PRELUDE TO THE MASCOT TRILOGY
Planet Oriel had been polluted to the point of no return, but what if people educated and dedicated to maintaining a pristine environment were colonized on a pristine plane? How would civilization progress? Would it matter what type of government they had? Of course, more than one colony would be required, and they would each need to grow without contacting each other because mingling might contaminate the experiment. What cultures would develop?
So it was that Oriel scientists colonized the pristine planet of Purlieu. Each colony had been assigned a language, a form of government, a different environment and a different level of medical knowledge. One agreed to survival of the fittest and another to only herbal remedies, while others agreed to different levels of medical knowledge. Some began as monarchies and others had experimental forms of government. Scientists started this experiment, so it should come as no surprise that the colonists used scientific names to describe a species of wildlife that might not be exactly like that on Oriel.
All these things were innocent enough until a powerful company on Oriel bought its way into the experiment. They had been doing some experimenting on their own and had created a superior being using human and animal genes. These, they called Mascots, because they were intended to inspire the colonists to keep trying when things got rough. Their life expectancy was more than three times that of the colonists. They might live 350 or 400 years. They had total recall and they usually learned things from one lesson.
The colonists loved their Mascots. They were selfless - always dedicated to assisting and protecting the colonists. They had been designed to lead and protect, and they never wavered.
The colonists were content to remain on planet Purlieu in isolation and allow their Mascots to represent them. The Mascots commuted to the spaceships to report and address any needs.
The mascots were prolific, in spite of the fact that female Mascots only came into estrus every 3 years and it took another year of gestation before the baby was born. A new mascot was always welcomed, as they worked tirelessly without complaint. The Mascots had improved immune systems. They were never sick - which was why it came as such a shock when they all began to fall ill and die.
At that point, the scientists abandoned the experiment, leaving the colonists and the remaining Mascots to their own devices. They left three spaceships to assist, and those spaceships were commanded by Mascots. The experiment was over for the scientists, but it had only begun for the occupants of Planet Purlieu.
THE COST OF REVENGE
Short Story Introduction For "The Purlieu Experiment"
Donte stood over the graves, only half listening to the eulogy. If King Farasi wanted him bad enough do this, why resist? He'd go to Nyumbani Colony, but not to give Farasi an heir. He wanted only one thing – to terminate the men who had murdered his wife and children. After that, they could execute him. His life no longer had value anyway.
Farasi's terms had been an heir in exchange for no more raids on Libertad or Bergen and its sub-colonies. President Quade and Pieter, the ruler of Bergen, wanted to send troops into Nyumbani to punish them. Likely, the men who had killed Liana and Bjorn would be protected by Farasi and never be punished. Why risk the lives of their troops and innocent people in another colony when he could simply surrender to Farasi's terms?
When the service concluded, Quade asked Donte and Peiter to his office. The two leaders had made a decision. If they refused to let him go in alone, he would request to go with the troops.
Quade shut the door to his office and waited until Donte and Pieter were seated before taking a seat behind his desk.
"Son," Quade began with a solemn expression. "Pieter and I do not agree with your decision, but we have decided to honor it. You are only twenty-two, but you are a man."
Donte glanced at his grandfather. Pieter said nothing. His blonde head leaned down in rare submission.
Quade's voce brought his attention back to his father. "I wish you had told me about the attempts to capture you. Maybe we couldn't have prevented this, but we could have tried." He glanced at Pieter. "Perhaps going to Nyumbani will settle this issue."
Peiter lifted his head and looked at Quade before turning his usual piercing light blue gaze on Donte. "When you put this behind you, come to Bergen. It is your destiny."
Donte said nothing. What was there to say? He would not be permitted to return after he completed his mission. He felt sick to his stomach every time he thought about the way they had killed Liana.
The six Nyumbani raiders had made another attempt to capture him, but he had been out hunting. Instead, they took his four-year-old son, Bjorn. Liana didn't know why they returned so soon after they captured him. She only knew he wasn't with them. She had been frightened half out of her mind for Bjorn, but things got worse. They had held her down and cut the full-term baby girl from her body. They had left them both there in the yard of their farm to die. Liana had lived long enough to tell Donte what happened.
He had carried her body with the baby to their bed and gone after Bjorn. He found four-year-old Bjorn dead from a head wound only a short distance from the farm. He had sent word to his father from the farm nearest theirs and followed the raiders to where they took a boat down the river. Unable to track them any further, he had returned to his farm.
Later, King Farasi had sent a message, offering a peaceful end to the raids in return for an heir. Quade and Pieter didn't understand Donte's willingness to negotiate. They didn't know what he planned to do and he wasn't going to tell them. He didn't want everyone to suffer – only the guilty.
Donte had vowed to Farasi that he would give him an heir in exchange for the cessation of raids. A mascot did not renege on a vow, but he need not be concerned. After the raiders were dead, Farasi would be the one breaking a vow when he executed their killer. There would be no heir – not for Farasi or anyone else.
Donte was the last fertile mascot. After his death, the mascot population on Planet Purlieu would gradually die out. Maybe that was best. They had served their Purpose and Purlieu no longer needed them.
Donte had still been in the womb with his sister when the Parliament left. At that time, even his mother didn't know she was pregnant. She died when they were born. Her last request had been for Quade to take the boy, and Pieter and Saskia, her parents, raise the girl.
Quade leaned his elbows on the desk; his dark eyes empathetic. "Are you certain that you want to do this?"
"I already promised."
Pieter shook his head and stood; a stocky figure in a dark blue uniform. "It is not too late. You owe no allegiance to Farasi. I should have told him long ago that he could not have you. This was my failing, not yours. You were only a boy of fifteen when he decided he wanted you."
Donte stood. He was taller than his grandfather, but not as tall as his father.
When Donte spoke, his voice broke with emotion. "If I had agreed before now, Liana and our children would still be alive." He wiped moisture from the corner of his eyes with his shirtsleeve. "Only I can end this without the loss of innocent lives."
Quade stood and walked around his desk, enveloping Donte in a paternal hug. "I love you and I am already looking forward to your return."
Three days later, a Nyumbani ship picked Donte up at the beach and took him to his final destination; the colony of Nyumbani. There, he was introduced to King Farasi, who explained what was expected of him. It didn't matter what they expected. He wouldn't be alive long enough to satisfy Farasi's sick fantasy.
They kept him under guard for more than a week without explanation. Finally, armed guards escorted him outside to a place where people were gathered in a semi-circle. The people parted and watched as the guards took him close to the center, where a man with a broad axe waited beside a large post. It took him only a moment to realize that an execution was going to take place – his own? That made no sense.
Minutes later, six Nyumbani men were marched in, their hands tied behind their backs. Another man stepped forward and lifted a parchment. Slowly, he began to read the charges.
Being the son of a leader, Donte had both the interest and the access to spaceships necessary to learn all the languages. Farasi knew that.
Donte listened in tense silence as the man read.
"For your part in the murder of Donte's family, you will each be executed today."
Donte's stomach twisted with anger. These were the men he had come to Nyumbani to kill. He looked each of them in the eye. Some were stoic and others were clearly terrified.
Donte looked away and his gaze found Farasi, watching him. With a start, he realized what was happening. He had grossly underestimated King Farasi. The man wasn't merely dominated by the desire for an heir. He was diabolical. He had sent these men to do his bidding, and now he was going to have them executed so there would be no escape from a vow to produce an heir. Farasi knew why he had agreed.
When Farasi smiled, it wasn't a pleasant expression. He smiled because he had outwitted his opponent, and because he now had what he wanted.
Donte's attention returned to the men as they brought the first one to the post and made him kneel. He leaned over and placed his cheek on the post. His eyes found Donte's. They were not remorseful. In fact, they were defiant.
The axe man lowered the blade and placed it on the man's neck for a moment, as one might prepare for a precise cut. The eyes of the man to be executed never wavered from Donte's.
The axe came down in a clean sweep, instantly severing the head from the body. The head rolled toward Donte and stopped with the face up. The eyes opened, fixing Donte with an accusing stare before they hazed over in death.
Donte stared at the head until someone retrieved it. They dragged the body away and summoned the next man. This man's eyes expressed terror.
When the axe came down for the kill, the man tried to dodge it. The axe cut through the side of his neck. Blood shot out in pulsing spurts as he screamed in agony. The assistant dragged him back to the post and the job was finished.
Donte looked away as nausea brought a vile taste to his mouth. This wasn't what he thought it would be like. He wanted these men dead and he had been willing to kill each of them – but not like this. Farasi had placed him so that each man would be looking straight at him.
His gaze fell on a young bearded man who watched him with surprise. Did the man know that this was the real reason he came to Nyumbani – not to give Farasi an heir?
Donte closed his eyes, but he couldn't shut out the sound of the axe, as it sank through flesh and bone four more times. He felt no satisfaction at the death of these men; not even when he thought about Liana and Bjorn. He only felt a sickening sadness for the loss. By this time, he thought he would have joined them. He wanted all this to be over. He wanted to go back home - but he couldn't. No, he had been trapped in Nyumbani to complete an unholy chore enforced by his own vow.
He searched for and found Farasi. When Donte looked into the eyes of Farasi, he saw something that made the hair on his neck stand up. Farasi grinned. He had what he wanted now. Donte's heart raced with realization – the King of Nyumbani was insane!
The guards led Donte away from the execution site. The smell of blood made him shudder. It reminded him of Liana the last time he held her in his arms. He wouldn't be joining Liana. Instead, he would be forced to produce an heir for the man who had sent the people to kill her. What of Farasi's daughter? Was she also insane?
He stumbled and the men on each side of him held on to him as he retched. They were not mascots. He could easily have escaped their grip, but where would he go? He knew nothing about the territory of Nyumbani beyond what he had read on Spaceship Moeder. Of course, there had been contact between Libertad and Bergen - even long before the Parliament left, but it had been done in secret. There had been no documentation.
While he waited for his release, he would learn as much about Nyumbani as he could. His release. That brought his thoughts back to why he was in Nyumbani, and the vow he had made. He leaned over and retched again. What had he done?
After the execution of the raiders, Farasi wasted no time in reminding Donte of his commitment. Farasi instructed two guards to deliver Donte to the woman he referred to with wry humor as "the ice princess;" his daughter, Halisi.
Donte expected the mother of his future child to be a heartless woman living in a castle surrounded by the poor people who served her, as it was with Farasi. There would be nothing pleasant about this situation and he would leave as soon as he accomplished his mission. It troubled him to think that he would be abandoning his child to such a hopeless situation, but maybe there would be something he could do about it when he got back to his own colony.
Halisi lived on a run-down farm far from the palace. Her clothes were clean but worn and plain, certainly not what one might expect of a princess. The people of Nyumbani had dark golden-brown skin, brown eyes and black curly hair. Halisi was tall and slender. Her complexion was flawless. In his short life, he had only seen one woman more beautiful than Halisi.
Halisi accepted the introductions without emotion. She seemed resigned to her role. Only the Parliament had the technology to artificially create life in the past. This could only be done one way, and he wasn't looking forward to that. In the colony of Bergen, what he had to do would be considered sinful, but that wasn't the worst of it. What he would be doing to Halisi, at her father's request, was unthinkable. Once again, the consequences of his lust for revenge made him feel sick to his stomach.
Life with Halisi was certainly enlightening. He had never known hard times until Liana's death. He had never experienced hate until then. In Nyumbani, hunger was a constant enemy and hatred for Farasi was their only energy source. Few knew how to read because Farasi had burned all the books except those in the library of the palace. To his way of thinking, women had no need for an education and it only gave the colonists ideas about rebellion. Farasi believed children should be helping their parents produce crops, not going to school. Whatever Farasi believed was the law. The Mascot leader of Nyumbani had turned on his own people. How could this happen?
Donte knew that Nyumbani colony had received the least assistance. They had started with almost nothing and they appeared to have less now. He knew they had been the first to contact other colonies, even though they had been forbidden to do so. What he didn’t know until now was their motivation to raid.
Because the guidelines for Nyumbani had been survival of the fittest, they had been given the best area. The climate was tropical, with the ability to grow crops year-round. It contained the largest variety of wildlife. Their knowledge of modern medicine had been limited, and that lost over the years. They need only hunt and grow crops to survive, therefore, they had been given nothing. The colonies were, after all, experiments. When he asked Halisi why they had not prospered, they had their first real discussion. They were shucking corn in the dilapidated barn and she stopped, looking around them.
"I thought all the spaceships left with The Parliament. I know nothing about experiments. I only know that the plague changed things for us. All my brothers died and for a while, we thought that my father would die." She grimaced. "I don't think he ever truly recovered. He used to be a kind man – a fair leader. Now he is...." She left the statement unfinished. One did not malign a parent, even if he was a ruthless insane tyrant.
"Why does he want me to give him an heir when he has one – you."
She shook her head. "My father says female mascots were created to reproduce, not to lead." She shrugged. "It is a constant struggle to prevent the jungle from taking over, and the soil is not good for farming. Since our muskets were taken away, hunts are not successful. Most of the wild animals do not breed well in captivity. If not for our excellent fisherman, we all would have starved by now – or died of illness."
Donte looked out the open door at Halisi's garden. "But you do well."
She sighed. "Better than most. Being a mascot, I have more strength and stamina to work longer."
"Couldn't you go to live in the palace with your father?"
She looked at him as if he were an ignorant child. "And leave the people to starve while I grew fat on the proceeds of raids? No, Donte. That would be wrong. In any case, my father looks at me only as a prospect for an heir. This I will do, and then he will forget me altogether."
"Is that the way you want it – to be forgotten by your father?"
Her gaze settled on the forgotten corn in his hands. "I wish to do what I can to feed the people honorably. That requires endless days of toil."
Warmth rushed up his neck as he went back to husking the corn. If he wanted to eat, he'd better start working something besides his mouth.
Unlike Halisi, Donte missed his father. He loved and admired him. He had sent him a letter, letting him know that he had arrived safely and would be coming back home as soon as he could. Since he had received no response, he had no way of knowing if his father had even received the letter.
Donte had been born with an abnormality. He could sense the presence of animals in the forest. He could sense people the same way and knew if their intent was benevolent, malevolent or indifferent. No one knew why he could do this. He simply did. He had combined this skill with those he had learned from other hunters. He had been invited on hunts since he was a young boy, but Nyumbani knew nothing of his hunting prowess. When he offered to help the hunters, Halisi looked upon him not only as a child, but with suspicion as well.
"Thank you, but I imagine our hunters are far more experienced."
He nodded. "Probably, but what do you have to lose?"
She looked up from straining the milk into a clay pot. "You. If father discovered you had wandered off with weapons, we would all be punished."
"I see. What if I go with the hunters?"
"I need you here and they don't need another mouth to feed on their hunts."
"You could spare me for one day, couldn't you? I won't eat anything."
"Do you think we are fools? You would run away and they would lose time searching for you."
"I won't run away."
She continued straining the milk. No doubt, she thought the conversation was over but there was too much at stake to give up. People were starving – children went to bed hungry.
"I gave my word. Let them tie my hands if you wish, but let me help them."
She finished straining the milk and removed the cloth from the top of the pot, placing it in a basin of water. "Why?"
"Because your people are starving, and I can help them."
"I sense the presence of animals."
She sighed as she put a cover on the pot. "Donte, you are a mascot. Mascots have special skills, but sensing the presence of animals is no one of them."
"I gave my word," he repeated.
She watched him for a minute, as if giving it some thought. "We shall see."
Two days later, he trotted off with a group of men to hunt. They were out no more than two hours before he sensed a bovine. The men followed his directions and killed a bovine large enough to feed the entire village for a while. They returned triumphant, but Halisi attributed their success to luck. The next time they went on a hunt, they requested his presence and she let him go. Again, his unusual skill made the hunt successful.
The men coached him in the use of their primitive weapons and even presented him with weapons they had made. After that, he often joined them for hunts, and sometimes even hunted alone. Halisi accepted that his hunting skills were unusually good, but discarded the idea that he could sense the animals. No mascot could do that.
Halisi didn’t hunt, but she had used ingenuity in running her farm. She had one bovine cow and when it needed to be bred, she staked it out where a wild bull could find her. That gave Donte an idea. He repaired and extended the bovine pasture, enforcing it to make it stronger.
In Bergen, he had learned how to make a rope from braided tree bark. He made a strong rope and waited until a bull came to service the cow. Halisi doubted his plan would work, but didn't object when he tracked the bull back to more cows. He caught a cow with the second toss of the hoop. He had captured the cow, but wasn't sure who was in control. The other bovines ran away and, in her attempt to follow, she dragged him for a while until he managed to wrap the rope around a tree. Then she charged him. He ran out of her reach and contemplated how he was going to get her back to the farm.
It took him two days of tugging and anchoring her to trees before he got back to the farm. Halisi spotted him from the garden and ran to help him. When they released the cow in the new pasture, she stood with her head down. The cow wasn't the only one who hadn't eaten in two days.
Halisi shook her head. "I was beginning to think I would have to let all the work go and come find you."
He studied her face for a moment, trying to decide whether her concern was for his welfare or fear of being punished by her father for letting him escape. Her expression gave no clue. It could have been both – or neither.
Later, when she invited him to her bedroom, he thought there might have been another reason. Female mascots experienced estrus only once every three years and it lasted no more than a few days. He didn't know when hers had begun, but he was thankful that he didn't have to wait three years to fulfil his vow. Gestation lasted twelve months, so he was encouraged by the thought that he might be able to leave Nyambani in a little over a year.
One morning, while he was working in the garden with Halisi, he heard a bull bovine bellow. The newest bovine answered. Donte looked at Halisi.
"I'm going to let it in with the cows and close the gate."
She nodded and followed him to the gate. They shut the two cows in a corral near the barn and opened the gate. After that, all they could do was wait. Donte climbed a tree nearby and nodded to Halisi. She returned to the garden while he waited to close the gate.
The bull cautiously approached and, finding the gate open, went inside. Donte waited for him to get to the corral before jumping down and closing the gate. He secured the gate shut before releasing the females in the pasture with the bull.
He grinned at Halisi when she joined him. "That was simple enough." Since his arrival, he had tripled her stock.
She shook her head. "If he doesn't break through the fence trying to get out and let both the cows run off, I suppose it will be simple enough.
He eyed the bull. Surely the fence was strong enough.
The bull didn't get away and Donte had another idea. He built a pen, using vines attached with bark strips. Then he captured some wild fowl. Each day, he gathered the eggs, and when the hens decided to set, he let them. Eventually, they would have meat.
He gathered wild grain and planted fields close to the house. That produced food for them and the now domestic animals as well. He worked outside from dawn to dusk, and often late into the night. The farm produce swelled, as did Halisi's stomach.
At first Halisi had tolerated his endeavors as one would accept the inevitable antics of children. To her, he was a child of twenty-two and she was a woman of thirty-five. As his methods began to put more food on the table, she gradually treated him with more respect.
In the files of Spaceship Moeder, Donte had learned about many medicinal herbs. Most of those herbs grew in the temperate climate of Nyumbani. He collected leaves and roots, drying and storing them in clay pots. Quade was not only the president of Libertad, but a doctor as well. Donte had learned how to use those herbs from him. Gradually, Halisi's farm became a place to go for medical care.
The first year passed quickly and soon Donte delivered Halisi's baby – his daughter. He wrapped her in a cloth and placed her beside her mother without comment. What would Farasi say?
He didn't have long to wait. When the news of the birth reached Farasi, he came to Halisi's farm for the first time. When he learned the baby was a girl, he flew into a rage and told his men to kill the baby. He roared that he had contracted for a boy, not a girl.
Halisi gasped and clutched the baby to her.
Donte stepped between the murderer and his daughter.
"No. I will not allow this."
Farasi glared at him. "Step aside. You do not tell me what I can or cannot do. I am the King."
Donte didn't move. "You will not kill my daughter unless you kill me first. Then how will you get a male heir?"
Farasi stared at him for a moment before motioning his raider to leave them alone. "You will not leave Nyumbani until you give me a male heir."
After he left the house, Donte turned to Halisi. She still held Chiku close, her face pale.
"I thought he would kill you. No one defies my father that way."
Donte's disappointment at being forced to stay for at least four more years was soon forgotten. Chiku helped fill the void left by the loss of his mate and children. He still loved and missed Liana, but now he had a distraction. Chiku had dark curly hair and large brown eyes like her mother.
During the first month, Donte did the chores, allowing Halisi to spend as much time healing and bonding with her daughter as possible. He fixed meals and walked the floor with Chiku while Halisi slept. After the first month, he often worked with Chiku in a sling on his back. Chiku was more content that way and he liked the feel of her tiny body against his back. There, he felt she was safe from Farasi.
Halisi never warmed to him, and the reason became apparent with a visitor from the palace. Donte recognized Kafil as the man who had looked at him so strangely the day of the execution. It didn't take a seer to know that Halisi loved Kafil. It was evident in the way she looked and talked to him. After Kafil left, Donte asked about her feelings for the man.
She shrugged as she folded diapers. "It doesn't matter how I feel about him. Father would never let me take him as a mate."
She looked at him as though the reason was obvious. "Because he is not a Mascot."
Donte watched her fold another diaper before responding. "Mascots and colonists can't have children because of their genetic differences. I know Farasi wants an heir, but there is no fertile mascot in Nyumbani anyway – except me. That's why I'm a captive."
"You're not a captive. You came here of your own will."
"Yes, and I'm not allowed to leave until I produce a male heir. We're both captives, Halisi."
She didn't respond. She took the stack of diapers to her bedroom and returned carrying Chiku. "It doesn't matter. Father would never allow me to take Kafil as a mate."
Donte did everything he could to make sure Halisi and Kafil had time together. Halisi no longer worried about him escaping and his bond with Chiku deepened as he spent more time alone with her. Sometimes they even anticipated what the other would do. He had never felt that way about a child – not even Bjorn.
Donte and Halisi became close friends and co-conspirators. He taught her to read and write and then how to use fibers to make paper, ink out of berries and pens from fowl feathers. They wrote books and bound them for the colonists.
On the third year after Chiku was born, Halisi cycled again. A year later Halisi gave birth to the male heir that Farasi wanted.
With the birth of Heri, their lives changed. Heri had everything a prince could want, but Chiku had to settle for the gift of life from her grandfather. As long as Heri lived, Chiku would be safe. Farasi had no interest in Chiku. In fact, his only interest in Halisi appeared to be the fact that she was raising his heir to the throne.
Donte felt relieved by the idea that he was now free to leave Nyambani. At the same time, he didn't know if he wanted to leave. Now that he would no longer be forced into a relationship with Halisi that neither of them wanted, they could both enjoy their life on the farm with the children. He wanted to be a father to his children, but he also wanted to go home. This was the cost of revenge – lives hanging in limbo because of one emotional decision.
He had been only seventeen when he exchanged vows with Liana, and she only sixteen. By the time she was seventeen, she had a baby to look after, and a mate who wasn't yet a man. She had only been twenty-one when she died, and he only twenty-two when he came to Nyumbani. A person did a lot of growing up in hard times, and he hadn't really known any until Liana died. Here in Nyumbani, he had been forced to grow up, not merely grow older. In fathering children, he had created a responsibility. His children needed his influence – especially Heri. Chiku needed his protection, Halisi needed his help with the farm and the people of Nyumbani needed his assistance in hunting. He didn't know how much longer he could stay, but he accepted the responsibility.
He had never received one reply to all the letters he had written to his family. He could only think of two reasons for that. The first was that his letters had never been delivered. He could imagine Farasi doing that and thinking the less they knew about what was happening in Nyumbani, the better. As far as he knew, Farasi had kept his bargain not to raid in Bergen or Libertad. If raids had been conducted in other colonies, he was unaware of it. The second reason was that Farasi was intercepting any letters addressed to him.
Perhaps that would change if Farasi realized he was staying because he wanted to stay, and not because he was a captive. He had been in Nyumbani for five years. A few more wouldn't matter to him or his family, but it would make a difference to Halisi, his children and the farmers near them. There were so many things they wanted to learn from him – and he wanted to teach them. He owed them. They had taught him the art of loving his enemies until they were no longer enemies, but friends. For now, Nyumbani was home.
THE PURLIEU EXPERIMENT
Donte dipped the quill into the ink and paused over the blank sheet of paper. He glanced up to see if the guard noticed that his hand was trembling. The guard had turned away, probably trying to give him some degree of privacy. In spite of what he had done, he was being treated with the respect any mascot might expect from colonists.
He was not being forced to write the letter. In fact, it was his idea. He understood and accepted the consequences of his decisions – all of them. Thirty years ago, if one mascot had killed another, the decision about punishment would have been left to The Parliament, but the experimental colonies on Purlieu had been abandoned and the mascots were left to rule as best they could. Whether or not they should continue to rule was debatable. Since Donte had killed the ruling mascot in Nyumbani, it was up to a council of colonists to decide whether their colony would continue as a monarchy or reform with another kind of government. If they chose to form a government where colonists ruled, they would be the first colony on Purlieu to do so. He’d like to see how that worked out, but that wasn’t going to happen.
He lowered the quill and began writing to his grandfather.
"I murdered Farasi today. I did it with the full knowledge that I would be executed. I came here with the intent of killing those responsible for the death of Liana and our children. Those men were executed at the orders of Farasi within two weeks of my arrival. Tomorrow I will be executed for my crime. This is something they must do. I bear them no animosity and I ask that there be no retribution from you or Dad. The Nyumbani need time to reform their government so that they can live in peace with other colonies.”
Farasi was dead now and his raiders had been scattered. Being a mascot didn’t exclude Donte from human emotion. He was frightened - more so than he had ever been in his life. He remembered in vivid detail the accusing eyes of the disembodied head that had rolled to his feet during an execution six years ago. Almost as much as death itself, he dreaded the public execution. The execution of the only fertile mascot in Nyumbani by colonists and in the presence of the entire colony might give the colonists ideas about eliminating all mascots. Halisi and his children were mascots.
The men Farasi had ordered executed six years ago had deserved their fate. The woman captive they held now did not. Farasi's last raid had been on the colony of Lochfowk. Donte knew little about that colony except they had remained isolated after the departure of The Parliament. Being isolated had not made them impervious to Farasi’s raids. In the last year, the raid had resumed. Before, they had had only brought back food, equipment and equines. This time they had brought back a captive – a woman mascot. They had raped her repeatedly last night and brought her out for a public execution this morning, as though she were a criminal. Farasi had finally gone over the edge of insanity, into full tyranny.
It had not been Donte’s intent to free the Nyumbani colonists by assassinating their King. As a captive mascot, he had stood by and watched for six years, silently praying for a revolution. There was no telling how much longer he would have refused to become involved if Farasi had not decided to execute the captive. Donte had been unsuccessful in convincing Farasi that holding a captive would make other colonies turn on Nyumbani, but he had been successful in preventing her execution…at least for the time being.
This morning the woman had been kneeling, her hands tied behind her back. Her head had been turned to the side, resting on the post. Her beautiful red hair had been pulled back from her neck. Her eyes were open wide, her face white. She had been terrified, but she didn't struggle or beg for her life. Hopefully he would be that brave when it was his turn.
Donte had stood only a few feet from Farasi when the ruler turned to give the kill instructions to one of his raiders. There was no time to think, other than the certain knowledge that those orders could never leave his lips. Donte had taken one quick step closer. Balling both his fists and putting every ounce of his mascot strength into the blow, he hit Farasi on the chin. He heard the vertebra crack and Farasi fell limp, his neck broken beyond repair. No amount of medical assistance could have brought him back, and he wouldn't have wanted to live in that condition. In those final seconds of life, Farasi's eyes had implored Donte, as if searching for a reason.
It had all happened so fast and it was so unexpected that at first everyone had been stunned. They stared at their fallen leader for a few moments. Finally, one by one, they all looked at Donte. He didn't try to run. Perhaps that fact delayed their reaction further. Finally, Kafil grasped Donte's arm. His grip was surprisingly gentle.
"Come," Kafil said.
Donte walked beside him, fearing his weak legs would collapse under him. He felt nauseated. He felt no remorse for killing Farasi - no sympathy for Farasi at all. And yet, he felt shame for his betrayal. Farasi had trusted him. Everyone trusted him. The fact that he had been allowed to be so close to Farasi was proof of their trust. One other thing troubled him deeply. It was bad enough that he had killed a person in front of his children, but he had killed their grandfather - Halisi's father. He had tried to teach his children by example rather than simply his words. What example had his actions given them today?
He glanced at Kafil. "Don't let them kill the Lochfowk woman. It will bring disaster on your colony. You must set her free."
Kafil frowned. "This is all you ask?"
Donte hesitated before responding. "And that you don't let my children watch my execution."
Kafil stopped; his expression a mixture of surprise and confusion. "You do not ask that we spare your life?"
Donte met his gaze. "Would it do any good?"
Kafil shook his head. "I suppose not, but this is certainly not something I will enjoy."
Hopefully no one was going to enjoy it. Kafil said nothing more until he took Donte to a room with no windows.
"The Lochfowk woman has been spared for now. Halisi and the children will be hidden in a safe place until we know who will be in control. I must even hide you to assure that the council decides your fate instead of those loyal to Farasi. It is difficult to determine which members of Farasi’s raiders can be trusted."
Donte considered his words. Farasi's death didn't assure a sudden shift of power. In fact, things could likely get worse before they got better. While alive, Farasi had maintained control over the raiders. At this point, power would go to the strongest. Although Kafil was only in his early twenties, he had the backing of some influential people. While he had often sided with Donte on issues, he had never given Farasi reason to regard him as an enemy. In fact, Farasi appeared to admire him.
Kafil had pulled the door shut and bolted it.
Donte dipped the quill again. Grandfather and Dad had a right to know about his children.
"I have a daughter and son here. I hope one of them will eventually rule and bring peace - and that my death will eventually have some value.
He folded the paper and placed it in the envelope. He stood and handed it to the guard. "Please make sure Pieter gets this."
The guard nodded. "We will send someone tonight." He left the room.
It wasn't the first time Donte had tried to send a letter to his family, but this time it was in the best interest of the Nyumbani to make sure the letter was delivered to his grandfather.
After the guard left, Donte sat on the cot and cradled his chin in one palm, his elbow resting on one knee. He imagined the look on Pieter's face when he read the letter. A lump grew in his throat. He had failed them.
Six years had only partially dulled the pain, and none of the guilt. Liana had asked him not to leave that day, but he had made the choice to go hunting instead. They didn't need the meat. He thought he needed to escape for a while. Liana's pregnancy had been difficult and she had snapped at him all the time. If he had been home, he would have sensed the presence of the Nyumbani raiders. Even if he had not been able to defeat them, he would have surrendered before they could harm his family. He would carry that guilt with him until he died – which would be tomorrow morning.
In a way, the idea of execution was a relief. He was emotionally and physically exhausted. No matter what he did, it seemed to result in suffering for others. He had been unable to reach Liana and Bjorn in time to save them and his actions today would result in abandonment of Chiku and Heri. He was a mascot, supposedly created to be stronger, more intelligent and possessing the power to protect and lead humans. He couldn’t even protect his children. As with Farasi, everyone would probably benefit from his death.
As frightened as the colonists were of Farasi, they were even more frightened by the prospect of retribution by other colonies for what Farasi had done. Hopefully that fear would lead to the release of the Lochfowk woman. She had done nothing to them.
The Nyumbani were not bad people. They were simply conditioned to obey their leader. Even now, when they had the opportunity to change the laws, they felt morally bound by them. The law of their colony dictated that violence was punishable by death. He had committed a violent act, even though he had done so to prevent more violence.
That evening the guard brought him food, but he couldn't eat. Later Halisi and the children visited him one last time. Donte knelt on the floor and Heri and Chiku darted across the room into his waiting arms.
"Baba!" They both screamed.
He took each of them in an arm and stood, uncertain what to say.
Halisi met his inquiring gaze. "I told them you were going away."
He nodded; a lump growing in his throat. They would think he had abandoned them. What else could they think? Heri would be confused, but he'd get over it. He probably wouldn't remember who his father was. It would be different for Chiku, though. At five, she was unusually aware - even for a mascot. He had a strong bond with Chiku. They often understood each other without words.
Chiku put a hand on each of Donte's cheeks and turned his face to hers, searching his eyes. "Please don't go away, Baba."
He closed his eyes and held her close, enjoying the softness and warmth of her little body one last time. "I love you, sweetie." He whispered to her through a constricted throat. "I don't want to leave you, but I must." He released her and pulled her back so he could look at her tear-stained face.
"I want to go with you," she said, her large brown eyes begging him to relent.
He gazed into her eyes. "I need you to be strong. Mama needs you."
"Will you come back?" She asked.
He shook his head. "I cannot come back. I have done something bad."
She sniffed. "You hit Babu and knocked him down?"
Some day she would know he killed her grandfather, but right now it was best that she thought he only knocked him down. Hopefully, she would understand when she was older.
Halisi came to his rescue. She held her hands out to Chiku. "Come to me now so Heri can say goodbye to Baba."
Chiku reluctantly went to her mother and Donte hugged Heri close, kissing his cheek. Heri's eyes were not quite brown and not quite dark blue. Farasi had been delighted that he favored Donte.
Donte released Heri and let him sit on his arm as he turned to Halisi and Chiku.
"Thank you for bringing them to see me. Are you being treated well?"
She met his gaze. "Kafil sees that we have everything we need - and more. We are safe and comfortable."
Donte nodded, his throat constricting so that it was difficult to speak. "Tell him I am grateful."
Her dark eyes implored him. "Why, Donte? You didn't even know her."
For a moment he looked into her eyes. In six years, had she learned nothing about him? He sighed. "I felt it had to be done, Halisi. I'm sorry for you and the children, but I still think it was the only way. At least now Chiku will be safe."
She glanced at Chiku. "He wouldn't hurt her now. He loves...loved her."
He didn't argue. Let her think of her father in any way she wished. Farasi would no longer be a threat to any of them. He set Heri on the floor and took Chiku from her arms. Putting Chiku on the floor, he turned to Halisi and reached out his arms for her. For a moment she hesitated. She had never hugged or kissed him and it was clear that she wished things to remain that way. Finally, she shrugged, probably unable to refuse the last request of a condemned man. She took a step toward him and he pulled her into his arms. He didn’t want to leave her thinking she meant nothing to him, even if he meant nothing to her.
"I admire you, Halisi. I'm sorry I came between you and Kafil."
She studied his face for a moment before responding. "You gave us time together. It was more than we could expect from you. You have been a good father to…our children."
He pulled her close and kissed her lips. At first, she was stiff in his arms, but finally her lips responded and she hugged him. He released her and stepped away.
"Goodbye and good luck," he said.
"Goodbye." She lifted a hand, paused, and dropped it in an awkward gesture. She probably intended to wipe her lips with the back of her hand but thought better of it.
He stared at the door after they left. Halisi and the children left him in a vacuum. Everything he had lived for in the last six years had walked out that door. At the moment, he welcomed death as an escape. He was almost 30 years old and his existence amounted to nothing. Ultimately, his life had cost that of his mate and children. In six years, Halisi had developed no feelings toward him and tomorrow he would abandon his children in death. He had robbed his father and grandfather of their only opportunity for future generations. He was a dismal failure for a human, much less a mascot.
He stretched out on the cot, hands behind his head, thinking about Liana and Bjorn. It startled him to realize he could not picture either of their faces. Instead he saw Halisi and Chiku. It had only been six years. How could he forget?