Back | Next

Chapter Six

"Crap!" Mike suddenly muttered, stopping his stroke.

"Kildar?" Jana said, writhing under him. "Kildar, you've stopped."

"I know," Mike said, propping himself up on his elbows. "I told Genadi that I'd meet with some of the elders this afternoon. In about thirty minutes, in fact. Damnit!"

"Surely after last night, they won't mind if you cancel," Jana said, humping into him. "You have time."

"But I didn't tell them I was canceling," Mike said, sourly. "That means they'll be here, come hell or high water. I was so bent on getting it in I forgot."

Firefights always made him horny. He'd been told that was a natural reaction and as a SEAL he'd learned to suppress it, to an extent. But under the current circumstances there was no particular reason to. Which was why as soon as he'd gotten done with Vanner and breakfast, he'd gone to the harem, literally grabbed Jana and dragged her upstairs.

He'd already come once but he could feel at least one more in there and he'd been heading for it happily, with the intent of following it with about twenty hours of sleep, when he remembered the meeting.

"We're going to have to cut this short," Mike said. "Sorry."

"You are the Kildar," Jana said, shrugging. "And it is not as if I have not had mine ..."

* * *

"Father Kulcyanov, Father Mahona, Genadi," Mike said as he entered the parlor, "it is good to see you again. Oleg, long time no see." When he saw Oleg he was especially glad he hadn't cancelled; the kid had been out on ops for a week and had a "murthering great" skirmish in the morning. The least the Kildar could do was show up after all that.

The meeting was being held in one of the three small parlors in the caravanserai. One had been set aside more or less permanently as a "recreation room," read bar, for the trainers. The second was commonly used by the harem girls. This one was for when Mike had a small number of guests to entertain. Such as the elders, all of whom could easily fit in the comfortable room.

The room overlooked the gardens by the harem quarters. When Mike had arrived, the gardens had been suffering from decades of neglect. The somewhat inexpert care of the Keldara yardsman hadn't gotten them back to any condition of glory, but they were much better than when he'd arrived. The roses were coming along well and they filled the room with scent.

He'd taken a very fast shower and his hair was still wet. He hoped it wasn't as obvious that he'd just jumped out of bed. However, given the way that the Keldara talked amongst themselves, if not to outsiders, he was pretty sure they knew damned well where he'd been. He hoped they wouldn't take it as an insult. He was only a few minutes late, after all.

"You gentlemen asked for this meeting," Mike said, sitting down on the couch and pouring a cup of tea.

"Kildar," Father Kulcyanov said formaly. "We come to speak of the customs of the Keldara."

Father Kulcyanov was not the oldest of the Family leaders, but he was acknowledged as the senior for all matters of protocol and custom. He was, in fact, the high priest of the Keldara's ancient worship. A tall man, he was clearly shrunken from his original growth with clear signs of cardiovascular failure. Once he must have been as large as Oleg, perhaps bigger, and he had been one of the few Keldara to fight in the "Great Patriotic War," WWII, from which he had returned with a chestful of medals.

"I am always observant of the customs of the Keldara," Mike said, carefully. In fact, he had trampled all over a few, but only when it seemed the only way to accomplish what had to be accomplished. In one case, he'd trampled all over their fear of debt by taking a girl with a burst appendix to the hospital in Tbilisi. He wasn't about to let the girl die just because the Keldara couldn't afford the cost. He'd unknowingly trampled all over another by taking her friend, Lydia, Oleg's fiancée, along as a chaperone. It turned out that for an unmarried female he couldn't have picked a worse one.

That had, he thought, been smoothed over. But the presence of Oleg argued against it.

"As you know, Oleg Kulcyanov is fasted to Lydia Mahona," Father Kulcyanov continued. "There is a problem in that regard. It involves bride price."

Mike looked at Genadi. The farm manager had been a Keldara before being forced off the farm by his predecessor. However, he hadn't just been tossed off the farm but formally cast from the Families. The move had been forced on them by his predecessor, but it put him in a good position from Mike's perspective; he knew the customs but was no longer bound by them. And he could generally talk freely about them without offending the Keldara since he was no longer one of them.

He was also a graduate of the University of Tbilisi and had thought long and hard about the customs so he had an understanding that often eluded both Mike and the Keldara.

"It's a dowry," Genadi said. "It's a long held and very serious custom, but it has a purpose. It's generally fixed at a year's income for the male. In the first few years of setting up a household, there's a strong loss of income from both sides. The bride generally becomes pregnant quickly and there are household items that are needed. The male also tends to have a fall off of quality of work."

"I'm going to need Oleg at high function this year," Mike said. "But I get your point. How much do you need?"

"This is not a situation where the Kildar can simply gift the bride and groom," Father Mahona said, grimacing. He was one of the younger elders and he and Mike had a very good relationship. So if he was that blunt, Mike probably was in a minefield. "Bride price is a very personal item. If you gifted Lydia without recompense then it would, effectively, make her your bride. Oleg could never marry her in that condition."

"Not gonna happen," Mike said, looking at Oleg who was looking very unhappy. "Oleg, where do you stand in this?"

"I will let the elders explain, Kildar," Oleg said. The guy looked really unhappy.

"Okay, first things first," Mike said. "Oleg is my top team leader. I'm cognizant of the customs of the Keldara, but anything that reduces Oleg's functionality or loyalty is out the window."

"This will reduce neither, Kildar," Oleg said, definitely, looking Mike in the eye. "This is a long-held custom and one that binds the Keldara. The custom they wish to speak of binds the Keldara to the Kildar. And you are both my commander and my friend. I am in support of it."

"What custom?" Mike asked, cautiously.

"The Kardane," Genadi said, grimacing. "In Western cultures it would be called the 'droit de seigneur.' "

Mike frowned for a second as he tried to remember where he'd heard the phrase and then blanched.

"You've got to be joking," he snapped.

"They're not," Genadi said in rapid English. "It's an old custom. A really old custom, one that hasn't been used since the days of the Tsars. But it's custom and they can live with it."

"Kildar, the Kardane is fully acceptable to all involved," Father Kulcyanov said. "The prospective bride spends one night with the Kildar and the Kildar then gifts her with her bride price. This is a trade for a trade, the opening of the prospective bride for sufficient funds to set up her household. It must be consensual on both sides."

Mike opened his mouth to reply angrily and then shut it. He was the Kildar. He owned the land they lived on and even the houses they lived in. he could simply order them to ignore this stupidity and they might. Or he might find himself in a bitter multiyear war with disaffected troops he had to trust like his own brothers. So ... don't assault the position, find a way around.

"Okay, Lydia comes up to the caravanserai ..."

"Don't go there," Genadi said, in rapid English again. "It has to be as it was stated. Don't try to twist it or you'll run into real crap."

Mike sighed. "Explain."

"It has to be value for value," Father Mahona said, seriously. "Full value must be given in both directions or it would be a violation of honor. In both directions."

"Translation," Genadi said, in Georgian. "If you don't open Lydia, she'll be looked upon as too useless to be a woman of the Keldara. She'll be looked upon as unfit since you rejected her in that way. Her honor will be violated by being alone with you and twice violated for being found wanting."

"And she and Oleg don't get married," Mike said, looking over at Oleg. "You're going along with this?"

"I am most worried that you will refuse, Kildar," Oleg said.

"Not that I'm going to ... be with Lydia?" Mike asked incredulously.

"I would consider it an honor," Oleg said, seriously. "As would Lydia. We have discussed this."

"Crap," Mike muttered. "What is it with women wanting to jump in the bed of the Kildar? Why couldn't this have happened when I was seventeen?"

Both questions were rhetorical since he'd already discussed it to death with everyone from Genadi to Nielson. The Kildar was very high status, not only among the Keldara but among the other groups in the region in contact with them. The girls he'd rescued from the Chechen slavers had practically fought one another for the right to be first in his bed. And plenty of the Keldara girls had made it clear they wouldn't object to even a casual roll in the hay, which was normally verboten among the Keldara. The touch of the king was magic and in the region the Kildar was regarded as more of a king than anyone since Louis the XIV.

"How do you stand with this, Kildar?" Father Kulcyanov asked, again formally. "The arrangement is that Lydia will spend one night with you, upon which night you will open her. For this boon you will grant her the boon of her bride price, which is at a mimnimum five hundred rubles."

"Lydia's worth a lot more than that," Mike muttered. She was, arguably, one of the three prettiest of the Keldara women, which put her in the top one percent internationally. Most of the Keldara girls could easily be supermodels.

"Very well, but I have conditions upon this ceremony. For one thing, we will make it a ceremony. If this is to be done, it should be done well."

"What do you mean?" Genadi asked curiously.

Mike hadn't been sure but when the question was asked the broad outlines dropped in as if he had seen them somewhere. Maybe in a dream, maybe in a book, he wasn't sure. But it was right.

"Genadi, obtain two horses," he said. "A gelding for me, black by preference but most important is that it's rideable and good looking. Obtain a ... I think they call it a palfrey as well, white by preference. In the meantime, if Lydia doesn't know how to ride sidesaddle, get her instruction, I don't care from where or how much it costs. I will get with Mother Savina on the preparations for Lydia, over and above riding lessons. For one thing, there are ... call them other riding lessons. She's not going to come to my bed entirely ignorant and terrified. Anastasia will handle part of that, but I'll put Mother Savina in charge. There will be special clothing involved for both of us. And when I come to her house to pick her up, there will be a small ceremony. I'll work on that. This won't take place for at least a couple of weeks. We need to get the horses and riding lessons, first."

"Is this an American custom?" Father Kulcyanov asked, confused.

"No," Mike said. "This is a me custom and you will abide by it."

* * *

"More hot, young, virgin pussy?" Adams asked as Mike entered the kitchen the next morning.

"Oh, bite me," Mike muttered, pouring a cup of coffee.

"And I thought that not having to fight over time with Bambi and Flopsy was the good life," Adams continued.

"We're talking about Oleg, here, damnit," Mike replied. "If I don't handle this just right I'm going to lose the support of my top team leader."

"He's fully on board," Adams said. "I was talking about it with Mother Savina. She thinks it's a great idea."

"Jesus, this culture is sick," Mike muttered quietly, so that Mother Savina, who was pottering around in the kitchen, wouldn't hear him.

"Not really," Adams said, shrugging. "Odd. Quaint. But hardly sick. If it was sick, they would have found a less pleasant way to manage this. What gets me is how well we get along."

"Huh?" Mike said, frowning. "Not that I'm not good for a distraction right now."

"You've spent some time in the sandbox," the chief said, shrugging again. "What do you think about your average towel-head versus the Keldara?"

"No comparison," Mike said, puzzled. "The Keldara are can-do. They don't try to stab you in the back. If there's a problem, they fix it or if they can't they get your assistance with it and pitch in as much as possible."

"There's other stuff, yeah," Adams said. "But do they remind you of anyone over there?"

"Not really," Mike said, making a moue of distaste. "If I was comparing them to the towel-heads, it'd be insulting."

"Ever do much with the Kurds?"

"No," Mike admitted, thinking about it. "I was training a group that had a couple in it. But not for long."

"The Kurds are the same way," Adams mused, leaning back. "With the regular Arabs and what have you in Iraq, you're always negotiating. You need something done, you have to scratch a back first, or grease a palm. With the Kurds it's like ... BAM! You need something that's in their interest, they're right there in support, be it a firefight or power-plant construction. We just ... get along better with the Kurds than we do with the Arabs. Gurkhas the same way. You don't get it with most tribal groups, but you do with, oh, say the Massai. And the Kurds. And the Gurkhas. And now with the Keldara. It's like some sort of secret handshake. That's why I agreed with you about the whole commando thing and why I don't let it sweat me when they come up with something like this. The one thing that I never particularly liked about the Kurds is the way they treat their women; the Keldara are at least better at that."

"Well, I'm glad you think it's such a great idea, since you're going to have a part of the whole thing."

"Whoa!" the former chief snapped. "I'm not going to touch Lydia."

"Much as I like her, it's not Lydia that I'm worried about," Mike said. "Mother Savina, come over here. We've got a ceremony to figure out."

* * *

Mike had a full schedule for the day. Among other things, he hadn't been keeping up with the progress of the brewery.

When he'd arrived in the valley he'd been surprised by several things. One, of course, was the general good looks of the Keldara. The women were outstanding but even the men were so good looking they could have been actors playing their roles. In most "peasant" cultures, the nature of the work tended to make both men and women hard and ugly. So did the inbreeding characteristic of such cultures. The Keldara were a rare exception that proved the rule.

The second thing he had been astounded by, however, was the quality of the local beer. Georgia was far better known for its wines than its beer and it had been a long time since he'd had really good beer when he arrived. But the beer in the tavern in town had been outstanding, as good as any to be had in an American or German microbrewery. However, when he began interacting with the Keldara he'd discovered that the beer in town was their "bad" stuff; the pure quill was so good it should be illegal.

It wasn't pure beer by German standards, having some additional berries and herbs that were limited to the local area added. But it was truly amazing stuff. Mike had seen the possibilities from the day he took over. The Keldara were depressingly poor by modern standards. His introduction of modern equipment and methods in farming would help alleviate that somewhat, but they really needed a source of capital. They made outstanding beer, people paid good money for good beer. Ergo, they needed a brewery and a distribution program.

The problem was, what Mike knew about either could be written on the inside of a matchbook in crayon. And the Keldara women who brewed the beer did it in small batches.

His answer, as usual, was to delegate. As part of the Keldara spring festival, which was so old it matched pre-Christian festivals found only in ethnology textbooks, a "king" was chosen as well as a "goat," the latter called the "caillean." One of the Keldara militia members, Gurum, an otherwise intelligent and capable fellow, had been chosen as the bannock caillean when he found a bean in his bannock.

The caillean was regarded as an omen of bad luck by the more conservative Keldara and the team Gurum had been assigned to had pinned every problem they encountered on him. So he'd been almost impossible to integrate into the teams.

However, the women were much less attuned to the problem of having a caillean around. So Mike had given him a quick class in internet research, a reasonable budget and put him to work on the brewery problem. Gurum had asked a couple of questions in the beginning but since the battle with the Chechens Mike hadn't seen hide nor hair of him. And while he'd seen some construction on the brewery site—a bench near the road to town that had once been a toll station—he didn't think it was complete.

When he pulled onto the bench, he was surprised by the almost abandoned air of the place. There was a partial building completed, two storeys, more or less, with stone walls and a roof at least, but the doors at the front weren't installed nor were the windows. There were some construction sounds coming from the interior, however, so Mike parked and walked in the front door.

" 'Ware, Kildar!" a voice called from above, just as a balk of timber crashed to the floor a few feet from him.

"Thanks for the heads up," Mike said, looking up. One of the older Keldara males was looking through a large hole in the second floor with an abashed expression on his face.

"Vassily, you were nearly out one Kildar," Mike said. "Watch where you're thowing logs next time!"

There was far more work completed than Mike had thought. The upper floors were mostly in and were heavily reinforced with thick crossbeams that were not much more than adzed down tree trunks. The supporting pillars, which were rather close together towards the front, were much the same. Some of the bark was still evident in spots. The right-hand side of the building was open to the ceiling in a loft configuration. Mike wasn't sure what that was for, but he was willing to assume someone did.

"Kildar," a voice called from the back. "We were wondering when you would drop by."

"Hello, Vatrya," Mike said as his eyes adjusted to the gloom. Vatrya was one of the older unmarried Keldara females. He wondered if she was in the same boat as Lydia and hoped that, if so, the brewery would be making enough money soon so the same compromise wouldn't be necessary. On the other hand, he had to admit that the honey-blonde was a fine figure of a young woman. Long legs under that skirt and nice high ones. Not to mention a heart-shaped face and just lovely dark blue eyes.

He realized he was slipping over to his dark side rather quickly. The idea of breaking in several of the Keldara women was more than attractive. But that was the problem; it could quickly become addictive. It would be easy enough to use the excuse to abuse the privilege and he had worked too hard to cultivate the Keldara's respect to lose it that way.

Vatrya was accompanied by a tall, spare, man Mike didn't recognize. From his clothing, a casual polo shirt and tan slacks, he probably wasn't a Keldara.

"You haven't even met Mr. Brock," Vatrya said, gesturing the man forward. "Kildar, this is Herr Gerhard Brock of the Alten Brewery Company."

"Herr Brock," Mike said, offering his hand.

Brock shook it deliberately in the manner of a European and nodded.

"You are the Kildar," the man said in English with a strong German accent. "A pleasure to meet you."

"And you Herr Brock," Mike replied, trying to keep the confusion off his face.

"The brewery apparatus is in transit at the moment," Mr. Brock said, waving to the rear. "As stated in the contracts, we had the vats and piping in stock. I am assured that locally manufactured materials are available for the barley bins. And, of course, the ovens are being constructed by the Keldara."

"The Keldara are very good at general construction," Mike said, nodding.

"I strongly suggest that you take Gurum's suggestion in regards to the annual convention," Herr Brock continued, stone faced. "It would be the perfect venue for your aims in regards to marketing. Time is, of course, short, but I am being assured that you are capable of managing the requirements."

"We're very adaptable," Mike said, nodding. "And we are used to short decision cycles."

"I am to look on the oven construction," Brokc said, nodding in farewell. "I look forward to further conversation with you, Mr. Kildar."

"It's just Kildar," Mike said as the man strode towards the back of the building again. "Vatrya?"

"Yes, Kildar?" the girl asked, her eyes wide and smiling.

"What did I just talk about?"

Back | Next