53: Joanna


“The intruders simply killed it and left,” Tirith’s hunting partner fretted in English. To Gireid, leaving a body on the battlefield if it were at all possible to retrieve it for burial was a grave sin.

“The opponents were three humans alone, with only the equipment such a group could carry,” she answered in Bruxilan, so Tirith would understand what they were saying. “An insufficient group to bury something so large. And those ones no doubt assumed the beast’s allies would retrieve the body. And the assumption is correct in a fashion. Mato’khra shall return to deal with the body as soon as the opportunity comes.”

She wasn’t certain she should have said anything, with her weak understanding of the Gireidil heart, but for some reason the stone had insisted she pass judgment to reassure her clansmen. Although she herself was a stand-in, a foreigner married to their last Dhan posthumously, the stone demanded she attend to her duty. Her clan, the Mato’khra, had fallen far, to the level of accepting a woman descended from their ancient enemy as their new Dhan, and yet they still persevered with unshaken pride. How could she give her decision according to their rules and their own race’s morality?

It was because their honor required it. And because, although she suspected it was an unintended consequence of Benjamin’s mind-control, she knew her Duty, in the deep, soul-binding sense that those with Ilidi blood knew that word. As a Highborn Alwarzi, a daughter of the Ilidi race, she would cleave to her Duty, which ironically now meant she would fulfill her role as a noblewoman of the Gireid, her race’s ancient foes.

Tirith nodded, acknowledging her last statement. “Does My Lady say that it cannot be done now?”

“Although sad, it is so, Tirith. The intruders removed something from this beast that belongs to the client. The clan must pursue them and retrieve it, or it will cause the client great difficulty.”

“But, My Lady, the clan must also secure this fortress. It is the client’s transfer point, is it not?”

The path is probably destroyed, though… she could think it, but the stone forbade her from saying it. Benjamin had forbidden her from revealing any of his methods to them. After a struggle against the mind control, she found her only choice was to agree with Tirith.

“Mato’khra will indeed need to do so, as well. However, this one believes that it cannot hold the kriojjin with these current forces alone.”

He nodded agreement. “My Lady is correct. It will require mobilizing a much larger force and making an alliance with the local Gireidil warbeasts. But this is a well preserved and strong fortress. Mato’khra can make good use of this place, so the clan can serve the client at a profit here.”

She smiled at how quickly the wheels could start turning in Tirith’s head. The clan should have ignored their Gireid desire that their Dhan be of noble birth and simply declared their military leader Tirith their Dhan instead. They already had a superlative leader in him. But of course, that analysis was courtesy of the workings of her non-Gireidil mind. A Gireid couldn’t feel such loyalty to a Gireid who lacked the birthright of nobility, but they could feel it for a non-Gireid with similar status.

“Does my attendant suggest Mato’khra should split its forces? This season’s crops are already in the field in Fentanmei, so we cannot withdraw all of our presence there.”

“The clan has too many idle hands in our base there, and many more still back in the enclave at Nurinie, and more waiting to come from offworld. Fentanmei is too small for the clan’s needs. The clan needs a larger home. This one requests the Dhan‘s permission to take this opportunity to survey this fortress while it is in hand. The intelligence gained will be vital should an opponent take the location before the clan can occupy it.”

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She thought carefully about her options, then nodded and ordered, “Set the main squad to this task and contact the local Gireid war beasts for support. While they work, the flyer shall get ahead of the intruders with a team of picked soldiers. This one shall be part of that team.”

He nodded. “This one shall accompany the Dhan, then.”

For a moment, she considered disagreeing. She could operate more freely on her own… but that wasn’t possible, was it? As one of Benjamin’s Ondakjai, she was certainly powerful enough, but Tirith, as the one responsible for his Dhan’s safety, would never allow it.

She returned his nodded. “Alright.”

Tirith began quickly dispatching orders to various unit leaders. The efficiency with which he worked put her in mind of military back on Earth, a place he had never seen before. He was a hardened child of this harsh world that had become her home, born and raised in the refugee camps of far away Nurinie, the Southern Hemisphere island that was the last bastion standing from before the Fall. This clan would have long ago vanished without his bitter resolve and that of his father before him.

If she could tell him that her secret master had the clan dancing on his palm through his invisible control over her, she would. And she would gladly leave that horrid man’s chains behind and proudly live only to lead Tirith and his clan. If she could…

- my thoughts:

Completing our second visit with Joanna.

Check out my other novel: Substitute Hero

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