A Most Unfortunate War
This part originally appeared in the November/December 2012 issue.
102nd of 2028 (293-96): Mikur
The old man waited politely outside. The young secretary looked up and again apologised. “I am very sorry, Your Grace; I’m sure he’ll be here shortly.” The old man smiled kindly; her solid build and bright clashing clothes marked her very clearly as Luriani31 “No, I am sorry; It’s quite alright, I do understand.” She returned his smile appreciatively. Duke Sirean entered, muttering “Idiots, fools, tirpel...” He saw the old man and froze to the spot. “Your...” The old man interjected “Grace.”
Duke Sirean nodded, “Of course, Your Grace. I am honored.”
“No, I am the one honored, Duke Sirean.”
“I believed you had retired.”
The old man mused for a moment, “In my line of work, one never retires. But I take it your latest efforts did not go well?”
Duke Sirean sighed, “No, but after three years I should not expect better. Would you care to join me in my office?”
“What a splendid idea. That is why I am here.” Sirean smiled to himself, the old man was always allowed a certain latitude. They entered the well appointed office and sat. They chatted politely while the young secretary prepared refreshments. The old man spoke first. “Have you seen the reports from Iguu32?”
“No, they keep me away from such things now, I believe I am not fully trusted, something to do with being Verasti Dtareen.” The old man handed him a file, Sirean studied it “It was worse than they let on.”
“Yes, but we broke through.”
“And they fell back to their next line, which is shorter and better prepared. We will have to do it again and again.”
“They must know they can’t win?”
“They do, they always have, it doesn’t matter to them.”
“We will be swimming in blood by the time this is over” The old man looked sad.
“We already are.”
“There is another matter.” The old man handed him another file, much thicker; it started with Agent Vu’s report. Duke Sirean read it at length, then looked grave. “This is bad, very bad. How could they allow this to happen? They will never give up if they learn of this.”
“I talked with one of the victims, a Komant, she must have been quite beautiful once. She said the way to end it was to ‘stop fighting.’ Is it that simple?”
“Yes, I’ve been telling them that for years, but Aamku is as big a fool as his father, can only think of vengeance and victory. The very idea of negotiations while they hold Imperial ground is heresy.”
“Yes, I do believe you are correct there. Fortunately I have a little influence.” He handed Sirean an embossed sheet of vellum. “Do you think you can end it, Archduke?”
Sirean was stunned “I will try. It will likely require some unpalatable concessions on our part.”
“And the other matter?”
“It will be very difficult, depends how we handle it, but it is possible. Oddly enough, for such a passionate people, they are naturally inclined to forgive. Perhaps because of their passion.”
“I noticed that when I talked with the Komant.”
“We will need an Imperial apology, of course.”
“That will be a formidable task, but he does owe me a few favours.”
“It will take decades.”
“If we get peace, we will have the time. And Vu’s report?”
“Burn it, twelve died, that they must never know.”
“And those that know?”
“Most of them will die, they will hunt them down and kill them when they find out The rest we must trust to keep silent.”
198th of 2028 (024-97): A Bar on Daramm
Siish was looking for someone. He found her in a bar, singing, a slow33 song, full of sadness. He waited politely for the song to finish and her to return to her seat. He approached and stood before her “Jane Elizabeth Charles Peterson Alexon Komanda, my deepest sorrow and sympathies on your loss.” She look up and sighed, she hated formalities. “I thank you Siishubuu Manish Khaadii Mmarislusant Vebmral for your kindness and concern.” She took a drink. “But it’s not Komanda any more, Engineer now, I was given a compassionate discharge with the armistice.”
Siish nodded “And I'm just Kaptan again; I resigned, I’ve had my fill of it.”
“So you have a ship, then?”
“Yes, Mother arranged a surplus courier, the Raledenet; I find I wish to wander.”
“And her price?”
“Several evenings in the company of Iniish Markiid”
“Ah, a respectable young woman from an impeccable family. She’s back on the bulis34 again; did she even wait for her to be cold in the water?” There was more than a hint of contempt in Jane’s voice.
“Mother is many things, but she is neither unfeeling nor cruel.” Jane could hear the hurt in his reply “She waited a most respectable time before resuming her offensive. And she’s years gone, Jane, longing won’t bring her back. Or any of them.”
“How many of us are left?”
“Ora and Oloku are still with us, expecting twins apparently, too.”
Jane chortled, “Ora always did want a large ami, trust her to make a good start.”
“Jane, you look like crap. You need to get on with your life.”
“Oh, don’t mince words, there, Siish.” She was amused. “And? There’s an ‘and’ there; I can hear it.”
“And I need an engineer.”
“No point in saying no, I suppose?”
“None whatsoever, Jane.”
317th of 2028 (143-97): Final discussions
In a room somewhere in on a neutral world a senior diplomat from the Third Imperium met with a senior diplomat from the Second Luriani Protectorate to finalize the last remaining matters to bring an end to hostilities. They exchanged pleasantries, then got down to business. It was mostly formalities, a few loose ends, the things that always wait to the last. Somewhere near the end, the Imperial diplomat finally raised what they thought might be a somewhat delicate subject. “There is also the matter of final prisoner repatriations.”
There was a raised eyebrow. “Final? I thought that was dealt with some time ago?
An awkward silence. “Yes, well, there were some unfortunate complications. But there are a small number of Protectorate personnel still awaiting repatriation.”
Their counterpart pondered “How many are we talking about?”
“Thirty seven; I have the list here.” A file containing thirty seven names was handed over.
“And the nature of the complications?”
“There was a most regrettable incident, an oversight of judgement by a field commander, resulting in an inappropriate interrogation technique being applied. I can assure you it was stopped as soon as we became aware and the officer concerned severely disciplined. And in the circumstances we thought it best to delay their repatriation.”
“‘Inappropriate interrogation technique’? Would you care to elaborate?”
“I believe it is known as sishgukhidtar.”
“My apologies, I must have misheard. I could have sworn you said sishgukhidtar.”
“No, I must apologise and regrettably inform you, I did.”
And that’s when hell broke loose.
347th of 2028 (173-97): Dirir
Archduke Sirean had been summoned to the Protectorate embassy. It was phrased as an extremely polite invitation for informal refreshments, but given the circumstances and the individual concerned, it was a summons. And even in the Imperium there were those who would rather face down a pack of rabid boarwulf35 than take light refreshments with Madam Manish. He was met by the Ambassador himself. They exchanged formal introductions and the ambassador escorted him to a waiting room. The ambassador knocked, waited for the door to open and announced “The Archduke is here, my lady.” He wished Sirean luck as he entered. She sat, regal and imperious, the grand dame of the Lord Protector’s Council “Archduke Sirean, so kind of you to come.” Anglic? And informal? It was going to be worse than he had anticipated; he’d spent hours practising the correct Old High Vilani declinations.
“It is a pleasure, Lady Councillor36.”
“I have taken the liberty of arranging traditional Verasti Dtareen refreshments.” A smartly dressed naval aide brought a silver tray and placed it very carefully on the table.
“Please sit, Your Grace; this is, after all, just a social call.” Sirean sat, slightly unnerved. “I believe the correct opening to the ritual is, ‘Shall I be mother?’.” She slowly swirled the pot and delicately poured two cups. “Your family, they are well, I hope?”
“Quite well, my lady, and yours?”
“Well, you know, children.” He nodded politely. They exchanged a few more pleasant observations on the weather and the trip. He made a note to ensure whoever had showed ‘such commendable efficiency implementing customs regulations’ at the starport was properly ‘commended’.
“The Lord Protector has asked me to, informally, raise a matter of concern. He believed it was best dealt with by a Mmarislusant.” Down to business. “I am of course referring to the unspeakable atrocity inflicted on our prisoners by your forces.” Clearly Madam Manish had no intention of being too diplomatic. “I assured Pookie and the entire Council that Artemsus and the Moot would have had no knowledge and been as horrified by these barbarities as we were.
“Indeed, my lady, the Emperor himself felt the need to apologise personally.”
“Mmmm, yes, written by machine, with his signature, once.”
“He is… Ageing, my lady, the strain of penning so many letters.”
She pondered a moment “Of course, age is such… an unfortunate burden to us all.”
“I, myself, however, my lady, felt the need to individually pen an apology to each victim of these… despicable persons.”
“‘Despicable persons’? Personally, I would call them jkomovaa.”
Sirean choked on his tea. One did not usually hear such language from such a lady.
“Too bitter, Your Grace? …Your tea.”
“No, my lady, just a little hot, perhaps.” He carefully replaced the cup on the table.
“And these… despicable persons. They have, naturally, all been punished?” She very deliberately stressed the ‘all’.
“Yes, my lady, as far as is possible.”
“‘As far as is possible.’” She rolled each word as if it were a worry ball in her hand. “Yes, ‘possible’ can be… troublesome, on occasion. I feel sure the Council will forgive and forget; as far as is possible.”
“That is most gratifying, my lady.” Sirean knew the matter was far from forgotten or forgiven, but there would be no renewal of hostilities.
“We will, of course, be repatriating the survivors individually,” she continued.
“Individually? Surely they all need to be brought home as soon as possible.”
“Individually, Your Grace.” There was a tone of absolute finality in her voice that lead Sirean to suspect there was more to this. But it seemed politic to agree, best to let anger run its course “Well, I am sure it can be arranged.”
She nodded her acknowledgement. “I have a personal request, Your Grace.”
Sirean saw an opening and seized it: “Anything within my power, my lady.”
“The survivors, one of them,” she pointed out a name, “served with my youngest son. He feels a… degree of warmth towards her.” Sirean detected the slightest indication she did not entire approve of her son’s warm feelings. “I would regard it as a great favour if she were to be treated with the utmost compassion and kindness.”
“I will see to it myself, my lady.”
“That is most kind, Your Grace. Now, they tell me your daughter is to be matched; you must tell me the details.”
“Karen and Tranian have been practicing for some time, but wish to start a family37.” The matter was most definitely now closed.
24th of 2029 (215-97): Lunch With Mother on Daramm
Siish paced anxiously. Mother had called him, immediately on her return from the Imperium. Luncheon with Mother was never to be taken lightly and rarely just lunch. He was ushered in by Blandii, his air as quietly superior as ever. “Ah, Siishubuu, you are looking well.” She paused, “You have no kiss for your mother?” Siish kissed her lightly on the cheek. “Now, Siishubuu, have you called on Gubashiidi Wa38 again, yet?”
“I have not been able to find the time, yet, Mother.” Sharik Gubashiidi was attractive and pleasant company, but somewhat pedestrian.
“Well, in that case, I am most grateful you found time to lunch with your mother. And you sister, she is… herself again?” Siish recalled his mother’s last disastrous attempt at matchmaking.
“She has recovered from her heartache, if that is what you mean, Mother. Though she shows no interest in obtaining a new suitor.” He thought it wise to nip any new plans in the bud.
“Most reassuring, hopefully given time.” Siish detected something perhaps a little more than his mother’s usual concern.
“So, Mother, what are you up to? I am sure you didn’t ask me here just to enquire as to your children’s love lives.”
“I am hurt, Siishubuu, can’t a mother simply wish the pleasure of her son’s company?”
“In your case, Mother, generally no. Besides, I still have a few friends in the Navy and you have just returned from the Imperium.”
“A brief holiday, Siishubuu.” his mother feigned a look of innocence.
“Yes, Mother, in a jump three naval courier.”
She sighed “Siishubuu, you grow more and more like your late father every day.” Siish’s father had been one of the few people who would regularly stand up to Madam Manish.
“I will take that as a compliment, Mother.”
“As you should, Siishubuu.” She picked up a pad. “But you are, sadly, correct.” She handed the pad to him. “It contains a list of our prisoners still awaiting repatriation; I believe you may find it of interest.”
Siish was confused. “…prisoners?”
“Yes, and you should read the list, Siishubuu.”
He read and a look joy spread across his face “Mother! This is wonderful; she’s alive!”
“Yes, but you need to read further, dear one.” Again he was confused; not only was her voice grave, she had not called him ‘dear one’ since he was a boy. As he read, the joyous look turned to anger and then rage. He sat stunned. “What kind of monsters would do such a thing?”
“Not monsters, dear one, just men.” Her voice was kind and soft, that of a mother comforting a hurt child.
“How can we make peace with these animals!?” His rage was boiling, blinding him to all reason.
“Siishubuu Manish Khaadii, you are a Mmarislusant of high birth, and you will please control yourself!” Siish drew breath, considering if to reply, but remained silent. “Yes, those that did this are barbarians and savages, but they are not the Imperium. And we will make peace with them because the alternative is annihilation.”
Siish’s voice was almost pleading in reply “But Mother, what they did…”
“…Was an unspeakable horror that I assure you will neither be forgotten nor forgiven. But we will not add to that horror or disgrace their suffering by sacrificing the entire Protectorate to it.” She took his hand, speaking once again as to a hurt child “More death will not change anything, dear one; we cannot undo what has been done.”
Siish had regained control, though Madam Manish could still see the anger within him.
“However, Siishubuu, I did not ask you here to discuss politics. It has been decided that each survivor will be repatriated individually…”
Siish, rather uncharacteristically, interrupted his mother. “Individually?” a note of both confusion and hope in his voice.
“Yes, Siishubuu, individually.” Her irritation was obvious. “They will need to be reunited with family and friends as soon as is possible. And since you are still, I believe, a suitable reserve naval officer,” Madam Manish's displeasure at Siish’s retirement was clear, “I had considered that you may wish to assist in their repatriation.”
Siish was suspicious. “And the price, Mother?”
“Price, Siishubuu?” She feigned hurt.
“No ‘price’ Siishubuu, but Gubashiidi Geenal-Lekhtenant has informed me his daughter has no prior engagements this evening. I have taken the liberty of making reservations for two at Gimkaesh’s.”
The notes numbered 1 to 20 appeared with Part 1, and those numbered 21 to 30 with Part 2.
31. The Luriani’s additional fat layers (both to store oxygen and provide insulation against the cold) give them a heavy set look and their fashions feature strong interlocking blocks of discordant colours.
32. The Battle of Iguu, the last major action of the Luriani War. It paradoxically convinced both sides their position was hopeless. The Imperium were successful in securing the world and breaking through the Protectorate’s defensive line. However the resulting casualties were immense, crippling the Fornast Fleet and requiring large scale reinforcements from surrounding sectors. The prospect of having to break through several more such lines resulted in changes to the Imperial political leadership and the abandonment of the previous policy of not entering negotiations while the Protectorate occupied Imperial territory. What was unknown to the Imperium at the time was that while the Protectorate had managed to withdraw their fleet in good order, the damage inflicted on the vital jump-capable covering forces had been huge, leaving the Protectorate convinced they would be unable to extract their fleet a second time.
33. Luriani music is noted for its fast tempo and ‘slow’ is a relative term. Virtually no Luriani music is paced slower than andante, with most being allegro or faster. Indeed, pieces at presto or more are common. This has lead to the slightly disparaging comment that Luriani music is best performed by demented chipmunks.
34. A beast of burden, analogous to a horse.
35. A large aggressive pack predator native to the Ley sector. Noted for its bad temper.
36. The government structure of the Protectorate evolved from the nobility of the Rule of Man and as such their terms of address were one of the few exceptions to Luriani norms. They were always referred to using Anglic forms and the title prefixed the name. The Protector would be referred to as Lord or Lady Protector, a Council member as Lord or Lady Councillor and an Assembly member as Lord Assemblyman or Lady Assemblywoman. Imperial protocol accorded the Protector the courtesies of an Archduke, a Councillor those of either a Duke (if from one of the seven great houses) or Count, while an assembly member is treated on par with a Marquis or Baron depending on seniority.
37. This refers to a committed romantic relationship short of a full match. It comes from the Luriani phrase vusis fi tyassa, ‘practice for children’. It refers to attempting to create an environment suitable for raising children. Such relationships are encouraged amongst young Luriani, but to have a child in one would be regarded as scandalous. The person being referred to is the future Archduchess Karen of Gateway.
38. Wa, a general honorific for woman, translated as ‘Ms.’, literally means ‘Woman’. The male equivalent is Lul, literally ‘Man’, translated as ‘Mr.’. Teenagers under the age of eighteen take the honorific of Daiwa and Dailul respectively, while younger children take Vawa and Valul.