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1700-1853: Fleet Air Arm Squadrons
No. 1700 Squadron: Amphibian bomber reconnaissance squadron, India
No. 1701 Squadron: Amphibian bomber reconnaissance squadron, Far East
No. 1702 Squadron: Special Service
No. 1703 Squadron: Short-lived Sea Otter squadron
No. 1770 Squadron: Fighter squadron, HMS Indefatigable
No. 1771 Squadron: Fighter squadron, HMS Implacable
No. 1772 Squadron: Fighter squadron, HMS Ruler then Indefatigable
No. 1790 Squadron: Night Fighter squadron
No. 1791 Squadron: Night Fighter squadron
No. 1792 Squadron: Night Fighter squadron
No. 1820 Squadron: Dive Bomber squadron
No. 1830 Squadron: Fighter squadron, HMS Illustrious
No. 1831 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1832 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1833 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1834 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1835 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1836 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1837 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1838 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1839 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1840 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1841 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1842 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1843 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1844 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1845 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1846 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1847 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1848 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1849 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1850 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1851 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1852 Squadron: Fighter squadron
No. 1853 Squadron: Fighter squadron
Nos.1-99 RAF - Nos.100-200 RAF - Nos.201-299 RAF - Nos.300-361 RAF - RCAF - RAAF - RNZAF - IAF - SAAF - Nos.500-599 RAF - Nos.600-699 RAF - Nos.700-799 FAA - Nos.800-899 FAA - Nos.900-999 Balloon Barrage squadrons - Nos.1700-1863 FAA
City of London
The City of London is a city, ceremonial county and local government district [note 1] that contains the historic centre and the primary central business district (CBD) of London. It constituted most of London from its settlement by the Romans in the 1st century AD to the Middle Ages, but the modern city named London has since grown far beyond the City of London boundary.   The City is now only a tiny part of the metropolis of London, though it remains a notable part of central London. Administratively, it forms one of the 33 local authority districts of London however, the City of London is not a London borough, a status reserved for the other 32 districts (including London's only other city, the City of Westminster). It is also a separate ceremonial county, being an enclave surrounded by Greater London, and is the smallest county in the United Kingdom.
- 57.5% White British
- 2.4% White Irish
- 18.6% Other White
- 0.5% White & Black Caribbean
- 0.5% White & Black African
- 1.5% White & Asian
- 1.4% Other Mixed
- 2.9% Indian
- 0.2% Pakistani
- 3.1% Bangladeshi
- 3.6% Chinese
- 2.9% Other Asian
- 1.3% Black African
- 0.6% Black Caribbean
- 0.7% Other Black
- 0.9% Arab
- 1.2% Other
The City of London is widely referred to simply as the City (differentiated from the phrase "the city of London" by capitalising City) and is also colloquially known as the Square Mile, as it is 1.12 sq mi (716.80 acres 2.90 km 2 )  in area. Both of these terms are also often used as metonyms for the United Kingdom's trading and financial services industries, which continue a notable history of being largely based in the City.  The name London is now ordinarily used for a far wider area than just the City. London most often denotes the sprawling London metropolis, or the 32 London boroughs, in addition to the City of London itself. This wider usage of London is documented as far back as 1888, when the County of London was created. 
The local authority for the City, namely the City of London Corporation, is unique in the UK and has some unusual responsibilities for a local council, such as being the police authority. It is also unusual in having responsibilities and ownerships beyond its boundaries. The Corporation is headed by the Lord Mayor of the City of London (an office separate from, and much older than, the Mayor of London). The Lord Mayor, as of November 2019, is William Russell.  The City is made up of 25 wards, with administration at the historic Guildhall. Other historic sites include St Paul's Cathedral, Royal Exchange, Mansion House, Old Bailey, and Smithfield Market. Although not within the City, the adjacent Tower of London is part of its old defensive perimeter. Bridges under the jurisdiction of the City include London Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge.
The City is a major business and financial centre,  and the Bank of England is headquartered in the City. Throughout the 19th century, the City was the world's primary business centre, and it continues to be a major meeting point for businesses.  London came top in the Worldwide Centres of Commerce Index, published in 2008. The insurance industry is focused around the eastern side of the City, around Lloyd's building. A secondary financial district exists outside the City, at Canary Wharf, 2.5 miles (4 km) to the east.
The City has a resident population of 9,401 (ONS estimate, mid-2016) but over 500,000 are employed there,  and some estimates put the number of workers in the city to be over 1 million. About three-quarters of the jobs in the City of London are in the financial, professional, and associated business services sectors.  The legal profession forms a major component of the northern and western sides of the City, especially in the Temple and Chancery Lane areas where the Inns of Court are located, of which two—Inner Temple and Middle Temple—fall within the City of London boundary.
Lewin of Greenwich Naval History & Forum
Hi Gang , spare a thought for a fellow member who is both deeply upset and lonely over this Christmas .
And for you Don . our heart felt sympathy for your recent loss of a close friend
Unread post by ivorthediver » Sun Feb 16, 2020 3:58 pm
Well as they say " life goes on " and in these bleak and chilly days of the year you tend to look at life in a retrospective tone sometimes , but we all are getting older and more fragile and dependant on others than as little as six months ago .
In our house Karens mum is now totally dependant on us and the carers that see to her needs , but your whole life is now run on a schedule of , ah when is the next carer due and what do we need to do prior to this visit , will it be the same one , have we got time to do this that or the other before they turn up , will they be on time , etc etc . and whilst we are totally thankful for all they do and the service they provide , your life is a scheduled event to be managed [ usually by Karen , which she rarely complains of] , but takes a toll on her in every respect on top of keeping me in line bless her
All our planned events are put on the back burner until we can plan for respite cover [ always assuming you can get it put in place ] , and the additional costs that incurs . none of which occurs to you when the need arises . bit like the add about the young mother who discovers she is now incontinent . but you get on with life. as your allotted task in life knowing that one day you will be in the same position yourself and pray that others will be there to help you !.
Your home takes on the appearance of " A+E" with trollies and equipment dotted around the place , all of which need to be in place and then returned to its position on completion of the visit , I am very proud of Karen and all the diligent attention she deploys with these many facets thrust upon her , and on top of this you have the benefactor of these actions losing their patience over some item they feel should be done better this way or that . and cant help thinking .."God if I get like that SHOT me "
Still lives burdens are not always printed " on the Can" so to speak and if your fit enough yourself to cope, the resources dont just materialise but have to be carefully manipulated into place and maintained so that the impact is as minimal as can be hoped on your life
Right I will crawl back into my hole and offer what help I am able to as and when needed and offer support when she's down ,
On a brighter note we have just replaced our car with one better suited to our situation , and as a fluke it was offered with a personal number plate for Karen which matches my model tug , which made us chuckle as it ends LKN "Lady Karen" which broadened Her Smile [ see someone up there loves us it seems ]
Life looks for life. Ch. 1: Jelle de Pauw
The ice in his glass shifted as it melted in the amaretto and made a short clinking noise as it tapped against the sides while finding a new position to lie in. Jelle had been gripping the damn thing for so long the ice cubes were spending more time fighting off his body heat than actually cooling his drink. In truth he had almost forgotten he even had a drink in his hand to begin with, his eyes fixed on the monitor before him and the two figures displayed upon it.
“Have I missed it?” The words shook him from his trancelike state as he gazed over his shoulder to the sight of his aide, Ruadh McConnely, entering his office with files in hand.
“No, they’ve gotten the softballs out of the way, though.” he took a sip of his drink as he heard Ruadh pouring himself one before being seated in the armchair next to him.
Being a diplomat came with quite a few benefits, one of which was a certain standard of luxury.
His office for example had more in common with the living room of a high-class apartment than a workplace. When entering his domain the first thing one saw in the centre of their view was his desk, accompanying chairs and flags of the European Union and United Terran Federation, sure enough, but when looking left one was met with a private bar stockpiled with the finest selection of humanity’s favourite vice. And when looking right, well, one would be forgiven from missing what was essentially his personal television room in favour of the gorgeous view of Earth itself. An orbital station was the logical choice to house interplanetary delegations and Terran diplomats, after all, it wouldn’t look well to place them on solid ground and end up favouring the regional territory that held the building.
“Has he said anything stupid so far?” Ruadh shifted a bit in his seat as he got comfortable, his eyes fixed on the screen.
“Do you think I’d still be sitting here if he had?” Trained the way they are, you’d think a pair of diplomats would try to maintain eye contact while speaking, but this interview was too important.
It had been two decades since humanity’s introduction to the Galactic League and they were still trying to find their footing both in space and on the ground. Their first contact was solely by accident, but it perhaps saved the lives of several hundred people in the process. Humanity’s initial expedition into the vast unknown was going to be a one-way trip a number of volunteers were to be cryogenically frozen and sent out into the darkness in an attempt to establish an offworld colony outside our solar system. The technology and methods were primitive by current standards, but back then it was a feat of engineering, if not still a huge gamble. Little did they know that they were already being observed and had been for quite some time and this project was, while not ideal, an acceptable sign of humanity’s readiness to meet the other races.
A small detachment by the League, headed by the Eive, was sent to intercept the colony ship and return it to Earth. The revelation of the existence of an alien species was enough to shake the very foundation of human civilization and in their shock they were unclear of what to do or what the intentions of the aliens were.
It soon became clear that their intentions were not just peaceful, but beneficial to humanity’s humble little backwater. Their first meeting was one of great pride to humanity as the Eive handed them two golden-plated copper discs which were oh, so familiar to them. Many tears were shed at the recognition that the records from the voyager space program, sent out into the void decades prior, had returned to them in the hands of those they were sent to reach out to. The League had stumbled upon them years prior and was intrigued by our race's charming message to the vastness of space and decided they were worth investigating. At the time, however, Humanity was still bound by their small terraqueous globe and their forays into space amounted to little more than the dipping of toes in the ocean. Still they were kept under observation, should they one day truly venture out into the stars, and the League did whatever they could to ease that transition.
They returned the colonists to humanity and gave them the technology for FTL drives so that, in the future, they needn’t throw away lives to satiate their curiosity. They allowed humans to build ships themselves, with minor guidance of the Eive, so that it would be done at their pace, according to their designs and familiar to their race. Even the choice of the Eive themselves as their first contact was carefully chosen, the race being the closest they had to our species was to be their transition prior to being introduced to the more… unfamiliar species in the universe.
In the face of this exceptionally warm welcome to the universe, the current government of the UTF had now come under fire from many of its people and pacifist politicians for its increased spending of armed warships and the development of interstellar fleets and combat scenarios. The interview on the screen before Jelle was part of this scrutiny as an independent journalist was questioning one of the Terran admirals on the value of weapons in a seemingly peaceful universe.
“Do you think we’ll get out of this unscathed?” Ruadh placed his glass down on his files and leaned back in his chair.
Jelle, for his part, leaned forward and took the glass off the documents before placing it back down on the glass surface of the table before returning to his previous position. It had not been the first time he received a file with a ring on it from his aide and he preferred not to have to explain it too often to the recipients of official papers. Humanity had become advanced enough to colonise other worlds, yet some still preferred to receive official documentation in physical form. “We will probably make it out clean, but if he talks past his mouth there will definitely be a few heads to roll.” The notion worried Jelle as he took another sip, he was in no mood to go on damage control for some admiral or any other Terran official that spoke first and thought second.
“What’s the saying,” Ruadh looked at him with his typical shit-eating grin “the admirals shit the bed and the diplomats are forced to wipe?”
Jelle raised an eyebrow at him. “That’s not a saying, McConnely.”
“It should be.” The reply came before Ruadh returned his fixed gaze at the screen.
The chuckle that Jelle gave at this statement was less of a laugh and more of an intense exhale with a smirk.
The camera of the interview centred on the reporter, a young woman by the name of Daksha Singh, not unpleasing to the eyes of most. Jelle had done research on her prior to the interview in order to better prepare for any potential damage control he might have to do she had an admirable track record and a list of high-profile interviews as long as his arm. If she was able to trap the admiral, they’d all better be ready to bite the pillow because it was going to be a dry fucking. “Admiral, how can you justify the increased development and production of vessels specifically designed for war? What value do these ships hold in a universe that has been nothing but welcoming to our kind?”
The image changed, presenting Admiral Thomas Turner of the Asea-Oceanian fleet dressed in his black ceremonial uniform. “While you’re right, Miss Singh, that so far our venture into the stars has been met with nothing but open arms, it pays to be prepared for whatever unforeseen events that may unfold in the future. Moreover, we’ve heard increasing reports of piracy at our frontier regions. I ask you, what value does our military have if we cannot safeguard our own people?”
“So you’re expecting greater trouble from interstellar pirates? Are you saying the standing fleets are incapable of dealing with these outlaws?” These follow-up questions marked a red flag in Jelle’s mind, you could tell she was planning something.
“I’m saying nothing of the sort, our combined fleets have been doing fine work in the outer edges. The piracy was simply an example of why we may need warships in the future.”
“Can you give us another example?”
“Look at any undiscovered world and pick one, Miss Singh, who knows what species lies in wait out there and what danger they may pose.”
“So you’re saying you just wish to be prepared?”
“For anything?” She’s leading him… Jelle’s mind screamed out to him, she’s leading him straight into a trap!
“Such as war with the Galactic League?”
There it was, the big pitfall. This was a problem, the question alone resulted in damaged relations with the League as it planted the seed of mistrust in their minds. Not to mention that any answer given would lead to a greater number of diplomatic nightmares: any indication of that possibility, no matter how tame or innocent, would lead to permanently damaged interactions with the league. A diplomatic answer regarding the state of Earth’s place in the League would leave a host of politicians and military officers open to the same line of questioning and by extension increase the chances of someone saying something stupid. A flat out denial would be responded to by increased hammering on the value and expenditure of a military fleet likely leading to a rollback of military funding and a humiliating situation for all pro-military politicians, diplomats and public figures.
Jelle leaned forward in his chair, his elbows leaning on his knees as he gripped his glass in both hands. “Come on, Australia-man, make this good.” he mumbled under his breath.
The camera lingered on Turner’s face, his eyes fixed on the reporter in front of him. “Let me make this clear to you and your viewers, Miss Singh, the universe is incomprehensibly vast and we, all of us, including the League, are exploring it at a rapid pace. We don’t know what’s out there, that’s the point of exploration, but exploration without preparation is tantamount to suicide. We are the military, we have one job, just the one: to keep our people safe. And for that we must prepare, not just for the known, but also the unknown… especially the unknown. It is easy for you and others like you, Miss Singh, to judge us for what you call warmongering, but we are the ones that bear the lives of our friends and family on our shoulders. I realise you do not love our ships and our guns, nor will I ever expect you to do so, I only ask that you love that which they protect.”
“Impressive,” McConnely spoke up, “he turned it on its head and made her the bad guy.”
“Yes,” Jelle’s reply came with a sigh of relief, “I suppose that is as good an answer as we can expect.” With a single gulp he downed what remained of his drink and placed glass and half-melted ice cubes aside.
On the television screen Daksha noted that their time was up and thanked the admiral for his presence. This made Jelle look at the clock on his pad and, indeed, the thirty minute interview had run its course and with it, his break. “We’ll have to keep our ears open for any future interviews, but I think we’re out of the woods for now.” He said as he rose from the armchair and walked over to his desk. “Be sure to send the good Admiral a bottle of something for his troubles. Figure out what he likes.”
Ruadh didn’t move from his seat, instead favoring to continue his drink and tap down notes on his datapad as Jelle spoke. “Will do.” He replied.
“And send something to his PR manager as well, a gift basket or something. I get the feeling we have a lot to thank them for as well.”
Jelle could almost hear McConnely’s smirk in his tone as he replied “Of course.”
With a fixed gaze, Jelle scanned his schedule for the upcoming days to see how many more meetings he needed to prepare for. The rest of his day was clear, but he had meetings with the Jzhad Matriarchy tomorrow. The Jzhad were what could best be described as overgrown Venus Flytraps. They were more fauna than flora yet at the same time not consistent with either descriptor. Apparently they were once quite similar to our own flesh eating plant life, but the constant exposure to foreign DNA allowed them to eventually evolve to a sapient state. The culture they built was one of patience and tradition. Living as long as they did, their species was not prone to change and as a result they would’ve been mostly stagnant had the League not pushed them forward.
This was something their two species had in common, Jelle realised, and it was not a bad place to start when striving for closer diplomatic ties. Still, he was not looking forward to it the Matriarchy was not one that understood the meaning of speed and despite the fact that he had planned the meeting as early in the day as he could, it would likely lead to overtime nonetheless. He thought it wise to spend the rest of the day going over their etiquette and customs again to try and prevent any possible diplomatic faux pas he might cause. A trip to the infirmary would not be unwise either as a few pills to keep him awake and alert would likely be a valuable asset in an interaction such as this.
As he opened his files on the Matriarchy, McConnely walked up to his desk taking a seat in one of the two chairs opposite Jelle. “I gotta say, boss, your selection of uisge-beatha is an excellent reason to stick around.”
Jelle glanced up at him and raised an eyebrow in a questioning manner.
“Whisky, sir. Scotch.” Ruadh added to clarify.
“Ah, yes, well I suppose someone has to drink it. Many alien races find it questionable that we partake in the toxic excretions of fermenting sugars.”
“More than happy to pick up their slack.” He chuckled at that statement, but as long as he kept a clear mind at work Jelle cared little that he snuck in a little sip every now and then. “Before I forget, though, there’s a reporter out in the hall hoping to speak to you. I passed her on the way in.”
Jelle glanced at his schedule again to confirm what he already knew, that he had no planned meetings. Then he tapped open an application on his datapad which served as an automated assistant to see if he had accidentally overlooked a call or a meeting request, but here too he found no indication of any such notion. “Well, she should’ve made an appointment then, I’ve had my fill of reporters for the day. Please request her to return some other time.”
“I could, but…” McConnely trailed off while looking at Jelle with a knowing smirk.
An interesting aspect indeed media was everywhere in the known galaxy. The methods, variety or style of reporting varied from planet to planet but one thing remained consistent throughout the stars and that is that members of a certain species were more inclined to be open when interviewed by members of their own race. It was the familiarity that did most of the work, the settling of nerves when around recognizable faces and shapes. As a result media outlets would often employ branch tactics in which each branch consisted of a single race and focussed on their own people. To have an Eive reporter show up at the door of a human diplomat was perhaps not unheard of, but it was out of the ordinary to say the least.
This piqued his interest and with the opening of his hand he motioned Ruadh to let her in. McConnely walked out into the hall only to return a few seconds later with the Eive in tow. Due to the fact that he walked in front of her, Jelle failed to get an initial sight of her as she entered his office, but he rose to his feet all the same.
“Mister de Pauw, Miss Eliën Transidor vin Ratharos.” Ruadh stepped out of the way and revealed the figure of the female Eive.
The Eive were a humanoid species so very similar to humanity itself, but so very different in so many ways. They arose from a desert planet with two suns and many of their features can be traced back to this fact: they had a combination of skin and fur with their faces, chests, palms, the top of their feet and the fronts of their arms and legs sporting a blue skin, while their everything else, including their stubby tail, was covered in short purple fur. This Included the soles of their feet, a trait that apparently allowed them to move trackless over the desert sands increasing their survival. The exception to the fur was their scalp where they, like humans, tended to grow longer hair, or manes as they preferred to call it. The skin was capable of sweating, allowing them to expel excess heat, while the fur was remarkably capable of insulating them from both heat and cold.
When it came to their visage, their faces were not exactly that different from humans a nose, mouth, two eyes and two ears at the side of their head. It were the differences that were more interesting. They did not share an exact skull construction as a human, instead their facial bones were capable of growing upward beyond the scalp essentially creating a sort of faceplate. This extension usually came in the form of horns of varying shapes and sizes most grew only two vertically upwards or bent backwards to follow the shape of the skull. Others could grow up to four of them. These are apparently a trait left over from their animal ancestors, a strange goat/ape hybrid, who used their horns to remove needles and crack open cacti native to their homeworld providing them with a valuable and more plentiful source of moisture.
One could say the eyes of the Eive were completely white, but this would not exactly be true. While yes, when looking upon them you would be met with an unblinking white gaze, these were, in fact, just their eyelids. If one were to cut them off they would find eyes very similar to that of a human with pupil, iris and all. Due to the nature of their planet, however, the Eive have evolved with fixed eyelids covering their eyeballs, ones they are able to be seen through, but were also better at reflecting the sunlight and minimize any vaporising of eyewater.
Lastly, their ears. While like humans they were placed on the side of their head, they were narrow and triangular and stuck out to either side with about the length of a fist.
“Miss vin Ratharos,” Jelle spoke as he stretched out his hand. The offer of a handshake was a test in all honesty, as a diplomat he had to be careful around reporters, diplomatic relations, being as fragile as they care, could stand not to be struck with out of context phrases or the odd slip of the tongue. Right now, though, she was on his turf and would play his games. He was in control and he needed to maintain this position. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Please,” she spoke with a voice noticeably easy on the ears as she grasped his hand as one would expect any human to do, her four fingers giving a tight and confident grip. Jelle was impressed by the smoothness of her actions, she didn’t gaze at his hand in confusion or failed to recognise the gesture right away. She had trained this. “Call me Eliën. And the pleasure is mutual, I can say that most assuredly.” Her words were accompanied with a coy, playful smile and while Jelle couldn’t see the movement of her eyes, he could tell. she was definitely eyeing him up and down.
Subject Index: Fleet Air Arm squadrons: 1700-1854 - History
Starhunter pilot, Lieutenant, Dragoon Maelstrom
Mom continued after mentioning the Corps-wide recall. "I guess you two are stuck here for a while."
It took me a moment to realize she was making an attempt at humor. She always did that when things were bad, to keep our spirits up. Before Mom and Dad had their investments pay off, things would be tight more often than not. Kris and I never went without essentials, or even some less vital things, but I later realized that there were times our parents would curtail their own discretionary spending. And then of course, there was the aftermath of the accident. she'd always try to smile around Kris and I when she got out of the hospital. It wasn't until I was trying to sneak around after bedtime that I saw through the facade she put on for us. At first, I'd heard her crying. when I peeked around the corner, I saw Dad holding her in his arms and whispering quietly to her. Not quite six years old, I heard new and strange words being uttered, like miscarriage and hysterectomy words a girl in her first year of school had no business wanting to know about.
We still didn't talk about that crash very often, or even crashes in general. It was a very taboo subject in our house since then.
And now, with the Remnant on the verge of collapse, with martial law all but declared (recalling of the Stormtroopers was a major step toward it), she was trying to protect us. To shield us. We thought we might have lost our parents to the bomb for most of the day perhaps this was her way to assuage the still raw nerves and the strangling lumps in our throats.
Some things never change , I thought. What had been an epithet last night was now a comforting axiom. With the Universe going to hell in a handbasket, some constancy was nice--
"No matter where she's stationed, I have to get back to the Maelstrom ," Kris said.
A flash of anger shot up my spine and into my brain. I noticed Mom frowning, but keeping silent, but I couldn't. Not this time. "For frak's sake, Kris! Would it kill you to stay long enough for Dad to get back?" I snapped.
"Kendra!" Mom exclaimed, apparently upset by the profanity.
But now wasn't the time to stand on ceremony. Besides, even if she rarely cursed around us—even as we got older—I knew she wasn't exactly pure of vocabulary herself. "No, Mom. Last night was one thing," I noted. I could almost understand that, but didn't Kris see? Things were different . We needed to band together, not keep rubbing salt into wounds! "But, gods, with what's going on now? Can't we forget about that for a night, Kris?"
"Paranoid much, Kendra?" he shot back. The anger flashed white-hot again. "I'm just doing my Imperial duty . Besides, he's alive."
That sickening dismissal nearly pushed me over the edge. I started to wonder if this callous man standing in front of me was the same Kris Jendob I grew up with, if he was still my brother. The anger must've shown, because I heard Mom utter a sigh of resignation. "Paranoid?" I retorted. "You're the one that sees grand schemes to ruin your life everywhere you look!"
That one struck a nerve, but he quickly covered it up. "Well, it's good to see the Stormtroopers accepted you after you flunked out of psychology school."
I got ready to fire off another barb, perhaps exposing a few more of his insecurities when a voice ripped through the conversation. " Knock it off both of you! "
For a minute, I wondered if one of my old drill instructors had stepped through the door. The voice had such a command presence and ferocity. then I realized it was someone much more familiar than that. Literally.
I looked at Mom and saw a vision of barely restrained rage. Her hands were clenched into white-knuckled fists. which were shaking. Her teeth were also clenched, while fire burned in her eyes. If I'd seen her that upset twice in my life, it'd be an overestimate. She was usually so friendly and outgoing and just plain nice that I'd forgotten that Mom could be genuinely terrifying when she was pushed too far. "Kendra, leave your brother alone . His issues are his, alone," she growled. Then she fixed that deadly gaze on my brother as she issued her warning. "Kris. just don't. All right? Just. Don't ."
I'd been to Hoth once, for a training exercise. Mom's voice was colder than the nights there.
But then Kris had the gall to just shrug it off. "And again, it's better if I leave."
The urge to punch him became overwhelming. I knew Kris had issues with Dad, but this level of selfishness and outright spite seemed uncharacteristic for him. Maybe for all of his talk of change, he was the best argument against it.
But before I could violate my brother's face with my fist, Mom spoke up. Her voice was warmer, but still full of durasteel. "No. No, it's not. Your father almost died today. At least let him see his son one last time before someone tries again, hmm?"
Even though he muttered some stupid passive-aggressive remark under his breath, he didn't move. Mom sat down in a chair, sighing and rubbing her temples. "Look, guys, just. not today. All right? Can we at least pretend we're to be a remotely normal family tonight?"
"Wasn't that on last night's menu?"
But Mom just shrugged off his snide remark. "A family feud on New Year's Day? How's that not normal, Kris?"
"Not for lack of trying," he spoke again. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
Mom looked away, then back. As if to clear myself from her line of fire, I retreated away from Kris and sat in another chair. I could tell she had something very frank and decidedly unmotherly to tell Kris. I also wanted to get away from this cruel imposter of my brother.
Sergeant First Class Kendra Jendob
Kris had tried. He'd really tried his best not to lose his temper the night before. He'd tried to make things seem normal, for the sake of his mother and his sister. But his father had knocked him down again, simply because he thought he knew everything. It wasn't Kris that fanned the flames again - but that didn't matter to anyone but Kris.
"Look, just--" his mother began before the telltale shuffle of the front door interrupted. In walked their father, bruises and small lacerations emblematic of the trauma he'd experienced earlier in the morning.
"Am I interrupting something?" he reacted to the snapshot of tense body language of everyone else in the room.
"No," Mom spoke before Kendra could interject about her evil, awful brother.
The Moff walked inside, surveying the situation and not entirely believing his wife. "Kris," he greeted simply and noncommittally, although the intonation encoded his emotions - distant, yet vaguely pleased at his son's presence. It was the first time Kris had been able to identify such a thing.
"Hi," Kris responded. His eyes were on his father, but he was half-surprised to find he could find no emotion to put onto his face.
The Moff simply nodded politely.
His son continued to stare at him until the moment grew tepid. "Well?" Kris prompted an explanation of the circumstances of the attack.
"There's not much I can tell you," he shrugged. As he talked, his eyes strayed to the vase Kris had given his much-happier the night before. A faint smirk flashed across his face "We're doing everything we can to prevent outright chaos and anarchy."
"Ams, why don't you sit down?" Mom abruptly stood. Kris assumed she was attempting to deflect some of the heavy thoughts from the Moff's mind.
Dad blinked. "No, I'm fine. Thank you," he informed his wife as he would have politely declined a refill of coffee. Kris couldn't suppress his disgusted thoughts that his parents were living in a perpetual dollhouse. The pilot crossed his arms over his chest and held his tongue.
"Actually, I'm going to go upstairs and change," his father admitted. As he walked away, they could see the dried blood on his hands. It must have been an interesting morning.
Kris thought about leaving then. Maybe if he could depart without any major incident, there would be some chance of reconciliation later. Not that he wanted reconciliation, but. at any rate, his family did not have to speak any words to infirm upon him that he should stay until the Moff returned.
It wasn't long until the patriarch returned, elegantly walking down the steps in a fresh change of clothes, as if nothing unusual had happened that day. "So, Kris, Kendra. how long do you plan on staying around?" He began the smalltalk. Anger pang, anger pang.
"I gotta get in touch with my company commander," Kendra began. "I tried when you were cleaning up it was busy. Till then, I guess I'll stay here," she said lovingly to her parents, before casting a haughty look upon her brother. "I guess you're going out?" She instigated, full of moral superiority.
"I have my assignment," Kris glared. Kendra was speaking with unmasked disdain. This wasn't going to end nicely.
"Yeah, I'll bet," Kendra retorted.
"Kendra, stop," their father commanded. He, at least, didn't want act II of the Jendob family lovefest.
"Sorry, Dad," Kendra orated an apology, although her eyes were still locked on Kris. She spoke the words tinged with insult, rubbing her obedience into her brother, as if he were a renegade.
"Good," Mom proclaimed, on the edge of seething. "There have been enough explosions in this family."
Explosions? Kris thought. Finally, it was his turn to give his mother an incredulous look at something she did not intend to say.
Starhunter pilot, Lieutenant, Dragoon Maelstrom
But not now. "Could you choose your words with a bit more tact?" I requested. There was more I could've said. but not now. Things were tense enough and I wasn't about to undercut Shayera in front of the twins. At least, not any more than necessary. "I wasn't the only one there. Just the luckiest."
Shy, if just for an instant, looked as if she'd been slapped. I'm sure she had a reason for the remark. perhaps to shock, perhaps to remind Kris and Kendra that there were up to a dozen families that would never be whole again tonight. In any case, I could tell from the look she gave me that we'd have words later.
As long as it's later. I looked back at Kris. If he wanted to go, I'd let him. no battles this time. "I know you. rather, we have some issues to work out," I started. "But thank you for coming by."
Maybe he hated me, maybe not. I wasn't sure. but even if he'd been dragged here against his will, there was still something touching in that he stayed this long. Maybe one day, we'd get everything straight between us. Maybe not. But his actions showed he was a good man at heart, and maybe even still a loving son. Maybe.
"My pleasure, Moff," Kris replied. He started to move toward the door. No explosion, as it was.
"What, Kris? No hug?" My daughter's voice suddenly filled the room with twice as much tension, just as it had begun to abate.
"Frak off, Kendra," her brother grunted. Frighteningly, I was inclined to agree.
"Kris," Shayera intoned disapprovingly.
But the damage was done. Perhaps Shy's quick reprimand only added fuel to the fire. Kris threw his bag down, but his gaze was fixed on his sister. "You know, this was your idea, but you've been nothing but a placating whore for them!"
I almost slid my palm down my face. But, in light of the reddish-brown traces that still stained some areas on the bottom of my hand, I merely clenched a fist and rested my forehead on that. Meanwhile, the argument went up another ten decibels. "Yeah, gods frakking forbid you ever admit you might be wrong! Especially to your own parents!"
I looked up. "Kendra. ", I called, trying to distract her. Maybe to tell her to settle down, maybe just to break the sequence for a moment.
Shayera muttered under her breath as well, her tone indicating resignation and frustration. Neither one of our children paid any mind. . Well, that's nothing new.
"I thought you'd have been the one person who knows I'm not wrong!" Kris shouted.
"I don't even know what the hell you're on about anymore! But you don't even want to settle it, do you? You just want to grind your axe," she accused. Then her tone became needling, mocking. "Poor little Krischen Jendob. He gets all the breaks, but it's not good enough. Oh, no."
Shayera's voice cut through the end of her sentence. "Kendra, enough!"
"Yeah, because you were so deprived ," the male twin said dismissively.
"Oh, right. It's a bad thing Mom and Dad didn't raise us on the streets!"
"Maybe if you'd peek out of the great Jendob egojerk for a minute, you'd have actually have some kind of bearings in this," he hissed back.
"Now wait," I started, but it was too late. Kendra took a few long, menacing strides closer to her brother. Shy and I exchanged glances, communicating wordlessly. Kris was hers, I'd handle Kendra. If it came to that.
Then Kris made his error. He laughed in her face. "Yeah, c'mon. Defend our honor or whatever."
Shy and I started to get up, but Kendra was faster in word and deed. "Okay," she simply, with the chilling calm possessed by one committed to an action to the very end.
She grabbed his shoulders, gripping tightly. Then, in a single, fluid motion, she drilled her knee into Kris. I saw him hunch over defensively, but not fast enough. His face clearly showed that Kendra still stuck her mark with enough undeflected force. She stepped back, confidently.
But he recovered quickly. "You frak," he wheezed, lunging and grabbing a fistful of her hair and striking at her arm.
By this point, I was halfway to her, Shy about the same distance from Kris. Kendra exclaimed, then twisted and elbowed her brother in the solar plexus.
But it was the last blow she'd be striking. I wrapped my arms around her from behind and physically dragged her away from her stricken brother as Shayera restrained him, as well.
This day just gets better and frakking better , I thought sourly.
Emperor Ams Jendob, Ruler of the Imperial Remnant
There was something about Kendra fighting him that made Kris feel all the more insulted. They shared a connection, whether either of them wanted to admit it or not. When that link was strained, or severed, it magnified the intensity. And it was pushing every single button Kris had.
As his mother pulled him away, Kris initially resisted her backwards motion. Upon seeing Kendra likewise restrained by their father, he assented. But he still barked at his sister."You bitch! You're so becoming of an officer."
"At least I'm not a traitor to my own family," she replied with vitriol. The look of hatred on her face was raw, and Kris was sure a similar expression had erupted over his visage.
"At least I'm not. a bitch," Kris replied. He was tired of thinking of clever retorts.
"That's enough, Kendra!" Dad growled, as Mom twisted Kris away from his sister, so that his back was to her. "Are you two twenty-five or just five?" The Moff demanded.
Another button. Kris quickly found his ire redirected to his father. Everything had come full circle, brought back to bear on the source of the schism. "What's it matter," Kris taunted resentfully, resisting his mother's grip. "It makes no difference to you !"
It truly didn't. The Moff had treated Kris fundamentally the same as far back as the young man could remember. He was always a puppet to be directed, or a pet to be praised when laud was necessary, or scolded when his performance was unsatisfactory. Whether it was reading his first words, riding a bike, writing entry essays for the Imperial Academy, or pulling too loose a turn on a TIE, he was always an extension of Ams Jendob. There was no room for Kris Jendob.
Kendra rebelled against her father. Her eyes met Kris' with a piercing fury. "I don't see how you can say I'm a frak you'll never have one!"
The insult simply brought a smile to Kris' face. "Says the girl whose only contact with a man's been kicking her brother's d--"
"Ha!" She loudly interrupted. "Wouldn't you like to--" she brought her babbling tongue to a stop upon seeing the intent, warning stares from both of their parents. She compromised, facilitating a compromise. "Frak off," she stated simply.
Kris felt himself bore into Kendra's gaze, a silent war raging in the space separating the twins. Kendra's words concluded the fight. There was nothing left to say. Kris wriggled out of his mother's grip. "Alright, just let me go. It isn't worth the trouble."
Mom was disappointed, but she allowed herself to be pushed away. Kendra also was let out of her biological cage. The Moff kept his hands firmly on his daughter's shoulders, however. A moment passed where no one dared to move.
"Come on, Kris," Mom quietly cooed. She placed a hand on his right arm. "Let's go outside for a minute."
Kris suppressed a sigh. There was just no fight left in him. He turned from the rest of his famaily without saying a word, allowing his mother to lead him towards the patio. She pushed aside the elegant Alderaanian-style doors, which contrary to appearances were fully armored and computerized, although one would not be able to ascertain that fact. Very Jendob-esque.
The dimming sun shown the ground around them with a vermilion hue. They were on the narrow promenade that capped the top rows of floral elegance. The garden below them was vibrant and astounding, the myriad colors being tinted anew by the influence of Bastion's star. The austere-yet-elegant path that wound down the distance from the perch to the road appeared to fluoresce. It was perhaps more breathtaking to see the gardens from above than from below.
"Are you alright?" His mother asked, interrupting the visual entrapment.
"Wonderful," Kris intoned sarcastically with weariness.
"I guess you were right this time," she admitted reluctantly. Kris, for a moment, couldn't recall what she was referencing. Then his words from earlier echoed in his mind: And again, it's better if I leave. She reflected for a moment, then continued. "Do you want to sit down for a minute? That looked. painful," she carefully chose the words.
"Not as bad as you'd think," Kris impatiently lied. He understood what his mother was trying to do. He wasn't angry at her for trying. But it wasn't the right time. "Look, I shouldn't have been here in the first place I have orders."
"I know," she assured him. "I just wish of all days. that it wasn't this one."
"It wasn't supposed to be," Kris promised her. He hadn't intended what had happened. He certainly hadn't intended to have it out with Kendra, of all people.
His mother suddenly gripped him in a tight hug, pressing her moistened face into his shoulder. Her breath came with pain and halting. For a moment, Kris thought her heart was failing her. Perhaps, in a way, it was, but there was no physical affliction. "Gods, Kris."
Kris allowed her to touch him. It felt comforting, but only a distant fireplace espied through a window felt comforting to a man stuck in the snow. He didn't reciprocate her embrace But he could feel every emotion running through her, as if she had spliced her nervous system into his. He saw a part of his mother that was rarely revealed. It was fearful fearful of the attack that had nearly taken her husband, fearful of her flesh and blood tearing apart their family.
They remained there for several minutes. Neither said anything. His mother grew sadder even though her tears eventually withdrew. He could tell she was expecting some kind of breakdown, some kind of glimpse into Kris' soul. But there would be no such spectacle today. But he felt love for his mother once again.
However, it wasn't the kind that lent itself to outward demonstration. Kris pulled away. He thought she'd know he cared for her - that was enough for the time being. "Try to. keep safe," he worded.
"I-I'm sorry, Kris," she continued in her own line of thinking, registering his benediction, but too overwhelmed to say anything but profuse apologies. She wiped at her eyes. With an inward effort, she now tried to lock away all her doors of emotion and contain herself. She also knew that this resolution was all she could ask for. "Oh, damn it," she breathed, traces of involuntary stutter in her voice. "I left your bag inside."
Kris was worried she had decided to play out some other gambit to have him talk with his father. "Just ship it to the fleet later," he admonished. "I have other uniforms."
"No," she contested. "I'll get it." She was resolute this was something she had to do for her son, Kris figured. With a gentle look, she retreated into the house.
Kris watched the doors as they closed shut. He leaned back against the railing, placing a hand over his eyes, needing a break from the pervasive sun. More importantly, he needed to be alone for a few brief moments. Just him and his mind, eyes shuttered and ears unmolested. He sighed.
Starhunter pilot, Lieutenant, Dragoon Maelstrom
I'd just needed to vent. Last night had been bad enough, but I'd been too angry to realize how much it hurt, too. But now, with someone trying to kill my husband—and managing to kill the leadership of the Imperial military—on top of the family strife. it was too much for one person to bear.
It was also nice to know that some part of Kris cared, even if he didn't want to admit it to anyone. That gave me a glimmer of hope about our family. But even with that in mind, it was best if he left for the night. I'd seen Kris and Kendra physically battle before, when they were young. That was one thing. But they were adults now, and they were trained in techniques to kill, disable, and maim if they had to. While I was mostly sure it would never come to that , there was a nagging concern that things could get there under the right conditions. So, there was nothing left to do but hand Kris his bag. "Stay safe," I said.
He nodded and started to walk away. The lump in my throat, tightly controlled for a few minutes now, went supernova as the distance between us increased by centimeters. Maybe because it was painfully symbolic of the emotional distance between us, maybe it was because I couldn't be sure if I'd see him again. But I had to reach out for him.
My hand found his. "Hey, Kris," I croaked softly. He turned around, an eyebrow raised. Kris and Kendra both had their father's eyes. It was a striking, cobalt blue color that always grabbed the attention of anyone they focused their gaze on. I could tell I had his full attention. "Despite what's happened in the past couple days," I began, and started to falter. "Please. don't stay away.
"We can work through this," I choked down the persistent lump and lightly squeezed his hand. "And you know I love you, right?"
A brief smile played on his features. "Yeah," he said quietly. He seemed nonplussed for a moment before I saw hardness creep into his eyes again. " You do."
His hand slipped from mine. I quickly closed it, as if trying to capture some escaping ethereal presence left by his hand. A correction hovered on my tongue a simple two words that might get through to him. or might harden his heart further. We do. But it wasn't worth the risk of the latter.
As he stepped off onto the sidewalk, I bid him a final plea. "Please, watch out for yourself out there."
I didn't know if he heard me, as he just kept walking. I sat down on the steps leading from the door to the synthwood walkway. The stars shone brightly, perhaps too brightly for the grim events of the day. Across the Remnant, grieving families were mourning their losses. I wondered briefly how Fel's wife was handling it. There were rumors that she might be pregnant. Of course, there were also rumors of affairs and dalliances of every Moff and their spouses. But if she was, O Dear Gods.
The Empire, under Palpatine, had effectively outlawed open practice of religions. In those days, worshipping anyone beside the Emperor or anything but his Empire was. strongly discouraged. Of course, my parents, who would cut off their own noses if an Imperial complimented their faces, introduced me to some local faiths. For the most part, I was not a religious person, then or now. But thinking of Solo made me utter a small, quiet prayer to whatever deities might be looking over her, the planet, or just needed something to do.
Then my mind idly roamed to my son, no doubt hiking his way back to Ravelin. Always wandering, it seemed. Maybe that's what was so troubling about his attitude lately. it always ended with him having to leave the home he grew up in. No lifeline, no safe place to run to. A song I used to sing in school flashed through my mind, bringing a wry smile. Yes, it fit him quite nicely.
I sighed and looked skyward again. The stars and visible planets in the system slowly danced around. A bit less poetically, but more noticeable, were the various satellites, ships, and stations that orbited the planet. They seem to like wandering, too.
I shook my head at the inanity of that thought. Maybe I was just getting too much fresh air. Casting a final glance down the path Kris took, I went back inside. Ams was sitting there, a dark cloud hanging over him. But, then again, he had a better reason than most. I sat beside him and took his hand. For a moment, he tensed and seemed to want to pull away. I recalled my attempt at shocking the twins into submission. Funny how it already seems like it was so long ago.
But he quickly relaxed. We needed each other, plain and simple. I nodded toward the couch. We got up from the two separate, but close, chairs and snuggled closely on the couch. "Hey, I'm sorry about that comment," I finally sighed.
"Forget about it," he whispered. "It doesn't matter."
"Yeah, it does. It was a stupid thing to say. And it was made worse because it didn't work," I offered him a wan smile.
The corners of Ams' mouth tugged upward, just slightly. "That is always the worst."
I rested my head on his chest. I had a feeling there'd be tears there tonight, too. Some of angst. but also some of joy. After all, against all odds, Ams did survive. That was certainly reason enough to be happy in an otherwise dark time. "I love you," I murmured, looking up at him.
He lightly touched my cheek. Despite the smell of soap, there was also the faint tinge of iron wafting to my nostrils. And that shifted the focus from the small victory won today to the overwhelming losses of the last two. But, unlike a or so dozen men and women tonight, I had someone I could turn to.
And in his eyes, I could see he needed someone to turn to as well. I slid an arm around him, hugging him close. "And I'm here for you," I finished.
He kissed my forehead gently, just on the hairline. "I've never doubted it."
Empress Shayera Jendob
But, orders were orders, especially to a Stormtrooper. So, I made my way out to the living room to tell Dad the news. Maybe I'd tell Mom if the Superior Asshole wasn't still out there with her. Otherwise I'd wait until she finally kicked his ass to the curb and washed her hands of him. He'd definitely lost his last ally in this family tonight.
Of course, Dad wasn't particularly appreciative of the fact that I might have endangered the chances of continuing the Jendob line and for a little while, I almost found myself siding with Kris about him. Almost.
But walking around the backyard a little bit before I called my CO helped me cool off. And, despite my own checkered past, I was sure I couldn't be driven to outright hatred for Mom and Dad. They just did what they thought was best, like any good parents. Sometimes they were wrong, but maybe what was really annoying was how often they were right. Maybe that's what drove Kris to his heights of insanity. no matter how he tried to take them down, demean them, degrade them. insist that everything they said was wrong or a lie or something, they always wound up right.
As I approached the room, I heard heavy breathing and a woman's voice making a sound not quite a whimper, not quite a whine. That stopped me dead in my tracks. At least they're emotionally resilient , I thought with more than a little chagrin. But now what was I to do? They were blocking the only exit. Plus I didn't want to just disappear into the night.
I steeled myself and knocked on the wall. I quickly averted my gaze to the floor. "Don't get up!"
Mom's voice spoke up. She sounded out of breath and hoarse and. Aww, damn it. talk about bad timing. But there was no irritation at the interruption. "What's up, Kendra?"
I kept my gaze firmly on the floor. "Well, uh, I'm gonna head out."
"Why are you. " Mom trailed off.
Then Dad spoke up. Apparently, he hadn't cooled off much since our talk, and apparently all Mom had done was get him rather low on oxygen, too. "Kendra, look at your mother when you're talking to her."
"But, you two. " I didn't dare think the rest of the words, lest the images and recollections come.
"Us two. what?" Now Mom sounded annoyed.
I looked up, but immediately turned my head so I was looking almost ninety degrees away from ahead. "I'm just gonna go upstairs and get my stuff. My CO wants me on base tonight."
"Do you plan on looking at him when he addresses you?" Dad remarked.
A familiar feeling of anger took hold of me. It also apparently seized control of my neck muscles, as, to my horror, I looked at them with fire burning in my eyes. And soon I'll wish it was very, very literal fire. so I won't have eyes.
And yet, the scene before me wasn't anything burlesque. It was Mom and Dad, sitting on the couch and twisted around backward to look at me. They had decidedly bemused expressions and Mom's eyes were swollen and red-rimmed. Even Dad, who was normally completely unflappable, was teary-eyed. "Do you feel all right?" Mom asked, concerned.
"Um. well. funny story. yeah. " I tried to explain. "Uh, I just gotta go."
Mom got to her feet. She was still wearing her uniform jacket, and it was still sealed at that. I could've kicked myself for jumping to that conclusion. "Are you sick?"
Normally, my parents aren't very manipulative. However , if they had to, they could push a Hutt into giving up all of its secrets. or at least revealing something it didn't want to. What made it worse is that I wasn't sure if my sudden urge to tell them was a result of this manipulation, or simply a desire to avoid it reaching that level. "I thought you and Dad were. uh. being. "
She looked at me expectantly. "Being. "
"You know. intimate. Physically."
Mom blinked, gave me a weird look, then shook her head. "What?"
I frowned. "Do I really need to say it again?"
"I'm not even gonna ask," Mom muttered. "How are you getting there?'
Grateful for the change in subject, and noticing Dad still struggling with the last topic, I spoke quickly. "I was just gonna grab a bus or something."
"Not tonight, you're not," Mom said firmly. "I'll take you there, myself."
Platoon adjutant or no, having my own mother drive me to the base certainly wouldn't be a good thing. Gods only knew how many skulls might need cracking before the bad snickering would stop. And it would probably linger in less malicious forms for the rest of my career. "No offense, Mom, but I don't think I need to be dropped off like I'm going to school."
"No offense, Kendra, but there's someone running around right now who has a thing for blowing up Imperials."
I did suppose I'd forgotten about that, briefly, from all the excitement. as well as terror at potentially walking in on my parents. Still, there were a few issues of pride that seemed to outweight basic self-preservation. "What if you just get me within a block or two?"
"Deal," Mom agreed. Then she paused a moment. "Actually, Ams, do you want to go? I can stay. "
I winced slightly at the proposition. It didn't seem like Dad had fully recovered from our heated words earlier. And being stuck in a speeder in him for the trip would probably be rather uncomfortable. But, then again, someone did just try to kill him. I'd imagine I'd be cranky after that, too. Fortunately—maybe for both of us—he declined.
And with that, I made my way upstairs to pack. I still wasn't one hundred percent on having my mother drop me off for duty, but it beat getting blown up by a terrorist serial bomber.
Sergeant First Class Kendra Jendob
I nodded simply. She continued. “You, in front of the whole damn Moff Council, told them that High Moff was a sham position. and said we need a new Emperor. You.”
That drew a frown. “You say that as if you don't believe me. ”
She reached her hand across the table, resting it on mine. “Ams, I believe you. But. how do I put this right?”
“I don't have the spine to do it?” I asked pointedly.
She rolled her eyes. “You do. It's just not how you usually operate. Usually, you're all cloak and dagger. not frontal assault,” she smirked.
“Cloak and dagger only works when the targets are intelligent enough to take notice,” I joked back.
Shy laughed. “Yeah, with that bunch. I think a mace upside the head might be too subtle.”
I smirked and forked the sole survivor of the dinner, a small green vegetable stalk, from my plate and consumed it. I hadn't mentioned yet that I'd been nominated as the possible figurehead leader of the Remnant. There was no doubt that whoever it was would simply be the public face of the Remnant the Moffs had no intention of surrendering an iota of power. After the voting, several committees were formed to draw up assorted documentation to define just what the new “emperor” was, what he or she was supposed to do, and what he or she couldn't do because it stepped on too many moff-toes. And the odds for me were, at best, one in fifty. So, there was no reason to throw that around.
“So, fifty moffs,” Shayera recalled. “Chosen—and this is the beautiful part—by a democratic vote, to be Emperor.” She shook her head with a wry grin. “You know, I never should've told you what I was thinking. See what happens?”
Before I could reply, she asked, “So, who's on the list?”
Damn. Why did you have to ask that? “Rennie, Dalton, Rice, Sackhauser, Olmhoff. a few others,” I shrugged, hoping my apparent lack of interest would become contagious.
“C'mon. who else?” Shy teased, dashing my hopes.
“Well, there was also Rebbam, Labyorteaux, Keviv, me, Amabo, Airem, Starseeker, Rivers. ”
Unfortunately, Shayera's hanging jaw about half-way through the list told me I didn't mumble my membership quite fast or indistinct enough. I asked innocently, “Did you hurt yourself?”
She just stared at me for several uncomfortable moments. “Oh. oh my gods. You're serious. You. you wouldn't joke about that.”
“And. you didn't say anything before. Were—were you trying to hide that?” she asked, her voice a bizarre mixture of hurt, confusion, and curiosity.
“Shy, I was going to tell you. I just. I just didn't know the right time,” I admitted. “And—” I paused, a dark thought crossing my mind, and got up from the table. Taking a few quiet steps to the door separating the dining room and kitchen, I grasped the handle and yanked up while practically throwing the door open. There was a surprised yelp and about ninety kilos of butler spilled on the floor.
“Ah, there's that dust I missed earlier. Thank you, sir.”
I grabbed Niles by the back of his collar and pulled him to his feet. “What did you hear?”
Shayera was on her feet too. “Niles, no joking around this time.”
“I apologize, sir. I didn't realize—”
Niles had a nosy streak, to be sure. Of course, he usually knew when to control it. On a few occasions, I had to remind him that most things I dealt with I couldn't even inform Shayera of. let alone a civilian. However, now he'd crossed a line. “Do you have any idea what would happen to you if anyone knew that you knew?” I growled.
The color drained from his face as he contemplated it. I went on. “What am I going to do with you, Niles? Do you know what could happen to me, or to this family as a whole?”
“Ams. ” Shy's voice reached out, trying to calm my tightly-controlled anger.
“Sit down,” I ordered the other man. He quickly did as commanded. I took a deep breath and continued in a quieter tone. “You've really gone past the line this time, old man.”
Niles cast his eyes downward, looking contrite. “Sir, I didn't intend to intrude on something like this. ”
“But you did intend to intrude,” Shayera noted. She liked Niles, but had less patience for his antics than I did.
“So, what did you hear?” I asked again.
“You and several other Moffs are some list. I swear to you sir, I don't know what list.”
I grunted. “Well, there's already enough to put your neck in the noose. Would you like the full story?”
I patted Niles lightly on the shoulder, my anger with him quickly abating. “You've served this family for seventeen years, old man. You've become a part of this family. so I'd really rather not have to throw you into the wolf's lair for opening your mouth.
“The Moff Council is selecting a new leader to help combat the terrorist threat,” I explained vaguely. “Now, you cannot breathe a word of this, Niles.”
He nodded simply. “I understand, sir.”
“This is deadly serious, old man. Not. A. Word. I don't want to have to break in a new butler,” I smirked on the last part. “Besides, odds aren't exactly in my favor. But you do not speak a word of this, not even to me or Shayera. Otherwise, I don't know if I can protect you.”
I noticed Shayera was looking at me askance, while Niles showed just the briefest flicker of fear. But he quickly buried it, replacing the terror with a dutiful, friendly smile. “In that case, will there be anything else, tonight?”
I had to chuckle. Good old Niles. granted, a droid might be more obedient, less nosy, and a simple memory wipe would remove any potentially secret data from its mind. But no machine could replace the human touch. the human personality brought in by Niles. “Nothing for me.”
He looked at Shy. She waved him off. “No, thanks. I'm full.”
I clapped Niles on the shoulder, mostly to get his attention. “All right. I guess you can stop taking care of us for the night.”
“Can I ever?” quipped Niles. “I mean. thank you, sir. Delighted to serve, sir,” he added with good-natured sarcasm.
Given his rather serious faux pas moments earlier, I found it rather. courageous of him to attempt that sort of humor so quickly. He quickly realized it was a fairly brazen move, and excused himself. No doubt a few things remained to be cleaned up before he retired for the evening.
“Can I talk to you a minute?” Shayera asked. “In private?”
I looked around, wondering if she saw anyone else. She clarified. “Such as in the study or upstairs?”
I acquiesced and we made our way upstairs to our bedroom. She shut the door behind her. “I think you're sending him mixed signals about what's okay and what's not.”
“Well, first you practically interrogate him. then you tell him almost everything, then threaten him again. On the other hand, he's snooping around when he knows he damn well shouldn't, and then had the gall to try and play cute after. ” she noted pointedly as she sat on the bed.
“Are you feeling all right?” I asked. “You seem. ”
“Sensitive would be more fitting,” I retorted.
Her mouth twisted, but slowly that wry smile that'd become all too familiar in the past few days played across her lips. “Okay, bonus points for not giving in to temptation,” she teased. “I dunno, it's just all this crap hitting the fan at once.” She paused, changing the subject again. “So. you're on the fast track to Emperor. What a Galaxy. ”
I shrugged my shoulders. “It was your idea.”
“Yeah, yeah, blame it all on me. So, when are they going to decide?”
For that, I had no answer. “I honestly don't know. Hopefully soon, though. I don't know how much longer Siralt can stand the strain of leading the Moff Council.”
“Yes. Half the time, he seemed ready to run off to join Zend himself,” I quipped drily.
Shy idly thumbed the leatherplast strap across her chest. Both of us were still in uniform, not really having had enough drive to peel them off. “Do you plan on sleeping in that?” I teased.
“Too many sharp points,” I sighed, and started to tug at my belt. Once that was detached, I popped the snap on my right epaulet and pushed the wrap-around chest strap down to my side. The new uniforms were certainly more elaborate in design than the old ones from the days of the war and it seemed they were designed to be as difficult as possible to don and doff.
Once all of the external strictures were removed, the rest of it was fairly similar to the old-style uniforms. I simply unfastened the placket, opened the front panel, and pulled my left arm out. After that, I just pulled it off the right and, lo and behold, I was free from the burgundy straitjacket. Feigning exhaustion, I plopped down on the bed next to my wife.
“Yeah, that looks like way too much effort,” Shayera sighed and stretched out on the bed. “Niles might be nosy, but he definitely can cook.”
“I can give you a hand,” I said. Shy just looked at me, but offered no resistance as I unsnapped her shoulder board and pulled the leatherplast strap away. Tentatively, I reached for her belt buckle. Again, there was implicit permission to carry on. There was nothing particularly charged about it, either. Twenty-seven years together led to a level of maturity not everything carried with it some kind of eroticism at all times. So, there was no issue as I unhooked her belt and pulled it away. But then the progress came to a halt I figured she'd want to do the rest.
Finally, she sat up, digging her fingers in under the placket. “Why'd you quit? I was perfectly content to just sit there and let you finish.”
“Because, you're too young to be an invalid.”
She lightly cuffed my shoulder. “Stop hanging around Niles so damned much or I won't let you undress me.”
I blinked, processed what she said again, and looked at her askance. “ Let me undress you?”
Shy blushed. “Err, yeah. That didn't come out quite right.”
I laughed, gently patting her hand. “Well, nobody's perfect. Some are just closer than others.”
She pulled her jacket off, shaking her head at my remark. “I dunno if I'd go so far as to call you perfect. ”
“That's why I was talking about you,” was the reply.
“Flattery will get you nowhere. I'm a real officer, not a moff,” Shayera jibed.
I grabbed my chest as if stabbed. “Ohh, that hurts! And a low blow, at that.”
Shy smirked. “Score one for the grunts.”
“Oh, no no no, my love. You don't understand,” I said admonishingly. “You're going to have to pay for that.”
“Maybe I should put you across my knee.”
Shy laughed. “Hey, hey. Now. don't threaten me with a good time,” she smiled. “Unless you plan on making good on it.”
I wrapped my arms around her. She slid an arm behind my neck. “And if I did?” I asked quietly.
She just smiled, and lightly pressed her lips against mine. “We'd have to see where it goes.”
I returned her kiss and squeezed her a little tighter. I found myself staring into those beautiful green eyes, set in that perfect face. even at fifty-one she was still breathtakingly gorgeous. “Is that an invitation?”
She shrugged awkwardly. “Not sure yet. But,” she paused, pulling herself closer. “I do know, whatever we do, I just want to be close to you.”
What else was there to do when the most lovely being in the Galaxy said something like that? I held her tighter and we laid down on the bed. Her warmth quickly diffused into me. I slid a hand up her back, running through her long, red hair. “Is this close enough?”
Shayera shifted a little, pressing us closer. “Not yet,” she said quietly.
She press her lips to mine again. Unlike the light, gentle kiss from before, this was firmer. though not yet rough. I started to rub her back through the standard-issue t-shirt she had been wearing under her jacket. She let out a long sigh, almost a contented purr. “Are you trying to get some action tonight?”
I didn't reply. “Hey, if you want to mess around. just say so,” she continued.
She shrugged. “I could take it or leave it, right now. It's just been so damn hectic for the last week. It's nice to remember that I actually do have a life after I take that uniform off every night. And someone to spend it with.”
Another smile played on my face at her candidly-displayed affection. But, it was dampened somewhat when I realized she was also referencing several wives and husbands who no longer had that luxury. “I'm not going anywhere, love. You still have to put up with me.”
“Damn well better,” Shy replied, planting another kiss.
As her lips met mine, a lock of her hair fell down in front of her eyes. I lightly brushed the silky strands away one moment the next I was running my fingers through her luxuriant mane. Her response was definitely positive: she placed her hands on both sides of my head and started to nibble on my lower lip. That went on for a few seconds before she pulled back and looked me squarely in the eyes. “Okay. I'll put the ball in your court. You've got two options: let go, and I'll go change into my pajamas and we'll go to bed. Or,” she paused for effect, her smile broadening into a pearly grin. “Lose the pants and kiss me again. And plan on not getting much sleep.”
I grinned back at her. “I love a woman that knows exactly what she wants,” I said. then pressed my mouth firmly to hers. We kissed deeply for a short while before I started to pull her t-shirt up.
But Shayera withdrew again. “Uh-uh. Pants first.”
With a sigh, I quickly complied with her demands. “Happy now?”
She playfully ran her fingertips down my cheek in a teasing caress. “Eh, it's a start. Might as well go the rest of the way.”
“It's hard to reach with you sitting on top of me,” I pointed out.
Shy shrugged. “Then I'll help.” She reached down and yanked my shirt over my head and away. “Better?”
I reached up and pulled her mouth to mine. “Did that answer your question?” I asked as we broke the kiss for air.
“I might need reminding in a couple of minutes,” she teased. “Anyway, off with the rest of it.”
“That wasn't the agreement,” I pointed out, grabbing the hem of her t-shirt again and sitting up. “You just said pants at first.”
“Actually, I said the rest of it might as well go at once, too,” she replied slyly.
“Well, there's no rush, is there?” I smirked, starting to lift the bottom of her gray undershirt. “No harm if we even it out first.”
Shayera put her arms around my neck and nuzzled my cheek lightly. “I guess not,” she said softly, slowly trailing kisses down my jawline.
Her silken hair brushed against my cheek as she shifted a little and then nipped lightly at my ear. I gently returned the favor, then slowly nipped at and kissed her neck as best I could. She let out a shuddering moan. “Hey, shouldn't you be taking my clothes off?”
“You're absolutely right.” I started to pull her t-shirt up. She put her arms up to facilitate removal. but I had other ideas. The collar of the now-inverted shirt made it as far as the bridge of her nose when I stopped, and instead just let the garment sit on the upper part of her face and just below her elbows.
“Hey! No blindfolding!” Shy complained. However, her arms were also bound now. I reached around her and unclasped her upper undergarment. A wave of temptation passed over me, but there would be time to indulge soon enough. Besides, Shy's squirming and trying to wriggle the impromptu bonds that held her were starting to be less playful and more determined. Stealing a quick but deep kiss on her mouth, I pulled away her bonds and discarded the shirt, tossing it away to settle somewhere on the floor.
“I thought you gave up the blindfold-stuff years ago,” accused my wife. “And the tying-up bit.”
I smiled and brushed some of her hair away from her eyes. “Maybe I just waited so long so I could surprise you.”
She snorted as she tossed aside her bra. “Yeah, okay. If you don't watch it, maybe I'll surprise you .”
“Now who's threatening whom with a good time?” I grinned, kissing her again. This time, she was much more obliging. She always has been a very good kisser .
“So, I guess we're evened out now,” Shy noted once her tongue was free, panting slightly . “Tell you what. I'll do you, you do me.”
“I assume you mean undressing. ”
“You know, you're damn lucky I love you so much. and you're good-looking enough for me to put up with those lousy one-liners,” she smirked. “So, fair exchange sound good? Or does one of us do all the work?”
“Lie back,” I said, making up my mind pretty quickly.
“All right,” she said tentatively.
Completing my own disrobing was a quick affair, but when it came to her turn, I took my time. “So, I guess your answer was you do all the work?” Shy quipped as I slipped her underpants down her long legs.
I laid down next to her, and we embraced again. “Anything special in mind tonight?” I asked.
Shayera kissed me lightly on the lips. “Yeah. yeah, there is,” she said quietly. “Between crazed children, bombs going off, and everything else. this is the most relaxed I've been in a week. Think we can take our time and enjoy it?”
I chuckled, drawing the comforter over us. “I think so.” Putting my arm back around her, I rolled the two of us so she was lying on top of me. “That's better.”
“Mmm, yeah it is,” she smiled, leaning in for another kiss.
Emperor Ams Jendob, Ruler of the Imperial Remnant
Still, it was more effort to get on and off in exchange for more functionality and a bit more. ostentatious look. At first, I wasn't too keen on trading in my rank plaque for shoulder boards with bars, starbursts, and pips or over replacing it with a ribbon rack, not to mention the throat closure hidden by a large Imperial crest that screamed "punch/shoot/stab here". But, since the Empire hadn't been involved in open warfare since the introduction of the new setup, it was never really put to that test. Although, now Zend might.
I pushed the traitorous Grand Admiral out of my head. The last thing I needed to be thinking about so early in the day was the woman who had now twice betrayed the Remnant. First, she fought the Empire into a standstill with the New Republic but then, with the combatants seemingly deadlocked in strength and power, she merely packed up and left. with the bulk of the Imperial fleet and a huge portion of the ground forces. That alone cost the Empire many worlds before the peace treaty was made. Her second betrayal was the bombing the Defense Council--
Dammit, I don't want to think about it , I mentally grumbled. The evening before had been the first time I'd really been completely relaxed since the year began. and Ams and I don't have time to de-stress each other quite so thoroughly this morning .
Fortunately, there were no special meetings to attend, no secret conferences or extraordinary circumstances of any kind. Just a nice, normal day at the office: no bombs, no Moff Council, no voting for a new Emperor (something that still struck me as ironically amusing). and hopefully, I wouldn't see that idiot tech that nearly blew up my shuttle's engines. A nice, normal day with nice normal events. I hoped.
I turned to see Ams leaning in the doorway to the master refresher. The little bit of stubble he'd sported last night and earlier in the morning was completely gone. He'd tried growing out his facial hair. once. Aside from making him look like some kind of Sith wizard, it was uncomfortable as hell. on both sides, as it turned out. Since then, a little splash of depil prevented any undesired exfoliation and kept both his face and our face-time nice and smooth.
"Yeah. Now, do you promise no more Moff Council meetings?" I said.
"Hmm. Actually, if I do become Emperor. maybe I'll make you deal with them," he retorted.
I rolled my eyes. "Can I do that using a blaster or flame projector?"
Ams cupped his chin for a moment, appearing to be deep in thought. "Your Emperor shall consider your request."
"Then your wife will consider yours," I said with equal deadpanned detachment. And in case he needs a little reminder. "You know, the one from last night."
A thin smile formed on his lips. I could tell by the faint quiver at the corners of his mouth he was fighting hard to keep up the act and not break out into a wide grin, or worse yet, laugh . "You do like to play hardball, don't you?"
"Twenty-seven years and you're just working this out?" I could've kept up the little back-and-forth for a while longer. After all, I'd been the top sabacc and pazaak shark in my squadron during my naval career. Many a credit—or article of clothing, if we played Nar Shaddaa rules—was lost because I had a good sabacc face. He'd crack a full-blown smile before I would. and I'd chalk up another round in our little teasing game. However, I was tired of doing it on an empty stomach and I supposed there was a touch of mercy in there, too. "Come on, let's see what Niles whipped up. And try not to discuss anything classified this time."
Ams grunted. He'd truly been angry with Niles, but tried to cover it up in between issuing very real threats. Ams wasn't usually that. sloppy , but given the events of the past week, I supposed anyone's nerves would be frazzled. Hopefully our mutual catharsis from the night before helped soothe the frayed nerves and got him back—at least partway—to his usual self. Hopefully.
Empress Shayera Jendob
I both cursed and was elated by my fortune. Shy was pleased by the results, of course. Now and then, the faintest glimmer of ambition would shine through in her words. But who could blame someone for being excited at the prospect? Even though I dreaded it, I couldn't deny the allure it possessed.
After all, who—if even for a moment—never wanted to see what it had been like? To rule the entire Galaxy from the Imperial throne, to repair the damages caused by Palpatine, Daala, Zend, Mothma, Organa Solo, and many others? To shape things how they saw?
Of course, not everyone's vision was clear. I wasn't entirely sure mine was. Then again, there were some Moffs still in the running that I wouldn't trust with a bucket of bantha droppings (they wouldn't return the bucket), let alone running the Imperial Remnant during a very likely war.
I sighed and sipped at the brandy. Yet, no matter how smooth and refined the liquor was, it lacked its powers of relaxation this night. Tomorrow would bring a second vote the list was to be whittled down to ten. Then five. And from those five, a new Emperor would be chosen. It was enough to make anyone tense.
A whistle cut through my brooding. "Come back to the planet, Ams."
I looked away from the wall to gaze at my wife. Shayera sat in an overstuffed chair, the table next to her bearing a vase that gained more and more familiarity. It had been the gift from Kris, the one that seemed to spark off tensions on that miserable day.
I blinked, shaking my head slightly. "Sorry. Just. a lot to think about."
"Want some help?" she asked helpfully.
"Well, if you insist," I said, standing up and moving to the couch. She picked up her wine glass and came over. I put an arm around her, squeezing her shoulder gently. "There. Now we can think together."
"So, what're you thinking about?"
I took another sip of the brandy. Still no help from the cognac, though Shy's closeness was certainly starting to melt away the tension. "Oh, just this emperor business. Kris. pottery."
She laughed and kissed my cheek. "Pottery, eh? That's different."
Gesturing the vase, I succumbed to her infectious laughter. "That blasted thing. It seems like everything went to hell over that."
"Hey," Shy complained, her amusement turning to umbrage. "That was a belated birthday gift."
I grunted. "It bloody shouldn't have been belated. He could've easily gotten leave and been here."
Shayera's body tensed. She took in a breath, then sipped at her wine. She was stalling for time, time to get control of her words. I'd seen the maneuver many times, in many arguments. Her words came out finally, her tone a study in calculated neutrality, her cadence even and measured. "Kris is just going to have to work out his issues, on his own time."
She was trying not to get angry. Failing that, she was trying not to show. My own irritation grew, but at our wayward son rather than at her. "He has no right to take his issues with me out on you."
"We're kind of a package deal."
The irritation grew. mostly because she was right. We argued as much as we agreed. in private. But with the twins—or anyone, for that matter—we tended toward mutual defense and a united front. However, that didn't change the fact that Kris still dealt with his issues wrong. Even a message on that day, wishing his mother well, would've suited to address her without requiring personal confrontation with me. if it would've come to that. But nothing. Just a paltry piece of clay that was over a year late. Even an attempt to compliment on him on the selection seemed to be taken as an insult.
Still, it had come from her son-- our son—so it was still special to Shayera. I sighed. It certainly wasn't just a paltry piece of clay, either. But how could any artwork compare to the joy his mere presence would've brought?
"I guess you're right," I finally admitted. "Still. "
"He's got to reach out to us, first. Kendra tried to get us to patch things up—consciously or otherwise, I'm not sure—but that was part of it on New Year's," Shayera noted. "We can't force it. That'll just make things worse."
"I suppose you're right," I echoed, nodding.
She shot me a look. Something dark clouded her eyes. "You. do want to patch things up. right?"
I found myself taken by surprise by the question. "Of course!" I said, a hair too loudly for our proximity. "He's still our son."
" Our son," Shy repeated. "But what about your son?"
Now I paused. It was certainly easier to consider his relation in terms of both of us. Thinking about the relationship between him and I, I could see the broad gulf. the fires on the bridges that spanned it. The pain he'd inflicted, directly and indirectly. My anger and confusion with him, not knowing why he would act in such a way. Yet, amid it all. despite his rebellion and lashing out and viciousness, I could not say the ties were broken. Strained, perhaps. Damaged, definitely. But it was repairable. It was forgivable. Even if it wasn't reciprocated, I still loved my son. "Yes, he's still my son, too."
Emperor Ams Jendob, Ruler of the Imperial Remnant
Damn politics . I supposed I should've been used to it. I'd resigned myself to dealing with politics about a year before, when Ams was made a Moff. Hell, year? Just a few months ago. Everything seemed so long ago. was it a sign of aging, or was it that the times had gotten more and more chaotic?
Getting back on my original train of thought, politics came with the territory of being married to an Imperial official. Even if Ams had stayed in the Navy, the admiralty was just as political. But. Emperor ? I still hadn't fully recovered from him becoming a Moff!
Not to mention what it means to Kris, Kendra. and me. I knew full well the resurrection of the Imperial throne was nothing more than a public relations scheme at its heart. The Moff Council certainly didn't want a ruling dynasty formed. Maybe they'll revoke it after we deal with Zend. assuming we win.
Of course, all of this stress and massive changes to our lives was contingent on Ams being selected, one last time. Then again, he thought he'd had no chance when there were fifty names. Now, he was in the final five before the Moff Council, all without being one of the ass-kissers, power-brokers, or other. scoundrels who generally comprised the Council. Perhaps it was a sign: merit was finally winning over political connections. A rare occurrence in Imperial history, indeed.
I must be getting old. All of this damned brooding. I thought with annoyance, trying to force my attention to examining a tree. I remembered the day it was planted: hot, sunny, that first summer after the crash. Kris and Kendra were there, helping and hindering like seven year-olds usually did.
I looked around the well-tended garden. Niles usually about half of the pruning now, but I found trimming down the various bushes, shrubs, trees, and other flora to be rather soothing. When I had the time.
Walking a bit further into the yard, I spied another seasonal form of relaxation. Our pool was covered for the winter and early spring. But once it got warm, I knew I'd be diving in. I loved the cooling splash, the brief instant where the cold water took away my breath, pushing through the water. I loved swimming as much as flying, sometimes a bit more.
A wistful smile crept across my lips as I thought about the planting the garden with the twins, teaching them to swim and occasionally having to keep Kendra from drowning her brother with excessive dunking. Little things like that helped me pick up the pieces after the crash and most likely kept me sane and sober.
I knelt down, examining some Sartinyan discords Kris had planted just before he left for the Academy. Fitting.
But the sound of a speeder's repulsorlift engine cruising up in front of the house, then idling down cut off my train of thought. Curious, I walked back around to the front of the building, where a uniformed aide was already helping another officer out of the back of the gleaming black vehicle. My expression became one of disgust when I recognized the passenger.
“Oh good, Commander,” Rosset said in an oily tone. “Is your husband home?”
I couldn't even hold back a sneer of loathing. “And why would I inflict you on him?”
The phony smile on Rosset's face faded. “You'd best watch your tone, Commander. You're speaking to a superior officer on an Imperial world.”
“And you're on private property, Moff Rosset. Maybe I should call the authorities and have you removed. ”
The nauseating smile returned to the moff's face. “My dear, I come as a representative of the highest authorities. Even if you and your husband do seem to view the Moff Council as a sham organization, I think most civil protection precincts answer to them.” He paused as I ground my teeth. “Now, is your husband available?”
“I'll check,” I growled, almost leaping to the steps up to the door. As I opened the door, I began quite aware of Rosset's uncomfortable proximity. “Do you mind?”
“Stepping in? Thank you for the invitation, my dear,” he smirked.
Murderous thoughts flitted across my mind. Nah. Niles hates cleaning up blood. I walked over to Ams' study, safely out of Rosset's sight. “You have a friend here to see you,” I grunted.
The door opened and Ams poked his head out. “What?”
“Rosset,” I grunted. “Wants to see you. And before you tell me to tell him to shove it, I did. He says he's here from Council.”
Ams narrowed his eyes suspiciously, but stepped out and started to stride toward the door. Rosset was standing in the middle of the living, arms folded behind his back, looking around with a certain obnoxious swagger. as if he owned the place.
The moff wheeled, his expression looking as if he'd been slapped. Sounds like a lovely idea. “Why, Moff Jendob! Surely you don't greet all visitors to your home with such abruptness?”
“Just the uninvited ones,” Ams smiled back. “Now, I'm trying to keep up to date on this business with the Moff Council and my Intelligence briefs.”
“Intelligence briefs?” Rosset asked, his tone indicating genuine confusion.
“Well, assuming the Moff Council is serious about choosing a new Emperor—”
The sickening smile came again, “Oh, they are—”
“Then I trust he or she will need up-to-date intelligence on the Republic, Zend's forces. Or do you disagree?” Ams continued.
Rosset let out a laugh. It made me think of a Hutt's chuckle. “Well, then. you're making the job easier on your replacement. Less to inform you.”
What the hell does that mean? I wondered. Ams voiced it for me, with equal annoyance. “What are you talking about?”
Rosset gave an exaggerated, almost-mocking bow. “What is thy bidding, my liege?”
My eyes went wide. Ams said nothing and his face gave away less. “So. ”
“Yes,” the other man chortled. “ You have been chosen by the Moff Council to lead the Imperial Remnant against the defector Zend and drive her back into the Unknown Regions.”
Ams tilted his head slightly. “I see. And what has you in such a good mood about that ?” he asked pointedly.
The horrific smile widened. “Well, I was the one that sponsored you, my friend . Now, of course, I know you're a man of principle, but I trust you also recognize the principle of gratitude . Now is your chance, Jendob. Your chance to reform the Empire, as you and your allies often speak of, to make it new and whole. All I ask is that, as your humble servant, you permit me to continue to serve this new and improved Empire.”
Ams nodded with a smile. He even clapped Rosset on the shoulder. And yet he doesn't burn. I thought. “I see, my friend . Well, I'll take your wise words under consideration. And thank you for coming by to deliver the sensational news.”
“Anything to serve my new Emperor,” grinned Rosset as he was slowly edged toward the door. “Well, I suppose I must be off.”
Gods, you have no idea how off you are. “Of course,” Ams said, his tone decidedly friendly.
And with that, Rosset left. Ams shut the door, waited a moment, and glanced around conspiratorially before finally muttering, “Frakking jackass.”
“No kidding. Ugh, I think I need a shower just. being near him,” I said.
Ams started to walk back to the study. “So, wait,” I called after him. “That's it?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “More or less. There will be a meeting, the day after tomorrow, to confirm and add some ceremony and pomp to the whole affair.”
I looked at him askance. “Ams. you've just been told that you're the next Emperor . I. you're acting like you were just told the weather.”
Ams chuckled and turned around. “Honestly, it hasn't really sunk in. And when it does, well. what are the first things I get to do? Find a traitor—or dozens of them—in the Imperial ranks, fight a war against a living legend, and actually have to pay attention to the Moff Council.”
“Hmm, that last one's the worst, by far,” I smiled, moving closer and putting my hand on his arm. “Still. I definitely didn't plan on this when we got married.”
“Oh, don't worry love I'll make sure you get to play with the Moffs too.”
“Aww, you shouldn't,” I said with mock affection. “Really. you shouldn't.”
He laughed again but his tone became more introspective. “Well, I should probably find a moving company.”
“Moving?” I asked, not quite following his train of thought.
He nodded and leaned against the wall. “Somehow, I don't think we'll be living on Ravelin Ridge anymore. Security issues and all that. We don't exactly have room to bunk a battalion of Stormtroopers or a TIE wing.”
My mood sank a little. “What, are they going to shove us into Disra's old palace?”
“Most likely. That's where the Fels were going to go.”
“Oh, great. Inheriting a murdered man's home,” I grunted.
Ams shot me a look of disbelief. “What?” I asked defensively. “If the droid bomb didn't get him, don't you think the palace would've been rigged too?”
He grunted. I went on. “Yeah, I know it's insensitive, but. ”
“All right, you have a point. Still, it's unlikely we're going to be staying here.”
I sighed. He was probably right. “A lot of memories here. Lot of stuff, too.” I thought of the garden I'd just been enjoying. Years of tending, care. but transporting a garden —rather, exhuming the ground all the way around our house—wasn't a reasonable option, even if there was more than two days notice. I wondered what else would be left behind.
“Gods, this is a lot to deal with at once,” I remarked.
“Now do you see why I'm not popping the champagne?” Ams replied, matter-of-factly.
Niles had appeared, his eyes wide and eager. “And why are we not getting it out?”
I had to chuckle as the butler cut through the tension. “Well, good news and bad news. But I'm sure you heard it already.”
A frown spread across Niles face. “Heard what? Oh, did I miss something again?”
“Do you really miss anything , Niles?” Ams asked pointedly.
“I swear, sir! I don't know what you're talking about,” he complained. “Do you know how maddening that is?”
I looked at Ams. Now I wasn't sure if I could say anything. Fortunately, he spoke up and cleared it up. “Suffice it to say, we'll probably need to move. That's the bad news. I think.”
“So what's the good news?” Niles asked incredulously. “And. moving? To where?”
“I can't tell you that, yet,” Ams frowned.
“Yes, but if you're moving. I don't mean to sound self-centered, sir, but,” he paused. “What about me?”
“Oh, don't worry about that,” my husband smiled. “Think of it as a promotion for you.”
“A promotion?” Niles began to grin, but then his gaze turned suspicious. “To what?”
Ams laughed. “Don't worry about it, old man. Besides, you know far too many state secrets to be in someone else's employ. We'll keep you on.”
“Oh, well, in that case,” Niles began, definitely reassured. “Can I get either of you something before you retire?”
Ams shook his head. When the butler's eyes fell on me, I spoke up. “Well. if it's not too much trouble.”
“For you, ma'am, it's never too much trouble. Your usual?”
I shook my head. “I was thinking that minty one. I can't remember what it's called. ”
Niles smiled and nodded. “I know what you mean. How stiff would you like it?”
“Just normal. Nightcap, not an instant hangover,” I teased.
He opened his mouth, but seemed to think better of whatever glib reply he was about to let loose. “I'll have it in a moment.”
When Niles left for the kitchen, Ams turned to me. “So, were you serious about taking the shower?”
“Nah. Although, I think I am starting to get a little giddy over the whole 'being married to the emperor' thing,” I chuckled.
Ams laughed softly. “Yeah, Niles can help with tension. when he doesn't cause it.”
“So, are you feeling better about it?”
“No,” Ams said bluntly. “But relieved, I guess.”
I reached up and squeezed his shoulder. “Hey. You'll do a good job. you've got me to keep you from going all crazy Palpatine,” I smirked.
Ams moved closer and wrapped his arms around me. “I knew there was a practical reason for you marrying you, besides silly things like love and attraction.”
I shook my head, then kissed him on the cheek. “Maybe you're too far gone already. Mad with power,” I teased.
He looked down at me, with a wolfish smile. My knees went just a bit rubbery. “Maybe I should show you how gone I am,” he said seductively, then kissed my forehead and laughed. “Or not.”
“Oh, you can if you want,” I blurted out, far too eagerly for my own tastes. I quickly pulled back from him. “Umm. sorry. A little subconscious slip there.”
“And Niles hasn't even gotten you your nightcap,” he teased. “Well, I should at least wrap up the reports I was going over.”
I nodded. “I should make sure all of my stuff is in order. now that I'm going to be th—”
I turned, with a wry look. “Almost, Niles. But not quite. heard you coming.”
He frowned with disappointment. I took my drink. “Oh, it's just not fair,” he whined.
“Thanks for the drink,” I smirked, taking a sip. Minty, chocolatey, and with just the right amount of kick. “Just hold out for a couple days, Niles. We'll tell you everything.”
“But why can't you tell me now?”
“Careful, Niles. You're starting to sound like my son,” Ams intoned. “Only with a better accent.”
I modified my grip on the glass to deliver a gesture to my husband, for his eyes only. His brief look of incredulous amusement told me he definitely saw it. Kris had my Corellian accent rather than Ams' stuffy received pronunciation from Coruscant. And I was glad for it. With just Ams speaking in those refined Coruscanti tones, it was exotic. With Ams and Niles, it was familiar if a tad stiff. Three such speakers, though. and it became an incredible irritant.
“Now that's a low blow, sir,” the butler sulked. “If that'll be all. ”
We both nodded. “Then I shall retire.”
“All right. And thanks, Niles,” I called after him.
“Of course, ma'am.” I was sure I could count on one hand the number of times he used my given name. Then he wandered off to his room. We'd offered him his own place in the house from when he started, but he didn't accept until about ten years ago. And, if Ams hadn't just been trying to spare his feelings, he'd be coming with us to our new home.
Well, despite his nosiness and occasional whining, he has always been very good to us. Although, making the poor guy dust all of Disra's palace. that would be much too harsh. Maybe it'll be handy if he breaks into any more state secrets .
“Now what are you smiling about?”
“Huh? Oh. just ways to curb Niles' 'curiosity.'”
Ams rolled his eyes. “Good luck with that. Anyway, before we were interrupted by your need for a nightcap and making obscene gestures. ”
“I thought you liked it when I talked dirty to you,” I snickered.
He smirked back. “ Talk , yes. I love that adorable, Corellian bumpkin accent of yours.”
“I'm going to kick your ass,” I retorted. “And not in the fun way!”
“Oh, keep it down!” a third voice called from the corridor. “Both now and later!” More indistinct muttering followed, but it was silenced by the sound of a door sliding shut. But I was sure I heard something about “how it always goes.” Maybe I need to talk to our hardworking butler about appropriate subjects.
By then, Ams had already vanished into his study. I walked to the kitchen, sipping at my cocktail. In truth, all of my reports and maintenance checks had already been filed. But I knew Ams would feel bad if he knew I was stuck twiddling my thumbs or contemplating a glass now half-full of opaque, pale-green liquid while he finished his soon-to-expire duties.
Having had enough of contemplating, I threw back the rest of the contents of the glass and washed it clean in the sink. Still tasting the minty sweetness of the beverage, I made my way up to the bedroom. I almost started to put on my pajamas, then that idea of a shower combined with some of the not-very-subtle flirting with Ams. Nah. he's probably not in the mood to mess around.
So, it was decided. A quick shower before bed to get any sap from the trees or Rosset stench off, then just cuddle up with my Emperor-elect husband. A nice, quiet way to wind down the evening. My mind made up, I shucked off my clothes and walked to the refresher. As I dropped my clothes in the hamper, I thought how. normal everything seemed. Calm before the storm , I mused cynically.
I turned on the water and after a moment, stepped into the shower. The warm spray was inviting and comforting. My mind quickly drained of concerns and thoughts. I was in the moment, going second by second.
I nearly screamed in shock. Instead, I was able to hold back the surprise and turn it into annoyance. “Can you knock, Ams?”
“Sorry,” my interloping husband replied, clearly put off by the curt reception. “I've been listening to the water run for the last fifteen minutes, but I didn't hear anything else. Just making sure you didn't slip and crack your skull open.”
I sighed. “I'm fine. thanks for the concern. But announce yourself next time, okay?”
“Sorry about that. Anyway, how much longer do you plan on being in there?”
I shrugged, then realized he couldn't see it through the nearly opaque doors. “I don't know. Maybe about ten minutes?”
I could see him standing just outside the door, just a vague, blurry outline through the frosted glass. “Well, don't take too long. ” There was a definite lilt in his tone.
I opened the shower door and poked my head out. I wanted to see the look on his face before I jumped to any conclusions. “What, do you have a hot date?”
Ams grinned. I think I can start jumping. “Well, that's up to my hot date.”
I smirked. “Give me fifteen minutes. your Highness.”
He winced. “Please, let me enjoy my last two days as a normal human being.”
I laughed and closed the door to the shower alcove. I grabbed a bottle of shampoo and quickly worked it into my hair. Now I was on a schedule.
“That was seventeen minutes,” Ams pointed out as I stepped out of the steam-filled refresher.
I gave him a look as I walked over the bed. “Hey, I don't time you on lots of things, my liege .”
He scoffed. “A bit too archaic, sweetheart. And an interesting choice of apparel.”
“Your robe,” he said. “It brings out your eyes nicely.”
I blinked. “Oh. Thanks,” I replied unsteadily.
He reached out and touched my cheek. “Are you all right, love?”
I nodded. “Yeah. Sorry. it's all sinking in again.”
He put his arms around me. and it didn't feel quite as safe as usual. What was it, all of a sudden? “It's going to be all right,”Ams whispered softly. “I'm here for you.”
I looked up at him, at his intense and earnest expression. The cloud over me dissolved. I slipped my arms around his neck and kissed him lightly on the lips. He returned it, softly and lovingly. I reciprocated, kissing him once more, matching his gentleness and passion. Then he came back again, nipping at my lower lip for a instant. Back and forth we went, slowly escalating until we were lying on our sides, arms and legs intertwined tightly, mouths pressed together. Finally, I pulled back for air. Ams was panting softly he apparently pushed himself as far as I did. “You know, I've never been with an emperor before,” I teased.
“Hmm. I've never made love to an empress, for that matter,” he retorted.
I gave him a quick look over. “You couldn't have changed into something simpler?”
“Nothing would be a good start,” I grinned, kissing him on the lips again. He started to pull at his shirt, but I pushed his hands away. “Nah, I'll take care of it. More fun for both of us.”
He shook his head. “What am I going to do with you?”
I knew how he meant it. but I gave him a few, shorter-term ideas. “So, how does that sound?” I asked innocently as he blushed at my candor.
Ams smirked. “It sounds like I have a very, very interesting wife. But I knew that already.”
I quickly unfastened his shirt and pulled it off of him. He reached up to pull off my robe, but I stopped him. “Uh-uh. You first.”
“Well, aren't you being aggressive tonight.”
I shook my head, quickly working through the rest of his garments. “No, not aggressive.”
He sat up as I threw the last article of his clothing off the bed. “So, now is it your turn?”
I turned, with my back toward him. “Yep.”
“Then shouldn't you turn around?”
I looked back over my shoulder. “Nope. I'm not going to give it all away at once. That wouldn't be fitting for the wife of an emperor.”
He shook his head again and chuckled. “You're maddening. and I think that just makes me love you more.”
Then he began to tug at the silken belt that held the robe together, reaching around me to untie the knot that upheld the robe's closure and my modesty. I didn't think I'd need either for very long. The knot quickly came undone, and the robe opened in front. Ams asked quietly, “Did that get it?”
I thought about a few ways to show him, but I decided to be nice. Just this once. “Yeah. Guess I'm at your mercy, now,” I joked, then remembered something. “Hang on a second, actually.”
I squirmed around until I freed my arms from the sleeves. “Okay, now I'm at your mercy.”
Ams gently tugged at the top of the robe, and it fell down below my shoulders. I heard him move closer, felt his warm breath on my neck. I started to look back. “No, no. relax,” he breathed before gently kissing the side of my neck. “Trust me.”
I smiled to myself. Every time I'd heard those words from him, under these circumstances, I was never disappointed. Never . So, I relaxed and enjoyed the rain of kisses he showered on my neck, then my left shoulder. The occasional, random nibble kept me on my toes. so to speak. I sighed happily, displaying my content. I figured he'd go to the other side, work his way up my shoulder and neck.
Then I felt him nip at my left shoulder blade, then a series of light, tantalizing kisses. I chuckled. “Nibbling on my wings, huh?”
Another nibble, a few centimeters to the right, came first, then a muffled “uh-huh” confirmed it. “You have such nice wings. And it's been too long since I played with them.”
The "wings" were a tattoo I'd gotten when I was very much younger and very much intoxicated. I'd made my first kill as a TIE pilot, along with a few other rookies in my squadron. At our first port, we celebrated with copious amounts of alcohol. Through events I didn't fully recall, we wound up deciding to get a little ink. We decided to make it the then-unofficial symbol for Imperial fighter pilots: an Imperial crest between two stylized, angular wings. Fortunately, I'd retained enough of my wits to get it done on my back, just off the shoulder blade the other female pilot in the squadron decided to get it elsewhere. The two male pilots with us got them on the arm. One had already made ace, he added “Death From Above” underneath.
He was killed on the next mission: an A-Wing landed a solid cannon hit on his cockpit one beam struck his shoulder, severing the arm. The other hit him center of mass, reducing him to ash. He was only identified after the wrecked Interceptor was recovered by his distinctive tattoo.
But the history behind the inked insignia—and sad links that could be drawn from there—was far from my mind. Ams had one hand at my belly, gently tickling my stomach with his fingertips. The other was at my chest, squeezing just hard enough for full sensation without any pain. His lips raced up and down my neck and up my jaw, from the back. A thrill ran up my spine with each caress, each firm fondling, each kiss. After a short time, I couldn't take it anymore. I leaned back, pushing into Ams and breaking his grip. Then I sat back up and yanked away the rest of the robe before turning around, getting close, and nuzzling Ams' neck. “Okay. no more.”
“No more?” he asked. “What do you mean?”
I draped an arm across his chest. “No more nibbling the wings, no more playing around. let's get serious.”
He stroked my hair and held my closer with his free arm. “Whatever Her Highness commands,” he smirked.
. Wow. That really is annoying. “I won't say it if you won't.”
“Good,” I replied as I grabbed the blanket and pulled it over us. “Now, where were we?”
“Getting serious,” Ams laughed softly.
I rolled on top of him and kissed him lightly on the lips. “Right. Let's do that. ”
Empress Shayera Jendob
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T HE Bards as a class were so deeply interwovenwith the whole life of ancient Wales and, thoughlong shorn of most of their official glory, playedso prominent a part in the rising of Glyndwr, that itseems desirable that a chapter touching on the subjectshould be included in this book. Within such limitsthe subject can only be treated in the most generaland elementary manner. Yet such treatment is excusablefrom the fact that the slenderest and mostinefficient description of Welsh song and Welsh singersmust contain matter unknown to most Englishreaders. I imagine that few of these would resentbeing asked to divest their minds of the time-honourednotion that the teaching of the Druids was nothingbut a bloodthirsty and barbarous superstition.At any rate, Bardism and Druidism being practicallythe same thing, one is obliged to remind those readerswho may never have given the matter any attentionat all, that among the ancient Britons of theGoidel stock who inhabited most of Wales and theWest previous to the Cymric immigration, Druidismwas the fountain of law, authority, religion, and, [ Pg 334] above all, of education. The Druids, with their threeorders, were a caste apart for which those who werequalified by good character and noble birth to do so,laboriously trained themselves. They decided allcontroversies whether public or private, judged allcauses, from murder to boundary disputes, and administeredboth rewards and punishments. Thosewho ventured to defy them were excommunicated,which was equivalent to becoming moral and sociallepers.
The three orders were known as Druids, Bards,and Ovates. The first were priests and judges, thesecond poets the third were the least aristocratic,practised the arts and sciences, and were, moreover, aprobationary or qualifying order through which candidatesfor the other two, who were on the same levelof dignity, had to pass. As everyone knows, therewas an Arch-Druid of the Isle of Britain who had hissanctuary in Anglesey. But it is a matter of muchless common knowledge how close was the connectionbetween the Druids and Christianity in theRoman period and even afterwards. The Romans,with conquest foremost in their minds, most naturallyaimed at the native rulers of the people and madethese bardic orders the objects of their special attack.Their slaughter on the banks of the Menai asdescribed by Tacitus, and the destruction of theSacred Groves of Mona, are among our familiartraditions.
The Druid orders fled to Ireland, Brittany, andelsewhere. But in time, when the Romans, strongin their seats, grew tolerant, the exiles returned and [ Pg 335] quietly resumed, in West Britain at any rate, somethinglike their old positions.
When Christianity pushed its way from the Westinto the island, the bardic orders, unable to resist it,seem by degrees to have accepted the situation andto have become the priests of the new faith, as theyhad been the custodians and expounders of the old.This transition was the less difficult seeing that theDruids preached all the ordinary tenets of morality,and the immortality of the soul. To what extent theearly Christianity of western Britain was taintedwith the superstition of the Druids is a question uponwhich experts have written volumes, and it need notdetain us here. A notable effort was made in thefourth century to merge Christianity, so to speak, inthe old British faith, and Morgan or Pelagius, &ldquoseaborn,&rdquoof Bangor Iscoed was the apostle of this attemptedreaction. He left the island about A.D. 400,and his converts in what we now call Wales werenumerous and active. The movement is historicallyknown as the &ldquoPelagian heresy&rdquo and has some additionalimportance from the number of ecclesiasticsthat came from over the sea for the purpose ofdenouncing it.
But all this is rather the religious than the secularside of Bardism, the leading feature of whose teachingin pre-Roman days had been the committal tomemory of its literature, both prose and verse.Writing was discountenanced, as the possession ofthese stores of learning thus laboriously acquiredwere a valuable asset of the initiated. Three wasthe mystic number in the recitation of all axioms [ Pg 336] and precepts, for many of these were committed towriting later on in the seventh and tenth centuries,and are now familiar as the Welsh &ldquoTriads.&rdquo
The bards, as a lay order, remained of great importance.In the laws of Howel Dda (tenth century)the royal bard stands eighth among theofficers of the State. The fine for insulting himwas six cows and twenty silver pennies. His valuewas 126 cows, his land was free, and he had the useof a house. His noblest duty was to sing &ldquoTheMonarchy of Britain&rdquo at the head of his chieftain&rsquosarmy when victorious. The number of songs hehad to sing to the King and Queen respectively duringthe social hours was clearly defined, as were hisclaims upon each. Among the latter was a specifiedportion of the spoils of war, a chessboard madefrom the horn of a sea-fish from the King, and a ringfrom the Queen. It was the business of the bards,moreover, to preserve genealogies, and they werepractically tutors to the rising generation of thearistocracy. Every family of position in Wales hadits domestic bard, while below these there were agreat number of strolling minstrels who visited thedwellings of the inferior people, from whom they exactedgifts of money (&ldquocymmorthau&rdquo) as well asfree quarters.
In treating of individual and well-known bardsone naturally turns for a beginning to the sixthcentury, when that famous quartet, Taliesin, Merddyn,Aneurin, and Llywarch Hên, flourished. Severalpoems either actually their work or purportingto be so are extant. To linger over a period so dim, [ Pg 337] however great the names that adorn it, would be outof place here. That all four were great kings ofsong in their time is beyond doubt. The legendsthat distinguish them are comparatively familiar:how Taliesin was found floating in a leather bottlein Prince Elphin&rsquos salmon weir near Aberdovey, howMerddyn as a boy astonished the advisers of Vortigernand became his good angel, and how LlywarchHên, at a hundred and fifty years of age, witnessedthe slaughter of the last of his four-and-twenty sonsin battle against the Saxons. His poem on thedeath of Cynddylan, Prince of Powys, seizes theimagination, not so much from the description the poet-warriorgives of the death of his friend and his ownsons in a decisive combat which he himself tookpart in, but from the almost certain fact that fromthe top of the Wrekin he saw the Saxons destroyand sack Uriconium (&ldquothe white town&rdquo), whoseruins are such a striking feature among the sightsof Shropshire.
From these four giants until 1080 there is littleleft whereby to judge of the merits of the bards, andno great record of their names. That they sang andplayed and gave counsel and kept genealogies is beyondquestion, but it was not till after the Normanconquest of England that they began to leave muchbehind them in the way of written documents.
When Prince Griffith ap Kynan returned fromIreland to Wales and the poet Meilir arose to singhis triumphs and good qualities, a new era in bardichistory may be said to have commenced. The intellectualand religious revival that distinguished the [ Pg 338] twelfth century in Western Europe was conspicuousin Wales. The bards were no longer singing merelyof battles, but of nature and kindred subjects, witha delicacy that showed them to be men of taste andculture. In the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenthcenturies, in spite of war and conquest, the age wasa golden one in Welsh song. Between eighty andninety bards of this period have left poems behindthem as a witness of their various styles and merits,while there are no literary remains whatever of verymany who are known to have been quite famous intheir day. Thousands, too, of popular songs musthave existed that the jealousy of the composers or,more probably, the price of parchment consigned tooblivion.
&ldquoWhen the literary revival of this period reachedWales, its people,&rdquo says Mr. Stephens in the Literatureof the Kymri, &ldquowere better prepared than their neighboursfor intellectual effort.&rdquo &ldquoAn order of bards existed,numerous and well disciplined a language in allits fullness and richness was in use among all classes ofpeople, and as a necessary consequence their literaturewas superior, more copious, and richer than that of anycontemporaneous nation. The fabulous literature soprized by others was in no great repute, but gave way tothe public preference for the more laboured and artisticproductions of the bards.&rdquo
Several Welsh Princes of commanding characterand unusual ability came to the front in the longstruggle with the Norman power, and were nounworthy sources of bardic inspiration. Many ofthem aspired themselves to literary as well as [ Pg 339] martial fame, of whom Owain Cyfeiliog, Prince ofUpper Powys, was the most notable. Poetrywas in high repute. Eisteddfodau were held periodicallywith much ceremony and splendour, and weresometimes advertised a year in advance, not onlythroughout Wales but in Ireland and other portionsof the British Islands. Not poetry alone but literaturegenerally and music, of course, both vocaland instrumental, were subjects of competition,while Rhys ap Tudor, a long-lived and distinguishedPrince of South Wales, revived, after a sojourn inBrittany, the system of the Round Table. To Englishmenthe long list of bards who adorned theperiod between the Norman arrival and Glyndwr&rsquosrising would be mere names, but even to those whomay only read the works of the most notable intranslations, they are of great interest if only as areflection of life and thought at a time when Englandand English were still almost silent.
Gwalchmai, the son of a distinguished father, Meilir,already mentioned, was among the first of therevived school, whose work is regarded by Celticscholars as of the first quality. His love of nature isprominent in many of the poems he has left:
Owain Gwynedd was the hero-king of Gwalchmai&rsquosday. His repulse of an attack made by Henry the [ Pg 340] Second&rsquos fleet under the command of an unpatrioticPrince of Powys in Anglesey is the subject of thebard&rsquos chief heroic poem:
Owain Cyfeiliog, a Prince of Powys in the end ofthe twelfth century, though a noted warrior, is aleading instance of a royal bard. His chief poem,The Hirlâs Horn (drinking-cup), is famous whereverWelsh is spoken:
This is one of the longest poems of the twelfthcentury. The scene is the night after a battle, andthe Prince with his warriors gathered round him inthe banqueting-hall sends the brimming cup to eachof his chieftains successively and enumerates their [ Pg 341] respective deeds. A leading incident in the poem iswhen Owen, having eulogised the prowess of twofavourite warriors in glowing terms, turns to theiraccustomed seats, and, finding them vacant, suddenlyrecalls the fact that they had fallen in the battle ofthe morning:
A most suggestive poem by another Prince is akind of summary of his progress through his dominionsfrom the Ardudwy mountains,
to the hills above Llangollen where he proposes &ldquototaste the social joys of Yale.&rdquo This is Howel, theillegitimate son of Owain Gwynedd, who seized andheld for two years his father&rsquos kingdom. Thoughso strenuous a warrior, his poems are rather of loveand social life. He sings with much feeling of thejoys of Wales her fair landscape, her bright watersand green vales, her beauteous women and skimmingseagulls, her fields clothed with tender trefoil,her far-reaching wilds, and plenteousness of game.Himself a successful stormer of castles, there is somethingrichly suggestive in the action of a man layingdown the torch and bloody sword and taking up thepen to describe his havoc:
Then the author wholly changes his mood:
There is much misunderstanding as to the fashionin which the bards were treated by Edward the First.During war the leading minstrels were naturallyidentified with the patrons whose banners theyfollowed and whose praises they sang but thestatement that they were put to death as bards restson wholly secondary authority and seems doubtful.Stringent laws were certainly made against the lowerorder of minstrels who wandered homeless throughthe country, but they seem to have been devised asmuch for the protection of the common people, whowere called on to support them, as against the men [ Pg 343] themselves, who were regarded by the authorities asmendicants and idlers. The superior bards, who keptstrictly to the houses of the great, were probablynot often interfered with. These, though they hadregular patrons and fixed places of abode, made extendedtours from time to time in which there seemsto have been no special distinction between Northand South Wales. The hatred of the bards towardsEngland was a marked feature of their time, andwas so consistent that though many Welsh princes,in their jealousy, lent their swords, as we have seen,to the invader, no bards, so far as one knows, turnedagainst their countrymen. For generations theyprided themselves in being intellectually superior tothe Saxon. They also saw, after the Norman conquest,the English race despised and held down bytheir conquerors, and a species of serfdom in useamong the Saxons which had no prototype in theirown country. The ordinary bards, however, had beyondall doubt sacrificed much of their old independenceand become the creatures of their patrons andready to sell their praises for patronage. Even therespectable Meilir confesses:
Llewelyn the Great, the second, that is to say, of thethree Llewelyns, aroused the enthusiasm of Bardicliterature and was the subject of much stirringeulogy:
Dafydd Benvras, the author of this stanza, left manypoems, and later on Griffith ap Yr Ynad Goch wrotewhat is regarded as among the finest of Welsh odes,on the death of the last Llewelyn, laying the blameof that catastrophe on the wickedness of his countrymen:
After the Edwardian conquest in 1284 the note ofthe bards sensibly softened and attuned itself muchmore generally to love and nature. The song-birdsparticularly were in great request as recipients ofpoetic addresses and confidences.
While the same singer, Rhys Goch, describes thus thelight tread of his ladylove:
The latter part of the 14th century was extremelyprolific in poetry which, with some notable exceptions,is regarded rather as showing a good generallevel than as producing any masterpieces. Dafyddap Gwilym, the Welsh Ovid, is of course a strikingexception. Over 250 of his poems are preserved,while Lewis Glyncothi, Gutyn Owain, Iolo Goch,Glyndwr&rsquos bard, and two or three more have left behindthem something like 300 others. Dafydd apGwilym, who was buried at Strata Florida, holds oneof the highest places in Cymric literature. It is as alove poet that he is chiefly distinguished, but his loveof nature and his own beautiful country finds sole expressionin many of his productions. His ode toFair Glamorgan, written from &ldquothe heart of wild,wild Gwynedd,&rdquo asking the summer to be hismessenger, is regarded as one of his best. In translationit is interesting as a contemporary picture,though a poetic one, of the richest Welsh province.
Quotations have already been made in the bodyof this book from Iolo Goch&rsquos ode to Glyndwr, andthroughout the Wars of the Roses Lewis Glyncothi,Gutyn Owain, and Tudor Aled continued to sing ofcontemporary events.
The leading charge against Cymric poetry is thatit is too prone to elaborate the mere art of versificationat the expense of fire and animation. Alliterationwas of course the chief method of ornament,though the rhyming of the terminal syllable was byno means always ignored. But, speaking generally,skill in the arrangement of words according to certaintime-honoured conventions occupied more thanan equitable share in the making of Welsh verse. Atendency to put mere sound above feeling and emotiondid much to cramp it, and often forced it into mannerismsand affectations that would rather destroythan enhance the intrinsic merits of a composition.
&ldquoBeyond all rhetorical ornaments,&rdquo says Giraldus Cambrensis,&ldquothey preferred the use of alliteration and that [ Pg 347] kind more especially which repeats the first letters orsyllables of words. They made so much use of thisornament in every finished discourse that they thoughtnothing elegantly spoken without it.&rdquo
Mr. Stephens, by way of illustration, points outpoems by the greater bards which from the first lineto the last commence with the same letter. He alsoattributes the extraordinary elaboration in structurewith which fashion was prone to cumber Welshpoetry to a desire for increasing the difficulties ofcomposition and in consequence the exclusiveness ofthe bardic order. It is not surprising that in acountry where war was the chief business of life itshould be by far the favourite subject of the minstrel,particularly when one remembers that the celebrationof his employer&rsquos exploits or intended exploits wasthe chief source of the domestic poet&rsquos livelihood.The wars of Glyndwr stirred again the old fightingnote which after the Edwardian conquest had givenway in a great measure to gentler themes. The oldlaws against the bards, enunciated by Edward I.,now for long a dead letter, were renewed, but afterthis final submission of Wales it is doubtful if theycontinued to have much meaning, particularly amidthe chaos of the ensuing Wars of the Roses, whenthe bards most certainly did their full share of singing.
I have said nothing of the music which both in earlyand mediæval Wales played such a prominent partin the national life. The harp was always the truenational instrument, though the pipe or bagpipe waswell known and in frequent use but it was never [ Pg 348] really popular, as in Ireland and Scotland, and thiswas surely a valuable testimony to the superior cultureof the Welsh musicians. Griffith ap Kynan,King of North Wales about 1100, already mentioned,introduced it into the Eisteddfod as theresult of his Irish education. The pipes had hithertobeen forbidden, and the result at the celebratedEisteddfod at Caerwys was that Griffith&rsquos prize of asilver pipe went to a Scotsman. The Welsh, in short,despised the instrument. Lewis Glyncothi hasleft an amusing satire on a piper. He finds himselfin Flint at an English marriage, where the guestswould have none of him or his harp, but &ldquobawledfor Will the Piper, low born wretch&rdquo who comes forwardas best he may, &ldquounlike a free enobled man.&rdquo
Giraldus, half Welshman himself, writing after hisextended tour through Wales, about 1200, withArchbishop Baldwin, says:
&ldquoThe strangers who arrived in the morning were entertaineduntil evening with the conversation of youngwomen and with the music of the harp, for in this countryalmost every house is provided with both. Such aninfluence had the habit of music on the mind and its [ Pg 349] fascinating powers, that in every family or in every tribe,they esteemed skill in playing on the harp beyond anykind of learning. Again, by the sweetness of their musicalinstruments they soothe and delight the ear. Theyare rapid yet delicate in their modulation, and by theastonishing execution of their fingers and their swifttransitions from discord to concord, produce the mostpleasing harmony.&rdquo
The part-singing of the Welsh seems also to havegreatly struck Giraldus in contrast to the unison inwhich he heard the musicians of other nationsperform.
To draw the line between the bard and musicianwould be of course impossible. Many writers ofverse could only declaim some could sing to theirown accompaniment. The mass of musicians, however, we may take it, belonged to the lower grade ofwandering bards, who played first, as we have seen,upon the national instrument, the harp, as well asupon the pipe and &ldquocrwth&rdquo (a kind of rude violin).
The tone of morality was certainly not high amongthe mediæval Welsh bards. They had long lost alltouch with the order of the priesthood, and indeedmonks and poets had become almost as a matter ofcourse inimical to one another. The latter, too,maintained a steady hatred of the Saxon that was almostcreditable, seeing how often their masters, forthe sake of interest or revenge, took up arms againsttheir fellow-countrymen.