A'Ran l'Anshantuwei, the exiled dhjan-- king-- of the planet Anshan, looked over the three women before him, each a specimen of perfection to her people.
He met the gaze of his only ally, Jetr, a man from a distant galaxy who had been an ally of Anshan for three generations.
They want the ore only Anshan can produce but don't understand why there will be none until I claim my lifemate.
Every ship, every weapon they own, came from Anshan ore.
"The Council wants an end to the millennia-old blood war between Anshan and Qatwal," Jetr said.
My men intercepted it before it went to Anshan, just as they've intercepted other messages from Anshan directed to someone here.
All the spaceships, computers, and weapons within the Five Galaxies were made from ore from Anshan mines-- even the swords, the only weapons sanctioned by the Planetary Council as fair and appropriate for man-to-man combat.
Anshan-- a chunk of rock in space-- was smarter than the entire Council combined, even Jetr, who was content to mediate between him and the Council without truly choosing sides.
His father said Anshan would tell him, and the feeling would be unmistakable.
Only Anshan barbarians would use their hands to create pictures.
"I think the pictures are too advanced for Anshan-kind," the first said with a chuckle.
A'Ran, dhjan of Anshan, strode from the room in which he'd left her into the secondary control deck, a small room lit up with scenes of space, the planet, their destination, and the internal corridors of the craft.
She'd need more help when she realized the rightful dhjan of Anshan and his family were in near-poverty and living in exile.
Where Anshan-- and even Qatwal-- women would wait for their men to direct them, his woman had disassembled everything in the room she could.
The Anshan ships didn't work like the Qatwali ships did; her access needed to be programmed into the computer, but she'd broken the pad before Ne'Rin could do it.
Which would've been fine, for an Anshan woman, but appeared to be nothing short of torture to her.
To the Council and to the Anshan battle commanders.
When dhjan A'Ran calls for battles, we leave the moon and go to Anshan, where we have a small base.
What does Anshan mine?
They were too … different, too unlike the tactics and war planning taught by Anshan or anyone in the Five Galaxies.
"So he did find the correct nishani, if an Anshan woman is able to bear a child again," the first man said quietly.
She cannot do what the nishani must to help Anshan, and once our people see her, they'll lose their faith in him.
Some of the men were exotic even by Anshan standards.
"I only ask because my own personal guards-- who, with your permission, keep an eye on the moon-- have had transmissions from Anshan that did not come from your commanders," Jetr said very carefully.
"We traced the communications to be from the personal communications device of the man who claims to be dhjan of Anshan," Jetr continued when he did not speak.
It's the bond between an Anshan dhjan and his mate.
"The babes my sisters carry will be the first birthed to Anshan in over seven sun-cycles," he said.
"There will come a day when you must choose between duty to Anshan-- and your people-- and duty to yourself," he said.
He was quiet, and her thoughts wandered to Anshan and her alleged, vague duty to the people.
Unfortunately, my lifemate knows nothing of Anshan or even the Five Galaxies.
"It's too dangerous for her on Anshan," A'Ran replied.
With repairs for his armies commandeering the last of the Anshan ore he had to trade or sell, he wouldn't be able to afford to feed his people and fight a war.
Anshan is not complete and will never heal without her.
Anshan needs her, but she can't stay where it's so unsafe, and she isn't adapting the way she should be, A'Ran said.
"I remember, before Anshan fell," Mansr whispered.
The depiction was of him, and her, and Anshan, though how she knew Anshan, he didn't know.
He wanted them to be on Anshan together and bring peace and life to the dying planet.
He wanted to believe the woman he-- and Anshan-- chose would in turn choose them, but he began to see what Ne'Rin and Mansr had warned him of: she was not one of theirs and would not accept the duties she knew nothing about.
Mansr's parting warning, that she must voluntarily accept her role and Anshan as her home, had struck him as odd, for why would she not when he honored her with the greatest honor ever bestowed upon a non-ruling Anshan?
She must choose Anshan of her own will¸ Mansr had reminded him.
It'd never happened in the history of Anshan that a nishani turned down her position.
Won't Anshan die without me?
I am happy he found you, not only for Anshan but for him.
Inside is one of three temples on Anshan where the heart of the planet and its people is.
The tiled floor depicted Anshan and its moons, with the planet at the chamber's center.
"Anshan has had no water since the last dhjan nishani," he said.
Long ago, it had been a negotiating point with the Council: allow Anshan to control its own mines without Council peacekeepers' presence, or the planet would be too polluted for anyone to mine at all.
What the Council didn't know was that Anshan would heal with its nishani, even if it took many sun-cycles for the mining industry to repair itself.
The Council had only thought the Anshan rulers barbaric enough to threaten to blow up the only source of ore.
"Anshan. I need your help, my friend," A'Ran said.