The Letter of Rashand

Once the captain's cabin was clear, and Mahmoud and his highest officers had departed for Namsuurr, Jhuruk was finally able to sit at his new desk, and open his scented envelope.

The smell was overpowering as he drew it open - an orgasmic mix of flower and incense and wind. It sharpened his senses... even cleared his sinuses. It was the love-hunt feeling of sexual arousal, hunger, yearning. Jhuruk had heard of the Grand Vizier's eunuchs and their scented tongues, but he could never have imagined the effect their scent would have on him.

He knew now why those eunuchs only licked the Empire's most important dispatches.

Inside the envelope, he found dozens of folded maps and star charts, carefully annotated but still so clustered as to be nearly illegible. Jhuruk couldn't make out what these maps were meant to depict, and why nearly every feature of the star-terrain had been marked and named and described. Here and there he could make out star rivers (trade routes) twining through the clusters - there were five in all that he could make out, but he recognized none of the names. Shas fields were numerous there, too. In fact, whole charts were dedicated to the Shas fields, carefully marking their shapes and their peculiarities. The Shas was so plentiful here it swallowed entire star clusters, and he saw many civilized planets marked deep within them.

"This is Second Sultanate levels of Shas," Jhuruk thought, chuckling to himself. No doubt this was some strategic Shas-sector in the South or East. No captain had been sent into the Second Sultanate since the Treaty of Kheroon, two hundred years ago.

Then he opened the letter enclosed with the maps.

Shasma,

Your name stands in the annals of history now, and though you have been named Combat Shasma, your scouting ability is your most esteemed. Men raised their voices high in the streets of Nim City at your achievement, and, just a day before I write this, the Mother Sultan's imams clasped their hands in prayer over your name at her dinner table.

Even now, I am hounded by chroniclers for information on you, to add to the Shasma chronicles; and artists from around the Empire have flocked here to paint your portrait. Requests for marriage are numerous as well, though, being that you are from no house, the letters are all defaulted to the Grand Admiral. Though he complained, I ordered him to hold them for you, should you return...

The words "should you return" did not sit well with Jhuruk. This mission was apparently a more grave sort. He cleared his throat and continued reading.

I am not known for flowery writing, so I will not bore you with my attempts at poetry. This letter is a Letter of Rashand. You are to be a privateer for the fleet of the Mother Sultan, and strike down her foes through the disruption of trade. Enclosed with this letter are maps, depicting the regions you are to strike. The trade rivers Kemud and Dromad are your station, and the great trade river they merge to create, Kallistha, is your focus.

Jhuruk gasped. There were not five trade rivers on these maps, there were four smaller rivers and the one great river they form into. He knew the name Kallistha... how could any captain not?

It was the second greatest trade route in the Second Sultanate, a nation of trade routes.

You are a scout first and a warrior second, our Mother Sultan knows this. That is why you have been stationed along these routes, choked by Shas; because, with your ability to beguile your enemy, and the erratic nature of these Shas fields, you will be able to remain within them for years, feeding your ship's hive from their populations, and striking fear into the merchants of the Second Sultanate.

You are given the Lazer Dragon because it is a ship of the Fourth Sultanate, and should you be found by the fleets of the Second, they may believe your ship was sent by Fifth, to disrupt trade and devalue our economic alliance with the Second Sultanate.

We intend to make it clear to them that we want more support from them in our wars, and after years of your activity in their Eastern sectors, they may be open to that, to strike back at the Fifth Sultanate.

Jhuruk took a break from the letter and looked over the star charts again. Now that he had been told what he was looking at, he could better understand the geography, and the place that he would take within it. His eye followed the Kallistha through the star clusters, losing it many times within the Shas-markings, planet names and other annotations; but eventually, he was able to follow its whole length, and counted 126 planets set along it, from the Kemud-Dromad junction, to its terminus: Mansur. Toward its middle, he could see the planet Kallistha, which it was named after, set deep within a Shas field and described as "heavily protected and fortified, very rich". He turned back to the letter, blessed with understanding... and was stricken by what he read there.

We only tell you this much because it is expected that you die on this mission, Shasma. It is inevitable that you will be found, and, in that event, you must destroy the ship and everyone on it, including yourself, to avoid capture. For anyone to know of who sent you and why will destroy the very foundations of our Empire, and destroy all that our Mother Sultan has built. Only your officers can know of your mission, not its reason; and your civilians must not be told anything, even their location within the firmament.

If this is known, understood, and accepted. You must proceed to 1861-1987-10865-23456 by this time next year, and begin your mission.

Good Day, Shasma.

Written and First-Signed by Grand Vizier Shasma Bismal Wanhouk al-Manni, speaking for the Emperor Sheba namn'Sorouk Rannet al-Gherel ann'Gherelum,

Read, Second-Signed and licked by the Grand Eunuch Hannouj Befir,

Read and Third-Signed by House Vizier for the Mother Sultan Shasma Rakkam al-Banoosh, son of Makkah,

Heard and Approved by the Mother Sultan Sheba namn'Sorouk Rannet al-Gherel ann'Gherelum.

Those last words struck Jhuruk the hardest, and suddenly a mission he felt worried about became a mission he felt proud to undertake. His heart pounded in his chest as he paced around the room, running trenches in the deep carpets. The Emperor considered him... she knew of him.

It took a few hours before he brought his aching legs to a stop, and sat at his desk. He would need to write dozens of letters before the night was up, gathering officers from all across the Empire, and preparing hundreds of noble families for a future without their husbands, sons, and fathers.

First, he began a note to the Ghejun family: the family of the soldier he had had shot.

It was the easiest.

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