The Laughing Fire Emeritus
Leaving their drinks at their places, and walking back to the common room, Amarat, Flora Mariwolfe and Leviathan stepped back into pandemonium, almost all 300 patrons were cheering the pilot, a young woman showing the odd Kagomine monobrow. The room was broken up in theory with little bars every so many meters, but many were unoccupied. Her chants were quite spirited, but she was drowned by the volume from the patrons, and the odd accoustics of the room, that turned the chants into deafening echoes. At the Emeritus table, given respectful space, were indeed seated, , , Princip Cavill, , and two other Kons, apparently above quota.
"Are you sure we should go say hi? I mean..."
"I'm the Telbun!" She hiccuped. "I can go say hi."
"Cousin Tadros and Marhamat are nice, despite wanting to appear meaner than a Slashbeast with a Tchaspine in its paw, and 'uncle' Cavill and 'uncle' Quinn would give me the moon if I crooked my finger at them and dimpled."
"Oh? You know them?"
"Oh, family friends, then." His tone was wistful.
"Oh, Amarat, you don't... have anyone like that?"
"Not really, mom and Meihomei had each other, and the rest of the nobles made sure no one else got close. Wait, Firrson there qualifies I guess, but I never made the effort. I probably should fix that, if not for him, I'd not be here, I'm such a bad rescuee."
"From what I know, your mom's overcompensating for you, he's been pacing Maelle for promotions. See, those lungs on his uniform shoulders? He's above quota in the lifeguards now."
"Wow, so, I'm the only one below quota at that table? Maybe I should stay here, gang, you go."
"Now, now, if we go with Mariwolfe, drinked like she is, and not you, she's likely to leave with Quinn or Cavill, they were..."
"I only dated them twice..."
"The second time, the bar got destroyed, even Maelle thought you'd gone overboard that time..."
Mariwolfe whined, they went ahead to the Emeritus table. Laid along the staff lane from the bar to the stockroom, deliberately, so the staff would hardly miss them, a massive hardwood-beam and nails assemblage in darkest mahogany, that table looked like it had been assembled back when the bar was new. Surrounding that table was a collection of non-commissioned officers drinking and talking about the latest Casho game, at either end of the table, the Dandelion third cousins, Marhamat and Tadros were each having a bite to eat, some spicy chicken with rice for Tadros. and regular grilled chicken with a side of some dumpling soup Amarat didn't recognize, for Marhamat.
"Honoured Zims-Meritant-Zims." Amarat attempted.
"We work for a living!" Came the unanimous barked response, in-between bites in some cases. But they all stood to salute the merits, since the medal had been invoked.
"Bameimeito Amarat, you cheat, we're not so lofty we don't have to salute you!".
"If you don't have to salute Meihomei, you don't have to salute me, who was crazy enough to suggest otherwise?"
"And you Kon! We work for you, after all." That was the people at the table who hadn't retired, so everyone but the Navyand Marhamat.
"Begging the Electrum's pardon, but you've made officer, Sir."
"And I tried to retire, but they won't let me, there's a lesson in there for you, young Namei. Some postings are very honourable, but they won't let you stay home on a sunday and go fish, is it really worth the cost?"
"They let you go fish, once I got hired."
"And you couldn't come to fish with me! More fool you!"
"Ah, I'm, I'm not the fishing type, Zim."
"Namei Amarat, in this place, if you don't call me Kon, I may have to pull you over my knee and spank you. At this table, I am the Kon who earned a merit, not the Electrum-for-life, or the Valour-Keeper."
"Well, maybe the valour-keeper, but definitely not the Electrum.
was minding his own business.
"Yes, Namei Amarat?"
Amarat just saluted. "For a life, and more, owed, Firrson."
Firrson blinked back a tear.
"This young pup is known to you?" Marhamat barked. "We've been wondering what got him here in that Lifeguard getup.
"First Aumhavar Lifeguards, Defenders of Mountain Home, his regiment got recruited by Innu himself, back in the day, when they were commanded by-who-was-Nameihomei herself. And his father gave his life for my mother's, sacrificing his with my... with Amarat Veneer Senior." Amarat wanted to stop repeating the lie, not when so many heroic defenders sat around a single table, that he was the latter's son, but neither did he want them to start telling tales. As he looked into the eyes of everyone at the table, they all acknowledged, and implicitly, got confirmation for something most of them supposed already.
"Is your mother well, Namei Amarat?"
"I suspect you've seen her since I have. I'm just off deployment, and while Southie has many comforts, my mother was not among them this mission." As he replied, he looked around the table, Leviathan and Mariwolfe were chatting up Quinn and Cavill, Flora was off talking animatedly with Tadros, and he apparently had drawn the rest of the table to him.
"She was well, but worried about you."
"Bi-di-boop! Bi-di-boop!" Amarat's communicator had just beeped.
"Speak of the she-slash-beast!"
"Respect, son. That woman's a Star-Emerald Knight of Kagomei, and not for sitting pretty and making babies." Marhamat told the salty retired navy kon next to him.
"Arr, I intended no disrespect, quite the opposite. If anything, my money's against his mother versus any slashbeast. I've met her aboard Shannter when I was XO, only politician I ever met I came away impressed with. Honour to her, and her trail of medals and titles."
"She needs a book for all her names, has so many she cannot remember them all, and not all of them small!"
"Mastareir of Benevento?? ? I've met lesser rulers who'd look up. If the pup saved her, how did he do it?"
"It wasn't me, it was my father, Tallson Moray, Kon Thighsmith. She was heavily pregnant, with Namei Amarat, and couldn't move away from the enemy in time, both my father and his principal gave their lives so she could get away."
"Ah, yes, I knew that story, I had no idea you were that boy... Or that you were the unborn child. Neither of you are buying any drinks tonight, are they gents?"
"Oh, they won't be buying drinks in this place, I'll speak to the management. Saving Meihomei's own sister? At peril of his own life? His father's a hero, just the right kind of hero for someone to make emeritus. By the way, this is a table for twelve and we're seven, join us? Where'd they put you up anyways? We seem to have half the academy singing their wings in!"
"Staff room, in the back."
"Oh, didn't want to presume, huh? What Oh! Langedier!"
"Langedier, meet Firrson Moray, Kon in the lifeguards, and my aide and Secretary of the Order of Kagomei, Amarat Veneer Junior."
"You can't fool me, with eyes like that, he's a royal!"
"Oh, he does happen to be the heir to Meihomei too, at present, but he's earned a spot in the Fount of Honour on his own... Merit." Marhamat made the last word a pun, his tone light.
"Ah-ah! Good one. What can I do for the Bameimeito?"
"Pleased to meet you."
"Langedier, I'd like to make two suggestions for additions to the Emeritus."
"As you do every so often, we can't just give those away, but wait, a Merit you said?"
"Firrson here." He pointed to the Kon above quota in the lifeguards. "Is the son of a lifeguard who gave his life in the service of duty, saving two royals, and Amarat is one of the two. Now, because Amarat was alive, and because he was certainly no dummy, he got a Merit off Meihomei for capturing the Invader's own flagship."
"I didn't do that by myself, I had a crew..."
"Of course, including the lovely red headed lady talking to my cousin Tadros there... Who was his commanding officer, and also got herself a Merit."
"That's certainly more like the Emeritus of old. Thank you for letting me know, I'll add their names to the roll."
"The roll of honour of the Laughing Fire, people who can sit at this table without gettingall riled up."
"Anyone else at this table with the Merit? You seem to be on a roll..."
"The Telbun there has one..." Amarat opined.
"That's the Telbun! I'd have never guessed, she's not carrying her flag?"
"I imagine it wouldn't have fit in the door, Zim." Marhamat's wit was rapid-firing.
"It wouldn't, not as tall as she is, I imagine. It certainly didn't when Tadros had it with him, so he had to carry it inside."
"He came here in full armor?"
"Yeah, when he thought Valias Herringbone was mortally injured. She made a full recovery thanks to Minister De Byzance."
"I take it Marhamat's the one that knocked some sense into him?"
"No, I was away, fishing, he got himself a little drunk, and since the circle had healed her, and he got to see her in the hospital the next day, I guess you could say she did."
"She's about the only one in government right now that scares me."
"Scare you, the heir? How does that work?"
"I've met First Duty De Byzance, she's... friendly. Secretary Herringbone... always looks like she's evaluating you for something."
"I hear she's imagining what you look like naked..."
"What? She was examining me just like the boy says!"
"And she's only ten years younger than the Valour-Keeper, I figured she preferred Tadros though..."
"Tadros has been her XO for so long, people forgot she even had other XOs before!"
"So maybe she's sizing you up for a threesome!"
"Saucy, but let's not start a scandal just by ourselves, right?"
"Good point, all that we know is that she evaluates people a lot, and she's the Third Dominar."
"She's Third, that high?"
"Everyone knows the Potentate, I bet you get invited to her parties..." He almost sneered, as if the word was properly orgy, but he shouldn't say in mixed company.
"And I've met Second Dominar there, a petite brunette with eyes of steel."
"Then there's Valias, and her protegee, Nessuna Maelle."
"Elements above, I knew Maelle was high, but second circle?"
"Why, you know her?"
"She was Flora's babysitter growing up." He pointed to his Mitptun, whose merit ribbon gleamed again.
"Serious mojo on that lady, someone put a ring on her?"
"I did, lapsing now. See if I can convince her to put it on again."
"Oh." Langedier was from Lai Dang, and had never gotten his mind around the local temporary wedding traditions, in his mind, you got united, and if it stopped working, you got de-united. This herevallin where you got married only for a time, and had to work to get married again sounded painful. Mind you, if the young man convinced her, more power to him, she looked... He better stop looking, she didn't sound too unmarried, after all, and he was married himself. He excused himself to the back to work on the roll of honour."Kon Mariwolfe." "Kon-Valour-Keeper." She hiccuped. "Stick to just Kon, we're hopefully among friends here." "
Honour makes no friends, dishonour doesn't necessarily make enemies, life makes living, and death makes dying.That was yours, wasn't it?" "Aye, I wrote that particular poem, not that good, if I do say so myself, but I was, I was feeling what it said, when I wrote it." "It's stayed with me, I used to meditate on it at the Academy." "That makes me feel so old, when I wrote it, I was changing my baby girl's diapers." "Where is she now?" "Meihomei's senior lifeguard, and apparently, she's found a boy she likes enough to introduce to me, saying... Daddy, you may want to sit down, but, I think I found a boy that might make you a grandfather." "Oh, congradts." "I hear you know this boy, Amarat." "What? Who? You've met him?" "Your cousin, Linnaeus Van Pelt." "What, LINNI? With a girl? He was turning into a catboy." "Fooled you, I think, although, he did convince my girl to adopt all the cats, and warned me to take my anti-allergy shots when I visit next." Marhamat grinned, his eyes sparkling. "You're visiting her, or him?" "She moved in with him, he does have a very nice appartment at State now." That was a lie and a half, Tranquility, where Linni lived, had been in his family for generations, he'd get into a blood duel for living anywhere else. "And she had a nice one in the palace?" "Yes, but one where she's watched all the time. The privacy makes it an upgrade, especially, I would think, if they want to work on grandkids." "Oh." Amarat had nothing to say to that. "So, the lovely lady talking to Tadros, she's not just your commanding officer?" "Hérévallin, while it lasts, forever, if it pleases the elements." "She and you working on making your mother a grandmother?" "She's actually early along, I'd appreciate if all Megamisama didn't suddenly know tomorrow..." "Woohoo, boy, The great adventure." "Not just the adventure, that makes her Na-Bameimeita." "You're already planning to abdicate?" "No, I'm saying she's the mother of my heir. I listened when mother said I had to make that unequivocal." "Your mother would know, having spent her life in your aunt's shadow." "If anything, she's glad it was unequivocal, being the younger. A sibling war would hurt." "And your aunt?" "As the elder, both of them were born with the Kagomei surname, there was never any doubt. One would rule, one would inherit." "And yet, your mother..." "My mother feels she has other things to do, things she cannot do as Meihomei, like raise a second family." "She's working on a younger sibling?" "Early along, same requirements of discreetion apply." "So your baby sister will be your child's aunt, and they could be the same age?" "Could be an aunt, and a few weeks younger. When they're 6 months old, it'll attract attention, when a 16 year old has a 16 year old aunt, it'll be mildly weird. When they're in their thirties, they'll say it's a funny story." "You've given this some thought?" "I've had to, I cannot climb on the throne without people asking some pointed questions about my parentage, questions you guessed the answer to." "As if the most powerful Sorceror in Kautanissian, and that's the First Duty's assessment, not mine, could be anything but a source of pride for a son. Your mother always had her pick." "Father had more picks, he still picked mother, even if I'm not his eldest." "No? You have an older half-sister?" "Yes, prospective Domei of Didina." "So, if anyone needs to be a backup heir to your half-sister-on-your-mother's side, it'll be your half-sister on your father's side?" "Not my words, not my intent, but the shoe would fit. She'd have pedigree, as an Aixpee-Ma mix, at least as a priestess." "The kingmakers will hate her thoroughly." "They hate my family thoroughly, but they can't hide the fact that we're descendants of priests and priestesses, going back to Analecta Kagome by way of Dandelion." "Even the Matsu-tan can't argue the Dandelions are some of the most powerful scions of the elements in history." "I'd love to see her try." "Why?" "Dan Ma IS the most powerful scion the Elements have let live... And Flora... Flora gives him a running for someone who's not tested yet." "She's that powerful?" "We survived. 300 pilders, shooting everything they had that could explode. The ship buckled, but she kept it together." "An 80000 ton ship?" "50000, please, it's a 50000 ton airship, not a 80000 ton seafaring ship." "Still, just to keep that thing... together?" "Why'd you think I didn't even bother to say thanks for my life, my first words were 'marry me, Kagomei will never forgive me, if I let you got away.'?" "I've said those words, and meant them, we are fortunate, young Namei." "Fortunate, for?" "That we found someone who we meant those words to, and those words resulted in something other than rejection." "Oh, yes, quite. How long were you married?" "Fifteen years, my lady was spared the risks of her profession, but she was hit by a long, wasting sickess and died when Shibué was still little." "Oh. Like Linni's and Luci's parents. Both died when they were young, accident." "How high are they?" "Fifth or sixth, there were some backdoor dealings that left the and the ahead." "And?" "And they'll have to get through to me first. And I get to pick my own succession, after a fashion." "How? I thought the succession was just the succession." "Well, those backdoor dealings, I know they exist, but I don't know what was given or taken, I imagine I can just ignore it." "I doubt it, I imagine it's related to some family history. The Dandelion Soul wouldn't have left herself in the line of succession if she could just have bullied her third cousin and left her in place. You, your mother and your aunt are the only descendants of ." "We're not, my Aunt is. We're adoptive descendants of Prithyanka, native descendants of ." "Both sets of your grandparents passed away without other offspring?" "To my knowledge, yes." "That makes no sense..." "Unless..." "Yes Firrson?" "What if the heirs you named were descendants of Kagomeis, if illegitimate? That'd certainly explain the clout both women have." "My Aunt, fighting over her half-cousin? I could see her doing it, but i doesn't feel right." "Maybe they know of illegitimates, and used them as leverage?" "They already had so much power, I don't know if they'd need to." "What?" "Firrson, you're my mother's protégé, so you don't notice the favoritism in the armed forces. Or how even Marhamat and Tadros flinched when the Matsutan was named." "The Dandelion is much more melodramatic, but it's been a close race for almost a century, into which clan has the most influence." "Is that why... Amarat Senior was a foreign nobleman? Bringing in new influence not tied to the two major factions?" "If so, it backfired, Amarat Senior was a Dandelion Soul fanboy, and a Matsutan admirer, they'd crook a finger and he'd tie himself in knots." "There's rumours..." "That I have a Matsumoto half-brother and a Dandelion Half-Sister, yes, I know. I've investigated those rumours, they're false..." I do however, have a Veneer half-sister. Or would, if I was Amarat Senior's son. "Who's that?" "Mom!" "Son, good to see you." They hugged. "Firrson." She saluted him, it looked almost natural, she had more practice than her adoptive sister. "Auntie."
One year later.
"And welcome to you, Kon-Meritant-Kon."
"Welcome, Knight of Honour." That last was to NFOF-10 Nessun-Honour of Meihomei's Imperial Kagome Navy. It wasn't her proper title, but with everyone in attendance constituting a quorum of an Honour Convention, she wasn't going to complain. She bit her lip, what was coming next would have been amusing, under better circumstances. "Telbun Mariwolfe Tannenbaum, Star-Emerald-Knight of Kagomei!", current
"Green Knight, please take attendance."