Happy Labor Day, all! Hoping you're having a wonderful end-of-the-summer weekend. We have a BBQ and other fun on the agenda today, though I am scratching my head a bit at how the heck the summer slid by so fast. Wow!
Welcome back to this continuing story.
If you're just discovering this aquatic SFR for the first time, you can catch up on all parts posted to date at this link:
If you're following the story each Monday, here's a quick recap of where we are...
Last week, we left Trey and Jinn at the entrance to the Conclave of Elders after Trey and his father were abruptly summoned in the middle of Trey and Jinn trying to convince him of their status.
There are definitely more shocks and surprises in store for Jinn, Trey, the Imperator...and you, the reader. Hang on!
The corridor they entered was dark and foreboding, but it soon connected with a huge amphitheater, brightly lit by the sun filtering in from the surface, which was only a few footspans above the occupants’ heads.
The Elders were a somber group, all dressed in long black bodyveils and stationed at large podiums that arced in a quarter circle along the convex wall at the front of the hall. The Imperator had taken his place on the floor before them and Trey swam to join him, motioning Jinn to motor her sphere just behind him and to his left.
“Imperator Fasaro Bantos, and son, Trey Bantos,” the Head Elder began, “you have been summoned before the Conclave of Elders to receive the pronouncement under Shell Law this day. It is our duty to state the conditions of this pronouncement.”
The Head Elder referred to something on the podium before him. “This matter is directly related to the recent bid of Trey Bantos’ for the daughter of Emerro Tulang. She will now come forward and be recognized.”
Jinn’s attention swept the crowd looking for the Perling girl that Trey had bid for.
The breath stilled in her lungs when the flame-haired beauty reluctantly swam forward.
“Eldelza Tulang, you acknowledge that a bid for your hand by Trey Bantos was presented to you and you accepted his bid?”
“It is truth,” Eldelza confirmed quietly.
The protest died on Jinn’s tongue when the Head Elder continued. “Then it is my duty as Prime Elder of the Conclave to announce that this bid has been challenged under the Law of the Shell,” the Prime Elder rumbled, passing his fin over his podium.
Trey ceased to tread water and his body went rigid.
Jinn swallowed hard. His bid had been challenged? What did that mean?
The mellow ding of a water chime sounded. “The challenger will now come forward so the challenged may address him.”
Tardem swam into the chamber, shoulders and head set back in defiance. Eldelza glanced at Trey before her eyes cut to Tardem, and then to Jinn.
“Brother?” Trey’s brow furrowed. “You’ve lodged a challenge against me?”
“I have,” Tardem snapped.
“And such a challenge,” Trey said in a tone of disbelief, “can only be decided by a fight to the death.”
“That is our law,” Tardem said, snapping off each word.
Eldelza raised imploring eyes to Tardem. The Imperator’s First Son returned her look briefly, before rising to the surface for air.
Eldelza exchanged glances with Trey, and something unspoken passed between them.
Trey’s attention locked on Jinn.
When Tardem returned to his place, Trey spoke. “I do not accept Tardem’s challenge because my bid for Eldelza’s hand was not valid.”
The Conclave of Elders collectively exchanged looks of surprised disbelief. “You infer,” the Head Elder questioned, “that your bid is not valid? Explain.”
“Because I invoke First Right of Refusal under Talstar law,” Jinn blurted out. “Trey first bid for my hand, and I have now accepted his bid.”
Trey twisted a quarter turn toward her, splaying his fin in a signal to stop.
“The witness has not been recognized to speak,” the Head Elder boomed. “So her outburst will be stricken.” The Elder’s condemning gaze came to rest on Jinn, his black eyes glinting in malice. “She will now come forth to enlighten us with her official statement.”
Jinn cleared her throat and eased her bubble forward to hover beside Trey.
“I was not educated on Perling customs,” Jinn admitted. “The words I spoke were not intended as rejection of Trey’s bid, I only asked for more time to consider it. But the words I chose out of ignorance were witnessed by the Imperator’s sentinels and taken as rejection as per Shell tradition, and I was expelled from your domain. I have since returned to assert my acceptance of Trey’s bid. Therefore, I proclaim my First Right of Refusal under Talstar Law."
“Your realm has elected not to educate your citizens about Perling culture or history out of fear. That is the fault of the people of the Star and has no bearing on these proceedings. You uttered the official words of rejection according to the Law of the Shell.”
“Be that as it may, I was the first to answer Trey’s bid and in my eyes and in my heart, my response was not a rejection.” She leveled her gaze on Trey and registered his subtle acceptance of her claim. “I have now accepted Trey’s bid for my hand and therefore his second bid to another is moot and Tardem has no challenge. I am not Perling, therefore Talstar custom must be considered in a matter of a joint union.”
“How dare you challenge the ways of our realm, Jinn Amalla!” the Elder shouted.
“I would address the Elders,” Trey said.
“Speak what you will then, second son of the Imperator,” the Head Elder snarled.
“Jinn’s not asking you to defy our laws, Your Honor. She’s asking you only to consider her own. This is a special case. We…” Trey moved closer to Jinn’s bubble and laid a fin on the surface. “…are a special case.”
“There can be no special cases,” the Head Elder stated. “Our laws and customs are absolute.”
Trey’s father collected himself, brushing his handfin down the front of his bodyveil. “I wish to speak to this matter, Head Elder.”
The officiator granted his request with a deferential bow. “You are, of course, granted a voice in these proceedings, Imperator Bantos.”
“I must share some of the responsibility in this situation. Eldelza accepted the bid I put forth, and Trey has not yet made his formal bid to seal the arrangement. The two haven’t completed the Ritual of Pairing. Under our customs, they are not fully pledged.”
Trey’s father was taking their side?
With a mighty stroke of his arms, Tardem propelled himself forward and spun to face his father. “You did this?” he demanded. “You arranged this bid by Trey?”
“Trey’s place in our society was in peril. I had to act quickly.”
“But why her?” Tardem thundered.
“Her father has great influence in the Fourth City. She was the obvious choice for a bond with my disgraced son.”
“And what of your undisgraced son? Why have my desires always been second?”
“The Imperator scowled hardened. “How am I to know your desires when you hide them so well? This is not the time or place to air your personal grievances with me,” the Imperator scolded. “We will discuss this later, in private.”
Tarden back-finned, giving his father a tight-lipped glower. “There may be no later.”
Jinn nudged her sphere forward. “There’s an important matter that hasn’t been brought forward,” Jinn asserted. “About the status of Trey’s bid to me.”
“Jinn,” Trey warned under his breath.
She wouldn’t be deterred. “My answer to Trey’s bid wasn’t just by my words. Trey and I completed the Perling Ritual of Pairing.”
The chamber went deathly quiet.
The Imperator rounded on his second son. “Is this true?”
Trey’s tormented gaze found her. Agony flashed in his eyes. “It’s truth.”
“Then it is my duty to acknowledge your confession, Jinn Amalla of Talstar,” the Head Elder said coldly “To engage in the Ritual of Pairing without accepting the bid of your suitor is a capital crime in our realm. If you do not rescind your claim, your punishment is death.”
“I will not rescind. Because we did perform the ritual,” Jinn declared, “And as I’ve told you, I have accepted his bid.”
“Then I rescind my acceptance,” Eldelza cried. “On the grounds…the grounds that I wasn’t aware that Trey had completed the Ritual of Pairing and his first bid was undecided when a new bid was negotiated by our fathers.”
“Your Honor,” Jinn interjected quietly, continuing even when the Prime Elder turned to her with a glare. “Tardem has challenged his brother for Eldelza’s hand because he realizes he wants her as his own mate. I believe Eldelza feels the same toward Tardem. I love Trey and he loves me. Trey and I have performed the Ritual of Pairing and I have accepted his bid. The matter of the exact words I spoke prior to my acceptance are now irrelevant, are they not? There is a simple solution to this in a mutual agreement by all present. No one has to die needlessly to satisfy some meaningless law.”
“I would accept such a decision whole-heartedly,” Eldelza said.
“As would I,” Tardem added glumly.
The Prime Elder made a firm finstroke of his chin, his eyes settling on each of the four young ones in his presence. “As the law keeper of the Fourth City, it is the sacred duty of the Conclave of Elders to entrust and uphold the Perling ways. Our laws are not meaningless. There can be no such agreement. A challenge has been made. It will be answered.” He looked to the Imperator’s eldest son. “Tardem Bantos, you will come forward.”
Tardem gave his father a peeved look, and moved before the Prime Elder.
“As challenger, you will be first to choose your weapon.”
“If you are so determined to see bloodshed.” Tardem snorted, jetting air from his nose. “I choose the Barclay spear.”
“And your weapon of choice, Trey Bantos?”
“This challenge is invalid, and I will take up no weapon against my brother.”
Tardem’s spine stiffened, and he looked to his brother. “Then you will die,” Tardem barked in a cloud of bubbles.
Trey nodded his understanding. “So be it.”
Jinn closed her eyes at the soul-crushing regret that painted Trey’s eyes a somber granite.
“A challenge has been made and it will be carried out. The combatants will assemble here at morning high tide, and an audience will be gathered to witness the outcome of this Challenge. Living or dead, the loser shall be cast into the open sea to appease the denizens of the Deep.” He paused to draw a heavy breath. “And you, Jinn Amalla of Talstar, will be put to death at sunset tomorrow, regardless of the outcome.”
Now that Jinn thought she might have something to live for, she's been sentenced to death. Stop back next Monday to find out what happens next.
There will only be five more parts posted until the epic conclusion.
Have a great week!