Story Time: Seven Stars

It’s a Chuck Challenge! Here is my “Space Opera” with very strong influences from some rather old stories. Enjoy!

“Why should I help you?”

“You must! We have no-”

An aged, gnarled hand reached out from behind and firmly squeezed the young man’s shoulder. He bit off his words immediately and bowed his head to let the elderly man shuffle forward to gain audience. The young man wanted to run, wanted to scream and yell. He wanted to do anything to keep from watching his grandfather degrade himself into begging for a stranger’s mercy. With the ridicule and shame of everything they had endured, this was almost too much to bear. Of course, the only thing worse would be the shame of abandoning the elders and his grandfather.

No, he would be strong like them and swallow what pride he had left. It was the only chance they had.

“Let me apologize for my grandson, please. He is young and fills his lack of experience with spirit and vigor. Would we have more like him then our need for help would not be so great. But, alas, ours are a meek and timid people, not accustomed to excitement.”

Calmly, the stranger spoke.

“You paint yourselves as helpless. That does not bode well for me, should I help you. Those who cannot help themselves are a bottomless well for others to pour their charities into.”

The words of rejection stung the young man, but his grandfather smiled politely and nodded.

“So true. So true. One does not soar high being pulled at by the jealous hands of those who cannot fly. But as always, those who lead the way make a path for the rest to follow. So it was over a thousand years ago when the bravest and the boldest forsook their ancestral homes to forge a path into the stars. They cleared the way for the Empire of the Sun to rise into the heavens. They had the honour of enabling the survival of mankind itself. More so, they strengthened men for the rigours of living among the stars.

“So it was when the barbarians and godless men threatened to break apart the Empire. It was the boldest, the most honourable among man who pledged themselves to protect the Empire and its people. Those brave leaders embodied honour and strength, showing the way for others by the example of their lives, thus strengthening the people of the Empire. They became masters of their domains and their great presence drew in others who would uphold the same standards of honour, bravery, and strength. Thus grew the Shoguns, their great houses and their sworn lords.

“And so it is with those warriors who swear allegiance to the noble houses. Their strength, their bravery and their honour shine like stars among men to lead others out of squabbling darkness and pettiness. They keep us from falling back into barbaric ways. They keep mankind among the stars.

“This is who we seek. Not a seeker of fortune, for we have none to give. Not one hungering for glory, for we are insignificant and will not be remembered. Not a saviour, for we must learn to save ourselves if we are to survive.

“No. We seek a leader with the strength, courage and honour to forge our colony into a better people. A people no longer to be bullied by cowards.”

Hearing his grandfather speak with such solemn determination filled Rikuto with pride. This hadn’t been part of the original discussion when the four of them were sent out seeking help, but grandfather seemed to speak as though he had planned for it all along. As Rikuto glanced sidelong at Yasu and Tarou standing next to him with the same respectfully bowed heads, he caught the looks of confusion and concern on their faces.

The stranger, a very handsome woman with streaks of white in her auburn hair and tired lines beginning to form around her noble features, nodded slowly at grandfather.

“You speak well, Elder Gorou. Were you to speak at length, I think you would stir even this old soldier’s heart. But words such as ‘honour’ and ‘bravery’ are easily spoken, yet scarcely witnessed. Teaching others discipline and the means to fight is no easy task, even for the willing. Which, I gather by your associates’ reactions, you would have some convincing of your own people ahead of you. Perhaps a band of mercenaries is what you should seek.”

Grandfather firmly shook his head once.

“Gathering tigers to chase away the dogs would only invite greater trouble in the end. This is the better way. You and I know it. The others will come to see it.”

“And you assume I am the right person to help you?”

“Yes,” he said without hesitation.

“Why?”

“You base your decision on a judgement of our character. You inquire about our plight and the type of people we are before even considering a reward. Everyone else we have spoken with is primarily concerned with their fee. You have proven what you hold valuable with only a few words. That is why you will help us.”

The woman smiled.

“Very well then. Since you bring it up, what reward are you offering?”

“A hundred thousand kilograms of grain.”

Rikuto blanched, but held his tongue. He saw the other two men beside him visibly stiffen. Grandfather was offering more food than the raiders had ever demanded. It was far more than they could afford to give and would mean the starvation of their people.

“That is quite generous of you. I accept this task, but by the way you have described your dilemma time is short.”

“Indeed it is,” Grandfather said.

“Then I will need assistance. Fellow warriors that will strengthen and lead with authority. How many are in your colony?”

Grandfather looked to Tarou, who did not look very pleased with what was transpiring.

“About fifty men, mostly farmers and mechanics. Then there are the women and children. Will you turn them into soldiers too?”

“If it means their lives, yes,” she said evenly, “I will need at least six that I will recruit personally. Perhaps seven. Be prepared to leave for your colony within the next two days.”

They had, for better or worse, just placed the fate of their people in the hands of a stranger.

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