BOOK FOUR: CHAPTER 1 – NEMO, the Return to Medina

CHAPTER 1 – Nemo, Return to Medina


Before leaving Alyona, Raphael made sure that his uncle Raimundo was apprised of what to expect when Esturias was returned to the ancient house.  Raphael wanted Raimundo to have an opportunity to inform his staff and retainers that the disgraced commander would soon be among them… and that he was to be treated with respect, but also assigned to perform routine jobs like working in the kitchen or garden.  Esturias was not to be called by his given name or his forfeited title of ‘commander’.  He was to be regarded as a new staff member and assigned the humblest of jobs, including kitchen detail, housecleaning, light repairs of furniture and other household furnishings, garden maintenance, and any other tasks required to be done by the staff and family members. 

Raimundo was surprised at Raphael’s determination to bring Esturias home and then he began to comprehend his adopted nephew’s purpose. He commented, “You mean to challenge Esturias by having him directly facing the people he betrayed, our family members and retainers, don’t you?”

“Indeed, Uncle – he needs to prove to himself and to us, as well, that he has progressed in his journey towards redemption and self-forgiveness. It means nothing if we endeavor to forgive him first. Given his avoidance of feeling deep emotion in the past, he would slip pass the pain and merely repress it deeper within. He needs to feel the pain and then to transmute it and let it go. What better place to confront head-on, the reality of his follies than to look upon the faces of the people he turned his back on years prior?” replied Raphael firmly.

Esturias is going to witness you as you greet your youngest son, interact with your new relatives and friends… perhaps work beside you in the garden doing weeding, pruning, and cultivating,” replied Raimundo.

Yes, Uncle – I have never been ashamed of doing common chores around the household, why should Esturias? Even if he has come down in status to the lowest of the low, the VaCoupes treat all of their servants, staff, and retainers with dignity and respect. In this manner, Esturias will be able to observe and see how people should work together for the greatest good of all. He would not be able to experience such things by sitting in solitary confinement in a secured prison cell,” said Raphael.

Raimundo’s image on the interactive comm nodded, “Yes, I see the wisdom of this unusual move of yours. It has been approved by the Lord Commander and Claudine?”

“Yes… I could hardly authorize the release of Esturias from the prison on my own; I do not hold that kind of power at the Castle or in the Command,” replied Raphael.

Do you have any safeguards in place should Esturias attempt any foolishness while physically present in the house?” inquired Raimundo. The retired commander wanted to be sure that Raphael had thought things through thoroughly.

Yes, Uncle – I shall assign an Eagle to shadow Esturias as he goes about his daily chores and to keep watch on his room at night. We may have to lock him into his room at first,” replied Raphael. “Remember, as a prisoner, one becomes accustomed to the security of being locked in, however strange that might seem to anyone who has not experienced being incarcerated. I can remember when I was left alone in my cell, I learned to turn off my control collar and to allow my imagination to fly free. I do not know what Esturias is capable of doing, but he comes from the same light lineage as do I, only coming down to this life via different paths. He may surprise himself as he learns to relax and become part of life once more. Sometimes people who think they are free are the ones most imprisoned by their narrow beliefs, thoughts, and judgments of self and others.”

“Well, Nephew, it is an interesting experiment you are attempting… well, we will all be involved in it to one degree or another. I will thoroughly vet the staff and see anyone is willing to even work patiently with the man. Of course, few people even in our own household realize what was at stake when you were working on the Starship Project,” said Raimundo, “After all, it was a secret project even within the Command. Except for you occasionally flying one of the golden ships here in order to visit Demetrius, few of our staff actually saw the vessels or knew of their true purpose. Remember, you did not visit Medina much in those days, either, you were so focused in fulfilling your vast project.”

“That is true – the golden ships were such a part of my life that sometimes I forget that few men except those who actually flew them, built them, or worked on the landing decks of the various Fleet ships would even know of their existence,” said Raphael wonderingly.

You are still flying The Golden Cat, Raphael?”

“Yes, Uncle; we will be arriving in her. I will have to leave her at the space port; she is too heavy to sit on the field next to the house for long,” replied Raphael. “So, we will require some viscars to transport my party to the house. It isn’t a long walk, but even that would be a challenge for Esturias who has not been out of his prison for over a decade. The guardsmen did allow him supervised exercise, but it’s different from walking through the village you knew and grew up in as a child and now return to in disgrace.”

“Well, we don’t have a backdoor through which he can slink, hoping to escape notice,” commented Raimundo. “I am going to make a point of introducing him as a new worker who needs to know basically everything required in order to perform his assigned tasks. It will be rather like educating someone who is brain-damaged and is still undergoing rehabilitation.”

Raphael nodded in agreement, “That is an apt description, Uncle – for Esturias is undergoing a reconstruction of his entire inner being, unlearning the habits and beliefs he picked up along during a lifetime of making wrong choices and substituting them with what will actually serve him and the people around him. He needs to learn how to interact with people and will have to be instructed on how to comport himself within the ancient household when visitors arrive. He will be seen… although perhaps not immediately recognized by some of the visitors as his appearance is slightly different than he appeared in his glory days as a battleship commander – the man I first encountered when still very young.”

“What do you mean, Raphael?” Raimundo was curious to know how imprisonment had affected his wayward nephew.

The fire has gone out, Uncle,” replied Raphael somewhat cryptically. Then, he sent his uncle a telepathic impression of Esturias’ current appearance, the shaggy hair, overgrown beard, sallow complexion, weakened and thin body covered by stained prison overalls.

Raimundo was appalled to witness the present sad condition of his disgraced nephew and glad his brother was not present to see the results of his son’s long captivity. He replied, “Oh, now I understand – well, we will see how well Esturias adapts to this new situation. I know it’s not going to be easy on him – and knowing you; you do not mean it to be easyThere are still deeds of commission for which he must seek restitution and forgiveness. And sins of omission, like the abandonment of his mate and children. I wonder how Francis and Adarius will respond to seeing their uncle outside of prison?”

“Well, I would imagine they would barely know him. Francis looks like Esturias did when younger, but other than that… my brother is a mere shadow of his former self,” commented Raphael. “After all, Esturias did not return home much after the twins were born and once, they left for Medina, the boys saw him perhaps once a year, if at all. No, I don’t think it will be much of an issue for Francis and Adarius to see their disgraced blood father busy at work scrubbing the floor. Our family is rather unique, as we all take part in the humblest of tasks, so Esturias is not being singled out for undue punishment. It will be up to him how he responds to doing these humble chores. If he makes a fuss, he will regret it; I have no problem sending him back to Alyona under guard on the next shuttle. This is an opportunity I am granting my erstwhile brother once and once only. I will be sure to knock that realization into his stubborn head.”

Raimundo looked pleased and felt reassured that Raphael wasn’t intending to give his disgraced brother an easy time of things. If the bully within rose up again, the punishment would be swift and just. “It would appear that you have considered all the ramifications and possibilities that might arise. Now, it’s up to Esturias to prove to himself and us that he can manage to act like a civilized human being, to be respectful of all people no matter their station and position. Except for his time in prison, he hasn’t had to function much outside the confines of the Command, so it will challenge him to interact politely with the widely diverse slice of humanity who live here, work in the house, and visit our household.”

“Yes, it will be up to Esturias. As of now, he has no clue he is going to be accompanying my party to Medina,” replied Raphael. “It will be a total surprise as I want to observe how well he manages to behave when he is handed a set of plain Medinian garments rather than his former uniform or beautiful House robes.”

“If anything, that simple gesture will remind him he is no longer considered a part of the Family nor can he expect the same rights and privileges to be returned him. My brother cut his name out of our Family records,” stated Raimundo. “Since he can no longer be called by his given name or surname, have you come up with another name for him yet?”

“No, I’m going to let him name himself, Uncle – we will see what he comes up with,” replied Raphael. “Also, I have the strangest feeling that my young son may end up giving his uncle a nickname that we may all end up calling him. Children are so innocent and precious. If anyone can discern the true Esturias within that lanky body, my son, Daniel, will be able to. How is the lad, by the way?”

“Raphael – your son thrives. He is still being nursed by Maryam along with little Martea, but he is also managing to eat soft fruit and drink liquids on his own. He is a sturdy, happy lad who enjoys playing in the garden with Felipe and Martea. You will fall in love with him. He looks so much like you, but smaller and fresher,” replied Raimundo.

It was obvious Raimundo was in love with the boy. Raphael was glad he was wise enough to leave his son in his uncle’s care. He commented, “It would appear you are besotted over the youngster, Uncle. Well, I will soon be able to hold him… if he will allow me to. He hasn’t seen me for so long and was just a couple of months old when I left on the tour. I wonder if he will recognize me at all.”

“I think… I believe he will – Mazzie and I are beginning to realize that little Daniel has inherited several of your gifts, Raphael. As young as he is, he is already a talented telepath and very sensitive. Birds and animals come up to him freely and sit with him when he is sitting quietly in the garden,” replied Raimundo with a sense of wonder in his deep voice. “Eagle Felipe has already taught Daniel several languages… he can’t speak aloud or doesn’t want to much yet, but he can think and communicate in these languages. You may have fathered a future Line Communications commander, Raphael.”

Raphael smiled, imagining what it would look like to observe his young son and the cheerful Ashkerian Eagle conversing via telepathy.  “I’ve missed Felipe, too. It will be good to see all of you. We will be there tomorrow, Uncle.”

“I will inform the staff today of the impending arrival of our newest member of staff and how to treat him. I will make sure there are some viscars available for your use when you arrive at the space port. We are all anticipating hearing many interesting stories of your adventures on the various worlds, Raphael, so prepare to act as a storyteller. I am sure some of the staff would be interested to hear what you experienced on worlds they will never have the opportunity to visit for themselves,” replied Raimundo. “Now, farewell, Nephew, until we meet again!”

The Golden Cat arrived in Medina in the late afternoon of a hot summer day, so the party loaded up the waiting viscars quickly and piled in. Esturias or Nemo as he was now called, sat in the rear most viscar along with a couple of Eagles. Nemo would have to prove he was trustworthy to be left on his own. Until then, he would be supervised at all times. Nemo pulled up the hood of his robes to hide his shaggy hair. Now that he had been around the uniformed Eagles and his own well-dressed brother, Nemo felt uncomfortable with his own appearance. He knew if his father were still alive, he would be appalled at the state into which his eldest son had descended. Then, again, had his father still been among the living, Nemo probably would not now be seated in a viscar driving through the ancient tribal village of his childhood. He owed his brother this chance to prove himself; Raphael, his once rival upon whose head he had poured out so much venom and spite. He was intelligent enough to understand the irony of the situation. Thanks to his old ‘enemy’ he was now being given a chance to regain at least some of the freedom he lost over a decade ago when he attempted a coup against his brothers, father, and the Starship Project team.

As the party pulled up into front of the golden gate that opened up into the huge family garden, Raphael had the two Feline Eagles, Milo and Loki, escort Nemo separately into the house so as not to draw too much attention to him. Nemo would be taken to his new quarters, a small sleeping room in the unused west wing of the huge house. There he and his assigned Eagles would remain until Raimundo was ready to introduce the newest staff member to the rest of the retainers. Raimundo also made sure to send a male servant to the room so Nemo could receive a proper haircut and shave before appearing again in public. Nemo would be required to keep his hair cut at shoulder length and his face clean-shaven, his person clean and presentable at all times. At the beginning of his service in the household, Nemo would be served meals in his room. When he was accustomed to being in company once again and had demonstrated to Raimundo and the Eagles that he was willing to behave, he would be allowed to eat with staff in one of the family rooms of the great house. He would be afforded no luxuries and would be given a tub in which to take a bath every other day in his own rooms. Likewise, he was expected to keep his own quarters and small wardrobe clean and presentable. The VaCoupe staff were treated humanely and with respect. Staff who had served the Family for a long time were considered extended family and regarded with deep affection. The same could not be said about the newest staff member. Just a few senior staff and family members were told immediately of his true identity, but word would soon get out that the eldest son, long in prison, was once again at home although much diminished in status.

Raimundo would inform his former nephew of his expectations after the other guests and especially Raphael had settled in and had some dinner. Claudine had shared with Raimundo her own concerns about Raphael’s health and well-being and let her uncle know that the commander now had two Veyan physicians on his staff, who were endeavoring to assist Raphael’s body to return to good health. She said: “He (meaning Raphael) may have to spend quite a bit of time in bed between healings as his body gets easily exhausted by all of the stored trauma and toxins being released into his bloodstream. See that Raphael keeps to a light diet of fruit, soups, and light crackers. He may end up losing some weight, but once he begins to regain his strength, he will be able to resume a program of light exercise that his cousin Monteras can design for him.”

“Ah, I see Mazzie will have some work cut out for herself working with the Veyans. I hope they are open to working in concert with an experienced herbalist,” commented Raimundo. “Mazzie considers Raphael to be ‘her boy’ since she was largely in charge of his healing journey after he first arrived here at the house over six decades ago now.”

“I am sure Master Leu and Master Mei Li will be willing to share in the duties with Mazzie in observing Raphael’s progress while he regains his health,” replied Claudine. “I understand that Mei Li’s mother and father are experienced herbalists, as well, so the new healer should be open to such remedies being used to strengthen the body while it is experiencing a healing crisis.”

For Raphael, his primary focus was on seeing his young son rather than worrying about how Nemo would adjust to being home, again. When he entered the children’s study room, he found Eagle Felipe on the floor playing with Daniel and little Martea. Felipe looked up as he sensed Raphael’s presence and signed “Hello!”

Both men let the boy become aware of his father before they said anything. When blue green eyes met blue green eyes, the little boy began crawling in the direction of where his father stood in the doorway. Raphael couldn’t hold back any longer, but stepped forward, bending down and scooped up his precious son into his arms, as tears splashed down his cheeks in relief. The boy pushed his head into Raphael’s chest and placed his little arms around his father’s neck. Then, a startled Raphael heard his young son speak to him telepathically: Papa? Is it you, Papa?

Raphael spoke aloud in answer to his son’s inquiry, “Yes, Daniel, I am home, again… to see you and all of our friends and relatives. Oh, you’re heavy, Daniel! You’re going to be as tall as your oldest brother… Connie! Come in here; come meet your brother Daniel!”

The tall, eldest blonde son of Raphael and Julia strode into the room, still dressed in his uniform. He threw aside his robes and came up to where his father had settled on a bench still holding Daniel in his arms. He gazed down at the child who looked so like his father with the same blonde hair two shades from pure white and the great blue green eyes, eyes that were filled with curiosity and laughter as the boy reached up to be held by his tall brother. Raphael handed Daniel up to Jychondria. The boy was laughing and grabbed at his brother’s long blonde braid, pulling on it. 

Ouch, Daniel, that’s attached! Oh, Father, now I understand how you felt when I did the same thing at his age. Daniel is beautiful! Mother would have been so proud… Grandfather, too,” said Jychondria fervently, even as he rescued his braid and set the child back down on the floor. 

Eagle Felipe had stood up and bowed to Raphael and saluted Jychondria, “My lord, it is so good to see you! I’ve missed you and the others – you did bring some of the Eagles with you, sir? And Commander Jychondria, are you here on a visit, sir? Lady Rita is resting in her rooms right now before supper. Mistress Frida is with her. It seems the lady has transferred her affections to Lady Rita now that she is pregnant and in need of female company, sir.”

“Well, it looks like Daniel is thriving. How is little Martea doing? She hasn’t grown as much as my son,” commented Raphael as he observed his son rejoin Martea in playing with some toys on the floor. 

My lord… from my experience being around your boys, Daniel is going to be a tall man. He has put on weight and height even as a toddler, has strong clean limbs, and runs around the house and garden freely. He’s a bit tired now, which why he is crawling around. He can walk already fairly well but will sit down on his little bum when tired or unbalanced,” related Felipe.

Raphael smiled as he received this report from his former Eagle. It was clear Felipe had also bonded with the child. He asked the Eagle, “Felipe, would you like to remain with Daniel, even when he goes off to school on Airus? As my son, he will require security, at least until he goes off to university. Are you willing to stay with him? He knows you well and obviously trusts you completely.”

Felipe looked at the boy playing on the floor. Tears started in his beautiful blue eyes, and he nodded silently until he could pull himself together. Then, he stated quietly, “Yes, my lord – I am willing to stay with Daniel until he is old enough to fend for himself. I can teach him martial arts and many other things that will help him when he goes off to University Ship. We’ve actually had long discussions about what he wants to do, my lord, when ‘he grows up.’ Your son is a very old and wise soul, my lord. I see him following in your footsteps as a Line Communications Commander.”

“That’s what Raimundo told me via comm. However, first, Daniel needs to be a boy like I was never allowed to do. He’ll grow up soon enough. Jychondria, what is your impression of your youngest brother?” queried Raphael glancing over at his eldest who was watching the children play, perhaps visualizing his own son joining the other children in just a matter of months.

Like I said before, Father – he is a beautiful child, one to be proud of. You’ve done a wonderful job looking after him, Felipe. Where is Uncle Raimundo now?” asked Jychondria as he looked around room, with its study materials, the large comm screen on the wall, where the family’s children studied earlier in the day.

I guess he is seeing that our newest staff member is settled into his rooms,” replied Raphael. “Felipe – you might be shocked to hear this, but we have brought Esturias home. He is called Nemo now – self-named. As part of his parole, he will be working as a staff member here at the house and is not entitled to be addressed by his old name or title. He has been in prison for over a decade and is very frail physically. I hope by bringing him home he is able to return to some degree of health, but he will be expected to work and behave lest he ends up returning to prison and then to hard labor for the rest of what could be a very shortened life.”

Felipe was an intelligent man and knew Raphael didn’t do anything without giving it careful thought prior to making a decision. He simply nodded and replied, “Yes, Lord Raimundo warned the staff of the coming of this ‘new’ staff member, that he might require some instruction on how to accomplish the simplest of tasks. Commander Esturias never did do much work around the house before as I remember – he was seldom here if at all during the Starship years.”

“That is true – but now he… please call him Nemo… will be expected to do anything that he physically capable of completing, including scrubbing floors on his hands and knees,” replied Raphael firmly.

Felipe nodded quietly, understanding the former commander was not here on holiday; he was expected to work to fulfill his parole. “Yes, my lord, I understand your purpose in bringing him here. He will have to work and mix with people whom he has always regarded as lesser beings. It will be quite humbling for the former top commander to endure.”

“Indeed,” replied Raphael. “Now, Connie, we should briefly visit your lovely mate to see how she reacts upon seeing you here, again.”

Raphael took his tall son by the shoulder and steered him towards the doorway, calling back as he went, “Thank you, Felipe, for looking after my son!”

What Raphael didn’t realize was Felipe and a few other members of the VaCoupe staff had been told that Lord Raphael was home for a long rest cure, since his own health was tenuous at best. Although Raphael looked well enough during the short interview, the sensitive and observant Felipe recognized the signs of exhaustion on the man’s pale countenance, the shadowed eyes, the lines around mouth and forehead that bespoke of tension, pain, and fatigue. Felipe looked down at Daniel and mind-spoke the child: Your father isn’t feeling well, Daniel. We’ll have to watch over him while he’s at home!

Little Daniel looked up and gave his tall playmate and guardian a sweet smile. The boy understood perfectly. We will take naps with Papa – make him feel better.

The tall Eagle laughed in response, telling the child: You can take naps with your father… while I or one of my colleagues watch over the two of you! Have you seen your father’s Feline Eagles yet?

Raimundo surveyed the sorry sight of his disgraced nephew and shook his head in disbelief, remarking, “I guess they couldn’t allow sharp tools in prison, Nemo; you are in desperate need of a haircut and shave. I have brought Jon here with me to accomplish the job. Sit down on that chair – and yes, this is going to be your room for now. I hope Lord Raphael made it clear to you, should you misbehave at all, you will be returned to prison and be compelled to serve out your sentence as it was handed down at your trial. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Uncle – er, sir,” replied Nemo, stumbling over his words. He was unused to talking much and felt nervous about being in the old house. He knew he would have to be careful not to upset or offend anyone. Nemo didn’t want to go back to the prison and was desperate to please everyone so he could stay in the old house he grew up in, despite his own embarrassment with his present status.

Raimundo felt the nervousness and suggested, “For now, Nemo, don’t speak unless you are required to and only when someone asks you a direct question. All of the Family members are to be addressed by their titles, Lady, Lord, or Master, Mistress, or by sir for a commander. You have no rank here at present, Nemo, and will be performing the most basic of tasks alongside the primary staff members. Pay attention to their directions and refrain from sharing any personal information with the staff. They know who you are, Nemo, what you did, and where you have been for so long. You will be watched carefully by many eyes. If you step out of line, you will be removed promptly, so behave. Lord Raphael has graciously offered you the opportunity to prove to yourself and others how much you have progressed during the lonely years spent in prison. Do you understand?”

Nemo pressed his lips together, but nodded his head, briefly replying, “Yes, sir.”

Raimundo then addressed the servant he had brought with him, “Well, Jon, I will leave you to it. The Eagles are outside in the corridor if you need any assistance.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Jon, nodding, as Raimundo took one last glance at his nephew and then left the small room, shutting the door behind him. The barber, a kind man, recognized Nemo, but said nothing like he had been instructed except to say, “Well, Master Nemo, shall we get started? You have a lot of hair!”

The former commander sat quietly while the skillful barber cut his thick wavy dark hair after giving it a thorough brushing out. There were strands of silver woven into the dark mane making Nemo appear older than his true age. After cutting the mane to shoulder length, Jon then moved onto to first trimming the very long beard the man had grown out while in prison. After trimming off the excess, Jon then proceeded to carefully shave Nemo’s face. After the staff member was done, he handed Nemo a small mirror so he could look at his own reflection. Jon remarked, “I will let you wash your own hair now that it is shorter when you next wash. A couple of wash basins will be brought here so you can perform your ablutions in private. A tub will also be brought so you can wash your body properly. If you don’t mind me saying it, sir, you smell. Be sure to wash carefully as Lord Raimundo is particular that all staff members are clean and presentable. You never know when we are going to have guests here at the house, sir. Now, sir… Lord Raimundo has instructed your guards to lock you in until you adjust to being here in the house. We will knock when the water is brought here so you can wash.”

This simple one-sided conversation with a barber brought home to Nemo just how far he had fallen. He waited until the barber quietly gathered up his tools of office, the extra hair, bowed, and departed. The solid door clicked shut behind him. Nemo indulged in a short bout of tears as he began to feel all of the suppressed pain, he thought he had left behind long ago. This was the house where his mother and aunt died. He couldn’t run away any longer. So, he sat quietly with his thoughts, breathing deeply, surrendering fully to the process for the first time in his life except for that half-remembered night during his trial when he first realized how foolish he had been. When the men arrived with pails of water and a large metal tub, Nemo had calmed down sufficiently to allow them to place the pails down and depart. One of the men explained, “We will pick up the tub in the morning, sir. After this, you will be expected to get your own pails and water for washing in your room after completing work and before supper is served.”

Nemo just nodded in reply and sat there staring at the pails for a long time. There was another knock on the door and one of his guards opened it, “Nemo – here is your supper. You better eat up and then get some rest. You start work tomorrow. You haven’t taken your bath, yet? Better get it soon before the water cools off, Nemo. Now, good night!”

Nemo recognized the guard. He was one of those huge Eagles who always accompanied Raphael from the first time he had met the lad in Elexa. Milo and Loki, his partner, had briefly introduced themselves when they escorted him through the old house. He had barely looked at them while glancing around at the rooms which had barely changed in the ensuing years since his last visit to his native town. All the memories carried within these walls came crashing down upon him and he fell into another bout of weeping. After a long period, he finally remembered to bathe. Although the water was quite cool, it felt good. The water of Medina was particularly pure due to the crystalline core of the planet. He carefully washed his hair, sniffing curiously at the soap left with the towels that had been provided. Nemo recognized the hard bar as a product of Mazzie’s talented hands, smelling faintly of lavender and chamomile, both herbs used in calming the nerves. When he was done with his bath and had carefully dried off, Nemo was satisfied that he would now be ready to start his work assignment in the morning. He took up a strand of his damp hair and examined it; relieved of the excess weight, his hair was now curling around his thin face.

Despite feeling somewhat ashamed at his current state, Nemo was actually feeling quite excited about being part of life, again. He also secretly wanted to see his new nephew that Raphael had spoken about… and the grandnephew who was slated to arrive within the next month or so. Still, he would endeavor to be as invisible as possible when in the presence of family members, those who would remember him…

Jychondria and Raphael looked in briefly to visit Lady Rita, who was resting in bed. Mistress Frida was sitting in a chair reading to Rita. When she saw the men enter the room, Frida stood up and curtsied, saying, “Oh, welcome home, Lord Raphael, Commander Jychondria. I have just been reading for Lady Rita. I’ll leave and let you greet each other in private. It is so good to see you both!”

Lady Rita was a lightly built woman, much shorter in height than her mate, blessed with strong broad hips inherited from her mother. The lady was experiencing some swelling in her feet, so was ordered to rest for several hours in the afternoon. Rita’s belly was well-rounded, curving above her hips, but even Raphael could tell with a glance that the baby had not begun to drop yet, so the birth was still a few weeks away. 

Jychondria thought his mate looked fetching, with her thick red hair curling around her pale face. She looked up and reached for her mate as Jychondria approached the sleeping pad, dropping to his knees and gathering his lady up into a tender embrace, “Oh, my dearest – I am home. Father brought me home. I will be working out of Elexa from now on…”

Raphael gave Lady Rita a polite bow, and asked, “How are you feeling, Lady Rita? I was told by Claudine only a few days ago that you were expecting. It has been a long tour and we were not in touch as often as I had hoped. Things are still rather unsettled on some of the worlds we visited.”

“Oh, Father Raphael, I can hardly wait to hear some of your stories of your travels,” replied Rita as she gave her father-in-law a dazzling smile. “I am feeling well enough. Mazzie just insisted that I rest when my feet begin to swell. The hot weather aggravates the condition a little. I try to spend part of the morning outside with Felipe and the children, watching as the three of them play in the garden. Your Eagle has been the sweetest companion for your son and little Martea. Where did you find him?”

Raphael smiled remembering the first time he had encountered the handsome Ashkerian Eagle. He replied, “On the Golden Lion, my lady… but that is a very old story. I was younger than Jychondria is today, so Felipe has been in my company for a very long time. You may have seen him in Jolf when you were a child. He is the son of Commander Strabo Diaz, who will be Jychondria’s next supervisor in the Command. Both Felipe and his father are wonderful men and good friends of mine.”

“Well, I am happy that you have returned home safely… and brought me my sweet Connie. Thank you, Father Raphael. I will be getting up soon so I can attend supper and visit with our new guests. Who have you brought with you this time, my lord?”

“Just my Eagles, Salaniel, and Monteras, plus two Veyan physicians who were assigned to me during our travels,” replied Raphael. “If you give the gentlemen permission, Master Leu and Master Mei Li will be attending you when you give birth to your first child, my lady. I know it is unusual to have male attendants at a birth; however, I lost my dear Julia to complications during childbirth when she may have been saved had a Veyan physician been caring for her during the months preceding the birth.”

Lady Rita surveyed Raphael’s face with some concern, “Father Raphael, why do you require two Veyan physicians in your company? Is something the matter with your own health, sir?”

“Hmmm, I have experienced several fainting fits during the tour, my dear daughter,” replied Raphael. “However, I am feeling better… although I might rest, too, before supper. I just stopped in to see my little son, Daniel. He is growing well and even recognized me and wanted to be picked up for a few minutes. Then, he wanted down and went back to play with his little friend, Martea. He seems well-adjusted and in good health. I am pleased I was wise enough to leave him in good hands, with Raimundo and Felipe looking after him. I understand that Mistress Frida has taken to looking after you like she did Lady Julia.”

“Yes, Father – Daniel doesn’t need her hovering around him now that he can walk short distances and manages to eat on his own most foods. He is still being nursed by Maryam, but not as often now,” replied Rita. “I have been observing his progress so I know how to handle my own child… who will be a boy according to Mazzie.”

“So, I understand, Lady Rita. I am so proud of the two of you. You and Connie will make wonderful parents,” said Raphael. “And now, I will leave the two of you to get reacquainted. I hope to see you at suppertime, my dears.”

Dinner was a quiet affair, just a family gathering with a few added guests and friends. Raphael introduced both of the Veyan physicians to the family members gathered there. Then, he took the time to introduce the Veyan physicians to Mazzie, the long-term local healer for the family. Mazzie had been with the family for so long, everyone regarded her as an elder auntie and went to her for the strengthening teas and tinctures she produced, along with other practical products like household soaps and cleansers. Mazzie based everything she produced on naturally grown herbs and plants, from the extensive VaCoupe Family gardens. Raphael was particularly fond of Mazzie as she was one of the primary individuals who looked after a very wounded and shy boy when he first arrived at the household as a young teenager. Mazzie was also instrumental in training many of the women and girls of the household on the safe manner of cultivating, preparation, and use of herbal medicines. Lady Amethyst sometimes had Mazzie come and give classes to her healing priestesses, as a healer could never learn enough about natural remedies and the inner workings of the body. In short, Mazzie was a well-loved and highly respected member of the VaCoupe household.

Master Mei Li observed how comfortable Lord Raphael was while speaking to and interacting with Mazzie and other members of his family and staff. Here, the dictates of position and authority were relaxed. Raphael could be more at ease, loved and accepted for who he was, not what he could do for the Command or his superiors. The Veyan master also observed how well accepted Master Leu Tzulo was by the company since his father Master Li Tzulo (who was not present on this visit) had been a friend and associate of Raphael’s for decades and an honored guest on several visits to the Medina household. His son, Master Leu, was well-regarded, mostly through reputation and his having been Raphael’s physician while the commander was stationed on Alyona. 

Although everyone was polite and kind around him, the newest addition to Lord Raphael’s staff, Master Mei Li, could sense a certain reservation directed towards him bordering on wariness emanating from inhabitants of the household, relatives, friends, and staff alike. Commander Monteras was still suspicious of Mei Li, but he knew well enough to keep his opinions to himself while in the presence of his cousin. Still, his silent attitude communicated itself to the others of the Family. Unaccustomed to being locked out and regarded suspiciously as a stranger, Mei Li knew he would have to prove himself to these people but go about it in a quiet and humble fashion. Spectacular feats of mental power involving teleportation and the like would probably do little to impress these very grounded people with ancient nomadic roots buried deeply into their sandy crystalline soils. So, Mei Li thoughtfully engaged the old healer, Mazzie, in a deep discussion of the attributes of various herbal remedies and asked her politely if she could give him a thorough tour of the herb and vegetable gardens.

As Mei Li spoke with Mazzie and listened and felt the depths of her ancient knowledge, wisdom, and compassion, he began to understand who she really was, something that most people may have known but did not think about much since the ancient healer had always been present working quite humbly with the family, as well as villagers. A great inner smile and sense of warmth filled Mei Li’s heart as he realized just who Mazzie was, in truth… the grandmother of Lord Demetrius, which meant she was very, very old. Studying her appearance, Mei Li decided Mazzie didn’t look much older than Raphael who had not yet reached his 90th year, so Mei Li knew the woman was a quiet mistress of Light, who served the Family with the deepest love and humility, who sought not fame and fortune. Sensing her secret was revealed, at least to the curious Veyan physician, Mazzie gave him a quiet smile and said, “Master Mei Li, meet me tomorrow in the garden and we will have our tour and a little talk.”

Raimundo knew who Mazzie was, but few others of the Family were old enough to remember the grandmother of himself and Lord Demetrius, the former Family patriarch who had died in his early 600’s. Mazzie preferred it that way. She knew if people realized just how ancient she was they would treat her differently. She loved to serve and in return, she was loved and respected and given a place of honor amid the Family. Also, during the course of the great wars, many family members were killed or had died of natural causes, so some of the family memories were missing from the survivors.

Knowing family members and the staff present were eager to hear some stories from the tour, Salaniel and Monteras regaled them with tales of the wonders and beauties seen on many of the worlds. Both men refrained from sharing the more sensitive political issues that arose during the tour, especially on Maia and Airus. Then, Raphael shared his experience of meeting his maternal grandfather, retired Commander Mahaelion Morena-Brown and how he felt being around a father-like figure of his own blood. Raimundo also shared how he had met Commander Mahaelion while he was serving under Lord Demetrius in the Fleet.

Then, Raphael announced that the household would soon be hosting some of the prominent members of the Dino Family from Maia, including Lord Adamos, Lord Efrem, and Lady Lorenna. He added, “For those who are not yet aware, during the tour, I was officially betrothed to the Lady Lorenna, second daughter of Lord Dino. We will be celebrating our mating ceremony after the end of the Howlings. Another son of this House, Master Francis Dino VaCoupe will be, likewise, celebrating his mating ceremony to a lovely lady from Airus, Lady Ella Francom Kadish. Thus, we will be holding two mating ceremonies in the same week, but with one reception. Since one of the ceremonies involves our future heir (who is currently busy at his studies in Alyona), we can expect an influx of visitors from Airus, Maia, and perhaps some other worlds. Also, Lord Adamos will be formally invested as Lord Dino of Maia by the Shekinah, Lady Amethyst. So, dear Family and friends, there is a lot to do in preparation for these great events. The Regent, Claudine Vanairus, will be here, along with some of her retinue, so make sure the best rooms are prepared in advance for our guests. It should be a great occasion for all involved… or several great occasions!”

Raphael’s Eagles were stationed around the room, a sight to which most of the family and staff were accustomed. Two were missing, Milo and Loki, as they were attending the newest member of staff, Nemo… something that was bound to bring up some curiosity and speculation. Another member of the family, a distant cousin, asked where Gareth Vanderis was as he had not accompanied the party to Medina. Raphael looked over at his Eagle cousin, Monteras, and raised his eyebrows as if to say, are you going to say something, or should I?

Monteras signed back, he’s your relative and that of Francis…

Raphael shrugged his shoulders, straightened up, cleared his throat, and directly addressed his cousin to whom he had just been introduced, directly, “Andros… and family, while on Maia, we were told a secret of Gareth’s father’s origins, which I won’t share here today. Let it suffice to know Gareth is soon to be officially adopted as the grandson of Lord Efrem, now second lord of Maia after his nephew, Lord Adamos. So, I will be losing one of my long-term Eagle protectors. Gareth has been in my service for longer than my eldest son has been living. Yet, during our visit to Maia, we discovered that he is actually by blood the first cousin of our future heir and Patriarch of this Family, Francis Dino VaCoupe. So, in recognition of that relationship Gareth has embarked on an intensive course of study to prepare him to assume all the responsibilities and obligations that come with carrying the honorable title and office of ‘lord’. Both Francis and Gareth are currently studying in Alyona under the mentorship of Master Li Tzulo, with whom many of you are acquainted since Master Li has visited the family home several times over the years. While Gareth is being adopted by a Maian lord, it is more than likely he will actually spend more time in the company of his first cousin. Thus, when Francis assumes the Lordship and makes Medina one of his permanent residences as is ancient custom, Gareth will be at his side as companion and advisor. I cannot think of a better man with which to entrust the safety of our future heir than our dedicated, sensible, and kind Gareth Vanderis Dino who has long proven his loyalty to me and the Family.”

Raimundo was curious and asked, “So, along with all of the other ceremonies, will Gareth be formally adopted here in Medina, given it is more likely he will be living here in the future along with Francis and his household?”

“Yes, since Lord Efrem is coming here to attend his niece’s mating… to me, Claudine and I thought it would save some preparation and time to simply hold the short ceremony here with the Shekinah presiding. Another reason for the Dinos coming here is the capital of Maia has recently been under siege. Just a week or so ago, an insurrection burst out in the city of Milan. The conflict resulted in the deaths of Lord Dino and his eldest son and heir, Lord Daylen. Therefore, the Dino Family will feel safer being here or in Alyona for the time being. It is safe to expect some of our guests to be staying here for up to two weeks, so prepare accordingly,” replied Raphael, letting his voice carry throughout the room so the staff were also properly informed of what was expected of everyone – there would be many preparations going on inside the great House while the storms of the Howlings were raging outside…

Jychondria was also curious and inquired, “What about Uncle Roméo and Lady Astrig? Will they be coming here, too? Are they safe?”

“Yes, Jychondria – my brother Roméo and his lovely mate are quite safe. They were on holiday at one of the Dino Family country estates when the insurrection occurred, so they were well out of the way,” replied Raphael. “As a senior member of this family, I feel Roméo should make an effort to attend the mating ceremonies. However, during the short time I was on Alyona I did not have the opportunity to clarify whether or not the couple will be able to attend. Due to the current issues that have disturbed Maia’s peace, it is quite possible Roméo may be transferring his teaching assignment to one of the University Ships. He would, of course, be very welcome to teach at the Medinian University Ship, but the choice will be his. Personally, I would love to see him and Lady Astrig living closer to Medina.”

“And, what of Uncle Adario and Lady Bettina?” Lady Rita remembered her lovely tall blonde teacher from her childhood. She would be thrilled to see her again, especially with the baby coming.

Raphael replied, “Well, I hope Adario, and Bettina will accompany Lady Ella, Francis’ betrothed when she comes to Medina. She may arrive in the company of Jychondria’s grandfather, Pietro Kadish, as he seems to handle most of the diplomatic duties for his elder Cousin, Lord Aeolus. I should attempt to reach Adario or Lord Pietro to see who intends to visit after the Howlings. Lady Ella Francom will, of course, remain, for as Francis’ mate, she will live where he does, whether here or in Alyona, as will my new mate, Lady Lorenna.”

Supper was over and Master Mei Li strolled over to where Raphael was chatting with Raimundo, who was holding young Daniel. The Veyan physician had not yet been introduced to the child. As the Veyan approached, Daniel squirmed in his great-uncle’s arms, startling Raimundo. The little boy stared at the physician and then gave him a big smile of recognition. Mei Li felt the soul recognition and gave the boy a smile in return. Raimundo and Raphael noted the interchange and looked at each other with interest. Raphael first ventured a comment, “Master Mei Li, you and my son seem to recognize each other?”

“Yes, my lord,” replied the Veyan. He paused for moment, appearing to be listening to an inner conversation and then continued, “Young Daniel remembers me from the time when I was one of your Lion People, my lord. He asked me if I remember the golden ships…”

“Oh, how extraordinary, Master Zang!” exclaimed Raimundo. He wasn’t aware that Master Zang had any previous soul connections with Raphael. The physician’s comment put a different light on the man having entered onto his nephew’s personal staff. “This must mean you are meant to be here with Raphael… and Daniel.”

Raphael remembered a remark made by the senior Master Zang, “Mei Li’s father told me he knew his youngest son would be going with me when my golden ship entered the atmosphere of Vey. It is to be a lifetime commitment for both of us, so I want to see that this fine man is honored for his services. Master Mei Li is a master of many things, not just healing. I anticipate utilizing his services in educating any children I might have with Lady Lorenna.”

“That is so, my lord – my Father told me the same thing – and I sensed it when first I met you, as if I have known your soul essence forever. I am pleased to be here. I will endeavor to be the humble physician, so your people are more comfortable having me around them,” replied Master Mei Li with a bright smile.  “Mistress Mazzie has promised to take me on a tour of the gardens tomorrow. I look forward to exchanging ideas with your venerable healer. I am sure she can share many things about the people we will both be serving, as I fully intend to be of service, when needed, for any of the family, staff, or villagers should my services be called upon, my lords.”

“Master Mei Li – has anyone taken exception to your being here?” inquired Raphael.

Not openly… but your cousin, Commander Monteras, still holds reservations about my person, my lord. Since he is so close to you, I will endeavor to be courteous, but he will have to reciprocate the courtesy lest we possibly clash. I require the trust of your companions so you will relax and not have to fight unnecessary battles, my lord,” replied the physician with a short polite bow.

Raimundo was curious and concerned, “Why doesn’t Monteras feel comfortable around the Master? Veyans are known for their high integrity and alignment to Source.”

Raphael gave a quirky little smile remembering how upset Monteras and Francis were when Mei Li showed some of his other talents to the party. “Ah, actually it was both Monteras and young Francis who became uncomfortable around our new physician. Mei Li is a master of many things. He demonstrated his command of telekinesis and teleportation when he transported a garment from my closet so I would be comfortable. At the time, Uncle, we were more than a mile from the house. And then, he spoke of his mother, the formidable Lady Lia (forgive me, Master) who can grow plants within minutes by using her mental powers. Awareness of these abilities was just a bit too much for my cousin and nephew, Uncle. The Veyan people are far beyond us in their mental development, and, for some reason, Francis thought he was mocking us, when he was just being honest. Is that not so, Master Mei Li?”

The physician bowed again and replied, “Sadly, yes, Lord Raimundo. I hope to enlighten the young man for as Lord, he will require the capacity to observe and accept the wide diversity of peoples who live within the realm of our Federation.”

Surprisingly, Raimundo chuckled in response, “Oh, I can imagine what those two stalwarts thought. I had to gradually become accustomed to Raphael’s gifts and you, Master Mei Li, sound like you could challenge a few paradigms, as well.”

“Indeed, Lord Raimundo – it pleases me that you see the humor in this situation. Humor assists the ego to move out of the way. Many issues men seem so serious about can be alleviated if you see the humor in them,” replied Master Mei Li.  “And now, Lord Raphael, I would like to respectfully suggest you go to your rooms and get some rest. It has been a busy day greeting friends and family long missed.”

“Ah, see, Uncle – I am under close supervision as I am here to take a rest cure and therefore, I must go to my rest. Let me just give my little son a kiss and then I will see you all in the morning,” replied Raphael with a sigh.

Raphael noticed Maryam approaching; it was time for Daniel’s last nursing session. Raphael took Daniel from Raimundo’s arms, gave him a kiss and cuddle, then handed him over to the wetnurse. Maryam put the boy on the floor and let him walk slowly out of the room with her holding his hand. The three men surveyed the progress of the wetnurse and young child with interest.

Master Mei Li commented, “You have made a fine son, there, Lord Raphael. And so is your eldest, Commander Jychondria. Now, I suggest you go to your rooms, and I will follow along a bit later with Master Leu. We need to get in a short healing session before you take your rest.”

“Good night, then, Uncle –” replied Raphael as he bowed politely to the two men and left the room, followed closely by Eduardo and Giorgio. 

Raimundo turned back to the Veyan master and asked him, “Well, what do you think of my adopted nephew, Raphael, Master Mei Li?”

“I think you had a very wise brother when he decided to foster the boy after he was orphaned,” replied Mei Li. “He has always been a man out of time… or, how do you say it, born before his time. His people loved him when he was King. They still do.”

“Ah, then you do understand him. He has proven to be an unexpected Gift to the Family, keeping us together despite some terrible tragedies and the strain of war. He is a complex, sensitive being, a reluctant leader, intelligent, and gentle with his children. Lady Lorenna is in for an interesting adventure when she becomes his second mate. You see, Lord Raphael is still grieving the passing of his Julia, his first mate, who died less than a year ago now, mother to Daniel. Keep that in mind when you are giving him those healing sessions, Master Mei Li,” said Raimundo. He bowed and headed over to join some of the other family members.

“I will, my lord, I will,” murmured Master Mei Li as he followed Raimundo’s progress across the room. Then, he headed over to where Master Leu was engaged talking to Mazzie. Mei Li bowed to the healer and then explained his presence, “Pardon me, Mistress Mazzie, but Master Leu and I are required in Lord Raphael’s rooms. It is time for him to receive his daily healing session. Due to the travel and excitement with returning home, he has not yet received any healing today.”

“Does Raphael require daily healing sessions now, Master?” Mazzie’s voice held a great deal of concern. 

We are working on a long-term project to correct the damage done to his physical body as a child. I fear the effects of the mistreatment are finally catching up to him,” explained Master Mei Li. “You see, Lord Raphael suffered several fainting fits while on tour, which is the original reason Master Leu was engaged to serve him as his physician. I was added later at the insistence of my honorable father… And now, my dear colleague, we must go. Lord Raphael has had sufficient opportunity to reach his rooms and prepare for sleep. Mistress Mazzie, I look forward to our tour tomorrow and the opportunity to become more acquainted with such a talented healer as yourself. You might suggest some teas and tinctures that would also aid Lord Raphael as he undergoes our healing regime. It takes a toll on him after each session. The trauma went deep; the healing is going deeper.”

Mazzie nodded; as a healer she did understand. She replied, “I will be sure to order up some of our finest remedies for your use and give you a thorough tour of our herb collection. Then, you can give me a list of whatever herbs you require that we do not grow here in Medina.”

“Thank you, Mistress – now I must depart. It has been a pleasure speaking to you.” Master Mei Li bowed low to the healer, gathered up Master Leu who was waiting for him and left the room.

Master Mei Li knew he was being watched and his trustworthiness weighed by everyone in the room, including Lord Raimundo, so he endeavored to be at his most professional behavior. It would, after all, be an adjustment for him to be around so many strange people not of his own race. 

Master Zang wasn’t the only one who was having to adjust to new (or very old) surroundings. Nemo was startled awake when someone hammered on his door. He crawled out of his sleeping pad and stumbled to the door to be greeted by the tall Feline Eagle Loki handing him his breakfast, a large bowl of fruit supplemented with some flat bread and soft cheese. Loki then looked him over and growled, “I will get you a brush for that hair of yours and a bowl of water so you can wash your face. You’re expected to report to work in a half hour so don’t dawdle around, Nemo!”

Nemo looked down at the bowl of food in his arms and decided he had better eat. He had no idea if he would get a break or be given some tea during the course of the day. He sat down and tucked in. A few minutes later, Loki reopened the door and tossed a brush onto his sleeping pad. Then, he set down a large bowl of water. He growled again, “You’ll be given some water or tea periodically through the day. The good people here don’t starve their workers or staff. You should know that, Nemo!”

Actually, Nemo didn’t know what to expect from his first day of work. A little more than a half hour has passed before Loki returned, this time accompanied by another Eagle, Paul Dominguez, who gave Nemo an unpleasant look, but said nothing. Loki growled, again, “Time for work, Nemo. We go to the garden to do some weeding… you go to the garden to do some weeding. We watch!”

The two Eagles proceeded through the house, using lesser passageways to avoid most of the family, but they had to pass through the end of one of the family rooms, then up a flight of stairs to gain the audience room, through it to reach the long solarium and finally emerged out into the garden. There was already a small crowd of laborers working in the garden when the newest staff member arrived. The supervisor, who was Raphael’s (and Esturias’) distant cousin, Andros, looked up with a frown and said, “You’ll have to get here earlier, Nemo. We start at dawn in the summer. You should know the desert heat can get quite intense. By ten in the morning, we go back into the main house. You will be assisting with prepping vegetables for tonight’s soups. Between assignments, you can have your fill of water or tea. Now, come over here; those Eagles aren’t gardeners. One of my workers or I will instruct you on what weeds to pull and which plants are herbs and vegetables. Do you know anything at all about gardening?”

Nemo shook his head and stared at the ground. Andros snorted and replied, “Well then, you’re going to get an education!”

Andros directed the newcomer over to a raised bed where there was a man already working. “Samos, could you show our raw recruit the difference between a weed and an herb?”

The affable Samos nodded and signed Nemo to join him by kneeling on the gravel walk. Nemo looked up at Andros who was standing there with his arms crossed, frowning at his hesitation. He gulped, realizing Andros was hoping he would fail, so he quickly knelt next to Samos and listened quietly as the stranger pointed out the various plants. At least Nemo thought Samos was a stranger until he felt the man watching him for a long moment and glanced up. There, he saw a look of such compassion that tears started in his eyes. He wiped his dirtied hands across his face and started as Samos chuckled and said, “Nemo, you’ll have to carry a towel or hankie to get the dirt off your face. Better wash your hands before you go to work in the kitchen. Flora will get angry if you get dirt on the soup vegetables!”

Nemo was certain now Samos wasn’t out to get him, so he diligently followed instructions and quietly asked questions when he became confused. Still, he wasn’t used to working or even being outside, so he was exhausted by the time the workers returned into the house. When he entered the kitchen, one of the women there took one look at his soiled face and handed him a damp rag to wipe off the dirt. Then, he was directed to sit on a stool and given a bowl of carrots to scrape. Someone else would cut up the carrots. Nemo wasn’t going to be trusted with large sharp implements just yet. When he finished the carrots, Nemo was silently handed a large mug of tea. He drank it down gratefully, relishing the favor; it was one of Flora’s recipes. Then, he was handed another bowl of more vegetables to break up using his hands. The woman who was about to hand it to him first made sure his hands were clean before entrusting him with the bowl. When she saw they weren’t, she guided him to the nearest sink to wash. Then, he was sent back to his stool and given the next bowl. So, went the first day for Nemo, gardening, and food prep. When Loki and Milo finally came to escort him back to his little room, Nemo was so exhausted he could hardly walk. Upon reaching his room, he just lay down on his sleeping pad and went straight to sleep. The two Eagles looked at each other. Milo set down another bowl of fruit for Nemo, along with a jar of water, and then shut the door on the new worker. It was obvious it would take Nemo a while to fully regain his physical stamina.

As the days proceeded, Nemo began to slowly grow stronger. He developed a better appetite. His personal appearance began to improve, and he attempted to straighten up his posture by doing stretches before his keepers gave him breakfast in the morning and then again before he went to sleep. Loki and Milo continued to make short reports on Nemo’s progress to Raimundo, Monteras, and Raphael.

One morning, Raphael decided to go out into the garden and observe for himself what progress Nemo was making. Andros joined him for a short discussion about the newest worker. Surprisingly, the tough ex-warrior Andros praised the newest recruit’s willingness to work patiently alongside the other men in working the various beds. It also appeared Nemo was beginning to recognize the plants and remember their names.

Then, Maryam, Felipe, Martea and little Daniel appeared out in the garden for a morning romp. Before Raphael was aware of his presence, young Daniel had toddled up to his uncle and pulled on his robe, demanding his attention. Abashed, Nemo looked up and into the huge blue green eyes of the youngster and blushed. For the boy’s parentage was unmistakable; the child must belong to Raphael. Then Nemo heard an insistent voice in his head: Adrigus – is that you?

Nemo didn’t know what to do. He stood up in a state of confusion, looked around and saw his brother standing across the garden observing the child and himself. The boy pulled on his robe, again, but Nemo attempted to step away and bumped into Andros who had come up behind him to see what was the matter. Andros was slightly annoyed, but he loved the child, so he patiently took the boy by the hand and walked him slowly over to where his father was standing. When he returned, finding Nemo had resumed his chores, Andros nodded with satisfaction, acknowledging Nemo’s efforts with a grunt, and walked on to check on the other men’s progress. There was a lot of work to do to make the gardens tidy for the upcoming celebrations. 

Raphael decided to watch Felipe play with the children and finally got down on his hands and knees and joined them. He could sense his former brother listening to the laughter of the children and the jolly Eagle… and also felt the tears of regret streaming down his brother’s thin face staining it with dirty streaks. Yes, Nemo was slowly making progress and feeling the pain he had avoided for so long.

The slow process of healing of Raphael’s body was proving to be arduous for the man. Between each healing session, he had to take a nap of several hours. As a consequence, the physicians began to schedule the healing sessions before Raphael went to bed for the evening so he could sleep through the night. Thus, he had the use of some hours of daylight in which to accomplish minor assignments for his sister, read reports, and communicate with his friends and relatives whom he expected or hoped would attend his mating ceremony in Medina. Raphael also wanted to spend as much time as he could with his young son without interfering with the child’s feeding and nap schedule.

Mornings were spent out in the garden with the children and Felipe. Salaniel and Monteras often accompanied Raphael for companionship and in case he required their assistance with anything. The BerWarian twins were now Raphael’s primary guards, shadowing him at a reasonable distance wherever he went in and outside the great house. Sometimes, Raimundo also joined the group, giving Raphael short reports about the progress being made on various preparations around the house. 

Slowly but consistently, Raphael made progress as his body healed itself of the ancient trauma and physical damage. He was finally sleeping better, without requiring a sleeping draught, and waking up refreshed. Yet, one morning he found he could not get out of bed without falling down. He called out to one of the Eagles who was on guard outside his suite’s door. Eagle Paul opened the door and looked in, startled to see Raphael lying half on his bed and half on the floor. “My lord, what is wrong? Should I fetch the physicians?”

“Yes… I can’t walk!” came Raphael’s weak answer. Paul bent over and assisted Raphael back onto the bed, straightening out the bedclothes and propping him up so he could drink some water.

Raphael looked up into the concerned eyes of the Eagle and said, “Mei Li, Leu, please!”

“Yes, yes… I’ll be right back, sir!” Then, the Eagle halted and added, “I will get the BerWarians, too! They should be eating their breakfast now, sir!”

Within minutes, several people were crowding into the room to see what they could do to help. With the aid of the BerWarians, Master Mei Li sent most of them packing. The two physicians then turned their attention on the prostrated Raphael. After a few minutes, Mei Li spoke aloud, “My lord, you are currently undergoing an extreme healing crisis. You will have to remain in bed for a few days until this phase passes. And, it will. For now, you must fast and rest, drinking only liquids. We will enlist the services of the healer Mazzie to make you some cleansing tonics which will flush the toxins out of your system. And then, after a day or so, we will begin to give you tonics to strengthen your body. Believe it or not, this is good sign, an excellent sign that your body’s healing is making good progress. Now, is there anything you need?”

“Can I read some reports?” Raphael knew what the answer would be as he saw Master Leu’s stern expression.

No, my lord; you need complete rest for this phase to come to completion. That means no work, for now,” replied Master Leu. The two physicians were working together now as a like-minded team. They were aware of the independent and stubborn nature of their patient, but right now, they had the upper hand. Raphael was too weak to fight them…

Raphael knew he was defeated… for now. He laid back and closed his eyes. Then, he opened them again, and asked, “Could you bring me my son when it is time for his nap? We could sleep together, or I can just hold him as he sleeps. Is that all right?”

Mei Li wasn’t so sure about the wisdom of bringing a squirmy active toddler into his father’s room, but Master Leu thought it might actually aid Raphael in getting his mind off his own plight. He nodded, and replied, “I will see that Maryam brings little Daniel here to take his nap with Father. Now, rest well, my lord.”

Hours later, Raphael woke up to find little Daniel sitting next to him playing quietly with a toy. As the child sensed his father stir, he leaned over and hugged him, curling up next to his torso, bumping up against his armpit, and throwing a little arm across his father’s chest. Feeling the warmth from the child’s body, his own body relaxed, and Raphael fell asleep again, dreaming of Julia walking through a meadow filled with flowers, followed by a fluffy cat.

The next time he woke up, Raimundo was sitting in a chair observing him. As he stirred, Raimundo got up and approached the sleeping pad, quietly inquiring how he was feeling. Raphael pushed himself up on one elbow and looked around the sleeping pad; the child was gone. He looked up at his uncle and replied, “Have I been sleeping long?”

“All day, Raphael… Maryam came and fetched young Daniel a couple of hours ago so he could be fed and then put down for the night. The sun has already gone down,” replied Raimundo. “I brought some of the tonics your physicians wanted you to drink. I suspect there is some sleeping draught in them so you will continue to rest properly.”

“Mazzie’s sleeping draughts are strong… I did taste a bit of valerian in one of the tonics,” replied Raphael with a slight grin. “It is a bitter herb to taste. She disguises it with some of our honey, chamomile, lavender, and mint.”

“Are you feeling better, Nephew?” Raimundo’s voice conveyed his concern. 

Raphael nodded and then reached out to take one of the cups and drank it down. He sighed, “I want to be well and strong, again, so I don’t disappoint my new lady, Uncle. I am tired of these fainting spells.”

“Well, I spoke at length with your physicians. They are confident that in a day or so, you will feel much better. There are only a few more deep healing sessions required before that happens and they can perform them while you are sleeping,” replied Raimundo. “I let Claudine know that you will be incapacitated for few more days. This is serious, Raphael. You could have potentially suffered a stroke or have been paralyzed or experienced some other mishap… at least according to your physicians.”

Raphael looked rather thoughtful for a few minutes, “Interesting timing, this… it seems when I am about to enter into a new phase of my life, I sometimes get ill. It is as if my body knew what is going to happen before hand and begins preparing, sloughing off the old and getting ready to accept the new.”

“Well, drink these down and rest, Nephew. I will talk to your companions and make sure they aren’t too concerned about your welfare. Your BerWarians have been keeping all persons away from your rooms except for Maryam, Daniel, your physicians and me,” replied Raimundo.

“Thank you, Uncle… I…” murmured Raphael even as the tonic took effect and his eyes closed. Yes, there was a sleeping draught mixed into it so his body would have an opportunity to fully heal.

Raimundo grinned in response as he saw his nephew sink back into a deep sleep. Mazzie had told the physicians and himself exactly what was in the tonics, and they approved.

Two days later, Mei Li and Master Leu sat side by side next to Raphael’s sleeping pad and performed the final etheric operation required by Raphael’s physical body to correct the damage done to it long ago. When the operation was done, the Veyans surveyed their work and then looked at each other in triumph. Master Leu spoke first, quietly, so as not to disturb their patient, “I think we’ve done it, Mei Li! Master, you are a marvel. I can see that you have much to teach me while we work together.”

Mei Li humbly accepted the praise, but replied, “I am honored to work by your side, Master Leu. Raphael has been very fortunate indeed to have both you and your honorable father involved in this life with him.”

“Well, Mei Li, there is a strong soul mate relationship between the three of us… now four of us, I think,” replied Master Leu. “Still, my father wishes to retire permanently soon. He wants to spend his last years with my mother at home. He is very pleased to have you take his place at Raphael’s side.”

“The changing of the guard, I think, as the military would say,” replied Mei Li. “With this mating, Lord Raphael begins a new phase in his life, one that holds many surprises for both him and his people. And we will be there to lend him our support.”

“Alongside his massive Eagles, my friend,” replied Master Leu. “Now, we should let him sleep. Tomorrow he should be able to eat more solid food, fruit to begin with along with juices and soup.”

“Yes… that sounds like a plan,” replied Master Mei Li with a nod. The two Veyans stood and left the room, leaving behind a lightly snoring Raphael.

As the two Veyans returned to the family rooms, where many of Raphael’s friends were sitting quietly talking, playing games, or making music, Monteras looked up and signed them over to his side. “How is he?”

“We were finally able to finish the last operation required on his etheric body. The repairs will precipitate down into his physical body within a day or two. Then, we will see a renewed Raphael. He will have to build up his strength slowly with broths and lighter foods. In a week, he should be able to return to a schedule of light exercises, primarily stretches and gentle martial arts,” replied Master Leu.

Good! I’ll start designing an exercise program for him. And good timing, gentlemen! If I am not mistaken the Howlings have begun!” Monteras looked up the ceiling of the ancient house even as he could hear the thump of a distant crack of thunder. 

For it was the time of year, the Howlings, a transitional season slotted between summer and what passed as winter on Medina. It was when solar flares from their great sun Electra flashed through the sky, creating on Medina a great turmoil of powerful wind and lightning storms which battered the desert world. With the storms beginning, Raphael had about two to three weeks to heal before their guests would be arriving and the celebrations were to commence. It was nearly time…

Lying on his sleeping pad in his little room, Nemo felt the arrival of the great storms, rather than heard or felt them. The house had thick walls and was built of stone and adobe. Yet, as a native son of the planet, he knew that the Howlings had arrived. Nemo was dreading the time when he would see his former mate, even across the room, or one of his sons, for he knew they would all be here soon. Still, he also knew he had to face up to all the things he had avoided dealing with in his former life as a commander. 

Nemo took a deep breath and closed his eyes. There would be no gardening tomorrow while the lightning and high winds crashed around the town. He would probably be assisting the housekeepers in cleaning and preparing rooms for the guests who would be arriving as soon as the storms subsided, and the wet season began. He was beginning to comprehend and even to feel grateful for the slower pace of life in the village, something he had overlooked as a younger man, being so full of ambition and pride. He was ashamed of what he had become… yet, now, he was beginning to feel some hope slowly creep its way into his breast.

Nemo was home. 

~ ~ ~

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BOOK FOUR: Table of Contents

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