BOOK FOUR: CHAPTER 21 – Visit to Airus – Three Years Later

CHAPTER 21 – Visit to Airus, Three Years Later


The time had finally arrived when young Daniel Kantor-VaCoupe was going to be delivered to his grandparents to begin his official schooling.  The youngster was already being tutored by Commander Monteras and the Veyan physicians.  The masters were more than happy to instruct the intelligent and perceptive son of Lord Raphael. Their instruction consisted mostly in answering the numerous questions of the lad, who often discovered the answers himself during his explorations working through the files available on the comm system. The boy was such a natural working with the computer that he was given his own set-up in his sleeping room so he could study whenever he was so inclined, even outside of his regular class hours. Master Mei Li reported that Daniel was devouring old texts on psychological studies, philosophy, history, geography, geology, and assorted other subjects. Master Mei Li had also begun to give the child some preliminary instruction on how to master his mind and to focus his attention. Both Veyan masters and Raphael himself were of the opinion that if he chose to become a line communications officer in the future, Daniel would be a formidable one, much like his father.

Still, Daniel was a young boy. During the years while he was growing up in Medina, he continued to play with his young friends, although it was evident, he was far more intelligent and focused than his adopted cousins, nephew (Demetrius) and younger half-brother (Paulos). The fourth son of Raphael took on the role of a leader for his younger relatives, Demetrius and Paulos. Tobias, the first son of Salaniel and Roxanee, a slender whiplash of a child with huge dark blue eyes and a dark reddish-brown complexion, also joined with the young boys in their games. They were all watched carefully but discretely by the Feline Eagles who regarded the boys as kin. 

Daniel was also the uncle of the dark-haired girl child of Gareth and Remilla, little Sarah, who had been born about three months after Demetrius and Paulos. Sarah didn’t join in with the boyish games, but usually sat and watched them play, seated companionably with her mother, her grandmother, Lady Arla, and Lady Ella… at least when the ladies were out in the garden, which during the heat of summer was only in the early morning hours or early evening. The boys were somewhat shy around their young female relative as she was a pretty little girl, blessed with curly dark hair, a light porcelain complexion like her mother, Remilla, and the dark blue eyes of her tall father, Master Gareth. Sarah was also very self-assured and poised for such a young child.

Being the oldest of the cousins, Daniel was the tallest, but it was clear that young Paulos, the son of Raphael and Lorenna, was going to outstrip all of the boys in terms of height and build. Already at three years of age, Paulos stood four feet in height and had a strong bone structure that promised yet more height and broad shoulders. The lad had taken on much of the Seranian portion of Raphael’s genetic lineage. Still, Daniel was the most intelligent of all the boys, including young Demetrius. He was a sensible, sensitive lad, a quiet natural leader who did not set his friends against each other, but encouraged them to work as a team, even to the point that he sometimes tutored his younger relatives, Demetrius and Paulos.

Daniel was quite aware that he was about to be separated from his cousins due to the fulfillment of a pledge made by his father after his mother died during childbirth. Five years ago, a recently bereaved father wanted to give the grandparents of the boy some time to spend with their grandson, the last child of their lovely daughter, Lady Julia Kantor-VaCoupe. At times Raphael regretted having made such a pledge on behalf of his young son but felt obligated to fulfill it now that the time had arrived when Daniel was old enough to be fostered out to his grandparents. However, Raphael did have a long talk with his son and told him that if things did not work out for the boy on Airus, then he would have the boy transferred back to Medina and enrolled into Arconia to finish out his preliminary studies until, most likely, transferring to the Medinian University Ship. Raphael knew Daniel would miss his nephew (Demetrius), his niece (Sarah), his cousins, his little brother (Paulos), and seeing his father in Medina, yet the boy was well-balanced, intelligent, and very mature, even at his tender age. Daniel was also curious to travel to another world and to be able to witness the culture from whence his mother had come.

Lorenna would also be coming on the trip to Airus, along with Felipe, the boy’s Eagle companion. Raphael was also taking just two of his primary Eagles, the Montoya brothers, Eduardo, and Giorgio, to act as escorts for Lorenna and himself. Eagle Felipe was going to remain with Daniel on Airus, to continue acting as friend, companion, guard, and martial arts instructor for the boy.

While Raphael and Lorenna were gone, Lady Ella and Lady Remilla were going to care for little Paulos, who was sad to see his older half-brother going away. Still, the little fellow had his close relatives and playmates to take up his time. And he was now old enough to start some tutoring of his own under the supervision of Commander Monteras, who had started him out with writing and simple math.

Daniel was very athletic and strong, wirier in his build than his half-brother, Paulos. Felipe reported the lad quickly absorbed whatever the Eagle taught him. Raphael encouraged the Eagle to continue with the instruction and to add calisthenics and stretching as the boy’s body continued to develop in size, height, and strength. He added, “There are lakes on Airus, some inside Ostta; see if you can teach the boy how to swim. While we don’t have lakes on Medina, it is a useful physical skillset to have. The University Ship does have a swimming pool for both students and instructors, if I remember correctly.”

“I will do that, my lord. It is a pleasure to be around Daniel. Most of the time, I forget he is but a young lad. He speaks and acts like a person who is far more mature and seems comfortable with being around adults. I don’t imagine Daniel will experience any difficulty holding his own around the more formal Airian court of his elder cousin, Lord Aeolus,” replied Eagle Felipe, who was, himself, an intelligent man. Felipe had not had the opportunity to visit Airus when Raphael had made his previous visits. The Eagle was looking forward to visiting the large beautiful world and seeing for himself the wonders it held.

Raphael was grateful the tall Eagle was willing to accompany his young son. “Okay, then, let’s carry the bags to the viscar and get going. Daniel, say your good-byes to your great-uncle Raimundo, Mazzie, Carlos, and the boys. Lorenna, are you ready to go?”

“Yes, my love; I am excited to be able to visit Airus, again. Ostta is such a beautiful city. I shall enjoy meeting your cousins and former father-in-law, Lord Pietro, and Lady Martina, as well,” replied Lorenna. She had chosen not to travel too much after the birth of Paulos, as she preferred being around the children at home. She was determined to enjoy as much time with the little ones before they all had to go off to their boarding school.

This time, Raphael and Lorenna would be staying with Lord Pietro and his mate, Lady Martina, the grandparents of young Daniel. Raphael wanted to be present at the first real meeting of the relatives and see how each party reacted to the other. The careful father was ready to pack Daniel up and bring him home if he thought the initial meeting didn’t go well. Raphael was quite aware that Pietro and Martina might experience some shock being around such a psychically aware young person who had been speaking telepathically at a high level even as an infant. All he could hope was the bonds of love would be strong enough to encourage both parties to adapt and adjust to each other.

As the small party climbed into the waiting viscars, the rest of the boys peered through the golden gate, getting in their last waves to their oldest cousin, brother, and friend. Daniel waved back but was very excited to go on a rare outing in his father’s famous starship, The Golden Cat.

Raphael knew he would have to at least make an appearance at the court of Lord Aeolus, but he did not want to be considered a ‘state’ visitor. He purposefully left both his aides and his physician, Master Leu, behind in Medina. Raphael’s health had improved greatly over the years, and he had not experienced a fainting spell for several years now. Salaniel was still being mentored by Master Polaño as he would be assuming the man’s position, duties, and responsibilities soon after Master Francis VaCoupe stepped into the lordship. Raphael promised he would at least connect with Commander Monteras and Salaniel after reaching Ostta. Raphael did want to review how much headway Lord Pietro and Lord Da’vid had made in sorting out the Airian bureaucracy. 

There was yet another personal reason for the visit as Lady Sabina and Lord Da’vid had successfully delivered a boy child, Jon’dra VaCoupe Kadish, who would eventually become the heir of his father and second lord of Airus. The boy was now about three years old. Raphael wanted the two cousins, Daniel and Jon’dra to meet, since it was likely they would be tutored together or attend the same school at least while Daniel was present on Airus. Both Raphael and Lorenna were also curious to see what kind of child had come from the union of handsome Da’vid and the beautiful Lady Sabina.

The flight to Airus was short. Young Daniel spent most of the flight with his nose pressed against the window gazing out at the planet they were departing, as they exited its atmosphere, then the bright distant stars and sparkling net of nebulas on one side of the ship, with the powerful presence of Electra on the other. Soon, the ship slipped into the blue atmosphere of Airus. Raphael had the Golden Cat perform a couple of circumnavigations of the planet as the passengers looked out upon the diversity of continents spread out below. They passed over the mountainous continent of Myenaar where workmen from both Medina and Serana had been helping some of the citizens there to rebuild their villages and farms for several years. Towards the end of the last building season, the construction was finally declared to be completed, allowing the farmers and villagers to reclaim their homesteads. Still, the winters were harsh in Myenaar, so many of the farmers still chose to winter over in the protection of the walled city of Babbos. When spring arrived, then the rhythm of village and farm would resume, as the people planted and began to raise their crops. It was a time of renewal for the portions of Airus that had been adversely affected by the enemy presence on the planet during the latter years of the long Orion wars.

Finally, the grand city of Ostta came into view. Raphael had sent word ahead to inform Lord Pietro and Lord Da’vid when he expected to land the Golden Cat at the space port outside the city walls. He was not going to replicate his impulsive act of landing the Cat in the central square in front of the palace belonging to Lord Aeolus. This time, Raphael piloted his golden ship to a more conventional landing site, at the edge of the tarmac of the space port. Before landing, he spotted several viscars waiting at the edge of the field, piloted by city guards. He also noted the tall, slender figures of his former father-in-law, Lord Pietro, and Lord Da’vid. Despite his wish for this to be a low-key visit, it would appear his relatives chose to make their arrival take on the appearance of a state visit.

Raphael sighed and let the rest of the occupants of the Cat know that they were being met by his powerful relatives. He said, “Daniel, you are about to meet your grandfather, Lord Pietro. Remember, he is a very influential person in Ostta. Give him a proper salutation when you are introduced. And your cousin, Lord Da’vid, is also here to meet us. He is the second lord of Airus, so is another important person. I suspect at this rate, we will be taken first to the palace to meet Lord Aeolus himself, who is probably eager to meet you, young Daniel, so be on your best behavior, lad!”

Daniel grinned, sensing his father was slightly nervous about this encounter and arrival at Airus. Raphael had not visited Airus during the past three years as he was busy visiting other Worlds and performing his duties as Regent, a very responsible position and one that demanded a great deal of his time. The perceptive child knew his father was looking forward to the time when he would be able to officially hand over the reins of power to Daniel’s stepbrother and cousin, Master Francis VaCoupe. Daniel also knew that it was inevitable that his talented father would be drawn into yet another project of some sort, just what he could not see yet, as it was being hidden from his inner eye right now. He merely nodded his head and acting the obedient son, replied, “Yes, Father – I won’t do anything to disgrace you in front of our Airian relatives!”

Raphael snorted and replied, “Impertinent boy! I have to remember you are still a boy sometimes, Daniel – you act so grown-up all the time! I didn’t have a childhood and you don’t seem to want one! Well, anyway, Daniel, straighten out your tunic, fix your braid, and prepare to meet your grandfather and elder cousin.”

Daniel gave one of the Eagles a wink and replied in a mild tone, “Yes, Father.”

The Golden Cat gently set down on the tarmac. The doors opened and the steps unfolded, allowing the occupants to exit the ship. Young Daniel bounded down the steps and took a deep breath of the humid tropical air he would now have to become accustomed to after living on a desert world for the first five years of his young life. He remarked, “Oh, it’s so humid here; I feel like I am standing in a rain shower and it’s not raining, Father!”

“Yes, Daniel – you’ll have to get accustomed to the humidity and the heat. Summers can be sweltering here, but your grandfather’s house is very comfortable and airy. Eagle Felipe said he will give you swimming lessons, too, perhaps in the lake that is nearby your grandfather’s house – if Lord Pietro will allow it, that is. You’re to obey him in all things – that make sense. Now, Lorenna, men, are we ready?”

Eagle Giorgio Montoya grinned as he hefted up a heavy bag – Lorenna had packed all her best dresses for the trip — and replied, “Yes, my lord. You better take a deep breath, too. Time to visit the relatives!”

“Yes, I’m not sure why I’m feeling so nervous, but here we go!” replied Raphael as he gathered up Lorenna’s arm to escort her to the viscars and their waiting relatives. He was also holding the right hand of his young son who could now easily keep up with the long strides of his tall sire.

Lord Pietro came up and graciously saluted his younger cousin, remembering that Raphael was still Regent in the Federation and therefore significantly outranked his senior cousin. “Welcome to Airus, Raphael and Lady Lorenna! And is this my grandson, young Daniel? My, how you have grown. You may not remember it, lad, but I met you when you were just a baby. Lady Lorenna, you are looking lovely today. I hope you enjoy this visit to Airus. And yes, Lord Aeolus is expecting to see you and your family at the palace before we go to our house, my lord. Da’vid – come greet your cousin!”

Lord Da’vid came forward, saluted Lady Lorenna and Raphael, and then extended his hand to shake Raphael’s. He was very enthusiastic, “It is so good to see you here, Raphael. Lady Sabina and I are excited to show you the latest addition to our Kadish family, little Jon’dra! He is a beautiful boy; takes after his beautiful mother, not me! And is this young Daniel? Come here, lad, let your elder cousin give you a hug!”

Young Daniel went up to his tall, dark-haired elder cousin, gave him a deep bow and then calmly submitted to being hugged by the older man. His grandfather then took the boy by his hand and began leading him over to one of the viscars, “Come, Daniel, you can ride with me so we can chat along the way. It’s time for us to become better acquainted.”

A grave little boy carefully released his grandfather’s hand, gave him a proper bow, and replied in perfect audible Airian, “Yes, Grandfather…”

Amused by his tightly controlled little boy as he was, his father was getting progressively more uncomfortable in the tropical heat. Raphael felt his wavy hair responding to the humidity by exploding into frizzy curls, causing his tidy braid to expand in width and the hair on his skull begin to cling to his scalp. He sighed and chuckled, “Is it summer here, Cousin?”

“Ah, is the humidity getting to you? Well, let’s climb into the viscars and take your party to the palace. It is a bit cooler in that grand building. Wait until you see it, Daniel; even though I live there, the place is quite astounding!” replied a jocular Da’vid Kadish.

Lord Pietro had young Daniel ride with him, along with Eagle Felipe sitting in the rearmost seat with some of the luggage. Raphael and Lorenna accompanied a gleeful Lord Da’vid in his viscar, while the rest of the Eagles, the Montoya brothers, accompanied one of the other drivers with the rest of the luggage.

Da’vid was a little curious about the make-up of his cousin’s small party. He commented, “Raphael, I see you left your physicians and aides home? Attempting to keep this a low-key visit, cousin? You should know Lord Aeolus. He always goes over the top with things. He has planned at least one dinner party with you, Lorenna, and young Daniel as his personal guests.”

Raphael sighed and replied, “I was expecting that, Da’vid. Lorenna came prepared with all her gorgeous dresses… now that she can wear them, again. We don’t dress up in Medina and she has chosen not to travel much to Alyona while Paulos is still young.”

It was a group of three viscars that made their way along the paved road that wound along a large river to the city gates. The road followed the high rampart walls that surrounded the city on the river side, finally leading to an opening at a set of huge gates. A wide-eyed Lorenna silently gazed at the formidable walls and wondered why such walls were needed in the first place. Lord Da’vid grinned and looked back at her, “My lady; our people weren’t always as civilized as they are today!”

Lorenna nodded in response, gave the tall lord a wane smile and continued to survey her surroundings. She shuddered slightly as the viscars entered the huge gate and passed under its shadow. Beyond there was a wide avenue leading directly towards the great central square of the city, upon which the palace of the Kadish Family was sited, as well as the great Temple. 

Below is a description as to how Raphael had first observed the great city soon after Daniel’s birth some five years prior: Ostta was huge, wealthy, and thriving. The streets were wide, lined with well-groomed tropical gardens butted up against compound walls protecting spacious villas, apartment complexes, inns with courtyards just glimpsed through metal gates and smaller blocks of two-and sometimes three-story private residences set around a common garden. There were lush towering palm trees, an abundance of flowers and flowering shrubs. The air was fragrant with the scent of blooms and aflutter with the calls of birds flying above the city. Raphael looked around in wonder; except for Alyona which he had never really had the opportunity to explore, this Airian city was the largest he had ever entered. As the viscars approached a large park, Raphael saw several buildings with towers and domes ahead of them and groupings of long two-story buildings. Another large street intersected the one they were traveling above and then Raphael began to see a great sprawling edifice looming up before their line of travel. It was a remarkable structure with several towers, domes, walls, courtyards, balconies, and gardens. 

Riding in the lead viscar, as he caught sight of the vast structure of the palace, Raphael’s son exclaimed, “My lord Grandfather, is that the palace of Lord Aeolus?”

Amused by Daniel’s ultra-polite behavior – and understanding that it was the lad’s way of keeping himself calm – his grandfather nodded and replied, “Yes, Daniel. Now, could you kindly address me as Grandfather Pietro or simply ‘grandfather’? I want us to be friends. You will be meeting your grandmother, Lady Martina, very soon – she is attending court with Lord Aeolus this morning.”

Little Daniel looked up at his grandfather with his great green-blue eyes and gravely nodded, “Yes, Grandfather Pietro… you have a very big city, sir.”

Pietro smiled and replied, “Yes, Daniel – you will be attending one of the colleges close to where your grandmother and I live so you can walk to school every day, but first we have hired a tutor to instruct you on Airian culture and society.”

Daniel smiled at his grandfather and inwardly sighed. He had been studying Airian history, culture, and society for years ever since he comprehended that he would be transferring to Airus when he was considered old enough to be fostered to his grandparents. Still, it was one thing to stare at a vid screen and a totally different experience to actually be driving through a great city, to see the sights, hear the sounds and smell the air. Ostta was the first city that young Daniel had ever seen in this lifetime. The boy carefully observed the different sectors of the great city, the wide avenues, expansive parks with their streams and lakes, the high walled gardens lush with tropical and sub-tropical plantings inside and along the edge of the streets. The child took in the sight of well-dressed citizens and busy streets lined with shops and cafes as the viscars wound through the crowds, lightly hovering just above the surface of the paved street. Finally, Daniel commented, “Ostta looks like a very wealthy city, Grandfather. I shall enjoy exploring it when I can outside of my classes. Can Eagle Felipe and I go for walks in some of the parks, Grandfather? I would also like to visit all the art galleries, museums, to see a play or musical… what kinds of dances do the Airians perform at their festivals? Master Mei Li told me that once, but I don’t recall…”

An astounded grandfather gazed down at his blonde grandson and shook his head, “I recall your father warning me several years ago about how intelligent you are, Daniel. Of course, we can do those things, but first things first… meet your elder cousin, Lord Aeolus, your grandmother, Lady Martina, and our other relatives. Then, Lady Sabina and Da’vid will want to introduce you to your younger cousin, Jon’dra – he’s three years old, so just a bit younger than yourself. And then, it will be time to go to our house and for you to settle in. We have given Eagle Felipe a sleeping room next to yours, so you will have your friend and guardian close by, at least until you feel more comfortable being away from your father and other relatives. I am sorry, Daniel, but your father made a promise to us, that we would have at least some time with you while you are still a child.”

Daniel calmly regarded his grandfather with his unusual blue green eyes and quietly replied, “Father has explained all of this to me, Grandfather… and I know. He was very sad when Mother died and felt guilty that he was in some way the cause of her death. Yet, I wouldn’t be here had it not been for my mother’s sacrifice, would I? I know that I could have died, too. I think that would have destroyed my father, don’t you? He was very much in love with Mother, up until and even after she died, Grandfather. I am the last tie to that love. I understand that you haven’t really dealt with your own grief, Grandfather, but we can talk about this later when in private. I am an empath, Grandfather, and much like my father, extremely psychically sensitive. I can feel how you feel… and will help you and Grandmother work through your grief.”

An astounded grandfather shook his head and replied, “Oh, Daniel; I guess we do need some help. I am glad you are here for a time. Even if you decide you want to go home to Medina, your grandmother and I will relish the time spent with and around you, dear boy.”

“Thank you, Grandfather – now, I think we’re nearly there, to the palace? Is it made of pink stone?” asked a curious boy who was now gazing at the great entry gate to the palace courtyard. “Oh, what a beautiful building!”

“Yes, this is the ancient palace of the Kadish Family, built by Lord Aeolus himself in another earlier incarnation, but he can tell you more about it, lad,” replied Pietro, glad to leave the sensitive topic of the death of his daughter alone for the time being. He was beginning to comprehend just how unusual a boy his last grandson from Julia was and hoped he could just be friends with the lad, although it might be as difficult to understand him as it was to understand his talented father, Lord Raphael. He continued with his little lecture on the architecture of the building, “The palace is entirely built of pink granite stone, quarried outside the city in the hill country and carried here on large hovercraft. Inside, the floors are made of pink marble. The walls are plastered and painted with murals and decorated with gold. You will find many beautiful statues lining the hallways. There are also several garden courtyards to be found within the palace. Your elder cousin, Lord Aeolus, holds court every morning and then spends most of his afternoons in meditation, prayer, and communion. Did your father tell you that Lord Aeolus represents the Holy Spirit in masculine form? He is like the male representative for the Divine Mother, on the Pink Ray just like the Shekinah, Lady Amethyst.”

Daniel nodded, and replied, “Yes, Grandfather – Master Mei Li explained the significance of Lord Aeolus and His standing within the Federation as a spiritual leader, holding a great balance of Light and Love for all of our people. I am honored to be one of his relatives, if a very young one.”

“Oh, Master Zang – one of the physicians in your father’s employ? Has he been one of your early tutors? Well, then – you probably know more about our history than I do. I was never a great scholar when I went to school, just a good bureaucrat, Daniel,” replied Pietro

The viscar gently settled onto the brick courtyard with a light thump. Eagle Felipe lightly bounded out and then turned back to assist Lord Pietro and his young grandson, “My lord?”

“Oh, thank you, Felipe, but I can manage. I’m not in my dotage, yet!” snapped Pietro and then apologized, “Sorry, Felipe – I didn’t mean to be rude… You can take Daniel by the hand and lead him into the palace. We’ll keep the luggage in the viscars until we get to my house later.”

Pietro took a deep breath, realizing it would be quite an adjustment to have his youngest grandchild in the house. The child was quite astounding. Then, the older man straightened himself up and like the true diplomat he was, turned to greet his other guests. Raphael was just in the process of handing Lady Lorenna out of their viscar. “Welcome back to the Kadish palace, my lord, my lady! Shall we go in? Eagle Felipe will be escorting Daniel. I’ll lead the party.”

Sensing something had happened during the short trip from the airfield to the palace, Raphael shrugged, and gave his former father-in-law a short bow, “Lead away, Lord Pietro. Lorenna and I will gawp at the art and statues as we go…”

Lorenna started to giggle but covered her mouth with her hand when she noticed a slightly distraught expression on Lord Pietro’s face. She whispered to Raphael, “I think Pietro is learning quickly that he has his hands full taking care of Daniel here…”

Raphael nodded and gently squeezed Lorenna’s hand as he led her up the several tiers of great steps to the highly decorated entry door. He quipped lightly, “I guess we might consider upgrading our entry door in Medina, my love!”

Pietro gave Raphael a slightly annoyed look and then passed through the great doors, closely followed by Felipe and Daniel, and then Raphael and Lorenna. The Montoya brothers followed behind, as did the palace guard escort. 

Again, Lorenna and Raphael marveled at the valuable artwork and statues that lined the entry hall of the great palace. Yet, the walk to the audience room was soon ended, as the party emerged into the spacious chamber, with its painted ceiling murals high above their heads. The room was filled with a well-dressed, elegant crowd of courtiers and distant relatives of the Kadish Family. Lord Pietro ignored most of them, pausing to give a nod or short bow to some and then coming to a halt before the raised dais where his elder cousin sat on an elegant golden gilt and upholstered chair.

Today, Lord Aeolus was dressed all in white, with a heavily quilted damask tunic over matching white silk trousers, and soft leather half-boots. There was a heavy cloak draped over the back of chair, an extraordinary garment. His large pendant of lordship rested on his thin chest. Raphael noticed that his elder cousin looked even more fatigued and frail than when he had last seen him and did not rise up to greet his relatives.

Lord Aeolus crooked his finger and signed young Daniel to approach him. Aeolus looked up and finally spoke, “Lord Raphael, I see you have finally brought one of your children to meet me. Is this lad, Daniel, the last child of Lady Julia and yourself?”

Raphael made a deep court bow to Lord Aeolus and then approached slightly to stand behind his young son. He replied, “Yes, my lord; this is Daniel Kadish Kantor-VaCoupe, my fourth son. He is now five years old, my lord. I have brought him here to Ostta to fulfill a promise made to Lord Pietro and Lady Martina not long after the death of my beloved first mate. Daniel will be attending his first formal schooling here in Ostta and staying with his grandparents in their house.”

“So, I understand, Cousin,” repliedLordAeolus. “Come here, child; I see you look similar to your handsome father, yet there is something of your beautiful mother there, too, in the set of your mouth and ears. You are tall for your age, Daniel. I think you will be taller than your father when full-grown.”

Daniel stepped closer to the dais and gave his elder Cousin a deep court bow. He replied, “Yes, my lord; I expect to be much taller than my father. I have not suffered as did he as a child. I have been loved and cherished by my loving father and stepmother, Lady Lorenna.”

Lord Aeolus chuckled and replied to the grave youngster, “We will endeavor to love and cherish you, too, my boy, while you remain here in Ostta with us. Now, I won’t insist in keeping you here any longer. I know you need to see where you will be living and get settled in. Perhaps in a day or so, we can invite you and your parents to dinner, before they leave to return home. I find I have become quite fond of your father, Lord Raphael. I am sure to become quite fond of you, too, my lad. Now, you are dismissed.”

“Thank you, my lord; I am pleased to meet you,” replied Daniel in a clear alto voice, in crisp and precise courtly Airian dialect. He smiled as he overheard gasps and murmurs coming from nearby courtiers. 

Lord Aeolus sat back in his chair and covered his grin with one thin hand. He knew that Lord Pietro would be challenged by the presence of his intelligent grandson. He turned to Raphael and commented, “I see you have fathered a son who matches and dare I say, may surpass your own extraordinary abilities, Cousin. We are pleased to have Daniel with us, if for a short time. Thank you for making this difficult sacrifice by bringing him to us. We will see that he will be well taken care of, my lord.”

Raphael smiled and gave his elder cousin another deep bow, “Thank you, my lord. I am poignantly aware of Daniel’s formidable intelligence. He is a treasure. And now, we will collect his grandmother and return to Lord Pietro’s house, if you are done with us?”

Aeolus smiled when he finally noticed that Raphael had carefully worn one of the beautiful tunics that he, himself, had chosen for his younger cousin. And Lady Lorenna was wearing the peach frock he had given to her. He grinned and replied, “I see you have worn Airian clothes to this visit. Well, peek into the closets when you get to Lord Pietro’s house; you might find some presents there, too. Now, I will see you later, perhaps tomorrow at dinner. Enjoy your visit, children.”

This time, Raphael simply nodded, turned, and took Daniel by his hand. Lord Pietro had gathered up his mate, Lady Martina, but decided to make the formal introductions when they left the glare of so many eyes looking at them in the audience room. When the party reached the quieter hallway, Pietro stopped and called to Daniel, “Come here, lad, and meet your grandmother, Lady Martina.”

The boy came up and gave his grandmother a respectful bow, “I am pleased to meet you, my lady.”

Martina looked the youngster over and shook her head, commenting, “Raphael – your children are so beautiful! Come, here, Daniel and let me hug you!”

This time the boy stepped willingly into his grandmother’s warm embrace and hugged her back. He answered, “You are very pretty, too, Grandmother Martina!”

“Oh, a little charmer! Well, let’s get you and your parents to our house. I want to show you your new room where you will be staying while you live with us,” replied Martina. She gently patted the boy’s head, careful not to mess up his long braid of silky blonde hair, lighter in texture than his father’s but the same tone of white blonde. She then glanced up at the boy’s tall companion who stood nearby. “Now, Daniel – can you introduce me to your tall companion? Is this Eagle Felipe Diaz?”

“Yes, Grandmother. Felipe has been a companion and protector since I was a baby. Father wants him to stay with me at least until I go to University Ship when I’m older,” replied Daniel, even as Felipe executed a perfect court bow. “Felipe is going to teach me martial arts and swimming while we’re here.”

“Oh, that sounds like fun. Perhaps your older cousin, Lord Da’vid, can teach you how to handle a boat. We do have lakes and rivers here, unlike your home world, Daniel,” repliedPietro.

“I know, Grandfather. Master Leu taught me some of the geography and geology of Airus. It sounds like it is more complex than that of Medina. I would like to see the mountains and snow sometime,” commentedDaniel

“Well, it would appear your Masters have done a good job of preparing you for this adventure. Now, shall we head back to the viscars? We shouldn’t keep the drivers waiting too long,” saidLordPietro.

It was a short drive to the home of Lord and Lady Pietro Kadish. While Daniel was well-trained and possessed excellent manners for a child of five years old, he was still a little boy and became very excited when he beheld the beautiful room that would be his for the duration of his stay in Ostta. “Oh, Grandmother – I have my own balcony and can see the lake! And this bed is bigger than the one I have at home. I don’t have any windows at home since my room is underground. Why don’t the Airians live underground; it’s still hot here… outside. Nice garden, Grandmother – you’re going to have to tell me the names of those plants and trees. I didn’t study horticulture before coming here… Where is Felipe’s room?”

Then Daniel flung open the doors to his closet. He didn’t have a closet at home; he had a trunk and some hooks for his robes and cloak. In the closet, there were several tunics and trouser sets, as well as robes and gowns for wearing at home. On the floor, there were several sets of sandals, but no boots. When he asked why… since he noticed his grandfather and elder cousin wearing boots, he was told, “because we didn’t know how large your feet are, Daniel…”

Felipe added, with a chuckle, “…And probably because boys’ feet grow so fast. Daniel, you are going to be a tall man like your father. You can’t expect your grandparents to supply you with more than one pair of boots each year as you grow like a strong young tree!”

Pietro frowned slightly, but refrained from making a derogatory comment, as he could afford to purchase shoes for the boy but didn’t know ahead of time whether the lad had ever worn any in Medina. From his brief observations made on visits to Medina, Pietro was aware that many Medinians often didn’t wear shoes inside their houses or even outside when walking around the village, mainly due to the sand that crept in from the desert during windy days. Boots were usually only worn when walking out on the desert, something that little boys didn’t do all that often or reserved for men who traveled or were in the Fleet. Pietro was acutely aware of the differences in customs. His own culture was far more formal and sophisticated when it came to dress than were the ancient ways of the formerly nomadic people of Medina. He just stated, “Daniel – we will visit a shoemaker so we can fit your feet properly. I know you have been used to going barefoot or wearing sandals at home in Medina, but here… at least when we go to court or enter someone’s home, we are required to wear boots… half boots, but boots.”

“Why, Grandfather?” inquiredacuriousboy, “It’s warm here, too. I’ve never walked barefoot in the mud…”

“Well, you’re not going to do that here, young man!” replied Martina in a firm tone while patting her grandson on his shoulder. “We’ll teach you what to wear so you will look your best whenever you leave the house, Daniel.”

As young as he was, Daniel knew how to bargain himself out of a situation, “Well, then, Grandmother; can I go barefoot when I am at home or in my own room?”

Martina knew the boy was shrewd as well as intelligent, but she had her standards to maintain. She calmly replied in a tone that no man or boy would dare to oppose, “Daniel – you can go barefoot only in your own room. If you go anywhere else in the house, you will wear sandals or boots. Am I understood, young man?”

Daniel looked over at his patient father who was standing in the corner near the door. Raphael grinned and shrugged, commenting, “When you are living in Lady Martina’s house, she rules what clothes you wear… especially shoes. Your grandmother has excellent taste and has chosen many of the clothes given to your mother, Lorenna, and me while here on visits. Obey her, lad, or expect trouble.”

Temporarily conceding the battle, Daniel nodded and replied, “Yes, Father. Then, when can we get me some boots… and does Felipe have to wear boots, too?”

Pietro snorted and replied, “Being an Eagle, I am sure that Felipe already has a pair of serviceable boots in his luggage, probably white ones as part of his Fleet uniform. We’ll also get him some extra pairs since he’ll be expected to wear the local clothes as well. We didn’t get him any tunics or trousers yet as we weren’t sure of his measurements, Daniel. Felipe is much taller and broader than most of our males here so he will have to have special clothes made for him. I’ll have a tailor over here tomorrow or the next day once we get you settled in, son.”

“My lord – I’ll just wear one of my uniforms…” Felipe began to protest but was soon overridden by a determined Lady Martina.

“Eagle Felipe – while you stand at least a foot taller than most men in this city, while you live in this house, you will be expected to maintain the same standards as the rest of the Airian males. You are not a member of the Fleet while you guard our grandson – you are a member of the household. Do you understand me, sir?” replied Martina, straightening up to her full height, which was about two feet shorter than the towering Felipe.

Aware he was overruled by a superior force, Felipe silently nodded in compliance and replied, “Yes, my lady. I guess I have as much to learn as does young Daniel when it comes to the differences in customs here, my lady.”

Martina knew she had won the first encounter with the opposition and gave her grandson and his towering companion a brilliant smile, “Well, I shall enjoy dressing the two of you. Eagle Felipe, you should look quite grand in a beautiful tunic and trousers. Your own father might not be able to recognize you. He is Head Commander Strabo Diaz, is he not?”

“Yes, my lady – he works in the Research and Development Department out of the Elexa spaceport,” replied Felipe, while privately thinking and I have never seen him out of a uniform in all the years I have known my father!

“Ah, yes – we met your father briefly while we visited Medina during one of those matings held there… was it for Lord Da’vid and Lady Sabina? Which reminds me, Raphael, your cousin, and his mate… will be arriving here soon for a visit. We’re having them over for dinner so young Daniel and you can meet your youngest cousin, Jon’dra Dino Kadish, son of Da’vid and Sabina. Perhaps you and Lorenna would like to go to your rooms, now, and rest for a while and then get dressed for dinner?” instructed a determined Lady Martina, who was long accustomed to being obeyed without question. She was quite aware that Pietro wouldn’t be the only person challenged by the presence of their young grandson.

“Very well, my lady. First, could you or one of your servants show us where Lorenna and I will be staying during this visit?” asked Raphael, with a hint of laughter in his voice. He could feel a battlefield beginning to form as a test of wills between grandson and grandparents was being silently engaged.

Martina gave him a slightly annoyed glance, quickly hidden, and politely replied, “Oh, of course; please forgive me. All the excitement with showing Daniel his new room quite distracted me. We forgot to show you where you and Lorenna will be staying. Now, Daniel, unpack your things and take a nap. I’ll send one of the staff to bring you some juice and refreshments later before dinner.”

The rooms… it was a suite… where Raphael and Lorenna were to be temporarily housed was on the other side of the sprawling house, purposefully chosen so that Martina and Pietro could assert their authority over their grandson almost immediately… at least that is what an amused Raphael surmised as he looked over the lavish suite, which also overlooked the lake but from another wing of the house. He turned to Lorenna, who was in the process of looking into the closets for the promised presents, “Martina is determined to take over my position as primary parent for Daniel. Well, she’ll soon learn the boy cannot be dominated by anyone. Fortunately, he is well-behaved as well as being stubborn like me.”

Lorenna laughed in response and commented, “Yes, in a battle of wills, a Kantor male will always win!”

“Well, hopefully, grandmother and grandson can quickly reach a truce, or I may be making another trip to Airus in a matter of months,” replied Raphael.

“Oh, look at this gorgeous blue dress. My trunk at home is getting stuffed with beautiful things – I might have to leave some of these dresses in Alyona, so I have room to put away the gowns I wear in Medina! Now, what did you say, Raphael?” asked a distracted Lorenna, as she flipped through the clothes hanging in her closet. Then she opened up the next closet; it was filled with more dazzling tunics and trouser sets meant for Raphael. She murmured, “At this rate, we won’t have to purchase any new clothes for the next decade, Raphael!”

It was late afternoon when Da’vid and Sabina arrived at the house of Lord Pietro. A proud Da’vid was carrying his young son. When he saw his cousin, Raphael, standing in the family room, resplendent in a beautiful tunic, he chuckled, and commented, “I see Lady Martina has established the rules of the house. What, no uniform, robes, or bare feet, Raphael?”

Raphael grinned, “I think I would rather battle the enemy than Daniel’s grandmother. Lady Martina is quite formidable, especially when in her own territory. She is determined that I look like an Airian noble. I thought it best to capitulate for the time being and wear one of these creations. Now, is that your son, Jon’dra? Greetings, Lady Sabina, you are looking radiant this evening!”

Indeed, Sabina was gorgeous, dressed simply in a white gown in the Maian style, high-waisted and cut slim, accentuating the young woman’s figure in a tasteful manner. Sabina had obviously regained her slender beauty even after giving birth to Jon’dra. On the other hand, Raphael thought Lorenna had blossomed beautifully with a goddess-like figure, the female body type preferred by Medinian males. Still, Lorenna, four times a mother, was able to fit in the gowns provided by Lady Martina and Lord Aeolus.

Ignoring the comments, Sabina came up to young Daniel directly and greeted the boy, “So, you must be Daniel; you look so much like your father, Lord Raphael. I am Lady Sabina, your cousin… daughter of Lady Astrig and Master Roméo, your aunt and uncle.”

Daniel was aware of the relationships and didn’t say anything other than to give his older cousin a polite bow and ‘hello, Cousin Sabina.’ Then he looked beyond Sabina towards Da’vid and his son, who was now slowly toddling across the room aided by his father.

Daniel walked up to the boy and took his other hand as he greeted his younger cousin, “Hello, Jon’dra – I think we’re going to be good friends!”

Raphael smiled as he observed the contrast between the two cousins. Jon’dra was still small with a slender build like his parents, with straight black hair, and the dark blue eyes of a VaCoupe. The boy’s complexion was medium dark, much darker than his mother’s, while slightly lighter than his father’s. As slender as he was, the boy was still sturdy and grinning up at his taller cousin with a bright smile. Raphael had a sense that the boys were already in telepathic communion, eagerly sharing the reunion of two soul mates.

The taller blonde boy smiled down at his younger cousin and asked – Raphael thought for the benefit of all of the adults present – “Are you going to school, yet, Jon’dra?

“Not yet, Daniel; but I do have a tutor who comes in about three or four times a week to give me lessons. I already know how to write and do some simple math. Can you teach me how to use a computer, Daniel?” asked the younger boy, already sensing his older cousin was far more advanced in his current instruction.

“Certainly, Jon’dra – that is, if Grandmother Martina gives me permission. I have a computer in my room here. I also had one at home. I like to look up things; I have a lot of questions about everything, as Felipe here can vouch,” replied Daniel. “Perhaps we can meet a couple of times per week, and I can teach you some things…”

Lord Da’vid smiled and said, “I think we can arrange something with your grandmother, Daniel. I would like the two of you to get to know each other while Daniel is here with us; then, he won’t feel so alone without all the friends he left behind. And you need some friends your own age, Jon’dra.”

“Now, boys, why don’t you go out into the courtyard garden. Jon’dra, you know the way. You can show your cousin some of the beautiful plants Lady Martina has planted in her garden. There’s also a pond with goldfish in it. I don’t imagine Daniel has ever seen a fish,” suggested Lord Pietro. He wanted to spend some time talking business with Raphael, even if that wasn’t the original purpose of this visit. “Ladies, I hope you will excuse Da’vid, Raphael and myself – I want to speak privately to our Regent now while I have his ear.”

Martina nodded and turned to Sabina and Lorenna, “Ladies, there is a lovely sunroom in the back of the house overlooking the garden and the lake. I’ll arrange for some tea and refreshments so we can chat about children and such.”

Raphael, Da’vid, and Pietro gathered in Pietro’s study, a large comfortable room with book-lined walls, a roomy desk, and chairs. There was also an interactive comm which the busy bureaucrat could use and by which his elder cousin, Lord Aeolus, could contact him when he wasn’t at the palace or his official office. As the men settled down, a servant arrived with a large tray filled with cookies and tea for their afternoon refreshments. Then, they were left alone to get down to business.

“So, Pietro, what did you need to tell me in private?” inquired Raphael, politely.

Pietro looked somewhat sad and replied, “You’ve noticed Lord Aeolus’ physical condition is beginning to fail?”

Raphael nodded, “Yes, I noticed he was much weaker during our last visit. This time, he looks extremely frail.”

“Yes, son; he gives himself perhaps another year at the most and probably less,” responded Pietro. “Which means the full weight of running Airus is going to land on Da’vid’s shoulders. It is a good thing he has had plenty of time to get prepared just for this event. It also means that we will be officially without a spiritual leader for several years. Did Lord Aeolus explain that he would probably be reborn to Da’vid or one of his sons? I wonder which one, but I guess time will tell. Little Jon’dra is too young as yet to know whether or not the lad is going to be a dynamic leader. He is a smart little fellow. I am glad Jon’dra and Daniel have seemed to hit it off well. We can certainly arrange to have Jon’dra tutored here or have Daniel tutored in the palace, whatever fits best. I just thought you should know about Lord Aeolus since you are still the Regent – and you can inform Francis, your stepson, as you see fit.”

“Well, perhaps it will be a good opportunity to change some of the palace customs while Lord Aeolus is no longer present. Having people spend so much time standing around in a court seems to be a waste of time to me, but I’m a simple desert dweller,” replied Raphael

“Well, there will be little reason for the court to gather once Aeolus is gone. I do not intend to emulate my elder cousin and his habits. I have serious work to do in the administrative offices and don’t want to sit on a throne all day pretending to be an aristocrat,” stated Da’vid rather harshly. “I’m not a spiritual leader, either. The High Priestess from the Temple will have to assume that role for the people while we are without Lord Aeolus. Which reminds me… Raphael, did you know that your daughter, Lady Arianna, is being considered for a high priestess ranking?”

“Well, no; I seldom hear anything from my oldest daughter,” replied Raphael. “Like Ezekiel, she has not been very communicative for years. It took me getting mated once more to get her to visit us on Medina.”

“You haven’t heard from Ezekiel?”

“No, not for years now,” replied Raphael. “He was such a lovely boy but became rather altered after participating in some battles. I haven’t seen him since I met with him briefly on BerWare, years ago. And I haven’t had any word from him or about him. I was thinking of contacting Adrigus to see if he has anyone who is aware of my son’s whereabouts. I know I have been busy, but I have been available if anyone needs to reach me.”

“Have you seen much of Adario and Jychondria, speaking of close relatives?” asked Da’vid

“We usually get together during the Howling since the men can’t go to work in Elexa during those weeks,” replied Raphael. He had heard from Jychondria just before he had gone on this trip. Lady Rita was pregnant once more. As a grandfather, he was grateful that his son was able to live at home while bringing up his children. 

 “I hope to see Adario, Bettina, Jychondria and Rita soon after next High Council. Rita is expecting, again. This will be my third grandchild. Charles is nearly four years old now. Remmie’s daughter, his cousin, Sarah, is nearly three years old and a very pretty child. I also want to see that Commander Adarius gets some leave so he can visit his young mate, Karenna Mathdis VaCoupe. He only sees her once per year even though we are no longer at war.”

“No issue from that mating, yet, I take it?” queried Lord Pietro, who was an elder cousin to Karenna, seeing her mother, Brunella was a Kadish.

“Not as yet, Pietro,” replied Raphael. “Now, you didn’t bring me in here to talk about family. How is the reorganization of the Airian bureaucracy going? Are you gentlemen making much headway?”

Da’vid nodded, “Yes, I think we have finally ferreted out the worst of the lot under Lord Michael… my disgraced father. And we have placed administrators in our major cities throughout the planet who are expected to report back to both Pietro and me, especially if anything needs to be done to assist the local people. I have traveled now to all of the continents and have been given an overview on conditions on each one and have good relationships with the local lords or leading families. Any bureaucrats who cheat or bully the population are promptly removed and put into prison. We also have a general council with representatives chosen from the people. The representatives only serve for two years and then someone else is chosen by the local communities, not the bureaucrats. We have local priestesses doing scans of the people to determine whether the people are thriving and healing from the wars. Occasionally we find someone who is suffering from some deep trauma, and they are immediately given assistance. I would venture to say that we are slowly healing as a collective, my lord.”

“How are the children who were traumatized by Lord Michael and his associates… how are they faring now?” queried a curious Regent.

“The funds for the children have finally all been sorted out. I know it took a while; my father really made a mess of things,” replied Da’vid. “The estates that had been purchased by Lord Michael with some of the illegal funds are where some of the kidnapped children were held, have now all been placed under management so the land can be properly worked. What food is grown on all of Michael’s former estates is given to the families who voluntarily offered to foster any orphans. As you know, most of the younger children were successfully adopted. Some of the older children are being educated in the local colleges. Some of the managers of the farms are families who lost their children. They were given land in compensation for the loss of their family members. Many of those families, once resettled, volunteered to foster the remaining children that Lord Aeolus had been sponsoring in Ostta. It was thought that living in the country would assist some of the young people to recover faster than if placed in an urban family.”

 Da’vid continued on with his report, “I think that I can report to you, my lord, that we have finally managed to sort out the damage done by my father. Fortunately, since I was not present during most of his administration, the people have not assigned any blame for what happened upon me. I know I left Airus as soon as I could as a youth, choosing to attend Arconia on Medina rather than staying here in Ostta, just so I could be out of the reach of my father. I never trusted him, even as a child.”

Raphael nodded, “Yes, we both had unfortunate experiences with our birth fathers, through no fault of our own. Yet, Lord Michael chose to cooperate with the enemy, while my father became their unwilling tool. Still, it’s time to put aside any recriminations and continue to monitor our own personal healing as well as that of our people.”

“Speaking of tools of the enemy, how is the care and feeding of your former brother going? I know you removed him from prison on Alyona several years ago and placed him among your staff at home in Medina,” commented Pietro.

“That is a curious thing, gentlemen,” replied Raphael. “I was concerned about having Nemo, as we call him now, around the house now that we have so many young children, both mine, my daughter’s, Francis’ boy, and Salaniel’s boy. So, Francis and I made an appointment with Lady Amethyst to discuss with her another possible placement for my erstwhile brother. The Lady arrived at a surprising suggestion, which was to put Nemo on the permanent staff at the Shemont. Both he and his gardening mentor, Samos, were placed on the crew that oversees the outside maintenance of the gardens at the great Temple, grows the roses for the offerings, and tidies up the galleries and walkways when they get sandy after storms. Samos lives in the village, but Nemo was given a modest room of his own where he can stay so he no longer has to feel embarrassed by his situation. He is monitored by the few priests who are associated with the temple, has been given several healings, and remedial work to repair his damaged emotional and mental bodies. When last I spoke to Lady Arrina, she reported that Nemo seems to be adjusting well to his new duties and in better health than he has been since he left the prison. I also had Master Zang perform a scan on him about a month ago. It seems Nemo still has a heart condition and will probably not live as long as his father did, but my former brother has managed to arrive at a place of understanding just how his actions have impacted not just himself but also his family. Our manager, retired Commander Andros VaCoupe, also checks up on Nemo to see how he is managing. I prefer having him nearby, but not at the house, so I have to see him every time I go out into the garden or wander into the kitchen to find some tea. I didn’t recognize, at first, how much of an emotional strain it was for me to have him around, too. That particular issue has now been rectified by this new arrangement.”

“Hmmm, that seems to be a compassionate handling of your disgraced brother,” replied Da’vid. “Have you been able to speak to him at length, yourself? It would seem there is still plenty of healing to be done on both of your sides.”

“True, but right now with all of my duties and responsibilities, I haven’t had the time to devote to healing the emotional gap existing between myself and my brother,” replied Raphael. “I suspect I will be able to at least begin to work on my own issues. I just know I could not allow him to rot out of sight in that deary prison. While I am still Regent, I am going to have the facility remodeled so it has better light and air flow for any prisoners being held there. Fortunately, we are a peaceful people, and few are being held there these days since Nemo and Toryn Dino left there.”

“How is Francis doing with his training? Is he going to be able to step into his new role as Lord of the Pleiades in about five or so years?” asked Pietro. Both of the Airian lords were curious about how the preparation for the heir to the lordship was progressing.

“Well, I would have to say, I am thankful that Francis will soon be in charge rather than his arrogant father. Francis is quite willing to listen to and work with the leaders of our other worlds. Since I started including him in meetings with planetary representatives, lords, and ladies, he has personally met most of the leaders within the Federation. Francis and I even took a short tour to the Suriya Star System to visit King Hilarus in his own territory,” replied Raphael. “Commander Lyonell accompanied us there as he was taking some rare leave. Lyonell has decided to get mated to one of his distant cousins and to start his own family, at least while peace is reigning within the Federation. It was educational for both of us, Francis, and me, to observe the Feline people in their own environment. We were able to meet several members of King Hilarus’ family while there, including Lord Edrus, whom I met several decades ago before I started on the Starship Project. It was good to spend some time with my foster son after so long.”

“Ah, I forgot that you fostered a young Lyonell when you were still living in Jolf, my lord,” commented Pietro. “Does Commander Strom still have the rest of your former team… Lantrill and Sukio, on his staff?”

“Yes, Lantrill is still a Head Commander on the Golden Falcon. Sukio has recently stepped up to 2nd Level Commander in Line Communications, along with my former aide, Commander Bakken. Sukio is being trained to take over for Bakken who will be soon transferring to the Alyona Command Center as there will be some changes there, too, in the near future,” replied Raphael. “Charles Lo’Telle has informed me that he will retire when I step down as Regent. I’ve known Charles since I came on board The Golden Lion as a cadet. There are a lot of changes coming, mainly retirements of men in the Command who are simply weary of always being away from their families. The wars took a lot out of us, in so many different ways.”

“So true – oh, I suspect you heard the final reconstruction of the villages and farms near Babbos has been completed?” queried Pietro. He had been with Raphael when an emotional son-in-law first surveyed the damage after an enemy attack, especially in light that no assistance was forthcoming from Ostta. Since then, Pietro had been careful to keep informed as to the progress on the construction work to repair the damage done to the area by an enemy force left behind when their fleets were destroyed during the last battle. Pietro and Da’vid had also made periodic visits to the area to see the progress, get reports from the onsite construction teams and to make sure the Lord of Babbos was supplied with extra foodstuffs to handle any remaining refugees who were being taken care of by the citizens of the city.

Raphael nodded and replied, “I made a brief overflight of that area. Of course, it is completely covered by early snows now, but I suspect the farmers are going to be eager to get back to putting in their crops and doing any needed final adjustments to their houses and outbuildings. I would like to continue to receive reports on the progress made by the people of Babbos and the surrounding area. Oh, has anything been done to further explore that cave system outside the city?”

Da’vid replied, “I actually requested a team of my former associates, geologists, to make a survey of the caves. They found several veins of gold, silver, and other interesting ore deposits inside the natural cave system. In the future, Babbos may become an important mining center for Airus, but we don’t need the materials right now. As you are already aware, Airus is extraordinarily rich in terms of mineral wealth, including crystals, gold, and silver.”

“Yes, so I was informed when I made my first visit to Airus years ago,” commented Raphael. He sighed, “Well, gentlemen; have we finished our business here? I would like to see how the boys are getting along and see how the ladies are faring. Oh, Da’vid, how has Sabina adjusted to being a mate and now a mother?”

“Very well, my lord; you can see she loves her son and hopes to have more children,” replied Da’vid. “I am very fortunate to have her in my life… again.”

“Oh, I am pleased to hear that, Da’vid. Little Jon’dra is a handsome lad. Will he be starting school soon?” queried Raphael.

“He is already being tutored in language skills, writing, reading, math, and physical sciences,” replied Da’vid. “He is very curious about things. I can see that your son, Daniel, should be a good influence for Jon’dra.”

“I hope so – that the boys get along. I know that Daniel will miss his younger brother and his friends at home in Medina, but he is a very mature little boy,” commented Raphael, “as I am sure you will find out, Pietro. If you reason with him rather than attempt to demand things, you’ll get better results. He will tend to question why everything is done the way they’ve always been done, even as I do. Try to listen to him and see if he can suggest a better way, and if not, then explain why things are going to stay the same. I know that occasionally I still shock people with some of the things I produce, but that is creativity, expansion of what is possible.”

“Do you know what you’re going to do after you retire from the position of Regent, my lord?” asked a curious Pietro.

“No, although I have some ideas that I have been tumbling around my mind on occasion when I have a few quiet moments – which has been extremely rare of late. Being Regent… as being Lord is very demanding. I am at the beck and call of practically everyone in the Federation, plus taking care of my sons and being available for them and Lorenna. I am fortunate that my uncle Raimundo and cousin Andros have been handling the upkeep of the VaCoupe compound and our several estates, including the Planet of Towan. I don’t think I could manage all of this without assistance,” repliedRaphael, sounding a little worldweary. “If I do have some quiet time, it is usually disturbed by someone wanting my attention. It is why I have kept DeAires, Monteras, and Master Polaño busy handling secretarial duties, security, and other functions around home and the Castle when we are in residence there. Adrigus handles the guards and the general maintenance of the Castle, but Master Polaño oversees all of the staff, the receptions and dinners, the set-up for the various council meetings, all agendas, invitations, and the like. Commander DeAires is getting quite an education these days as he will be assuming most of the duties that Francis now handles. I think we will give DeAires more assistance, as he is still learning. Master Polaño has been in his particular position for a couple hundred years and knows everything there is to know about the Castle and its environs. Still, DeAires is an intelligent man, shy but efficient, focused and determined. I feel he will do a good job once he gets into the rhythm of what is expected.”

“Shall we join the ladies now? It is getting near dinnertime and Lady Martina will want to have us all out in the courtyard. She had tables set up for us out there since it is cooler in the evening with a pleasant breeze coming off the lake. She is immensely proud of her garden,” commented Lord Pietro.

Raphael nodded and stood up, briefly stretching, and commented, “I am going to have to take up my old exercise routine, again, soon… with Monteras, when I get home. Crawling around on the garden tiles at home playing with my youngest son doesn’t compare to a good workout, although I relish the time spent with both of my young sons. Take good care of Daniel, Pietro.”

“I will, Raphael, I will,” replied Pietro.

The men rejoined the ladies who were seated in a sheltered room open to the outdoors, but with a roof so they could enjoy the fresh air without getting wet during a tropical rain shower, something that happened quite frequently during certain times of the year in Ostta. There was a large table already set up for entertaining, with pitchers of cold tea, juices, and bowls for soups, puddings, and stews. As the men entered the room, several servants arrived carrying bowls of fruit, and assorted other food items. 

The two boys showed up at the outer entrance to the room and were shown to their seats by Lady Martina, who was acting like a grandmother for young Jon’dra, as well as Daniel. Watching the older woman interacting with the boys prompted Raphael to comment, “I think Roméo, and Lady Astrig are going to have to come for a visit here, too, to see their first grandchild. Jon’dra is a beautiful child, Sabina.”

“I would like my parents to come, but meanwhile, I am happy to have you and my aunt, Lorenna, come for a visit,” replied Sabina, graciously

“Roméo decided to station himself at the Maian University Ship for the time being, as Astrig wanted to remain closer to Milan,” said Raphael. “I was a little disappointed that he didn’t come to the Medinian University Ship, but totally understand. When Lorenna and I visit Milan – soon, I hope – I will suggest that Astrig and he come to Airus for a visit. I don’t think Roméo or Astrig have ever been to Airus.”

“No, they haven’t,” replied Sabina. She was a very independent person and not concerned that her parents had not come to see her in her new life but wanted them to eventually meet her son and firstborn.

“Travel is much easier now that we do not have to be concerned about encountering enemy vessels in our space. I’ve been all over the Federation in the past five years, starting with that long tour that Francis VaCoupe and I took. We even visited Vey, again; I was so intrigued with that beautiful world that I wanted to learn more about its fascinating people, culture, spiritual practices… and to just see the variety of diverse ecosystems to be had there. Lord Zing was very hospitable, while Master Zang was able to visit with his family, especially his mother and uncle, who live at the foot of the northern mountains. We even took a long horseback ride into the mountains, which aren’t too safe to fly into due to the downdrafts and strong winds in some of the

canyons. Francis and Gareth were just soaking up everything they saw. Someday, I hope to take Daniel and Paulos on similar tours, when I am no longer burdened with being the Regent.”

“Well, Raphael, all that is interesting, but shall we begin our meal? The boys are hungry,” commented Lady Martina, wanting to bring everyone’s focus back to the present. “Boys, did you enjoy the garden?”

Young Daniel was carefully cutting up some fruit for his cousin. He stopped and looked up at Lady Martina, and nodded politely, “Yes, Grandmother – I recognized several plants that I have only seen in pictures and books. Then, Jon’dra showed me the fish. It is a good thing we didn’t bring Milo and Loki on the trip, Father; they might have wanted to eat the fish!”

“Oh, Daniel – those fish are for amusement and decoration, not for eating!” chuckled Pietro. “Do you still have the Felines for guards, Raphael?”

“Yes, Pietro; I have temporarily assigned them to watch out for young Paulos and Demetrius. They are very attentive to the boys, much like Felipe has been for Daniel. I’ve even caught them purring for the boys while they are napping. It is good for the youngsters to get used to seeing other sentient species other than our own people, especially if either or both of them are considering going into the Fleet once they get older. I know Paulos is destined to become an officer, although I don’t know what sort of officer at this point,” replied Raphael.

“Well, I should think not,” commented Lady Martina. “Both of them are still just boys; let them be children first.”

“I am, my lady,” replied Raphael, patiently. “Demetrius will probably go into the Command, like his great grandfather, as that is the tradition for the firstborn son of the VaCoupe Family. Still, it should be interesting to observe what the boys each decide will be their specialty focus.”

Lorenna finally spoke up, “Whatever the boys decide to do, I am grateful they will not be going to war and die much too soon, like so many did before them.”

Each of the adults in the room nodded, silently thinking about those who had been lost in the long wars and how only now were their people… and themselves… beginning to fully heal from its effects.

“Indeed. Now, let us be grateful for each other, for our children and grandchildren, for this beautiful day and opportunity to be together,” said Raphael.

The group ate their meal, quietly chatting about inconsequential things. Finally, when the meal was finished, all headed to their rooms for the night. Felipe guided Daniel back to his new room and helped to get the lad settled in. Then, he momentarily stepped out onto the balcony to get a feel for the tropical evening.  The sky was dark, the wind had dropped, and the air felt humid to Felipe who had long lived on Medina. For a moment, he wondered how his father was doing in Elexa, still building ships for the Fleet. He sighed, and turned back into the room, checking to see if his young charge was settled. Daniel was already asleep, so with a smile, Felipe made his way to his own room. The day was done. 

# # #

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BOOK FOUR: Table of Contents

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