Upholding the Covenant

Submitted into Contest #102 in response to: Write a story about someone losing faith in an institution.... view prompt


Fantasy Sad Friendship


Ambassador Orennian


Sol Vidar, Minister of Alliances

My efforts to persuade the Charishi of Selvenni to leave the Empire are starting well. I share the following in hopes that it will prove useful in surmounting their wariness of us, and in persuading them to help us wrest the rule of Silvren from the Empire’s grasp.

While the humans pretend that their rule has been good for the continent as a whole, the local officials and civilians alike have expressed disgust at the claim that their “education,” roads, “unification” of Silvren, and inconsistent “protection” somehow offset their crimes against the non-human provinces.

As much as we Telvrii and our Gailen allies have suffered at their hands, it seems their reign has done even more harm to the people their cruder citizens derisively call “monkey-cats.”

Of particular note is the Zovari clan: a family of former abolitionists I befriended shortly after my last report. I heard screams, and upon investigating, I found one of their women giving birth. Of course I apologized for the impropriety of my presence, and upon receiving an explanation, the family expressed appreciation for my intentions, if not my methods.

They even permitted me to hold one of the newborns – a very good sign. She was fascinatingly small, fitting easily in my palm. As I held her, I asked her parents what they anticipated for their new children’s future, should Selvenni stay under the Empire’s control.

Their expressions became suitably grim, and they told me to take a good look at their kittens, then imagine those kittens being dragged away in chains, beneath the nose of an Empire that pretended to outlaw slavery.

They told me how Imperial nobles who touted the Empire’s virtues bought thousands of coins’ worth of goods from Sorevvin slave owners, increasing the demand for slaves. One such purchase could cost hundreds of Charishi their freedom, but it saved the humans some gold, so they did it.

They described how the soldiers who claimed to be there to protect the Empire’s citizens watched passively while the citizens whose taxes had paid them were kidnapped, enslaved, and beaten to death, only to suddenly treat murder as a crime when abolitionists used the same force on slavers that the slavers used on their innocent victims.

And when the provinces the Sorevvins had been raiding formed their temporary Alliance to invade their invaders and end slavery for good, the Empire tried to stop them, until it realized it risked losing three provinces to protect one. While it ultimately abandoned Sorevv to its well-earned fate, the message it had sent to the Alliance provinces could not be unheard.

With every word, I heard and shared their quiet rage. I asked them why they have not yet left their Imperial abusers to ally with the Covenant, and they explained that they do not yet know if the Covenant is any better.

It seems our enemies’ claims that the Covenant disappears and kills dissidents had reached their ears, and they are currently unsure whether or not to believe those rumors. I attempted to assure them that those claims are untrue, and they sniffed the air around me carefully before agreeing that I was not lying.

“But,” an old Charishi woman asked me, “can you be sure that the people who told you those things spoke truly? You Telvrii cannot smell lies as we can. If what your teachers claimed, and what they truly thought and felt, were different, would you be able to tell?”

I assured her that her people are free to share their concerns, and that the Covenant will seek to address the concern instead of punishing the person who voiced it.

“I hope you are right,” she replied. “But we Charishi have learned not to take people at their word. Time will tell. But I believe your intentions, at least, are pure.”

It will clearly take time for the Covenant to prove that we are worthy of what little trust these people still have for other species’ figures of authority. But for now, at least they trust me, and that is a start.

- Orennian



Ambassador Orennian


Sol Vidar, Minister of Alliances

Please pardon the scribbles on the lower left corner of this report. Kivara, the most assertive kitten in the Zovari litter, insisted on sending her regards.

She has taken a liking to me; whenever I visit her family’s tent, she escapes her play pen to climb my robes, play-fight my hands, and demand that I rub her head. She’s sleeping in my lap right now: a testament to the trust I have gained over the past ten weeks.

While her attempts to eat my quill have occasionally slowed down my paperwork, my friendship with her and her family has greatly improved my relationship with the Charishi.

They seem to have accepted me as one of their own, and while they are not yet ready to extend that trust to the Covenant as a whole, they are open to meeting additional Covenant officers to further explore their potential participation in our alliance.

Should the Ministry agree to this, please make sure to send officers who have strong positive feelings toward Charishi, as our potential allies can smell emotions.

Please also ensure that they will be patient with highly mobile and inquisitive kittens, as there are several such litters in this city, and they seem to be drawn to newcomers.

- Orennian



Ambassador Orennian


Sol Vidar, Minister of Alliances

I request that Junior Ambassador Varaile be immediately stripped of rank and diplomatic immunity, so the Charishi legal system can respond appropriately to the unacceptable behavior he displayed during our recent Council meeting.

Yes, Kivara climbed into his pocket and ate his offering to the Charishi chief. Yes, while he tried to pry the container from her hands, she dunked her head in what was left of the stardew pudding, shook droplets across the room, and then grabbed the container and climbed the Council Tent’s support poles. And yes, his attempts to retrieve her collapsed the tent.

None of this justifies throwing a three-month-old kitten at a boulder and breaking her arm.

The Charishi council found the incident amusing until Kivara was hurt. Now, the trust I have built with them has been damaged, and they fear that my good treatment of their people might be the exception, not the rule.

Varaile is currently in a Charishi cell, being held on the charge of Grave Bodily Harm to a Kitten Under Six Months. He has not been harmed, but the Council and I have agreed that he should be contained until he is either sentenced or repatriated, for the safety of the local children.

If the Charishi are to trust us, they must see that we will hold those who harm them accountable, as the Empire did not.

- Orennian


Orennian’s journal, third day of Moon Harvest, 1330

A few hours after the disastrous Council meeting, Councilmatron Veliah Zovari asked to meet me privately on the hill overlooking the city. I agreed, hoping to repair some of the harm Varaile had done.

When we met, she was holding Kivara. The kitten was asleep, her broken arm set in a cast and her breath smelling of sleeping herbs.

I showed Veliah the letter I was planning to send to the Minister of Alliances, and she thanked me. But while her expression conveyed gratitude and warmth, it did not show relief.

I began to apologize, but she held up a hand, gestured for me to sit beside her, and set Kivara on my lap. She said she knew I was against Varaile’s actions; the real question was whether the Covenant was.

During her years as an abolitionist, she had met Military Guardsmen who expressed sympathy for her people. Even a few who went off-mission to secretly free slaves. But they could not stop their government from being a force of oppression.

She showed me one of the pamphlets Varaile had given her, detailing the Empire’s brutish crimes. While she agreed with the Covenant’s assessment of the ruling class’s corruption and callousness, she surprised me by expressing disapproval of the portrayal of its citizens.

“When one group speaks of another as if they’re inherently evil or inferior,” she observed, “their attempts to rule the ones they look down on never end well. As much as I despise the Empire, it is important that we never become what we hate, lest we earn and share the fate of the slavers.”

“Do you truly believe the Covenant could be as bad as the Empire?” I asked, and I’ll never forget the look on her face. The most horrible, broken smile I’ve ever seen, like a ray of hope so shattered and weak that it was nearly snuffed out by her sadness, resignation and despair.

“I hope not,” she answered. “But Selvenni has been conquered repeatedly throughout history, and it has always been the same thing. Charishi are looked down upon, and seen as less than people.

“We are bound by laws, but not protected by them. We are expected to adapt to our conquerors’ cultures, while they seldom adapt to ours, as if theirs was the only one worth honoring. And if the Covenant looks down on its human would-be subjects, how long before that attitude extends to us?”

Her eyes fell to Kivara, and her hand joined mine in stroking the kitten. Kivara tried to knead my robe, only to whimper as her broken arm moved, and my heart twisted.

I never want to see that awful smile on this child’s face. I’ll prevent that, even if it’s the last thing I do.



Ambassador Orennian


Sol Vidar, Minister of Alliances

I am delighted to report that, after eight years of patient effort, the Charishi have decided to join the Covenant. They will send their Declaration of Secession as soon as our troops are established in their territory.

Kivara requests that you tell the troops to hurry. She overheard some adults in the marketplace, and given the brutality with which the Empire conquered Selvenni the first time, they expressed fear for the lives of their kittens if it tries to halt their secession.

Kivara asked me if the Military Guard is going to kill her, and I promised the Covenant will not let that happen. We will create a future where kittens don’t need to worry that their own rulers will murder them.

For now, she is still afraid, so I’ve allowed her to sit in my lap and watch me write this letter, so she can see that I’m taking measures to ensure her safety.

In addition to the troops, please send copies of any information you have to refute the rumors of murdered dissidents and planned oppression of non-Telvrii our enemies continue to spread. Kivara’s sister, Khasaari, is becoming vocally concerned, and I want to set her mind at ease.

Despite her youth, Khasaari’s status as a prodigy, student of history, and member of a prominent family is bringing her an audience, so it’s important to correct her misconceptions as quickly as possible.

- Orennian



Foot Soldier Orennian


Sol Shavii, Minister of Correspondence

I am writing to once again express concern about my failed correspondence with Selvenni. In the ten months since I was reassigned, I have sent twenty letters, and received none in return.

My ki The kittens of the Zovari clan were distressed when they heard I was leaving, and expressed uneasiness with my replacement. I want to confirm that they are well, and that the ambassador who replaced me is treating them kindly.

Please do not tell them I’m on the front lines. They can find that out when I return with the news that there is no longer an Empire to threaten them.

For now, I simply want to confirm their well-being.

- Orennian



Sol Halandar, Minister of War


Commander Orennian

Congratulations on your recent victory! While we will not be able to take the Empire’s full territory this time, the ground we have gained will give us an advantage in our next attempt.

In the meantime, I regret to inform you that your request to return to Selvenni has been denied. Your expertise is needed in the Imperial capitol, where you will enforce the terms of the Armistice, and gather information on the military, cultural, and political state of the Empire.

Regarding your requests about the Zovari clan, we have been unable to contact them. Given their history as highly mobile activists with little regard for authority, it is possible that they chose to take some aspect of the war into their own hands, though this has yet to be confirmed.

- Sol Halandar


Confessions of a Former Covenant Member

By Ambassador and Commander Orennian


Letter to the publisher

By the time the you finish reading this manuscript, I might be dead. I know someone else will be.

Don’t bother tracking me down to pay royalties. Keep the money. I just want the world to know the truth.


Confessions of a Former Covenant Member

Chapter 9

Thirty years later, I’d resigned myself to never seeing my kittens again. They were thirty-eight years old now, and I hadn’t heard from them since my reassignment.

Then, beyond all hope, Kivara appeared. While Imperial citizens avoided me, she approached me immediately, standing in my path and staring softly into my eyes. “Orennian?” she asked quietly, “do you recognize me?”

The memories flooded back, and my chest felt like it would burst. I grasped her shoulders, barely restraining myself from hugging her, and tears burned my eyes. “Kivara,” I whispered, “is that you?”

A relieved grin lit her face. “It’s me. I’m glad to see you – I never heard from you, so I was afraid you were dead.”

Consternation flashed through me. “I wrote to you over fifty times,” I protested, and she nodded as if this didn’t surprise her.

“I thought so. If you were alive, I assumed communication had been deliberately cut off.”

A rock plunged into my stomach. “Why would you think that? And where is the rest of your clan?”

“They’re dead.”

My head spun, and she cradled my elbow to steady me. “What happened?” I asked, forcing my voice to stay quiet.

She glanced at my bodyguards. “It’s probably classified. Can we talk in private?”

“Of course.”

As the door to my office closed behind us, she gently told me to sit. And then, in tones only I could hear, she told me the truth: while I was killing and risking death to protect my kittens, the Covenant I was fighting for murdered Khasaari.

They officially denied involvement, but the sharp-nosed Charishi examined the crime scene, and found no other suspects.

My head spun, and the world dimmed. This was my fault. I told the Covenant Khasaari was speaking against them, because I thought they’d persuade an eight-year-old child with logic, not death.

And now, Kivara wore that same awful smile I’d sworn she never would. “So much for our rulers not killing us, huh?”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” I choked. “And the rest of the clan?”

“They kidnapped the Emperor.”


“After Khasaari died, the Covenant’s other victims began to confide in us. There were so many… not just Charishi, but Telvrii and Gailen as well. Before long, we realized the Covenant was as bad as the Empire, if not worse.

“So Councilmatron Veliah used her old slave-freeing tricks to kidnap the Emperor. She made a deal with him: our help in the war, in exchange for the promise that if he overthrew the Covenant, the Empire wouldn’t reclaim Covenant lands – it would help set up a local government, so the people could have rulers who cared about them.”

Suddenly, reports from the war made sense. Vanishing supplies, and whole camps assassinated by killers who’d used entry and escape routes no human could have navigated.

These mysterious guerrillas had turned the tide of the war. And yet…

“Since she was good enough to kidnap him,” Kivara continued, “and he knew about our clan’s history, he knew to take her seriously. He agreed, and we…” Her eyes fell, unable to meet mine. “…kept our end of the bargain, until the Covenant army cornered us in a cave. There was a hole in the wall, small enough for a kitten to get through, and… I was the only one who made it.”

My hand pressed across my eyes, the answers to thirty years of mysteries clicking together in a hideous picture.

In the darkness, a soft hand squeezed my shoulder, as if I wasn’t a tool of the faction that killed her family. “I don’t blame you,” Kivara said softly. “You didn’t know. But now you do, and what you do with that knowledge is up to you. Just… if you decide to investigate, be careful. The Covenant doesn’t like it when people expose its secrets.”

“I will,” I whispered, still trying to process the thought that the Covenant I trusted had used the trust I had earned to kill one of the children who trusted me the most. “I promise.”


Confessions of a Former Covenant Member


A Covenant is a promise, and the ruling party that calls itself the Covenant broke theirs. And now that I know who was responsible for breaking Khasaari, I intend to break her.

Someday, with Kivara’s help, I will break the Covenant. I made a promise that we would create a future where kittens don’t need to worry about their rulers killing them, and unlike my former masters, I intend to keep it.

It’s too late for Kivara to grow up in the world I wanted to make for her. But perhaps, together, we can create that world for the children who come next.

July 12, 2021 03:16

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