CHAPTER 17 – BerWare – Ships of the Desert
On the next day, King Stephanus invited Raphael and Francis to attend the BerWarian High Council. The king wanted to introduce his ‘brother’ and nephew to the chieftains. He hoped that Patrick would agree to taking the two visitors around to several of the outlying encampments of some of the nomadic tribes. By introducing Raphael and Francis to the chieftains, he was guaranteeing that they would be treated with hospitality. The BerWarians were still wary of outsiders coming into their lands, so this was a way to allay any suspicion from arising during the upcoming visit. As it was, many of the older chieftains actually remembered a much younger Commander DeAires and the impression he made when he pointed out the king’s unfortunate cousin as being implanted with an artificial intelligence device of the enemy. During one of the many breaks between sessions, some of the chieftains came over to speak with Raphael, who, fortunately, could still speak fairly good BerWarian.
Raphael found himself chatting with two huge rugged-looking chieftains who grinned when he had to look up into their deeply tanned faces, their white teeth glinting in the sunlight as the trio stood outside on the porch to the government building. One chieftain said, “I remember you, as a young Outlander, who was bold enough to accuse the first cousin of our king of being an enemy agent. We could hardly believe it, but after observing our fellow chieftain, it became obvious that something was very wrong with him. Since then, our king has related stories about you, how you have struggled with your powerful gifts over the years. I am pleased you seem to be more at peace now, younger brother of our Lady.”
Raphael sighed and smiled back, “Thank you, Omir. It has been a struggle at times. I still have the Eagles watching my back as I tend to faint when overcome by my visions. Someday, I hope I will outgrow them…”
“Why should you be ashamed of your gifts granted by Source, my lord? You have helped many whom you will never meet. You have assisted our lady to stop the enemy forces in their tracks and under your guidance the Command destroyed their ships. We have much to thank you for being who and what you are, young lord,” admonished the other chieftain, Razzar, but gently.
The great warrior chieftains had taken a liking to the humble lord and odd-looking brother of their beautiful Lady. He wasn’t a trained warrior but thought like one. He wasn’t a bell-dancer but appreciated the power and grace of the dancers. He was short, blonde, and pale-skinned, but loved the desert and appreciated its raw beauty. They thought to adopt him as an honorary tribesman and asked the king whether they could present him with some tribal clothing. The king was quite delighted to discover the mutual admiration growing between his adopted brother and his chieftains. When he shared with them that Raphael would be soon visiting some of the tribes, the chieftains clamored to be the ones visited. What a dilemma! And how was it solved? It was BerWare. They danced.
So, it came to be that Patrick son of Stephanus, prince of BerWare, led the expedition via camel-back, the old way, to the first of the nomadic camps, to the people of Marzak, son of Salazar. The people of Marzak were living by a beautiful oasis that had extensive date orchards and other well-watered gardens, carefully irrigated by the thrifty desert nomads. Raphael, upon seeing the beautiful gardens, healthy children, and glowing women of the tribe, remarked that bell dancing seemed to be quite rewarding for the son of the first cousin of Stephanus. “You have done well. Had he lived, your father would be proud of you, my friend.”
Marzak grinned and replied, “I could say the same for you, for you also lost a father, even two in this life. I am content. My new mate is already pregnant; we will have a son. I have seen this – if Lady Arla knew of my visions, she would insist I become a priest, but I would miss the desert terribly. I love my mate, I will love my children when they arrive, for there will be many. And you, my new friend, are you to mate, again?”
“I…I was supposed to wed in a matter of months, but the ceremony has been postponed due to politics,” replied Raphael carefully. “Being in the position I am, as assistant to the Regent and a lord, it is inevitable that I will eventually be mated, again. I would like to be mated, again; I miss my first mate terribly. We brought many beautiful children into this world together. Even now, my youngest son is being cared for by my uncle, Lord Raimundo, at home in Medina. He is safer there than on the road with me while things are still being sorted out on the various worlds.”
Raphael knew it was inappropriate to discuss his faltering relationship with his intended bride. He hoped she would change her mind and accept that once she was mated, her life and allegiances would invariably change. It was the way of things. Perhaps he could let Lady Lorenna visit her father and family on her own while he was away doing other things. He was fated to do more travel; it was part of being a diplomat and advisor to the ruler of a star federation. He would never, again, be able to duplicate the sweetness of his first mating. It was done. Julia was no longer a part of his life, but she still had residence in his heart and always would.
Marzak could sense the sadness in his new friend’s countenance and sought to draw him out by taking him to see some of the tribe’s valuable livestock. “Come, friend; let me show you our beautiful horses and camels. The children might also let you see their beloved goats and sheep.”
As other worlds contain living people, so do they include beloved and useful animals. As a former camel boy and nomadic child in his first life as a Pleiadian, Raphael knew a well-bred camel when he saw one. The tribesmen of Marzak’s people bred some of the finest racing camels, slim, light-colored, with huge brown eyes and long lashes. Marzak laughed as one of the female camels nudged Raphael when he sought to pet her young baby, who was tottering on its long legs. Raphael grinned back and gently guided the young one to its dam for a nourishing meal of warm milk. The mother camel then attempted to nibble at his long blonde braid; Raphael rescued it and laughed, saying, “I haven’t had to do that since my first born used to try to chew on my braid!”
“Ah, the animals seem to like you, my lord. It is a good sign; they recognize a kind heart quicker than do men,” replied Marzak with an answering smile. Next, he pointed out the shady stables where the finest horses were kept. It was a rare thing for people on BerWare to own horses, but Marzak’s people still had some. There was some acreage available at the oasis to grow forage and the horses were descendants of wild desert horses, hardy and strong, suffering from few ailments. Marzak signed one of the grooms to bring out his prize stallion. It was a beautiful animal with a gentle eye, a proud arch to its neck and strong flinty hoofs. It was much bigger than a similar Earth horse, being in proportion with the people and the world upon which it was born. Despite its small build Marzak indicated the animal could carry a full-grown warrior with ease. The horse was white with a double coat and black skin, with widely set blue eyes and a dark muzzle. Any horseman from Earth would recognize the similarity of this horse with the ancient Arabian breed. The double coat protected the animal from the brilliant sun and soaring temperatures of the BerWarian desert. Still, the animals were seldom taken far from the oasis where good water was available. These days, the people used the horses and some of the camels for carrying light loads or helping with the irrigation of the orchards and gardens. Their dung was dried and used for fertilizer and firestarter as wood was scarce. Both female camels and horses were also milked, and their milk made into soft cheeses.
When some of the stable lads noticed their chieftain giving the visitors a tour around the stables, they had to bring out some of their favorite sheep and goats for viewing, as well. The goats were milch animals (milk-giving); the BerWarians didn’t eat them for their meat. The sheep were woolly creatures with fatty tails. They were grown for their thick fleece, which was sheared twice a year in the hot climate. Both goats and sheep seemed remarkably well-suited to the environment. Boys would take some of them into the mountains during the summer to forage for the tough grasses that could be found there.
The other members of Raphael’s party were being entertained by some of the warriors, who were demonstrating their exercise regimes and dancing techniques. Even some of the tiny children showed how well they could ring their bells after just a few years of practicing. Raphael and Marzak returned to the main group just as some of the BerWarian males were demonstrating the same dance that won Marzak a mate. They weren’t quite as skilled as their chieftain, but quite agile and strong. The entire party was clapping after the demonstration. All of Raphael’s Eagles were along for the journey, although it had been challenging to find camels large enough to carry Milo and Loki. Gareth appeared quite content to be amongst the desert people. Salaniel, Monteras, and the two Tzulo masters looked around themselves in fascination at the vital and colorful desert dwellers who met the challenges of their harsh desert land with great skill, mastery, and joie de vivre.
Marzak noted that his new friend appeared more relaxed having been around some of the animals. He was pleased that Raphael was proving to be extremely interested in the desert way of life, as memories began to flow into his consciousness in remembrance of his own short years experienced in the deserts of Morova.
Patrick, Raphael, and Francis were the guests of honor at a great village-wide feast that night. Marzak wanted to honor Patrick as the heir to the kingship… and Francis as the heir to the lordship of the Pleiades. He honored Raphael as one who helped to end the great wars, allowing the people of BerWare to finally live in peace after several generations had passed. Only the oldest members of the tribe remembered when the wars had begun in the Pleiades… and Raphael had passed through three lifetimes and on into his fourth during that same time. Raphael was glad to see the people were relishing the return of their nomadic way of life, although with all their new agriculture and livestock, they weren’t quite as portable as they had been before the wars started. He could visualize a time in the future when most of the desert BerWarians were settled into small villages scattered across the face of BerWare, wherever life was possible.
After a few days of enjoying the hospitality of Marzak and his people, Patrick and his warriors next led the party to the tents of Omir, one of the chieftains who had spoken to Raphael while attending the monthly high council in BerAir. As with all BerWarian chieftains, Omir was a bell-dancer, although much older than Marzak. Still, he retained the loyalty of his people and watched over them like a father. Unlike Marzak, he had more than one mate, as a wealthy male could have as many as four wives if he so desired and could afford care for them and their children. Omir had twenty children and several grandchildren. He was considered the patriarch of his tribe and well-loved.
Omir was pleased to have been chosen to sponsor the visitors and made certain his people treated them with respect and courtesy. The children were especially intrigued by the great Felines and how they padded around barefoot on the scorching earth. One young grandson of Omir was very brave and asked Loki why he was barefoot. The very tall Loki bent down and looked the child in the eye and said, “Son, we walk barefoot on the earth so we can feel Her through our feet. Our pads are tougher than most humans and we don’t need to wear shoes unless on board ship. Would you like to see the world from up on my shoulders?”
The young boy laughed and nodded, so Loki picked him up and perched him on one of his broad shoulders. “I’m taller than my granddad!”
An anxious mother came up to the tall Feline and asked, “Please, sir, let my son down!”
Loki grinned and swung the laughing boy to the ground, whereupon, the boy did an impromptu dance for his benefactor. He was quite good and only about five years old. Master Tzulo remarked, “When that lad gets older, Marzak will have some competition!”
After a few days spent with the desert tribes, the party returned to BerAir. Claudine had departed for the High Council, but the king remained so he could care for his guests. This time, Raphael offered to take Stephanus and Patrick into the Golden Cat. While the king had flown several times with Lord Demetrius in his ship, The Golden Sparrow, it was the first time for Stephanus to fly with Raphael in the slightly larger Cat. Stephanus sighed and remarked, “It really is too bad that the dark forces interfered with your Starship Project, my brother; I would have loved to have a ship like this for traveling to and fro from Alyona for High Council. Can she land anywhere?”
“Just about, and even if the ground is slightly uneven, the Cat can hover indefinitely above it,” replied Raphael. “When we reach another encampment, I’ll demonstrate the landing capacity for this vessel.”
“You haven’t visited Razzar’s people yet.” The king reminded Raphael of the gruff warrior chieftain who had befriended the ‘outlander’ while attending the last high council meeting in BerAir. “He’ll be arriving in BerAir in a couple of days with some of his men. They like to travel by camel. Perhaps after the council meetings, you can fly him back to Razzar’s encampment. I don’t believe Razzar has ever flown and certainly not in such a vessel. He’ll be thrilled, perhaps a little frightened, but certainly in wonder when he can view the land he loves from the air.”
Raphael smiled. He was enjoying himself thoroughly after the stresses experienced during the visits to Airus and Maia. These were the kinds of people he could identify with more readily, real warriors, men, and women, who lived a harsh but vital and colorful life on a demanding desert world. He replied, “I would be honored to fly Razzar home and surprise his wives and children when their chieftain lands in a golden ship!”
Being on a desert planet after so long was also healing for Salaniel. After all, he had been born to a nomadic people, too. While the Morovian culture differed from that of the BerWarian people, they were both desert races, hardy and adaptable. He delighted some of the children when he demonstrated his skill in riding a racing camel, something that surprised even himself. Until then, Salaniel had not remembered that during his most recent former incarnation, Anor, had been a famous camel rider as a young man, at least until he sat in the saddle of a noble beast. His skills suddenly came back to him, and he nearly won a race with a young rider who was exercising some of the animals for their owners. Then, when he dismounted, he surprised the small audience that had gathered by bursting into tears and dropping to the ground.
Master Tzulo immediately recognized the young man was experiencing a bleed-through of ancient trauma and with the help of Eagle Paul, gathered up the young commander and took him to a place where he could release his tears in relative private. Concerned, Raphael also followed but sat quietly as Master Tzulo and his son, Master Leu, gently talked Salaniel through the upwelling of grief and memory.
The small group was sitting in the courtyard of the house reserved for off-world visitors. Raphael had requested the party be moved there so they could have more privacy. The courtyard provided a quiet space for the impromptu therapy session. Raphael lightly scanned his assistant as the young man struggled to speak about what was coming up for him.
Master Tzulo stood back from Salaniel and surveyed his body language. The young man had collapsed to the tiled patio surface and was sobbing uncontrollably. Master Leu was concentrating on sending healing and calming energies to Salaniel. Then, Raphael felt his Feline crystal beginning to heat up against the skin of his chest. He pulled it out and held it in the palm of his right hand. Curious, he connected with the stone telepathically, and asked it, “What are you seeing?”
The crystal ‘replied’ through Raphael’s intuition and feelings as: Salaniel is being overwhelmed by the release of memories from his past lifetimes, lifetimes, not just of Anor your honorable father, but many lifetimes, blending into one long endless stream of images. Just sit with him; this is a major release for Salaniel.
And so Salaniel’s companions allowed him to weep and occasionally talk about what he was seeing as they sat in the growing shade of the afternoon. Women came, bringing the evening meal which was set down on a plank resting on two benches as a casual dining table. The men gathered around and quietly ate their simple meal. There was no judgment, no expectations, no politics, just quiet companionship while a member fought through his memories. As the stars began to show against the dark blue skies, Salaniel finally looked up, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand and began to apologize. Raphael held up his hand and said, “There is no need for apologies, Salaniel. You were experiencing a major release from some ancient trauma – the lifetimes you have lived during these wars. The release isn’t quite all done, but enough to allow you some ease and remembrance without the tears. I think you will feel more comfortable with your body now, too. Would you like to try riding a camel, again? It seemed to trigger something from deep within.”
“Raphael – I remember the day you were born into my family and the day I died failing to protect you… and so many other short, hard lives on Morova,” replied Salaniel. “Please forgive me…”
“Once father… there is nothing to forgive,” replied Raphael softly. “You were a good and honorable man. The enemy was something our people had never encountered before – a dishonorable enemy who attacked and killed men and women and stole children. It was beyond our comprehension and our ability to fight back. However, now, our people can begin to heal from the trauma experienced for so long. Some will forget as it is hard to look upon one’s own death and that of your loved ones… and sometimes it is not necessary step to take towards health. Still, it takes great courage to realize that the experience was chosen for certain lessons. I know I faced things in my first Pleiadian life with a great anger in my heart. It wasn’t until I was mated to Julia that I was able to begin to release that anger and allow for myself to hope and love once more. I hope that for you, too, Salaniel.”
Salaniel picked himself up off the tiled courtyard surface and sat down on a stone bench. He thanked one of the other men who handed him a cup of tea and slowly sipped it, as he regained some of his natural composure. He shyly smiled and said, “Thank you, Raphael, Master Tzulo, men… for being here with me. I feel better now, knowing I am accepted for who I am. I may give camel riding another try; it felt quite natural to sit that high above the ground without being in a ship. Perhaps I should visit Morova someday and claim a mate there and settle down and start a family – not that I mean to leave my work in Alyona or my determination to aid Claudine, Lord Raphael, and our future lord, Master Francis VaCoupe. I just recognize that a piece of me has been missing the ability to share one’s life with another person, a mate.”
“Hmmm, well, we could run the possibility by Claudine and by Master Polaño; the two of them could come up with a woman suitable to become your mate, Commander DeAires,” replied young Francis with a grin. Francis was eager to begin forming his own loyal following of honest individuals who shared his deep love for the Pleiadian people and the future of the Federation. He laughed when he saw an answering blush on Salaniel’s tanned countenance.
The moons were beginning to rise when the men left the courtyard and headed to the second story underground to seek their simple beds. Raphael was content; he was with trusted friends and compatriots. He did not need lush surroundings to know he was of value and cherished by his friends.
The next day was the beginning of another BerWarian High Council, as the tribal representatives arrived in BerAir and entered the council chambers. During this session, Raphael, Francis, Gareth, and Master Tzulo listened to the various discussions. Francis and Gareth were in training, while Master Tzulo was a representative of his world, Vey; and Raphael was there as a representative of the Regent. After the first session, Raphael found himself outside during a break speaking again with his new friends, some of the leading chieftains of BerWare. Among them were Marzak, Omir, and Razzar. The chieftains were curious to find out what problems the party had encountered on Maia and Airus, as news of the same had even filtered down to the level of these desert people… who were not without their own means to convey and share news from off-world sources. Often, these were the priestesses who lived amongst the people and acted as spiritual shepherdesses, teachers, and healers. The priestesses were trained to conduct high-level telepathic exchanges over great distances. Pertinent news was coded, shared, and interpreted, given to the chieftains who might be affected the most.
While BerWare did not currently suffer from the presence of compromised individuals, each of the chieftains were aware now of how to detect such beings and no longer hesitated to inform Command authorities if any were found on their planet. Since the end of the war, it was a rare occurrence, and had, indeed, only occurred a couple of times. The chieftains were intensely aware of their own territories and knew the identity of all their people, from the youngest babe to the oldest elder. Due to this hypervigilance, what had occurred in the nomadic society of Morova, had not taken root in the desert communities of BerWare, save for rare exceptions like the unfortunate Salazar. Therefore, Raphael felt more comfortable being on BerWare than he had while on present on Airus and Maia. Nonetheless, Commander Monteras and Master Tzulo kept an eye on their leader to see if he was beginning to experience any visions.
The two Feline commanders also enjoyed meeting and interacting with the warrior chieftains, sharing a few of their older war stories with the men, who were curious about encounters with enemy fleets in space. There had been plenty of attacks on BerWare itself during the wars, but none of the enemy positions had lasted for long. After the incident in which Raphael was involved, the tribesmen were quick to report the presence of strangers to their priestesses or chieftains and then to Stephanus or Claudine. Then, the Command forces would promptly take care of the situation and remove the enemy forces or their agents.
There was a large dinner held in the palace after the first council meetings. It was there that some of the chieftains presented Raphael and Francis with some finely made BerWarian tribal clothes, complete with belts and jewelry, lots of jewelry. Raphael was stunned to look at the finely wrought silver bells and beads that he was expected to drape around his neck, along with thickly beaded leather bracelets. He thanked the men profusely, knowing that their craftsmen and women had put hours into the making of both garments and jewelry.
Stephanus was beaming at the reception his guests were receiving. He requested his guests, Francis, and Raphael, to immediately don some of the outer robes over their uniforms (which they were wearing to protect them from the heat) along with some of the jewelry. Francis was a little embarrassed but went along with the general enthusiasm and pulled on the layers of immaculately woven fine linen and one of the longer necklaces. He then strode out into the middle of the room and paraded around, with the full robes billowing out behind him as he moved. Then, Raphael was cajoled into doing the same. His robes were finely embroidered in light blue with geometric designs along the neck and down the front placket and along the hem to indicate his position as a lord.
Patrick laughed and clapped his hands and said, “Uncle – you look like a chieftain, a short chieftain! Very elegant!”
Raphael laughed, too; what else could he do but join in with the merriment. He was the shortest man present save the two Veyan masters and Salaniel the Morovian. Even Tomás was slightly taller than Raphael. He grinned and replied, “Perhaps if I had been fed better as a child, I would have grown taller, but it wasn’t too be…”
Stephanus nodded, knowing what he did of Raphael’s childhood travails, but it wasn’t the time or place to dwell on his brother’s unfortunate early life. He growled, “A man’s height is not the measure of a man’s courage, and this man has the courage of a lion, a white lion!”
Raphael looked at the king with surprise and replied, “Lady Amethyst once called me her white lion.”
“Yes, perhaps a reference to what you looked like as King Rigo. I once saw his likeness on a wall within the Feline outpost near Jolf. Here, on BerWare, we have wild lions and smaller wild cats living in the mountain regions. They are seldom seen, but once I saw one, a white maned lion. He was magnificent… and so are you, my brother! And our young heir is very brave to be schooled and guided by such a one as Lord Raphael!” proclaimed Stephanus with a huge laugh. Then, he turned to his friend Razzar, who was seated close-by, and announced, “Razzar, your tribe will be the next one to be visited. Would you care to fly there, my old friend?”
Razzar, a tall, weathered, and grizzled chieftain of indeterminate age looked surprised and exclaimed, “Fly? In what, my king?”
Stephanus grinned and replied, “In the golden ship of our white Lion, Lord Raphael. He calls the ship The Golden Cat, for the people who built it – distant relatives of the great Felines we have here among our guests; is that not so, Commander Adrigus?”
Adrigus gave a huge toothy grin and replied, “Yes, King Stephanus; the Golden Cat is one of the original vessels found within the ancient Feline outpost near Jolf on Medina. It is unknown how old she is, but she flies like a bird and lands like a butterfly without a sound. You’ll be comfortable and it is just a short ride to anywhere even on this mid-sized world, Chief Razzar.”
Razzar’s weathered face took on the wide-eyed look of an inexperienced youth as he asked, “When can we go?”
“At least wait until the Council is completed, my friend – then, we will return you to your wives, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren!” Stephanus addressed his guests next with an explanation, “Our Razzar is the oldest chieftain among us and has single-handedly built himself a tribe of descendants. We honor him greatly for providing our world and our people with fine sons and daughters.
Raphael nodded and said, “I would be honored to meet the people of Razzar!”
Then, Raphael stood and extended his arms out to include all the chieftains who were sitting there, “I am sorry that we do not have the time to visit all your tribes and people, but we have enjoyed our stay here very much. Your open-hearted hospitality has been as a balm on my heart after the problems we encountered on a few other worlds. I want to thank you for your generosity and kindness extended to all our party. And thank you for these wonderful garments and jewelry. I will cherish them always as a memory and keepsake from our visit here on BerWare.”
So, a couple of days later, Raphael guided Razzar on board The Golden Cat and had him sit in the navigator’s seat next to him. The rest of the party climbed abroad, including all the Eagles, the commanders, Patrick Vanairus, Francis VaCoupe, and the two Veyan masters. Razzar had instructed his men to return themselves and their camels back to the tribe, for he was sure to arrive there first. The trip by camel typically took at least a week if there were no sandstorms which would slow or even stop progress. Then Razzar gave Raphael an approximate location of his people’s last encampment, near the northern edge of the interior mountain ranges. Giving the Cat a visual for the camp, Raphael commanded the vessel to levitate above the edge of BerAir, giving all inside a splendid view of the ancient town, with its squat white-washed abode buildings, tiled patios, and garden courtyards. For once, Raphael could see the extent of the palace, whose front entrance disguised how truly large the building sprawled out, with interconnecting courtyard gardens and pools. Then, he commanded the ship to fly towards the last known coordinates of Razzar’s people. Periodic flyovers by smaller Command ships kept tabs on the positions of the various tribes, especially in case they required a fast response due to the presence of intruders. Other than that, the Command made sure to be as unobtrusive as possible into the lives of these desert-dwellers.
So, armed with knowledge from several sources, Raphael guided the ship to fly across the rugged ranges of the interior mountains. By ancient agreement, none of the tribes lived in the mountains, but left that area, consisting of thousands of square miles, as common land to be used for summer grazing of sheep and goats, as well as a place for young lads of twelve years to take their vision quest. Only shepherds and their herds had a temporary presence in these desolate, very grand, and rugged mountains. Surprisingly, Raphael noticed the presence of trees and shrubs in some of the deeper ravines and canyons, an indication there was water just under the surface. He asked Razzar about this, “I see shrubs and even trees down there in that canyon; is there a water source?”
Razzar lifted a thick dark brow at the question and remarked, “My lord, you have a good eye – you have lived in the desert, yourself?”
“Yes, Razzar, as a young lad on Morova, son of a nomadic trader – in a previous life,” replied Raphael. “We frequented many of the oases and springs on that world year-round.”
“Then, you will know that while we do not have surface water in the form of rivers, streams, lakes, or oceans, we do have tremendous aquifers available throughout the world in certain places. As you have observed, there are many tiny springs present in some of these ravines and canyons, although the streams that flow from them are short-lived and sink down into the gravel and sands that cover the floor of these places. Our young boys and men know of the existence and position of these places and can access water when traveling through the mountains, if needed, especially for the animals,” replied the wise and experienced desert patriarch. “I can show you some of these places if you care to visit them, although we would have to travel via camel – there is no place flat or wide enough to land your beautiful ship. Thank you for giving me this unexpected treat. My youngest sons will be quite envious. Some of the more restless of the older sons have departed our tribe and enlisted in the Command, claiming they wanted to see more worlds. Sadly, some of them died and will never return to our people.”
Raphael nodded and replied, “I have not lost any of my sons, but have lost two fathers during this life. It is a painful thing to lose those whom you love.”
Razzar nodded in response but did not immediately reply. He was intent in studying the terrain the ship was flying over. His sharp eyes noted a prominent peak far below the ship and said, as he pointed, “My lord, we are already close to where my people should be. See that mountain; it has a particularly jagged and rocky peak. It looms over the valley in which one of our favorite oases is located. Now, once you are safely past this ridge, you can drop the ship down so we can more easily spot the tents of my people…”
In response to his guide’s directions, Raphael sent the ship soaring across the ragged ridge and lower still, dropping in altitude as the land dropped away below from the mountains, into hills and then a broad valley. There he spotted the colorful tents clustered near a grove of hardy shaggy palm trees. He asked the chieftain, “Is that them?”
Razzar grinned, “Yes, I recognize the flags above the largest tent. My wives are gathering my children to greet us. Now, fly above the camp and let’s surprise them!”
Raphael realized the older chieftain was in telepathic contact with his family members. It was a handy means of communication over rugged country as telepathy was not limited by time or space. “They know you are coming?”
Razzar nodded and pointed to his head, “My wives speak to me mind to mind. What do you call this?”
“Telepathy, my friend; it seems your people are naturally psychic, useful gifts to aid in surviving this harsh and beautiful land you live upon, Razzar,” replied Raphael.
“Yes, yes… most of our children can mind speak, my lord,” said the chieftain nodding again.
Raphael had the ship hover above the camp at an altitude of about 600 feet and then gently descended, its wide metallic landing gears spreading out upon the surprisingly rocky surface of the camp. The doors opened and the steps unfolded, adjusting for the unevenness of the surface. A crowd of young and old tribal members approached slowly. Then, when their chieftain appeared in the doorway, a group of women broke ranks and hurried to the bottom of the steps. Ranging from the first mate to the youngest, the women gathered around Razzar, giving him kisses and hugs. He laughed heartily and shooed them away, retaining the youngest woman as Raphael approached, and said, “Lord Raphael, meet Belleza, my youngest mate; she has already given me three sons! Where are the boys?”
Three bold lads came up astride racing camels and encircled the strange-looking craft that had landed in the middle of the camp. One boy, really a young man, shouted, “Father, you’re home, where are your men? Who are your new friends? Where did you get this ship?”
The young man sprang down from his tall white camel, embraced his father, and hugged his mother. Razzar laughed again and took his son by the shoulders steering him towards Raphael, “And this is Gabriel, my oldest son from Belleza. He is already an exceptionally good bell-dancer and a talented rider of camels.” The chieftain then turned to his handsome son and replied, “Gabriel, you ask too many questions – come to the feast tonight with your brothers and I will tell you about our trip here and who these visitors are; now, go! Take care of the camels and get washed. See if you can help your mothers.”
The dark-haired young man gave the visitors a quick blue glance and then dodged out of the way of an affectionate swat from his father, laughing, and then bounding up into the saddle of his beast. He waved gaily at the gathering, kicking the sides of his camel, and gathered up his brothers as he circled The Golden Cat one more time and then rode out of view behind some of the tents.
Razzar snorted, “Children!” Then, he gave a hearty laugh and signed his visitors to follow him to the largest tent.
Raphael gave an audible gasp as he entered the magnificent tent which rose some 20 feet into the air and had several rooms curtained off from the main one. The floor of the tent was layered with beautiful handmade rugs which the wealthiest aristocrat from Maia would have been proud to hang in some of his rooms. Piles of colorful woven pillows were scattered in piles on the carpet, especially around low-slung couches, and tables. Everywhere there were hangings of colorful designs, but in this desolate desert setting, the brightness oddly eased the eyes. Raphael felt embraced by the atmosphere which was surprisingly sweet-smelling. His sharp eyes noted some newly lit jars of incense were scattered throughout the great room of the tent to give ease to the mind and calm the body. Apparently, the men and women of this tribe were quite facile in the use of natural remedies, skills carried down perhaps from their long-ago ancestors who came to this world millennia before.
Razzar waved towards the couches and said, “Sit down, sit down; you are our guests. You are welcome in my tent!” Then, he clapped his hands, and one of the curtained ‘doors’ was whipped aside, and a stream of lovely dark-skinned maidens entered the room carrying trays laden with tea and refreshments, fresh fruit, and juices. “Gentlemen, these are some of my daughters’ daughters; are they not beautiful? Now, girls, put down your burdens and go help your mothers and grandmothers.”
White teeth flashing, blue-black braids swinging, the girls put down their trays, curtsied to Francis and Raphael and then left the room holding their hands to their mouths to stifle some of their giggles. Razzar gave Francis and Raphael a big grin and remarked, “my grandchildren found the two of you attractive. You are getting mated soon, Master Francis?”
“Yes, I am… not long after we return to Medina upon completion of this tour, I will be mated to a lady from Airus. Lord Raphael was also to be mated, but some issues have arisen,” replied Francis and then pursed his lips, wishing he hadn’t mentioned anything about the uncertain nature of his uncle’s betrothal to his mother, Lady Lorenna.
Razzar’s left eyebrow rose as he sensed the tension and discomfort arising from both Francis and Raphael. He sought to distract them by calling for one of his wives to come out and play her instrument. “Rosallie, play your instrument; something sweet. Our guests are tired from the journey.”
Master Tzulo studied Raphael’s countenance for a few minutes. The young lord looked uncomfortable, perhaps by being reminded of the uneasy relationship between him and the father of his betrothed due to the past treatment of Gareth’s father. Master Li realized Raphael was still in deep mourning for the loss of Julia; since his upcoming nuptials with the Lady Lorenna were now in question, the grief he felt from the death of his first mate was settling in, once again. The Veyan master decided to say something, as he felt Razzar should know if case he was offended that one of his important guests seemed distracted. He spoke up, “Master Razzar – Lord Raphael lost his mate of several decades just months ago. She died giving birth to his youngest son, who is now staying on Medina with his granduncle.”
Raphael gave Master Li an anguished look, clutching his hands together and slowly nodded. He looked up at his host, “I am sorry, Razzar. I should not feel sorrow while being here in your tent. You have beautiful children and lovely wives. I miss my own family terribly. They are now scattered to the winds.”
Razzar patted Raphael’s nearest hand and replied, “You are reminded of happier times, my lord? I understand. I lost sons in the wars; you lost a father, mother, and a brother. It is all right to express your sorrow. Our people express their emotions through dance and movement. We are trained from the time we are young children to use music to assist the emotions to move through our bodies. In doing so, we live long and vigorous lives, my new friend. Let my mate’s music soothe your wounded heart. She is a gifted musician and dancer. I won her hand in a dance contest long ago and she has held my heart in her little hands ever since. Now, my guests, drink some tea. We have camel or goat’s milk if you want some, too.”
The desert chieftain proceeded to regale his guests with tales of the desert as one of his wives gently played an unusual instrument, something like the cross between a harp and a violin. With the attention off him for a moment, Raphael began to relax once more. However, he did feel he needed to get some clarification as to the status of his betrothal with Lady Lorenna. As it was now, he was quite uncertain what was going to happen after the tour was completed. There were only two more worlds to visit, smaller than the ones they had visited thus far, Krey and Vey. And then, he wanted to return to Medina to see his young son before returning to work in Alyona. Perhaps he should take some more leave and first take Adrigus and Semmas to Alyona and then go onto Medina with just Francis and some of his Eagles. For once, Raphael was experiencing a sense of uncertainty, which created within a feeling of inner distress. When he was given some time alone (a rare occasion) the deep grief at the loss of Julia would often well up without warning. Without the possibility of his joining with Lady Lorenna in the future, he felt at a loss. He knew he should seek out the wise counsel of Lady Amethyst when he returned to Medina. With that in mind, he attempted to follow the narrative of Razzar’s latest story but found his mind wandering back to Jolf and the days spent with Julia and his children.
Later, during the hottest hours of the day, the visitors rested in the tents they had been given. Raphael slept, while the other men quietly talked about what they had seen and experienced already on the tour. Suddenly a cry rang out. Tomás instantly recognized the voice as belonging to Raphael. He was in another tent and plunged through the doorway seeking out where his cousin was lying. Milo and Loki were already there, holding down Raphael as he thrashed around in the grip of a powerful vision, screaming. Razzar and one of his oldest sons, Tomur, also appeared in the doorway of the visitor’s main tent but waited for an invitation before entering – it was the custom for visitors to have complete sovereignty within the camp if they were no danger to the people.
Razzar looked concerned, and asked, “What is going on? Was that Lord Raphael? Our king has shared that his adopted brother sometimes experiences powerful visions and dreams.”
Master Tzulo nodded in affirmation and replied, “Yes, it is Lord Raphael; apparently, he is experiencing a violent dream. This was unexpected, Chief Razzar. My son is a physician and has gone to assist the lord with some medications and healing energies. He should be able to calm Lord Raphael down so he can rest and recover until he is able to speak about his dream.”
“No, no! I must tell Razzar! His people are in danger!” It was a bedraggled-looking Raphael standing there swaying in the curtained ‘doorway’ to his sleeping partition. Loki and Milo were just holding him upright to keep him from toppling to the ground.
Razzar and Tomur could see the ancient scars on Raphael’s arms and chest standing out against his pale flesh as he was only clad in his undergarments. They looked at each other in alarm. The father gave his son a terse order; his son nodded and backed out of the tent. Razzar approached Raphael closer and said, “My lord, please sit down and rest; I have sent my son to get you some tea so you can recover.”
“No! Storm – there is a storm coming, a massive storm. You must move your people to shelter, Razzar!”
Razzar looked astounded and asked, “Why have my scouts not reported this – storm?”
Master Tzulo approached Raphael slowly, noticing his friend’s odd stare – he wasn’t focused on the chieftain at all but staring up at the roof of the high-peaked tent. The Veyan master had a feeling that Raphael was still deep in a trance and couldn’t hear or see the chieftain. He spoke instead in reply, “My apologies, Chief Razzar – Raphael is still in a trance. He often sees things that have not happened yet. You may have time to move your people and animals to a safer place if this is a future event.”
Francis looked startled and shouted, “The Golden Cat, sir! We must move her! My uncle doesn’t look like he can fly anything right now. Get Adrigus! He could probably manage the little ship. Get our bags onto the ship right now, men, and load up. I’m sure these nomads can handle their own camp.”
“Did someone say my name? I heard some screams and loud voices; what is going on?” A loud voice penetrated the tent; it was Adrigus’ growly baritone. The grizzled Feline commander stepped into the open tent door even as Chief Razzar abandoned it.
“Sir, there is going to be a storm. We must get the Golden Cat up above it – and Lord Raphael is… incapacitated,” replied Francis in a rush of words.
The experienced commander took in the situation immediately as he glanced around the tent. Lord Raphael had fallen senseless into the arms of Milo. Razzar had backed out of the tent and was striding through the camp yelling orders to his men and women. Tents were already being taken down, rugs and other goods were being bundled up, and camels packed. Semmas ran up behind the commander. Adrigus turned to him and ordered, “Have the Eagles assist with what they can in moving these people to safety. And see that Lord Raphael, Master Francis, and the rest of our team are near the Golden Cat. Get Lord Raphael wrapped up in a robe, too. I’ll have to see if the ship will respond to me, or we may have to abandon her to the winds. I would hate to see that ship wrecked by a sandstorm!”
Within minutes the entire party was standing next to The Golden Cat as Adrigus cautiously approached the ship and set his hand upon her outer sheathing. He closed his eyes and sent a telepathic command to her and then waited. Within seconds, he felt his being was scanned by the ship and then, abruptly, surprisingly, the doors opened and the steps leading up to the doors unfolded. The engines began to whir. Triumph lit the older commander’s golden eyes as he felt the beautiful little ship communicating silently to his consciousness. It was as if she understood her master needed help and Adrigus was there to lend it much like Lantrill had done in the past. Adrigus turned to the waiting group and ordered Milo to carry the unconscious Raphael on board and for everyone else to board, including Patrick, Francis, Salaniel, Loki, Monteras, Commander Semmas, and the Masters Tzulo. The other Eagles were still assisting the villagers and would just have to handle whatever came. Once everyone was on board, Adrigus ordered the ship to close the doors and levitate above the ground. He sent a telepathic message to Razzar informing him that they would monitor the storm’s approach from above and then remembered to ask: Where can we find you and your people after the storm? We would like to be of assistance if we can.
The terse answer came in the form of a mental picture of where the tribes people would seek shelter – there was a large cave system at the foot of the mountain near where they were now camped. They often sheltered their flocks and camel herd in the caves, which were watered by springs and had some forage available outside the caves. We will be there, o’ Great Feline Adrigus.
Adrigus gave a mental nod and then ordered the small ship to climb higher into the sky, above the closest mountain peak so the men could spot for an approaching storm. Adrigus remembered Raphael saying the ship could hover indefinitely in one place, so he ordered it to do so, although it swayed occasionally due to high winds aloft. Three hours had passed by when Patrick’s young sharp eyes spied out a haze of brown growing on the western horizon. “It’s coming, sir; from the West. Shall we warn the people?”
“I’ll handle it, my lord; Razzar is a talented telepath – these desert dwellers are full of surprises!” Adrigus growled and then was silent – concentrating on sending his message to the chieftain below. He felt an acknowledgement and assurance that Razzar’s people were already heading for shelter, safely and in good order. Adrigus swung the ship around and fixed his gaze on the incoming storm and then sent an internal order to the ship for her to climb some more.
A weak voice interrupted the commander’s thoughts. It was Raphael; he was awake. “Where are we? The Golden Cat? Did I have another dream? Who is flying her? Adrigus!”
“Sorry, my lord; you were incapacitated. You really should have another pilot with you in case you experience an illness,” replied Adrigus gruffly. “She must have recognized my frequency, my lord.”
“She should have – you were one of my uncles when I was Rigo, but not named Adrigus at the time, Commander!” Raphael’s voice was rising. “What is going on?”
“You saw a storm coming in your vision/dream, my lord. Razzar is moving his camp even now and there is a storm approaching. It was a future vision, but not one that was far off. It was a good thing we were visiting, or the people may have been caught out unawares,” replied Patrick in soothing tones. He understood his uncle became emotional when other people were in danger. He had heard tales from his father the king.
Raphael sat up and looked around, “Where are we, then?”
“Up above the old camp site, waiting for the storm to approach. We should be high enough to escape its effects, my lord,” replied Commander Adrigus. “Master Leu, could you give Lord Raphael something to relieve his anxiety?”
“I’m not anxious – I’m feeling the understandable fears coming from the people below us and others, in other camps in the way of that storm…” replied Raphael. His voice was strained as he rubbed his forehead. He looked up as Master Leu came up to his seat and said, “I have a vicious headache. Do you have something for that, Master Leu?”
“Of course, my lord – you should rest. Once the storm passes, we can check up on our new friends and see that they are well and safe. Now, lean back on your seat; I will massage this oil into your forehead. You may go to sleep or just rest. Commander Adrigus has control over The Golden Cat for now. You mentioned he was your uncle when you were King Rigo? You must have had a large family, my lord,” said Master Leu quietly as he massaged some lavender oil into Raphael’s forehead, while sending him calming energies.
Raphael sighed, “Yes, my father, King Lyonille had thirteen brothers; Adrigus was but one of them. Father was fortunate that none of his brothers wished to compete with him for the rulership of our people. I was not so fortunate…”
Raphael’s explanation would have to wait as he closed his eyes and sank off into sleep, his body relaxing under the ministrations of Master Leu. The Veyan physician communicated his diagnosis to his father, Master Li via telepathy for privacy: Father, Lord Raphael is suffering from a serious case of exhaustion exacerbated by grief for the death of Julia and his anxiety over the possible failure of his betrothal to Lady Lorenna… complicated by his sense of guilt over both matters. He is also very empathetic to the fears of others, feeling it down to the core of his heart. He is going to need some serious rest after we finish this tour. I am going to recommend Raphael be sent back to Medina for a period of not less than six months to rest and recover from all he has been put through recently.
Master Li looked thoughtful upon receiving this evaluation from his talented son. Like himself, Master Leu was also excellent in the study of the human mind and emotions. Raphael had proven to be a challenging case study for both as he was such a complex individual, but they were up to the challenge. The next challenge would be to convince Claudine that she needed to give her brother Raphael the time to recover fully from his grief before compelling him to proceed with any other life-changing events. It would probably take more than the year granted by Claudine for Raphael to recover enough to make a go at a relationship with a new mate. And the sensitive political situation with the current Lord of Maia brought into question whether Lady Lorenna would be even willing to complete her part of the pledge to become Raphael’s new mate. And rather than having Raphael return to Medina to recover, Master Li thought that perhaps going to Jolf for a long visit might be more nurturing for the deeply wounded heart of his friend. Together, Lord Mathdis and Lady Anna could assist him in returning to some emotional balance. Seeing his young son, too, would help him, so Raphael would also have to spend some time in Medina with his uncle Raimundo.
Commander Semmas was more concerned about the immediate situation now that Raphael was being looked after. He asked Patrick who was searching the western skies, “Is the storm approaching now, my lord?”
The tall BerWarian prince grinned at the concerned commander and replied, “Commander Semmas, I am not a ‘lord’ until my father dies and then I will be a king. I am keeping an eye on the storm. It is growing near and should overtake the former site of Razzar’s camp in about 30 minutes. These storms can move swiftly, but something seems to be holding it back… It is most curious.”
At that moment, Master Leu detected an unusual warmth emanating from the proximity of Lord Raphael’s body. He ran his hand above Raphael’s chest and then drew it back sharply with a sudden yelp of pain. Master Li looked at his son in surprise and asked, “What is a matter, son?”
“I felt heat, painful heat coming from Raphael – only it is not him; he does not have a fever. I need to check further, Father,” replied Master Leu, scanning Raphael’s body again.
Master Li raised his head up and looked at the roof of the ship’s cabin and sighed. He turned to Patrick and said, “It is the crystal, Master Patrick – Raphael’s Feline crystal. Somehow Raphael’s consciousness is working through it with the elementals to affect the oncoming storm… so Razzar’s people will have enough time to seek shelter.” He raised his voice slightly so all within the ship could hear him, “It is Raphael. Men, we will have to keep this a secret. If people knew Raphael had such power within him, they would begin to fear him. We must not speak of this to just anyone.”
The men looked stunned, but all who were aboard the little ship nodded in agreement. Master Li continued, “I will tell three people, the only ones who else could handle this crystal, both… for Raphael is a living Crystal himself as this event is now showing us. And those three are Claudine, Lady Amethyst, and Lady Chokama. I know now that Raphael will have to serve as a Shaman in his next life. He belongs to something greater than human politics. And he holds part of our future in his hands… or will in another life, long into the future. In that life, he will return to us in a female body for he has already seen this and so have I. Meanwhile, we must just watch over him as best we can.”
Francis, who was sitting closest to Raphael, took up the limp hand of his sleeping uncle and held it. “I will guard his secret until he no longer walks among us.”
Hours later, the Golden Cat was able to land on a flatter, more stable surface than what was offered by the vast alluvial plain expanding out like a fan from the deep canyon where Razzar’s people had taken shelter. Two men on camels ventured out of the shelter of the canyon to reach the ship. Patrick recognized the two young men, grandsons of Razzar and shouted to them from the steps of the golden ship, as he guided his sleepy uncle down to the ground. “Estar, Lamas! Over here! How are the people faring?”“They are fine, Master Patrick. The warning came in time for most of our people to reach the caves well before the winds began to rise. And all finally arrived just as the sands did. Few animals were lost. It was a miracle. We must thank Lord Raphael for making this possible. Our scouts did not see the storm coming… or would not have seen it coming soon enough… although it did take its time once the warning came. Most odd. Most of the time, the rising wind is the warning, but Lord Raphael saw this before the winds came. How does he do that?” asked a very curious Estar.
“Lord Raphael works directly with the elementals. They communicate with him through his emotions, Estar,” replied Patrick. “I am relieved your people are safe. Now, perhaps you can set up your camp once more?”
“Oh, we will stay in the caves for a couple of days. When he has recovered from this shock, our grandfather will want to account for all the people, the animals, and our goods… and then, we will move camp far away from this place. I have always wanted to see Wadi Anfino; maybe Grandfather will want to go there. There is plenty of grass and forage for the animals and places to grow crops. And I hear there is a beautiful spring-fed lake at the foot of some rocky hills,” replied Estar. “Now, we would like to extend our thanks to Lord Raphael for preventing much harm to our people during this storm. From the sound of the winds going over the cave opening, the velocity of the winds was over 80 MPH. That can do much damage, especially when compounded by the sand, gravel and even rocks carried upon the wind!”
Commander Monteras jumped down the last step and patted his cousin’s shoulder, “Well, my lord, it would appear you performed a miracle. Now, these people may never let you leave.”
Raphael snorted and replied gruffly, “I didn’t perform any miracles; I had a dream and then bad feelings… I slept through most of the storm. Did you observe it from above?”
“Yes, my lord; we watched the whole thing swallow the area surrounding the campsite in an ocean of swirling sand. If the people had remained there, they would have been days digging out,” replied Commander Semmas.
“Well, good then,” snapped Raphael. He cleared his throat a bit, remarking, “The air is still a bit thick. Estar, shall you take us to your grandfather now? I would like to speak to him. I only need to take Patrick with me. We’re going to say good-bye. The rest of the party, kindly stay here with the ship. Estar, can Patrick and I hitch a ride on your camels?”
“Of course, my lord – my brother and I can run alongside the camels. They can’t go fast on this rocky ground anyway,” replied the eldest boy, Estar.
“And you can? Well, show me how to sit on this thing!” growled Raphael as he climbed up onto the camel’s neck, pulling the animal’s head around and swung his leg over the saddle when he got close enough. “What are you all staring at, everyone?”
“My lord, you look like you’ve ridden camels all your life!” stammered Estar, incredibly surprised.
“Well, I was a camel boy in a previous life. Some skills return easily when needed. Now, where are these famous caves?” inquired Raphael, as he turned the camel around and gave it a firm kick with his heels. He braced himself as the beast leapt forward and then began to amble towards the opening of the canyon from whence the lads had emerged.
About a half hour later, Raphael spotted the caves, just black spots against the light sandstone rock of the mountain slope. As the camels and their riders approached, Raphael could see the gigantic size of the caves – there was more than one. He could also see people and animals beginning to pour out of the main cave and pool before its entrance. Eventually, Raphael was able to distinguish the colorful robes of the chieftain, Razzar, as he sat upon his large camel and roared orders to the crowd milling around at his feet. Although seemingly chaotic in appearance, there was an order unfurling as lines of people, laden with burdens or children, leading animals, or just trudging along resolved itself into an orderly flood of refugees, as the nomads began their long journey to another campsite at the next oases unaffected by the recent sandstorm. They would have to relocate since all the local springs would be choked with sand and debris from the great storm and would have to be dug out. Having obtained water from the springs located within the caves sufficient for a passage of three to four days, the people could get away from the immediate area affected by the recent storm with traveling by foot for a couple of days if they left now.
Raphael was aware the people needed to move and move quickly. He had no intention of further burdening Razzar with taking care of visitors and guests. They could renew their acquaintance later, especially if Razzar accompanied the king and his consort to some of the future High Council meetings in Alyona where Raphael was usually stationed. He merely wanted to thank the elder chieftain for his hospitality and to wish him well as his people settled into a new area.
Razzar faced his visitor as Raphael jumped down from the camel’s back and said, “You have come to say good-bye, Lord Raphael? I and my people thank you for giving us warning of the great storm, my lord. We will remember you always as a son of BerWare. Tell your sister to bring you back to us someday, my lord!”
“And you must come to Alyona with some of your sons, Razzar, and fly once again in a star ship. Ask the king if you can accompany him to one of the meetings of the High Council. I won’t be back in Alyona for several months. We have two more worlds to visit and then I must visit Medina to see how my young son is faring. I shall miss you, Razzar! May the Mother protect you and your people!” replied Raphael as he grasped the tall BerWarian chieftain by his arms. He felt tears burning his eyes and wiped them with the back of his hand. “The sand… the sand is irritating my eyes, Razzar. Farewell, my friend!”
“Bring two more camels, boys! Accompany our friends back to their ship to see them safely off. Now, my lord, you can tell your sons and daughters of the days when you were greeted by the people of BerWare as one of them. We will hold you in our hearts, my lord!” Razzar lifted his staff and shouted, “A hurrah for our friend, Lord Raphael!”
“Lord Raphael, Lord Raphael!” the people shouted responding to their chieftain’s command. They waved good-bye as the two sons of Razzar mounted two new camels and left the flood of their people behind, leading Raphael and Patrick out of the canyon and back to The Golden Cat.
“Well, our visit to this region of BerWare is at an end; we are heading back to BerAir but had better wait until the rest of the Eagles can reach the ship,” announced Raphael as he climbed back into the pilot’s seat of his ship and stared at the disappearing backs of Estar and his brother as they led their camels back to their people. Eventually, the remainder of the Eagles came trotting out of the canyon, following the trail marked out by the camels. Gareth led them, waving at Raphael as he sat inside the ship. The panting, dusty warriors wearily climbed up into the ship and took their seats, sipping on water handed to them by their friends. “Now, prepare yourselves, men! This is going to be a quick trip!”
An hour later, The Golden Cat gently set down outside the ancient walls of the town of BerAir, the nominal capital of BerWare. The party climbed out of the ship, carefully shaking off their robes and cloaks free of any remaining sand and began the short walk back to the royal house. The town of some one and a half thousand souls was typical of many of the Pleiadian desert towns, with its white-washed squat abode and sandstone brick houses, walled gardens, splashing fountains, plump palm trees and other flowering or shade-giving trees spreading their long branches over the brick street. Colorful tile or paint decorated the walls protecting the houses, each with their wooden or metal gates opening into the inner gardens. Stores lined the wide street, some with awnings shading their wares that were stacked out for buyers to examine, including baskets of fruit and vegetables, tables arrayed with colorful jewelry, beadwork, leather work, baskets, pots, sandals, garments, and woven textiles.
Francis gathered up a couple of pieces of fruit after handing the shop owner a couple of coins and threw one to Salaniel who caught it handily. Francis groaned, “I hope dinner is soon; I’m famished! We didn’t have dinner yesterday due to the storm, Uncle!”
“Hmm, I’m sure my brother Stephanus will offer us a decent meal when we’ve made our report, Francis,” replied Raphael as he strode with a determined pace towards the steps leading up to the royal house. He spied Captain Montoya surveying the party’s arrival with his dark blue gaze and waved. The captain dropped down the steps to greet the newcomers as Raphael greeted him, “Well met, Captain Montoya; could you tell the King we have returned? I would like to make a report to him… well, Patrick, Francis, and Adrigus would like to make a report to him.”
“He already knows you have arrived, my lord; come this way,” replied the tall warrior after giving Raphael a respectful salute. “The king will provide your men with drinks and refreshments. I hear there was a storm of some magnitude where you were visiting, my lord?”
“Hummph… it seems news travels fast on this world, Captain!” replied Raphael.
Captain Montoya smiled and replied, “We have our ways, my lord – come this way!”
“Ah, there you are, my brother, nephew… son! Welcome back, my friends!” bellowed the king as the party entered the audience room where Stephanus had been talking to some of his chieftains. “Come, come, up here… and sit down on the steps. I’ll have some of the staff bring you sweetened tea and refreshments. I would imagine the young men and your Eagles are very hungry?”
As the king signed, some staff came running up with pillows for their guests to sit upon on the sandstone steps leading the dais where the two thrones stood. The king joined his guests in companionable leisure, asking them questions about the past few days spent with Razzar’s people. Then, he asked about the storm…
Raphael lifted a brow and replied, “You’ve heard about the sandstorm? Well, after sharing my vision of it, I slept through most of the thing. Ask Adrigus, Patrick and the others what happened. I’m afraid I was out of it, asleep or unconscious during most of the excitement.”
The king then addressed Commander Adrigus, “Well, Commander? Report!”
“My king, like he said, Lord Raphael experienced one of his periodic lucid dreams and for a time, he appeared to be awake – he was standing talking to us – but he was still asleep and then collapsed into unconsciousness,” replied Adrigus. “We had to leave quickly as the storm was approaching and someone had to fly the Cat, so I tried waking her up and much to my surprise, she answered. We levitated up above the storm and watched while Razzar’s people left safely; they are quite good in packing up camp, my king, like they have a lot of practice at doing such things. Well, long story short, the camp was broken down, the people and their animals moving long before the storm even showed up on the horizon… it was spotted by your son, Patrick. It still took another three or so hours to reach the old campsite and by then, all the people and their belongings were safely stowed in the caves nearby.”
“Well, that was unusual – the Cat responding to someone other than Raphael,” remarked the king looking puzzled.
“Father, at one point, Uncle Raphael briefly woke up and told Adrigus that he had been one of his uncles when he was incarnated as King Rigo and then he passed out, again,” exclaimed Patrick Vanairus.
“Ah, that explains everything – the Feline connection,” replied King Stephanus nodding his head. “Ever since I first met Raphael as a young commander, he has always had Felines in his company. He gave away all his Feline friends to Commander Strom after that fiasco with his eldest brother. And then gained the company of those two amazing Eagles, Milo, and Loki. And now, he has you, Commander Adrigus and Commander Semmas, for the duration of this tour. I am grateful you were able to get The Golden Cat off the ground. It would be a great pity if the ship were destroyed or damaged during the storm. It would be difficult to repair her now that the Stargate Project closed…”
He stopped for a moment and then noticed some of the staff approaching with trays. “Ah, here is our tea and refreshments, gentlemen! Drink and eat and then I will send you off back to your little house to rest and have some dinner. I am sure you are all tired from your recent ordeal. Now, you see what my people deal with every day – yet, they thrive on this world. Our population will grow until we have replaced all of those whom we lost in the war, and we will make sure to use our resources here wisely, with what the Mother has so generously provided us.”
Salaniel stood up and took a pot from one of the staff and one of the trays with cups and handed them around, pouring as he went. He gave a cup to the king and then poured out for him and bowed. The king took a sip and remarked, “You have a good assistant there in Salaniel, Raphael.”
“Yes, I know, my king; Francis Polaño has trained him well in etiquette. Now, he could probably train me in some of the finer manners while attending dinners and balls,” replied Raphael with a sniff. He didn’t like attending either kind of gathering unless it was when he was home in Medina on a rare visit. He asked the king, “Will Claudine be returning from Alyona soon, sir?”
“No, Raphael – she has some business to attend to with Lord Efrem and I understand she has something of a more personal nature to share with you, Raphael, if you can give her a call on the comm tomorrow morning after you get some rest,” replied the king as he surveyed his adopted brother’s countenance with some concern. “I must say you’re looking rather exhausted. When were you going to be leaving for the next world? You might want to stay here for a few more days until you are feeling stronger, Raphael.”
“I am tired but why I should be is puzzling to me; I just slept most of the last night and part of the next day and just spent the last hour or so flying a ship that flies herself, Stephanus,” replied Raphael wearily. He was feeling rather exhausted.
Master Tzulo spoke up, “I will recommend that Lord Raphael have a long vacation on Medina once this tour is completed. It is clear to my son and I that he is suffering from a combination of profound fatigue and grief. Being around his relatives at the Medina compound and perhaps a visit to Jolf should refresh him somewhat. This tour has been more trying for Lord Raphael than we could have anticipated.”
Raphael looked irritated and abruptly stood up, snapping, “Well, share my health information with everyone, Master Tzulo. I’m going to bed, everyone, in case you care to know where I am headed.”
Raphael strode out of the audience chamber with three of his Eagles following him, responding to some subtle signals from their lord, even as the king and the rest of the party stared after him. Finally, the king spoke, “Well, he is tired. Raphael is not always so… rude unless he is extremely tired.”
“I can certainly vouch for that, Uncle,” replied Francis.
The king stared at the young heir and admonished him, “If it weren’t for Lord Raphael, you wouldn’t be the next heir, sirrah. He’s also your uncle and may still be your next father – oh, I wasn’t supposed to share that last little tidbit.”
“What! Has my mother changed her mind about Lord Raphael? Is she going to go forth with the mating ceremony after all?” Francis’ darkly tanned handsome face was vivid with color. He deeply loved and admired Raphael and genuinely wanted his adopted uncle and mother to be happy together.
“Well, just let it suffice to know your mother has been having second thoughts after this long absence from Lord Raphael. I won’t say anymore lest my mate, Claudine, get wind of it,” replied the king with a slightly boyish grin.
“Understood, Uncle – I’ll remind Lord Raphael to call Claudine tomorrow so he can give her a report on what has happened here while she has been gone. And she can report on what progress she has made, if any, with Lord Efrem and the other Maian lords,” said Francis with a happy grin. The prospect of having Lord Raphael as his stepfather as well as his mentor made the young man’s heart soar with joy.
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