BOOK THREE: CHAPTER  5 – New Beginnings

CHAPTER  5 – New Beginnings


When Raphael woke up the next morning, he had to remember to not put his old uniform on, again, as he was no longer an official member of the Command – that is if Commander Menas had accepted his resignation – something he wasn’t all too sure about just yet.  He dressed in a Medinian gown and robes and wrapped a loose colorful hand-woven scarf around his neck.  Placing his crystal pendant and lord’s medallion under his gown, he pulled on his VaCoupe family crest ring, the Sirian earring, and braided his hair up.  He heard voices in the sitting room and when he came out, found Commander Bashar Kadish standing there already, speaking to Lady Julia.  Raphael addressed Kadish rather rudely, “What are you doing here, Commander?  I thought I made it clear to Commander Menas that I’ve resigned my commission; I’m no longer in the Command and not under your jurisdiction.  Please leave my home!”

“Raphael!” Julia admonished her mate, “The commander is a guest; I invited him here myself on the advice of Commander Monteras! We feel you have been a bit preemptive in turning in your resignation. After all, it was your planning along with the bravery of Claudine that freed our worlds from the Dark Lord’s devices. Listen to Commander Kadish! I know him; he is my cousin and a third cousin to you, too!”

“How did Monteras know I resigned? I didn’t speak to him after we arrived yesterday,” replied an annoyed Raphael. 

Commanders Menas and Adrigus got ahold of me, advising me of your sudden unexpected decision,” replied Commander Kadish. “Then, I got ahold of Commander Monteras, who, as the commander of your Eagles, is still in the Command, as are the Eagles. We’re not eager to release these men from the service, to be frank. Nor you, Lord Raphael. We would appreciate it if you would consider taking over the leadership of the Alyona Command Center, while still retaining Commander Lo’Telle as your immediate second. You’ve already have been functioning in this capacity as an Aide to your father, but now, with your father’s demise, you would have to report directly with the new Supreme Head Commander, Menas. We need your expertise, my lord. I’m sure you’ve been told for years that you are a resource and that still holds true. Your planning for the last campaign, everything about it, was beyond brilliant. We weren’t sure the plans would work, but they did. And how did you know your sister could withstand the charms of the Dark Lord? To be honest, my lord, you are without compare among the men of the Command. We need you still. I hope you will consider this plea, as plea it is – as opposed to an order. We understand that you need time to grieve for your father and are willing to grant you some time to recover – but after that, Menas and his committee want to know if you are willing to continue to work with the Command.”

Raphael had sat down during this long speech from the commander and then just looked up and quietly replied, “No, thank you, Commander Kadish; I will not accept the offer. I’ve been attempting to leave the Command for decades. Now that I no longer must support and protect my father, I don’t wish to continue in capacity of acting as a commander. I would rather turn my focus to acting as an advisor for my sister who is about to accept the regentship for the Pleiadian Federation on behalf of our nephew, Francis Dino VaCoupe.”

The commander looked displeased with Raphael’s refusal to cooperate. He replied bluntly, “You VaCoupes are an independent, stubborn lot! By what right does Claudine have to become regent without any input from the Command?”

Raphael stood up and replied with a growl, “By the right of having stood in front of the Dark Lord and striking him down with a flick of her index finger, Commander! My nephew couldn’t have done such a thing. Claudine saved the Pleiadian people through that act and has willingly taken on the debt for the killing of the Dark Lord for all us! Besides, the lordship of the Federation is a VaCoupe thing. Our family carries the hereditary right to the Lordship, passed down from the Founder of our House. The Command has nothing to do with our family decisions regarding who will carry the title and authority. With the death of the Lord of the Pleiades, my father, Lord VaCoupe, the office of the Supreme Head Commander passes back to the Command. There is nothing more to say today. Now, go; leave this room, Commander!”

Commander Kadish stood up and saluted to Raphael and replied, “I’ll go peacefully now, my lord, but this isn’t the end of our discussion. I am going to have a talk next with your sister Claudine.”

“Go right ahead, Commander. I think you will find my sister even more strong-willed than me!” replied Raphael rather haughtily. 

The commander bowed to his cousin Julia and left the suite. One of the Eagles peeked in and asked, “Is everything all right, my lord; we heard loud voices inside and were concerned.”

Raphael replied, “The commander was threatening to take the Eagles away now that I’ve resigned my commission!”

“Resigned, my lord? Does Commander Monteras know of your resignation?” Felipe looked both stunned and uncertain. “You need to speak to your cousin, my lord, and sort this out. Now that your father is no longer in charge of the Command, you are without the shield he gave you in assigning you as his Aide. Unless there is a good reason for your resignation, the Command may not accept it since we are still officially in a state of war, even with the threat of the Dark Lord having been vanquished. I don’t want to step out of place, my lord, but you need to speak with a few people and weigh the ramifications of your decision to leave the Command. For one thing – you would be forcing us, the Eagles, to also make the decision to stay with you and resign or to remain within the Command and be transferred elsewhere leaving you unprotected from your enemies and detractors.”

Julia came up beside Raphael as he stood speaking to Eagle Felipe, listening. When Felipe was finished speaking, she remarked, “The Eagles are committed to protecting you, Raphael; you are putting them in a difficult place by resigning so suddenly. Could you not wait a while until we are sure the enemy attacks will not be renewed? We really cannot be sure if most of the enemy fleets were destroyed during that last campaign. I would encourage you to speak to your other mentors before making such a decision. Claudine, Raimundo, and Lady Amethyst should all be consulted, first. Also, Master Li Tzulo is still staying in the Castle as no one was allowed to leave during the expected attack which never took place thanks to you and Claudine. Perhaps he would be willing to discuss your resignation from the Fleet.”

“That is good advice, my lord – talk this decision of yours through with some of your family members and mentors. You are grieving, my lord; it is quite understandable that you want to throw off those things that remind you the most about your father, Lord VaCoupe, but you cannot escape your pledge to aid your people. They need you, now, my lord, more than ever. You can still act as an advisor to Claudine if that is also your intention, and still function in the capacity of a commander here in Alyona,” replied Felipe.

Raphael regarded his tall Eagle companion, gave a deep sigh, and replied, “You have a persuasive tongue, Felipe; have you ever thought of taking up diplomacy? All right, I’ll speak to a few more people before going off in a huff. I was a bit shocked that the Command would assign someone in place of Father here so soon.”

“Adjustments have to be made all around, my lord,” said Felipe. “The loss of Lord VaCoupe leaves a monumental hole in the tapestry of our Federation. Frankly, it will take several men to fill the gap and some time to allow the people to recover from the loss of your father. He has not yet received a formal memorial. This should be accomplished before making any further decisions, my lord, or people will think you are neglecting your sworn obligations to the people and are being disrespectful of your father’s memory.”

“Felipe is right, Raphael,” replied Julia. “You need to take some time off to grieve for your father, but the people also need a mature adult older than young Francis to be the spokesperson for our Family. And Claudine will also require your services as a counselor. Young Francis will need you to continue with his training and to act as his uncle, to advise him as he continues to learn of his duties to the Federation. Now is not the time to run away from your responsibilities, Raphael.”

Julia started to turn away when another thing occurred to her, “Our cousin, Bashar is not here to replace Lord VaCoupe. He is here as a representative from the top commander committee to act as a coordinator between the top commanders on the ships and the Alyona Command Center. Didn’t you hear him ask if you would consider taking full command of the Center? You would be working with him and other top commanders as they take turns acting as temporary coordinator here on Alyona. He wasn’t trying to push you aside, Raphael. I know you’re exhausted and have felt hemmed in by the Command for a long time. Working under the jurisdiction of your father has allowed you greater freedom than you would have to contend with on board any ship. I must ask you if you are concerned that you will be ordered to join a ship crew now that you are no longer sheltered by your father’s authority?”

Raphael just stared at Julia and then asked her, “Do you want to see me shipped out on a mothership, Julia? I’m done talking here now. I need to speak to my sister, Francis Polaño, Master Li and sort things out in my mind. Then, maybe I will reconsider my resignation. I will see you later. Thank you for your input, Felipe, although whatever I decide is none of your business. I would like Milo and Loki to come with me now; could you see if they are available?”

As Felipe passed on Raphael’s request to Commander Monteras and told him about Raphael’s uncharacteristic rudeness with everyone, he was advised that it was, indeed, none of his business. Tomás knew that Raphael’s behavior meant he was, quite possibly, on the verge of another breakdown. He called out Loki and Milo to take up their duty with Raphael and advised them, “Don’t be surprised if the commander experiences a collapse. He may be getting close to another breakdown, something he suffers periodically due to stress. Remember, his father just died. He was within feet of a major Dark Lord and from a distance signaled the beginning of a major attack. Frankly, I’m surprised he hasn’t fallen ill yet…”

“We’ll watch after him, my lord,” promised Loki, as his companion Eagle, Milo nodded.

Raphael was waiting impatiently for the appearance of his Eagle escort when they arrived on the scene. Loki smiled and asked, “Where did you wish to go first, my lord?”

“Hmmm, to see my sister, Claudine and then Francis,” replied Raphael. Then he reconsidered, adding: “No, perhaps I need to see Francis Polaño first. He’s the one who organizes things around here. Yes, let’s head over to Father’s office. Hopefully, Francis will still be there unless he decides to retire!”

Master Polaño was in his accustomed place, although sitting at Lord VaCoupe’s desk. Raphael carefully knocked before entering. Francis looked up, a sad expression on his face. He explained, “I’m cleaning out your father’s things. I’ve been told that the top commanders want to use this office. However, I thought Claudine might appreciate setting up an office and hiring an assistant. She will require some assistance to coordinate meetings, agendas, dinners, and the like with diplomats and the High Council sessions.”

“Well, Francis – I’m not sure if she would like this office, but I’m sure Claudine would appreciate if you act as her assistant while everything is being sorted out,” replied Raphael. “Then, it is up to you to decide whether you want to retire or continue working here. Your services were invaluable to Father; I know Claudine would value them highly, as well. Meanwhile, you might begin to train someone to act as your assistant in case you decide to retire.”

Raphael looked around for a few minutes. He had never spent a great deal of time in his father’s office except for those first two days when the two of them met for the first time after his rescue. He commented, “I’ll see what Claudine wants to do. First, I think we should hold a formal memorial service for Father. And then, a formal investiture of Claudine as Regent for her nephew, your namesake. Claudine and I will then sponsor a memorial to be held in Medina in the Shemont, with Lady Amethyst presiding. I guess we could have Lady Arla preside over the memorial held here as Lady Anna is on Medina. I also need to speak to Mother – there is so much to do, never mind the Command sticking their collective noses in where they are not wanted right now. Francis, if anyone tries to shoo you out of this office, send them to me. This office belongs to the VaCoupe Family and will remain in its possession as long as our Family endures! It has our Shield on the door!”

Francis gave a short-lived grin and said, “My lord, you are very convincing. Certainly, if Claudine wishes to use this office, it will be made available to her. Other than that, either you should use it, or the office can be reserved for young Francis when he finally succeeds to the lordship. I will advise any curious commanders that the office is not available, my lord.”

“Are there any other offices available, Francis?” inquired Raphael. Even after living in the Alyona Castle, he didn’t know the layout of the buildings very well.

Yes, my lord; there are several offices available that could be outfitted to serve the needs of the Command if they are willing to work with me so I can coordinate matters with their people and my people – moving furniture, and arranging equipment,” replied Francis. “Working on land in an ancient castle is quite different to being stationed on a ship, my lord – as you well know!”

“Indeed, Francis – well, if I happen to see Bashar Kadish again, I’ll send him to you,” said Raphael. “I’ve officially resigned from the Command and the commander has an issue with that decision of mine. I’ve agreed with Julia to take it up with a few of my advisors before I reiterate my decision or change it. I’ve been long inside an organization that has very binding rules and protocols, none of which suit my gifts and inclinations. However, I understand I have a certain duty to fulfill in terms of allowing the people to adjust to all the changes we will be enduring as we migrate from a wartime setting to being at peace for the first time in over 500 years! Imagine that, Francis – peace in our time!”

“Peace, my lord? Are you sure?” asked Francis with a plaintive note in his voice. “It seems so unfair that Lord Demetrius would be killed on the eve of lasting peace…”

“He was a sacrifice that the Dark Lord was convinced would send us to our collective knees, but he miscalculated and died as a result,” replied Raphael, knowing beyond reason he was right; there would be no more attempts to invade Pleiadian space. However, the Command and the rulers of the planets still had to ferret out any remaining agents, spies, or implanted individuals who could potentially wreak havoc in the future. “Okay, Francis, I’m heading to my office. Hopefully, I will be able to connect with Raimundo or Lady Anna, as well as Lady Amethyst, to start making arrangements for a family memorial service in Medina so that the local people and our household staff can also attend. Then, I’ll try to see if Claudine is available this afternoon after the morning sessions of the High Council. I’m sure the council representatives are eager to hear the results of our adventure on BerWare.”

“Your assistant, Commander DeAires, should be at either your office or over at the Alyona Command awaiting orders,” commented Francis. “He is another person you need to speak to before you arbitrarily resign, my lord. Commander DeAires is extremely loyal and enjoys serving with you. He is probably too young to retire from the Command and has no home to go to if he does. Remember there are many who are counting on you to be here with them for some time into the future, my lord.”

 Raphael sighed, “I guess I’m on the front line when it comes to being a Servant of the People, Francis! I wonder how Father managed two positions with such grace and determination… I’ll just have to do my best for now.”

Raphael found his younger Aide in his office busy reviewing a report. As DeAires looked up and noticed his superior officer’s manner of dress, the young man blurted out, “My lord, you’re in native clothes! Where is your uniform?”

“I thought I resigned from the Command last night, DeAires. However, everyone is reminding me of my duty to the people, and in a panic that I’ll suddenly leave and go somewhere else,” replied Raphael a little sarcastically.

Why would you resign your commission, my lord? Commander Bashar Kadish was under the impression that you would now be leading the Alyona Command, with Commander Lo’Telle as your second,” inquired DeAires. 

So, Bashar spoke to you, too? He certainly gets around – before I got up this morning, he had already spoken to Menas, Adrigus, my mate, and my cousin, Tomás Monteras. I can’t seem to go anywhere without Bashar having been there first,” replied Raphael. He studied his younger Aide and then asked, “What’s your impression of the man, DeAires?”

Salaniel pondered the question a long moment before answering. He said, “Well, sir, Commander Kadish appears to be an honest, hard-working individual. He served under Commander Adrigus and was rewarded with a mothership of his own… although he’s not currently serving on her since he is temporarily assigned here. He told me that the top commanders will all be taking turns working out of here until things can settle down a bit. And there may be a permanent command staff put into place here rather than on the ships, so orders can be coordinated through the Alyona Command Center. Frankly, my lord, Commander Kadish was surprised that your father could manage his two positions with such apparent ease. It’s going to take several men to replace him. What a great loss to our people and especially to your Family, my lord!”

“Well, for one thing, Father can’t tell me not to adopt you now, Salaniel. Perhaps that’s not the word for it, but you are certainly welcome to return home with me if I stick with my decision to leave the Command,” said Raphael.

Commander DeAires blinked, tears forming up in his eyes, but he shook his head and replied, “Thank you, my lord, for your generous offer, but I am too young to retire from service. Working with you has given me more confidence about my gifts and what I can offer our people through my service. And my health has improved greatly while I’ve been stationed on land. Like you’ve experienced, living on board a ship is difficult as my gifts do not grant me much ease especially when I am continuously exposed to the enemy frequencies. I am content to remain here and serve whoever may replace you, my lord, although I don’t think anyone really can – which is why I personally feel it would be better for you to remain here, too, if you don’t mind my presumption.”

Raphael studied the tiled floor for a long moment and then said, “You shame me, DeAires. Everyone I’ve spoken to this morning is convinced I should stay in the Command, even though I feel otherwise. I need to sort this out some more and it may take some time to do it. Commander Bashar mentioned that the Command is willing to let me take some leave to officially grieve my father’s death and to take care of family issues… which reminds me – I came here to see if I can reach Raimundo or Lady Anna today and perhaps, Lady Amethyst. I’m in need of some advice and consolation. I can’t imagine how Mother feels at her loss. Fortunately, her girls are grown and well on their way to becoming full-fledged priestesses. I know Lady Anna wanted more children with Father, but it wasn’t to be. I wonder what she will do next.”

DeAires stared at his commander and blurted, “You had better call her now, my lord! It’s been nearly a week since your father was killed!”

It was clear DeAires was shocked Raphael had not yet spoken to his mother since his father’s death. He had been so involved in the planning of the attack and making sure his sister was prepared for her ordeal in facing the Dark Lord… and then spending a couple of days in BerWare before returning to Alyona. Reconnecting with his adopted mother had been forgotten in all the turmoil. Still, Raphael felt somewhat ashamed and sat down in his office after carefully closing the door. He punched in the code numbers for his father’s study. Surprisingly, it was his uncle Raimundo who answered the call.

Both men spoke simultaneously: “Uncle!” “Raphael!”

Then, Raimundo took a deep breath. “You survived! What happened? We’re just getting rumors and fragments – of a great battle, really several battles, and a confrontation on BerWare? Where is your sister, Claudine?”

“Oh, Uncle! It’s been a whirlwind here. Claudine and I just returned from BerWare last night and I’m busy sorting out everything, including what I should do next,” replied Raphael. “Claudine was magnificent; she struck down the Dark Lord with a mere flick of her finger! I was there and signaled for the start of a massive attack against all the remaining enemy fleets within the entire Federation. Within a matter of minutes, it was over, unbelievably over. We later received confirmation of victory as reports came into the Alyona Command Center. Uncle, I believe… I have seen that with this last-ditch effort, we have finally defeated the attempts of the Orions to invade our worlds. We were heavily supported by our Ashkerian allies as well as many unseen forces. After the battle, I stayed a couple of nights in BerWare and just returned last night.”

Raphael paused and then asked, “How is Mother doing? I tried to reach you when I knew Father had passed. I saw the attack, Uncle… in another vision. And then I was plunged immediately into planning our attack as I knew the Dark Lord would expect us to surrender. However, we had time for it seems the dark forces were so certain we would give up, they came prepared to rape, pillage, and enslave our entire population. They planned to divide the spoils up amongst themselves. It was unbelievable to tune into the nasty frequency of the Dark Lord. Claudine was magnificent standing up to him. And even her loyal BerWarians were momentarily convinced she was intending to surrender to him. We would have been utterly lost had she done that!”

Raimundo looked concerned, “How are you faring, Raphael? Being that close to a major Dark Lord must have been a challenge for you?”

“I had a brutal headache after the battle, but seem to be holding up, now, Uncle, although everyone seems quite vigilant around me. I resigned my commission last night, perhaps a bit preemptively, as everyone I speak to, including Julia, are advising me to reconsider my abrupt decision. I’m only tired, Uncle, and need some time to properly grieve Father. I’ve never even been able to do that for any of my blood kin. And now, I’ve lost my third father to the Enemy. You haven’t told me how Mother is doing…”

 “Raphael, your mother is in good hands. She has been staying at the Shemont and is in the process of being counseled gently by Lady Amethyst and Lady Arrina. I haven’t been able to speak to her much in the last couple of days. When are you and Claudine coming home; we need to have another all-family session now that we’ve lost yet another family member?” replied Raimundo.

First, we need to hold a memorial here for the representatives from the High Council. Most of them are still present as all travel was forbidden after the attack on Father. The travel ban for traffic other than Command ships is still in effect here, although I have yet to verify that,” noted Raphael. “When Claudine and I led the High Council the other day, the representatives seemed a bit stunned; we all were. Everyone is still dealing with the aftermath of such a huge loss for our people and the Command,” said Raphael.

Did I hear you right, nephew, that you resigned your commission? I know you’ve wanted out of the Command for a long time, but don’t you feel it is a poor time to do it now as people are sorting out their feelings, grieving for your father, and needing a guiding hand – your hand and that of Claudine – through this rough emotional patch for them? You worked the closest with your father save for Francis his private assistant and know just how dedicated he was… and how he would expect you to be now that he’s gone. There is no one else to fall back onto – Esturias is still imprisoned, and young Francis is still too immature, and your elder brother Roméo is simply not interested. You may not be of our blood, but the people identify you as a VaCoupe in name and expect you to be there to lead them forward into the coming new era… of peace?”

Raphael gave a deep sigh and replied, “It would appear I acted out of haste in presenting my resignation to Commander Menas via comm last night. Not one person I have spoken to yet has agreed with my decision. Now, I’ll have to backtrack on it, which may delight one of my many Kadish cousins. A cousin to both Julia and me, Bashar Kadish, is present here in the Castle, acting as a ‘representative’ of the new top-commander’s committee which will be acting on behalf of the new Supreme Head Commander, Leo Menas… an interesting choice.”

“You may find that another committee of the top lords of the Federation will begin to form, as well, Raphael,” replied Raimundo. “Lord Dino, Lord Kadish, and others seem to feel that Claudine will require a council to advise her on decisions made for the benefit of the Federation. Whereas these individuals have seldom had any interest in attending High Council while my brother was alive, but sent their representatives, now they are interested in suddenly becoming ‘involved’ in participating in Federation-wide decisions. I would suggest that perhaps some of these individuals want to assume more power than is appropriate beyond their own worlds; however, that is up to you and Claudine to sort out. Just remind these high and mighty lords that the lordship of the Pleiades is not suddenly up for grabs, nephew!”

“Have you heard from Lord Mathdis, Uncle?” asked Raphael. “He and Father were such good friends… and I miss his company, too. I hope to visit Jolf, if briefly, when we come for a visit. I still have The Golden Cat and can fly independently, especially now that it seems there will be no more enemy ships traveling through our space!”

“Lady Amethyst made sure to contact all the local councils after you connected with her a few days ago. She also saw that my brother had been killed and immediately came over to console your mother, Lady Anna,” said Raimundo. “She noted that you were very upset about the situation and preoccupied.”

“I knew the Dark Lord would contact us, but I thought his message would arrive in a matter of hours, so I began to immediately put plans into place, selecting Claudine as the regent of the Federation so she could confront the Dark Lord, notifying the High Council, and handing out plans to the astonished Commanders like dessert. They were too shocked to argue about my Father’s death, the audacity of the plans, and the sheer numbers of enemy ships that were poised to sweep down on our planets and wreak havoc. I am glad that things worked out for the best… and now we can move forward. It will take some adjusting to return to what we were before this horrible war occurred – and I don’t see how we can. The war has changed us in so many ways, that we don’t know ourselves anymore.”

Raimundo regarded those strange and compelling blue green eyes of his adopted nephew and replied, “If you are willing to listen to some more of my advice, nephew, I would recommend that you remain in the Command for a couple more years, so the transition is well on its way and people are feeling more settled. If you leave now, there will be rumors and innuendos about you that will follow you the rest of your life. You are, effectively, a VaCoupe, if in name-only, and so people expect you to serve with dignity. Eventually, then you will be able to retire and live the quiet life that you have always yearned for but could not have, simply due to your gifts and your Light. You are not like other men, Raphael, and now others have begun to recognize your gifts and will seek you out, not to use you, but for advice and counsel. You have endured and grown so much; do not turn away when we need you to be available, Raphael. I know you are tired and in need of rest. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if your cousin expects you to fall into one of your periodic illnesses due to the stress that you’ve put yourself under in the last few days – never mind the last decade or so — but you did it, Raphael, because you love the people. Remember, nephew, of your devotion to the golden ships and the vision you had for the potential of our people to evolve; now, because of you and Claudine, we will have the necessary time to accomplish that goal. Even if the time of the golden ships has been put off for a few thousand years, our people will be ready because you and your sister stepped up and volunteered to place yourselves on the front lines. What you two accomplished was astonishing, brave, and extremely brilliant. You deserve to be acknowledged for your part, but if you run away now, you will be forgotten forever. Ultimately, it is your choice, of which you of all people are quite aware. Your poor eldest brother, Esturias, never understood how mature you already were long before him as you have carried the gifts and graces forward from many lifetimes in many quadrants before this one. I know Lady Amethyst realizes you are a living Master among us. Even if other people do not realize it yet, I want to personally thank you for what you have done for all us, nephew. I know my brother didn’t know quite what he had in giving you a home so long ago, but I am glad he took you into the Family. We have been the better for it. And now, I would imagine you have other things to do than to listen to your long-winded uncle. Go with the Grace of the Mother, my dear, dear nephew. And get yourself home for a visit soon as you can manage!”

“I’ll do that, Uncle. And don’t worry; I highly value every word of advice you’ve ever given me! Tell Mother that I love her!” said Raphael as he began to disconnect. Raphael gave another big sigh. Expectations. Always expectations. He knew he really would have to reconsider his resignation now. The voting was in favor of him remaining in the Command. It was not as if he couldn’t make up his own mind, but these times were challenging enough for him. How much more of a challenge was it for the commoners, the farmers, families, tradesmen, shopkeepers, shipbuilders, and others? Their worlds were about to be plunged into a period of major post-war transition. It was important to continue to serve… as it had been made clear to him. It was just he was fed up with being constantly on demand. What did his father feel serving year after year for centuries without respite? Another sigh. It was time to see if Commander Bashar had spoken to Claudine.

Raphael let his aide, DeAires, know where he was going, towards the Council chambers. He thought the morning council session should have been letting out. He momentarily wondered if Francis had completed the arrangements for the memorial service yet. And then, as if he could read Raphael’s mind, DeAires said, “My lord, Francis just informed me that he and Claudine have set aside the last afternoon of this week’s High Council for Lord VaCoupe’s memorial service – that would be tomorrow. It will be held in the Council Chambers since our chapel is too small to accommodate all the representatives and any guests, they might have with them. The Council Guard will be in attendance to keep things under control. I would suggest you also have your full detail of Eagles along with you to protect Claudine, young Francis, and yourself. We don’t know if there are still any enemy agents among our people, my lord.”

“Excellent point, DeAires; I’ll have to see if we can get one of those automatic scanners installed outside the chambers room, so the guards are not required. They’re good for a show, though, with their flashy uniforms. Perhaps Claudine can encourage them to redesign those things!”

“My lord; you’re getting your sense of humor back!” remarked DeAires with a grin. He, too, was concerned about Raphael’s health although the commander seemed fit. “I’ll see you later. I’m going to visit Commander Lo’Telle over at the Alyona Command Center, my lord.”

Raphael found Claudine sitting drinking tea and eating some refreshments with some of the representatives and a massive Ashkerian dressed in a commander’s uniform. She looked up as she sensed his presence and waved him over, “Raphael, I would like you to meet the Ash Tar, the current Supreme Head Commander of the Ashkerian Fleet, Benjamin Diaz. He is the elder brother of your friend, Commander Strabo Diaz. He’s been asking me about the strategist who was responsible for planning the last battles. Commander Diaz, this is my adopted brother, Lord Raphael Kantor-VaCoupe. He is our secret weapon being a seer and a master tactician and strategist.”

“Master? Your plan was brilliant, Lord Raphael!” The Ashkerian commander’s voice was a booming baritone, reminding Raphael of his friend, Strabo. “Where did you learn such things, my lord?”

“From many lifetimes apparently, Commander – and then just carrying the knowledge and gifts forward into this one. I never completed Commander training in this life, sir,” replied Raphael after saluting the high commander.

The white blonde Ashkerian regarded Raphael with a shrewd blue eye and commented, “Which is why many commanders in your Fleet are uncomfortable around you or with your methods, my lord?”

“Quite, Commander – your own brother could tell you a thing or two about that ongoing attitude arrayed against whatever I do,” replied Raphael. “What brings you to Alyona, sir?”

Claudine could barely keep her peace and spoke up, “The Ashkerians want to formalize an agreement between us to work together to drive the lower Orions out of our space and out of this region of the quadrant. Together, with the Ashkerians, our fleets can drive them far away so they will never bother our planets again!”

“Sounds interesting, Commander, but I’m hardly the man to speak with – being in the eyes of much of the Command an outsider as it is,” replied Raphael. “You need to speak to the members of the new top commander committee. Their representative here right now is Top Commander Bashar Kadish.”

Claudine looked quizzically at Raphael and asked, “Is that yet another cousin of yours, Raphael?”

Raphael nodded and replied, “Yes, my Lady, Bashar is yet another cousin. He’s my mate’s second or third cousin from the main branch of the Kadish Family. Commander Kadish served under Commander Adrigus on The Golden Dolphin. He used to serve with Esturias, as well.”

The Ashkerian Commander looked a little disappointed that Raphael wouldn’t work with him directly, but Raphael was not a top commander and knew he had no business making agreements with an ally, even one like the Ashkerians. He inquired, “Then, where can I find Commander Bashar Kadish?”

Raphael glanced over at Claudine and said, “I thought he was going to speak to you this morning. I forgot High Council was still in session. Ah, we had a – disagreement early this morning.” Raphael looked at the Ashkerian commander and confessed, “You see, Commander – I resigned my commission last night and the Command is taking issue with it. They wish to retain my services for the foreseeable future. And so far, everyone I’ve spoken to this morning agrees with the Command. Apparently, it would be seen as desertion if I were to leave now. I had fully intended to focus on being an advisor for Claudine here, but now, apparently, I’m going to have to work between two jobs and two masters, at least for a while.”

Claudine looked with surprise at Raphael, “You resigned from your commission? And you didn’t think to tell me first, brother? What prompted that move?”

“It’s a long story, my lady, Commander,” replied Raphael, not willing to go into depth with his background in a public setting. 

Claudine addressed the Ashkerian commander directly, “What Raphael is unwilling to say is that due to a past life of his, my…our father believed his foster son would be a great asset to the Command. However, due to circumstances earlier in his life, Raphael was forced to open his significant psychic gifts to survive. By the time he enlisted in the Command, those gifts were unfolding in ways that made his commanders feel uncomfortable, being quite unpredictable and at times, uncontrollable. Being stationed on a mothership, any ship was a difficult place for Lord Raphael. Until he was stationed here on Alyona, he had difficulties with his health. He has been doing well here, but now that Father has been killed, we have to re-evaluate his relationship to the Command and just how he could serve without going back on board a ship. Right now, he is working in concert with the Alyona Command Center.”

The massively built Ashkerian grinned at Claudine and Raphael, replying, “Remember, my brother Strabo knows Lord Raphael well having worked with him on the golden ships. He has provided me with some of his background information to give me a sense what I would be encountering during this meeting. I’m not disappointed – just that now I will have to attempt to work with yet another entity before we can hash out an agreement. It is to be expected with the demise of Lord VaCoupe. One doesn’t appreciate what a strong leader manages to accomplish until he is gone, and Lord Demetrius was certainly that, my lady, my lord.”

“Indeed, Commander; thank you for saying that about Father,” replied Claudine. “We are going to have a memorial for him tomorrow afternoon, sir, if you wish to attend. You would be most welcome. Perhaps Bashar Kadish will be there, too, as a representative from the Command.”

“That is an excellent idea, Claudine!” replied Commander Benjamin. “I’ll attend the memorial, of course, out of respect for a fine man and a fine leader.” The white blonde barrel-chested commander surveyed Raphael once more and said, “So, you’re a master tactician, my lord? I will welcome any input you have as we plan to move on the remaining dark fleets and drive them out of this sector of the quadrant. I’m sure Commander Bashar Kadish wouldn’t mind receiving some of your ideas, either. I do know who you were…before, in Sirust, my lord. Your achievements were legendary, even among my people. And what you and your sister have achieved just a couple of days ago, well, it is almost beyond imagining. If I had not had ships involved in the melee, I would not have been able to visualize the sheer audacity of the planning. You are a genius, my lord!”

Raphael just stared at the tabletop and sighed as he tapped a finger on the wood, replying, “A very exhausted genius, Commander Diaz. Well, Claudine, I came here to see if Commander Kadish had spoken to you yet. Since he hasn’t, I need to report to the Alyona Command Center. I’m afraid I left a very disturbed commander there last night when I abruptly resigned my commission. My second in command, Charles Lo’Telle and I have served together, off and on, since I was nineteen years old and suffering mightily from post-traumatic stress due to circumstances suffered as a child and into my teen years. Lo’Telle is an extremely talented commander, a loyal friend and comrade. I wouldn’t want to disappoint him like I have managed to disappoint everyone else I have spoken to today.”

Claudine reached out to pat Raphael’s hand and said, “Dear brother – you have not disappointed anyone, especially me. I understand you are tired, who wouldn’t be after all the planning and work you have put in for the last decade fending off these incessant attacks. And now that it appears the attacks may be over, being in a constant state of hypervigilance can lead to a severe case of exhaustion. With some thought, I would recommend you get examined by Master Leu to see just what is the state of your health and then take a couple of weeks off at home in Medina. I know Mother would love to see you, as well as the rest of the family and perhaps your friend, Lord Mathdis and his son, Aiden Mathdis. You are loved, dear brother – and have been battered about by the onslaught of responsibilities dropped into your lap due to our father’s sudden demise. After the investiture, I give you permission to go home and rest a while.”

Raphael sighed once more and then pushed himself upright. He bowed to his sister, Claudine, and turned once more to the Ash Tar Commander Diaz, “It was an honor to meet you, sir. I hope to see you after the memorial for my father and the investiture of my sister. Meanwhile, I hope to rectify some misunderstandings between myself and my distant cousin, Commander Bashar Kadish! Good day!”

The commander and Claudine watched as Raphael moved towards the exit, stopping periodically to greet some of the representatives he had met over the years. Then he disappeared, followed out of the room by his two enormous Feline Eagles. Commander Diaz whistled at the sight of the Eagles, “My lady, I’ve heard that Lord Raphael always has a guard of Eagles with him. Are those two Felines some of them? Impressive men! I understand Lord Lyonell mentored by Raphael himself when he first started in the Command and that he has worked with several Felines through the years. And now another Feline commander, Menas, has been selected as Supreme Top Commander of the Fleet. He is an older commander and probably won’t serve more than one or two hundred years before retiring – and then another commander would have to be chosen. Yes, the loss of both your eldest brother and your father from the service will leave a huge gap for many years into the future.”

Claudine flashed a severe blue glance towards the Commander and replied, “We will manage, Commander Diaz, as we have always done. I’m sure that Leo Menas is a solid, experienced, and cautious commander – which is why we still need my brother, Lord Raphael, to augment that overly cautious planning. And his son, Lyonell, is coming up through the ranks. I heard that Lyonell is now a 2nd Level Commander of Engineering. He should be up for acquiring a new ship in a decade or two.”

“Lyonell? You mean the former Lord Lyonell is now Lord Raphael’s son?” inquired the Ashkerian commander, feeling somewhat confused.

Claudine gave the commander a dazzling smile reminiscent of one of her father’s finest and replied sweetly, “Ah, Commander, it is quite simple. Lord Raphael has been Commander Lyonell’s foster father since the boy was five years old. The two of them have a unique relationship spanning several lifetimes. And both men are dedicated to serving for the good of the people. We are fortunate to have them with us now in this transitional period. I know I am quite grateful that Raphael tapped me as the regent. I don’t feel I would have thought of that rather brilliant strategy in temporarily dealing with our enemies and friends, alike. I have lords who are suddenly interested in forming a committee to ‘advise’ me on many subjects; bullying me would be more like it. However, Raphael has a better understanding of our mutual gifts. We simply work well together. Even if he doesn’t remain for long in the Command, I hope he will stand at my side to give me his advice and counsel for a long time. I know I can implicitly trust his intuition and guidance. He is without personal ambition and performs his duties with others always in mind, whatever the outward appearance. Right now, he is simply exhausted, a state I can well understand. He has been under relentless pressure from many quarters. It is a wonder that he is still functioning. I’m sure his Eagle commander cousin, Monteras, has been instructing the Eagles to keep a careful watch over him. He is given to experiencing sudden collapses and having to spend some time in bed resting. We’ll see how he does after all the meetings and ceremonies are over and life returns to a new normal. I miss my father, Commander, but have not been around him much since I was young and mated to King Stephanus. On the other hand, Raphael and our father worked very closely together, especially during the last decade, often arguing, and challenging each other as only close soul mates can. I know Raphael feels some guilt due to that conflict.”

The Ashkerian commander smiled, “Thank you, Lady Claudine, for feeling comfortable enough around me to share with me that insightful look into your adopted brother. He is a truly complex individual.” The commander glanced across the room and saw a tall dark-haired man in uniform surveying the crowd as if looking for someone. When the officer finally located Claudine, he began to make a beeline towards their table. Commander Diaz remarked casually, “I think this must be Bashar Kadish coming over to speak to you, my lady. Should I remain here?”

“Please do, Commander; I’ve never met the man before so having an ally at my side would be much appreciated,” replied Claudine, nodding. “Besides, you need to speak to the Commander if I understood what Lord Raphael was attempting to communicate about the new commander committee. Why do men enjoy committees so much, I wonder?”

The tall, well-built commander reminded Claudine of another Kadish cousin of Raphael’s, the darkly handsome Master Adario Kadish. Briefly she wondered where Adario and his sweet mate, Lady Bettina, were now living. Then the commander came up and gave a very correct salute to her and the Ashkerian Commander.

Lady Claudine – pardon me; I am Top Commander Bashar Kadish, formerly of The Golden Eagle. I’ve been appointed to work with you and hopefully, with your brother, Lord Raphael, to coordinate the activities of the Command from here in Alyona. However, this morning I had… an encounter with your brother which has left me in doubt of his willingness to participate, even to cooperate with any Command activities here and into the future. He informed me that he had resigned his commission last night. Frankly, ma’am, I was rather shocked to hear such a thing.” Commander Kadish studied the Ashkerian’s uniform for a moment and then remarked, “You are not someone I know, Commander – are you an Ashkerian?”

Claudine looked rather severe when she began to introduce the Ashkerian, “Commander Kadish, it appears that you and my brother have gotten off on the wrong foot. Would you care to join us? Now, kindly allow me to introduce you to the Ash Tar, Lord and Commander Benjamin Diaz, Supreme Head Commander of the Ashkerian Fleet, a fleet, I might add, that aided us mightily during the last campaign planned and directed by Lord Raphael.”

Commander Kadish abruptly stood up once more and gave another salute to Commander Diaz, “Sir, I didn’t realize you were here! When did you arrive? Are others of your command here, also? We really must set up some means to communicate with the other fleets! I just arrived here myself yesterday and was at the entrance of the Castle when I encountered your brother, my Lady. He seemed to be rather dismayed to see me here, although I don’t fully understand his reaction. Commander Diaz, a few members of my family have, in the past, proven to experience some difficulties in dealing with Commander Kantor-VaCoupe. There has been an unspoken sense of jealousy that has existed since the fosterage of the recently orphaned 14-year-old Raphael was not given to Lord Kadish, who was, at the time, his most senior relative through the male side. I’m sure just learning my surname would be enough to trigger some discomfort to one who is apparently suffering from a case of exhaustion? Given what Lord Raphael has managed to accomplish in the last week, I’m not surprised. I do know much of his background and history in the Command. Most commanders regard him as being difficult and overly independent, not given to following protocol unless it suits him. I happen to disagree with that sentiment. It is obvious to me that Lord Raphael is simply an extremely complex person, well advanced in his evolution compared to the rest of us. I would be quite content to work companionably with him should he allow it.”

Claudine regarded the rather earnest-sounding commander with some interest. She replied, “Well, Commander Kadish, it might surprise you to know that Lord Raphael was here speaking to the two of us just minutes ago. I’m not sure how you two managed to miss each other in the corridor outside. Lord Raphael is quite distinguished by his constant escort of Eagles. I will have to say, that since encountering you this morning, Lord Raphael has begun to reconsider his rather hasty decision (although long-held desire) to leave the Command. He has made a sincere effort in receiving counsel from some of his long-term mentors. He is beginning to understand that he is appreciated for his insight and gifts that have proven quite efficacious in bringing the conflict with the dark Orions to a very sudden and unexpected end. He saw what would happen and now the rest of us must catch up with his visions. I would recommend that the two of you settle your differences and begin cooperating for the future of our people depends on both my willingness to serve as overseer of the High Council and the Command to continue performing their duty protecting and serving all our worlds.

Claudine paused to take a sip of her tea and then continued: “It is quite apparent that the Command is still somewhat in disarray in terms of setting up some administrative functions here in Alyona, as I understand you have not yet been able to set up an office and physical presence here. I would recommend you speak to my father’s former assistant, Master Francis Polaño, who practically runs the entire Castle staff singlehandedly. I will also utilize Master Polaño’s services; he is a master of organizing things. He would soon be able to get your offices situated. You’ll need a support staff, too, Commander, if you haven’t realized that yet; possibly an Aide or two, some head commanders to delegate duties to, as well as some solid experienced office administrative staff – positions that you may not have on board the motherships, but which are necessary when working out of a busy castle here in Alyona. I will remind you, Commander, that I have long been the power behind the throne for my mate, King Stephanus. He is more interested in training his men and running his tribe. I have run the entire planet’s administrative services for years, as well as attending the High Council and being well acquainted with most of the regular participants. Raphael was correct in deeming me as a satisfactory replacement, if a temporary one, to run the Federation as regent for my nephew, Francis Dino VaCoupe, while the young man continues to train for the position of lordship.”

“Ah, thank you for reminding me, my lady,” apologized Commander Kadish humbly. “I had no idea who really ran the administrative duties for BerWare not being acquainted with the planet save in terms of some of the BerWarians who are members of the Command. Also, thank you for your tip regarding Master Polaño. Like I said, I only arrived here yesterday myself and have yet to sort things out in terms of setting up physical offices and hiring administrative staff. I would like to keep the number of personnel to a minimum and all them part of the Command due to security considerations.” He paused and looked around at the colorful occupants who were finishing up their tea and refreshments, some of whom were sauntering out of the room while chatting with friends and acquaintances. “This is a rather colorful group, my lady; I can see I will have to attend some High Council gatherings and meet more of the leaders of our worlds. I am only familiar with my own home world, Airus.”

In general, Claudine was impressed with the top commander, who was probably not much older than Raphael himself. To have progressed to being a top commander at his age was quite an achievement. She smiled, “Well, Commander Kadish, you seem to be open to learning new things, something that isn’t necessarily a common trait among commanders in the fleet. If my brother is willing to let his guard down a bit, I feel you will get along well together. Lord Raphael has, unfortunately, experienced quite a lot of resistance from various elements within the Command – as well as those who were upset to be reprimanded more recently over having undetected enemy agents on board their ships. My brother is especially attuned to detecting enemy agents having dealt with them since his childhood. You could learn quite a lot from him if you’re open to be instructed by an untrained commander as he refers to himself. Lord Raphael spent exactly six months in the University Ship before being shipped off to The Golden Lion to serve under the command of Lord Lyonell. For your information, my brother told me that he was heading towards the Alyona Command Center, so if you wish to speak to him – and I think you should – he’s there right now speaking to Commander Lo’Telle.”

The commander understood he was being dismissed so he stood, bowed to Lady Claudine, and saluted the Ashkerian high commander. “My Lady, it was a pleasure to meet you and Commander Diaz. I hope to speak to you, again, soon.”

“Oh, Commander – please attend the memorial for my father tomorrow afternoon. You will have an opportunity to meet many of the representatives when we gather after the ceremony for some refreshments,” said Claudine. 

Thank you for the invitation, my Lady,” replied Commander Kadish and then strode off towards the exit.

Claudine leaned back in her chair observing the young man’s progress and asked her companion, “So, Commander Diaz, what’s your professional opinion of that young man? And young he is – still under one hundred years I would venture to say, not that much older than Raphael.”

The Ashkerian commander stroked his closely shaven chin and thought for a moment before replying. “Hmmm, young, yes, but Commander Kadish seems to be thoroughly trained and professional. I don’t get the impression that he is out to push Lord Raphael to the side but is sincere in wishing to work with him. I also understand your brother’s concern since he has battled with various elements within the Command for the entirety of his career. As I mentioned before, I have spoken of Lord Raphael to my brother, Commander Strabo Diaz, who actively worked alongside your brother for over three decades. Strabo has the highest regard for Lord Raphael and regretted having to witness the abrupt ending of the Starship Project, as were we Ashkerians. We were hoping to be granted access to the innovative technology that was being developed there. I understand Lord Raphael was himself the Crystal Master who activated all the sentient ships – what a feat in and of itself, my lady. It was unfortunate the program ended due to enemy interference and the resistance coming from within the Command, as well. I agree with you that Lord Raphael appears in need of some rest and relaxation. Perhaps your family owns some property where your brother, his mate and a few well-chosen companions can enjoy some peace and quiet after being so actively involved in the defense of the Federation. Surely, he is due that?”

Claudine’s face brightened as she arrived with a sudden idea. She smiled brightly at the commander and replied, “I know just the place, Commander Diaz, to send Raphael and his mate, Lady Julia for a little vacation…”

The memorial held for Lord Demetrius VaCoupe was well-attended by the various representatives, as well as several commanders, few of which Claudine recognized. The Council Chambers had been converted into a bower of flowers by the mastery of Francis and his staff. As there was no body, a small carved box set atop a stone pillar represented the lord’s remains, placed just below the temporary altar that had been erected in the chambers. Dressed in white gown and robes, Lady Arla led the congregation in several songs and prayers known by most Pleiadians. Then, some of the persons present gave short speeches in remembrance of a great man.

It was especially poignant to hear the story that Lord Raphael gave of the time when he first met the man who was to become his foster father and then later, his adoptive father. While Raphael did not revisit the entirety of how he came to be orphaned, he told of being wounded, alone save for a much older elder brother, and without a home to return to… and then to be suddenly told he was going to be fostered by the Lord of the Pleiades. Raphael had to pause during his tale several times as tears began to stream down his cheeks, remembering those days long ago. He finished with this statement: “Lord VaCoupe became the only real father that I have had since being born into this second life as a Pleiadian. We often disagreed about things, but our mutual love and respect endured for all the days we worked together to serve the Pleiadian people. I hope I’ve been as good a father to my own children as Lord VaCoupe was to me. I hope he is at peace now, perhaps at the House of Healing enjoying a well-deserved rest between lives. May the Mother bless you unto eternity, dear Father!”

After he gave his speech, Claudine noted that Raphael sat down next to Commander Kadish. The commander handed Raphael a small handkerchief to dry his tears. The two men appeared to acting in a cordial manner with each other, a change which piqued Claudine’s curiosity. After the beautiful service was completed, she strolled up to Raphael and Bashar and remarked, “Well, you finally found each other, Raphael, and Commander Bashar? What brought about the change of heart, Raphael?”

Raphael still appeared to be emotionally fragile but managed to reply, “Commander Bashar told me that as children, he, and my dear brother-in-law, Adario Kadish, were the closest of friends. They went their separate ways after University Ship when Adario discerned he could better serve as an instructor rather than on a ship. It was the beginning to opening a dialogue between the two of us as both of us truly admire my cousin Adario. In the last day since our first talk, I have taken Bashar around and introduced him to several of the personnel stationed here in Alyona, including Commander Lo’Telle. Master Francis and I have also made suggestions for how the Command should set up their permanent administrative offices here. I can’t imagine how Father and Francis managed pretty much on their own. Things are changing, becoming more complex. We’re going to have talks with the Ashkerians and other allied commanders on how to proceed with going beyond our own borders and pursuing the dark Orions out of this sector of the quadrant.” Raphael paused, glancing at his companion and continued, “Commander Kadish and I have come to an agreement on a series of reasonable expectations on what I will be doing within the perimeters of the Command, as I also want to be free to act as a counselor for you on occasion, dear Sister.”

“Well, that is good to hear, Raphael – I wouldn’t want to keep you from performing your duties with the Command or giving them grounds to complain that I took you away from them! Now, Raphael…now that the memorial is done, I would suggest that you take your lovely mate home to Medina with you for a long vacation of two to four weeks. Get some rest, gain some perspective, and then return refreshed to get down to work once more! Things shouldn’t fall apart too badly while you’re gone!”

Claudine gave Raphael a wry smile, and added, “Raimundo and I have a little surprise for you at home, too, but I won’t say anymore lest I give away the secret.”

Raphael looked surprised and rather tired.  He nodded, “I guess I do need some rest. I’m not sleeping well, again. When did you want me to leave?”

“Tomorrow morning, Raphael, if you and Julia can manage it,” ordered Claudine. “My investiture will be this evening, but it will be a short affair with only a few guests present, a mere formality to effect an official change in the government such as it is here in the Pleiades. It’s not as if I’m going to be the Lady of the Pleiades or anything quite like that…”

It was the second day after Claudine’s investiture that Raphael, Julia, and several of his Eagles finally broke away from the general celebrations and headed to Medina via The Golden Cat. When Raphael’s party finally reached the VaCoupe Family compound in the town of Medina, they discovered that all their children had been summoned hither by Raimundo. They were joined by Commander Lyonell, Commander Adarius VaCoupe, as well as Master Adario, Lady Bettina, and their children. Master Roméo and Lady Astrig also made an appearance along with their two children.

As Raphael and their party pulled up in front of the ancient house, Raimundo opened the gate to receive them. Once through the gate, the three sons of Raphael and Julia converged upon their parents, gathering them up in hugs and kisses. It had been quite a while since Julia had seen her sons. Then, the two beautiful daughters of the Kantor-VaCoupes made themselves known. Both were now fully-fledged priestesses, Remilla choosing to serve in Jolf. Arianna was still serving at the great temple on Airus in the capital there. She had arrived with her uncle Adario and aunt Bettina.

When the tribe entered the family room, Lady Anna came out to greet everyone. She gathered up all the children into her arms and kissed each on the forehead. Looking around at her beautiful family, she sighed, “I wish Demetrius could see you all now, my lovely children. I miss him so much. We were so well-suited for each other and complemented each other’s jobs. However, we must also adapt and move on. I understand that you, Raphael, and Claudine had a large part to play in defeating our enemies the other day. Since Claudine has just assumed a new role, she decided to remain in Alyona this time, but I hope all you will be able to return for the next Howling, which is some months away on this planet. Now, I’ll let you all get reacquainted, parents and children, children with their cousins. Raphael, perhaps you would like to do a turn around the garden with me?”

Raphael knew Lady Anna wanted to speak to him alone, so he signed his Eagles to follow at a discrete distance. Today, the BerWarian twins Eduardo and Gregorio Montoya accompanied Raphael. Lady Anna had refused being assigned more guards as in her words, “The war here is over. I will not separate myself from the people.”

“How are you faring, Raphael, now that your father is no more, and you have had to assume even more responsibility?” Lady Anna studied the pale countenance of her companion, of her adopted son. 

I miss Father; we used to argue all the time. Now, it just seems so petty and unnecessary. It’s just that we were both strong-willed and disagreed about many things. I found out about his death after I realized Elexa was going to be targeted yet again. Then I remembered the two of you had returned home for a visit and… I panicked. I got struck by a vision and saw the attack. It nearly brought me to my knees, but I knew I had to get things organized before the Dark Lord demanded our surrender…”

“How did you know, son?” Lady Anna reached down and plucked off a small blossom from a multiflora rose and lifted it to her nose to smell the sweet fragrance. She glanced over at Raphael once again, and saw he was staring over the nearby wall off into the distance as if he could see that horrible attack playing out again before his inner eye…

Well, Mother, having observed Dark lords in the past, I knew they thought we would surrender if our leader was killed. They implant their own warriors, so the men are always mind-controlled. It is beyond their comprehension that anyone could manage to act independently. I didn’t really think too much, just acted, and followed my intuition. Claudine was my choice for regent as I knew the Dark Lord would demand full surrender from our newly chosen leader. She was the only one I could think of remaining in the family who had the inner determination, will, and power to withstand the power of the Dark Lord. And then, I flung out orders right and left to all our fleets, ordering them to remain completely cloaked until I gave the order to uncloak and strike. I had made the decision to allow the Ashkerians to aid us as we have taken a beating for the last decade and the men were getting tired. Then the day of confrontation arrived. Claudine stood before the Dark Lord dressed all in white, while the Dark Lord was arrayed in black; it could not have been more obvious symbolism, the Light against the Dark. And the Light won that day. As soon as the Dark Lord was felled, I carried Claudine out of harm’s way and ordered the men present to retreat, to allow our fighters to strafe the now leaderless Orion soldiers. Then, the BerWarians could no longer hold themselves back and killed the rest. All the enemy soldiers were implanted and had to be destroyed. It was a complete rout. Claudine was safe and the Dark Lord was dead. The combined fleets proceeded to demolish the enemy vessels down to the last ship. Perhaps one or two won free, but their fleets were completely decimated. Since that day, I’ve had commanders come up to me and ask me how I managed to make that plan come together so quickly. Honestly, I can’t really answer that other than I was following what my father would have guided me to do.”

Anna dropped the rose she was holding and said, “You know your father and I fell in love over roses, in Aiden’s garden, on the day of his mating ceremony with your cousin, Brunella. Whenever I see roses, I will know he still walks at my side.” She paused briefly and then continued, “I understand you had a long talk with Raimundo. I am glad of it; he is an excellent counselor and knows you well. Now, I must tell you something – I have decided to return to Jolf and take up my old profession as a priestess. I need something to fill my days, days that seem so empty now that Demetrius is no longer there to walk with me, to talk with me. Perhaps in familiar surroundings, in beautiful little Jolf, my heart can heal. I do know I no longer wish to remain in Medina where everything reminds me of your father. I hope you understand, Raphael.”

“I do, Mother – you will always be Mother to me and grandmother to my children, whether you choose to remain here. I’m glad you’ve decided on what will help you feel more comfortable as you move through your grief. I know it is difficult for me sometimes to remain in Alyona and to be constantly reminded of all those times I argued with Father. I would love to retire to Jolf myself, but it is not yet time as everyone reminded me the other day when I attempted to resign from the Command. I finally came to understand that I was needed and in the right place for now. So, I will remain and continue to guide young Francis until he is ready to assume the lordship – which will still be some years ahead.

“Now that we are in a state of relative peace, I would like to take advantage of the situation, to combine a general tour of our primary worlds, to observe the state of the people and assess what needs to be rebuilt in terms of housing, schools, and employment. We will do what we can to assist each of the planets to rebuild. The inner healing from the horrors of war, the loss of family members, and the destruction of some ancient patterns of life will have to be addressed, but slowly so the people can adapt. Perhaps I will enlist the assistance of Lady Chokama to assess the planets themselves, who have also suffered cruelly under the onslaught of our enemies. And I need to heal, but it will have to be while I am working or not at all. When one is a leader, one has little time to oneself. My father knew that truth well and accepted the burden willingly. I have not always been so accepting, but now I begin to understand his sense of duty that drove him to do what other men could not approach. He was a fine man and the only father with whom I have had an opportunity to serve with as a man, at least here in the Pleiades.”

Anna smiled and replied: “I know Demetrius would be proud of what you and Claudine accomplished and what you are doing on Alyona even now. I will say this – Claudine did manage to send word to us to prepare a surprise for both you and Julia. Let us go into the family room and rejoin everyone so we can share the surprise with all present!”

Raphael looked over at his mother, but she was carefully shielding so he couldn’t discern what the surprise could possibly be, so he followed her quietly into the house once more. Since Raimundo was standing there surrounded by Raphael’s beaming children, Raphael knew the secret was out. He said, “Okay, what is it, Uncle?”

“Well, since everyone thought you needed a vacation, we’ve arranged for you and Julia to spend two weeks on Towan, the lake planet where you spent your honeymoon so long ago. Take some time and truly get a rest. Then, you will be ready to tackle your duties with a refreshed body and mind,” replied Raimundo as he handed Raphael the key to the lodge on the little planet. “Your Eagles will also be provided for but will remain discretely out of sight while you and Julia enjoy the quiet beauty of the little planet. Enjoy your vacation, Raphael, and Julia!”

Raphael went over to his mate and gently kissed her on the forehead and said, “We have much to share. We have been mated now over fifty, even sixty years and so much has happened. It will be good to spend some time alone with my best friend!”

Julia looked up at her handsome mate and smiled. “You know I love you more than the first day before I met you!”

Raphael looked at her puzzled and then laughed, “Our love is forever my beloved Anya!”

© All Rights Reserved, Eliza Ayres,

BOOK THREE: Table of Contents

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Note to Readers:

For those who don’t understand the reference to Anya… she was the mate of Lord Delos of Sirust. Julia was Anya reincarnated, just an example of how soul mates are incarnate with each other through lifetime after lifetime as members of a soul group.

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