Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Koreshi Chronicles: Chapter II - Crushed

22 Summer, 1920

The interior of Thral Jonas' tent was dark, as always. Lyta could taste the moisture in the air, smell the flowers that bloomed only in the Godwell Valley. Jonas was meditating, and she knew better than to interrupt him. She settled herself down, cross-legged on the floor, and tried to hide her impatience. It seemed like every moment in Junira Loresh was a gift and infinitely precious. To waste it here, inside a tent as though they were out in the desert, chafed at her, especially now that the Imti'qhann had started. She longed to be watching the competitions, and part of her wished that she were out in the desert with Tarooq on his quest. But a summons from the clan's Thralan was not lightly ignored, so Lyta waited.

After what seemed like far too long, Jonas opened his eyes. "Welcome, Hippartha. Thank you for making time to see me."

"I'm honoured to share your shade, Thralan." She repeated the traditional phrase automatically, though her heart wasn't in it.

Jonas stood and unhurriedly stepped to a small table at the far side of the tent. He picked up an earthenware decanter and poured two small glasses of water. He passed one to his guest, and they drank the first sip together. Then the Thral sat down again and placed the cup carefully before him.

"I must apologize, Hippartha. I have failed you as Thralan."

Lyta had never heard Jonas apologize for anything, and the confession jolted her out of her reveries about Tarooq. She began to speak, to protest that apologies weren't necessary, but Jonas stopped her with a gesture.

"Do not object until you know what it is you are objecting to, child." He paused, choosing his words carefully. "You were Bachanned late, and so instructions which all Koreshi know from a young age were not instilled in you. I find I now must amend those gaps, at a point where it may be too late to spare your feelings."

Lyta watched the tribe's Thralan, bemused. She was not used to Jonas needing to lead up to his points, so it had to be something serious, but for the life of her she could not imagine what it might be.

Jonas was still speaking. "You know the difficulties we Koreshi have with childbirth. It is a test placed on our ancestors to ensure we were strong, but also deliberate. Life is precious and delicate, and the creation of life is fraught with pain and uncertainty. The Thral have a duty to help all Koreshi navigate the course of life."

Lyta nodded. Though there had not been any still-births during her time with the Bathani, she had heard enough about them through whispered conversations with Bestha and some of the tribe's older women. There was a girl a few cycles older than Lyta in the tribe, due to be married soon, who had shared her apprehension at the idea of childbirth. Lyta had sometimes wondered whether the curse was placed on adopted members like herself also, or whether, as an outsider, she would be spared. Not that she planned to have babies any time soon.

"Amaraa and Bestha have never denied you the right to make friends within the Bathani, nor with any other Ratir, correct?" Lyta's thoughts were interrupted by Jonas' seeming non-sequitur. She frowned. "No. Why would they?"

Jonas shifted his weight. "You are free to choose your friends among the Ratir. It is our way. If you choose a closer friend, an intimate friend, I'm sure that your parents would want you to be happy, but they would also want to meet such a person and counsel you. If that person was from another clan, then our matriarch Maraja would also have some advice, as she knows those beyond the clan far better still. Does this seem reasonable to you?"

Lyta nodded, though her brow was furrowed. Talk of friends and 'intimate friends' worried her, and she suspected now that the conversation had something to do with Tarooq. "Yes, Thralan. But I don't understand why you're telling me all this."

Jonas took a sip of water. "What I have said is all very well for the Ratir, but the Ferah are not your kind. They live apart, in Junira Loresh, and they do not travel the deserts. This is because they need to be protected until the Great Cycle marks them as ready to seed the world."

Lyta stared. "This is about Tarooq, isn't it? He's Ferah. He lives here in Junira Loresh."

The Thral nodded. "Yes, Hippartha, it is. I am told you have great affection for this boy. Is that so?"

Lyta had come into the tent prepared to tell Jonas everything about Tarooq: his smile, the dark intensity of his eyes, the fact that he was going to become an Askar and probably at the third level right to start off. But now she found her enthusiasm blunted, her words guarded. "Yes," she said simply, her face giving away what her words did not.

Jonas sighed, disappointment plain on his face. "The Ratir may choose among the Ratir, and the Ferah among their ilk. But they are not permitted to cross the divide which separates them. A Ferah may not choose a Ratir freely, nor a Ratir mate with a Ferah, unless sanctioned. This is the way of the Koreshi, and the Thral have always ensured that no such interactions put the bloodlines at risk. This is for the safety of the firstborn and the scions of each caste. Do you understand?"

Lyta shook her head vigorously, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. "No. I don't. I think the whole thing is stupid. Why does it matter to you who I like?"

Jonas reached a comforting hand forward, but Lyta flinched back. Jonas looked down to his water cup, then back at his guest. "This is the law of our people, Hippartha. Neither I, nor you, nor this boy may break it. It would be dangerous to you and unfair to all other Koreshi before and after you who make sacrifices."

Lyta jumped up from the ground and began pacing the tent. "I don't care!" she shouted. "You can't tell me what to do! Not you, and not Bestha or Amaraa or anyone else! I don't care about your stupid laws or tradition! He's the nicest, most intense, most beautiful person I've ever met, and I love him!"

Jonas waited for the outburst to die down. "I know," he said simply. "I don't belittle the feelings you harbour. There is a great flame burning inside you, it is clear as the sun in the noon sky. But this boy is oil, and there is great danger in mixing the two. We cannot risk it."

"You can't risk it," Lyta spat back. "You don't even care! You don't care that I love him!"

Jonas stood up and reached to place a hand on Lyta's head. She pulled away. "On the contrary, I care greatly. And it saddens me to tell all this to you now, when it causes you pain. But it must be done. Better to hurt a little now if it saves you from great torment later."

Lyta stared at him, wide-eyed and slack-jawed.

Jonas spoke softly. "I am sorry for your pain, Hippartha, but I must forbid your intimacy with the boy. I have counselled your parents to do the same."

"No!" she screamed, all her anger and frustration poured into one syllable. "You can't make me!"

Jonas watched her evenly and said nothing.

Lyta snatched her water cup from the ground and flung it at him. The Thral sidestepped lightly and it fell to the ground behind him with a thunk, the water splattering on his clothes. He ignored it.

"You're meaner than anyone I've ever met! You can't make me not see him! You can't!" Tears flowed from her eyes, and she brushed them away. Still, the Thral didn't speak, and merely watched her, his expression tender.

"You can't, you can't!" Lyta's knees buckled under her, and she slumped to the floor, fists pounding weakly on the ground. "It's not fair. I love him." She looked up at the Thral with red eyes. "Don't you care that I love him?" It was a final entreaty, her last hope that everything Jonas had said had been somehow misconstrued, that if he truly understood the depth of her feelings, he would change his mind.

Jonas knelt beside her and placed a hand gently on her forehead. "Of course I do, child. But this is the way it must be. This is how it has been since the beginning of time, and how it will continue after you and I are both dust in the ground. Promise me that you will not pursue this boy. Only more pain can result from that course."

Lyta stared at him for a long time. The walls of the tent made her claustrophobic. Jonas did not rush her, but neither did he remove his hand from her forehead.

Finally, defeated, she took a shuddering breath. "Fine. I promise. I won't see him again."

Jonas let his hand trail to her shoulder. "I know this is a great sacrifice for you. And again I apologize for the pain I cause you."

In a smooth motion, the Thral rose from the floor, leaving Lyta grieving. He stepped outside the tent to find Lukas sitting before the flap, waiting. The two exchanged knowing glances. Jonas nodded once and walked away, towards the other tents of the Bathani.

Lukas rose and entered the darkened tent to find his sister on the ground where Jonas had left her. She raised her head a moment, and then, realizing it wasn't the Thral, dropped it again. "He said I can't see Tarooq anymore," she whispered as Lukas knelt down beside her.

He drew Lyta close and let her cry into his right shoulder. "I know," he said.

"It's not fair," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

"No," he said, "it isn't. Koreshi rules are unjust, sometimes."

She pulled back and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "Why do they even care? Why can't he just let us be together?"

Lukas shrugged. "The Koreshi follow rules that even they don't understand, sometimes," he said. "They're rigid about who's allowed to do what and when, even about things that don't matter. Part of it's from being a desert people, but the rest is a sort of elitist racism towards outsiders.  People like us.  Or haven't you noticed yet?" There was more he wanted to say, more he'd realized about the Koreshi over the four cycles he'd spent with the Bathani, but he sensed that now was not the time for his own personal tirade.

"I wish I could just see him one more time, when he comes back from the desert," Lyta said at last.

Lukas shook his head. Secretly, he was glad that the Thral had taken the brunt of Lyta's hostility and that he hadn't needed to be the one to tell her he didn't approve of the Ferah boy. "Best that you don't," he answered. "It'll just make you want him more. One last time is never just one last time.  Did you promise not to?"  She nodded. "Then you can't.  A Lassander doesn't break a promise." He spoke with the age and authority of someone a full four cycles older, and for once, Lyta listened to him.

"C'mon," he said, getting to his feet and extending a hand. "Weren't you telling me just yesterday about the new B'ti runners you wanted to watch? I'll come with you, and you can point out all their mistakes."

Lyta didn't need the hand, but she grasped it anyway and flowed to her feet. "That would be disrespectful," she said. "You're not supposed to criticize the runners."

Lukas shrugged and grinned. "I know, but you're going to anyway. You can't help yourself."

"Lukas!" Lyta swatted her brother's arm, feigning anger.

He raised an eyebrow, soul of innocence. "What? You can't. You'd be a great judge if the B'ti runs were judged on anything other than time. And you know that if I weren't there, you'd just be thinking it to yourself. You may as well tell me and get it out in the open."

He walked to the front of Jonas' tent and lifted the flap. Lyta stepped through, never taking her eyes off Lukas. "Fine," she said as she stepped under her brother's arm and out into the filtered sunlight of the valley floor. "But only because you asked nicely."

He stepped out after her and let the flap drop back into place. There was no need for security measures. No one would enter the Thral's tent without permission. He fell in beside Lyta, eyes sweeping over the tents and the jungle beyond. "Lead on," he said, and she did.

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