BOOK FOUR: Chapter 4 – Honeymoon in Jolf

CHAPTER 4 – Honeymoon in Jolf


The next morning, Raphael rose up early, dressed in his old BerWarian tunic and then made his way out to the garden, greeting the other stalwarts who were heading out to get in an exercise session before starting the day. Lorenna was still sleeping peacefully, so Raphael left word with one of the Eagles if she woke and wondered where he had gone.

It was a male crowd made up of the commanders from The Golden Falcon, including Jychondria, Adarius, Myka Strom, Lantrill, Sukio, and Bakken. Some of the Eagles who were off-duty attended as well – it was harder to exercise properly when visitors and family were about. There was, however, an audience of sorts, as some of the gardeners lingered around in a crowd to observe the goings on… Master Andros soon had the workers sorted out and sent them away to work in some of the planting beds further away. Then, he turned and stood there watching as his lord began to perform gentle stretching exercises to warm up, moving into calisthenics and then into some martial arts. Raphael was doing easier versions of the moves but kept up better than he had done for a quite a while. He had worked up quite a sweat when he finally stopped, content to observe the rest of the men as they continued with the workout.

Andros handed Raphael a towel and made an observation, “You appear to be progressing with your healing, my lord. I would suggest that you do the stretching after you warm up a bit since you have been in a healing mode, sir.”

Raphael nodded, acknowledging the advice, and replied, “I know I am slower than the others still, but do feel better. Still, it is better to gradually take on more. I am glad the weather is cooler, though; exercising outside in the summer here can be challenging, even early in the morning. Perhaps we need to put aside a larger room inside for the exercises. I will check to see if there is any such thing available in the house. You know, Andros – I have never visited all of the rooms in the house – it is so large.”

“It is that, my lord,” responded Andros, with a nod. Then, he overheard a loud discussion going on among some of the gardeners. “Pardon me, my lord; I need to see what is going on and sort it out if necessary.”

Nemo and one of the other gardeners were facing off, with the other gardener accusing Nemo of stealing one of his tools, while Samos was bravely supporting Nemo, who was just looking uncomfortable with the whole thing, especially as Andros strode up and loudly demanded to know what was going on. “Pieter, Samos, what is going on here?”

Pieter turned to the retired commander and began to complain about Nemo, “Sir, he stole my tool! I don’t like the way he looks at me, sir!”

Andros looked severely at Nemo and asked him, “Is this so, Nemo?”

Nemo looked down at his feet and shook his head, “No, sir; I wouldn’t steal anything. The tool isn’t Pieter’s either; it belongs to the House, sir.”

Andros nodded and replied to Pieter, “Nemo makes a good point. Remember, we supply the tools you work with; none of you own them. Pieter, if you want to continue working here, I advise you to leave Nemo alone – he’s trying his best as he is new to gardening. Then, remember you are working in our Lord’s gardens – and he is standing over there wondering what all the fuss is about. Samos, is the tool in Nemo’s hand the one you gave him this morning?”

Samos nodded vigorously, coming to the defense of his new friend, Nemo. “Yes, sir; I brought these two pruners out of the storage room near the kitchen. Neither one was assigned to Pieter today – he is actually assigned to do some weeding in that patch over there. He’s just trying to make things uncomfortable for Nemo, sir – at least that is what I feel.”

“Then, Pieter, I would advise you to take a weeder and go over to your assigned patch. If I see you making things difficult for any of the other gardeners, you will be relieved of your position and will no longer work here. Do you understand?” growled Andros. “And you two… Samos and Nemo, get busy with your pruning jobs. There’s plenty of work for everyone… and if you’re unwilling to work cooperatively, you are welcome to leave the team. Do all of you understand?”

“Yes, sir… yes… sir,” came a chorus of male voices from the gardeners, who then all wisely turned back to their assigned jobs. Nemo nodded to Andros and then began to listen to Samos’ instruction as they went to their assigned bed. 

Andros shrugged and then wandered over to where Raphael was now sitting. Raphael looked up and asked, “Did you get it sorted, Andros?”

“Yes, my lord; just one of the other gardeners seemed to want to pick on your… Nemo, for really no good reason that I can see,” replied Andros. “Some of the men might carry resentment or even anger towards Nemo if they know what happened to the golden ships or lost a relative during the war due to Nemo’s careless behavior. Who knows, but I will endeavor to keep a lid on it, sir.”

“See that you do, Andros; I don’t want fights breaking out now that my former brother’s identity has been found out by the townspeople. Since he is recovering, Nemo is, without a doubt, looking like a VaCoupe male, which is bound to lead to some gossip among the staff,” replied Raphael. “If necessary, let those men go who make Nemo’s presence here unduly difficult. I do not intend to make things easy for Nemo, yet he has a right to be treated with respect like the others.”

“I agree, my lord – oh, here comes your daughter-in-law and her little boy, along with Mistress Frida. And I should return to oversee the gardening staff,” responded Andros, with a salute. Then, the retired warrior strode off across the garden, stopping to speak to a few of the other gardeners.

Mistress Frida was accompanying Lady Rita as they began their stroll through the garden, heading to where Raphael was seated. The other men were finishing up with their exercises, with some of them heading inside to take baths and get dressed for breakfast. 

Rita gave an admiring glance at her mate, Jychondria, as he wiped his sweaty face with a towel and waved to her. Then, he turned and joined with his fellow commanders and Eagles as they headed for the baths inside the house. Thankfully, there was more than one bath available in the house, or else even the very large bath near Raphael’s rooms would have been overwhelmed with huge Eagle and Feline bodies.

Oh, Father Raphael, are you not going to join the others and take a bath before breakfast?” inquired Lady Rita delicately, with a slight grin at the sight of his brief BerWarian tunic.

Raphael blushed a little and then laughed, “Oh, I will wait a while until the rush simmers down. I might get crushed in the middle of those huge bodies! Besides, I would like to sit a moment or two and smell the roses and herbs with a touch of fresh dew upon them.”

“The air is very fresh right now, my lord,” remarked Frida as she held little Charles on her lap. 

Yes, it is,” replied Raphael. Then, he turned to Rita and asked, “My dear, Lorenna and I are thinking of traveling to Jolf tomorrow. I can fly the Mathdis Family home, as well as my daughter, Remilla. Would you ask and see if Connie would like to go, too? I am also considering taking along Commander Adarius VaCoupe if Myka will grant him some more leave. Lorenna and I will be staying in Jolf for the better part of the two weeks while Francis and Lady Ella are away on their honeymoon. Oh, and I will be taking at least one of my physicians in case I need any healing sessions while in Jolf.”

“Oh, Father… I would love to visit Jolf and see my family while we’re there. It would give me a chance to let my parents and brothers see little Charles. The baby is strong enough to travel and I know it wouldn’t take long in your lovely golden ship. I would be so thrilled to fly in the Golden Cat,” replied Rita. “Frida, would you like to visit Jolf, too? You’ve been such a great help for me these past months.”

“Oh, my lady, I would be honored to attend to you and the child,” replied Mistress Frida.

Well, I’ll run your plan by Connie after breakfast. It certainly sounds like fun. Then, Connie and I could visit all the places where we spent time as children. It would be sweet if Master Adario and Mistress Bettina could also come, Father. After all, they used to live in Jolf, too,” suggested Rita, eager to share some confidences and memories with her beloved teacher.

Raphael raised his eyebrows and nodded, “Hmmm, I’ll have to ask Adario if he is in a rush to get back to Ostta or not. Lord Da’vid will probably be going to Alyona along with most of the Maian contingent and my sister, Claudine. High Council starts next week once again. If Adario and Bettina could go to Jolf, it would be a good opportunity to visit more with my former brother-in-law. When I was in Airus, the couple did say they missed life in Jolf… even as I do. And don’t worry about space… My ship can carry up to 30 passengers with their luggage!”

Other family and visitors were making their way outside for a turn around the garden before breakfast. Raphael finally realized he was still rather scantily clad and stood up, bowing carefully to the two women, and said, “Let me know, Lady Rita, what you and Connie decide. Now, I had better go in, bath, dress and gather up my new mate. She might be wondering where I have gone to!”

The two women giggled quietly as Raphael carefully negotiated his way into the house avoiding most of the stares from some of the Maian nobles who had accompanied Lord Efrem and Lord Adamos to Medina.

Raphael managed to get through the house fairly well until he reached the family rooms and heard a deep baritone voice ring out. He sighed; it was King Stephanus. Raphael turned and headed over to where the king was seated, alongside Commander Strabo Diaz. 

Commander Diaz eyed Raphael’s garment and joked, “My lord, you appear to be out of uniform!”

“Ah! That is a uniform on BerWare, Commander Diaz!” growled Stephanus, but with a grin. “You had better head to your room, Raphael, before my mate shows up! And yours! Been out exercising with the other commanders and Eagles, my lord?”

Raphael nodded, replying, “Yes, Stephanus… and then I tarried a little to speak to my daughter-in-law, Lady Rita, and Mistress Frida. Now, I really must go…gentlemen.” Raphael then bowed respectfully to the king and gave Commander Diaz a nod.

Along the corridor leading to his suite, Raphael encountered Eagle Felipe, little Daniel, Maryam and Martea, all of whom were heading to the garden for their morning play. The youngsters had already had their first nursing for the morning and their caretakers their breakfast. Felipe grinned at Raphael’s outfit and lifted up Daniel so Raphael could give his boy a kiss on the forehead. “Thank you, Felipe – I might see you later in the garden… after I get a bath and dress!”

Unfortunately for Raphael, before he made it to his rooms, he also met up with Lord Efrem and Lord Adamos who were heading to the dining room. The refined tenor of Lord Efrem rang out in the corridor, “Lord Raphael, parading around half-dressed, again? There are ladies present…”

Raphael briefly looked both ways; no women were present. Then, he grinned unexpectedly and replied, “This is my house, my lord… my people, a desert people are not offended to see a little bare flesh. Now, if you don’t mind, my lord – I am heading to my rooms to visit with my mate, your niece… and then take a bath!”

Lord Efrem gave a sniff, but Adamos burst out laughing, chiding his stuffy uncle, “Efrem – no wonder Lady Petra doesn’t want to be around you much. Now, apologize to Lord Raphael for insulting him in his own house!”

The astonished Lord Efrem stared at his nephew. It is the first time Adamos had ever spoken back to him in all of the years he had been receiving instruction from Efrem. Then, he bowed to Lord Adamos and Raphael, carefully replying, “Yes, my lord – Lord Raphael, I ask your forgiveness for my impertinent remark. It was uncalled for, my lord.”

Raphael smiled, sensing another subtle shift of power, finally moving from Lord Efrem to his new lord, Adamos. He nodded at Efrem acknowledging the apology and continued on his way until he safely reached his door, which was opened by a grinning Eagle Paul.

Inside, he sighed and called out, “Lorenna, dearest? You wouldn’t believe the comments and the time it took for me to finally get here. I’ll be much happier once everyone who doesn’t belong here leaves! Not to sound inhospitable, but I do like to relax in my own house!”

Lorenna emerged from the sleeping room and took one look at her mate’s outfit and giggled, “I shouldn’t wonder, Raphael. Where did you get that old thing?”

“From Gareth – several years ago. I’ve lost a lot of weight because it doesn’t fit anymore,” replied Raphael with a grin. “I did manage to speak with Rita while in the garden. She was very pleased to learn about our proposed outing to Jolf and is going to tell Connie about it. I would like them to come, too, along with Adarius.”

“That sounds good, Raphael,” commented Lorenna.  “Now, let’s get a bath together and get dressed. We should attempt to act like good hosts while your sister Claudine and the other guests are still here today!”

Raphael knew he had to endeavor to speak to Claudine to inform her of his plans to travel to Jolf. Officially, he was still Claudine’s advisor. While he was on leave for his health, Claudine still needed to be able to contact him occasionally. After bathing and dressing more formally than he was wont to do at home, Raphael and Lorenna strolled out to the dining room to face their family and visitors. Raphael had on a fine set of Medinian robes made up in a striped material of off-white and Kantor Blue, which he had had especially woven and made up for him. Even the matching blue gown had fine embroidery around the split collar, and he wore a beautiful beaded Morovian belt around his slender waist.

Lorenna was equally stunning, dressed in a deceptively simple multi-layered Maian gown in Kantor Blue, with tissue-thin layers caught in a high-waisted style. Both Lorenna and Raphael were also wearing well-made leather sandals made in Morova and beaded on top in blue and white. 

The blonde couple graciously greeted the various guests and family members who were already seated at the dining table. Lord Adamos gave the couple a cheerful ‘hallo!’ and remarked, “That’s a vast improvement, Raphael! Lorenna, dear, you look lovely this morning. Is your new mate treating you well, sister?”

“Yes, indeed, dear brother! I am quite contented with my Raphael,” replied Lorenna, sweetly after giving her brother a curtsy. “We’ve been discussing our plans to visit Jolf soon.”

“Oh, that should be an interesting trip, my dear. I wish I could go with you, but High Council starts soon, and I must return to Alyona with Claudine Vanairus,” commented Adamos with a real tone of regret. He would have preferred to travel with Raphael rather than go to High Council, but now he was a lord with all of the attendant responsibilities.

Lord Mathdis overheard the comments and waved Raphael over to join him and Lady Anna at the table. “Are you thinking of going to Jolf soon, Raphael?”

“Yes, Lord Ricardo – Lorenna and I would like to go tomorrow, if possible. I know it is short notice, but after being cooped up at the house for months, I feel like traveling a little. We could also fly your family and my daughter, Remilla, home to Jolf while we’re at it. The Golden Cat has plenty of room for everyone. If you are agreeable, Jychondria, Rita, and Charles may also go. And… I would like Commander Adarius VaCoupe to come, too, so he can get to know the charms of Jolf for himself,” replied Raphael.

Oh, Raphael – really, all these people? Ricardo, do you think we could manage?” quipped Lady Anna.

I don’t see why not – I do own an inn and have a large comfortable house with several vacant sleeping rooms right now,” replied Lord Ricardo with a grin.

Oh, and add my cousin Adario and his lady, Bettina, too, if they are willing to go as well! I am sure Lady Rita would love to have some chats with her former teacher,” said Raphael.

Oh, you are full of surprises this morning, Raphael,” exclaimed Lady Anna. She was feeling absolutely charmed by the idea of all the visitors. Life had been relatively quiet in Jolf for a while without the presence of Aiden’s older boys, the twins Adario and Raphael.

After breakfast, Raphael sidled up to Myka Strom and requested a few minutes of his time. Myka looked at the Medinian lord and said, a little sarcastically, “So, my lord, who are you going to take away from me, now?”

Raphael was not offended, and said, “Not permanently this time, Myka; I would appreciate it if you granted young Adarius VaCoupe some leave time. He has not had a good visit with his mother for many years. Lorenna and I are hoping to visit Jolf tomorrow and would like to take Adarius with us so we all can get reacquainted.”

“Ah… I can grant that, my lord. Just see that you get the young man back on a shuttle to Vey where we can pick him up from after two or three weeks,” growled Myka. “I would rather not lose my entire Navigation department, but we can manage for a couple of weeks without Adarius. He’s now your stepson, isn’t he, my lord? Good reason to get to know the young man. He’s not a bit like his sorry excuse of a sire. Say, didn’t I see Esturias in the garden yesterday?”

“Yes, your eyes did not deceive you, Commander Strom,” replied Raphael. “However, we now call my former brother, Nemo. Remember, my father removed his name from our Family records, so he has no legal right to be called by his given or surname.”

Myka nodded, pursing his lips a bit, and then asked, “So, then… what is he doing here, my lord?”

“Learning humility, Commander, by doing the most menial of tasks. Presently, he is one of our under gardeners and works part-time in the kitchen scraping vegetables for soups and stews, a big job if a boring one,” replied Raphael. 

Well, you sometimes do some gardening here as I recall, my lord,” commented Myka.

Yes, an occupation I was assigned to as a boy when first I came here,” replied Raphael with a smile. “Mazzie the herbalist thought I needed to be outside in the fresh air, grounding in Nature, working with plants. She was right. However, these days I don’t have as much time to actually do much in the way of gardening, with all my duties and responsibilities… and now, while I am still healing.”

Another voice interrupted what Raphael was saying, “And how is that healing coming along? Will we be seeing you, again, on Alyona someday, Raphael or do I have to find another advisor?”

It was Claudine, who had come up quietly behind where the two men were speaking. Raphael looked at his sister for a long moment, surveying her features and getting a read on Claudine’s current mood. She was still slightly irritated. He gave her a deep courtly bow, and replied quietly, “My health improves, my lady. However, for the most thorough report, you should speak to my two Veyan healers. I still become quite tired during the day and require naps on occasion. Master Mei Li says the healing process will be mostly complete by the time I am ready to return to Alyona, in another four months or so. Master Polaño can still send me reports from the Alyona Command Center to review. If you wish, Salaniel and I can make some casual scans to see how things are progressing on all the worlds and generally in the Federation.”

“Well, most of those things can be put on hold until you get back to Alyona. Will Francis be returning before you? I know Master Li Tzulo would like to get Gareth started on a course of study,” inquired Claudine.

Well, since you bring that up, perhaps Master Li and Gareth can simply remain here in Medina while Francis and Lady Ella are on their honeymoon. Then, when they return, all of them can travel together via shuttle to Alyona or simply remain here in Medina until I am ready to return, as well,” replied Raphael calmly. 

Claudine looked thoughtful at Raphael’s second suggestion, “Hmmm, I actually like your second idea better, Raphael. It would also give you time to get to know Francis and Lady Ella better together as a couple before you plunge back into your work routine for me. I want to apologize for my apparent upset yesterday. I forgot for a moment or two that you’re now Francis’ stepfather and would want to guide and protect him more than you have in the past.”

Raphael was a little surprised at the unexpected apology, but resolved not to show it, and simply bowed once more, replying, “Thank you, my lady. I do feel it having Francis remain here longer would also present an excellent opportunity for him to become more acquainted with this community which will be his own to oversee once he assumes the lordship of the Planet of Medina and the Federation.”

“That is a good point, Raphael,” commented Claudine. “And probably more interesting than sitting through yet another boring High Council meeting…”

Raphael grinned slightly and replied, “Well, I am sure Master Li Tzulo will endeavor to keep both Francis and Gareth busy with their studies. This time spent here would also give Francis and Master Li time to hold audience with Lady Amethyst, something I have not yet managed to do myself. And will also give Lorenna and Lady Ella an opportunity to become acquainted as mother and daughter outside the stresses of living in Alyona Castle.”

Raphael glanced over to where his friends the Mathdis family were seated talking with Adario and Bettina, and then turned to Claudine, “My lady, Lorenna and I would like your permission to travel to Jolf tomorrow. We will be staying with Lord Ricardo in his house so I will be available via interactive comm if you need to reach me. I will be able to fly the Mathdis Family and my youngest daughter, Lady Remilla, back to Jolf. Also, I just obtained leave for Adarius VaCoupe to come with us so we can all get to know each other better.”

“Hmmm, Brother… trying to get away from me? Well, I will be returning to Alyona tomorrow as well, so… go to Jolf and stay with your good friends. You’re due some time off beyond what has been required for your healing. You are getting better?” inquired Claudine.

Yes, my lady – somewhat slower than I wish, but I am getting stronger every day,” replied Raphael, nodding his head. “I still cannot finish the routine that Monteras set up for me but have to rest while the others still workout.”

“Well, don’t overdo it, Brother – I want to keep you around for a while,” said Claudine as she reached out to tap Raphael’s face gently with her hand. “It’s cooler in Jolf, isn’t it? You could start your walking, again, at least while you’re there, instead of the regular workout with the men.”

“I will probably do both, my lady,” said Raphael, grinning. She gave him a skeptical look in return then smiled as she realized he was gently teasing her.

You’re taking your Veyan physicians along with you to Jolf?” Claudine seemed anxious about Raphael’s health. Perhaps someone was making reports on his progress behind his back.

Yes, Claudine, I will take them. There is plenty of room at the inn for the masters. It would be an entertaining outing for both masters. I don’t think either one has ever visited beautiful Jolf,” replied Raphael. “I can hardly believe I will be, at long last.”

“Well, let your people know so they can prepare. I give you, my blessings. After you settle in for a day or so, give me a report on how little Jolf is doing now that the war has been over for more than two years. See if anything needs repair…” suggested Claudine and then stopped speaking, realizing that Raphael was more than capable of making up his own mind what needed reporting or updating. She added, “All right, I will stop mothering you, Raphael. For some reason, I have been experiencing some anxiety. I can’t put my finger on why right now.”

“Hmmm, let me know if you do, Sister,” replied Raphael. He then gave her a precise court bow and left her side to give the good news to the Mathdis family, Remilla, Arianna (who also insisted in going), Adario and Bettina, Jychondria, Rita, little Charles, Frida, Adarius VaCoupe and the two Veyan masters. The two commanders Monteras, DeAires and four of the Eagles would make up the remainder of the party traveling to Jolf. The Cat was going to be at near capacity.

The next day, the travelers gathered their luggage and piled into viscars. Lady Anna was ecstatic to have Raphael and his new mate able to visit for an extended amount of time. It had been a long time since she had been able to have an in-depth chat with her adopted son… as she continued to regard Raphael. The priestess was extremely fond of Raphael and very pleased that his mating to Lady Lorenna seemed to be going well, at least in the

embryonic stage of the relationship. She observed how attentive Raphael was to his mate and her son… now his new stepson, Adarius. When everyone was boarding the vessel, Raphael had the specialty commander sit in the navigator’s seat beside him on The Golden Cat.

Raphael joked to Adarius, “Of course I don’t need a navigator with this ship. She knows the way to Jolf on her own!”

Remilla, Arianna, and Lady Rita were all thrilled to have Lady Bettina with them. All three young women had had Bettina as one of their first teachers in the school for girls in Jolf. Lady Rita was transferred at age fifteen to Medina by her strict senior teacher, but she still had fond memories of the classes held in Jolf.

As Jychondria’s uncle, Adario Kadish had not had an opportunity to speak to his nephew for a very long time, so he was also thrilled to be returning to Jolf if only for a few weeks. Of course, Adario realized that his own father, Lord Pietro, might take issue with his son and daughter taking this unexpected side trip, but as Adario was not a diplomat and didn’t work for the government, he felt his father would just have to let him have his own way for once. Adario still secretly held the desire to return to working at Elexa and asked questions of Jychondria to see if the young man had any conception regarding the projects he might be embarking upon once he returned to work. 

Raphael was overjoyed to traveling to Jolf, yet he kept down the speed of The Golden Cat so the passengers could enjoy the flight over the vast desert region of central Maubene. Then, as hills appeared on the horizon, he let the ship rise gradually and deliberately flew it over the site where the Feline outpost was now hidden below the thick flower-studded turf. Setting the ship to hovering high above the turf, he could feel the presence of the outpost, but could do nothing now to access it. Raphael did point out the site to his newer passengers. Then, with a sigh, he directed the ship to fly towards the space port of Jolf. As they approached Jolf, Raphael leaned towards Adarius pointing out the town, “There is Jolf, Adarius; look at those beautiful towers, a rather unique feature for such a small town. Rita’s family, the Francos, built those buildings and many others in Jolf.”

Carefully landing in the small space port, Raphael was able to use the still existent garage for the Cat after everyone disembarked. It was quite a crowd who were visiting Jolf. Aiden and Brunella hurried off to get their rooms together as well as starting the next meal. Meanwhile, Raphael, Lorenna, Adario, Adarius and the two Veyan masters took time to stroll through the town admiring the white-washed houses and colorful chapels with their high towers. Jychondria, Rita, Frida, and little Charles accompanied Lord Ricardo and Lady Anna back to their spacious house so the couple could settle down in their temporary quarters and little Charles could have his next meal. The two Kantor-VaCoupe sisters (Arianna wanted to be included in this trip ‘home’) and their former instructor Lady Bettina headed to the girl’s old school to visit with some of their former teachers. Everyone would reconvene when dinner time grew near, settling into the beautiful garden courtyard of Lord Ricardo’s spacious house.

Master Mei Li was quietly impressed with the tiny town of Jolf with its expressive architecture and picturesque setting on the coastline of the continent of Maubene, snuggled next to some rugged hills that climbed up behind the town. The squat white-washed buildings with their colorful tiled roofs and bright shutters were softened in appearance by billows of flowering roses and vines cascading over stone and adobe walls. Each garden had a gate through which you could get a peek into the secret sanctuary beyond. The walls served as protection from the winds and storms that periodically swept in from the freshwater seas, especially during the Howlings and later in the rainy season.

Master Leu turned to Raphael and remarked, “My father has told me how much you love this little town. I can understand it now, looking around at the beautiful towers and freshly painted houses. And the flowers! The place just teems with them. I love the mixed scents of roses, herbs, honeysuckle, wisteria, and so many other plants. I am anticipating spending some time in Master Aiden’s herb garden as I understand he has assembled quite a considerable collection there.”

“Indeed, he has Master Leu. Your compatriot would enjoy touring around the garden, as well. It is a very relaxing place. Occasionally when I lived in Jolf, I actually spent some time working in the garden, assisting Aiden, although those intervals were rare,” replied Raphael with a sigh, thinking back to the Starship Project and everything that had gone on before. “Still, it does little good to dwell in the past. Now, let’s take a peek into the Mathdis Family chapel. It is quite charming and is where Aiden and Brunella held their mating ceremony.”

Although the daughter of the Lord of Maia and therefore used to huge palaces and large estates, Lorenna was also impressed with the small town with its amazing towers piercing the occasionally blue skies above Jolf and the abundantly overflowing gardens and private spaces. The people of Jolf were very welcoming, as well, with citizens coming up and greeting Raphael, whom some remembered from his time spent living in the town. There was some curiosity, as well, seeing Lord Raphael with a new lady on his arm as the small group toured the town.

When Raphael encountered Master Franco, Rita’s father, he introduced Lorenna to his stonemason friend, “Master Franco, remember me? The father of your son-in-law, Commander Jychondria VaCoupe? You may have heard about my first mate’s tragic death a year ago? Well, I just mated this lovely lady. May I introduce you to my new mate, Lady Lorenna Dino of Maia. She is the mother of our Heir, Master Francis Dino VaCoupe, who will eventually become your overlord. Francis just got mated, too, to a lovely lady from Airus, Lady Ella Kadish Frañcom, a distant cousin of mine. How are you and your family doing these days, sir?”

The burly stonemason was startled to be addressed so openly by Lord Raphael. After a brief bow, he asked, “My lord, what are you doing here in Jolf? Are you staying with Lord Mathdis?”

“Yes, Master Franco; I brought a whole party with me to Jolf, including your daughter, Lady Rita, Commander Jychondria… and your new grandson, Charles Kantor-VaCoupe! Congratulations on becoming a grandfather, sir!” replied Raphael as he patted the man on his beefy shoulder.

Master Franco was speechless… for about two seconds and then he gasped, “Rita is here? And we have a grandson? Oh, wait until I tell my mate and other children! We need a celebration, my lord!”

“Well, let Lord Mathdis know what arrangements you would like to make, or we can hold an informal reception at the Mathdis house or the inn,” replied Raphael. “This trip was a surprise, don’t make a big fuss. We will be here for at least two weeks and then will be returning to Medina.”

“Thank you, my lord, for giving me this wonderful news! Do you mind if I tell the neighbors?” Master Franco was beaming, his full face filled with joy and anticipation in being able to see the newest addition to his extended family. Then he paused and added, “Oh, my lord… I have to tell you that our crew and the one from Serana just finished the project you assigned us on Airus – what we could do before the advent of winter weather and heavy snows! It was an interesting one working with different materials in a much harsher climate, but we got things done. Thank you for the business, my lord!”

“Oh, you’re most welcome, Master Franco,” replied Raphael graciously. “We need to work on developing more cooperative efforts between the various worlds when assistance is needed. Thank you for being so willing to go and help those people. I couldn’t believe the amount of destruction wrought in such a short time.”

“Well, thank you, again, my lord. Now, I will let you attend to your tour. Enjoy the chapels. We leave them open so guests can peek inside and enjoy the tile work, stained glass windows and carvings,” said Master Franco. Then, he gave a bow to Raphael and Lorenna, waved to the Veyan masters, and continued on his way.

Raphael chuckled and commented to Adarius, “The whole town will know we’re here in about five minutes and how long we plan to stay. Master Franco, who is Rita’s father, is one of the leading artisans of this small community and well-respected.”

Master Mei Li tilted his head, studying the passage of Master Franco as he passed into the private garden of a nearby house, and said, “It would appear, my lord, that you encourage and support those who act as the foundation of your society. I see it as a healthy way to build strong ties between all levels of the community. There are leaders such as yourself, but without followers or cooperative workers, nothing will get accomplished. Our people discovered this humble fact of life long, long ago and you saw for yourself what we have accomplished as a collective.”

“Indeed, Mei Li – Lorenna, someday I would like to take you to Vey. It is quite an extraordinary place of great diversity and beauty,” commented Raphael. “Now, I’ll take you all on a stroll to see some of the prettiest gardens in town…”

An hour or so later, Raphael and the others rejoined Lord Ricardo and Lady Anna in their beautiful garden courtyard. Raphael happily greeted Lord Mathdis’ faithful personal assistant, Alexi. Then, the couple, Raphael and Lorenna went to seek their own room after checking in on Jychondria and Lady Rita. “Rita, my dear – we ran into your father and told him the good news about little Charles. He was very excited and happy to find out that we are all going to be staying here for a couple of weeks.”

Jychondria looked up from the chair where he was holding Charles in his arms and replied, “Father, Rita and I are going to be staying here. I had forgotten how much I love this place. I want to live here while I work in Elexa. We will talk it over some more, but I think we’re close to an agreement. I’ll just have to speak to Lord Mathdis about renting a cottage or house here where we can start our own life together as a family.”

Raphael smiled and replied, “I was hoping that for you, son. You deserve some respite from the trauma of war and serving on a ship. Being able to spend time raising your family here in this wonderful town will give both of you a good foundation for a lasting relationship, my dears.”

“Thank you, Father Raphael,” said Lady Rita, “for encouraging us to come and giving us this opportunity. Here, in Jolf, we already have family and friends. I know we will be welcomed with open arms. I can always help Lady Anna serve in the temples here once little Charles is old enough to be on his own or with a companion.”

“That would be an excellent solution, my dear,” replied Lorenna, joining in on the discussion. “I am sure Mistress Frida would love to care for the child to give you two some time alone, as well. And there are many helping hands available here.”

“Well, I just wanted to check on the two of you before taking some time to rest,” said Raphael, effectively bringing the chat to an end. “See the three of you at supper time.”

“Yes, Father,” replied Jychondria, as he brought little Charles to his shoulder.

When in their room, Lorenna said, “Raphael, thank you for bringing us all here. I can understand now why you love this place and these people. It must have been a magical place in which to raise your family… your first family!” she added with a grin. 

While it was still too early to determine whether or not Lorenna was with child, she was certainly a happy woman. She snuggled up to Raphael as they lay on their bed for a nap and sighed, “At long last I feel like I am home with you at my side, dear man.”

In reply Raphael simply kissed his new mate on her forehead and sighed, “Nap time, Lorenna… hmmm.”

Lorenna saw that Raphael had already fallen off asleep and smiled, snuggled closer yet and relaxed. She was home.

A delicious dinner was presented by Brunella and Aiden, with assistance from Pietro, Karenna and their kitchen staff, householders from Jolf. Karenna was seated at the table opposite to Commander Adarius VaCoupe. She stole glances at the commander as he chatted freely with his new father, Lord Raphael,as they exchanged stories about Commander Myka Strom. Raphael related the tale when he flew Myka to Medina in one of the first golden Starfighters. Then, Adarius recounted the story of the last battle fought during the war, one in which he fully participated as a junior officer. Adarius admitted humbly, “I was scared out of my wits when we saw on the scan how many enemy ships we were facing off, yet the plans designed by Lord Raphael worked perfectly. I don’t think many enemy ships escaped to freedom that day!”

“Only fools are not afraid when faced by seemingly insurmountable odds,” replied Lord Mathdis firmly. “Still, our fleets performed with precision and skill and won the day! And now, let us turn to more peaceful stories. We don’t need to upset the ladies, dear man. How do you like Jolf?”

“My lord, you have a charming town here. If I weren’t still in the fleet, I would be happy to live here, with your permission of course, sir,” replied Adarius with a nod of his head and a glance towards Karenna, who smiled and then blushed, looking down with some confusion at her plate.

Lady Anna and Lord Ricardo exchanged glances – yes, there was some chemistry between the two young people. It was also increasingly apparent to Lord Ricardo, a wise and experienced statesman who had attended many a High Council on behalf of his overlord, Lord Demetrius, that Adarius was not politically driven or ambitious, at least in the sense that he might eventually become a political rival of his twin. Ricardo knew that Raphael did not wish the younger twin to prove to be a divisive factor in future governance of the Federation. Rather, it was hoped Adarius would prove to be a support for his twin, Francis, providing him with advice when needed. Providing Adarius with the means to create his own family would also give the young man an outlet for his own creativity. How long Adarius would remain in the Fleet was entirely up to him. If he was determined to become a top commander, then he would have to work towards the position with great diligence. Over a decade ago, Lord Demetrius made it clear to the fleet commanders he did not wish to spare the second twin from putting forth sincere effort and so rightfully attaining high office by proving his experience and skill. Just because he was the heir apparent to his brother should Francis prove incapable of producing a male heir, did not mean the young man would be spoiled or spared discipline if required. Fortunately, Adarius had proven to be a diligent officer, humble, and eager to learn his craft as a navigator and pilot of the great mothership. Lord Ricardo had spent a few hours with Myka Strom getting a read on the young man’s personality and how well he interacted with the remainder of the crew of The Golden Falcon. Myka made it clear that he couldn’t recommend the young man more highly; he was a competent and skilled officer, intelligent, perceptive, polite, but firm with subordinates when required.

Raphael smiled as he observed all the friends and family members interacting with each other. He was also very aware of the scrutiny that his new stepson, Adarius, was under, as subtle as it was… from both Lady Anna and Lord Ricardo. They were intent in discovering the right man for their beloved granddaughter, Karenna. It was a big step for the family to take as Adarius was the next in line to the lordship until Francis and Lady Ella produced a male heir of their own. As a lord of long-standing, Ricardo knew intuitively that his family might be subjected to some criticism if this mate selection was done in haste, so he was determined to perform this due diligence to get a personal read on the young man before asking Claudine for permission to unite the two young people as a mated couple.

When dinner was over, Ricardo pulled Raphael aside and asked him what he thought about his new stepson, Adarius. He added, “I think you know why I am asking this question, Raphael.”

Nodding, Raphael replied quietly – the two men had moved off to another part of the garden for more privacy during their discussion – “Yes, my friend, I do. You are now seriously considering the possibility of uniting Adarius with your granddaughter, Karenna. Frankly, what little I have seen of Adarius these past few days, I am very impressed by him. If I didn’t have Francis to work with, I would have been quite pleased to have Adarius to mentor as our future heir. Just the passage of a few minutes to determine such a direction for two lives seems a bit harsh or generous, depending on your perspective. If Adarius had been born first, I would be working with him to prepare him as the future heir. Fortunately, the young man seems to be currently focused on being a career officer, although that can always change. And I have noticed him glancing periodically at Karenna these past couple of days since they were formally introduced. I find it remarkable that my emotionally unstable elder brother produced two such fine young men, but there it is. Our family was fortunate to have two potential heirs from which to choose and both are young men who have each shown their own individual promise.”

“Yes, Lord Demetrius was also fortunate to have much of the upbringing of the two young men since their father, Esturias, just seemed to have abandoned both them and their mother, Lady Lorenna,” replied Ricardo. “How is Lorenna adjusting to being with you, Raphael? She seems quite happy.”

“Well, my friend, I can say with some authority now that a second mating is very different from the first, but no less precious,” replied Raphael humbly. “After Julia died, I didn’t think there was another person who could replace her, yet I have already rediscovered peace in Lorenna’s arms. I know we were meant to be with each other, to help each other heal from past wounds and to lend each other our mutual strength and companionship.”

“That is good, my friend,” replied Ricardo, giving Raphael a pat on his shoulder. “And now, do you feel Lady Anna and I should ask Lady Amethyst and Claudine Vanairus if Adarius and Karenna would be suitable mates?”

“Well, I give you my permission to pursue this line of inquiry, Ricardo – I would love nothing more than to see your granddaughter united with a fine man and Adarius seems to be a fine man,” replied Raphael. 

Ricardo bent over to sniff at the blossom of a fragrant climbing rose, and then looked over towards where Karenna and Lady Lorenna were sitting admiring little Charles, who was being held by his father, Jychondria. “It is quite apparent that Karenna wants to be a mother. Speak with Lorenna tonight after you retire and if she approves of the union, then I will endeavor to contact your sister Claudine Vanairus tomorrow. The High Council will reconvene the next day, so it would be better timing to get this issue clarified. We could even have the two young people mated while Adarius is present here on leave.”

“Ah… well, it is now or later for the two of them. I know of no other possible arrangements that have been made by Lorenna for Adarius in the past,” replied Raphael. “And given all the uproar recently in Maia, Lorenna may be determined to have her second son mate outside of Maia anyway. I know I experienced some friction with some of my own distant cousins there and even when I visited The Golden Falcon, the encounters held with the third son of Lord Dino, Toryn, were less than satisfactory. He was very rude and abusive towards my person… and was then found to have a recently activated implant from long ago. I don’t think the young man realized what was happening to him when he encountered me, but he made no attempt to be civil and is now residing in the prison of Alyona Castle under disciplinary action from the Command.”

“Oh, my… that must have been highly disturbing to encounter yet another unstable relative, Raphael!” replied a surprised Ricardo. 

Yes, although it has happened so frequently in this life, I am not as disturbed by these occurrences as once I was,” replied Raphael with some fatigue. “When encountered, since these happenings are still blessedly rare, it takes me a while to connect the dots and then I remember what might be wrong. And as a lord, I do have the necessary authority to deal with such a person and issue. I joined with my two Veyan physicians to put Toryn Dino to a scan to determine exactly what was going on.”

“And what was that?” inquired Ricardo.

Toryn was another young man or boy who had been implanted long ago,” replied Raphael. “As far as I know, at least 200 boys, from information obtained in other scans, were involved, including my own son at the time. The boys were implanted by Luke as he knew that the cycles would bring soul mates together and if the individuals involved encountered another person with the necessary frequency level, the implant would automatically activate. This occurred with my second adopted brother, Reynar, and now again with Toryn Dino. I suspect it will occur in future lives should I encounter again any of these men (or women, as they could possibly change their gender by then) that I will have to deal with these kinds of encounters. This was done intentionally to disrupt future societies, especially those who have let down their internal guard against such things.”

“Oh, what an experience to undergo, my friend,” replied Ricardo. “It is good that you knew what to do before Toryn infected the entire mothership!”

“Indeed! That would have been a disaster for sure,” replied Raphael. “It would seem that I am put in places and meet certain people to challenge them on how far they have come with their own individual healing. If they are unwilling to look at, release and heal the darkness within, someone like me will challenge them eventually.”

“How is Esturias doing being at home in Medina,” asked Ricardo, for he had also noticed the former commander’s presence in the garden as Esturias attempted to hide from general scrutiny.

I get daily reports – at least while I am home – from my cousin, retired warrior Commander Andros,” replied Raphael. “My uncle, Raimundo, is also keeping tabs on Esturias’ progress. We do call him Nemo now, as my former brother has been officially removed from the Family records. If Father were still alive, I fear Nemo/Esturias would still be residing within the castle’s prison. When Esturias made that foolish attempt at a coup, he broke my father’s heart. Lord Demetrius never recovered from it. I have, although my brother certainly wronged me, also, but I guess my love for him was deep enough to overcome any sense of personal outrage and to view his behavior with some level of compassion. I know I did not wish for him to remain implanted, knowing what I do about the after-effects of having such a device within your light body and how it can affect you in a future life.”

“Oh, I didn’t know Esturias was implanted – it would explain a lot, I guess,” commented Ricardo.

He was fortunate that I had some lucid dreams about his situation. His implant wasn’t as virulent as had been the one within Reynar,” replied Raphael with a sigh. “I sensed something was very wrong with him and remembered something that Francis had said in passing, ‘I’ve had awful dreams of my father in a dark place being eaten by demons!’ So, you see, Francis does have some of the VaCoupe gifts that were originally present in his father, Esturias, but which he had apparently shut down due to his overbearing sense of jealousy towards me and the Starship Project. Master Leu and a Crystalline Shay healer were able to deactivate the device before it grew and thereby removed it from Esturias along with a large negative entity that was feeding off of my brother’s Light. I did not want Esturias to die implanted as it would have ruined his soul development in future lifetimes.”

“This must have happened before your father died in the war?” inquired Ricardo.

Yes, only a week or so after I reported to my new assignment in Alyona as my father’s military Aide,” replied Raphael.

Well, it was fortunate indeed for your brother that you knew enough to follow your intuitive guidance and had access to talented healers who could assist,” replied Ricardo. 

“Yes, I love my brother, despite everything he put me through. I want him to learn the lessons he refused to complete when much younger, but I can’t make him do it. Yet, I could give him an opportunity to prove to himself that he has learned or is beginning to learn from his mistakes. It is really up to him. For now, my experiment seems to be working,” said Raphael. Then, he looked up as he felt the Veyan physicians approaching. “My physicians are probably curious to see how I am faring now in this new environment. I am still deep in a healing phase… although I think I have managed to get my new mate pregnant already. It is really quite surprising – I feel like a young man once again.”

Ricardo looked surprised and somewhat amazed – he had had a long talk with Raimundo about Raphael’s health after learning why the young lord was home for so long. “Lorenna – pregnant? You’re already starting on your second family, Raphael?”

“So, it would seem, my friend,” replied Raphael with a grin. “Now, please excuse me so I can see what the Masters want with me.”

Master Mei Li gave Lord Ricardo a polite bow and said, “May we borrow Lord Raphael for a while. We would like to give him a healing session before he prepares for bed this evening, my lord.”

“Of course, Master Mei Li,” replied Ricardo. “Would you care to use my office for your session?”

“No, my lord; we would like to walk through your son’s herbal gardens with Lord Raphael. Can we get into the gardens now?” answered Master Mei Li.

Of course, I will ask my son Aiden to show you the way, although Raphael knows it well having stayed in the inn years ago. Still, my son should know that the three of you are there,” replied Lord Ricardo.

In the end, Aiden and Brunella both escorted the trio, Raphael and the two Veyans, to their garden courtyard, a place that Raphael remembered with great fondness. It was there when he first revealed his new appearance after his transformation. The pungent scents of herbs wafted through the warm air as the men slowly walked to a couple of the benches on one of the tiers of the garden, which trailed up the slope behind the inn. Raphael sat down on one of the benches and looked up at the two physicians and inquired, “Well, gentlemen?”

“How does it feel to be back here where so much happened earlier in your life, my lord?” asked Master Leu.

Actually, quite good, yet kind of unreal at the same time. I realize I can’t stay right now… except for this ‘holiday’ of sorts. I wanted to give my son Jychondria and Lady Rita an opportunity to decide whether or not to live here while Connie works out of Elexa. They certainly would be welcomed with open arms by Lord Mathdis and his wonderful family. Rita’s family, too, would be very pleased to see just how far their beautiful daughter has come, bringing forth her first child and attaining her status as a priestess. She can work here if she wishes while still raising up her children with Connie,” replied Raphael thoughtfully. “And then there is Adarius…”

“You have something in mind for the young man here? Would that have anything to do with the attractive granddaughter of Lord Mathdis, Karenna?” inquired Master Mei Li with a smile.

Raphael simply nodded and replied, “Yes – I guess I’m in the mood to have more children in my life, even if they’re not mine.”

“Ah, but you have a little son… and if I have interpreted the signs, you will soon have another one in due time, my lord,” replied the very perceptive Master Mei Li.

So, you have noticed that glow on my new mate’s pale cheeks?” replied Raphael with a slight blush. “Your healing regime has worked wonders, gentlemen. Yes, my new mate is already pregnant and what’s more, she knows it. I will cherish her even more now than I already do.”

“You are more blessed than you realize, my lord,” commented Master Mei Li with a knowing smile. When Raphael pressed him to explain, the physician shook his head and replied with a cryptic comment, “You will know when it is time for you to know.”

After the healing session and conversation, Raphael returned to the house of Lord Mathdis, while the physicians returned to where they were staying at the inn along with the Eagles, Commanders Monteras and Salaniel. When Raphael returned to their room, Lorenna greeted him with a kiss on his cheek and asked him, “How did your healing session go this time, my love?”

“Well, we mostly talked about my life here in Jolf in the past. The two masters were more intent on sounding out my mental and emotional health rather than my physical health, if truth be told,” replied Raphael.

“Well, you are looking more relaxed here than I have seen you manage even in Medina. Of course, I have not been there when your sister Claudine was not present,” added Lorenna. “Did I sense some tension between the two of you at your last two meetings?”

“A bit… I think Claudine is beginning to realize that as Francis’ new stepfather, I will take my responsibilities as his guardian even more seriously,” replied Raphael. “Lord Mathdis and I were discussing the possibility of offering his granddaughter as a mate for your other son, Adarius. Would you be open to that option, my lady?”

Lorenna nodded, “Yes, Raphael, I am. Seeing that my own world has its problems, I would feel better if my son and his mate were to raise their children here, along with Jychondria and Rita. Karenna looks like a lovely young woman. She has sensible parents who could look after her while Adarius is away on duty and a doting grandfather in Lord Mathdis. I heartily approve of the match. As Adarius’ mother, I don’t believe I am required to get my brother’s permission for Adarius to be mated to Karenna, but we will have to request permission from your sister, Claudine Vanairus, as senior member of the VaCoupe family and the regent. Of course, Lord Raimundo, could also act in that capacity as he is the great uncle of Adarius. The only reason we might clear this arrangement first with Claudine is whether or not she might have other candidates in mind for Adarius now that his older brother has mated Lady Ella.”

Raphael kissed his mate on her forehead and replied, “Then, my dear, let us, along with Lord Mathdis, bring this arrangement to Claudine’s attention before she is plunged back into High Council work. Upon receiving her permission, we can move forward and arrange for the new young people to be mated before Adarius is required to return to his ship. I might have to request some more leave for him so he and Karenna can become acquainted better before he returns to the Golden Falcon. Won’t Myka Strom be surprised!”

Lorenna laughed and said, “I’m sure he will be – after all, you have managed to get two of his young commanders mated (or about to be mated) and have had another one dragged off of his ship. You may never be invited, again, aboard The Golden Falcon.”

“Frankly, I wouldn’t mind that at all – not that I hold anything against Myka personally – I just don’t like that ship and its associations with my own past,” replied Raphael. He kissed Lorenna gently on her forehead and then asked, “How are you feeling, my love?”

“Very well, indeed, dear mate,” said Lorenna. “With my other children, I never went through the morning sickness that some other women get when they are carrying, but it is still rather early for those kinds of symptoms to manifest.”

“Well, when we return to Medina, whenever that shall be, you should undergo an examination from either one of our Veyans or one of the healing priestesses,” said Raphael as he gathered his mate tenderly into his arms. “Have I told you today that I love you?”

In the morning Raphael and Ricardo gave Claudine Vanairus a call on her private line via comm. The surprised lady listened intently to their proposal and then nodded, “I thought there might be a little matchmaking going on, Raphael, when you proposed to take Adarius to Jolf with your party. Well, I think it will be a fine match for Adarius. Does Lorenna approve? Yes? Then, yes, I give you, my blessings. When will the two young people get united? I probably won’t be able to attend if you intend to hold the ceremony while Commander Adarius is still on leave.”

“Well, we have to break the news to Adarius and Karenna. There is a strong bond between the couple already, which neither has fully acknowledged,” replied Raphael with a smile. “Karenna wants to become a mother. It would be healthy for Adarius to have some other responsibilities outside of his military career. And Jolf is a wonderful place to visit during his leave time.”

“How are you finding Jolf, Brother?” inquired Claudine. She could sense Raphael was feeling more relaxed than he was while she had been present in Medina. “And now that you’ve have spent some days… and nights… with your new mate, are you happy, dear brother?”

“I am indeed quite pleased with the match, Claudine,” replied Raphael. “After experiencing so much indecision, guilt, and grief after Julia’s death, it is a relief to have someone to whom I can really talk to away from the maddening crowds I sometimes have to deal with.”

“Maddening crowds? I’m not sure how some of the planetary representatives would receive that comment,” said Claudine as she chuckled. “You managed to twitch Lord Efrem’s nose once again by your little display of naked flesh in your own hallway. Lord Adamos related that little encounter to me.”

“I was wearing a BerWarian guard’s tunic that Gareth had given me some years ago,” replied Raphael. “I probably should replace the old thing or just wear a loin cloth and really twitch Efrem’s delicate aristocratic nose.”

“Oh… you can be factitious sometimes, brother,” replied Claudine somewhat disapprovingly. “Remember you’re a lord and my representative, at least while in the presence of such people.”

“I will try, Claudine. So, you approve of our matchmaking?” inquired Raphael once more.

Yes, now, let me go. Lady Arla is arriving shortly with some of the early arrivals so we can have some preliminary discussions before High Council convenes tomorrow morning. Let me know how the two youngsters handle the news and keep me updated on your own healing progress,” replied Claudine. “Fare thee well, Brother.”

With a nod and a wave of his hand, Raphael closed down the comm connection and turned to Lord Ricardo, “It would appear we have a mating ceremony to plan, my lord!”

Later that same day, Raphael called Commander Adarius into Lord Mathdis’ office for a ‘chat’. After the young man had seated himself, he asked, “What is this about, sir… Father?”

“It’s about this,” Raphael replied as he handed Adarius a sheet of heavy vellum with two seals dangling from it.

Adarius stared at Raphael in slight shock, “Sir?”

“Read it, son!”

Obeying his new stepfather’s command, Adarius scanned the document, looked up at Raphael, and mumbled, “Betrothed? To Karenna?”

“Do you have any reservations about such an alliance, Adarius,” inquired Raphael, his face sterner than Adarius had ever seen it.

Oh, no, sir – she is a lovely girl. It is just, well, sir… we don’t know each other very well… sir,” replied the young man haltingly.

I did not know my first mate at all when we underwent our mating ceremony,” replied Raphael. “If you don’t have any reservations, then the ceremony will take place in a couple of days to allow Karenna’s parents and staff some time to prepare the food for the reception afterwards. It is custom to hold such an event here in Jolf as it is in Medina. I hope you brought your dress uniform with you, son.”

“Of course, sir. Where would the ceremony be held? It seems we have quite a few chapels from which to choose here in Jolf…” inquired Adarius after taking a couple of deep breaths.

Raphael looked at his new stepson with some amusement and replied, “You will celebrate your mating in the Mathdis Temple. It’s the one with the massive golden angel atop the tower. It is where my cousin Brunella was mated to Aiden Mathdis many years ago.”

Adarius looked at his new stepfather with affection and said, “Thank you, Father, for thinking of me and my future. Karenna will be perfect. She is sweet-tempered, pretty, and practical… a much better choice for me than some aristocrat’s over-bred daughter. I know this union will weave yet stronger ties with the Mathdis Family into the future. You know that any of my children will be VaCoupes, Father?”

“Of course, I know that, son; you are the heir to the heir, to your brother. Should he not provide the Family with a male heir, then you or one of your sons will eventually succeed to the Lordship of the Pleiades,” replied Raphael. “You have a duty to the Family as well as the Command. Do not forget the pledge you give Karenna on the day you unite as mates… like your father did to your dear mother. And prepare yourself, son… the Mother willing, you will be getting a half-brother in about 11 months.”

“What – mother?” The joy on Adarius’ darkly tanned face told Raphael everything he needed to know about his new stepson. 

Thank you, Adarius, for being open to such an occurrence. Of course, any children I give your mother will not be in line for the heirship and hence not any competition to the VaCoupe line. They will be Kantor-VaCoupes. Apparently, I am fathering my own tribe, becoming a patriarch of my own family. When I was a slave boy long ago, I never imagined that a man’s life could change so much, but it did. See that you hold to all your vows, lad, and life will treat you well,” replied Raphael as he patted his stepson’s hand. “Now, we had better inform the other party to your betrothed – my pretty young cousin, Karenna Mathdis.”

Aiden and Brunella were beaming when they heard the news from Lord Ricardo. Aiden replied to his father’s announcement, “Well, I guess we can make it a double reception as our townspeople will want to see the new mate of Lady Rita, too. I don’t think they have seen Commander Jychondria since he was a lad and sent off to University Ship, Father.”

“You’re right – well, then, we’ll have to inform the Francos to be on hand to meet the commander, to see their daughter and to meet their new grandson, little Charles. And everyone will be celebrating yet another significant event when my granddaughter is wedded to one of the heirs of the VaCoupe Family! I will send over any extra staff you might need to get things ready, Aiden,” said Lord Ricardo.

How much time do we have, Father?” inquired Brunella, quietly excited for her little girl, her only daughter, but keeping her mind on practical matters, too. 

Lord Mathdis planted a kiss on his daughter-in-law’s forehead and replied, “It was a lucky day for our family when Commander Raphael landed his golden ship in our town square. You were the peace offering and have given our family so much joy, Brunella. Now, in answer to your sensible question, you have two days to prepare. Remember, Commander Adarius is still in active service. It won’t be a long honeymoon for the two youngsters, but we can make up one of our cottages so they can have some privacy in their first days together. Then, perhaps Lord Raphael will have the two of them sent to Towan, later, when Adarius can manage to get some more leave.”

Brunella looked at her handsome mate Aiden and commented mischievously, “If we’re not celebrating a christening by then, Father!”

“Hmmm, knowing just how potent some of these VaCoupe males are, that is certainly a possibility. Now, Brunella, do you want to break the news to your daughter or should I?” inquired Aiden.

Brunella suddenly looked flustered and gasped, “What are we going to do about a dress in such a short time?”

Lord Mathdis looked fondly upon his daughter-in-law and replied, “Well, talk to Lady Lorenna, Lady Anna, and Lady Rita… perhaps one of the ladies will have an idea. I will let you sort that out. Now, I must return to my guests. It is quite wonderful to be uniting by mating with Raphael’s family, although Adarius isn’t his blood son. It will be another way to ensure that Raphael comes here to visit into the future and perhaps decides to finally retire here when he is done serving as advisor to Francis.”

❤ ❤ ❤

© All Rights Reserved, Eliza Ayres, videos and recordings of this material are not permitted, and

BOOK FOUR: Table of Contents

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