BOOK ONE: CHAPTER 26 – Decisions

CHAPTER 26 – Decisions

BOOK ONE

When Raphael reached his rooms a short distance away, he heard voices within.  He knocked and entered, finding Julia and Jychondria with Lady and Lord Kadish.  Pietro was stretched out on the floor, on his back, holding up Jychondria by his little arms and bouncing him gently on his stomach as the baby gurgled and laughed.  Lady Martina was trying to keep her dignity, but couldn’t help laughing at the sight.

Smiling as he handed the rose from the chapel to Julia, he remarked: “Well, Lady and Lord Kadish, it would appear you’ve made yourself at home.”

“Ah, Raphael, could you perhaps help me up?” said Pietro, handing the baby off to his father. Raphael extended an arm and helped his father-in-law to stand. Pietro remarked, “Connie and I were having a bit of fun. He is a delightful little boy.”

“I am so proud of the two of you for bringing in such a child – Jychondria will be an asset to the family,” said Lady Martina. “We would love to see him go to school on Airus when he is old enough. Our son Adario has not yet mated and provided us with grandchildren.”

“We will give it some consideration, Lady Martina – when the time comes,” replied Raphael. “Meanwhile, once Jychondria is old enough to start his lessons, he will probably receive some tutoring for the first couple of years and then we can decide whether or not to send him to another family for fostering. Also, most VaCoupe children attend the university at Arconia here on Medina. I went there myself as a foster son of Lord VaCoupe.”

Julia knew her parents had fallen in love with their first grandson. She could feel the tension rising in the room as Raphael stood his ground as to where his son should go to school. Still, sending little Jychondria to Airus would not be such a bad idea. She decided to change the subject a bit: “How did your meeting go with your sister Claudine and Lady Arla? Was anyone else there, also?”

“The meeting was short, but interesting. Claudine shared a bit of a dream she had recently about our ships. Master Pelleur and Master Tzulo were also in attendance. They enjoyed the little chapel Lord Raimundo showed to me for the meeting. It is not being used as a chapel anymore, but has some special energy,” replied Raphael. “I should show it to your parents while they are here perhaps?”

“We would love to have a stroll around the old house, Raphael,” said Lord Pietro, “Thank you for suggesting it.”

 “I have lived in this house since I was a child of 14, but I have never explored every inch of it. I am sure it contains many secrets not obvious even to some of its occupants,” replied Raphael. “Meanwhile, can I fetch you some tea or something to drink from the kitchens?”

“That would be most kind,” replied Lady Martina. “I am going to stay with Julia while she feeds Jychondria, cleans him, and then puts him down for a nap.”

“I will accompany you to the kitchens, Raphael,” said Lord Pietro. “Let us leave the ladies to their own devices and the child; he is such a lovely little boy.”

Raphael knew his father-in-law wanted an opportunity to renew his gentle grilling session, but he amiably walked alongside the man. As they walked down the hallway, Esturias finally emerged from his rooms and joined them. Together, the three men entered the large family room and discovered many of the visitors sitting around, either at the large table or on pillows scattered against the walls. Young Alphar was stretched out on the floor, still working hard on his letters, while Raimundo watched him from a bench, sending the boy the occasional sign or telepathic message to guide his fingers as they learned the beginnings of words.  

Lady Lorenna had gathered a little group of women around her seated upon pillows near one of the tall deeply inset windows. They were all busy sewing on dresses and other garments and talking contentedly amongst themselves.  

Lady Arla, Master Tzulo, and Master Pelleur were seated at the table with Claudine and her burly mate, Stephanus. When the king spotted Esturias he stood up and called out in his deep baritone: “Commander Esturias – we have been expecting to see you today. What has been keeping you?”

Ah, my lord king, how nice to see you here at our house,” replied Esturias. As he spoke, he quickly looked around; three of the Eagles were stationed discreetly in the corners and at the entrance to the room. “I have been recovering in my rooms, my lord, from some wounds received in battle.”

“Wounds, Esturias? What were you doing in a battle?” asked Lady Arla. She was a woman who was always quick to jump on a chance remark.

Esturias winced as he had witnessed the priestess in action in the past; she was an expert in drawing out one’s little secrets. He did not want to share any information with the king, however. He apologized, ““I am sorry, my lord king, Lady Arla, it is classified Command information – I should not have said anything…” while glancing at Raphael as if his adopted brother could extricate him from the situation, he had just dove into headfirst. 

Esturias is exaggerating, Lady Arla. He has been resting for a case of simple exhaustion,” said Raphael rather boldly lying. Lady Arla looked at the Line Communications Commander with some skepticism but remained quiet – for the moment. Raphael proceeded to drag Esturias off to the kitchens, leaving his father-in-law staring after the two of them in shock.  

Once out of earshot of the family room, Esturias turned on Raphael: “I am shocked, young man; you committed a lie, an outright lie in front of all of our guests to save my miserable skin.”

“I did, sir – but you were right. Any description of battles is Command information, not to be shared with civilians, even family. And your decisions and actions in going into battle in the first place, sir, were highly questionable. People will begin to doubt your fitness to hold your present commission, sir.” countered Raphael.

True, that is very true, Raphael,” said Esturias thoughtfully. “You have a sound head on your shoulders, brother, despite your difficult past.”

“Sir, it is best you remain in your rooms for the time being until you are fully healed. And I feel it would be best for you to speak to Master Tzulo. He is an expert in diseases of the mind,” said Raphael earnestly. “He certainly assisted me several times when I was on Alyona. To be honest, sir, I was a complete mess when I got there. I tried to hold it together, but completely lost my senses more than once and Master Tzulo was always there to help me. I treasure our friendship.”

“Perhaps you are right, Raphael, however, the rules of hospitality demand I hold some of the responsibility for making our guests feel at home,” replied Esturias. “Even if I appear like a bleeding idiot right now, perhaps it can be excused as that case of exhaustion you just cited.”

“You are exhausted, Esturias, or you would not have made such a stupid decision,” replied Raphael rather sharply. “I am speaking in a capacity as a brother, now, not as a junior officer, sir.”

“Understood, Raphael; I do not currently have any jurisdiction over you anyway – you are under the direct command of our father, Lord VaCoupe—and as such, I cannot give you any orders unless they are approved by him first,” replied Esturias rather wearily. “Perhaps I better melt away right now. Weren’t you going to the kitchens to get something for Julia?”

“Thanks for reminding me, Esturias,” replied Raphael. “And I better find my father-in-law lest he thinks I am hiding something from him. Can you get back to your rooms without going through the family room?”

“Do not worry about me, Raphael,” replied Esturias. “Unlike you, I do know this old house, every inch of it. I used to explore the place with my brothers.”

“Excellent, Esturias – will you heed my advice and have a discussion with Master Tzulo,” inquired Raphael.

I will do as you suggested. Perhaps you can swing by my rooms later today or tomorrow?” replied Esturias. “And thank you for extricating me from that awkward encounter. Lady Arla does go in for the kill when a person says something off-hand.”

“She is very precise and on target most of the time. She might, also, be a good one to include in that discussion, but first meet with Master Tzulo,” said Raphael. “He is gentle, but very firm when he needs to be. Under his directions, I was sedated and kept under for nearly a week once so I could recover from a difficult mental break while at Alyona.”

“I am sorry I dumped you into that, Raphael,” replied Esturias. “When the need is great – and we needed to learn what was keeping the Intership communications offline—sacrifices are made. Unfortunately, ones like you, the holy innocents, are often the ones who suffer the most.”

“I would not call myself a holy innocent, sir; I have seen too much and somehow came out of it whole,” said Raphael quietly.

See, you are a holy innocent in that somehow your center remained pure and unsullied no matter what you experienced in the outer world,” replied Esturias.

The great star Jayha would agree with you, sir,” said Raphael. “But now, you better disappear, again. Someone is coming… You better go now, sir!”

Esturias gave Raphael a pat on his shoulder and disappeared into another adjoining room. Raphael shrugged and continued onto the main kitchen area where he found his other adopted brother Roméo patiently shredding vegetables for smoothies and the evening stew. The astrophysicist looked up and smiled shyly: “Looking for something, Raphael—you are Raphael, my adopted brother?”

“Yes, Roméo, I am Raphael. Your father, Lord VaCoupe, fostered me as a youngster,” replied Raphael feeling another quiz session coming on.

What happened to your family if I may ask? Where were you born?” asked Roméo.

My family is all dead now. I was an orphan when Lord VaCoupe decided to foster me. My brother could not care for me due to his duties in the Command. My parents died in very tragic circumstances, which I would rather not share right now…brother. Lord VaCoupe knows all the circumstances of my young life as does your uncle, Raimundo,” replied Raphael.

“There’s no need to go all defensive, brother,” replied Roméo. “It is just that I sense there is something unusual about you. You seem to be more of a priest than a warrior.”

“Your sister, Claudine, or Lady Arla would agree with you, brother,” replied Raphael. “Perhaps we can have a discussion some other time while you are here. Now, I came to the kitchen in search of some refreshment for my mate and her mother.”

“Ah, pleasing the in-laws? You have a sweet little son. Lady Astrig and I have not yet been so blessed, but we are hoping…,” said Roméo rather plaintively, which surprised Raphael who had thought initially his brother from Maia to be a fop. Yet, here he was, patiently shredding vegetables and assisting in lifting heavy pots for the hard-working servants and VaCoupe women.  

Thanks, Roméo, I do need to get to know my in-laws more during these next few days. I am not liable to travel to Airus any time soon unless required to for my work. I would like to visit Maia someday,” replied Raphael.  

“The juices are over there in the cooler,” said Roméo pointing out the cooler with his knife. “Yes, it would be good to have that talk sometime. I have heard too many rumors about you that do not seem to be substantiated now that I have met you in person.”

“I could well imagine what some people have said about me,” replied Raphael somewhat bitterly. “It has been my misfortune to be misunderstood by many of my senior officers. I have not had too much exposure to other civilians except those who happen to work under the auspices of the Command or at the Arconian University. I guess I have been somewhat isolated from the world due to my career and gifts.”

Romeo saw someone coming towards them and said: “Is that one of your Eagles looking for you?”

“Felipe – what do you want?” said Raphael as he turned towards the Eagle.  “Commander Monteras just wanted to know where you were, sir. You’ve been off our radar this morning. He was getting concerned,” replied Felipe, the handsome massively built white blonde Ashkerian. Raphael had to look up at the cheerful Eagle who was smiling down at him and the nearby VaCoupe brother.

 The Eagle briefly bowed and said, “Roméo VaCoupe, I am Felipe Diaz. I am pleased to meet you, sir.”

“Forgive me, brother; I must be slipping when I forget to introduce one of my Eagles to you. Lord VaCoupe has had me under their protection nearly the entire time since I was rescued as a young teenager…for various reasons. If you wish to know them, please apply to our father who has not shared them with me all these years,” said Raphael ironically. “And now, I really must go. Tomás might next send out a rescue party!”

Roméo stared after his adopted brother and the cheerful Eagle as they both selected some refreshments and placed them on a large metal tray to take to Raphael’s suite. The Eagle bowed slightly to the VaCoupe brother and both men left the kitchen.

When Raphael and Felipe entered the family room, he found his father-in-law in conversation with the BerWarian king Stephanus and Lady Arla. Not wanting to tarry, he nodded to Lord Pietro and headed back to his rooms, closely followed by Felipe. 

On entering the rooms, he found Lady Martina napping on the sofa, with Julia sleeping on their bed, holding Jychondria in her arms. The little boy squirmed when he felt his father enter the room. Raphael put the tray down and took a seat, just watching his mate sleep peacefully. When the boy managed to sit up on his own, he lifted him up and placed him on his lap, kissing the boy’s slightly damp hair. Jychondria smelled faintly of Mazzie’s herbal soap that she made for the household. It was a few minutes of peace, soon broken when Esturias knocked on the door and entered, waking both Lady Martina and Julia.

Esturias had the decency to look embarrassed to have disturbed the little family scene, but he demanded Raphael accompany him. Raphael was upset with his former commander and handed off his son to his mother-in-law and showed her where the refreshments were. “I am sorry, my Lady, but my brother is quite persistent and says he needs me now. Take care of little Jychondria for me. If anyone needs me, I will be in Esturias’ rooms.”

Lady Martina looked confused and asked: “What is a matter with Commander Esturias? Why is he sulking in his rooms?”

“Good question, ma’am,” replied Raphael. “Sorry, I must go…”

Felipe followed Raphael down the hall towards Esturias’ rooms. Raphael signed him to remain there in case he was needed. The Eagle nodded and took position. Raphael knocked at the doors and then entered when he heard Esturias’ characteristic growl in response, “Come in, Raphael!”

 “Sir, so what is a matter now?” asked Raphael with some annoyance in his voice.  

Could you see if Master Tzulo would be willing to speak to me now?” said Esturias.

Certainly, sir – apparently, I am your personal assistant now, sir?” replied Raphael with some rancor. Still, he realized Esturias needed some professional help right now and Master Tzulo was a neutral party and an experienced counselor.

Raphael – I am sorry I interrupted your family’s sweet slumbers, but I am feeling rather desperate right now…” said Esturias rather plaintively, surprising Raphael who knew the tough commander side of his brother far better than this confused man.

I will request Master Tzulo accompany one of my Eagles here; I do not think he knows where your rooms are located, sir,” replied Raphael patiently. Via private telepathic mode, he reached out to Master Tzulo: Master, could you please attend me now? I am in Esturias’ rooms, a short distance from my own. Felipe is in the hallway and will let you in. Esturias appears to be in a profound state of exhaustion, not thinking clearly, and recently acted somewhat suicidal – he or I will explain the situation when you get here. Please be as discrete as possible. As odd as it sounds, I believe Esturias is in quite a fragile emotional state right now.

Master Tzulo immediately replied: Ah, I was wondering what was going on with that scene in the family room. Being around Stephanus and Lady Arla probably is not helping matters. Certainly, I will be there shortly as soon as I can leave gracefully. Thank you for looking after your elder brother in this manner… it is very kind, although I can sense some annoyance from you, as well…

Yes, Master… Esturias can be very demanding. He is used to command after all. Despite all that has happened between us, Esturias still seems to trust me.

Yes, Raphael – you are trustworthy and authentic. I will be there shortly. Just dismissing myself delicately; Lady Arla has a radar sense for these matters being a trained priestess.

I am aware of the Lady’s sterling intuition. She may be of assistance, but later. I have received guidance from both of you and your tender ministrations are what Esturias requires at the moment.

Raphael next stepped to the door and asked Felipe to look out for Master Tzulo and to guide him to the rooms. Felipe signed in affirmation in case anyone was within hearing range.  

“Okay, Esturias, the arrangements have been made. Master Tzulo will be here shortly, and Felipe will guide him to the room. I cannot take any responsibility if the Master is entering here as that information is bound to get back to our father,” said Raphael. “Should I remain here, sir, or do you need anything else? Perhaps you should have considered bringing an aide with you, sir.”

Esturias glared at his young, adopted brother and said: “It is a good thing you aren’t under my command anymore, you insolent pup!” Then he wiped his brow wincing as he moved the still-healing right shoulder. “Ouch; it both hurts and itches at the same time.”

“Sir, you are used to command, ordering people around to do your bidding, but have you ever taken the time to consider the personal side of relationships outside of Command protocol? We’re at home, not in space, not on a ship and I AM YOUR BROTHER! Your status of a superior officer in the Fleet has no weight here in this house, brother!” said Raphael, his voice rising as his anger began to pour out. “I am your adopted brother, chosen by your father after I successfully completed a test set by him and the Founder of this House. I may not be of your blood, but you have an obligation to treat me fairly. Yes, I am NOT under your command anymore, sir. I want you to know that I always respected your efforts on board The Golden Bee but not on The Golden Lion. And while I lied once to extricate you from an awkward situation here at home, I will NOT do it again to hide your frailties from our other relatives and guests. You are on your own, sir.” 

At that moment, Raphael heard a discrete knock, and Master Tzulo walked in, standing there calmly regarding the two brothers who were staring at each other. Raphael was angry but controlled; Esturias was in a state of mild shock after having his own ethics and behaviors questioned by one whom he had always considered a junior officer. Esturias was in the process of realizing he had greatly underestimated his much younger brother. It was not a pleasant experience for him either, Master Tzulo noted with a wry twist of his mouth. “Are you two gentlemen having a disagreement? Should I perhaps come by another time?”

“No, I am sorry, Master Tzulo…I am Esturias VaCoupe, about whom you have probably heard from Raphael and not all of it complimentary, I am afraid,” replied Esturias looking down at the floor with a frown.  

Yes, Commander Esturias, I am aware of who you are, from Raphael, your father Lord Demetrius, and your sister, Claudine,” replied the Master calmly. “Everyone has been wondering what has been keeping you from participating in family dinners and discussions.”

Master Tzulo paused and then went on: “Raphael has suggested you are experiencing a state of deep exhaustion. From feeling your mental confusion in the family room and your sense of desperation, I would tend to agree. It is not a permanent condition, but you should undertake a great deal of care in the next week or so, resting a lot. The pressure you may feel from the anticipation of your upcoming mating is nothing like you would feel as a man and leader were you unable to perform your duties as a commander in the future – which could happen if you were to ignore the needs of your body and mind in this moment, sir.”

Impulsively, Esturias broke in, explaining: “What you and most of our guests might not know yet is that I recently took a fighter out and directly engaged with the enemy in an aerial fight. The fighter was hit and crashed. I did not have adequate control over the machine and was injured as a result. I was lucky not to have been killed. Both Raphael and my father have suggested I was exhibiting suicidal tendencies,” replied Esturias. “I was certainly angry at myself for not being able to handle my duties on board The Golden Lion. I am constantly being compared to Lord Lyonell who was the only Top Commander of the vessel from the time of her original construction and commission in the Command.”

Master Tzulo sat down on the couch and signed Raphael to join him, which he did, keeping silent for the moment. Esturias plumped down on a chair, his shoulders slumped. He truly did look exhausted and ashamed of himself.

Commander, may I do a brief scan of you?” requested Master Tzulo. Esturias nodded wearily. The Veyan master closed his eyes for a few minutes, doing a thorough scan of Esturias as the commander stared at the wall in front of him, ignoring Raphael’s presence for the moment.

Master Tzulo was somewhat surprised by what he found of Esturias’ nature. The commander was a bold, somewhat impulsive individual given to follow his instincts although not always his common sense. He could appear aggressive and dominating to some, but those who were more perceptive eventually uncovered the truly sensitive nature of the commander, deeply buried under a layer of experienced trauma. Master Tzulo realized Esturias was extremely proud, stubborn, and sensitive; indeed, he was far more sensitive than most people would give him credit. He simply had refused to deal with his trauma unlike Raphael. Rather, he chose to stuff down his own inner gifts and sensitivity deep within the hidden recesses of his subconscious in a bid to look tough, act tough and be thought of as being tough. His own self-castigation with his misguided decision to have Raphael publicly arrested and sent to Alyona was indicative of his inner understanding he had made the wrong decision. He was, in short, fighting against his own inner nature and was in some need to finally begin working through his own long-buried trauma.

Raphael had not performed his own scan of his former commander as he did not feel it was his place. He was not a counselor, and he was still experiencing some mixed feelings about his relationship with his adopted brother. Still, it was clear to Raphael that Esturias was fighting with himself and exhausting his body in the process.

The Veyan priest regarded the tall slim dark-haired VaCoupe with interest, noting the lines between his brows and some indication of strain on his face. “Commander Esturias, when did your mother die?”

The commander stared at the little Veyan master in shock. “My mother—why are you bringing my mother into this?” he asked.

You have never allowed yourself to grieve for your loss—of your mother, and later, your uncle, your aunt,” replied Master Tzulo patiently. “Grief undealt with tends to pile up, something Raphael understands as he suffers from the same condition. You two have more in common than you realize. You have chosen to run away from your grief and go to war to escape it—a poor choice when you happen to constantly witness the loss of others and great suffering. On top of the grief there is much anger and denial. In your new position as Top Commander you have come to believe you are failing as a leader. You attempt to act as a fair commander but then allow an innocent like Raphael to be hurt in the process. If you cannot make appropriate personnel decisions, allow another to do them for you. In other words, delegate the responsibilities by choosing an honest and experienced person to handle what you cannot or will not handle yourself. You must not try to do everything, Esturias, when you are the commander of 800 plus, diverse individuals such as those who serve on The Golden Lion. As Top Commander, it is your job to seek out those who are truly suited to act in their positions, functioning under Command protocol, but also using their own good judgments, ethical standards, and honesty in dealing with subordinates.”

“Since you appear to still be dealing with the fall-out from your short-sighted arrest of Raphael years ago, it is up to you to have your senior staff offer counseling for those crew members that are still carrying a grudge against you. You also have the responsibility for removing or reassigning senior level commanders who exercise personal vendettas against subordinate crew members. If the senior commander cannot act justly, they do not deserve a position of responsibility over others. These commanders can be moved to other ships and advised to work on increasing their own humility or suffer the consequences of dealing unfairly with others under their power and authority.”

“You are aware that you treated Raphael unfairly. You were fearful of what your senior commanders would think of you, despite your knowledge of the extreme sensitivity of the boy. He has suffered greatly as a result of being handled roughly by you. He felt betrayed by a commander he was just learning to respect. Raphael is one who gives his whole heart to those who he loves, and he was beginning to love you, but like his birth father whom he also loved, you chose to betray him. Yes, you have attempted to lighten your own sense of guilt by convincing yourself that his services were required in Alyona, with your father, but that does not negate the fact you profoundly wounded Raphael’s ability to ever trust you fully. He still loves you, but the love is now conditioned; he is wary of what you will try next. And you still treat him like he is a personal lackey, depending on him to get you out of a fix when it is your own blundering that got you there in the first place. He is your brother. Try to respect him for the fact your father recognized Raphael’s worth and realize he had to meet a very exacting test to be selected as a permanent member of your great family.”

Raphael sat there quietly listening, his eyes widening in astonishment as Master Tzulo laid into Esturias. And he felt the man totally deserved the handling he was receiving. Esturias, too, was in a state of shock, left completely speechless. He sat there for a long moment and then, to Raphael’s surprise, tears formed in his former commander’s eyes and rolled down his tanned cheeks. Esturias bent over, putting his hands to his eyes, elbows on his knees and began to sob. Master Tzulo and Raphael sat there allowing the emotions to come up, with the Veyan master occasionally encouraging the commander to breathe. Raphael remembered back to sessions with Tomás and Raimundo when he had had to face and release his own grief. Master Tzulo was right; there was more to release, but right now, he was holding space for his adopted brother.

At length Esturias sat up. Raphael handed him a small towel he had found in the room and waited for the commander to speak. Esturias looked at him and then at Master Tzulo and said: “And you said Master Tzulo would be gentle with me? Perhaps he was with you, Raphael…”

“You totally deserved to hear the truth,” replied Raphael firmly. “I did suffer tremendously as a result of being shunted off to Alyona abruptly without real cause. It would have been far more honest if you had just admitted to the command staff that no one else could do scans like me and say that Lord VaCoupe requested my services for a special assignment. As a result of your mishandling, I am finding my reputation still in shreds whenever I go to a new place. My integrity is questioned. People want to dig into my past believing they have every right to do so. I am constantly looked at and judged unfairly, largely because of that one action. And as far as I know, there has never been a Command-wide apology or notification that you unfairly treated me. What do you have to say to that, commander?”

An astounded Esturias stared at Raphael for a moment and then replied, “Well, brother, I would say you are successfully dipping into your anger now, is not he, Master Tzulo?”

Master Tzulo grinned at Raphael and replied: “Yes, Commander Esturias, I would say Master Raphael is tuning into the grievances he has held against you…and your father…for several years now. And this is not the only episode where Raphael suffered due to decisions made at a high level, namely by Lord VaCoupe.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Esturias, mystified now.  

Responding to a nod from Master Tzulo, Raphael rapidly told Esturias of his misadventures in Morova: “At the direction of my foster father, I was used as live bait to capture a dark agent and a dark lord. I was kidnapped from an unescorted shuttle, taken to Morova, imprisoned against my will, beaten, and raped repeatedly until the Eagles finally arrived to rescue me. They had waited intentionally until they were sure the dark lord was there on the premises in the warehouse where I was being held a prisoner,” said Raphael, his tenor voice harsh with unaccustomed anger, “I was told the enemy agents that I would be shipped to Rigel and used in a breeding program so they could kill my progeny in their sick rituals…like they killed my mother. The dark lord was the brother of the man who killed my mother; the dark agent was the one who originally selected me to be sold to a dark lord. The experience brought up all the trauma I had thought I had overcome. I have only been able to recover due to the presence of my loving mate, the anticipation of our baby, and the aid of some of the loving members of this extended family.”

Esturias looked at his brother with deep sorrow. “I am profoundly sorry my father…our father put you through that experience. You did not deserve it. Nor did you deserve the treatment you received at my hands. Now I realize that because of my behavior and lack of courage to take on the senior commanders on The Golden Lion who did not approve of Lord Lyonell or his treatment of you, that it was you who suffered in the end. You could not do the job you were assigned to do and your senior officer, Commander Hercule Kadish, did everything in his power to thwart any efforts for your work to reach my desk.”

Esturias looked at Master Tzulo who was watching the commander quietly, and asked, “Will I have to keep apologizing to Raphael until he finally believes me that I am sorry for what happened?” “You will have to ask Raphael that question, commander,” replied the Veyan master, with a tone of neutrality. The master realized the two intelligent, strong-willed, sensitive men would ultimately have to work out their differences in approach. Raphael would have to realize and utilize his inner strength, and finally stand up for himself, while Esturias needed to allow his soft inner sensitivity to come forward…when appropriate, especially when dealing with his own family members.

Well, like I said earlier, before Master Tzulo arrived – stop treating me like I am your personal assistant. If you need help, apply to your father, your uncle, or your other brother. I am going back to my rooms to be with my mate, my baby, and my mother-in-law. Do not bother me or my family, again!” snapped Raphael. He abruptly stood up and stormed out, leaving Esturias staring at the door.

Well, that was unexpected coming from Raphael. He usually hides his feelings from others,” said Esturias after a moment.  

Master Tzulo smiled in satisfaction; it appeared Raphael, at least, was learning to let go and not be afraid to let his much older brother know when he was tired of being used as a pawn or in this instance, a personal assistant. “Raphael is trying hard not to hit you, Esturias. Although I know he has been trained by Tomás in self-defense, it is quite apparent he is not willing to hurt another person intentionally. However, as he processes his anger, and he will – I would be careful not to act stupid around him for you may find yourself stretched out on the ground.”

“You are not serious, Master Tzulo,” replied Esturias in disbelief.

Oh, I am quite serious. Raphael has been a warrior in other lifetimes,” replied Master Tzulo. “That part of his soul essence has not been very apparent until now as he learned early as a slave to not draw unwanted attention to him if he got out-of-line. He was intentionally disobedient, at times, when he felt like he wanted to die and had given up, but always the flame of Life was strong within. He withstood the abuse like few can, even adults, trained warriors like yourself, could endure. He contains within him a core of adamantine, unbreakable steel… not unlike the steel he intends to have our ships of the future sheathed in. What is more—if you have not noticed, his Eagles are fiercely protective of his person.” 

“Why does he always have the Eagles? Master Tzulo, do you know? My father refuses to tell me,” said Esturias.  

The answer lies between Raphael, Archangel Michael, and your father. Lord VaCoupe is not at liberty to share the answer with you now. Perhaps in the future you will earn the right,” replied Master Tzulo. He stood, bowed politely, and left the room, leaving an astonished commander staring at his closed door.

When Master Tzulo passed Felipe in the passageway, he asked the Eagle: “Is Raphael inside with his mate and child?”

“Yes, sir—did you need to see him now? He is resting after that encounter with Commander Esturias. I have never seen Raphael so angry, if ever,” replied Felipe with wonder in his voice.

Our Raphael grows up – and out of victimhood, Felipe,” replied Master Tzulo somewhat cryptically, but the intelligent Eagle understood and nodded.  

Good. Raphael is a kind man, sometimes even to those who abuse his gifts. He seldom fights for his rights. The fight got knocked out of him as a youngster,” said Felipe. “However, now, I am beginning to see some fire in his eyes and countenance. He was angry with Esturias for using him this afternoon. I do not think Commander Esturias will make that mistake again, sir.”

“I expect you are right, Felipe. Commend me to Commander Monteras. I hope to speak to him sometime while I am a guest here,” said Master Tzulo. “I will see Raphael and his lovely family at dinner.”

Later, a much calmer Raphael emerged from his rooms with his little family and mother-in-law in tow. He had managed to have a long chat with Lady Martina which allayed some of her concerns about him. Observing Raphael playing gently with his baby boy and being affectionate with her daughter was all she needed to know about his true character. However, rumors had come through the diplomatic channels with which her mate, Lord Pietro, was involved. It was said Raphael’s father, Lord TorSeth Kantor had died during strange circumstances and that Raphael and later his priestess mother had gone missing, too. Soon after Raphael was found as a young teenager, he was promptly fostered by Lord VaCoupe, an action which mystified many who were the boy’s distant kin. Why was Raphael never offered up as a fosterling to his cousins, the Kadish Family, which was the premier Family of Airus, where his blood father was born? These questions and others had been hovering in the heads of some of Raphael’s cousins for years, which were part of the resentment and anger which had built up, unfairly, against him. What is more, Lord VaCoupe immediately had bundled off the boy under guard to Medina, then to Arconia and finally to the University Ship. He had not even graduated from the University Ship before being transferred to the great mothership of Lord Lyonell, where the top commander himself treated the untrained but strangely talented young boy with what was interpreted as being special consideration. After Lord Lyonell’s death Raphael was still guarded day and night, with no explanation, by at least three Eagles, one being the boy’s own cousin. In short, Raphael was a man of mystery and a target of resentment and jealousy emanating from his own relatives and some of his senior commanders.  

With all this baggage of predetermined judgment arrayed against him, Lady Martina finally began to understand the heavy burden this gentle man had carried for years, having to prove himself over again every time he moved to a new assignment. And still, despite all the obstacles in his path, he managed to remain a calm and kind individual, courteous to co-workers, servants, and family members alike. So, it was with some startlement she noted the anger in his face when he re-entered his rooms after his encounter with Commander Esturias. However, once he had a moment or two to take some refreshment and pick up his boy, Raphael began to relax. He voluntarily explained what was happening with Esturias – he did not wish to cover for the commander anymore. What people thought of Esturias was his own concern now, not Raphael’s. He was done being his lackey.  

Anyway, he briefly described Esturias as being in a state of exhaustion aggravated by some wounds taken during a confrontation with the enemy. He did not go into any more detail than that – it was Esturias’ decision whether to share command business with extended family members, not his. He did not want to venture giving out any further information which would eventually end up cycling back to Lord VaCoupe.  

So it was, by the time dinner came around, Raphael was again in a calm and contented state, only this time determined to stand his ground against any comers, even Stephanus and the clever Lady Arla.

Commander Monteras and Felipe joined the little family group. Raphael introduced Tomás as his elder cousin from Morova and the leader of his personal guard, the Eagles assigned to him. When Lady Martina asked about the presence of the Eagles protecting him, Raphael only smiled and replied the Eagles had guarded him ever since boyhood under the orders of Lord VaCoupe. The Lady rejoined her mate, Lord Pietro, and gave him an unexpected kiss. By this signal, she indicated Raphael was okay and not to worry. Lord Pietro had been puzzled by Raphael’s protective measures to extricate the commander from the family room, but relaxed once Raphael’s family made their appearance in the family room.

Raphael went out of his way to approach King Stephanus and Lady Arla, to apologize for his earlier behavior. He said: “My lord king and Lady Arla, I would like to apologize for my odd behavior this afternoon. Commander Esturias is experiencing a state of extreme exhaustion right now and has not been thinking too clearly. He has been ordered to remain in his rooms for a few more days so he can recover. He also took some minor wounds in a recent confrontation with enemy forces. However, due to Command protocol and ongoing security issues, he finally remembered it was inappropriate to share any further information. I hope you will accept my sincere apologies, my lord king.”

Stephanus immediately comprehended what Raphael was saying and laughed out loud, “You were covering for him, were not you?” Raphael only nodded in reply, gave a short bow, and continued to where Julia had chosen to sit at the table. He thought: Let Esturias extricate himself from the mess he caused.

Lord Raimundo sat down next to Raphael to ostensibly admire the growing little boy who was playing with a handmade rattle while sitting on his father’s lap. Julia was quietly chatting with Lady Martina, and the two sisters, Lady Astrig and Lorenna. Raimundo gave Raphael a thoughtful glance and quietly said, “My eldest nephew seems to be experiencing some difficulties of late.”

“Yes, Uncle – he is in quite a state. I even witnessed him crying this afternoon. Master Tzulo did some counseling with him. Although it seemed rather harsh, it was needed. Esturias has been fighting against his own inner nature and seems to be losing the battle. He is due several counseling sessions with you, Lady Arla, and Master Tzulo before he attempts to return to his ship,” replied Raphael keeping his voice lowered. “Surprisingly, I managed to get angry with him and told him outright I will not cover for his mistakes anymore while he is home. Esturias does not seem to know how to act around family members or to treat them with any degree of respect.”

“Hmmm, interesting – well, I may take a break from tutoring young Alphar – who is, by the way, coming along nicely. The boy managed to write a simple sentence today without prompting. He is quite clever and an adaptive learner, much like you,” remarked Raimundo. “As for Esturias, I have not been around my stubborn eldest nephew for quite a while. He has gone out of his way to avoid coming home on leave, always citing Command concerns to get him out of it. However, now his father has him cornered and it would appear some of the issues and feelings he has previously refused to confront are coming up now for him.”

“Very succinct and perceptive, Uncle, as usual,” replied Raphael with a wry grin. “He is certainly beginning to realize he gravely underestimated me, as well. He cannot order me around at home like he did on board ship. I would categorically refuse to ever serve under him in the future if it ever came to my being assigned to another ship. My refusal to behave as he expects from a junior officer totally confounds him. I had to remind him several times that I am now his official brother and so did Master Tzulo. Esturias does not seem to be able to handle personal relationships like he can crew. And he is even messed up the latter and knows it.”

“Oh, I would say that you have touched upon the anger you have been holding in for a long time, Raphael,” replied Raimundo with a grin. “I am sure Esturias deserved whatever you managed to convey to him today. I will have to have a discussion with Master Tzulo about our difficult commander.”

“Please do, Uncle – whatever I feel about Esturias, I am concerned about his recent behavior,” replied Raphael. “It is bound to have a negative reflection on this family and the Command, in general.”

“Interesting; I will have to investigate this ‘behavior’ as you suggest,” replied Raimundo, “I am sure; however, this is not the appropriate setting for such a discussion…”

“My thoughts, too, Uncle; any personal discussion about Esturias or with him should be made in private right now,” said Raphael.

“You know, nephew, with some training, you could become a good counselor,” said Raimundo.

Perhaps in another lifetime, Uncle; right now, my gifts and interests are drawing me towards ship design. And I would say it is the need of the hour if we are going to survive these wars,” said Raphael rather soberly. “Ouch, Jychondria; that pinches! Let go of my hair!”

The little boy was clutching his father’s robes and attempting to pull himself upright. Raphael lifted him up only to have the boy reach out to snag another lock of hair and pull it into his mouth. Raphael laughed and turned the boy around, bouncing him on his knee after he secured the lock of hair. Jychondria was laughing and gurgling with glee; he loved his father. “My stars! Connie is going to be walking soon if he continues developing so fast!”

“He is a charming addition to the family to be sure,” replied Raimundo, who was totally smitten by the boy. Jychondria’s looks favored his father, with his wide forehead, large wide-set eyes, and golden complexion. Yet, there was a bit of his mother there, too, in the shape of his mouth and the set of his ears. His hair was also growing quickly, curling around his tiny ears. Jychondria’s hair texture was finer than his father’s but looked like it would also be thick.  

Master Pelleur and Master Tzulo sat across from Raphael and Jychondria, casually making remarks about the child’s antics and laughing. Raphael sighed contentedly; this life was much better than being stuck in a ship. Alphar sat next to Carlos, whom he had taken a shine to for some unknown reason. Carlos knew a little Morovian battle language and signed to the boy, who now insisted in staying close to him when the boy was not busy with his studies.

After dinner, the family and visitors were encouraged to entertain each other. The VaCoupe family had always taught their youngsters various musical instruments, songs, and dances. After the entertainment was finished, Lord Demetrius pulled Raphael aside for a few moments and said: “I understand you recommended that Master Tzulo do some counseling for Esturias.”

“Yes, I did, Father; Master Tzulo was very helpful counseling me when I was in Alyona,” replied Raphael carefully. “Did you realize Esturias’ behavior is what I would characterize as being highly unstable right now?”

“I noticed he was not himself – although I have not seen him in person for years, just receiving his reports from time to time when he remembers to send them,” said Demetrius with a slight tone of irritation. “I may have to curb him for a while lest he cause some serious problems in the Command. From your perspective as a crew member, do you think Esturias should continue in his role as top commander of The Golden Lion?”

“You are asking me that, sir? I have worked with the Command less than two decades and for seven of those years I have been on shore,” replied Raphael, his voice incredulous. “My opinion could also be regarded as bias, given the suffering I have endured after being removed from the Golden Lion.”

Raphael – I know you have strong intuitive insights about people. What do you honestly sense about my eldest son right now?” asked Demetrius earnestly.

Well, sir, since you want my honest opinion, I would state categorically that he has failed as a top commander and should be transferred back to the battleship division where he was far more successful as a commander,” replied Raphael. “Perhaps with more maturity and if he can develop a higher degree of empathy, he may very well succeed—eventually—as a top commander, but not right now. I am sure I was not the only crew member to suffer because of his indecisiveness and insecurities while dealing with more experienced high-ranking officers. He needs more experience working with, rather than competing with other commanders for instance. The mess with Commander Lantars might not have happened like it did if he had let Lantars borrow my services for a while.”

Raphael paused a moment and then continued with his analysis: “It is hard to look back and pick apart what went wrong – but after Esturias transferred to The Golden Lion, the two of us completely lost contact. And then, out of the blue, when I went to attend one of the first general meetings to which I was specifically invited to, I found myself arrested in front of all the officers, including the few who despised me and my work. I am still dealing with releasing all the pent-up anger, Father, from that incident. I was unfairly treated; treated with total disrespect. I have forgiven Esturias, but this is not something I can simply dismiss as a singular incident. Given Esturias is still encountering difficulties with his crew, while I have been out of the picture for nearly a decade, is indicative of him having problems with handling his responsibilities or being unwilling to delegate to those who have more skill in any area of expertise. For example, Esturias lost the services of Commander Strom who had been on The Golden Lion for nearly two decades. Strom or Char’las should have been chosen for the role of top commander over Esturias. Personally, if it were my decision, I would recommend transferring Esturias to another ship or forcing him to take a very lengthy shore leave. He needs to learn how to remove or transfer commanders who are working against those men assigned under them. Case in point, Hercule Kadish, my former 2nd Level Line Communications Commander; I had no such problems working with Commander Lo’Telle, who knew me from the time I walked onto The Golden Lion as a teenager until I was arrested. Why allow a misguided, arrogant commander ruin a vital department?”

Lord Demetrius regarded his young, adopted son and said with some seriousness, “Are you speaking as Commander Delos or as Raphael?”

Raphael stared at his father for a long moment before answering: “Well, since you brought up the subject of Commander Delos, the man did have extensive training and experience as a commander. Lord Lyonell trained Delos for a couple of years. Then, Delos served and trained under his elder brother, Jychondria… the same being who now is my young son. We were bound by love, respect, understanding, and obedience. A commander like Hercule Kadish would have been removed from his position at the first hint of crew issues – which, despite belief to the contrary—stem from the top down, not from the crew members, but the command staff. It would be better for Esturias to perhaps serve as an operation commander on a mothership or as an aide for another top commander. I would personally choose the role of an operation commander for him, perhaps working under Strom or another one of the successful top commanders. And let Char’las have the top commander position on The Golden Lion. The man has served brilliantly for three decades at his position and knows all there is to know about a mothership. Esturias, on the other hand, is far more effective in a more active role, as a warrior and director of operations. He is not the best one to handle difficult or sensitive interpersonal relationships as he is out of touch with his own empathy and tends to be overly aggressive and impulsive with some of his decision-making. He needs to be curbed in this respect, sir, preferably by an older and wiser top commander. Esturias is from a long-lived family, sir, and has plenty time to work back up into top commander rank. And eventually, in a long-distant time, he will be taking over for you, sir. Would you not want him to be capable of making difficult and sensitive decisions for those working beneath him? And while we are it, please remind Esturias to deal gently with the family. I got angry with him yesterday when he started treating me like I was his personal lackey.”

Lord Demetrius looked at his adopted son and sighed: “The opinions you have just shared with me will be taken into consideration. I have had several comments, complaints even, from the servants stating that Esturias acts rather erratically, confused at times and at other times he is arrogant and demanding. He does not know how to function outside of a command position and seems to be experiencing some difficulty doing that, as well. It is clear he needs a long shore leave. Instead of sending him and Lorenna to Towan, I might send him to Maia to meet his new in-laws for a couple of months. I will give some thought about reassigning my son to another mothership as a lower-level commander. It is a good recommendation; thank you, Raphael. For someone who claims not to have much training in protocol, you seem to have an intuitive understanding on how individuals should ideally work together for the good of the whole, rather than by focusing on personal agendas.” 

  “Thank you, sir; I know, personally, I would rather work as a team member than as a commander, but the regimented protocol of the Command structure does not function in that manner. Still, I always insisted in training my teams to meet my standards, which are quite high, as you have witnessed yourself when I was stationed at Alyona Castle. As Delos, I trained all the men, without exception, to be able to replace any other man within the command and when it came to it, me. Jon deAir was my choice for my successor and to date he has proven to be extraordinarily successful at his position. He told me recently he plans to hand off his position to his eldest son, Jorge, who has also trained for decades in preparation of taking over his father’s job. Perhaps the way commanders are trained and developed needs to be reviewed, certainly at the level of the motherships. Wartime makes the job harder, which is one reason cross-training is so vital. When one man is killed or disabled, another can take his place. It is only common sense. Also, while I understand the desire of the privileged families of the Pleiadian Federation wanting to place their sons into high ranks, it is a dangerous practice, as pedigree does not always decree intelligence or skill. I am, in fact, speaking of my own relatives, the Kadish Family. I also understand that as an individual I am entirely unique to most of the command personnel, being rather exotic due to my strong inborn gifts, yet that is not a reason to deny me the opportunity to excel in whatever I put my mind.”

Master Tzulo wandered over to where Lord Demetrius seemed to be holding an intense discussion with his adopted son. “My lord, Raphael – I hope I am not interfering in your discussion. I must confess Raphael had me doing some counseling with Esturias earlier today.”

“Raphael recommended your services, without consulting me first?” asked Lord Demetrius frowning a bit.

Yes, my lord. I understand Esturias was creating difficulties for himself and others. Raphael was deeply concerned about his state of mind and, having been counseled by me in the past, thought it best. Esturias was not eager to share this with you, either sir,” replied Master Tzulo.

Well – what was your opinion of my eldest son?” asked Lord Demetrius.

Frankly, sir, I would say he is a mess right now. Clearly the man needs some serious rest. In my opinion, he has not been successful in his present position as top commander of The Golden Lion. He feels he is competing with a dead man, in this case, Lord Lyonell, who was the ship’s only top commander until Esturias took her over. It is a case of too much, too soon. Clearly, Esturias would have done better on the mothership had he been given an operation rank rather than top commander. He is a brilliant strategist and tactician but has difficulty dealing with the day-to-day concerns of running what really is the equivalent of a small city in the sky. He would be better suited in a more active position such as he was as a fleet commander and battleship commander, like he was when Raphael first encountered him. Meanwhile, I feel his health and especially his sense of well-being is fragile at best right now; he is not making clear decisions and is acting erratically which is dangerous while attempting to perform wartime duties,” said Master Tzulo rather soberly. 

Lord Demetrius shook his head and said, “Here neither of you are nor have ever been – in this life – senior commanders, but what you have both shared with me makes more sense than I have ever managed to get out of high-ranking commanders. Master Tzulo, would it interest you to note that Raphael shared much of what you just told me before you came up?”

“My lord, from my own observations, Raphael appears to be a very astute, intelligent, and sensitive individual, replied Master Tzulo. “Intuitively, he is an excellent judge of character, all facets of the character, both the outer personality and the inner being. He realizes perhaps better than many men, most of whom tend to focus on the outer shell that your son, while a brilliant commander at one level was simply over his head in another higher position. And while Raphael was able to work with the commander when he was on a battleship, with a smaller crew, Esturias became completely unavailable when he was transferred to the mothership. For someone like Raphael who has lived through extreme trauma for lengthy periods of his life, this was like removing the one thing he could count on – the regard and respect of his commander. Raphael is better off working with a small, hand-picked team of experts than with a large protocol-driven crew, especially if an inexperienced or even incompetent commander is running it.”

“Harsh words, Master Tzulo, but pretty much what Raphael just shared with me,” replied Lord Demetrius. “So, it appears this is no longer a matter of just what was done to one individual several years ago; it is apparent Esturias is over his head in his present position. I will give this some thought for a day or two and produce a strategy on how to deal with this issue. Meanwhile, I will give instructions my son to remain in his quarters, under guard if necessary. Raphael – could I borrow one of your Eagles for a brief time?”

Raphael had been listening with great interest to this discussion. It satisfied something deep within his being to be listened to by his father and by Master Tzulo. He felt vindicated for having the feelings he had held so long about knowing there was a problem with the way Esturias had handled affairs after being given the top commander position of The Golden Lion. Not for the first or last time, he deeply regretted the loss of his great friend and mentor, Lord Lyonell. He replied to Lord Demetrius after his father had to repeat his question: “I shouldn’t think it a problem, sir; just inform Commander Monteras what you require. Paul Dominguez would be the best choice to start. He was the Eagle who witnessed me being dragged out of The Golden Lion. He would enjoy keeping watch over Esturias for a change. There are five Eagles here, sir, besides Commander Monteras, so there are enough men to divide their duties between myself and Esturias for now.”

“Hmmm, seeking revenge are we, Raphael, or is that some more of your righteous anger surfacing?” asked Master Tzulo with a twinkle in his large almond eyes.

Both, sir; I will let Commander Monteras know you would wish to speak to him, Father. Would you like to see him tonight or can it wait until tomorrow?” replied Raphael, directing his question to his father.

 “Tomorrow should be early enough. I will have Carlos give Esturias a sleeping draught which should keep him out of trouble tonight,” replied Lord Demetrius. Raphael laughed, “Poor Esturias, he will be out for days. Carlos makes very effective sleeping draughts, as well I know from my own experience.”

“And now, Father, Master Tzulo, I should seek out my lovely mate and little boy and say good night to everyone. It has been an awfully long and eventful day for me,” said Raphael. He bowed briefly, turned, and strode back to the table where Julia was talking to her mother and some of the other women. Taking her arm, he gently said, “Come, my dear, it is time for us to head to our rooms.”

“Master Raphael – Claudine and I would like to speak to you alone tomorrow. Would it be possible?” asked Lady Arla just as Raphael was picking up Jychondria.

I do not see any problem, Lady Arla – let me know what you wish to cover tomorrow – I am really quite tired now,” replied Raphael as he moved off.

Lady Arla remarked to Lady Martina, “It would appear our Raphael is beginning to exercise his own inner power. What a shock that must be to someone like Esturias!”

All Rights Reserved, Eliza Ayres, videos and recordings of this material are not permitted. http://www.bluedragonjournal.com and https://sunnysjournal.com

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