“My good captains and leaders,” Çawl said at supper, “it is my pleasure to introduce to you marquísah Aichan, a new transfer. Aichan shall be partnered with marquísa Îra.” The soldiers chorused greetings to him. As the hubbub died down, Çawl asked Aichan to lead them in giving thanks to Aia for their meal as they lifted their eyes to the ceiling. The Commander then indicated for him to take the empty seat next to Îra and the meal began.
Îra glowered as her peers chatted with each other and Aichan. “Everyone here already loves him.” Fallajon’s words echoed in her head. But what reasons have they to love him? What has he done to earn their respect?
The leader sitting across from Aichan remarked to him, “How blessed you are to have Îra for a partner! She is one of the best—so talented and strong. If I had to pick a partner, I’d pick her.” Îra smiled at the knight in thanks for the compliment, then smiled smugly at Aichan. See, they do love me and respect me. I do not need your help, marquísah Aichan.
Aichan glanced in her direction, before giving a noncommittal, “We shall see,” in response.
After supper, Îra stood and said, “Are you coming, marquísah? The squad is waiting in the circular hall downstairs.”
“Let us not keep them waiting, then,” Aichan said. He followed her downstairs.
As she had instructed them earlier when Aichan was unpacking, all twenty-one of her quísah were clothed in full suits of armor freshly polished and reflecting the chandeliers’ light. They stood at attention in three straight rows facing the entrance, not one an inch out of place. She gestured towards Aichan and announced, “Squad, allow me to introduce my new partner, marquísah Aichan. You are to obey him as you obey me. Marquísah,” she swept a hand at the squad, “these are my quísah. They will now tell you their names.”
Like clockwork, they named off down each row without a single hesitation. When they had finished, she told them, “You are dismissed until morning training tomorrow,” and they filed past her and Aichan with a deep nod for each.
As the last quísah left the room, she turned to Aichan and assumed her most military tone. “As you can see, I run a tight squad. Every morning, we assemble at dawn to run ten laps around the city. Then, each recites what he or she has learned the previous day from the Recordings[i]. The quísah who has shirked studying loses his or her breakfast. After breakfast, they have an hour of chores. Then, for the remainder of the time before dinner, they are on a rotation schedule for a routine of wrestling, archery, riding, swordplay, aerobics, and tracking. They are on a weekly rotation for helping in the kitchen. After dinner is an hour of study: the history of Maraiah on Mondays, battle strategies and histories on Tuesdays, the warfare and history of our neighbors on this continent on Wednesday, of the other nations on Thursday, of lore and mythology on Fridays, and of various skills useful to a warrior, such as fire kindling and clothes making, on Saturday. Sunday is a day of respite. During the time between then and supper, I work with each of the quísah personally on areas he or she needs development in, while the others do chores and make shoes. We are a self-supporting squad and run our own shoemaking business, from which profits we provide for all of our needs. After supper, we meet for a brief devotional, and then they are free to do as they will for the rest of the evening,” she finished.
“Is such a demanding regime really necessary?” he asked with an edge in his voice.
“Are you questioning my authority?” she asked, voice low.
His jaw tightened. “Are you questioning mine?”
She took a step towards him and said through clenched teeth, “I will have you know my squad is the best-trained in Bethjuedt. My quísah are skilled and have endurance. I have the highest rate of promotion of any squad in the division. And I do not need some man telling me how to do my job.” Her voice rose at the end.
“It is our job now. And apparently the Commander seems to think you do need help,” he said in a superior tone.
She clenched her fists so hard her nails bit into her palms. “He does not! He said he thinks we both will learn from this. That means you have to learn as much as I do, if not more.”
“It can easily be turned around. You have as much to learn as I do, if not more,” Aichan retorted. “And he said he would never think of sending you alone on the missions he has planned for you. You obviously need someone to protect and help you, if that is the case.”
“Oh, don’t you EVER say I need your protection” she spit the word out like a bad taste “again! I do not need the protection of anyone, much less a—a—a chauvinist like you!”
“I’m a chauvinist, am I? Well! You’re a stubborn, prideful woman who won’t admit she needs what’s good for her!”
“’What’s good for me,’” she mimicked with a taunting grimace. “If you knew what’s good for you, you’d just go back where you came from.”
“Is there a problem here?” Çawl’s voice broke through their fight.
Forcefully, Îra calmed herself. How dreadful to be caught fighting by Çawl! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Îra! After a slight pause, she answered, “No, sir. There is no problem,” with a sideways glance at Aichan daring him to contradict her.
“No,” he answered Çawl.
The Commander gave them both a look that showed he clearly knew otherwise, but said, “Alright, then. Let us keep it that way. Peace to you both.”
“Peace to you,” they responded in chorus. Çawl left them then.
The two stood in seething silence for a few moments, watching the doorway where Çawl had been. Then Îra said, “I will see you tomorrow morning at sunrise by the first castle gate.” It was a statement, not a suggestion. Not waiting for a reply, she stalked out of the room.
Cool night air wafted through the open bedroom window like a loving embrace after the oppressive head of the summer day. Îra breathed deeply of the richness of it, tasting the greenness of trees, the rich dirt, and the fragrant summer wildflowers. Elbows on the windowsill, she looked up at the sky full of indrê[ii], the waning moon, Ai Jshâ, like a smile of comfort and reassurance upon Orrök below. Aia, Your majesty and beauty…Your power… she could not find words to express it, which reminded her of High Master King Daevêd’s “Psalm of Creation.”[iii] “My words are weak and meaningless; therefore I will be silent. Let all creation be silent and meditate on You.” May it be so.
The clock in the great Gathering Hall beneath her chimed the hour. Fallajon is very late tonight, she realized. I wonder what is keeping her? No answer materialized at her question.
After several more moments at the window, she climbed to the top bunk and opened the book of faded, stained parchment to Aichan’s letter to the Maraians. She read, “Hate is murder from the heart.” Her mind saw Aichan, and she felt a pang of conviction. “He who curses a compatriot is guilty of murder.” She bit her lip and tried not to think of him. “Love those who hate you.” With that, she shut her book aside and rolled onto her back.
Okay. You’ve caught me, she prayed. Wow, I’m a murderer, she realized. Oh, Thâessav, forgive me! I have done wrong. Will You help me not to hate Aichan anymore? To love him as You love him?
Fallajon came in then. She closed the door and leaned against it, face glowing. “Marquísa, you will never guess what just happened!” she nearly sang.
Îra propped herself on her elbow and looked at her over the side of the bunk. “What?” she asked, smiling.
“Aichan kissed me!” Fallajon responded dreamily.
The smile dripped off of Îra’s face. “What?” she spat out.
Fallajon, oblivious, continued, “It was so wonderful. I—”
“Are you out of your mind?” Îra exploded. “You’ve only known him three days! How could you let him kiss you?!”
Fallajon looked at her with big black eyes. “I don’t know. It just happened,” she explained. “Oh, he’s so wonderful. He called me beautiful.”
Îra dangled her legs over the edge of the bunk. “Dear, everyone knows you’re beautiful. I don’t think there’s a man in Rai who would dispute that. That is no reason to go around kissing them all!”
“Oh, Îra, you wouldn’t understand,” she claimed. “He’s so handsome and talented and smart.”
“Fallajon, if he had any respect for you whatsoever, he would wait to kiss you till he at least knows you,” Îra said. “Can you not see that?”
“We do know each other,” Fallajon said dreamily.
“Fallajon,” Îra said sternly, “you have only known the man for three days. There is no possible way you can know him well enough for him to kiss you.”
“It’s like I already knew him forever. Îra, I think he may be ‘the one’.”
Hatred for Aichan smoldered in her. How dare you do this to my friend. Unless Aia stops me, if you hurt her I will kill you, she silently promised him. Out loud, she said, “He’s going to hurt you, dear. You may not believe me now, but when it happens—I’ll always be here for you.”
Fallajon smiled at her. “I know you’ll be here for me. We’re best friends, after all. But don’t worry, dear. Aichan wouldn’t hurt me. I love him! But you wouldn’t understand.”
“Wouldn’t I?” Îra muttered.
“Dear, you really need to stop talking to yourself,” Fallajon reprimanded. “Besides, I heard you. Have you ever loved someone?” she asked giddily, jumping up on the edge of her bed and hanging her arms over the railing of the top bunk.
A dull pain she had ignored for a while resurfaced weakly, but she did not blush. She had long since given up blushing at the thought of him. “Yes. Once.”
“Oooh, tell me more! When was it? Who was he?” Fallajon begged, eyes sparkling.
Îra closed her book and crossed her arms, more to stop the ache than for frustration with Fallajon. She lay down on her back and stared at the ceiling. “When I first joined the Rebellion. His name was Athaís. He was six years older than me, which for a Raiite is not much. I loved him for ten years, but he never noticed me. Then one day he was with Çawl fighting on the frontlines, and he was killed,” she said in a monotone.
“Oh, Îra!” Fallajon mourned, tears filling her dark eyes. She patted Îra’s arm. “I’m so sorry, dear. Forgive me.”
Îra smiled blankly. “Of course, Fallajon. There’s nothing to forgive.”
“Have you really never loved another?” she asked.
“Never,” Îra answered truthfully. “I don’t know if I will ever let myself.”
“I think you could. Thâes would not will for your heart to stay broken forever,” Fallajon commented lovingly.
“Thanks,” was all Îra said, but she thought, Maybe not forever, but perhaps for this life. One day I will be healed, and then I will be face to face with Him, my Aia, my Thâes. But He has not seen fit to heal that part of me; so I will go on.
 Ai Jshâ: “Great Moon;” the larger of the two moons of Orrök.
[i] The Recordings: the sacred texts of Maraiah, consisting of histories, religious literature, and revelations of prophets.
[ii] Indrê: Translated “star” in English; the indrê are beings of spiritual nature, who dwell in the region of îrah, the heavenlies, and can be seen from Orrök as lights in the night sky. They are the kindred of the kâtes, beings also of spiritual nature but who dwell on Orrök.
[iii] The Psalm of Creation, of the High Master King Daevêd:
Sing praise to Thâes, all you people;
Worship Aia with reverence, all you nations of Orrök!
By the word of His lips ierah was formed;
He directs the indrê in their paths
And upholds them on their predestined courses.
By the word of His lips, the mountains raised up,
And by His words, the valleys fell—
Heights and depths no mortal can fathom.
He holds the waters back and directs them in their courses;
He regulates the wind and rains.
At His thought, light was born;
to reveal what is hidden,
to guide men in their ways,
to give life to all.
In His wisdom, darkness gave light respite;
to shelter the oppressed,
to comfort weary souls,
to give rest to all.
There is no corner of Orrök or ierah where His hand is not felt,
Nor region where His sight penetrates not.
O! the greatness of Aia;
O! the majesty of Thâes!
O! the wisdom of Aia;
O! the power of Thâes!
Can empty words please Him?
Nay, but let him who fears Aia, who trusts in Thâes—
Let him be silent in His presence.
My words are weak and meaningless;
Therefore I will be silent.
Let all creation be silent and meditate on You.
Such is the song of creation.