
The Alama raised her hand.  “I will finish first.  Lean Kim went first, then Lean Fo.  Lt. Williams watched them and noticed something that, in all my years, I had not.  I do admit Patriarch Ranualt, I have been at fault.  I had never noticed that Kim cleaned until the floors complained of the pain and Fo only wants to decorate.  The fights have been when Kim takes apart a decorated room and tries to clean, or when Fo puts any of her florals in one of Kim’s rooms and the petals fall.” The Alama rubbed her workbook and gave an embarrassed smile. “I thought I knew everything about this house, Patriarch, but I have been shown recently that I do not.  Nothing I have said has ever stopped Fo and Kim from fighting, but your  Williams succeeds the first time she tries.”
Ranualt straightened, his heart beating strongly for the first time in days.  His Williams! The Alama had referred to Theresa in a number of different ways, rarely even by name, but this, this was the first sign of acceptance.
“What did she do?”
“First she watched them both clean a room each to their own satisfaction, and then she, herself, cleaned a third.  She made the room both clean and decorated as it should be done.  Then she told Fo and Kim they were hard workers who have been trying so hard to teach their sister for years but they had spoken too loud, so the words had not been heard.” The Alama shook her head. “It made a strange sort of sense.  Then she said, she was certain both women really wanted the Clan Ranualt’s . . .she said ‘air’, I am not certain what she meant . . . but the air to be the best.  But Fo needs to decorate less and clean more and Kim to do the other. Or they could chose to do what they did best and follow each other room to room. It may have been the way she phrased it, or the way she asked,  but they have been working together quietly ever since.”
Ranualt smiled. Theresa had a way of phrasing that had his blood pumping in either anger or passion.
Today it pumped with delight.
“She told them they were both wonderful,” continued Alama. “But worked too hard. They had been trying to teach their sister for so many years that Fo’?s decorations and perfumes . . .have become alive, is how she said it . . . and Kim cleans the floor until the dust runs out of the building afraid for its life.”
Ranualt laughed. 
The Alama echoed him.  “Now each can do a little less and a little more.  Now that I review it with you, I cannot say what it was that impressed me. . or them. .  .She insisted that they whisper, but that might have been her headache.  But in the end, both of the Lean twins are her devoted admirers.”?
“Thank you for telling me, Alama. I will admit, it was wrong of me to bring her here.  None of my sister’s children are worthy to inherit.”
“Do not say so, Patriarch.” The Alama rested her hand briefly on his head.  “A Clan’s spirit is created by the Lady who presides over it.  Although Williams is a foreign warrior, she is also. . .kind and strong.  The first words of Korum she learned and she still uses every day, is ‘thank you’.  Even when Ton and Ni were helping me clean her wounds, and she was obviously in agony, she kept saying ‘thank you.’  I think she. . .well, she is much better than Mia or any other noble woman I could have suggested to you.”?  She paused and smiled.  “She is also strong enough to keep you challenged.  You have always needed occupation for your mind.”
“Thank you, Alama.  We still need someone to inherit, but we will discuss that later. . . perhaps I will bring the youngest child of my youngest sister here, and train it.” Ranualt stood slowly.  He had known Theresa was good for him.  Her strength, her mind excited him.  Now all that remained was to convince her.  A pleasing prospect.  Life outside the Clan walls may be chaotic and dangerous  but within his home he had regained a measure of peace.  “But for now.  . . I will speak with her.  Where is she?”
The Alama colored slightly.  “She has taken to hiding recently during the day, but at this hour, most likely she is waiting for the children to return from school.  They are devoted as well.”

The number of children who attended Theresa at her afternoon tea parties had increased from her original two stalkers to an average of twelve.   Elsia Ton and Ni shared the duty of serving, and supervising, the gatherings on the veranda and saw to it that no one was overlooked.  Theresa had worried at first that the two would resent the extra work, but the children were all, apparently, well known to them and everyone seemed happy to spend time together. 
Despite all her hard work and continuous practice, Theresa’s spoken language skills languished behind her understanding.  If the children spoke slowly she could understand most of what was said, but was embarrassed to find herself still sounding like a poorly educated toddler. 
The distinct sound of the door opening caught everyone’s attention and a wave of deep bows told Theresa who the new arrival was.  Her chest tightened and she forced herself to breathe slowly. His return meant the resumption of threat: forfeits and unwelcome kisses.  She would have been happier if he stayed away forever. But she would have been the only one who was, if the children’s faces were any judge of the estate families attitude.
For a moment, it seemed, that his arrival would mean the end of today’s gathering, but Ranualt only displaced the child who occupied the chair closest to Theresa and began questioning the children, asking about family affiliations.  The children stuttered and blushed but managed to work their way through the intricacies of being presented to their patriarch without major embarrassments.  Theresa watched, a smile flickering over her lips, feeling strangely proud of the behavior of the children.   They were more his children than they would ever be hers, yet the time she spent with them made her protective.   When the last child was presented Elsia Ton announced the hour and the children began to disburse. 
Several approached Theresa and placed small items on the table beside her, a few smiling shyly, but most unwilling to raise their eyes to hers.
Theresa thanked each and watched them hurry down the stairs.
“My apologies for disturbing your gathering, Theresa.  For many reasons I wanted to appear with you here, at least once,” Ranualt accepted a freshened tea cup and waved at those few children who stood at the edge of the garden staring back.  “I want everyone of the Clan to be certain that you and your activities with the children have my approval.”  One of the children boldly waved back and Ranualt laughed.  “I shall have to remember that one.  Who is he?  He is strong and not afraid of me.  He will rise to high position here.”
Theresa followed the direction of his gaze and shook her head. “That is one whose parents have purchased aposo for him.  I am not certain what it is that they want but I think it involves leaving the estate.”  Ranualt’s sudden stillness worried her. “I don’t tell you that to anger you, Commander.  I know that it is something that has made the boy unhappy.”
“Aposo makes everyone unhappy, Theresa,” Ranualt scowled at his cup until he noticed Elsia Ton’s worried look and sipped. “Those who do not pay, have money for things that their neighbors to not.  Those who do pay, may have a child who rises to high position, or achieve great consequence.  At least that is the hope.”  He sighed and shifted in his chair to face her and picked up one of her offerings, turning the brightly colored stone over and over.  “I cannot do anything for either group.”
“The children have started leaving me these little things,” said Theresa, picking up a copper and green flecked stone wrapped in a silver wire .  “I hardly know what they are for.  Elsia Ton puts them in a basket for me with little notes.”
“The children are trying to claim obligation on you,” Ranualt examined another that had been roughly carved into a flower. “They may have heard their parents speaking of you and I, and bring you little gifts, just in case they may ever need something from you. . . or me.”
“Ha!  I don’t have any influence here for them to gain.  Maybe I should give them back.”
“Never!  You would offend them forever.  And do not doubt your influence with me,” he brushed the back of his hand over hers, “you have more than you appreciate.”
Theresa did not react to either the touch or the words but continued to pack the children’s treasures away.  “The children appear to like you.”
Ranualt continued to stare in the direction of the estate houses, roofs barely visible over the trees.
“Korum appear many things.  They learn young to present the face that should be seen in public and hide all that happens within their own mind.  To show boisterous emotions that are false, and keep all that they truly think and feel concealed.   I doubt that any of those children have ever seen their parents touch more than fingertips.  The parents would fear a child’s gossip.  Fear the possibility that their beloved spouse would be threatened if they revealed too much affection.  I remember, one time, speaking to a Captain of the Commonweal and his senior officer.  The two of them traded insults and jokes before me.  One time the Captain rested his hand on his officers shoulder and spoke of a time their two families had traveled together on ‘vacation’.  They showed me images of their families.   Their wives and children holding hands and laughing together. It was obvious the men had a true friendship!” Ranualt reached out and covered her hands with his own.  “I have never been jealous of all that is Commonweal, until I saw those images.  You do not have to fear your feelings, your loves.  You may declare them all before witnesses, without worrying that they will be hurt by those who hide their hate.  That Captain showed me, his enemy, how much he loved his family, and that he trusted and was friends with, his officers.  Do you have any understanding of how much I wanted that?”
Theresa slid her hands from under his.  “Oh….. I can guess.”

Monday, November 21, 2016

to save my enemy 48

Fumes boiled over the shelf and drifted along the floor.  Theresa, flapped a cloth rag in the air,  franticaly dispersed the cloud, then carried the steaming bottle into the next chamber. After pouring the foul smelling liquid down the disposal she hurriedly opened all the windows she could find in the corridor. She had no idea what anyone would think when they found all the windows open, but it was better than the overwhelming smell of rotted fruit.
Despite her efforts the smell had not significantly dispersed.  Theresa rubbed her throbbing forehead and swore.  One of the reasons she had never bothered acquiring a taste for wine, was that she seemed to get a hangover just from being in a room with an open bottle.  Maybe she was just allergic.
So far, all Theresa had achieved in her hidden wine lab was bad smells.  She had decanted the stolen half cooked wine into more stolen bottles and had been working steadily in every spare moment.  Without Cal’?s  morning visits she had a lot of spare moments.  Leaving the closet with the door slightly ajar Theresa retreated toward her room.  Despite the fact she knew the place was filled with servants the building felt empty.  Ranualt had apparently banned Cal from visiting, as he hadn’t come for the morning classes for three days, which meant Theresa was  . . .lonely.
But only, she was quick to note, only for Cal’s company. She did not miss anyone else.  Her old friend’s presence was the only thing that made being here tolerable.  Ranualt was only a threat.  There were the ridiculous two outstanding forfeits that Ranualt kept hanging over her that kep weighing on her mind.  Stupid!   It wasn’t as if he were her Commanding Officer with the authority to hand out demerits.
The echoes of the cleaner's daily argument floated up the stairs and Theresa pressed her fingers to her aching head.  To hell with all of them.  When she saw Ranualt next she would make quite clear that she would not be paying any forfeits that she, personally, did not consider valid.  He had only gotten away with the others because he had caught her by surprise when she was weakened by her injuries.  Her mind skittered nervously away from the thought of the kisses, when even the word, the memory, made her heart pound.  And at the moment, pounding hearts only increased her headaches.  So, no more touches, no more hand grabbing, no more kisses.  He would have to keep his hands off her, or. . .
Her temper retreated and she rested against the cool stone wall. 
Or what? 
What would she do to him?  She may feel like strangling him but, in reality, she knew she never would. Not because of any attraction or affection, but because. . .Theresa started walking down the workers staircase.  . . because his people. . .the people of the estate. . . needed him.  She couldn’t kill him, couldn’t hurt him. 
And if he died she'd be handed over to the Korum as a prisoner of war and that would not be pleasant.
But that did not mean that she liked him.  Certainly, she respected him. The people of the estate had the highest regard for him and his Clan policies.  Even those who admitted to breaking the aposo rules.  . . so many had.  . .she had seen the Alama interviewing people and the list at her elbow had had grown long. . . . spoke of him as the ideal Patricarch. . .benevolent, strict and fair.   Even during the war, he was one of very few who hadn’t attacked civilian targets and never shot at lifeboats.  Theresa sighed,  the war was no longer her problem. She had been effectively sidelined.  No longer part of life of any sort. Not warrior, not civilian, not. . . anything.
Congratulations, Dr. Williams, she thought. After all that hard work, you finally got what you wanted – out of the military.  Whatever are you going to do with yourself now? 
Well, gee, Theresa laughed at her imaginary interrogator, I though I’d sit around in a vineyard and watch my fingernails grow for the next fifty years. Should I live so long.
Theresa snorted and made her way down the guest side corridor of the second floor. There was nothing for her to do of any significance.  Not that there had been anything left for her on the other side of the border. The most she could have hoped for there was a retreat to a colony where they didn’t ask questions as long as you did your share of the work.
Shouts echoed down the corridor again and Theresa winced.  The Alama must have chosen to ignore today’s argument.  Theresa’?s path down the corridor was blocked by two equipment carriers, while the two elderly cleaners were currently engaged in tearing up each others work.  Theresa peered into one room.  It was clean. . . worse than militarily clean . . . with blank walls, violently polished woodwork and rigidly straightened blankets on the bed.  A dust mote would not dare to sully those immaculate surfaces. Theresa made a mental note to thank Elsia Ni and Ton next time she saw them for their moderation, and wandered to the next room.  She could not believe there could be a more polar opposite room.  She could almost see the waves of perfume billowing from the over-decorated chamber.  Holding her nose Theresa leaned in.  There was a visible layer of dust on the table near the door, but the dry floral arrangement positioned in the center was a work of art.  Elaborately embroidered cushions covered the chair and bed –which had not been straightened and there was a faint film of dust on the corner of the cover where it brushed the floor.
In the third room one cleaner had pulled all the decorated items off the bed and chairs and had thrown the old bed sheets over her enemy.  Theresa grinned as the affronted woman retaliated with a spray of perfume from a small bottle.  Before she could release a second stream of cloying perfume Theresa reached over her shoulder and grabbed the bottle.
“Somehow I think this would be banned as unnecessarily damaging to the environment,” said Theresa, in Commonweal, “This is worse than my winemaking.”
Both women stared at her. Theresa was not so much of a shock in the corridors now.  Anyone Theresa met now would greet her, formally and politely, before running from the room.  An improvement, of sorts.
“Please no fight. . head hurt.” Theresa rubbed her nose and forehead, the headache that had begun to retreat, returned full force under the influence of the heavily scented air of the guest room. 
Aside from Cal, Ranualt had no overnight visitors. She didn’t know why they bothered to keep all the rooms ready. Theresa escaped to the clearer air of the corridor.  The two cleaners followed and immediately started shouting, punctuating their words with waving fingers, gestures at broken floral arrangements and dusty floors.  Theresa closed her eyes and covered her ears until the noise abated. 
“Please.  Stop fight. No more fight.” Goddess, thought Theresa, I sound like a retarded three year old.
She hadn’t intended to volunteer to be the latest in a long line of audiences for this fight.  Uncovering her ears one finger at a time, Theresa whispered, “Please.  Stop.”
Instant silence.  Theresa opened one eye, then the other.
“Okay.  Asking why you fight is a waste of time, I won’t understand the answer,” muttered Theresa, then glanced at the rooms again.  She did, however,  have a theory as to what the fighting was about.
Ranualt concentrated on removing his gloves one finger at a time, reluctant to make eye contact with the Alama.  Of late their friendship had suffered due to their different opinions about Theresa.  Ranualt mourned the lost of that friendship more than he did for the pitiable wreak of his late nephew.
The Alama followed him quietly into the library.  The damaged books had been cleaned and repaired in his absence and there was no sign in this beautiful and dignified room of the wreck of the Ranualt Clan’s hopes and dreams.  Ranualt turned to face his family crest and lowered his eyes.  He had extended mercy to a young warrior and it would mean the end of his Clan.  Both of his sisters had taken time during the funeral preparations to reprimand him for his decision – the gossip had spread that far.  Although the elder was angrier on behalf of her living son, the younger gave greater consequence to public opinion.  She did not accuse him of fornicating with animals, mainly because she did not know how to say the words.  What had been said was bad enough.
Having met with, and briefly examined his nieces and their husbands, Ranualt shuddered when he considered the future.  None of them would comply with the years of family tradition.  They would surrender to the demands of the High Clans and soon, the Clan Ranualt would fall, clawed apart by greed and revenge. 
And Apaso!
If Theresa did not exist he could have searched, maybe found a woman of the Korum he could respect, someone to give him a child to raise. . .to fulfill the family responsibilities.   But he had chosen lust over duty.  Obligation to an enemy over his own Clan.  Honor owed over duty.
“Have you noticed something,” asked the Alama, her voice softer than he remembered recently.
Ranualt examined the room closely.  She would not be expecting him to comment on the repaired books.
“It is the afternoon's second hour and the terrible twins are not fighting.”
Ranualt listened. The building was indeed silent. “Are they ill?”
“No, they are quite well. They have not fought for four days.” The Alama folded her hands and smiled.
“How did this miracle happen?” Ranualt relaxed into his new chair and pushed the useless official reports away.  Several fluttered to the floor, to be ignored by both.
“Do the Commonweal always settle arguments . . do they always . . .” The Alama shook her head. “The twins were fighting four days ago.  Lt. Williams had an headache and came downstairs to ask them to stop. When she found them, she did the strangest thing.  She asked them to show her how they cleaned the rooms.  I have no idea why she would ask such a thing and I do not know the words to ask.”

Friday, November 18, 2016

to save my enemy 47

Ranualt’s heart chilled, a thought he had not dared to consider years ago brushed the outer edges of his mind, and was rapidly crushed.
“I disown you, Naoth Roe, as you are an embarrassment to my family.  Because you are a fool.  Because I have never liked you.”  Ranualt finally stood and towered over his nephew.  “Even as a child I despised you.  You were a grasping, demanding and graceless child, with an air of self satisfaction that was quite undeserved. LEAVE!  Do not enter this Clan again while I live.”

Ranualt’s bellow took Naoth Roe entirely by surprise and he staggered back, stumbling over the smooth stone and sliding across the floor.  He impacted hard against the bookcase where Theresa hid and a shower of books cascaded down over him.   Shaking off the torn and battered scrolls Naoth Roe pulled himself to his feet and stood clinging to the honeycomb case.  Directly facing an astonished Theresa.
“By all the Gods!” cried Naoth Roe, “What is that thing?”
Ranualt reached out lazily and slapped the youth across the back of his head. “Show more respect to those who deserve it.  This is  Lt. Williams, warrior of the Commonweal and she is my guest.”
Theresa made a slight bow, recognizing the words of introduction.  Ranualt’s scowl deepened as the boy first paled, then started to laugh.
“Wonderful, I am delighted in your choice.” Pulling his robes straight Naoth Roe invoked the Gods and walked with battered dignity to the library door. “May she live a long time and be nothing but a burden to you, Uncle.  Her presence in your Clanhold only guarantees my inheritance.  I will ensure that all know that my Uncle fornicates with animals.”
Ranualt schooled his face to impassivity, his hands clenched within the folds of his robes.  “Be careful what you say, Roene.” He said quietly, “and who you say it too.  For everything I do reflects upon you as well, and if I am accused of anything. . .the Praetors will take the whole Clan as forfeit, and you . . . will have nothing to inherit.”
Before Naoth Roe could react the efficient servants gathered round him and, at a gesture from Ranualt,  bundled him out of the room.
Immediately the door closed Anhall Cal bowed, “Patriarch Ranualt, you may be assured of my silence. I will say nothing of this to anyone.”
Ranualt  picked up a fallen scroll and stroked the battered paper.  “Do not be concerned, Anhall Cal. I have no objections to your informing any of your friends and enemies that I have disowned my nephew.  I want that information to have the widest possible distribution.”  Ranualt glanced at Theresa, who was carefully arranging the damaged books on a table. “I will ask you to exercise discretion on all other things that were said.”
“Lt. Williams has my respect and I will not speak further than you have directed.”  Anhall Cal watched her work.  “Fortunately, she did not know all of those words.”
Ranualt raised his eyebrows.  That Anhall Cal would also be subject to the same lust that had struck all the members of the Korum delegation upon seeing Theresa’s exotic figure, had not occurred to him until this moment.  The thought was chilling.  Anhall Cal was a good teacher, Theresa’s growing command of the language was proof, but he was a man as well.  It would be necessary, for Ranualt’s peace of mind, and to avoid unnecessary murders, that Anhall Cal not be given an opportunity to succumb to temptation.  The supervision of their lessons would be increased.
The Alama entered the room and Ranualt sighed.  Her expression of discontent was beginning to wear on his nerves.  This morning her face was paler and she carried an over-robe that Ranualt had not seen recently.
Grey for grieving.
“My Patriarch, it is my grief to inform you . . .your sister Nita has sent word.  Your nephew Teah Kree, passed to join the Gods only moments ago.”
“Thank you Alama.  Please inform my sister I shall travel to her immediately.”
The Alama  bowed and left the room rapidly.
Ranualt pulled the mourning robes over his tunic, absently acknowledging Anhall Cal’s condolences.
She barely glanced up from the damaged books.
“Theresa,” Ranualt drew his hand down her arm and caught her wrist as she tried to pull away.  “I must leave for a few days to attend to family business. My nephew Naoth Roe, who was here, I have just disinherited, and my other nephew, Teah Kree has just died.”
“Oh, I. . .”
“Before you sympathize, understand, I did not care for either of them.  One, a fool, the other, a drunk.  But I care for my sister, therefore I will go to her.”
Releasing Theresa  Ranualt accepted his travel gloves from a servant, watching Theresa’s face.  If she were Korum he would have thought her maintaining the indifference and calm necessary to conceal sorrow when a lover departed.  But, as it was Theresa of the flashing emotions and bright eyes, her calm weighed on his spirit.  It did not distress her at all he was leaving her side.  It should distress her that he left.  The brief glance she gave in the direction of Anhall Cal was worse.  Could it be that she favored him?  Their acquaintance was brief, but Ranualt had only known Theresa for a short time himself.  Anhall Cal was younger and handsome.   Ranualt, stronger and possessed of greater authority.
Ranualt brushed his hands over the back of hers. 
“While I am away, study hard.  I am certain Anhall Cal will be busy with school matters.  In fact, since I am certain his presence will be soon required at the school, I will take him home now and spare him the journey tomorrow in uncertain weather.”
Her expression of disappointment clawed at his gut.  She had given her heart to another.  Or, she might. 
“Collect your goods,” Ranualt noted the younger mans shocked expression, but declined, at this moment, to explain, “await me in the main hall, I shall transport you back to the school as I travel to my family.”
“Thank you for your consideration in your time of grief,” said Cal with a low bow, and he hurried from the room.
As soon as Anhall Cal and the servants cleared the room Ranualt wrapped Theresa in his arms, the generous folds of the cloak enveloping them both.  He drew her arms around his waist and gently brushed his fingertips under her jaw. 
“A kiss, before I leave, Theresa,” he said, his breath warm against her lips. “There has been too much loss today, I need a reminder of what remains.  I need your touch to soothe my soul.”  He tightened his grip, carefully avoiding the injuries he remembered.  Her eyes narrowed and he could see her planning some word . . .something to shatter him and drive him angry from her presence.  “Beautiful Theresa, before I take up my burdens again, let me have one moment of peace.”
Her eyes opened wide at his words, the clear crystal green that he saw in his dreams, lit with passion and desire, now staring at him with calm understanding. 
“You chose the wrong person if you are looking for a quiet life,” she said, but made no move to escape him.
“Poor Theresa, you do not know,” he flashed a smile at her,   “Compared to the noise and conflict of my life, of my family, and the burdens of my responsibilities. . . my time with you is a time to rest.”
The previous kisses had been driven by frustration and passion.  This time he drew his mouth across hers lightly, tongue tip tasting her lips, teasing them open until he could explore her mouth.   Hers was heated sweetness he would willingly drown in.  Her arms, resting lightly around his waist could so easily become his home.  The fires flooding his veins demanded that he ravage her soft lips.  Take, and offer, passion.  Drive her current acceptance of his touch on, and raise it to overwhelming need.  To hunger. . for him.  But he fought down his body, sampling her mouth with a gentle touch he could barely recognize as his own.  He broke the kiss and rubbed the side of his face lightly against her cheek, delighting in the warm flush of her skin,  parted lips, and the tug of her hands tangled in the folds of his robes,.
“Thank you, Beautiful Theresa.”  Her eyes fluttered and for a moment he feared her words.  But she reconsidered and remained silent. He released her from his embrace reluctantly, one finger at a time, drawing the cloak from around her.  Theresa shivered and suddenly released her grip on his clothes.  He cupped her jaw in the palm of one hand, stroking the corner of her mouth with his gloved thumb.  “I shall think of you, every moment we are apart.”
Theresa paled and broke eye contact, staring at the floor.  Ranualt drew his hand from under her chin, burying his fears under layers of practice.  If she gave her heart to another, his still was the advantage.  He was the rescuer, strong, wealthy and provider of ongoing protection. Now, if he could only prevail upon the obstinate woman to love him.
Love him?  
He had sought companionship.  To spend his life with someone he could respect. 
Love was not required for a safe comfortable existence.  Two people occupying the same life did not need love, he knew that from his parents life, from his sisters, from his own experience.  Yet, his experience was derived from time spent with paid companions.  Courtesans carefully chosen and trained to feel nothing beyond loyalty of the moment.  He had never considered that more would be necessary. . .be desired.
He watched Theresa’s pale uncommunicative face.  Suddenly mere companionship was not enough.  If love were possible, then he would accept nothing else.  Theresa would love him.
And he would. . . possibly. . .take the risk of returning that love..
Could he admit such a vulnerability into his life? 
Maybe, if no one ever learned he'd taken the risk there would be no consequences.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

To save my enemy 46

A few days later Cal was invited by the Commander to demonstrate Theresa's improved skills. It would have helped the sucess of the evening if there had been improvements to demonstrate.
Cal winced and glanced across at Commander Ranualt, who shook his head and covered his ears briefly.  Theresa turned her head to scowl at both of them before continuing to read, slowly and laboriously.  From their reactions, her reading style and pronunciation were abysmal.  No surprise there.  The main reason she had been motivated years ago to create a translation program was that she was so bad at speaking other languages.  Learning them was not that hard, she found she could understand people  with just a little exposure and practice. But Theresa was capable of self truth - she had a bumble tongue when it came to making some sounds.
“One could say there has been improvement,”  Cal called across the library to Commander Ranualt, after correcting her for the third time.  “Her mispronunciations are at least consistent.”
Commander Ranualt twisted closed the scroll on his table and reached for another computer flimsy.  “I do not like to hear her murdering the language, Anhall Cal,  but I will make allowances for her inexperience.  Please do me the service of keeping her away from decent poetry until there is significant improvement.”
Theresa twisted the children’s scroll she had been given to the next page of text and wished it was one or the other of their necks.   She suspected it would help Cal’s mission if he could become friends with Ranualt. When she had signed the question to Cal earlier, he had said he wasn’t sure if it were allowed.  But if they did become friends, it would give him access to Ranualt’s company, and his library.  Cal would have opportunities to study the manners and customs of the High Clans at his leisure and Theresa would have someone to talk to.  The disadvantage of the current tentative friendship was that the two men ganged up on Theresa, insisting that her meals and requests to the Clan staff be spoken in Korum.   Spoken comprehensibly in Korum! The staff had been instructed not to guess what she wanted.   And now, while the rain still came down in sheets, she was trapped in the library listening to the two of them mock her accent.
“I do not understand why you are not better at this, Theresa,” said Ranualt.  “You were the head of the translation department.”
“I was creating a computer program to translate, that’s an entirely different situation.  All the spoken data was put into the computer and it did mathematical runs on recurrence and probability and I did statistical analysis on whether or not the computer got it right.”
Ranualt sighed.  “Lazy.”
“Science. And it worked.”
A distant chime drifted through the room and Theresa, raised an eyebrow at Cal.
‘Visitor coming in by air,’ he signed. ‘That could  be trouble.  Have to have a good reason to  be traveling in this weather.’
Theresa nodded. ‘But this would be a good excuse to bail out of the library.  Suggest it to the Commander.’
Cal shook his head and Theresa wrinkled her nose and chewed on her lip.  She and Cal had different agendas.  It would be useful to Cal to see an interaction between the Commander and his visitor, and Theresa wanted to talk freely with Cal. 
The far door opened and one of the servants drifted in to speak with Ranualt.  The Commander acknowledged the message and continued working.  Theresa and Cal exchanged a glance.  Whoever was visiting they would find out in due time.  Or the visitor might be for someone else on the estate.
    Several minutes later a brightly dressed young man was led into the library and gave Commander Ranualt an insultingly shallow bow. 
    ‘Translate for me.’ Theresa signed as she and Cal shifted to stand behind a bookshelf.

Ranualt watched Theresa creep behind one bookshelf and Anhall Cal take sanctuary near another and picked up another computer flimsy.  He would speak to both of them later.  It was time Theresa stopped acting as if he were ashamed of her.  He was proud to have her in his Clanhold.  Did she not understand?  He could have chosen any number of ways to satisfy his obligation to her. He could have sent her to the deepest corner of his estate, as the Alama had suggested, but he chose to keep her by him.  To enjoy her company.
But at this moment he could not reprimand her, he had the not unexpected interview with his nephew to endure.
 “Naoth Roe.  The weather is bad for travel. To what do we owe the honor of your visit?”
“Have you any comprehension of what your statement did to my standing in the Capital,” Naoth Roe cried, his multicolored sleeves fluttering. “I cannot make a purchase of bread or wine from the commonest of tradesmen.  I cannot gain admittance to presences where I have been a welcome guest for years.  All this, because you cannot understand my labors on behalf of the family.  Uncle, are you trying to undo all I have accomplished?”
“If you are experiencing problems with making purchases, Roe, you have only yourself to blame,” Ranualt glanced up from his papers and regarded his nephew with sincere distaste.  “When your mother married into the family Naoth, we examined their financial status carefully.  Their income is sufficient for a person who conducts their life sensibly. If you overspend then the difficulties you bear are of your own making.”
“I have been making investments in the future, trying to correct the mistakes of generations past.  Do you have any comprehension of the reputation our Clan has with people of significance?  All because they did not make the appropriate offerings.” Naoth Roe’s voice rose to a shriek, his face flushed and glared at his unconcerned uncle.  “Despite my efforts we were unable to gain you the accession to the Military Council that would have been yours, if the Clan Ranualt had the sense to cultivate the proper people over the years.  Our ancestors may have been ignorant, but with sincere effort, we may yet raise our family to a place of honor.  We might even achieve the level of Senate . . .” His voice hushed.  “One day, maybe even a Praetor.”
“Why?” asked Ranualt, neatly signing a flimsy and adding it to a growing pile.
Naoth Roe gaped at him.  “Why?  Why?”
Ranualt glanced up and smiled, “Well Roe, if you do not know, I do not understand why you work so hard.  Perhaps you need some other occupation.  May I recommend you go to your mother's Clan and begin rebuilding the finances you have so energetically destroyed.”
Naoth Roe shivered, his mouth working soundlessly.
“Roe, I have noticed since my return that you are subject to excesses in emotions. I do fear for your health. The stale and poisonous air of the Capital may be detrimental to you.  A prolonged rest under the loving care of your mother would assist you.”
“I cannot afford to be absent from the Capital. All that I have built will fall if I am absent for more than a moment from the presence of those in power.” Naoth Roe’s eyes bulged and he rested his hands on his uncle’s table. “They cannot be permitted to forget all I have provided them.  Continuous service is required to gain the greatest benefit.  Now would be the worst time to stop . . Now when I am so close!”
“Close to what?”  Ranualt raised his eyes from the papers before him, his pen stilled.
Naoth Roe hesitated, color draining rapidly from his dark face.  Then he gathered himself into formal posture and stared down at Ranualt.
“What, Uncle?  When I assume the role of Patriarch of Clan Ranualt, I will not squander that power, as has all who have previously held that position.  My foolish ancestors may have been content to waste away in the backcountry of Korum Dan, instead of seeking advancement, but I will not make that mistake.  I will not finish my life as an inconsequential landowner.” He raised his head and stared down his nose at Ranualt.  “I shall be a Senator, at least.”
Ranualt chose another flimsy and began reading. “There are a number of problems with your ambition, nephew,” he said with feigned disinterest. “Two immediately spring to mind.  One is that the promises of the Praetors are worthless, and you may give them all the money you possess, and still they will never give you anything in return.  The other is, you will never inherit this estate and rank.”
“You think that, Uncle?” Naoth Roe laughed.
“I know it.  I have other relatives with equal claim to yours.” Ranualt maintained his demeanor of icy calm but the pen he clutched creaked.
“Die without naming an heir and I inherit, revered Uncle.  My friendship with the First Praetor’s son will guarantee that.  Name someone else and I will still inherit for the same reason.  I am certain that any other claimant will be quickly set aside in my favor.” 
“Do not count on the friendship of Senators and Praetors,” Ranualt quoted, knowing from his own deep experience of Korum society, those friendships were expensive and brief.
“There is no one, but me, to inherit,” Naoth Roe brushed down his disordered clothes.  “I could have saved myself the trip in this abysmal weather.” He moved closer to the heavy table. “My cousin Kree is almost dead.  He passed into a coma only hours ago,  I grieve to inform you.  My sisters and his have been married off to families that your Clan has despised for generations.  I do not think you will want the Ranualt estates and the families obligations to fall into the hands of the Kemp or the Baston.  My place as your heir is assured.”

Monday, November 14, 2016

To Save My Enemy 45

Cal gripped Theresa’s arm. 
“You don’t realize how lucky you are that Commander Ranualt has you.  I heard rumors about captives being kept by other Clans. It... it is as bad as you can imagine."
He hesitated and Theresa patted his cold hand.  “Believe me, Cal,  we all heard the rumors before the peace conference.  I know I could be a lot worse off.”
Cal nodded. “I got you a couple of demijohns, empty and full. . .they are outside, and some local yeast and some half brewed stuff so you can test.” He started to open the veranda door.  “You don’t think I would go through all this effort just to keep you entertained, do you.”
Theresa shook her head. “No.  Come on.  I’ll help you carry it in.” she glanced about the room. “But where am I going to hide it all?”
Cal grunted as he lifted a heavy glass bottle into the room.  “I went through the house. I’ve picked out a room on the third floor, not far from yours.  The mini lab is already there, I moved it up earlier.  It has lots of closets.  I think it was the old Matriarch’s spare clothing store.  No one goes in there because you don’t have many clothes yet.”
“I cannot believe how much you know about this Clan.”
“Hey, I haven’t been sitting around on my butt sulking for weeks.  I work for a living.” Cal dried one of the bottles and held it out to Theresa. “Here, you take this one.”
Theresa mentally weighed the demijohn and remembered the steep stairs.  “I’ll give it a try, but don’t let go. If I drop it, I don’t want to have to explain the mess.”
Cal froze and stared at her.
Theresa flashed a look over her shoulder, heart pounding, but there was no one at the door.  “Wassup?”
Cal lowered the heavy jar. “What’s wrong with you?  You may be tiny, but you are one of the strongest people I know.”
Theresa glanced at the still closed door again before lifting the back of her shirt.  Being caught in this room after midnight with half cooked wine and Cal would be difficult to explain. It would be impossible if someone came in and she was half dressed.
“Holy Mother of God!”
Theresa dropped the loose tunic back into place, her smile shaky. His reaction was almost flattering . “Korum Gods don't have a mother, Cal, or have you forgotten?”
“Jesus, Mar. . . .” Cal stuttered to a stop and drew a deep breath. “By all the Gods above and below. . .nope, that doesn’t relieve my feelings at all.  Holy Hell!  Yep, that does.  Theresa, who did that to you?”
Theresa grinned despite the pain. “A few species that I had never seen before, at least one sentient.  They put me in a pit fight on a planet called Tallis.”
“Pit fight? Pit fights? Jesus, and I was worried about... oh, Theresa. He said you've been sick.  God above, I never dreamed it was anything like this.  No wonder you’ve been having trouble concentrating. . .Theresa.”
The awe in his voice told Theresa more than she wanted to know about the current appearance of her wounds.  She had not been able to communicated the concept of mirrors to her attendants and, frankly, now didn’t really want to know what her back looked like.
“You should try it from the inside,” she joked.  “Now we still have to get this stuff upstairs before everyone in the Clan wakes up.  Is there any light stuff?”
They moved the equipment to the door and Cal waited while Theresa boldly opened the door and stepped into the corridor. 
“It’s clear,” she whispered, although the storms noise still echoed through the Clan.
Cal gave the room a quick once over and pointed to the battered curtain.
“What are we going to do about that?  Should we hide it or. . .”
“Nah,” said Theresa picking it up, opened the door and stuffed half of the curtain out into the rain.  “This way it looks as if the door opened of its own accord, the curtain blew out, and when the door shut, it got caught.”  She ran the story through again and considered possible problems. In her eventful childhood she had concealed more than one midnight excursion.  “Was the door supposed to be locked?”
“No,” said Cal, adjusting his grip on two heavy demijohns. “The Korum go for heavy sophisticated security systems, but consider mechanical door locks to be bad mannered.”
“Well, let’s be even more bad mannered and get this stuff upstairs before we get caught.”
With Theresa standing guard and Cal making two trips they managed to get everything stowed away before the storm started to ease.
“Stay out of trouble,” Theresa whispered as Cal disappeared down the stairs.
“I’ll leave that to you,” answered Cal and blew her a kiss. “Good luck, girl.”
Theresa ducked back into the store room and examined her new toys.  She played with her mini-lab and examined the stolen winemaking supplies until she was certain of their function.  She arranged empty and full bottles on shelves, then carefully closed the closet doors and erased all signs of her presence in the storeroom.  If Cal was right, the only time people came into this room was to dust.  From the look of things the room hadn’t been dusted recently, but if Theresa could keep things looking fresh then maybe the cleaners would just walk on by and not go into every single little cabinet. The damning mini-lab instructions she took with her and shuffled into her growing language file.  At her earliest opportunity she would have memorize the whole thing, then destroy it. 
After a few moments in bed, Theresa sighed and climbed back out.  Exhausted, she might be, in pain, she definitely was, but the risk of having those instructions around were just too great.  She spent the next few hours in second level trance.  Before dawn Theresa tore the pages carefully into very, very small pieces and flushed them away.

Friday, November 11, 2016

to save my enemy 44

Theresa prowled her quarters, the wind and lightning storm making a perfect backdrop to her mood.  Ni had given up trying to undress her for bed and barely managed to get Theresa to hold still for wound care before retreating from the suite.
 Theresa wished her well. Ni had her husband, her duties and probably enough ambitions to keep her happy. It wasn’t as if she was far from home without hope, without a reason for living.  Theresa rested her head against the clear-steel.  The pounding of the rain and vibrating echoes of the thunder matched the thrumming energy in her own body. Ranualt’s expectations were growing more horrific, as they became more likely to come true.  If she gave in . . .but there was no way to give in while retaining her self respect.  After everything that had happened since the war restarted, her self respect was all she had left.  Tears leaked down her face unnoticed.  She hungered for peace, for rest.  She need time without pain and without anyone's expectations.  
Theresa blinked and stared out over the garden. 
She needed to know who was running across the garden in this hellish storm.
Pausing briefly at the door to check for her guards – gone, her babysitters - also gone, Theresa headed for the worker's staircase.  She had found days ago that although they were steeper, it was more convenient .  Moments later she was in the ground floor solar staring at a soaking wet Cal.
“Are you completely out of your mind?” she hissed.  “The weather is filthy out there.  You could have been killed!”
Cal stood just inside the veranda door, water pooling at his feet.
“Shit and damn, how am I going to get in without leaving water all over the floor?  The Clan keepers are bound to report it.”
Theresa walked briskly across to him and brushed the soaked hair off his face. “Dimwit,” she said, struggling to restrain a smile.  “Haven’t even got the sense to come out of the rain.” 
She tugged one of the heavy curtains off its railing and wrapped it around his shoulders.
“I am out,” said Cal, crossly, rubbing his face and using the spare fabric to mop up the puddle on the floor.  “And for your information, I was out in the storm getting stuff for you. The security programs around here get iffy when the lightning starts and there are a lot of false alarms.  That's why I came by today. I heard about the storm and figured if I was in the Clan overnight I could get across to the winery and steal you some supplies.”
Theresa stared at him openmouthed. “Why the hell did you risk your cover for something that stupid?”
 “For the Honor of the Cadet.” Cal started rubbing his hair dry and grinned at her.  “I wanted you to fix the wine.  When you said you were bored and wanted to fiddle with it I remembered how much money that colony made with your beer recipe.  I have to say Theresa, you have a reputation at the Academy.  We all heard about you when we were coming up.  No one is ever going to have a more controversial senior project than yours.  Cadet brand beer, what an achievement.”
Theresa straightened and sniffed.  “It was a perfectly valid project and within the guidelines given.”
Cal laughed and glanced out into the storm. “Sure, it was.”
“Hey, brain dead. The guidelines stated that we had to completely research and comprehensively understand something we hated.  Can I help it if I hate Alcohol?   If you guys want to study the Korum, or black holes, or navigational mathematics and hazards, that’s your problem.  I studied beer and wine.”
“You got an commendation for original thinking,” observed Cal, drying his clothing with the curtain.
“I got my ass fried in a private meeting with the Commodore when I wouldn’t tell him where I got the supplies and who helped me.  Not that there were many cadets from Ricker’s Colony for him to accuse, he just wanted confirmation.  Speaking of which, why are you helping me?”
Cal bent sideways and started tapping on the side of his skull.
“My ears are full of water,” he complained. “The rain is practically horizontal out there.” He saw Theresa’s impatient scowl and straightened. “I was thinking if you sorted out this wine problem, the same way you sorted out that beer problem for Ricker’s Colony, then the estate would have some money for the school.”
“What makes you think Commander Ranualt would give the money to the school if he had it?”
“Because that’s how the school got financed in the first place.  The Commanders great, great, great to the eighth power grandfather created a new variety of wine, then he had all this spare cash.  The Clan Ranualt have always hated aposa, so when his ancestor saw his chance to make a school that was free of the system, he arranged to have it built.  Thing is, the money got used up and they couldn’t charge high enough fees to arrange for building upkeep and everything. So the school is in really bad shape.”
Theresa rubbed her face idly, staring into the distance.
“Why do you care?”
“Because the kids are suffering.  Because a lot of hard working people are trying to teach in really pathetic conditions,” Cal turned to face the stormy windows, his back stiff and hands clenched on the thick curtain. “Because . . because I don’t think we are ever going to have peace with the Korum unless something fundamentally changes in their system.  Something to make people realize they don’t have keep giving all their money to the High Clans as bribes, in order to have a decent life.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

to save my enemy 43

“Enough!” Ranualt resumed pacing. “Bring me clear information, not supposition. I will act upon it.”
Ranualt followed the Alama to the door and closed it quietly after her.
“You will forgive me, I hope, honored guest,” Ranualt paused beside Cal’s chair. “But I find I am not inclined toward conversation or games tonight.”
“I hold myself available to you whenever you require, Patriarch,” said Cal, half bowing to Ranualt, and to Theresa, before retreating from the room.
Ranualt gestured to the servants, who fled the room in unseemly haste, then he turned to Theresa, lifting her out of her chair.  He held her firmly by the shoulders, staring down into her crystal green eyes.
“Theresa, you have offended me.  You know the forfeit you must pay”  He pulled her close to his chest, fisting his hands into her hair.
“Which. . what?” gasped Theresa dodging his descending mouth. “I want to know, so I don’t do it again.”
Ranualt smiled as he ran his lips along the curve of her neck, touching his tongue to her pulse.  “You have used a phrase, more than once that I consider inappropriate language, unbecoming a civilized lady.” He said, his voice a soft growl.  “The other is because you made me angry.  Two forfeits, Theresa.  And there would have been only one if you had not questioned.  Would you care to try for three?”
“I didn’t even want one,” protested Theresa pushing hard against his chest, and leveraging a forearm between them enough to pull her neck out of his reach.
“And that is three,” said Ranualt as he tightened his grip in her hair, and when Theresa yelped, continued. “I could put my arms around you but you would protest that hurt as well.  Come close to me, Theresa, as I will not let go until you have paid your forfeits.”
“I’d rather have my hair pulled out by the roots,” said Theresa through clenched teeth, “than let you think I’d do this willingly.”
  Ranualt released her hair and stretched his fingers to cup her head.  He lowered his head slowly, placing light teasing kisses gently across her forehead, shifting to suck lightly on her lower lip.  Her body shivered as he ran his tongue lightly under her jaw, breasts tightening as the light touch sent warmth sinking through to her bones.
“That’s enough,” she gasped, seizing his wrists.  “that’s more than three.”
His light chuckle lit fires deep in her belly.  “Oh, Theresa, I have barely begun the first.”
“No more,” Theresa struggled against his grip on her head.
He moved his right hand from her face and slid his arm around her shoulders, holding her tight against his chest as he buried a kiss under her hair.  His fingers stroked the smooth skin of her neck and his tongue traced the rim of her ear, sending lightning down her spine.  The sharp line of his teeth on the sensitized skin of her neck weakened her knees and she leaned against his chest, spreading her hands flat against the ridges of his stomach.  As he stepped toward her, taking her body further into his embrace, her hands drifted back over his hips and around to the broad expanse of his back.  She dug her fingers into his loose tunic as he abandoned her shoulder to lay claim to her mouth.  Her lips parted without protest to his invasion and she gasped with shock as her tongue brushed against his. She drew him further into her mouth, tangling tongues and sucking him with a hunger she could barely recognize as her own.  As his arm drifted down over the uneven surfaces of her back he caught fabric on a loose scab, Theresa cried out and twisted free of his arms.
Ranualt burst into a flurry of words Theresa could not recognize although the intonations was familiar.  Giddy from his kisses and shaken to find herself suddenly without his support and warmth, she sank into her chair.
Ranualt exhaled hard and placed a hand on each of her shoulders, his face barely skin thickness from hers.
“It is beyond frustration that I may not touch you freely.” The words barely made it through his tightly clenched teeth. “Go to your room and heal. I shall claim my forfeits another day, when you are better able to enjoy them.”
 “I didn’t enjo. . . .” and she glanced up at his heavy lidded eyes and caught her breath. The silver stars swam in the darkness there and his expression was both threatening and promising. Theresa pressed her hands to her burning face.  She had just stood there and let him kiss her. . .worse she had kissed him back.  What had happened to her pride, her self respect, that she would forget so quickly that she needed to keep him at a distance.  It was not as if she wanted to end her life as someone’s mattress.
Ranualt smiled, a bare movement of his wide mouth. The mouth she had been licking and chewing, only seconds before.
“It is as well you incur no further penalties, Lt. Williams Theresa,for I shall collect everything that is owed to me.”
His predatory look chilled Theresa and she pushed his hands roughly away.  He staggered back, almost surprised by her rapid movement.
“As far as I am concerned  I do not owe you anything.  I have already paid.” 

Monday, November 7, 2016

to save my enemy 42

Theresa found her mood had not improved by the time they were called to dinner.  The huge dinning hall with it’s heavy furniture and heraldic wall hangings reminded her of the one time she had been invited, as a cadet, to dine with the Commodore of the Star Command Academy and his guests, three Admirals and a Captain.  It had been the first time she had met the ‘Wizard’.  As the only, lowly cadet at the table she was expected to be impressed and enthusiastically attempt to dazzle the senior staff with her youthful energy and dedication. That dinner was an ordeal all the students were expected to endure but, ever contrary, and burning from a recent letter from her mother, Theresa had rebelled.  She passed the meal in complete silence, responding to direct questions with the briefest of head nods and shakes.
No one had enjoyed that meal and, to her parents dismay, Theresa did not receive another invitation. Even then Theresa’s major ambition had been sabotaging her own career, and she had become very skilled at it.
She threw a disgusted look at Commander Ranualt, quietly talking to Cal seated at his right hand. Oh yes. She had succeeded in destroying the career she had never wanted, and at the same time, destroyed any chance of having the life she desired.  This, instead, was the life she received.
Theresa played with the fruit in the dish.  She should be listening to Ranualt and Cal.  They were speaking slowly for her benefit.  But she ignored them.
The wait staff tonight were unfamiliar to Theresa and she found herself missing Ni and Ton.  One of the waiters had not understood the instruction regarding wine for Theresa and kept trying to fill her glass. Eventually she turned her glass upside down and glared at the poor man until he retreated.
“There is no need to torment the staff, Theresa. He does not understand your refusal. He thinks that he has not brought a wine to please you.” Ranualt observed with a familiar twisted smile.
“So tell him I don’t drink wine.”
“Tell him yourself.  You do know the words.”
“I said no.  He’s not the only person who doesn’t understand that word here.” Theresa pushed her plate away and pretended to study the wall hangings.
“You will learn.  Tell me, what have you learned today?”
Theresa muttered a curse, in a language she hoped Commander Ranualt did not know then added,  “What does ‘apaso’ mean?”
She was not prepared for the Commander's reaction. First he paled, then his face darkened until almost black. He pushed back from the heavy table with such force that it shifted across the floor and his chair flew back against the wall as he came to his feet shouting.
The only word Theresa understood was ‘Alama’.  Glancing across at Cal, she shrank back.  Cal was shaping 'bad move, girl’ with his fingers and shaking his head. 
Okay, if she had just fouled up again, she should do something either with it or to it.
“What is biting your ass now?” she demanded.
Ranualt spun on her. “I find your use of gross language offensive, Lieutenant.  Kindly remember the forfeits I demand and remain silent.”
Theresa leaned back in her chair, ignoring the complaints from her muscles.  Sector Commander Ranualt had a reputation for control on both sides of the border. If he was biting mad now, she hoped she was not going to be on the receiving end of his temper.
Except for the one who had been sent for the Alama all of the servants now waited, backs against the wall, staring at the floor, while the Commander paced the length of the room.  Theresa risked a question symbol to Cal and he shook his head. 
‘Long story’, He flashed.
Theresa fiddled with the tea cup for a few moments.  “Commander Ranualt, if I have said something wrong, then I would appreciate knowing how I have given offense so that I can avoid it in future.”
Ranualt stopped behind her chair and rested one hand on the smooth wood, his fingertips brushing the side of her neck.
“I must admire your courage, lieutenant. There are not many who would speak to me before I am calm.”
Theresa shrugged. “It’s not as if I have anything to lose.”
 Ranualt sank into the chair beside her.  “Apaso,” he said, biting the word off sharply as if the word itself offended him, “is a form of bribe that my family has forbidden on the estate for generations.  It is practiced widely elsewhere throughout the Korum.  When a child is born the parents go to a High Clan representative and negotiate the fee for a future for their child.  The right to attend certain schools, to obtain certain privileges and, eventually, elevated employment, all are available for a price. The system is risky and does not serve anyone well.  How do you know a child’s talents and interests, or his abilities?  What good is it to buy a career in Fleet, then discover the child has no interest or no understanding of engineering?  Then there is the problem of the rising costs.  Whenever the High families need extra money they contact the families who have contracted apaso with them and tell them the price has gone up.  It is not unusual for a family to contract for all their children and then find when the first child is old enough the money paid is judged insufficient, so the obligation descends to the next child and then the next.” Ranualt rose and started pacing the floor. The room could have been empty for all the attention he paid to Cal, the servants and furniture.  “In the worst cases a family may pay a lifetime and find all their children grown without giving enough to the High Clan for any child to benefit.  Then they must decide whether to gift it to another family member or accept that the money is lost forever. Or continuing paying on behalf of a grandchild.  Some families find they cannot pay for some reason,  but. . .” he stood staring down at Theresa, his eyes dark, the silver sparks swirling, “if they experience any interruption in the payments, everything is lost.  And if the High family does not have need for a clerk when one is applying for that apaso, then the child must accept whatever duty is given to them.”
Theresa paled. “I think I understand why you hate the system.  But why are you angry now?”
Ranualt placed his hand on her wrist and stroked back of her hand idly.  “Because the only way you could have heard that word is that someone was complaining about apaso, which means the practice has revived on my estate. And I will not tolerate that.”
Theresa stared at the table.  Ranualt  knew  the names of the children she had contact with. It would take him seconds to work out who was involved. Theresa cursed under her breath. She liked the kids and now someone was going to be in trouble because of a question  she  had asked. 
The Alama entered, looking for the first time in Theresa’s experience, flustered and nervous.  Theresa touched Ranualt’s hand lightly, calling his attention back to her.    
“If the families on the estate have done this, it was their choice in the hope of helping their children. Parents do the stupidest things on behalf of their kids,”  Theresa shuddered, remembering her own arguments with her parents, . . and its outcome. . . “and sometimes, there is nothing that can be done to stop them. You could build a wall out of warning signs, put broken glass on the top and people would still climb over it to save their children.”
Ranualt stroked her fingers lightly. 
“I know. But these are my people and I will be continue to try to protect them from thieves, lies and. . .”  He looked up at the Alama and said, in Korum. “Apaso, Alama. In the morning, try to find out how far it has spread.”
Apaso! My Patriarch, I did not know. I would have prevented. . .” she stopped and ran her hand over her workbook. “My Patriarch, I have failed you.”
“No, Alama.  We cannot change what others do to themselves.  Simply find out who and where.  There is nothing to be done expect to prevent its spread.” He sighed. “It is not as if we can repay the money, or compel the completion of the contracts.”
“No, Patriarch.”
“Bring me the information when you find it..  Begin in the morning.”
The Alama hesitated, turning her book over and over in her hands, she refused to raise her eyes. 
“Tell me,” commanded Ranualt.
“I did not know that the practice had resumed, Patriarch, but must report. . . that whenever he visited your nephew spent some time speaking to the estate workers. . .”

Friday, November 4, 2016

to save my enemy 41

Theresa nodded and sat, sideways in the soft chair.  A couple of her scratches complained.
‘Where were you this morning?’ She signed after checking that Cal’s chair blocked Ton’s view of the finger conversation.
‘Helping get the school safe for the storm.  The buildings are in bad shape already.  The kids were kept home to help get the protections out over the vines.  Now pay attention. We'va a lot to get through.’
When the thunder storm hit a few hours later Theresa jerked out of her trance, almost falling off the chair.  Her arms and legs were cramped and stiff from sitting immobile for so long.  Cal took a sip from his cooled tea and grimaced.   Elsia Ton had also been awaken by the thunder and was re-rolling the scroll that had fallen from her hands.  Heavy rain was beating against the tall windows and the room lights had self ignited.
‘Ton went to sleep,’ flashed Cal,  ‘So I took a chance and did a few pages of translations.  Hopefully it will help you to understand a little, even if you can’t speak yet.'
‘Thanks,’ signed Theresa as a flash of lightening illuminated the room. ‘This storm is fierce.  Are you going to be alright getting home?’
Carl shrugged.
Theresa crossed the room as Elsia Ton collected the tea service and opened the door for her.  To their surprise, Ranualt was standing in the corridor speaking softly to the Alama.  Theresa stepped back to allow Elsia to pass and walked back into the solar, her face stiff.  She tried to keep Ranualt out of her thoughts the last few days but the memory of that kiss and his calm assumption that she would consent to become his lover had disturbed her sleeping and waking hours.  So he was back again, so what!  She would make it very clear she would resist him. She had no interest in kisses or any other activity. 
Ranualt followed her into the room and exchanged bows with Cal.
“I thank you for your service, Anhall Cal. How does your student progress?”
“Well enough, Patriarch Ranualt.  She spends much time in study.”
Theresa kept her back toward Ranualt and concentrated on gathering her papers together. 
“And you Theresa, does the day find you well?”
Theresa kept her eyes on the table.  “Well enough,” she said slowly in Korum.  “Want word work.  To hear words.”
“I agree,” Ranualt came to stand beside her. “Perhaps after dinner I will read to you.  There are many books in the library I think will improve your understanding of the Korum.”
Theresa hesitated. She didn’t want to thank him for anything now.  She didn’t want him to do anything for her that he might misconstrue as interest or co-operation with his plans. 
“Thank you,” she said finally. “A history book, perhaps.”
“As you wish..”
Lightning cracked across the window and Theresa suppressed a jump.  She glanced at the Cal and then back at window.
“How is C. .Anhall Cal to get home in this weather?  It is dangerous out there.”
Ranualt followed her gaze, watching three lightning strikes in quick succession.     
“I agree.  It would be better if Anhall Cal remained as a guest tonight.  The storm is unlikely to burn itself out before tomorrow evening, and he can be on hand to work with you in the morning.”
He made the invitation to Anhall Cal and Theresa was delighted to discover how easily she understood Cal’s reply.  If she could just get some time alone with him tomorrow they could start working on more complicated phrases.
“If you will both join me in the library we may spend time in conversation until dinner.  I believe you are well enough to stay downstairs for a few more hours tonight, Theresa.”
Theresa glared at him. “I wish you would stop saying my name like that.”
“It is my right to do so,” said Ranualt and seizing her wrist lightly, settled her gloved hand on his sleeve.  “Walk with me.” 
Theresa tried to pull her hand free but Ranualt maintained his grip and drew her after him out of the room.  Cal quickly averted his eyes and set to work picking up Theresa’s piles of paper. 
By the time they reached the library Theresa was ready to bite iron and spit nails, an attitude that had communicated itself adequately to Ranualt, particularly when she stumbled on the stairs and stomped her foot on his twice, hard.  But his grip did not relaxed until he had her standing beside the chair he chose for her.  Theresa resisted  being pushed onto the chair and retreated to the back wall of the library as soon as Ranualt released her hand. She was not going to be mauled about in public for his entertainment.  She glared at Ranualt as she passed him, rubbing her hands as if washing them.
If anything prompted Cal to intervene it was probably his concern that if Theresa got her privileges revoked one of them would be his visits. 
“This library is impressive, Patriarch Ranualt,” said Cal.  “The children’s books that I brought for Lt. Williams use are unworthy of this noble company.”
Ranualt watched Theresa disappear behind a bookcase then picked up a scrolls and turned it gently in his hands.
“I remember these.  It is a good thought of yours, Anhall Cal, to begin with books for the very young.  I have some left in my son’s chambers for the slightly older child. Notify me when she has advanced past these and I shall fetch them for her and spare you the burden of bringing them.”
“I am honored to serve,” said Cal, his voice trembling slightly.
“Do not be concerned, Anhall Cal. Lt. Williams will require your teaching for some time yet.” Ranualt gathered a few scrolls.  “Bring the remainder, we will put these safely away and you may advise me. How shall we entertain Lt. Williams this evening.”
Cal filled his arms with scrolls and followed Ranualt thought the lines of bookcases.  “Perhaps, Patriarch, she might do well with the Battle Game. She is a warrior, after all.”
Ranualt inclined his head slowly, considering. “That is a good point, but the rules are complicated and difficult to explain. It is better to watch first.”  Ranualt raised an eyebrow at the teacher.  “Will you play?”
“To the limits of my ability, Patriarch.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

to save my enemy 40

Ranualt watched Naoth Roe remove another bottle from the cooler at his feet.  Ranualt’s sister and her husband had not replied to any of Ranualt’s questions about the boy’s activities, and the Alama’s reports on the Naoth family fortunes had indicated they were close to self destruction.  Roe’s behavior must, therefore, have their approval.   His sister had married into a lesser Clan under protest.  Perhaps now she lived in the expectation to rising to Matriarch of her ancestral home.  The Naoth family risked much.
 “Naoth Roe will not inherit the Clan Ranualt.  A consequence of having demonstrated that he will not hold true to the traditions of his greater Clan.”
 “Then I hope you will invite me to the wedding, Commander Ranualt.” Gree Don rubbed his hands together, and stood. 
No doubt, Ranualt assumed, eager to be off and spreading more gossip.
Gree Don bowed, for the first time treating Ranualt with the respect his Clan and Rank deserved.  “My family has unclaimed daughters, if you have not yet chosen,” Gree added, and hurried off, Pay Forn scurrying in his wake. 
As if I would bind my Clan to yours, thought Ranualt as he watched the debate for a few moments longer.  It was clear to him that no decision would be reached today.  The votes each of the companies had bought were insufficient to create a conclusive winner.  The matter would be shelved until the next session giving those with votes ample opportunity to demand further bribes.  Ranualt snorted and rose from his seat.  The ship would be built of intentions and dream fluff and no Captain of sense will ever put foot upon it for fear it will crumble to dust.
Still it was distracting.  Rumors, the first baying dog of war was free.  They would rouse the populous to concern for the lives of people of whom they had never heard.  People  they probably would not accept into their Clans as guests.  People that did not, in fact, exist.  Thereafter, the Fleet would fly across the border and rain destruction upon a not entirely unaware enemy.
Worse, an enemy capable of effective resistance.  Losing battles would only increase the Senates anger and the war would continue. This was the pattern of the last few decades and appeared that it would continue indefinitely.  Fortunately he could keep Theresa from knowing of this.  It would only distress her unnecessarily.  He wanted peace in his Clanhold, although the return of Theresa’s fiery temper did not promise long periods of peace.  So much the better, he thought,  a man could tire of a steady meal of sweetenings. 
Passing rapidly through the senate halls Ranualt emerged to find the sky’s reflecting his mood. Dark and heavy clouds were building in the east, threatening flashes of lightning flashed across the sky.  The air around the city was still, but that would not be in a few hours.  Ranualt stalked through the gardens ignoring the hurrying crowds.  This storm would reach his home before evening.  Heavy rains would bruise the fruit still on the trees and strip valuable berries from the vines.  Excuse enough to go home.  Instead of stripping off his cloak when he entered the Clan, he summoned his pilot and was gone from the Capital within minutes, racing the storm home.

Theresa dragged the door open and fell into the ground floor solar, her papers clutched close to her chest.  The rising wind had already claimed two of the sheets and tangled her hair into complicated knots.  She should have come in earlier but she had been waiting, in vain, for the children.  Every evening when the estate transport dropped them off from school, Mano Bes and Nea Cam would climb the stone steps and sit with her, for an hour, on the veranda.  The first evening after the confrontation in Commander Ranualt’s library the boy’s mothers had arrived almost on their heels.  The women had not spoken to Theresa beyond simple greetings, but instead lectured their sons, presumably, on proper behavior.  Theresa had found their presence inhibiting and was grateful that they did not return the next day.
The boys were wonderful teachers.  Impatient, contrary and laughing at her mistakes, she had enjoyed every moment of their company.  Theresa suspected they were setting her up with a few wrong words, but was prepared to deal with the consequences.  Yesterday the boys had been a little depressed, talking to each other intently on some subject that they could not discuss with Theresa.  She did not know the word: apaso, but had it on her list to ask Cal or Ranualt later.  However today the boys had not appeared.  Theresa dragged her fingers through her hair, pulling at the stubborn tangles.  It had reached an uncomfortable length.  Too long to be left loose,  too short to bind up.  Another word she needed to learn soon was ‘haircut’.  Theresa was about to go out in search of her lost sheets of words when Elsia Ton entered, accompanied by Cal. With a bow she immediately turned and left.
Cal shifted his bundle of papers and pulled a small box from under his coat.  “I reminded her on the way here that you always ask for tea.  Quick.  Find a place for this.  It’s your mini chem lab.”
Theresa grabbed the  box and glanced about the room.  There was a small table near the wall with a slightly curved back. Quickly Theresa pushed the box into the shallow space.  Cal swore under his breath from his place on watch at the door.
“There are the instructions in Common.  For Gods sake, don’t let this get found.  I can’t believe I actually took the risk to write this out.” Cal glared at her. "I've risked my mission for you. Don't fail me!" 
Cal shoved the thin scroll in with the box then hurried to the other side of the room just as they heard approaching footsteps.
“Do you understand the risk I took?” he whispered.  “What could happen if you’re found with this?”
“I’ll read it and burn it. . .if I can find some igniters,” Theresa promised.
Apparently satisfied with the propriety of finding them standing at opposite sides of the room Ton poured tea, settled on a couch and opened a scroll she carried with her.  Theresa grinned.  The girls had started to regard looking after Theresa as a coffee break, bringing little packets of embroidery and books to her classes with Cal. While it made it harder to hypnotize them, it did make the occasional passing of notes and exchange of sign words possible.
Cal piled his scrolls on a table, pointed to a chair and signed, ‘Take a seat, go into second level trance if you can. I am going to read words and phrases to you.  It will help you to memorize the sounds.  If we get some time alone I’ll go through again and read words and their meanings.'