125: Tirith

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The anxiety released its grip on his heart the moment he saw his Dhan’s signal appear on the screen. Her location was outside the city, and it was moving. She was still alive and safe, contrary to his fears over this mission of hers.

The massive interference throughout the sprawling city ruins was the continuing effect of widespread carpet bombing. The Ilidi had spread many millions of the anti-communications weapons, pea-sized sub-munitions, across the continent, and their flux-powered magic would last for decades longer, possibly as much as an additional decade, before they succumbed to natural forces. Cities like Aum received as much as ten times the volume of bombardment.

Presumably, the Ilidi once had a means to turn them off, so they could use the place after conquering it, but those who knew the means had not survived his people’s counterattack.

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When his Dhan departed on her own over his objections, seemingly unable to accept any of his arguments, it was almost enough to make him accept the theories of his opposition among the clan elders. They had been advocating for two months the theory that their Dhan was actually deranged.

The signal changed color and stopped moving. She had reached a point where she felt safe to call for pickup. That meant she was parting ways with the Ilidi beast squad.

“Fly to the Dhan directly,” he ordered the helmsman, and the flyer began moving.

Assalhir, the senior squad leader, turned to him and reported, “The Ilidi beasts are running from a Giriedil group, about twice their number. The Dhan has departed a different direction and is alone.”

She separated from them so he could come pick her up, out of sight of the Ilidi. But hearing the size of the Gireidil counterforce worried him.

“Hurry,” he told the helmsman.

The sun was disappearing on the horizon as they dropped into a meadow to retrieve her. She appeared to be rearranging her top. The rends in the fabric were making it difficult for her to tie it at her bosom while still covering what needed to be covered. He wondered about the garment that would normally cover her bust underneath the blouse, then remembered she had ceased to wear it recently. Perhaps the garment had failed at some point?

He found himself once again thinking about the theory being whispered in the clan that she was mentally ill. It felt horrid to think it of the woman he held completely loyalty to, but this bizarre situation with her clothes really was becoming extraordinary.

The part-Ilidi Osril weapons dealer Benjamin had brought her to them after they requested him to find them a posthumous bride for their late Dhan, to become his wife and inherit his position. It was part of a complex weapons deal.

The shock he and the elders experienced upon learning their own folly, in specifying only that she be of noble status while failing to specify that it not be Ilidi nobility, had almost been enough for them to call the deal off. But Benjamin had sold them on the idea well. Having an Ilidi-blood noblewoman might give them an edge in dealing with the Ilidi beasts in this world, either in negotiation with them or, if necessary, offering strategic guidance against them.

Would she work against her own kind like that? Benjamin had convinced them she would. She would know her duty as their leader, to protect and guide them in their better interests. An Ilidi noblewoman would never fail to pursue her duty.

The deal idled for a month, until Paeth Giraan’s ruling on the matter had sealed her position as the new Dhan. Its vast information resources had confirmed that she was indeed the daughter of an  upper-stratum ‘Alwarzi’ noble house on Earth, and she possessed what they considered ‘Highborn’ birth. She was in fact the second heir of that house!

It had seemed almost miraculous that she would take their clan leadership in this rough, frontier place rather than live in comfort in a fabled paradise like the United States, but they had gladly accepted her. The Mato’khra would be an orphan clan no longer!

In the interval since, her eccentricity had gradually come to light. It had seemed a minor thing that she would grow out of, clinging to her almost non-existent wardrobe consisting of one outfit, rather than requesting new clothing. She would occasionally allow them to clothe her in formal attire for specific occasions, but she would shed it as soon as the occasion was over and go back to her old clothing.

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She was in every other way an exemplary Dhan. Her mind for strategy, and for find ways to improve their living conditions, was extraordinary. She kept finding new ways to convince him they had made the right decision accepting her. But many elders now wanted him to declare her mentally unfit and take over leadership, leaving her only the role of bearing heirs, which she would accomplish with the preserved seed of her husband and the skills of Maryahdil or Ilidi genetic scientists.

The Paeth Giraan had already confirmed that such Ilidi/Gireidil hybrids had been conceived artificially in the past, and had born children naturally with Gireid spouses. They would put her to the task of bearing the next generation and he would lead until that next generation was ready to inherit.

It had only been his opposition thus far that kept her in power. And she had been such a fine leader, he wanted to keep her there.

“Dhanryo,” he greeted her as he stepped on the gunwhale to assist her into the flyer.

“Tirith, the flyer must leave quickly,” she told him. He could hear clear agitation in her voice.

He nodded, and gestured for the helmsman to lift as soon as he was confident he would not lose his grip on her.

She grabbed at her blouse, apparently uncertain whether it would stay in place, but showed no concern over it. He frowned a bit, but couldn’t say anything. As long as she kept her composure, he couldn’t bring himself to object to her strange habit. The Dhan was, after all, the Dhan.

But he was becoming suspicious enough to wonder if her behavior were really natural. Eccentricity or Madness did not answer his intuition that her strange behavior was not voluntary. It seemed as if she were forcing herself to be this way.

When the Dhan sat, the squad leader immediately claimed the spot beside her that Tirith would normally take. It was surprising, but he had the wisdom to realize that she was focused on the Dhan’s clothing problems. He said nothing and took the position she would normally take, turning his head away so the two women could deal with the clothig problem without male eyes.

“Squad leader, once…” he heard the Dhan begin.

Then, silence.

“Dhanryo?” Assalhir’s voice had an edge of alarm in it.

He turned to see his Dhan clutching her arms across her chest for coverage, and shaking with her face twisting into a pained scowl. It looked like severe illness had suddenly come over her.

As Assalhir put her arm around her, the Dhan grew a determined expression and gasped, “Once home is reached…  please bring… a needle and thread.”

“Absolutely! Dhanryo, what is wrong?! Is there an injury?”

He had never heard the old squad leader so panicked before, but after all, this was her Dhan who was hunched over, enduring some unseen torture.

“A headache,” the Dhan hissed. “Merely… a headache.”

Her eyes wide, Assalhir put her hand to the suffering woman’s head, probably searching for evidence of hematoma or concussion. Her face was etched deeply with the same fear he was feeling.

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