The Blood of the People: VIII
The Vasaath stood motionless as he watched the woman he loved kneel in front of the Triumvirate, pledging her life and her honour to the Kasenon. Never before had he felt regret, or fear, when welcoming someone into the Kasenon, but this fate was one he never wanted.
When he sailed to Noxborough, he never thought he would meet someone like Lady Juniper, someone who would move his heart so profoundly; he never thought he would find that special kind of love, nor did he think he would ever devote himself so ardently to a single woman, let alone an ohkas. He had fought to keep those wretched feelings away, but that was a battle he could not win—and now, he had to witness her being taken from him, simply by being placed out of his grip.
She was ohkasethen, and she would be an important figure in the changes to come. She had respect to think about, just as he did. Selfishly enough, he wished that she never would have accepted the Kasenon, that she would have denied the responsibilities thrust upon her, and thus be his to keep forever. But such was not the reality.
“Now that you are part of the Kasenon,” said the Vasenon to the girl that night during supper, “you will have to learn Kasoch. You have to learn our history, and you have to learn the Kasenon.” He huffed. “Indeed, the education will be rigorous!”
“She is an intelligent girl,” said the Vasmenaan. “She will catch on quite quickly, I believe, or what do you say, Ohkasethen?”
The girl seemed confused at first, as though she barely knew what to reply.
“Her name is Juniper,” muttered the Vasaath, perhaps louder than anticipated, and all heads turned to him. “We don’t know how many ohkasethens we will have, but her name is Juniper.”
Far from everyone would see the anger flare in the Vasmenaan’s eyes, but the Vasaath did. He saw it clearly, but he did not care; the look in Juniper’s eyes was the only thing that mattered, and that was gratefulness and warmth. It wasn’t much, but at least it was something he could give her—a sense of self again, and a reminder that she would always be his Juniper.
After the meal, the Vasmenaan called him in for a conversation, and he knew at once that she would scold him for his indiscretion. She did just that, but he was quick to retort.
“Why would we make it harder for ourselves? Her name is Juniper. She is ohkasethen, yes, but her name is still Juniper.”
“Of course, we will call her by her name,” said the Vasmenaan, “but you ought not to speak as you did! You’re acting like a sullen child, Vasaath! Everyone could tell you’re unhappy with her placement and everyone could guess why.”
“Well then,” he huffed, “why act like it’s not the truth?”
“Don’t be daft,” she spat. “I have never seen you like this! You’ve always been calm and collected and rational. You’ve never been this—this—” She flung her hands about in her search for words, until she spat, “This juvenile!”
The Vasaath had to bite his tongue, but he found it difficult to stay calm. There were many things he wanted to say to the woman, none of which would be particularly pleasant. So he stayed silent.
The Vasmenaan sighed deeply and leaned back in the chair. “Perhaps it is best if you distance yourself from the girl as much as possible. That way, you won’t have to see her every day. It might be good for your morale.”
“What?” he growled. “You don’t think I can be near her?”
“Can you?” Her gaze was scrutinizing, scorching, and the Vasaath had to look away.
No, he could not, and she knew it as well as he did.
After a few burning moments, the Vasmenaan sighed. “It’s not my decision to make, my dear, but my suggestion is that you go back to the fort in the harbour to train the new recruits and stay there for the time being. That way, you won’t have to torture yourself.”
He hated to admit it, but the woman was right—again. He nodded. “Yes, that would be wise.”
“I could send you one of my vas-maasas if you’d like,” said the Vasmenaan. “I’m sure any of them would be honoured serving the Great Warrior.”
“No,” muttered the Vasaath. “I don’t need their services.”
“What way of thinking is what got you into this mess, to begin with,” muttered the Vasmenaan.
“I don’t need them,” he growled.
“Very well,” sighed the Vasmenaan. “But know the offer stands.”
The Vasaath only grunted as a response.
The morning after, he moved the recruits to the fort. It was bittersweet in a way, returning to what had been his home these past months. He liked this more than the castle, anyway, but as he saw Juniper’s tent, his heart tightened. Indeed, there was quite some distance between the harbour and Fairgarden, but the girl’s presence was still tangible.
Clenching his jaw tightly, he barked at a group of the youngsters that had once been City Guards to clear out the tent and prepare it for the officers. The camp where the ohkasenon and the converters had stayed was to be improved and ultimately serve as the sleeping quarters for the new kasaath. There was much to do.
The work kept him busy, kept him from wanting and longing, and at nightfall, Kasethen had joined him for supper. His bruises were healing well, but he was still not fully recovered from whatever trauma the Duke and his men had put him through.
At the Vasaath’s table that night, Kasethen mentioned that he had noticed the general’s foul mood as of late.
“I suppose it’s not only because of Vasmenaan’s and Vasenon’s early arrival?” asked the advisor.
The Vasaath grunted and took a sip of wine. “No.”
“You knew this would happen,” sighed Kasethen. “You knew your affair with the girl could never last.”
The Vasaath scoffed. “I know. I just never thought it would end this soon.” He sighed. “I barely had her at all.”
Kasethen nodded. “It is grim, indeed. Had you been anyone else, no one would have cared.”
That was the bitter truth, the Vasaath thought. Had he been a regular kasaath, the Vasmenaan would never have meddled with what he did, or who he did it with. He could have had a blissful life with the girl and no one would mind. He never thought one person could make him wish he never rose to the occasion in the first place.
“What does Lady Juniper say about her new position?” Kasethen asked.
“I don’t know,” the Vasaath muttered. “I haven’t spoken to her since this morning, and I don’t know if I can.”
“Of course, you can,” said Kasethen. “You, my friend, are the mighty Vasaath. You took down five thousand men with just fifty of your own. You stormed this city and took it with just two hundred. All that, within only a few weeks. You have never lost a battle in over ten years—look at your mane! Of course, you can speak to the girl.”
“I tried to be disciplined,” the Vasaath said. “For months, I tried to suppress the desire I had for her, until I just couldn’t fight it any longer.” He looked at his friend. “I lost that fight, Kasethen. I was defeated, by an ohkas with a silver gaze, and now I can never touch her again.”
Kasethen dropped his gaze, but the silence said more than any word ever could.
The Vasaath knew it wasn’t fair of him to voice his grievance so loudly, not in front of Kasethen. The man had been through more heartache than most, and he had remained strong and resilient through it all. The Vasaath would be a coward if he couldn’t stay strong through his own heartache.
“I am going to stay here for the time being,” said the general after a moment’s silence. “It’s for the best. I need to start training the recruits, and I need to start looking over the expansion plans.”
“So that is what it’s called?” Kasethen huffed. “Expansion?”
The Vasaath glared at him. “The invasion plans. Better?”
“Yes. Call it what it is.”
He sighed. “Very well. I am staying here. The soldiers are going to be placed last anyway, so why wait?” He huffed. “They need the training.”
“And you need the distraction.”
Slowly, he nodded. “Yes.”
Kasethen sighed. “Yes, perhaps some distance will do you both some good.”
“Will you keep an eye on her?” asked the Vasaath. “Will you help her? Let her know she’s not alone?”
The advisor smiled. “Of course. She’s my sister now. An ethen, just like me.”
The Vasaath nodded. If he couldn’t protect her himself, Kasethen was the next best option.
Ethen – wisdom
Kasaath – warrior; “strength of the people”
Ohkas – (oh ma-kas); stranger; “not of Kas”; “not of the people”
Ohkasenon – foreign follower of the Kasenon; “follower of the faith of the people but not of the people”
Ohkasethen – foreign teacher
Vas-maasa – “healer of leaders”