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Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Kildaran - Chapter 11

[For all of my married readers: this chapter's for you. Remember when you had to meet the prospective spouse's parents? Family? Remember the sheer terror? The sense of, "I'd better not screw this up!"? Well... Mike's got that. And then some. He's got to win the approval of.. The Elders - one of whom, Katrina's father, really doesn't like him. Never has. So what has Mike done to avoid the meeting? Read on and find out!]

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He couldn’t dodge this meeting any longer.
In the days since the double whammy of Katrina and the mission, Mike had managed to plead “planning and training” every time the Elders wanted a meet. And it wasn’t all bullshit. Team training had required some of his expertise, though maybe not as much as he had given.
Intel gathering and sorting, well, that was Vanner’s specialty, and he was good at it. Better if he didn’t have the Kildar looking over his shoulder, but Mike knew that Katrina wouldn’t bother him in the intel room. The planning session with J and Katya had been interesting, though.
“So we have no idea exactly where these things are, who snatched them, how they’re guarded, or what they plan to do with them.”
“And you want us to find out.”
J shrugged. “Suits.” Katya wasn’t quite so calm.
“Again? I am to play the whore again? You want me to get beaten some more? Maybe killed this time? I am sick of it, Kildar, and I -”
“Katya.” The warning in J’s tone was obvious. “You listen, but you do not hear. Did he say anything about how we are to infiltrate?”
She paused. “No.”
“Then why would you presume to be a whore? You have more skills than that, now. Is that the only role you feel you can play? Or do you feel that it is the best role for you?”
“No, it isn’t, and I am not scared! Angry? Yes! Scared? No!” She actually sounded abashed. Well, slightly. As much as anyone would ever see.
“Stop reacting and start thinking. We have been given a mission. How we execute it is up to us - correct, Kildar?” he added, turning to Mike.
“Yep. I don’t care what you have to do to get inside, or how you get the information, as long as it gets back here in time and you can get out. This isn’t a suicide mission, no matter how it may look. Make a plan and tell me what you need for support. You will get it.”
“And my price this time?” demanded Katya, with some of her usual fire.
“A hundred thousand euros, minimum. Bonuses based on usefulness and timeliness of information.”
She shook her head. “More.”
“Two hundred k then.”
“No, not money.”
“Then what?”
“I want to be able to leave.”
Now Mike shook his head. “Not with all your ‘upgrades,’ you can’t. Bad enough you have over a year training with J; I can’t just let you walk away because you’re too dangerous. Either you’ll let your sociopath side go - and don’t try to hide it, we both know you have one - getting revenge on everyone you think ever wronged you, or you’ll get caught doing it and burn us to try to buy your freedom.”
J added, “He is correct. You have learned much, but you have not yet completely learned control of your demons. There is too much of the hurt child you once were, the child who wants nothing more than to hit back, to let you out on your own.”
“I can control it! I do!” she insisted.
“Are you disagreeing with me?” J asked quietly. “I might add that, even if he should acquiesce to your demand, I will no longer be training you. I will be remaining here.”
Katya thought furiously for a few seconds. Her agreement with J, though highly informal, required her honesty and complete attention. He had promised to teach her all he knew as long as she listened. If she ever stopped listening, he stopped teaching. “No. I will stay.”
“This isn’t a prison, Cottontail,” said Mike. “I’m sure that, if I had to, I could arrange for the removal of your toys. It probably wouldn’t be pleasant, but it could be done. I think. But the other issue remains. You know too much about the Keldara, and about me.” He shrugged. “You are a cold bitch, Cottontail. I respect that, actually, and understand it. It means, though, that you’re not going anywhere on a permanent basis. Not now, not yet. Maybe not ever. And there’s not much I can do about that.”
A few days later, J and Katya had left for Chechnya. A small team of Keldara followed, to ensure extraction and, though Mike didn’t express it, to call in the heavies, including the Dragon, if needed.
He had stolen a couple more days by the simple expedient of traveling to Tbilisi to meet with General Umarov and Ambassador Wilson. It was legitimate, sure; he did have to arrange a few details. Of course, he could have handled it on the phone. Hell, he could have had Valkyrie fly him there and back the same day, instead of shaking his body on the roads between. Still, it got him out of the Valley, away from Katrina, away from the Elders.
Another day he spend with Yosif’s team, practicing underwater demo in his “training” lake. Yosif had recovered remarkably from his exposure to VX in Florida; in truth, the strenuous training had probably saved his life and his motor skills, but his determination and Keldara background had done as much to ensure his recovery. Of course, the mutation of having four kidneys - common among the Keldara, but worth noting in the States, at least until the Corpsman was reminded of the black nature of the op - helped filter it out as well.
Mike didn’t know if any water skills would be needed on this op, but he wanted to err on the side of caution. Admittedly, the lake was barely above freezing, under a still-thick layer of ice, but that’s what the Bare CD4 and CT100 dry suits and polar under lining were for. The ice was in much, much smaller chunks now.
It was simply amazing what you could do with non-lubricated, reservoir-tipped condoms and Semtex. So much so all thoughts of marriage had completely slipped his mind.
Now, though, he had run out of excuses, and the Elders had all come up the caravanserai. Led by Father Kulcyanov, they filed into his office as he rose in respect. Not surprisingly, Mother Lenka and Mother Devlich followed.
“Kildar, I greet you in the name of the All-Father,” wheezed Father Kulcyanov formally. It felt like the beginning of a ritual, so Mike replied in kind.
“I greet you, Father Kulcyanov, and the other Elders of the Keldara. Please, sit.” Mike waited while they settled, then sat himself. “How may the Kildar serve the Elders?”
“We have come in the name of custom and your place in the Keldara, Kildar.”
“What about my place?”
“You are the Kildar. You are the leader of the Keldara, in peace and in battle. You have proven yourself as a true Kildar, valiant, honoring your word, showing your devotion to your people in your actions and your beliefs. You have allowed the Keldara to reveal our true selves, to enjoy freedom to honor the Father of All. You have led our warriors to victory in battle against unspeakable odds. You have done all that a Kildar should, and ever has, done for the Keldara.” He paused for breath, and Mike waited.
“Now it is time for you to bond fully with the Keldara. Now it is time for you to fully assume your place as leader of the Keldara. Now it is time for you to take a woman of the Keldara to be your Kildaran.”
“Father Kulcyanov, I have reasons -”
“It is the will of the Elders that this be done, Kildar. In many things we have bent to your will. We have accepted your changes as the word of the Kildar, and the changes have been good. In this, though, you will bow to our will.” The old, old voice was surprisingly strong.
Two years ago, when Mike had first come to the Valley, he had faced down the Elders. A young Keldara woman, Irina, had displayed signs of acute appendicitis, so Mike had piled her, her friend Lydia, and Genadi into his car for a perilous drive into Tbilisi.
The appendix had been removed, Irina had been saved, but the repercussions had been… interesting. Irina and Lydia, being unmarried, were not supposed to be alone with males not of their family, or they would be considered unclean, spoiled, not eligible to be married. Lydia was betrothed to Oleg, one of Mike’s then-nascent team leaders.
Under the customs of the Keldara, that betrothal would be broken, and both women possibly “sent to town.” The Keldara, too, despised debt, and were aghast at being in debt for the medical expenses, a debt that Mike never even considered. In a tense meeting, Mike made his attitude known, and used his position as Kildar to make it stick. Time, however, works its changes on everyone, and not only didn’t Mike think he could face down the Elders on this issue - he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to.
“What is the role of the Kildaran, Father?” he asked instead.
The Elders visibly relaxed. Father Makanee almost smiled. “The Kildaran is the primary woman in your household. She does not have to be wedded -”
“If I do this, she will be wedded,” Mike interrupted.
“- but she is the Lady of the house. She is Mother to any children you have, of her body or of others’. Only children of her body, however, can ever become Kildar in their turn, should they so choose.”
Now Mother Lenka spoke. “She is also to be the Priestess to the Goddess, Mother of us all. She should also be able to make beer,” she added with a cackle. Mother Lenka’s brew was legendary in the Valley. Any tension remaining dissipated.
“It has been long years since we had a Kildar worthy of a Kildaran,” said Father Mahona. “The last was a Prussian, appointed by the Tsars, but he died before his Kildaran produced any heirs.”
“So all this is to ensure a Kildar?” Mike asked.
“Not at all,” spoke Makanee. “It is the only way, though, that a Kildar can come from the Keldara.”
Mike nodded. “And the Kildaran is to be Katrina.”
Father Devlich answered. He had been the Elder most resistant to Mike’s changes, but even he had mellowed somewhat “As if it could be anyone else.” He snorted. “Ever since you came here! The Kildar this, the Kildaran that - it’s all I have heard for two years!” He smiled, grimly. “She can be your problem now, Kildar!” A general chuckle arose.
Father Kulcyanov, though, confirmed it. “Katrina Devlich is to be the Kildaran, yes. This is our judgment, as Elders of the Keldara, and our final words on the matter. ”
Mike‘s years as a SEAL had taught him how to fight. It had also taught him when a fight wasn’t worth fighting. “Okay. What do I need to do?”
Father Kulcyanov replied now. “You have little to do, Kildar. The potential Kildaran has been weighed and measured by the Elders, and has been found worthy. You have accepted her. If you were not planning on marriage, then there would be a brief ceremony at your convenience, and she would become your Kildaran.”
Mike shook his head again. “If I’m gonna do this, I’ll do it right. She’ll be my wife, as well as the Kildaran.”
“Then there is some planning to do before we formally betroth her. After the betrothal, customs require you wait for one cycle of the moon before wedding -”
“- for the Rite of Kardane. I’m not doing that any longer, as you know. Can we skip the waiting?”
“Are you so eager to breach her, Kildar?” Mother Lenka spoke. “Not that Katrina would mind!”
“No, Kildar,” resumed Father Kulcyanov over the subdued laughter. “Although the Rite was the purpose of the custom, there are also many details that must be arranged before the wedding. Katrina must be confirmed as Mother Lenka‘s heir, which will require some time in itself, among other duties.”
“Father, no disrespect, but you are aware that we are planning a mission? One that could require I leave at almost any time?”
“Yes, Kildar, of course we are aware. Once the waiting period is passed, the wedding can take place at any time. It simply cannot occur earlier.”
“That could put it during the Festival of Balar, if I’m looking at this right.”
The old man nodded. “That would be entirely appropriate, Kildar, to end the Festival with the wedding of the Kildaran.”
“That’s when we’ll plan it, then. One thing, though: you said that Katrina would be Mother to all children of mine, even not of her body. What about the children of the Rite? There are a good number out there, you know.”
Mother Lenka took this one. “Even though they are children of your body, Kildar, in the eyes of the Keldara, they are the children of their parents. Stella’s son, Sawn, is a child of your body. But he is the son of Vil.”
Mike shrugged, again. “If you say so.”
The Elders rose. “We will call on you in a few days, Kildar, for your betrothal.”
“I look forward to it.” As they began to leave, a final question occurred to Mike. “Father Kulcyanov?”
He turned before the door. “Yes, Kildar?”
“What family was the last Kildaran from?”
“Why, Devlich, of course,” he said with a twinkle.

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