CHAPTER 25 – Esturias Reclaimed
Now that the business with Toryn Dino was completed, at least for the next six months or so, Raphael wanted to complete his scan of his once brother Esturias. Since the High Council was now over, Claudine would soon be departing to BerWare for a short break. So, it was imperative to Raphael, at least, to see if he could soon arrive at a consensus with his sister Claudine and Commander Adrigus, to determine what the next step if any would be in handling Esturias.
Raphael was certain Esturias was not going to be in any shape to be able to endure a life-long sentence of hard labor upon completing his prison sentence in Alyona. During their short meeting the day prior, Raphael determined Esturias was indeed fully repentant of his folly in attempting to take over the Starship Project. Raphael was intent that Esturias be given continual healings to repair his physical, mental, and emotional condition. The Veyan healers in Raphael’s service could get that process underway… but Raphael was considering doing something more controversial. He wanted to take Esturias home to Medina with him even though Raphael would soon be mating with the former mate of his adopted brother. Raphael loved his stubborn, wayward, opinionated brother with an intensity that surprised even himself, despite what the man had done in destroying his chosen life mission of the Starship Project. Still, since Esturias had been sentenced by a panel of judges from the Command, Adrigus would have to be the one to make the final determination given the circumstances.
Distracted by his thoughts, Raphael didn’t notice at first that he had a visitor waiting for him in his office. Lord Adamos was chatting with Salaniel DeAires, asking questions about some of the sights and experiences after leaving Maia. Salaniel was in the process of describing the foggy conditions in the capital city of Krey when Raphael strode in…
“Oh, my lord – Lord Adamos has been waiting patiently to speak to you this morning. Do you have time to see him?” inquired Salaniel politely, knowing full-well that Raphael would not put off the new lord of Maia, his cousin, and friend.
Raphael pulled up short and gave his newly found cousin Adamos a courteous bow, “Oh, please forgive me, Adamos – I had some other things on my mind. How are you doing today, cousin?”
The affable Adamos grinned and replied, “Soon to be brother-in-law, Raphael – to answer you, I am improving in disposition. It is a great responsibility I now undertake, but thanks to the training I have received under the tutoring of Lord Efrem, I am prepared to take on the task of retaking Maia and bringing healing and comfort to my people. You, perhaps better than most people, are aware of how much hurt and stress our people suffered because of the long-drawn out wars. It was over 500 years! Whole generations have been born during that time who have never lived on a truly safe and healthy planet. It will take a while for us to recover from the effects of long-term stress. And now seeing the effect of enemy implants affecting the lives of two of my close kin, I can see how you have felt having dealt with similar situations with your own brother and blood father.”
“Yes, it can be a sobering experience, indeed,” replied Raphael. “Now, what can I do for you today, Lord Adamos?”
“I just wanted to say that I understand now how you have felt when confronted by Victoré. My uncle, Lord Efrem, related how my younger brother tried to squirm his way out of his punishment when Uncle visited him in the prison. Your former brother, Esturias, is there, too, isn’t he?” inquired Adamos.
“Yes – we were beginning to give Esturias an examination when Lord Efrem’s arrival interrupted the proceedings. Now, I must reschedule another session with the Veyan healing masters so I can give Esturias a proper scan and the healers can conduct their own work. Your brother Toryn has proven to be quite an annoyance during my brief acquaintance with him, starting with a short interview on The Golden Falcon when he surprised me by acting very arrogant and even hostile. To say I was pleased with such a reception would be a fallacy. Encountering yet another member of my Dino relatives acting like an idiot does not impress me, Lord Adamos. I hope your Family can do its best to clean its own house. Since I will be aligned with the Dinos through mating, I will be keeping a close eye on the progress that you and Lord Efrem can make in bringing Maia back to a place where visitors are treated fairly and with courtesy,” replied Raphael, perhaps being unintentionally severe with the affable Adamos. Fortunately, his gentle intelligent cousin understood Raphael wasn’t annoyed with him, and was perhaps suffering from prolonged stress and fatigue, stemming from undergoing so many recent life-changing events.
Adamos looked down at his hands and then gazed directly into Raphael’s blue green eyes. He replied, “Cousin, I understand you have been under considerable strain this past year. I would apologize for my younger brother, but he is an adult and therefore, is responsible for his actions. Can you briefly let me know what happened on The Golden Falcon?”
“Well, I met with Toryn to tell him that I would soon be his brother-in-law. Next, I related to him the sad news of his father and brother’s passing during an insurrection. He was surprisingly hostile to me, without knowing me at all, except perhaps from some family rumors from the past. Later, I realized he may have a recently activated implant and so ordered my Veyan healers to accompany me to see what could be done. An implant was discovered, active, and was able to be removed… just. A few more hours or even minutes and the device would have grown beyond our current expertise to remove. As it was, the combined efforts of Masters Leu Tzulo and Mei Li Zang were enough to safely remove the device while Toryn was fast asleep. The next morning, Toryn was upset to find out that he was now under protective custody, being removed from the ship and taken to Alyona. His behavior had not improved by the time our ships reached the Alyona space port, so Toryn was conveyed unceremoniously to the Castle prison to await judgment from either the Command or from Lord Efrem,” replied Raphael in an even tone. “Due to Toryn’s issues with me, I was unable to spend any time with my friends on board The Golden Falcon. Some of the men I love most in this Federation are abroad that ship, Adamos. I am not pleased with your younger brother, at all.”
“What will become of him?” inquired Adamos – apparently the new lord of Maia had not yet been advised of the disposition of his younger brother, Toryn.
“Well, yesterday, it was decided by Claudine and a small group of involved commanders to retain Toryn in the Castle prison until I return to Alyona some months from now. So, it looks like he will be there for at least six months. Then, Lord Efrem will have Toryn transported to Maia, where he will be put into hard labor on one of the Dino country estates until such time as Toryn recovers his senses and learns to behave. He is being decommissioned and released from the Command, so he will have no career there anymore. I am afraid your brother has been extremely foolish and short-sighted to dare insult a senior commander in front of other senior commanders,” replied Raphael. “And now, if I were you, I would sit down to discuss these matters with Lord Efrem. If you are going to act as Lord Dino, you need to be properly informed. I would insist Lord Efrem advise you of such matters before you must go to someone like me, Adamos, to find out what is going on. You need to be able to trust and work with your advisors or it will never be an effective relationship. As a leader, you need to work with your people, so you will need to strengthen your ties with leaders outside your own family network, as well. Given what I have seen coming from some Dinos, I would develop that network quickly, Adamos. Now… I have things to do. If you don’t mind, I need to speak to my sister, Claudine about our brother Esturias VaCoupe.”
Adamos nodded, “Thank you for your advice, Raphael. I will be seeing both Claudine and Lord Efrem later today. I just wanted to get some input from you, seeing that you were personally involved in the situation with Toryn. I haven’t been around my younger brother for several years since we both entered the Command. Then, Lord Efrem recalled me to start learning how to be an advisor to my elder brother. I will do what I can to go around the Dino network and seek advisors who are not members of the Family. It would seem we need to work with rather than lord over our people. You teach me humility and the way of service, Cousin, through your own example. I will be accompanying Claudine’s party when she goes to Medina after the Howlings. There I will be sworn into my new position as Lord Dino by Lady Amethyst. I hope to sit down with the Lady, as well. I understand that you and the Lady have a special relationship?”
“Yes, Lady Amethyst has advised me on occasion in the past, although not for some months now,” replied Raphael. “I hope to visit her in order to discuss several issues concerning me while I am residing in Medina during my ordered rest.”
“Then, I will see you in Medina soon,” said Adamos. “I understand you will be leaving shortly?”
“Yes, after this long tour, I am eager to see my youngest son, Daniel,” replied Raphael. “All this time he has been in the care of my beloved Uncle Raimundo. I have missed the first precious months of his growth from baby to toddler. I was always a careful and present father to my other children, so I feel somewhat neglectful of this one. Still, Daniel’s life experience was destined to be different from my other children who are all full-grown and involved in their own lives. Daniel will be fostered to his grandparents on Airus when he attains five years of age and can officially start his schooling, so I will not be seeing the boy often as it is. And there is my mating to Lady Lorenna – a new mate, another new phase of my life will be starting soon. Meanwhile, I need to rest and recover my health which has been somewhat tenuous during this tour due to the added stress of losing my beloved Julia, leaving Daniel behind, plus all the issues we have had to encounter and deal with on several of the worlds we visited during the tour. It has been quite a challenge and I confess to being somewhat fatigued. So, dear Cousin, I look forward to seeing you on Medina during the mating ceremonies.”
Realizing that Raphael was eager to speak to Claudine, Adamos stood up and gave his cousin a short bow. “Thank you for the opportunity to see you this morning, Cousin; I understand you have but a brief time before you leave. I will see you soon in Medina.”
Raphael followed Adamos out of the office. Adamos went in the opposite direction, perhaps seeking out Lord Efrem, while Raphael headed to Claudine’s offices. He knocked at the outside door and was greeted by Master Polaño who said, “Claudine was expecting you this morning, my lord. Did you get some good rest last night?”
“Yes, thank you, Francis – now, could you see if she is ready to see me?” Raphael was fidgeting a little, concerned about Esturias and an assortment of other issues. Francis smiled recognizing the man’s impatience which was carefully leashed by his natural politeness and self-discipline.
“I will see, my lord – please wait a moment –” Francis disappeared into the inner office and then emerged accompanied by Adrigus.
Raphael was surprised to see the new Lord Commander attending Claudine so early in the morning and stood up to greet him, “Adrigus – what brings you here this morning? I thought you would be endeavoring to settle into your new office and responsibilities, sir?”
Adrigus scanned Raphael with his great golden eyes and replied, “Now that we’ve handed the Toryn affair, Claudine is eager to address the case of her brother and yours, the former Esturias VaCoupe.”
“Ah, so am I, Commander – my lady, how are you this morning?” Raphael gave Claudine a formal salutation.
Claudine regarded her younger adopted brother with some amusement, “So, we think alike – Esturias is the next topic on the agenda. Gentlemen, please go into my office and sit down. I’ll join you in a moment. Francis, we will need some tea and refreshments!”
“Yes, my lady – I’ll be back in a few minutes,” replied Francis, getting up to do his little domestic chore. Although he could have had someone else do it for him, Francis enjoyed being helpful to those with whom he worked every day.
Adrigus and Raphael settled in, Raphael on a chair, Adrigus on the little bench. Claudine came in and surveyed the two men who were quietly waiting on her. “Well, gentlemen, now we can get to the subject of what to do with Esturias. First, Raphael were you able to complete a scan on your brother yesterday?”
“No, my lady – Lord Efrem’s arrival in the prison disturbed our efforts to scan and heal Esturias,” replied Raphael. “I would like to resume those efforts to determine the true extent of Esturias’ health, in all aspects. I also want to determine how much further he is along in seeking forgiveness and redemption for what he did in attempting to take away control of the Starship Project from my team. While we were only able to speak to him a brief time yesterday, he seemed very contrite compared to the last time I was able to visit him, shortly after his incarceration in the prison. However, I fear his health is somewhat precarious; his physical body has been weakened by being incarcerated for a long time.”
Adrigus’ lip lifted revealing long sharp canines as he growled, “Being in prison wasn’t meant to be a rest cure for the traitor! He is lucky to be alive!”
Claudine regarded the lord commander for a moment and nodded, “Yes, I understand your embarrassment due to my brother’s stupid actions once he left your command. However, Raphael has a point. We seldom have had to deal with long-term prisoners here at the Castle or anywhere else in the Federation that I know of – as most of our people would not think of attempting to pull off such a stunt as did our unfortunate brother.” Claudine turned back to Raphael, “Do you think Esturias is worth redeeming, brother?”
The answer from Raphael was an unequivocal “Yes, I do!”
Claudine paused in thought for a moment and then asked Raphael, “Despite years of tension between the two of you, your rivalry for our father’s affection, despite Esturias being the instrument of fate that closed the doors of the Starship Project, you still see the possibility of his attaining full redemption, Brother?”
“Yes, I do, my lady!” replied Raphael with some force. “Despite all that has passed between us, I love my brother. We have served as foils, acting out against each other, although in this life I did not mean harm to Esturias. He did that to himself through his thoughtless actions and behavior, drawing the darkness into considering him as a possible tool through which they might get their sticky hands on the advanced technology of the sentient ships. He was a fool to trust their agents, but he still is my brother. I think he has suffered long enough. Sister – he didn’t even know Father or Julia had died or that the war has been long over!”
“It would seem the Castle guards are not gossips, then,” commented Adrigus, pleased to learn that tidbit.
“No, they are not. Most of the men trained originally under Lord Demetrius and Master Polaño and are trained to be discreet as they work with and around diplomats on nearly a daily basis, at least during High Council,” replied Raphael, somewhat annoyed that the topic of discussion had strayed from Esturias. “What would you suggest we do with Esturias? Should he fill out his term of imprisonment, another three years, or should I take him back to Medina with me and put him to work around the old house? I am sure Lady Amethyst would like to speak to my wayward brother as she has not had an opportunity to see him in person since eleven or more years past.”
Claudine looked thoughtful upon hearing Raphael’s somewhat startling suggestion. He was willing to take his brother in hand to see that Esturias received proper health and healing, even while having to endure living among the very people he betrayed. It would be a humbling experience for the former commander as he had seldom been required to perform manual tasks during his brief visits home. As he was officially no longer a member of the family, he would have to serve on staff as a lowly laborer, available to do anything was required of him. The VaCoupe Family treated their retainers and servants well and respectfully; generations of Medinian families had served the family in the capacity of cooks, handymen, gardeners, seamstresses and tailors, mechanics, housekeepers, painters, plumbers, and whatever else needed doing to keep the huge household functioning along with the efforts of family members themselves. Still, for one who had grown up with the notion that he would be the next lord and commander, it would be an extremely humbling experience to work alongside the very people he prevented, in part, from being able to ascend in density.
After a few minutes to consider this suggestion, Claudine replied, “Raphael, I would first suggest you and your Veyan healing masters complete your scan and healings on Esturias. Then, the three of you can report your findings to me and Commander Adrigus. As for you, Adrigus, are you willing to allow Raphael to take Esturias back to Medina so our former brother could become the newest member of our household staff?” Adrigus appeared to be completely nonplussed by Raphael’s unusual suggestion. As a commander, he was accustomed to giving out unequivocal and well-defined discipline. Of course, the case of Esturias’ treachery was rather unprecedented, and was until other such individuals were also discovered on several planets. All the individuals had been tainted due to exposure to the dark agents and their insidious devices and influences. The Feline commander looked like he was deep in thought for a long moment and then he cleared his throat, taking a sip of tea before replying. “Pardon me, what you ask, Lord Raphael, is unprecedented. Still, a man of Esturias’ caliber and breeding ought to be preserved if he is indeed willing to perform the duties of a humble servant in exchange for getting out of that prison. I assume he will not be allowed to rejoin the Family. Or to mate or assume any of the rights and privileges due his former station?”
“That is correct, Commander Adrigus,” replied Raphael. “While I am willing to take Esturias out of prison and put him under the supervision of Raimundo who oversees the estate while I am absent, he will not be there for a holiday. Although I know Esturias requires more physical healing before he can perform heavy labor, there would certainly be plenty of smaller duties for him to perform. I know the busy cooks would appreciate having an extra pair of hands willing to prepare the vegetables and fruit for juicing and soups. And perhaps some of the ladies would be willing to teach Esturias the basics of sewing and repairing clothing and bedding? He requires exercise, something to do, given a job and duties, and still be in a place safe enough so he can continue his slow process working towards redemption.”
As Raphael surveyed his companion’s reactions, he noted some surprised interest on Adrigus’ mobile face, as well as studied contemplation by Claudine on the ramifications of treating the rehabilitation of Esturias within the environs of the ancient VaCoupe family. Finally, Claudine spoke up and inquired, “How would Esturias’ presence affect you and Lady Lorenna? Do you think he would be a danger to you or the lady?”
“Well, if Esturias stepped out of line, he could be sent back to prison,” replied Raphael firmly. “I don’t intend to be lenient with our former brother. He will be expected to complete his assigned tasks and to live in modest quarters away from the rest of the family members. The house is certainly big enough. And if this plan of mine doesn’t work, then Esturias can be shifted to Morova and assigned menial tasks according to what his physical condition can handle. Living inside the Medinian household will present Esturias with the difficult test to see just how far he has progressed on his path to healing and humility. Mind you, I am aware of how proud he used to be. The old anger and jealousy may arise, for which he will receive certain disciplines and be required to undergo both counseling and healing sessions. Having the services of two highly qualified Veyan healers allows me to offer Esturias the ability to undergo frequent healing sessions not available to most prisoners. This is an opportunity to prove to everyone, but most especially himself, that he has endeavored to redeem himself for past faults and follies. Plus, with the presence of our Lady Shekinah living in Medina, with her many attending healing priestesses, Esturias could receive healings from the ladies as well as from the Veyans. It is my hope that Esturias can heal so well in this lifetime that in his next he will be able to once again have an opportunity to reincarnate into this or another high frequency ancient family.”
“Of course, Esturias has to be willing to accept the healings and counseling sessions, Brother,” commented his sister. Claudine was astonished upon hearing the determination in Raphael’s voice, the vision he held in his heart for the brother who had once betrayed him, his own father, and the Starship Project team. As she realized the deep love Raphael must have held for his adopted brother, tears sparked in her beautiful blue eyes.
Raphael tapped the surface of the table next to his chair and replied, “Our brother is an intelligent man. If he has managed to come far in his personal healing he will, I would imagine, leap at this opportunity to leave his current lodgings and to rejoin the rest of humanity, although at a much humbler station than to what he was formerly accustomed. Nothing less will drive home the realization of how far and hard he has fallen than for the once proud top commander to have to perform menial tasks daily among those people he perhaps once scorned.”
“And if he is unwilling to take this opportunity, what then?” inquired Adrigus.
Raphael looked very stern as he replied, “Then, Esturias will be compelled to fulfill the remainder of his sentence, remaining in the Castle prison. At the end of the imprisonment, he will be escorted under guard and remanded to Morova or some other suitable planet to perform the lowest tasks possible, including cleaning out stables and paddocks, cleaning public baths, or whatever else is required according to what he can accomplish given his current compromised physical condition. Personally, I do not feel Esturias would last long while attempting to perform heavy physical tasks. However, to better be able to assess his present condition, the Veyan masters and I must be able to complete our review of Esturias. Since there is currently another ‘resident’ in the prison, it may be necessary to take Esturias to a private place where the assessment can be made without further interruption.”
Claudine smiled and nodded, commenting, “I am sure Master Polaño would be more than happy to accommodate your requirements, Brother.” She looked over at Adrigus who was nodding. “It would seem our new Lord Commander sees the wisdom of what you have planned for our erstwhile brother. It is a truly compassionate plan, yet one with adequate safeguards in place should Esturias not be capable of being responsible for his behavior and its consequences.”
Adrigus was surprisingly enthusiastic about Raphael’s plan for the rehabilitation of his wayward brother. He said, “Similar plans could also be used to rehabilitate other prisoners. We now have several prisoners on Maia who will also have to undergo suitable healing and counseling, probably for years, to overcome the programming they took on by becoming involved with the dark agenda. Of course, it would take a lot of work for those overseeing the progress of these individuals, but what better work for healing priestesses and priests than to attend to their flock? I know what Lord Efrem proposed for Toryn was similarly nuanced, but your plan is both more compassionate and at the same time will present definite challenges for Esturias to move through. It will be a true test of his self-determination and contrition and not just a patch job. He may wish to remain in prison to save himself from the initial embarrassment of being recognized by all the members of the Family and their staff.”
“Well, if Esturias would rather save his pride than face the people he betrayed with true repentance and humility, then he will deserve prison and hard labor!” snapped Raphael. “He deserves an opportunity to prove to himself he has truly changed, or all these long years spent in solitary confinement have been for naught and he might as well be executed and get it over with.”
“All right, Brother; I can see you feel rather passionate about this, so I am going to authorize that you and your Veyan healers proceed with your survey of our brother’s current condition. Then, you can make your proposal to Esturias and see how he reacts if at all. I would recommend you have Commander Monteras and several Eagles on hand if Esturias gets out of line,” replied Claudine.
“Of course, my lady; long practice has taught me hard lessons on the value of having my Eagles within reach. I don’t think I would be still alive were it not for those men and their sacrifices on my behalf,” replied Raphael as he rubbed his forehead. He was beginning to get another one of his headaches.
Claudine noticed Raphael’s grimace and commented, “Well, dear brother, it would appear you are in more need of a healing session from the Veyan gentlemen than is our former brother, Esturias. I know it is early in the day, but perhaps you should go and lay down for a while. You have been under a great deal of strain dealing with all these issues.”
“I will rest after I speak to Master Leu Tzulo and Master Zang. Meanwhile, Master Li needs to get Francis and Gareth to start on a new round of studies. Since Francis has been at this for over a decade, he can assist Gareth with his studies and in the process consolidate his own knowledge and understanding of what he has learned over the course of time. Gareth has much to learn, but Lord Efrem is more than pleased with the raw material and potential to be found in that honest young man. Ah…,” replied Raphael, while endeavoring to keep his balance on his chair. Suddenly, he stopped speaking. His face blanched. His head was spinning with vertigo, a new sensation, as he lost consciousness and crashed to the hard stone floor.
“Oh, what now?” murmured Claudine as she watched Adrigus endeavor to straighten out Raphael’s limp body. She called out, “Francis! Get the Eagles!”
“My lady – what is wrong?” Francis peered through the open doorway and then saw Raphael sprawled out on the floor with Adrigus crouched there holding the fallen lord’s head off the hard floor. “Oh… right away. He should be taken back to his rooms and given a healing session!”
Summoned by Francis, the two BerWarian Eagles quickly scoped out the situation. Then, the eldest twin, Eduardo picked up Raphael and draped his body over one powerful shoulder. He nodded to Claudine and announced, “We will see that Lord Raphael is put to bed. Francis, can you possibly summon Master Leu or Master Mei Li to attend Lord Raphael in his suite?”
Raphael woke up later with a pounding headache. A worried-looking Jychondria was seated nearby watching his father as he endeavored to sit upright. Holding his aching head, Raphael ventured a question. “What happened? I got dizzy and then everything went black. My head hurts. Did I fall to the floor?”
“Yes, Father – you gave Aunt Claudine a fright. She is more determined than ever to send you home to Medina and I fully agree with her,” replied Jychondria. “According to Monteras and Salaniel, your attacks have been increasing, even after the healing sessions you received on Vey. It is clear you will require some serious rest to recover fully before taking on more responsibilities. Now, rest, Father… I will let Master Mei Li know that you are now awake.”
The dignified Veyan master entered the room, followed by Jychondria, listening to the young man explain what he witnessed as Raphael struggled to wake up. “Master, he was thrashing around like he was battling some unseen foe. Do you know what is going on?
“No, Commander Jychondria; I have to make a full assessment of your father’s condition before I can state with any degree of certainty what is the matter with him,” replied Master Mei Li patiently. He was concerned, but professional enough not to display his emotions to his patient or Lord Raphael’s son.
“Call me Jychondria, Master – at home with my father I am his son. Since you’re now attending Lord Raphael, you are part of the family, sir,” replied Jychondria. Taking up one of Raphael’s limp hands and kissing it, Jychondria said, “Father, I leave you in good hands. I will return once the master is done with his examination.”
“Well, Master Mei Li, as my son implied, I am in your hands,” commented Raphael as he lay back on the sleeping pad.
The Veyan physician nodded and replied, “Quiet, my lord, so I can concentrate – you will probably go to sleep, which is probably what you need most right now. Let go and trust…” Master Mei Li rested a soft palm on Raphael’s brow. He already knew what was wrong with Raphael. The lord’s body had suffered much physical abuse as a child, so much so, it was a wonder he managed to function at all. Still, Mei Li would attempt to slowly heal the damage done, especially to the lord’s cervical spine and to his inner organs. The physician sat upon the floor beside the sleeping pad, closed his eyes, and began a deep healing meditation. Within moments, the tension had melted out of Raphael’s body as it responded intuitively to the healing energies sent forth from the Veyan physician. Soon, the blonde lord was sleeping peacefully, even snoring lightly. Master Mei Li smiled to himself and began the more serious work of repairing the man’s damaged light body.
Meanwhile, Claudine had convened a meeting with the Masters Tzulo. First, she shared the news of Raphael’s latest physical collapse and that he was currently under the supervision and care of Master Mei Li. Master Li was concerned about Raphael as he and his son had observed several such collapses during the tour. Yet, he realized Master Mei Li would do what he could to continue the work to repair the lord’s bodies of the damage done to him as a child. “Thank you, my lady, for sharing your impressions of Raphael’s latest incident. This just reinforces our belief that the best thing for your brother is complete rest for several months. To accomplish this ‘task’ will require he be strictly supervised by my son and Master Mei Li, as Raphael’s stubborn and independent nature will eventually and unwisely compel him to attempt tasks that are beyond his current capacity to fulfill. We will instruct his cousin, Commander Monteras and his personal Aide, Commander Salaniel, to keep eagle eyes upon our stubborn friend so he follows the orders of his physicians. And now, is there anything else we can do for you right now, my lady?”
“Well, yes… let me share what Raphael presented to Commander Adrigus and myself just this morning, before his attack…” replied Claudine, sending a private telepathic mode impression of Raphael’s tentative plans for the handling of his disgraced brother Esturias.
The Veyan masters were surprised by Raphael’s plan for his brother. They were aware that Raphael had personally long-held concerns for the welfare of his brother, despite the man’s treachery against father, brothers, and ultimately, his own people. When Claudine had completed her sharing, Master Leu spoke up first, “I have heard it said by men who have known Raphael for a long time, that Raphael always, always will surprise you. The men are like Commander Myka Strom, a highly disciplined individual who has yet managed to embrace our friend’s unusual nature and gifts with a whole-hearted sense of loyalty and generosity. I have myself witnessed Raphael’s compassionate heart when he insisted Esturias be scanned for a possible implant after experiencing lucid dreams relating to his brother’s condition. And now, upon hearing these plans which Raphael has largely formed up in his own mind and heart, I am astounded by the man’s capacity to love this unlovable brother of yours, my lady. Perhaps I am mistaken about Esturias and there is something there that can be healed and preserved so your brother will have a head-start in his next life, having finally completed all the lessons he needed to finish in this one. Apparently, this is the purpose behind Raphael’s plan, which shows that your adopted brother is capable to seeing from a higher perspective a vision for one whom he loves, despite all that has gone on between the two of them in this life… and perhaps others we know not about quite yet.”
“That is a very astute observation, Master Leu. Yes, apparently, Raphael sees something and someone worth saving in the person of our brother Esturias. Remember, my adopted brother can see well into the future. Perhaps he has received a vision of himself and Esturias encountering each other in another lifetime… although it is possible that Raphael will no longer be incarnated in a male body,” replied Claudine.
Master Li nodded and commented, “Raphael has shared a vision of himself and me from the future… he will be my daughter in that life. I would imagine that a prominent soul mate of Raphael’s like Esturias would also play a significant role in that future life. However, we are now dealing with an ill and weakened Raphael who is unable to perform the scan he was hoping to accomplish before leaving for Medina. Is it your intent, my lady, that my son and I perform this task for your brothers, keeping in mind Raphael’s plan for Esturias?”
“Yes, Master Li – I would appreciate it greatly if you could perform this task for Lord Raphael while he is recovering from his latest attack,” replied the relieved regent. Raphael was, indeed, fortunate to have such friends as these Veyan masters who were more than willing to come to his aid when he was, again, incapacitated.
Master Leu said, “Then, we will accomplish this task for Raphael while he is resting and receiving a treatment from Master Mei Li. Should I inform Master Polaño of our intent to visit the prison, as I know the prison guards need to be informed prior to our arrival? I know Raphael was also concerned about Esturias receiving this scan in privacy, keeping in mind there is now another resident to the prison, one Toryn Dino, who is not likely to be very cooperative, given he is now going to remain there for several months.”
“I will order Commander Monteras to send the Feline Eagles, Milo and Loki, along with you during the visit, for protection and support,” replied Claudine as she mentally lined up the next orders to give to her personal assistant. “Would you be available to perform this session this afternoon, gentlemen?”
“We are at your command, my lady,” replied Master Li. He was planning to begin Gareth on his studies and to have Francis draft a paper on what he observed during his tour of the Federation. The educational tasks could wait for a day or so, as the Veyan master knew Raphael was or would be impatient to leave for Medina within a day or so once he felt better.
“Splendid! I will instruct Francis on what to convey to Captain Elias and Commander Monteras. We shall endeavor to complete this task that has been weighing on Raphael’s mind for many months now,” said Claudine. “I’ll have Francis send someone to your rooms to let you know when everything has been arranged for your visit to see Esturias.”
So, it came to past the Masters Tzulo made their way to the prison where Esturias was housed, accompanied by Captain Elias, a few of his men, as well as their escorting Eagles. It was quite a procession that entered the small prison. Toryn Dino, thinking the men had arrived for him, spoke up, “What’s going on, now? Where is that, Lord Raphael? Where is my uncle, Lord Efrem? I want out of here!”
The quiet and steady captain of the Castle guards, Elias, frowned at Toryn’s remarks and replied in a stern voice, conveying his dislike of the Maian in few words, “Toryn Dino, Lady Claudine and Commander Adrigus have instructed me to inform you that you will be remaining within these walls for the foreseeable future. I would advise you to be silent unless specifically addressed. These men are present to assist Esturias VaCoupe, not yourself. If you continue to act out, I will order your guards to put you in irons.”
Ignoring Toryn’s shocked expression, Captain Elias opened the door to Esturias’ cell. The shaggy head of Esturias lifted as he sensed the newly arrived masters, accompanied as they were by the huge Eagles. Gruffly he asked, “What is going on? Master Li Tzulo… is that you, sir?”
“Well, Esturias – it would appear some of your courtesy has not left you,” replied Master Li. “Too bad you didn’t remember your manners when you attempted to take down your brother’s project a decade past!”
Esturias looked at the floor, as shame stained his faded cheeks. He murmured, “I am sorry, Master Li, I told Raphael the other day… I cannot tell time here… that I am sorry. Still, what are you doing here now? Two visits in two days? This is more visitors than I have received in an entire decade!”
“Your father is dead, which is why we can even enter this prison, Esturias,” replied Master Li severely. “You broke his heart. Raphael has not yet recovered from the loss of both his adopted father and his beloved Julia. Still, your brother thinks of your welfare and wants to see that you are given an opportunity to heal from the effects of the implant and your own folly.”
“Where is Raphael? Where is my brother?” Esturias was standing up now and looking at the door in anticipation of seeing his brother enter the cell to see him, also.
Master Leu replied, “Your brother Lord Raphael is ill today and cannot come to see you. We are his replacements. Now, my father is going to perform a deep scan on you to see just how far you have come, if at all, in seeking forgiveness and repentance. While Master Li performs his scan, I will be giving you another healing session. Sit back down or better yet, Esturias, lie down on your sleeping pad.”
Esturias’ face grew pale when he learned his brother had suffered from another bout of illness. He knew down to the core of his being it was Raphael who would aid him. Why and how he knew this, Esturias could not begin to explain. He just knew it in his heart of hearts.
The disgraced commander obeyed the physician’s orders and laid back down on his sleeping pad and closed his eyes. Sensing that Esturias had fully surrendered himself up to their care, the two Veyans commenced with their tasks. Two hours later, both masters had completed their tasks. With Esturias still asleep, they decided to leave him and report directly to Claudine, then later to Raphael when he had recovered. Thanking Captain Elias for his patience, the two Veyans left the prison and a mystified Toryn Dino behind. Milo and Loki escorted the masters back to Claudine’s office to make a report.
As Master Polaño opened the outer door to the office, Eagle Milo bowed to the personal assistant and said, “I will go for the tea and some refreshments, sir. These gentlemen have worked a long time without any rest.”
Francis smiled and let the two Veyans into the outer office, “Just a moment – I will let Claudine know you are here.”
When the masters Tzulo finally settled into chairs in Claudine’s office, the woman was impatient to hear their report, “Well, what did you discover, Master Li, Master Leu?”
For a humble man, Master Li managed to appear somewhat inscrutable at that moment and replied, “My lady – let my son give his report first.”
Knowing the strength of the man’s mind and spirit, Claudine acquiesced, for the moment and said, “Well, Master Leu?”
“Lord Raphael’s assessment of your brother Esturias’ health was correct. Perhaps your adopted brother should train to be a physician. Although he is not one, Lord Raphael’s innate sensitivities and intuitive abilities sensed there were some underlying health issues with Esturias and therefore, his compassionate nature dreamed up his plan to deal in a manner that would aid in his brother’s survival in the long-term. Remember, the shame Esturias felt at learning how easily his brother read and anticipated his actions? Living longer is not necessarily going to be a pleasant experience for your elder brother, my lady. He will have a longer time in which to endure the scorn of others whom he has wronged… not that I think the scorn will come from Lord Raphael. Still, in witnessing what his contempt and jealousy of Raphael had wrought for him, Esturias is bound to thoroughly learn the lessons that he so willfully ignored before his imprisonment.
In short, Esturias is suffering from the lack of exercise, fresh air, and the overwhelming sense of guilt he took on because of receiving his punishment at the hands of his own father. As a physician, I approve of Raphael’s tentative plan to remove Esturias from the prison and to take him home… even if home will prove, at least initially, an exceedingly difficult place for him to be. After all, he will witness the happiness of his former mate when she becomes the second mate of his despised brother, Lord Raphael. And he will see the respect and love that his son Francis has developed for his mentor and advisor over the years of their close association, even as Raphael soon assumes the role of father which Esturias abandoned long ago in his blind ambition to become a senior commander in the Fleet. No, going home will not prove an easy experience for Esturias. And Raphael knew that when he produced his wise and compassionate plan. Your proud brother needs to learn humility and to come to appreciate what he has lost through his own folly.”
“Hmmm, thank you, Master Leu – it was an astute assessment of… both my brothers,” replied Claudine. “And now, Master Li?”
“My lady, my son’s assessment is similar to the conclusions I myself reached” said Master Li. “During my scan, I was able to ascertain that Esturias has come to a place where he fully recognizes that what he did under the influence of the enemy device was ill-conceived. I am not sure if he fully realizes the ramifications of his actions and the effect it had in delaying the ascension of the entire federation. Still, Esturias’ actions and their aftereffect alerted Raphael and his Father to the need to cleanse the Fleet of enemy influences, something we are still encountering within the general population of some of our planets as we all noted on the tour. Esturias was a tool, an unwitting tool cynically used by the enemy agents to get access to Raphael, Lord Demetrius, and the Starship Project team. Fortunately, Raphael’s gifts prepared him and his team, who trusted his visions, to be ready for the day of reckoning. Esturias has paid dearly for his poor choices and lack of personal discipline, his need to assuage his jealousy by attempting to outbid his brilliant adopted brother. If anything, Esturias is very aware now that he was extremely out of alignment. He will require a great deal of counseling from healing priestesses to regain a sense of self-respect, to release his shame and guilt, and to atone fully for his wrong doings. I agree with my son, Raphael has grasped the core of his brother’s issues, his pride and refusal to undergo counseling earlier in his career before he was able to harm others through his actions and decisions.”
“Interesting, Master Li. Now, gentlemen, let us keep this assessment to ourselves until Raphael regains his health. Esturias will also have to wait – you gave no hint of what might be store for him did you while in the prison?” replied Claudine.
“None whatsoever, my lady. Esturias does not have a clue of what his brother Raphael has planned for him. Right now, I think it best to tell him at the last minute and then observe the reaction and shock when Esturias realizes he is leaving the prison and being returned to Medina,” said Master Li.
Claudine’s generous mouth curved up into a smile, “I don’t think Esturias has ever had the honor of flying in The Golden Cat…”
Master Leu responded with a comment, “I am not certain Esturias would regard such a flight as an honor, my lady. Being within the ancient golden ship is bound to bring up some painful memories of just what was lost on that fateful day when the Starship Project ended so abruptly.”
“A great deal of things and people have been lost thanks to his idiocy, Master Leu,” snapped Claudine. “Esturias needs to be reminded of that fact every day he remains among us, perhaps silently, but to drive home the lesson and awareness permanently.”
Master Li smiled at Claudine’s retort. Although not related by blood, there did exist some startling similarities between the two siblings, Claudine, and Raphael. “Now, my lady, my son and I would like to see how Master Mei Li is faring in returning Lord Raphael back to a balanced state so he will be able to travel home to Medina within a couple of days.”
“Thank you, gentlemen; you are dismissed,” replied Claudine, already beginning to turn away and place her attention on a pile of reports sitting on her large desk. “Oh, could you ask Francis to come in as you leave? If I had known how much work this position would entail, I would have insisted Raphael take it, adopted son or not!”
Noting that Milo and Loki fell into place behind them, the two Veyans, father and son, walked to Raphael’s suite next. They found Jychondria sitting with his father in the front great room taking some tea. There were more cups available, so the two Veyans graciously accepted some tea and refreshments from Jychondria. Master Mei Li entered the room a moment after they sat down. He had just finished a deep meditation wherein he was planning out his future therapeutic schedule for the busy commander.
Raphael looked remarkably relaxed compared to when the Masters Tzulo had last seen him. Master Li commented, “You are looking better, Raphael. How do you feel, now?”
“Much improved, thank you, Master Li,” replied Raphael politely. “And how did your assessment and healing of my brother Esturias go, if I may ask?”
“Well, my lord; Esturias slept through the entire thing,” answered Master Li. “As you know from experience, my son’s healing energies are extraordinarily strong. Esturias went to sleep instantly. His willingness to surrender to our administrations is evidence that he has, indeed, come a long way in healing from the trauma he underwent and put all your team through, as well as his own blood father. I am not sure Esturias realized to what extent the effect his personal actions and decisions would have on others. He was so intensely focused in his jealousy towards your own person, that he lost all reason and common sense. He is finally emerging from that mental fog into which he threw himself over a decade ago.”
“Good – did you tell him the purpose of the examination and healing? Or remind him? I forget how much I told him the other day when Lord Efrem interrupted us…” replied Raphael. He paused to take a sip of the herbal tea.
“We told him nothing about your plans for removing him from the prison and returning him to Medina, my lord,” replied Master Leu.
“You mean to return my uncle to Medina, Father?” asked Jychondria, incredulously. He knew how much his father and grandfather suffered because of his uncle’s actions and treachery. “It is a good thing that Grandfather is not alive today; he would never allow such a thing to occur!”
“You’re right… sadly correct in that assessment, Connie,” replied Raphael. “Father never forgave your uncle of his sins of commission. He went to his fiery end without clearing that stain on his own consciousness. Yes, Esturias was guilty… of being a fool for trusting complete strangers. Foolish for being unable to discern their low frequency, which was blatantly obvious to me when I walked into the conference room that fateful day. I could barely comprehend how misguided Esturias had become over the decades that he would do such a thing as attempting a coup against his own father and brother. Yet, how long must Esturias be punished for being a prideful idiot? Father is gone and Adrigus has approved of my plan. Your uncle will not escape the day-to-day reminders of what he did, and he will have to behave. He will have to perform the most menial of chores at the behest of people he once believed he was superior to in rank, blood, and position. He may even end up begging me to return him to his comfortable and quiet prison cell.”
Jychondria’s expression told his father that he understood what his uncle would be facing when he arrived in Medina. “Then, he will not be reinstated into the Family, sir?”
“No… not a chance! Esturias cannot carry the VaCoupe name any longer by decree of our now deceased Patriarch. We should not even call him Esturias. Perhaps I should let my young son give Esturias a new name. No, my brother and your uncle will never regain his position, name, fortune, or privileges for as long as I live. And should I pass before he does, I will trust you to see that your grandfather’s decree is still carried out,” replied Raphael firmly.
Jychondria nodded, “Yes, Father; I will see that your wishes are carried out to the best of my ability and authority. His son, Francis, should also be advised of this decree.”
“Yes, I will tell Francis myself when next I see him,” replied Raphael. “And Lorenna…”
Master Mei Li was concerned that Raphael was going to get stressed again discussing such things so he spoke up, “My lord, I will have to insist that you return to your room again to rest; you have only managed to recover after another severe attack.”
“What was it, Mei Li, which affected my father so severely?” queried Jychondria, who was anxious for a variety of reasons. He didn’t want his own offspring to inherit whatever was adversely affecting his father for one thing…
“His spine and nervous system were damaged as a boy, Commander Jychondria,” replied Mei Li, soberly. “Master Leu and I can work on repairing the damage, but it is a delicate exercise as you can well imagine. I intend to approach your father’s therapy in short sessions. I could repair it more quickly, but then, in my opinion, it would be too great a shock for him to endure all at once.”
Master Leu discerned Jychondria’s concern and added, “Your father’s condition is not something he inherited. Your own offspring should be healthy, Commander.”
Raphael chuckled aloud when he realized what his son was fretting about, “Ah, Connie, you are already thinking like a father! Rita is a lucky woman. And now, I had better obey my doctor’s orders and go back to bed.”
After a couple more days of rest and some carefully supervised “work,” Raphael was feeling quite a bit better. He had taken to sitting in his bed, propped up with pillows, quietly studying reports, while being periodically observed by either Master Leu or Master Mei Li. Salaniel occasionally came and went, bringing in tea and some fruit, or exchanging the already read reports for new ones. Raphael was also receiving daily healing sessions, as the work to repair his damaged body systems continued in short spurts. Master Mei Li, especially, did not want to put a strain on Raphael’s heart, which might occur should the Veyan masters attempt too much healing at once.
The Veyan masters sat down with both Claudine and Commander Adrigus as they felt it was important that Raphael’s superiors fully understand the extent of damage that Raphael had sustained as a youngster and how it was contributing to his current health issues.
Claudine was quite startled to find out how frail her advisor and brother was now. Curious as to the timing she inquired, “How is it that these frailties did not show up earlier in his life, Master Mei Li?”
“It would be difficult to pinpoint the causal factors, my lady; however, the added burdens placed upon Lord Raphael, with the stress and responsibility he has carried without respite since the ending of the Starship Project probably have contributed to his current condition,” replied a sober Mei Li. “The weaknesses have always been there, although usually only confined to fainting fits when he was confronted by enemy frequencies. Think of it like a young tree that is poorly pruned, leaving a weakness that is hidden as the trunk expands and covers it. Then, a great wind comes, the weakness is exposed, and the trunk splits open, damaging or even killing the tree.”
“Well, I certainly don’t want to be accused of killing my brother by over working him,” replied Claudine. “Perhaps he needs to retire from the Command? His skills are not required as much now, and he has certainly contributed a great deal to Line Communications while he has been in the Fleet. I know Raphael is anxious for our planets to be healed, but that is hardly a one-man job. He takes on too much, feels things so deeply, and reacts so intensely when things are out of alignment. I am sure he has contributed to his own current health issues due to his overly passionate nature. We will just have to discover a way to channel that passion into a productive project that is not exhausting for Raphael and ultimately beneficial for our people. I will give this some thought, Master Zang, while Raphael is resting in Medina and enjoying the first months of his new mating with Lady Lorenna.”
Master Leu spoke up, addressing Commander Adrigus directly, “Commander, is there someone who can assume Raphael’s position should he be forced to retire?”
“Well, yes, Master Leu; the best man for the position of Head Commander of the Command Center would be Charles Lo’Telle, former supervisor and long-term associate of Lord Raphael. If Charles is willing to take on the extra work entailed, he would be the best replacement for Lord Raphael. The next possible candidate would be 2nd Level Commander Leo Bakken, of the Golden Falcon, another long-term associate of Lord Raphael,” replied Adrigus. “Both men have worked closely with Lord Raphael and are intimately acquainted with his methodologies. Perhaps I could recall Leo Bakken back to the Alyona Command Center to act under Commander Lo’Telle… who may want to retire soon. I know Bakken is a good man and highly regarded by Myka Strom, who has had his services ever since the Starship Project ended in shambles.”
Claudine was tapping her lip as she listened to Adrigus’ speech. She remarked, “Commander Adrigus – I think you have solved our ‘problem’ for us. Give Lo’Telle a promotion to Head Commander of the Alyona Command Center while assigning Leo Bakken as his second while he learning Lo’Telle’s position and getting to know the Command Center’s personnel once more. Leo Bakken is an excellent choice as he served as Raphael’s personal assistant for over 30 years; the two men know and trust each other, which is more important especially with my sensitive brother. It is time to retire my brother from the service. He has certainly done his part, if reluctantly for over 60 years. Then, he can concentrate on acting as my advisor and working with the representatives from the various planets. He could still visit the planets as my representative as we coordinate efforts to clean up the last traces of the enemy incursions and return prosperity and peace to all our people. Since Raphael has served within the Fleet, he is accustomed to being around the military and would be able to give them intel which may not be available through normal channels. Many people rather speak to a civilian than a military commander, Adrigus; they feel intimidated with the latter sort, no offense meant, commander.”
Adrigus looked very thoughtful upon hearing Claudine’s suggestions for staff changes at the Command Center. He said, “What you have proposed, my lady, are very astute alterations to the Command Center without destroying or nullifying your brother’s contributions to it. After all, along with Charles Lo’Telle, he was the co-founder of the institution. Would Raphael be open to retiring, do you think, my lady?”
“Commander… if my father was still living, he would tell you that Raphael has been attempting to leave the Command practically since he entered it,” replied Claudine with a chuckle. “But seriously, gentlemen, we all know he stayed in because of Father and then because Commander Bashar and I convinced him to do so after the death of Lord Demetrius. Charles Lo’Telle can tell you that he resigned immediately upon returning to Alyona after the defeat of the enemy fleets.”
“Oh, I forgot about that incident,” exclaimed Adrigus. “Raphael resigned during a comm call with Commander Menas. Then, when I managed to connect with Lo’Telle, he told me the same thing – that Raphael had been attempting to leave the command since he was 19 years old. Your brother was always the reluctant warrior. He would have been better suited as a shaman or priest. Far too sensitive for a warrior.”
Master Mei Li had been listening to the conversation with interest. He interjected a comment, “I would certainly recommend that some of Lord Raphael’s responsibilities be lifted from his shoulders. He can still serve Claudine, your grace, as advisor and as a mentor and stepfather for Francis, our future heir. Sending him on periodic tours with Francis would suffice to allow him to use his natural talents and skills to discern how well the planets are recovering, plus give Francis a chance to meet his new people. For him to leave the Command would probably relieve Lord Raphael of a burden he has long carried reluctantly for the sake of the memory of the man who granted an orphan boy house, home, and family long ago. Perhaps it is time for Lord Raphael to be relieved of that burden?”
“Sensitive or not, my brother’s gifts and skills were desperately needed during the war,” replied Claudine, “And obviously, the use of the same gifts and skills in that kind of environment placed a tremendous stress on my brother. Yet, he is still the same man whether in or out of the Command. When he is well enough to resume touring the Federation with Francis, I would recommend he have a military commander as advisor and Aide. Perhaps Commander Semmas would enjoy accompanying Raphael even to Medina during his stay there?”
“So, you’re going to strip away my Aide and give him to Lord Raphael? He already has Commander Monteras… although Monteras has played in the more covert leagues associated with the Command,” said Adrigus. “Hmmm, give me some time to ponder this and to talk it over with Commander Semmas. I know both men got along well – Lord Raphael clearly admires the thorough preparation for which Commander Semmas is well-known. Then, will Lord Raphael also retain his Eagle escorts?”
“Yes, being who and what he is, Lord Raphael will still require Eagle escorts. Besides that, many of the men have been serving him for decades,” replied Claudine. “I have use of both the Eagles and the Castle Guardsmen while here on Alyona and I have my own personal guard unit on BerWare. Francis should retain a guard unit, as well. Since Raphael and Francis will be together quite a lot soon, they can share the Eagles currently assigned to Raphael. Monteras is currently their commander and goes wherever Raphael goes. It is an interesting relationship between those two men.”
“How so, my lady?” Adrigus was aware that Monteras had been with his cousin since soon after Raphael was rescued as a child, serving as guard, tutor, companion, and confidant.
“Well, let it suffice to know that both Monteras and Salaniel are able to read Lord Raphael as he goes through his various moods,” replied Claudine. “Both men were relatives in Raphael’s first life as a Pleiadian. Monteras was an elder cousin and Salaniel was his father, Anor, who was killed when Raphael was quite young. All three of the men have a very tight soul mate relationship. It would be wrong to divide them up now if Raphael is leaving the Command. Remember, both Monteras and DeAires hold commissions as commanders.”
“Oh, I would hate to lose Monteras; he has been invaluable in aiding with our mission on Morova in the past. Still, I will have to give him the choice to stay or leave and follow his cousin into retirement,” replied Adrigus somewhat reluctantly. “The same choice should be offered to Salaniel DeAires. And in his case, wasn’t Master Polaño training DeAires to eventually be his replacement here at the Castle?”
“Hmmm, that would only be fair,” commented Claudine. She thought for a few minutes, considering possible replacements for Raphael’s personal Aide or assistant. Then, she had an idea, “Why not reward the Eagle who has served longest at Raphael’s side a new position as his Aide. It is Paul Dominguez, who has known Raphael since he was a new cadet on The Golden Lion. Then, Commander Semmas could still serve here in Alyona, but be available to accompany Raphael and Francis on their tours in the official capacity as a Military Advisor. Since Paul has been an Eagle for decades, he could assume the position as the commander in charge of the Eagles assigned to Raphael and Francis. If Monteras and DeAires wish to retain their commissions and work in the Command, then we should grant them the opportunity to make an informed choice.”
Master Leu had listened with interest to these initial negotiations. All the men being discussed were important players in Raphael’s life, valued friends, and companions, besides being military officers and warriors. He cleared his throat and spoke up, “Before you plunge into making all these changes, as one of Lord Raphael’s physicians, I would respectfully request you hold-off making any decisions until after he returns to Alyona and is, hopefully, in better physical health than he is currently. I feel the shock of losing the company of these close companions would not be of any benefit to Raphael at this precarious time while he is undergoing a delicate process of healing… my lady, Commander.”
Claudine appeared to be slightly annoyed at the effrontery of the physician, but she checked her temper and graciously acquiesced, replying, “Given your professional concern for your patient, my brother, Commander Adrigus, and I will temporarily refrain from making any reassignments right now. However, after Raphael has recovered in a few months, I would like to introduce the possibility of these changes to all concerned. I do feel strongly that it is time for Raphael to leave the Command and to become my full-time advisor, counselor and mentor for our heir, Francis VaCoupe. Still, we can also wait to spring that notion on my brother until he is in better health. Are you in agreement, Commander?”
Adrigus was nodding, although he appeared to be distracted thinking about all the possible permutations involved once Raphael officially retired and who would be more affected by his leaving the Command. However, he remained silent for the time being.
“Thank you, my lady. Master Leu and I will endeavor to inform you when we feel Lord Raphael will be better prepared to make changes in his life, besides the one he is about to make… his upcoming mating with the Lady Lorenna of Maia,” replied Mei Li. “Not that it is my business to advise a military commander, but… Commander Adrigus, I suggest you speak personally to each man who has been discussed here today and get a feeling for what kind of decision they are liable to make when the time comes to officially announcing Lord Raphael’s retirement from the Command. Remember, despite being a reluctant warrior, Lord Raphael has been the steady hand who has kept the Federation from flying apart. He will be missed… even by those who never quite understood him.”
“Not only that, but my lady also… Lord Raphael must be the one to agree to retirement. Despite being the reluctant warrior, the Command has been a part of his life for over six decades,” added Master Leu. “It will take some adjustment to no longer be at the center of running things in the Command.”
“Well, he will still be at my side, in or out of the Command,” snapped Claudine. “I expect to serve as Regent for my nephew until he is ready to assume the heavy responsibility of Lordship. That may still be several decades from now… so I want my brother at my side. After all, he was the one to convince me to take on this assignment for the sake of our people, a burden I am more than willing to carry… provided Lord Raphael is there at my side.”
“Yes, my lady – we will see that Lord Raphael receives proper care and rest while he is residing in Medina,” replied Master Mei Li, with a bow. “And now, we should return to our patient to see how he fares.”
Both physicians rose, gave bows to the regent and commander, and left the office. Adrigus and Claudine looked at each other for a long moment before the commander spoke, “Things always seem to get complicated when they involve Lord Raphael, my lady.”
“He is not particularly complex if you get to know him well, Commander; however, he has been so present for so many intense events during the wars, it will take some adjustment not to send him on assignment to do another survey or such,” replied Claudine. “He’s just such a passionate soul, intent in saving his people the best he can. Well, together, we managed that well. Now comes the job of patching things up, but first Lord Raphael’s health needs to improve. I didn’t realize he was so unhealthy; he has always appeared so physically strong… well, until he fainted, had visions, lucid dreams, and the like.” Claudine paused a moment and then continued, “Hmmm. I wonder how Esturias is going to react when he finds out he will be accompanying Raphael to Medina? They have not ever been the best of friends… at least in this life.”
Adrigus was rather astounded at Claudine’s rhetorical question, but he wisely refrained from answering. Claudine answered her own question a few minutes later as the commander prepared to leave the office… “Shocked… speechless, I should think. After all, Esturias betrayed Raphael and Father. He committed the greatest sin a man can commit, by betraying not only his family, but also his people. And yet, my brother is willing to give the man the opportunity to pursue redemption outside of a prison cell. That, commander, takes a man with vision to see the divine possibilities within his damaged brother.”
“Ah, yes… Raphael is a man of visions, for sure. If it weren’t for them, we would all now be cooked geese… or whatever, slaves of the dark forces or dead,” replied Adrigus. “Our people owe the man a great deal – their very lives – but few know him now and fewer will know of him in the future. He serves the people out of love and a strong unwavering sense of duty. Although I can’t say I fully understand your brother, I do respect him, my lady. Now, I better go and presume my duties. It has been an interesting discussion.”
It took a few more days until Raphael was deemed fit enough to be able to travel to Medina. Francis and Gareth would arrive later, as they would be traveling with Claudine, the Dinos, and Master Li Tzulo. Salaniel, Monteras, and six Eagles would be accompanying Raphael. The two physicians would also be coming, as would Commander Jychondria, Raphael’s eldest son. And there was one more special passenger who didn’t yet know that he was going, too. Accompanied by the BerWarian twins, Captain Elias, Jychondria, Adrigus, Raphael made one last visit to the Castle prison.
As the ancient key clicked in the equally ancient lock, Toryn Dino stirred from his hazy slumbers and looked up expectantly. This time he did not speak, just observed as the rather large party descended upon the closed cell of Esturias. Soon after the door of the disgraced commander was opened, Commander Adrigus entered the cell, with the other men waiting outside. Toryn Dino heard raised voices and strained to overhear the conversation, but the words were muffled by the thick walls of the cell. Finally, two men emerged, one the Feline commander and the other… well, Toryn couldn’t readily identify him, but the man was similar in looks to Francis VaCoupe, tall, thin, dark-haired, but he looked rather ancient and slightly bent over. Then, Adrigus brought the stranger – it had to be Esturias VaCoupe, thought Toryn – to a halt before Lord Raphael, who was standing there, waiting patiently. This time Toryn heard something that both shocked him… and gave him hope for his own future…
For Esturias stood face to face with his former nemesis and asked a simple question, “Where are you taking me, brother?”
“Home, Esturias – you’re going home to Medina,” replied Raphael quietly. “Esturias, you are being given some new clothes. You can’t walk into the VaCoupe household in prison overalls. You’ll need a haircut and shave, too, Esturias, but those tasks will have to wait. We’re leaving as soon as you are ready. Adrigus is here to formally hand over your parole to me to make this transfer official. If you mess up, brother, you will be coming back here, so behave.”
Raphael signed the BerWarians to take Esturias back to his cell so he could strip off his old prison clothes, wash briefly, and then change into sturdy but plain Medinian gown and robes, without any house colors. When Esturias was handed the clothes, he understood he was not being fully forgiven and reinstated into the family – he had destroyed any chance of that by acting with treacherous intent against his father and brothers. Still, to be able to walk free… well, relatively free… of the prison for the first time in over a decade, hope sprang anew within his breast. Esturias quietly thanked Eduardo Montoya for the clothes and put them on. Giorgio handed him a pair of new sandals and he put those on, too. Then, he briefly looked around at the cell which had been his home for so long and briefly remarked to the waiting Eagles, “I am traveling light today. There isn’t anything I want from this place except to leave it.”
“Then come this way, sir,” replied Giorgio politely, signing Esturias to follow him out to the main part of the prison. “Lord Raphael is waiting for you. We are going to be flying to Medina today in The Golden Cat, Lord Raphael’s ship.”
Esturias understood the irony of the situation. He would be flying home to the ancient house he thought would be his own someday, only it was his adopted brother who oversaw it now. And Raphael would soon be mated to Esturias’ former mate. Briefly, Esturias wondered if Lorenna was as lovely as ever. It was practically the first time he had ever thought about his former mate since before the coup attempt. Realizing that, Esturias felt a surge of profound shame. Everything that he hoped to achieve in this life had now been methodically stripped away from him until all he owned were the clothes on his back and it was his brother who had seen that Esturias was properly clad before returning to the home and family he had turned his back on so long ago. And Esturias was honest enough to realize that it was his own follies that had dropped him into this current uncomfortable circumstance. He knew he would not have an easy time being in the presence of people he had both neglected and forgotten in his lost bid for power.
When Esturias finally stood in front of his brother, he bowed humbly, and said, “Thank you, Lord Raphael. I guess I should not address you in familiar terms anymore, my lord. I give you my pledge that I will not attempt any actions or even thoughts that might imperil my parole. Now, what, sir?”
Raphael surveyed his lanky brother’s figure. Yes, the man’s untidy hair would have to be washed, brushed, and trimmed. The beard he had grown out during his imprisonment would have to be shaven off – as a laborer, he had no right to wear a beard. At least his clothes were clean and in good repair – as humble as he might appear, Esturias would not be totally shamed when he walked through the door of the ancient house into which he had been born over 300 years prior.
Raphael finally spoke and asked his brother, “What would you like to be called? Remember, Father stripped you of your birthright to carry your name when he removed you from the Family List.”
Dark blue eyes searched blue green ones for a long moment as Esturias considered his options. Then, he announced, “I shall be called Nemo. Father called me ‘No name’ so ‘Nemo’ is good enough and easy to remember.”
“Then, Nemo, fall into line. Our luggage and the rest of our party have already been sent on to the ship. We are departing now. You will see Claudine when she arrives in Medina in a month or two for the Howlings, along with Francis, your former son. Thank you, Captain Elias, for your kind assistance. Farewell, Commander Adrigus, and thank you for providing me the opportunity to give my former brother a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of his people and family.”
“I hope to attend your mating ceremony, Lord Raphael – or at least see you when next you return to Alyona,” replied Adrigus, after he gave Raphael a precise military salute.
“Thank you, Commander,” replied Raphael. He surveyed the party. The Eagles had placed Esturias between them, while Jychondria stood next to his father. “Men, let us depart this place!”
When Esturias finally boarded The Golden Cat and felt the sentient ship’s awareness settle on him, he broke down in quiet sobs. Silently he told the ship, I am so sorry, Cat… so sorry.
The ship answered him silently We know and feel your genuine regret, Commander Esturias. Now, obey your brother and uncle, and you will eventually find your way back to your rightful place… although not in this life. Still, opportunity abounds for those who align themselves truly to Source. Your prayers are heard. Listen for your inner Voice to guide you back to your Self. We are all instruments, the hands and hearts, and heads of Source.
I will endeavor to remember that my golden friend, replied Esturias silently within his heart and knew his words had been recorded and noted in the Book of Akash.
Raphael was poignantly aware of his brother’s conversation with the ship… and the Crystals whom he had betrayed. Still, he did not want to draw attention to his humbled brother any more than he had to… so he started a conversation with his eldest son, who was seated in the navigator’s seat beside him, “So, what will it be? A boy or girl?”
Jychondria’s reply was firm and carried back to his uncle’s ears, as it was meant to… “The child, our first child will be a boy and I will name him Charles in honor of your long-time friend and associate, Charles Lo’Telle, sir.”
Raphael smiled knowing his humble, honorable co-worker would be pleased to have a grandson of Raphael’s named after him. “An excellent choice, Connie – now, let’s go, Cat! Home to Medina!”
Esturias gave an involuntary gasp as the ship levitated above the space port and then formed up her own jump gate, accelerated, leaving the shining planet far behind. This time there were no Saber fighters to slow her progress across the star-studded regions of Pleiadian space. She was going home and carrying her brother, Lord Raphael, with her. For once, Esturias felt the ship’s joy and wept with tears of regret at what had been lost. Yet, even then, the ship reminded him: For all those who strive towards perfection, there are rewards and numerous chances to get things right, Esturias. You will, once again, in many years distant, fly free in your own golden ship. I have seen this. Your brother has seen this, also, so he has granted you this boon; make effective use of it this time.
Oh, my stars, I will. I swear it. Said the man now called Nemo to his own heart and an ancient golden ship.
The ship, representative of the crystal kingdom replied: We hear your vow, Esturias, and shall hold you to it. Ask the Lady Amethyst of the role your brother played earlier before you and your false compatriots disturbed his work. And you will finally realize what you stole from your people and weep. You’ve been a fool, Esturias, but even fools can be redeemed. She had heard your pleas and answered them through the avenue of your brother, Lord Raphael. Obey him in all things and you will do well. Now, I must concentrate on carrying this party safely to our destination…
The next and final book in this fictional four volume series is The White Lion.
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