Playing With Matches
This part originally appeared in the December 2014 issue.
193rd of 2029 (019-98): The Gubashiidi estate
The two matriarchs sat opposite each other, enjoying a healthy breakfast. Nashu had to speak “I must say, Gahashi24 is an excellent Shugilii; this is quite delicious.”
“I will pass on your compliments, my dear. She studied with Ziishau, you know.”
Nashu nodded, “Yes, as did Eneri. It is so important to keep these traditions alive, don’t you think?”
“Oh yes; they are what defines us.” Inash took another helping. “So… do you know? Will they or won’t they?”
Nashu sighed heavily, “I’m as much in the dark as you, Inash. Siishubuu refused to answer. The pair of them really are infuriating.”
Inash agreed totally, “Yes, completely. I have never understood why the young must so complicate things. You come out and say what you mean, so much easier.”
“I concur totally; direct and to the point. Always the best policy. Do you know where they went?”
“Sadly, no, Nashu. Sharikkamur seems as evasive as Siishubuu. But I think we both know where they’re going.”
193rd of 2029 (019-98): An apartment in Antiavash
Jane and Ariaryn had spent the night of the ball and the next night together. It was good to see her so happy. Not that I was planning on picking out a new dress for a practice ceremony, but I did expect I’d be needing my own room on Raledenet now. I’d got into the habit of scanning the news channels of late, what with Rurur Garintylil and the ball; it seemed like I was on them a lot. They’d called my gown ‘ravishing’ and a lot of fashion pages were predicting it’d be the style for the season. I had to smile at that, something designed to hide my mutilation a fashion statement. Isabella had been more concerned with the news of Oskar Sherin’s retirement from the Council. She didn’t like the idea of Kamees Sherin being on it. We’d argued over it, she couldn’t see he was a great man, that the Council would be better with him on it. She thought he was a dangerous warmonger. There’d been shouting, even, until Jane and Ariaryn came out. Guess we both would have to avoid politics. Isabella had apologised for the argument later, so had I though, and not just to be polite. She was too good a friend to lose over something as stupid as that.
I was cooking breakfast, a peace offering, when Ariaryn came out. “Jane still asleep?”
“Yeah, though she’s bloody hard to sneak your arm out from without waking her.”
Isabella was sipping her coffee, “So what’s on you two love birds’ agenda today?”
“Well, we’ve got another four days until Raledenet is ready again and there’s a three day cruise on the Jkemmla Yokwin25 leaving today. So, we thought we’d take a trip.”
I flipped the pancakes I was making. “Sounds romantic; whose idea?”
He sounded just a little embarrassed. “Mine.” My mouth formed a tiny grin, he was good for her.
The intercom buzzed; odd, this early. Isabella stood and went over. “Hello?”
The voice replied, “Ah, Isabella, good, is Afira there, too? May I come up?” It was Siish, very odd.
“Yes, and of course.” She buzzed him up. “I wonder what he wants?”
He entered as Jane emerged from the bedroom. Jane’s hair was a tangled mess, her nightshirt twisted and dishevelled. I grinned, obviously a good night for the two of them.
Sharik was with him; something was up. Jane looked at Siish, “So, our intrepid Kaptan, why are you here?”
He appeared awkward, “I have, er… some news. But first I’d like to talk with my dinkir, alone.”
Things were moving from odd to plain weird. “What’s up Siish?”
He fidgeted, “I’ll tell you in a bit, dinkir, alone.”
Sharik turned to Isabella, “We should let them be alone and I could kill for a coffee.”
I sat on the bed; Siish looked very nervous. “So, Siish, things have been weird since we got here; what’s up?”
He took two long, slow breaths “Dinkir…” he hesitated awkwardly, “I’m in love with you.”
It's a good thing I was sitting, weird had turned to bizarre. I didn't know what to say. “It’s not Ytirpel Tlil26 yet, is it?”
You could see he was slightly annoyed, “No, dinkir, it’s not. I’m serious.”
I sat there, mouth open. “I don’t know what to say, Siish. I’d never considered.”
He stood, still uncomfortable. “There’s more, dinkir.” He hesitated again, and drew another long breath. “I’ve asked Sharik to be my match.”
I was annoyed; you don’t barge in, tell somebody you love them and then in the next breath tell them you’ve asked somebody else to be your match. “But you just said…”
He sat on the bed next to me, “Yes; it’s complicated, dinkir.”
Annoyed became angry. “Then explain it to me.”
“It’s politics, dinkir.”
My voice was growing loud, “Politics!?”
His hand moved towards mine; I folded my arms firmly in front of me. His hand hovered and moved back. “Yes, dinkir, politics, the Council, it’s delicate.”
“Stop calling me dinkir; use my name!”
“Afira… Sharik’s mother, she’ll support mine in the Council if I match with Sharik.”
Louder, “And that's a good reason!?”
“Yes, the hard-liners and moderates, the balance, it’s changing, there could be another war.”
“War!? What the hell kind of excuse is that!?”
His eyes were downcast, “It’s just politics.”
“You’re not a politician, Siish!”
Quietly, “I will be though, eventually.”
I was yelling, “Damn you, Siish, you can’t come here and do this to me!”
He sighed again. “There’s more; it’s the only way to get Sakuya.”
“Sakuya!? Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare put this on me!”
“I have to do it, Afira, it’s the only way to save him.”
I stood, I was so angry. “I don’t want him that much!”
He looked at me, “Yes, you do, you really do. So do I.”
I wanted to slap him, hard. I grabbed the clock and threw it across the room with as much force as I could. “Why the hell are you telling me this? Why are you doing this?”
He paused, unsure. “Sharik… she’s agreed… we can have an ‘arrangement’, if we want.”
I stood there, stunned. “So she’s to be your match. And I’m to be what… your mistress!?”
He couldn’t look at me. “It’s not like that…”
Screaming, “It’s exactly like that, Siish!”
Pleading, “Afira, please…”
I was almost losing control. “Siishubuu Manish, how can you do this to me!? You're such a, such a…” I struggled for a word, it just came, I didn’t think. I spat it out: “Mmarant!27” I regretted it as soon as I said it.
He sat there. I could see he was hurt, really hurt. “It’s okay, I’m sorry.”
My head was spinning, I sat back heavily on the bed. So many feelings. Jealous? Yes. Love? I wasn’t sure. Angry? As all hell. Mistress? Maybe, perhaps it was the best I could have. No, no, I was better than that. If I was to be anyone’s lover it would because I wanted it. Lover? I sat there panting, I needed to think. “No, Siish, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.” I really was sorry. I took his hand “I need time Siish, a lot of time.”
The others sat outside. They heard a raised voiced muffled from the bedroom. They looked awkwardly at each other. Jane spoke, “At least she’s yelling; that’s a good sign.28”
Isabella grinned, “Never can get my head around that.”
Jane chuckled, “Never worry when a Luriani is yelling; worry when they’re not.”
Jane looked at her, “Because sweetie, that’s when they won’t walk away.”
They sat, trying not to listen. They heard the word Mmarant. Jane again, “Oh, that’s not a good sign. Sharik, what the hell is going on?”
She sipped her coffee, betraying nothing. “I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.”
Ariaryn surveyed her carefully. “Gubashiidi Wa…”
She interjected, “Sharik, please call me Sharik, I think it’s so important we can all be friends.”
His eyes narrowed, “I expect you do. So, Sharik, will you be looking for an engagement band29 soon?”
She still betrayed nothing. “Engagement band? I couldn’t say”
Ariaryn sat back smugly “I’ll take that as a yes.”
Siish and Sharik left soon after announcing their engagement. They had a lot to do. Jane wanted to cancel their trip. I told her no, I was fine, she should go have some fun. She deserved it, they both did. The news was full of the shock changes in the Council. Kamees Sherin had been denied his father’s place on the Security Committee; it had gone to Sharik’s mother. People were predicting all kinds of dire instability. I sat at dinner with Isabella; Ariaryn had made something for us before they left. It was good, far better than either of us could do. She looked at me. “You really alright, Afira?”
I put down my cutlery. “No, not really, a lot to take in.” I tried to change the subject. “Jane and Ariaryn, they’re good together.” She nodded, her mouth full. “Pity they can’t have children, though.”
She grinned, “Oh, I don’t know; there are always arrangements that can be made for that.”
It brought me back, arrangements. I needed help. “Siish asked me, asked me if I’d like an ‘arrangement’, to be his mistress.”
She put down her fork. “It’s a lot more common than you’d think. What do you want?”
“I don’t know; my head’s a mess right now.”
She stood, came over, sat beside me and put her arm around me. “Depends on if you love him, dear. He sure loves you, and love’s a precious thing, too precious to waste.”
I snuggled into her. “Yeah, but it’s dangerous, too.”
Augustine, I hadn’t thought. “I’m sorry.”
She just smiled, “It’s okay, I’m sorry too. I’m better off without him. Better to know he’s a child before I married him.”
I laughed, “What should I do?”
“Listen to your heart; it’s really all any of us can.”
196th of 2029 (022-98): The Manish Estates
Madam Manish was waiting for her daughter. She sat delicately as she always did. “So, Mother, you called me?”
“Yes, my dear, I have secured Sakuya Trace’s release.”
“At the cost of Siishubuu’s match. A huge price, Mother, possibly too much.”
“There were other reasons for that; Trace Lul’s release was simply a fortunate by-product.”
Her daughter wasn’t so sure, but no matter. “What is to happen to him now?”
“We can’t admit we have him. So, parole with a new identity.”
“Will he agree?”
“He already has. Sesh Liryn has that effect on people.”
“Yes; I am well aware. And Sesh Liryn itself?”
“Sesh Liryn will be closed. It’s gone too far twice, now; I won’t have a third time on my conscience.”
“Padter Kolant?” There was concern in her daughter’s voice, and perhaps just a trace of fear.
“She is returned to her institution my dear; she can not hurt anyone there.”
Her daughter nodded, “And how is he?”
“He is apparently sensitive and high in empathy. I imagine he did not fare well.” She paused a moment, “There is something more, my dear.”
“During his… interrogation, something came up.”
Her daughter looked concerned. “What, Mother?”
“He was working on something called the Ogura project30.”
There was anger in her daughter’s reply, with a hint of contempt, “And My Lady would like to get information from him?”
“Calm yourself, my dear. No, but if his… integration into our society went successfully, if handled very gently, it would be of great value if he continued such work here.”
Her daughter understood. “So, My Lady would like his sponsor to be somebody who could encourage that.”
“Yes, my dear; I think you know who I have in mind.”
Madam Manish waited for her daughter to depart before calling her son. He had a lot to arrange but this was important. He answered promptly “Mother?”
“Siishubuu, I have news of young Lord Trace. He is to be paroled; he will be arriving on Daramm tomorrow.”
Siish was obviously relieved at the news. “That’s wonderful, Mother. I will return tomorrow to sign the sponsorship papers.”
“That will not be necessary, Siishubuu, and anyway, you have far too much to do.”
“Mother? How can he be paroled without a sponsor?”
“He will have a sponsor: Isabella.”
Siish was clearly very surprised. “Isabella?”
“Yes; his recovery will be… difficult, not to mention the problems he will face integrating into our society. Can you think of anyone better to guide him than someone who has been through it herself?”
Notes 1-23 appeared with earlier parts of this story.
- Second daughter of the Gubashiidi’s.
- The shallow sea that surrounds the archipelago that the Manish Estates and Antiavash arcology lay in.
- The traditional Luriani calendar consists of three 188-day-long years followed by two individual leap days know as Ytirpel Tlil (Fools’ days). These days were traditionally religious festivals where friends would attempt to play practical jokes and pranks on one another.
- A short form of Mmarislusant. It was in common use during the early years of the First Protectorate, but has since taken on extremely negative connotations. It has long been regarded as an exceedingly insulting term.
- The Luriani have long dealt with their passionate natures and developed numerous customs and protocols for dealing with anger and temper. They regard expressing their anger as healthy and have many methods for a party to walk away without losing face, allowing tempers to cool.
- The traditional sign of a Luriani’s relationship status is a silver band on the left wrist. Normally made of silver (though Verasti Dtareen sometimes favour white gold or even platinum), they are usually exchanged upon the promise of entering a formal relationship. The exact nature of the relationship is indicated by various charms attached to the band.
- A top secret Imperial project to develop jump 4 drives.