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In the west garden of Lord Galharm’s small manor, a soft wind was flowing through the flowers, releasing a variety of pleasant scents that always soothed Counsel Albih whenever he visited. The two men had been friends for years, and their weekly garden meeting was a ritual they had sustained even before they both inherited their respective households from their parents. They were now on their knees, no longer as young as they used to be, but still removing weeds, and cleaning up flower beds while chatting as light heartedly as they did in their youth. The servants, as always, waited at a distance, close enough to be called on, but not enough to listen in on their conversations.

“Oh, I think there’s an infestation. This spot here is filled with eggs,” Counsel Albih said, pointing to a small patch in the soil that was covered in a layer of tiny yellow gelatinous insect eggs. “They smell putrid too,” he added, pulling his face away.

“No! How’s that possible?” Lord Galharm said, shoving his friend aside to inspect the area himself. “This is preposterous. Look!” he said, cupping a pink and red striped flower which had obviously been a meal to whatever pests had decided to settle in his garden. “They’ve already eaten some of my babies.”

Albih smiled at his friend’s dramatics. “Hmm… I wonder what they could be? Well that’s what you get for using imported chemicals on your precious babies,” Albih said standing up and moving to a table where drinks and snacks were set up.

Galharm followed him, taking his gloves off and throwing the to the ground. “Quickly call an exterminator,” he said to one of the waiting servants. Then he fell into the chair next to Albih releasing an agonized sigh and slumping his shoulders, so his wings dragged on the ground with the weight of the unfortunate discovery. Albih quickly stuffed his mouth with pastries to prevent himself from laughing. He knew how much Galharm loved flowers, so although Albih found such deep agony over a few bug-eaten plants ridiculous, he didn’t want to mock his friend’s honest emotions.

They were mostly silent for a while, with Albih making a few jokes here and there, until Galharm had recovered his spirits enough to sit up straight and carry on a conversation. In all matters besides where flowers were concerned, Galharm was the most pragmatic and honest advisor. So, whenever Albih, who was on the king’s council, needed to someone to help make sense of difficult issues, he always came to his friend.

“So, what has king Derlin decided to do?” Galharm asked seriously, his soft features contrasting the hard gleam in his eyes.

“He will most likely go with the council’s majority vote to side with Iclax,” Albih said, and his eyebrow knit in a pained expression that made clear what side of the vote he was on.

“But it makes no sense, to side with Iclax over Marak and Cajara. There is history and deep ties between our planets that go back hundreds of thousands of years,” Galharm said, “and this issue shouldn’t even concern Dreakar anyway, it is between Cajara and Iclax.”

Albih sighed and rubbed his temples. For three months now, the King’s Council, which was usually united, had been split into two factions debating the issue of whether or not Dreakar would form an alliance with Iclax to oppose Cajara. The two planets had been disputing over the Colony planet Ouit, for about two years with little progress made, and now Dreakar was being dragged into the issue. The discord in the council was starting to take a toll on Albih. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a decent night’s sleep, and he’d even begun to notice areas in his hair thinning, as the small dispute seemed to be building up into an all-out war that would engulf the Fuze system in chaos.

“Iclax will withhold their tech and exports to Dreakar if we don’t support them,” Albih said weakly, and even to him, it sounded like a poor excuse.

“Then let them withhold it. Cajara is a part of the Fuze system and while their tech is not as advanced, I’d still prefer to deal with them over an outsider like Iclax. We’re alienating ourselves.” Galharm could hardly control his frustration. He felt that this issue would have never risen if Dreakar had stayed loyal to its established allies, but over the years, Dreakar and Marak had drifted apart, while Cajara had replaced Dreakar as Marak’s closest ally. And Galharm knew Marakian devotion well.

“If we oppose Cajara, Marak will destroy us,” Galharm said morbidly.

Usually Alhim would have brushed off such statements as unnecessary dramatics, but he knew very well that Dreakar was tempting fate. Marak was usually an absent presence in the affairs of the Nol galaxy, preferring to be the aloof observer. It was well known though, that if provoked, they would retaliate with irreparable consequences, and one of the best ways to provoke the sleeping beast was to attack its friends. Dreakar was now, for the first time since the Ancient Wars, hanging on the balance between friend and foe with Marak.

“No matter how you look at it, Iclax is morally wrong, they abandoned Ouit to Cajara when they saw no benefits there. Now thousands of years later, when Cajara has developed the planet into a thriving colony, Iclax decides it reinforce its claim on the planet? Because of some metal? it makes no sense.”

“It is not just some metal, Galharm, lycron can bind with lyfol. Think of the possibilities… and moreover, King Derlin seems to think this is an opportunity to pull us out of Marak’s shadow. You know people are calling us Marak’s stable boy.” Alhim tried to reason, seeing as Galharm was slowly turning red with fury and his wings were tensed straight.

“What nonsense. When Great King Marviel ruled, no one ever said such slander. It is the incompetence of his son that has made us weak and allowed us to be insulted this way,” Galharm yelled with such outrage that the passing servants jumped.

“Please calm down Galharm, this is not like you,” Alhim pleaded, it had been decades since he’d last seen his friend so agitated. The servants stood, jaw slacked, at the change in their mild-mannered Lord. It was at times like this that they all remembered, that their flower loving Lord used to be a general in Great King Marviel’s army.

Galharm stood enraged, pacing back and forth. Part of the reason he retreated from politics was because of the way the planet seemed to be abandoning sacred traditions in place of commercialization and monetary gain. Now it appeared that they were on the verge of going to war with one of their ancient allies. He could practically feel his father’s spirit becoming turbulent in Buhan, the oceans of the deceased.

Both his father and grandfather had fought alongside the Great King. They fought sided by side with Marakian’s for millennia, till this day his family’s name was recognized on Marak whenever he visited. Now all those years of friendship were about to be dissolved over a mining colony and some technology. He clenched and unclenched his hands trying to quell the anger and he felt that if he did not gain control of his emotions, he might storm the king’s castle, and knock some sense into the man.

“Galharm,” Alhim said alarmed.

When Galharm saw his friend’s desperate expression, he stopped his pacing, and deliberately bent to pick a flower that had fallen.

The flower’s stem felt fragile in his hands, so he was forced to relax his grip and the tension in his body. He raised the purple flower to his face, and its gentle aroma calmed him. Earlier that year, he had created an arrangement using these same flowers to give as a goodbye gift to the Marakian ambassadors, Kana and Rolt. He still remembered the expression on their faces when they told him about the fruitlessness of their talks with King Derlin. It was a look of pity and disappointment.

He walked back to the table and gave the flower to Alhim. “It is a shame that we’ve come to this.”

“Indeed,” Alhim said sniffing the flower. “But there may be some hope, I would have told you sooner if I’d known you go off in such a rage,” he said smiling.

Galharm laughed and sat down.

“World-Bearer Cole will be visiting the planet next month to speak with King Derlin directly. I’m certain their talks will bare good fruit.” Alhim said in voice filled with a tone feigned conviction that would have been believed by anyone except Galharm.

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