Saturday, July 22, 2006

Aberthol's Report

The woman at the reception was shaking her blonde head ardently at the man at her desk when Winterborn, First Class Aberthol approached the door.
"No, Sir. The Hegemon cannot see anyone at this time. His schedule is very full at the moment; he has many other people to see." Looking up at Aberthol, she gave a nod of appreciation and indicated the door, pressing a button under her desk. "You may go in, Winterborn." The man at the desk nearly jumped out of his skin at the word, his head snapping around to catch a glimpse at one of the famed Winterborn. He must have been a foreign delegation of some sort; Aberthol thought as he crossed the threshold, everyone in The Hegemony knew what a Winterborn looked like.
He proceeded down the long hallway with its blue wall hangings between the windows, walking briskly to reach the inner office of The Hegemon. As he entered, he saw two men that anyone in The Hegemony would have recognized instantly. One was The Hegemon; the other was his Second, The Warrior-Prophet Mortimer Khan. Both had their short, hollow swords drawn, and were swinging them through the air with the intricate changes of speed that produced the flute-swords' music. Stepping just inside the door, he waited a moment until he would be in harmony, and swung his own, in the brief series of tones that indicated a Winterborn, First Class.
Immediately, the two stopped and turned, both smiling broadly.
"Come in, brother." Said The Hegemon warmly, "may i offer you something to drink?" Aberthol smiled and nodded "Orange juice perhaps, brother. But please, i will get it myself if i may." The Hegemon nodded, then added,
"Excellent. We are eager to hear your report. Mortimer and i have a bet as to whether the Japanese were horrified by or envious of The Fedayken." As he crossed to the room's small drink service, Aberthol spoke back over his shoulder.
"Horrified. There is a profound effect in seeing soldiers that young, especially when their voices are heard. i chose to lead them up the beach to the Fedayken marching tune. It's very effective."
A knowing glance passed from the Warrior Prophet to his friend as Aberthol joined them.
"This song, Aberthol, can you play it for us? i've never heard it." The Hegemon shook his head, holding up a hand.
"No, don't bother. The effect isn't the same without the drum, much less without the children's voices. Perhaps we'll have your second squad pass in review once their apprenticeship is complete... Aberthol." Aberthol noted the pause as The Hegemon's eyes darted to his name patch, but he was not offended. The Hegemon was famously poor with names. Aberthol knew very well that the man knew to whom he was speaking, even if the name had eluded him a moment. "Is there anything of note to report? i understand that yours was one of the delegations that did not come to an engagement."
"No, brother, but that's hardly surprising to me. You see, the Japanese were privy to a sort of demonstration of the abilities of the Fedayken before the choice to withdraw or sortie was made." The Hegemon's expressive eyebrows showed a moment of confusion.
"A demonstration? What sort of demonstration?"
"There was a covert attempt on my life during the parley. No shot was fired. One of my Fedayken spotted the shooter, probably the glint from a lens, and killed the man with his knife. Lucky for Kenichi, i'd say. If i'd been shot, the Fedayken would have killed them to a man, doubtless."
"Save one you mean." The Hegemon added, referring to the Fedayken tradition to send one survivor back as a witness. Usually the man was sent back without his clothes, or worse.
"Of course, though i do feel some small doubt. They are incredibly loyal, brother. Not just to each other, but to their Officers. All the same, i still can't wrest from them which one threw the knife. i have my suspicions of course, but i'll never be sure."
"They'll never tell. Sometimes after a time they won't even admit it happened. They'll tell people you did it yourself." Supplied Khan. Aberthol wondered about that name, Khan did not bear the slightest mongoloid feature. If anything, Aberthol would have guessed him African, though a light skinned one. He might even be some Hispanic or another, but surely not Mongol. On an impulse, he blurted out,
"Brothers, who was the second man to be named a Winterborn? Everyone has heard of Mortimer Khan, but i've never heard who the second was." The Hegemon smiled faintly.
"Well, one might say it was Mortimer Khan, after me. But the second man pronounced a Winterborn by me was posthumous. i bestowed it on an old gym class teacher of mine. That man was hard in ways that would make your Sergeant cry for her mother." At the door, another tune was heard; the next Winterborn First Class had arrived to make his report. "And now brother, i'm afraid you'll have to excuse me. This is a busy time for me. i hope you will come soon when i have some free time. Can you play Go?" Aberthol nodded.
"Yes brother, though not well, i'm afraid."
"No matter. The pleasure is in the playing. Another time then, brother." Bowing his head slightly, Aberthol took his leave, smiling and welcoming his brother on the way in. He made his way out the great hall, past the desk where the foreign secretary was still pleading to present himself. As he passed, he thanked the woman there, and went along his way, back to his duty.


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