The Solitude of Death, Part 3

Dren Calabane entered his luxurious mansion like a storm cloud. He was furious with the High Council for bickering about matters that should have been simple to decide, and he was furious with the Supreme Commander for dawdling over those same matters. To the Council, every problem could be solved by bludgeoning it to death, and the Commander had become a doddering old fool who was out of his element ever since the Emergence (which is what Fangalin called the destruction of the Senate and the beginning of open war with the Empire).

Calabane was the youngest member of the Council at 53 years old. He had been elected five years earlier, two years before the Emergence. He had quickly established himself as one of the most powerful members of the Council, and he was generally able to bend most of the other councilors to his will. But one person who rarely listened to him was Zhemeen Fortulis, which meant that all of his influence on the Council meant nothing. And it didn’t seem likely that Fortulis was going to listen to him in this matter either.

He stormed upstairs to his bedroom and swept inside in a fury, startling his wife, who was sitting in a chair reading. He flung his jacket on to the bed, and threw his briefcase into a corner, and then flopped down in his favorite chair, a grim expression on his face.

“That buffoon refuses to listen to reason!” he exclaimed. His wife rose and made her way across the room toward him. Her name was Shalor Calabane, and she was pretty much the opposite of him in every way. Where Dren was short and skinny, with narrow features and a perpetually grim expression, Shalor was tall and curvaceous, with a beautiful, heart-shaped face that was nearly always smiling. She was ten years younger than him, and looked like she was twenty years younger. An outside observer would be inclined to wonder what they saw in each other, but their marriage had lasted twenty years so far, with no end in sight.

“Fortulis again, my love?” she said sympathetically. Dren gave an affirmative grunt without looking at her. “Tell me all about it,” she said, kneeling down next to him so she could look into his eyes. Dren shook his head angrily.

“Zhemeen Fortulis was a great Supreme Commander before the Emergence,” Dren said with equal parts admiration and frustration. “But it’s as if the strain of fighting a full-scale war has drained the man of his wits. He used to be so subtle and patient. Now he wants to solve all of his problems by smashing them to bits with a hammer.” He pressed his fists together in a gesture of frustration. Shalor reached over and caressed his hair gently.

“I understand how you feel, Dren,” she said, “But think of it from his perspective. He’s 85 years old. He’s probably anxious to finish the job of destroying the Empire within his lifetime.”

“I get that,” said Dren, relaxing a little, “I really do. But our mission is so much larger than one man. Imagine if Wellin Votara had felt the same way! Fangalin would have been snuffed out before it ever got established. We and our predecessors in the faith have worked so long and so hard to get to this point. We cannot throw it away for one man’s vanity!”

“You are so right, my beloved,” Shalor said quietly, “But Wellin Votara never experienced the level of success that Zhemeen Fortulis has achieved. Wellin Votara did not bring about the Emergence. Zhemeen Fortulis did.” Dren gave her an angry look.

“And what is that supposed to mean? Are you implying that Fortulis is a greater Supreme Commander than the Founder of our order?” he growled.

“Not at all,” Shalor said, shaking her head, “But I am saying that even the greatest man can let success go to his head. Who knows how Wellin Votara would have acted if the Emergence had happened under his command? We should not judge Commander Fortulis too harshly in this matter.” Dren sighed heavily.

“I know, my love,” he said wearily, “As always, you are my voice of reason and sanity. Who knows how many times my anger would have gotten me into trouble if I didn’t have you around to talk me back from the edge?”

“Oh, Dren,” she said with a small smile, “You give me too much credit. You are too rigid and bound to the Charter to ever do anything in anger.” He smiled at her, and kissed her softly on the lips. Then they both stood up and held each other close. “Just remember,” she said, “Fortulis is a good man and a good commander, but he needs your wisdom and your knowledge, so you need to make sure that you don’t do anything to make him push you away.”

“I know that, dearest,” he said softly, “But the man doesn’t like me for some reason. I don’t know why. I haven’t ever given him cause to dislike me, as far as I know. But sometimes I think he goes against what I want just to spite me.” Shalor smiled slyly.

“What if you started suggesting the opposite of what you really want?” she said, only half serious.

“That is an interesting idea,” Dren said thoughtfully, “It might be worth a try. Darkness knows that using logic and reason to persuade him to take my side hasn’t worked. What have I got to lose?” Shalor gave a surprised laugh.

“You crazy old man,” she said, bewildered, “You are really considering trying this, aren’t you?”

“Why not?” he said with a rare grin, “What have I got to lose? Our victory is inevitable at this point. The Empire is crumbling, and none of the nations that are rising from the rubble are any stronger. It’s not like it really matters whether Embamor II lives or dies, right?” Shalor just shook her head in wonder.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever understand you,” she said with equal parts admiration and exasperation, “A minute ago you were furious because Fortulis was leaning in a direction you didn’t like, and now you sound like you don’t care. Can you explain that to me?” Dren grinned broadly.

“Why, my dear,” he said, “you showed me the error of my ways!” Shalor rolled her eyes, and Dren chuckled mischievously.

To be continued…

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