The Price of Yugashii's Favor

Aruwana became the closest Neijar ever had for a friend. They spent the days training, and Neijar brought Aruwana to a level of martial excellence he himself had to be careful around. He made the barbarian his private bodyguard and allowed him to stay in the same tent. Being a foreigner, Aruwana was never indoctrinated to revere his master’s godly mystique like the native Tashari were. Often he would innocently prod his master with questions about the pressures of life or sympathies about how hard it must be on him.

Neijar thought the whole idea strange and awkward, but gradually he found that he was beginning to respond, and the bottomless well had cracked. Faint streams of emotion began to trickle into his life, and the world took on new colors and flavors. He did not yet know what was happening, but it felt good, so he spent even more time with the barbarian to figure it out. Aruwana was the only one he ever told the truth of his divine parentage – information that would undoubtedly lead to his ruin if any Tashari found out. Neijar remained distant and detached with the rest of the Mahajari, and ordered his armies to continue probing deep into the jungles of Suknuru.

The Tashari army faced resistance from the local Annukai every step of the way, but continued plowing down the ancient trees. Though the Tashari suffered some losses, Siya Neijar had the favor of the god of war, and with it he and his troops were immune to defeat. The deeper they went into the jungles, the tougher the fighting grew. Undead and undying minions came out of the woodworks, creating additional problems. Soon even one as adept as Aruwana was backed into a corner with no hope of fighting off the seemingly endless horde.

When Neijar saw his best soldier about to die, an emotion gripped him that he could not explain. A fear and immanent despair so strong that he dropped what he was doing and rushed headlong into the fray, cutting down undead left and right in a mad rush to save the only friend he ever had. He did succeed in rescuing Aruwana, but in doing so he undermined the efficiency of the mission, resulting in the deaths of many more soldiers. The shock at such an uncharacteristic display ricocheted off the faces of the soldiers, yet somehow that did not matter to Neijar right then – the only thing that mattered was Aruwana’s safety.

Slowly it dawned on Neijar how much he cared about the barbarian, and with that poignant realization the floodgates of the emotions he had repressed over the years were opened, and his mind as he knew it was washed away. That same night Neijar staggered into the tent with hot tears streaming down his face, and thrust himself onto Aruwana, telling him how he could not bear the thought of losing him. Neijar told him that he could not take being perfect anymore, and Aruwana was the only one who ever cared enough to see through to who he really was. He held the barbarian closer and told him that he was the only able to melt his heart, and that he wanted nothing more than to make love to him. Touched by such a moving show of affection, Aruwana agreed.

That night made Neijar feel a bliss he had never felt after bedding countless others. He had slept with anyone that he could manipulate to do his bidding, and took pride in the belief that there was nobody living that he could not seduce. Sex had been a tool tied with business and bribery, not a sincere act of intimacy and love. But he could not think straight anymore, not even straight enough to realize that he wasn’t. His normally acute mind felt heavy and muddled, but it was a weight he bore with an irrepressible joy. The questioning eyes of soldiers followed him as he passed, yet he did not notice nor care. Only Aruwana’s gaze could warrant a reaction from him now.

It was not just his emotional virginity that Neijar lost that night, he also lost the favor of his father Yugashii. Though he tried using the same tactics he always did, nothing was going smoothly anymore. His sword-work grew clumsier, his mind wandered, and his armies’ morale was dropping from the escalating losses with each subsequent battle. The Mahajari whispered rumors behind his back, and followed Aruwana with unsavory glares, but did not dare to speak against their leader. Neijar himself could not understand what was happening. His euphoria had since morphed into angst and doubt. He tried mulling the matter over in his head but was baffled to find his thinking had grown slow and chaotic. Never did he have to deal with intense emotions before, and he could not figure out how to control them.

Even in the midst of battle, alone and surrounded by enemies, swinging blindly in the dark, the awareness of every missed stroke only intensified his confusion. The frantic adrenaline rush petrified him to the bone and made him taste a mortality that he did not enjoy. It was then that Aruwana charged in and broke the circle of undead surrounding his master. As Neijar watched his best friend fight off the multitudes, as he saw his own aura of invincibility crumble, he understood the root of his failure, just like the allegorical warrior in his father’s stories, and the overwhelming denial of that insight made him pass out on the ground.

Aruwana quickly scooped up his fallen master, hopped onto a horse and galloped away before the rest of the army could see what happened. He brought Neijar to their tent and laid him down on silken bedsheets. The barbarian knew his master’s thought patterns well. Even as he picked leaves and dirt out of his lover’s lustrous hair, he knew that when he woke up he would kill him. But he did not mind: every day he put his life on the line for his master, and if he was able to make Neijar happy before it was his time to die, then it would have been worth it.

With heartrending clarity Neijar could now see the extent of his fall from his father’s good graces. Always he had been like a mighty wind that swept all obstacles from its path, yet now he had become a mere leaf caught in its gusts. He had lost control, and this frightened him more than anything he had ever known. Truly this was the sweet poison that Yugashii spoke of, a corrosive venom that ate away at the most fortified defenses, leaving behind an impotent shell. He couldn’t believe how weak and pathetic he had become, how flighty and sentimental. His reputation, his flawless war record, his dignity, his very identity was on the line, and if it came down to himself or another, there was no question who he would choose. He was not one to let treacherous maggots stand in the way of his greatness. Brimming with indignation, his emotions froze over and shattered. The bottomless well had run dry.

Neijar’s eyes jarred open as he rose out of bed, his merciless gaze fixed firmly on Aruwana who was sitting at the other side of the tent. His aura flared up like a raging inferno as he drew his swords with swift deliberation and inched closer to the barbarian. He knew what he had to do to regain Yugashii’s favor, and that callous resolve was absolutely terrifying to behold. Aruwana could do nothing but smile sadly as the twin blades rained down upon him. “Why?” he asked with his dying breath. Indeed, Neijar has asked his father that question many times, and he gave Aruwana the same answer he received: “’Why’ is the most futile question in mortal language, because knowing the answer would not change whether you live or die.”

         In this way Siya Neijar reclaimed Yugashii’s favor, and uncanny fortune returned to his armies. Nobody questioned Aruwana’s death, but nobody mourned him either. It was no secret that the Mahajari were jealous of favoritism their Chief Commander showed some blond Northlander, and they were glad to see Neijar back to his old self. Neijar felt as though a huge weight was lifted from his chest. With no ties to anyone he was once again free to be and do whatever he wanted – the entire world was his playground!

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Copyright © 2003 by Yumeni All rights reserved.
Revised: 12 May 2010 07:47:49 -0400 .