I have been a member of the dak’arai for as long as I can remember. We are a sacred order sworn to protect members of the royal family since the dawn of time. I have slowed down over the passage of years; eyesight dimming; ears not what they once were, but I still do my duty and will do my duty until the time of my death. This is my story.
My childhood was happy but tough. I was darker than the rest of my siblings and my hair grew a bit wilder and longer even when I was very young. My brothers and sisters would often tease me about these differences and I would have to prove my worth by wrestling; sometimes even fighting them tooth and nail. At times, it would get too rough and one of us would be bloodied after a fight. At these times my mother would bark recriminations at the lot of us as we hurried away to separate corners to escape her wrath and lick our wounds. I was involved in almost every one of these tussles and because of it my mother would complain to my sire about what a troublemaker I was. My father would always come to my defense, reminding her of the great destiny I had in front of me.
My father believed I was a reincarnation of the great F’illaster. F’illaster was the first of the dak’arai. He was the first of the great Wa’holf warriors to propose a peace with the royal family thus ending eons of war between the clans and the royals. To cement his belief in peace he offered to act as a protector to the ancient empress of Ma’han. Many of the Wa’holfs of the time saw his actions as traitorous and vowed to never respect the alliance. But as the years passed it became clear that F’illaster’s actions saved many lives of Wa’holf and royal alike. All but a very few came to see the wisdom of F’illaster’s decision. Some say that there are still wild Wa’holf warriors roaming the lands today but that is myth. Those that accepted the peace found their way into the society of the royal family in one form or another but very few follow the ancient way of the dak’arai. I am one of the last.
I was separated from my mother and sire at a very early age to begin my training. Maybe it was because I looked so different from the others that I was chosen, or maybe my father’s beliefs were true, maybe I really was the reincarnation of F’illaster. Whatever the reason, none were surprised when the Empress herself came to pick me up. My siblings and even my mother and father cowered from that divine gaze, but I held my ground. I did not even whine when she picked me up and examined me. I was not afraid; I knew I was destined for great things. I was sad to leave my brothers and sisters and my parents—for I knew I would never see them again—but such is the way of the dak’arai. When she placed me in her carriage I did not look back except to scan for threats to my new mistress.
My training was rigorous but fun. I learned the rudiments of protocol with other dak’arais in training. We learned how to sit, lie down, and even offer a leg in front of the eyes of royalty. We also learned the way of the La’heash. The La’heash was a sacred connection between a dak’arai and his royal. It was our sacred duty to protect our charges especially when they were away from their castle and most vulnerable. This is where the La’heash came in. We used the La’heash to direct our charges away from anything that might be deemed dangerous. In turn, the Empress could use the La’heash to let us know if we were breaking foreign protocol of some other royal. I eagerly looked forward to every training session and to no one’s surprise I took the prize as top student. I was the Empress’s personal dak’arai after all.
My first two official years as dak’arai were my toughest. The Empress was traveling often in the attempt to build strong political relationships. I protested mightily when she did not allow me to accompany her to these events. She explained that the other royals she met did not understand the way of the dak’arai and that my accompaniment would be a serious breach in protocol. But how could I protect her if I was not present? In my frustration and immaturity I often took out my rage on inanimate objects. I possessed nothing myself so I chose those items least valuable to the Empress, like her footwear. If she trod upon these pieces of leather, how valuable could they be?
I was rightly punished for this behavior.
I immediately distrusted the Emperor the first time we met. Well, he was not the Emperor yet but he was the most constant of the suitors. Despite my suspicions, he treated me well and as a male he was an okay sort. He often tested my fighting and training skills and was much less gentle than the Empress in doing so. I always won these tests of martial skill but in his defense he never went through the rigorous dak’arai training that I did. One evening when he got in a shouting match with the Empress, I grew very distraught. I knew that the Empress would object to harming the Emperor but I had to take some action against the raising of his voice to my royal charge. I took the subtle approach of defecating in a piece of his footwear. The Empress thought this was highly comical but the Emperor did not approve. He smacked me hard once on the nose. I bared my teeth but did not retaliate.
I remembered my training.
Time heals all wounds and after enough had passed, the Emperor and I reconciled our differences. We grew to respect each other and even enjoy each other’s company. It was the Emperor that introduced me to the game of Fra’hisbee. It was very popular in the royal court at the time. The royals would throw a colorful disc through the air to each other. Once one royal caught the disc he would then throw it to the next. Naturally, with my superior speed and leaping ability, I excelled at this game. The royals loved testing my limits by throwing the disc as far as they could and seeing if I could still catch it.
I never failed.
Over time I had grown to understand that more and more royals did not approve of the old dak’arai ways. This meant that when the Empress was out, and I could not accompany her, I was placed in charge of protecting the household. It was in one of these periods, shortly after the Emperor and Empress moved into their permanent castle, that I met my most sinister enemy. This enemy would approach the castle when both the Emperor and the Empress were away performing their royal duties. He would nonchalantly stand outside of the castle doors looking for ways to break in. When I discovered his probing attacks I would loudly make my presence known. At this point he would flee, but not before shoving pieces of paper through a sentry slot in our castle door. I recognized these pieces of paper as the weapons they were, so naturally I did everything in my power to destroy them. I was wary of poison, hidden blades, and even political propaganda, but it was my duty to protect, so I was fearless in my dedication to destroy these threats.
The Empress was amused by my dedication to this cause but the Emperor did not understand. He asked me not to destroy these weapons of the enemy. He tried to explain to me that in carefully examining his weapons we could better understand the enemy. This is something that the Emperor and I don’t see eye to eye on. Luckily for the Empress, I am in charge of security and not the Emperor.
The Emperor could be petty about such matters and he often held a grudge. He would never dare to openly dispute a final decision by the Empress but he had other ways of getting back at me. Shortly after one such disagreement—after a particularly harrying day where I fought off not only a skirmish with my devious enemy but two full frontal assaults of hired mercenaries that dropped their weapons well before the castle gates in sheer terror of my furious defense—the Emperor struck hard at my pride.
He arrived home with a dak’arai warrior of his own. This warrior was young and largely untrained. I was stung by this obvious assault on my personal integrity. Wicked thoughts went through my head. If he believed that I could not protect the both of them maybe I should retire my service and leave them to their foolishness. A warrior of lesser stature may have given into these baser thoughts and shamed himself, but I am dak’arai. Instead, I took this young warrior under my wing and tried to teach him the ancient ways.
Unfortunately, the new warrior was of a lesser caste. No matter how hard I tried to instill a sense of decency and a respect for the ancient ways, he failed at his training. In the first battle with our most serious enemy, who after years of facing my stolid defenses still continued his daily probing of my lady’s demesne, my new partner quailed under the attack. He fled at the sight of the three small pieces of paper that my enemy had managed to fit through the sentry slot before I repelled his attack. It was a small attack and this new ‘dak’arai warrior’ had run like a sissy Pa’hoodle. He then had the nerve to greet the Emperor as if he were some victorious warrior when the Emperor returned home. And the Emperor, and even the Empress, greeted him with open arms!
I was sickened.
I knew I would have to raise the level of my vigilance. The Emperor and the Empress believed that they had two dak’arai warriors protecting them now, so I knew they would let down their guard under this increased security. I now had to do the work of two. I reprimanded the young one for fleeing in the face of battle but my snarls of discontent seemed to matter little to this young fool.
He redeemed himself slightly in our first and only face-to-face confrontation with the devious enemy outside the gate. It was a beautiful summer day and both the Empress and Emperor were home from their many political journeys. They were taking pleasure reclining in the front grounds outside the castle. Naturally we were out guarding them; well, I was guarding them anyway. The enemy approached. My young companion saw him before I did and to my absolute surprise, he charged. I followed sharply on his heels but he took the brunt of our enemy’s counterattack. The devious one pulled a cylinder out of his pocket and launched a stinging spray squarely into the face of my companion. I only received a glancing blow from this spray but it was enough to burn my nose and eyes for several hours. I could only imagine the pain my young friend went through that day.
The Emperor was glorious that day. He expelled our enemy from the grounds with a severe tongue-lashing. I was proud of the power exhibited by the Emperor but ashamed at my own weakness. I had been incapacitated by the enemy’s first simple attack. I hung my head in shame.
I offered my dinner in sympathy to the young warrior that stood by my side that fateful day. He did not understand. It was then that he told me that he was merely greeting the enemy as if he were a foreign dignitary. I was shocked. I could not believe the stupidity of this young warrior. I explained to him that that was the enemy that had been plaguing us for years as the young warrior stared at me with ever widening eyes. I took pity on the pup. His innocent bravery in the face of danger was endearing.
We got along better after that. I accepted that he would never be a true dak’arai warrior and he continued to give me the respect that I was due. He let me take care of the security and I allowed him the simple pleasures of wrestling with the Emperor and even the Empress. The Empress was fond of the young warrior but she would never entrust him with her safety. That job was for me alone.
Over the last couple of years as I’ve aged, I have started to slip a little. We have a new enemy that grows awfully bold in the spring and summer months. Using siege engines they have broken through the rear wall on several occasions. Luckily, I have been able to drive them off before they breach the inner keep. Their siege weapons have been unable to do any damage to any of the permanent fortifications and the cowards flee before doing any more than minimal damage to the grasses and shrubs in the rear grounds. They must be from the south because they are not hardy enough to show their faces during the winter months.
I fear for the future security of the Emperor and Empress. My hearing is no longer what it once was and, as I said before, my vision is starting to fade too. This new enemy worries me and we still have the daily approaches of my arch nemesis. There is no indication that my royal charges will replace me until my tenure ends. I fear for this new breed of protectors however. There are so few true dak’arai left.
After all these years, the Emperor and I have come to a final peace. He respects me and I him. I believe that the respect even borders on love these days. I catch another look from the Empress. More and more often she has been looking at me with sad eyes. She recognizes that my tenure is nearly up but she loves me and respects me too much to say so, bless her heart. I would die if anything ever happened to her. I will leave this world with the dignity befitting my station.
I am dak’arai.