Machkan Fraternal Conflicts

13 Apr

Ado Robet was among the half dozen richest men in the province of Machka, yet he was unable to label himself as satisfied or happy.

The merchant-banker had three sons, not one of which measured up to his hopes and ambitions for the future of the family fortune.

The oldest of the trio was Krti, whom he had sent south to the land of Enia for a medical education at the great university in the capital.

His middle son was Vsalo, who had an odd personality that did not fit into his father’s idea of their elevated economic status and social prominence in the town of Oko.

Vsalo from an early age took on a literary bent and began to compose poems based on Machkan folklore. He had insisted on going for his higher education to the land to the east, Botya. Here he had circulated among artistic types and bohemians, returning to Oko as an over-educated intellectual writer of modernized epics based on the distant history of his native province of Machka.

What lay ahead for this impractical son but a career as a teacher of language and literature at the city school in Oko?

It was the youngest of his sons, Micha, who now alone carried the potential for elevating and preserving what Ado had succeeded in achieving and accumulating.

His mother had died only a few days after giving birth to her youngest son, making the early years of Micha different from those of his older brothers. He had grown up a solitary child, his father busy with deals and money-lending, while Krti and Vsalo tended to ignore him for friends of their own age.

Ado grew worried about what would become of Micha, the lonely loner of the family.

“What do you wish to make of your life, my son?” his father asked with increasing frequency as the boy grew into a strong, tall young man. “Do you plan to join me in banking or trade? Or do you want me to send you to school down in Enia, like I did for your brother, Krti?”

Micha did not yet have a clear answer to such inquiries.

“I don’t know for sure,” he would mumble. “It is a very hard decision for me to reach. I don’t want to be making any mistake.”

It was in his final year at the Oko general town school that Micha fell under the influence of one of his teachers, an instructor in ancient Machkan literature. The youth presented a new, unexpected idea to his father.

“There are scholarship grants available to students from Machka in the National University of Sturgya, and I may be qualified to receive one of them,” said Micha with enthusiastic hope. “Several of my teachers agree that I should apply for such a prize.”

Ado, sitting at his gigantic office desk, frowned. “Sturgya, our northern neighbor, has never been too friendly to Machkan merchants like me. They resent us as fierce competitors in their own markets.

“Because our province is now under the sovereignty of the state of Enia, they see us as hostile foreigners, despite the similarities of our language and cultural traditions.

“You may not find the Sturgyans too congenial, Micha. And what do you intend to study up there in the north?”

“I can’t say yet, father. I shall have to decide that once I am there and can see what my possibilities are.”

Ado, a heavy giant with enormous arms and legs, eyed his son intently.

“It will have to be your own choice, Micha. Your oldest brother went to Enia for his medical education, and Vsalo became our Botyan teacher here in Oko.

“Your own course will have to depend on what you learn in Sturgya.”

Both his brothers reacted to Micha’s acceptance of a scholarship grant for study at the National University in Sturgya.

Krti complained with anger to his father in the neat and luxurious parlor of the roomy, three-story high Robet residence.

“My young brother is naïve and immature. He should not have accepted anything from the Sturgyans. They are clever intriguers and have hopes of recruiting him as their political agent here in Odo.

“It is the land of Enia that we have become a provincial dependency of, and that is where we will have to go for education in any of the learned professions. Your son Vsalo has already made a colossal error in going to Botya and turning into a scholar and teacher with a Botyan flavor and slant to him. What did Botya ever contribute to our people here in the province of Machka?

“I rue the day that Micha comes back to Odo and attempts to convert us to the Sturgyanism they will inculcate into his gullible mind.

“We must be Machkans with basic loyalty to the land of Enia, our protector and benefactor. I believe that is the only way that our province can progress and develop.”

Ado pursed his lips and grimaced. “Micha has made his decision and will soon leave for the North. It is too late to do anything about what he will be picking up in Sturgya.”

Vsalo saw his younger brother off at the rail station at Odo.

The two tall, thin figures stood on the cement platform outside the red brick structure, waiting for the train’s arrival.

“I think that you are making a journey in the wrong direction,” said the school teacher. “It would have been smarter for you to go eastward like I did. Our native culture in Machka is closer to Botya than to the northern power of Sturgya. What have we ever received from that direction? A past of invasions, incursions, and domination.

“If Machka is ever to become free and independent, the impetus can only come from our brothers in Botya, nowhere else.”

The pair looked at each other with anger in their chocolate eyes.

Machka is a region of rugged mountains and wandering valleys. But Sturgya to its north consists mostly of agricultural plains.

Micha became acquainted with Sturgya City and found it full of interesting attractions. At the National University, he had serious difficulty choosing what his major subject of study was to be. General liberal arts became his field by default, and Professor Ste Noval was assigned to him as advisor.

This short, slight intellectual had previously served in Machka as head of a consul’s office. His area of research interest was the history of Sturgyan-Machkan relations and influences. He was a fervent, dedicated nationalist who had become a public defender of his country and its strategic ambitions to expand southward and assimilate all of the province from where Micha came.

The latter, in his first year of higher education, fell under the sway of the small professor’s eloquent rhetoric.

“The best era of history for Machka occurred when it was governed by ancient Sturgyan noblemen,” insisted Ste Noval with hypnotic fervor. “Its future destiny has to be a return to union with my native land.”

In the four years of his stay in the North, Micha inevitably turned into a pro-Sturgya partisan, putting him at odds with his father and two brothers.

On the day of his graduation ceremony, Ste Noval attended and later came to the apartment of Micha with a surprising plan in mind for the young man’s future.

“I have had a dream for a long time,” he revealed with a smile, “and you happen to be the individual who can make it come true, Micha.”

“What do you mean?” bluntly asked the astounded graduate.

“I can picture you as the one who can organize a Sturgyan school in the town of Oko. For over a generation, there has existed there only the official Enian high school, where your brother is the teacher of Botyan language and literature.

“I want to set up a center of our own northern culture and learning, but cannot do it myself. But it is obviously a possibility for a native-born person such as you are. Our government is willing to help finance such a project, I have found out through my connections and inquiries that I have made. Are you willing to become the captain of such an educational enterprise, Micha?”

“Yes,” said the young man. “I would pick exactly doing that as the purpose of my life.” He extended his right arm and shook the hand of his mentor.

Lake Oko, in western Machka, was eighteen miles long and six wide.

Micha chose a site for the school on a high cliff overlooking the light blue waters below, teeming with trout and white fish of various varieties. Fishing was an ancient occupation for the town and the surrounding shore lines.

Ado Robet and his two older sons were not happy with what Micha had returned to Oko to engage in. “His mind is now an obedient tool of Sturgyan nationalism,” complained Doctor Krti to his father, the wealthy merchant who enjoyed political influence. “Why can’t you and I stop him? We already have my other brother, Vsalo, who acts as if he is the agent of Botyan culture and learning here in our town.

“What do you propose to do about his wild escapade, father?”

The latter frowned, rising from his pine desk chair. “I am going to wait and see how matters develop for Micha. His school will be opening in a few months, and we shall see if anyone attends as a student. That will be the test of his senseless scheme.” Ado looked like he was on the verge of shedding tears.

Dozens of poor families sent sons and daughters to the new building constructed by Micha with funds sent to him from the state treasury of Sturgya by Ste Noval. The first year of instruction by the youngest Robet turned out an astounding success. Many new students were draw to the school for its second year.

In the large Robet residence, frigid tension rose between pro-Enian father and doctor and Micha, as well as between the latter and pro-Botyan Vsalo. The new school director and teacher rarely exchanged a word with the rest of his family. Finally, he surprised everyone by deciding to move into a small cottage adjacent to the school that he had built and opened.

“It will be more convenient for me, father,” he said to justify his abandonment of the large, high residence that overlooked the lake and most of Oko.

This departure heightened the hostile emotions growing within the remainder of his family. “He has chosen a path that tears apart my heart,” said his father to Krti, the only son still trusted by him.

During the summer vacation recess before the beginning of the third year of the new school, Micha received a telegram from Ste Noval informing him that he was coming to Oko to visit with his former student. When he arrived by train, the two rejoiced at the unexpected success of the venture they had embarked on.

“I have a surprise to tell you,” laughed the Sturgyan as the two of them sat on outdoor folding chairs, looking out over the town and Lake Oko.

“What is it?” asked the suddenly curious young man.

“I have taken a year’s sabbatical leave at the University and will have the time to come to Oko as a teacher of Sturgyan history and literature at your school. I can afford to work for you without a salary, because I will be enjoying the savings I have accumulated over the last several decades.

“So, it would be a great benefit to the new school to have an experienced veteran in teaching like me without draining off any income. What do you say to my idea, Micha?”

Overwhelmed by what his mentor was proposing, the organizer of the pro-Sturgya institution nodded his acceptance and approval.

Soon all of Oko found out why the stranger had come to their town.

There was extreme dissatisfaction with the staying of Ste in their town on the part of the rest of the Robet family.

“What is going on in the mind of Micha?” Ado asked the two sons still residing at home. His face was often flushed with angry indignation when he talked about Micha and his school. “Why does he bring this university professor to Oko? I cannot understand why he is serving the interests of our neighbor to the north of us.”

No one had feelings as fiery as those of Vsalo. This middle brother was not afraid of berating Micha to his face whenever their paths happened to cross.

One torrid summer afternoon, a crowd of townspeople shopping at the central farmers witnessed a bitter confrontation between the two of them.

“You are a fool without any loyalty to your people,” yelled Vsalo in a vehement tone. “I am ashamed to let anyone say you are by brother.”

“Let me alone,” countered Micha. “I am accomplishing more for Machka than you will ever manage to do.”

The gathering throng watched with relish as the pair came near to exchanging in physical conflict of a serious sort. In time, a town patrolman appeared. The crowd disintegrated and dispersed.

Vsalo and Micha walked away from each other, both drunk with rage.

It was nearing the end of a cloudless, sunny summer day. Twilight was rapidly taking hold of the sky and the still lake waters. A soundless quiet reigned everywhere. Ste Noval had taken a relaxing hike over hillocks near the town and was returning to the cottage that Micha shared with him.

As if out of nowhere, a tall, thin figure with unusual chocolate eyes appeared in front of him, blocking his progress down toward the shore of Lake Oko. The Sturgyan stopped and gaped. It took him a number of seconds to recognize the hostile face of Vsalo Robet.

Before either man had the chance to say anything, the teacher of Botyan in the town school raised his right arm. His index finger pulled the trigger of a large, obsolete pistol that was aimed at the foreigner.

The shot fired tore apart the silence of the gathering shadows of dusk. A perfect trajectory brought down the hated advisor to brother Micha. He lay prone on the pathway he had been climbing down.

The killer of the Sturgyan turned about and headed back to town. He realized what he had just done made it necessary for him to become a fugitive from all that he held close to his heart.

Vsalo did not return to his family residence that evening or those that followed.

Oko was shocked and shaken by the discovery of the murdered body of Ste Noval and the simultaneous disappearance of Vsalo Robet. The connection between the two events was evident and logical, though few dared speak of it openly.

In the large room in his home that Ado used as his business office, the wealthy merchant discussed the two matters at length with his oldest son, Krti.

“I can understand why this happened,” he said with a moan. “Vsalo was unable to accept the fact that the Sturgyan agent was going to begin teaching his propaganda under the protection of his own brother. His nerves drove him over the edge and he took violent action.

“But where has he run to? When us he going to return to Oko?”

Krti, pacing back and forth in front of his father’s great desk, came to a stop and stared directly at his troubled parent.

“I think that I know where Vsalo has fled. He wrote many letters to Machkan friends who live in Botya City, and he received a lot of correspondence from them, as well as several immigrant publications. He has probably journeyed over the border to seek shelter in the Machkan colony in the Botyan capital. That is what I suspect my brother has done.”

Tears of distress flooded the chocolate eyes of the merchant. “I worry what will happen to Vsalo now,” he murmured.

A tall figure ambled along a narrow, cobblestone street in the oldest sector of Botya City. He stopped when he caught sight of a window sign that read “Machkan Liberation”. This was the weekly newspaper he was looking for. Vsalo went to the front door, opened it, and made his way into the brightly clean front office. A short man with a bald head spoke from a yellow roll-top desk. “Can I help you?” he inquired.

“I am looking for the editor, Mr. Loto Eom. My name is Vsalo Robet, and I arrived yesterday from Machka, the town of Oko.”

The cerulean eyes of the newspaper editor brightened. “Welcome to our publication office, my good man. You must be tired from your journey. Have you found a place to stay?”

“I am sharing a room in an apartment building with old comrades of mine near the University. A number of years ago I was a student here, and back in Oko I was a teacher of Botyan literature at the town school. My father is a leading merchant in the leather and wool trade.”

“Yes,” nodded Eom, “I am familiar with his reputation as a pro-Enian notable in your home community.”

“That is his choice and destiny,” declared Vsalo with bitterness in his voice. “I consider myself an adherent to the cause of Machkan independence.”

“I am glad to hear those words, young man. You are, then, one of us.”

“Yes, I am. And I have come to this office today because I wish to enroll myself for active participation in the Liberation Organization. My ambition is to dedicate myself to the freedom and independence of our beloved land.”

“Welcome, my son,” said Loto Eom. “There is much that you can do for our sacred cause.”

Micha was lost and confused, uncertain what path he should take. He began to examine the file of documents and letters that Ste Noval had left in the bedroom he had occupied in the cottage the two shared.

There were some startling revelations contained in what his mentor had left behind there. These threw a bright light on what Ste was up to in Oko.

The persons with whom the professor-teacher corresponded were agents of the most secret portion of the Sturgyan government, The Department of State Security. Ste had clearly come to Machka with a mission that was strategic and political. He was much more than only an educator.

Micha was never able to forget certain candid passages that he now came across in the personal archives of his guide in the realm of culture and history.

“You must increase the number and reach of your subjects and sub-agents beyond the single personality of Micha Robet.”

“The new school set up by Robet in Oko must carry out definite pro-Sturgyan policies directed from here in the capital.”

“Your work in Oko must have as its primary goal a campaign of opposition to what the Botyans have achieved there so far, and attacks on what they aspire to gain in time to come.”

Micha was startled by what his mentor wrote in a letter he had failed to send to Sturgya City before he was killed.

“I am striving every day to spread my net of influence beyond the school where I will soon be teaching classes, but it would be counter-productive to cause any alarm in the mind of my most important subordinate here. My future moves and strategies depend upon maintaining the trust and discipline of Micha. I must keep him as close as possible before I can move too far ahead and around.”

Have I been living with illusions up to now? wondered the young man who had opened a Sturgyan school in Oko.

Vsalo worked for a time in the newspaper publication office under the direction and instruction of Loto Eom, but in a few weeks he was offered a more important and dangerous assignment.

“Our Liberation Organization has an urgent need for a coordinator of active members within Machka. Several of our most important leaders there have been identified, caught, and imprisoned by the Enian police and more hidden agencies. We have a need for one central figure who is able to move about and deal with emergency situations and organizational problems.

“It will be a most risky post to fulfill, Vsalo. The authorities of the Enian state will show no mercy at all to that individual if he is apprehended by them. Are you willing to face such danger, my son?”

It did not take long to decide and accept the role that was offered him. “Such a mission is exactly what I have dreamed of in my innermost self,” courageously smiled Vsalo.

Micha, crossing the border with false passport and identity papers, found that his most important mission was arranging for the smuggling of small weapons that had use in a popular rebellion for Machkan independence. Once within the Enian province of Machka, his main task was the distribution and concealment of these means to revolution.

His underground activities took Michka to all parts of his native land except for the town of Oko. Returning there would surely have been too great a risk for him. Rifles, pistols, grenades and launchers were the chief items he sent to localities for the preparation of self-recruited bands of volunteers. But he also sent out at night camouflaged camions and wagons with the component parts necessary for the assembly of drone-based artillery.

In his spare moments, Micha studied the time-tested classics on guerrilla and irregular warfare. He found useful examples and models to follow in the wars for independence of all three neighboring nations: Enia, Botya, and Sturgya.

Machka will be the next to free itself through rebellion, he told himself at the end of each day of labor.

When Vsalo returned to Botya City after a year of revolutionary work in Machka, there was disturbing family news awaiting him.

It was in the office of Loto Eom that the leader of the independence movement informed him of what was occurring in Oko.

“I have received tragic news concerning your father, my dear friend. He has suffered three very serious heart attacks in quick succession, and his doctor does not expect him to be strong enough to survive any more. His expectation of life has become quite limited now. Death is considered only a matter of time. It could come to him any day now.”

Vsalo was barely able to contain himself. He decided to ask something from the man in charge of the movement.

“Would it be possible for me to make an immediate return to Machka?” he inquired in a dispirited voice. “The purpose would be to rush to Oko to see him for the last time. This may be my only chance to ask him to forgive me for anything I have done that offends him.”

Vsalo looked pleadingly at Eom. What would he say?

“Yes, it makes sense to me. I am proud of your sense of honor and responsibility, indeed I am.”

“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to see him before the end,” declared the teacher who had turned into a fugitive revolutionary.

It was easy to pass through the Enian border station into Machka, then cross from one secret refuge to the next, all the way to Oko in the Far West.

When he reached his native town, Vsalo decided that the best way to win access to his dying father was through his younger brother, Micha. It was nighttime when he approached the cottage where the latter had moved when he set up his school subsidized from Sturgya. The heart of the traveler was pounding at rapid speed, for he could not foresee how his brother might react to his unexpected appearance in Oko.

Upon his third loud knock on the oaken door, it opened to reveal Micha in sleeping attire, ready to go to bed for the night.

Within seconds, the youngest brother recognized who it was standing in the shadows.

“Vsalo! What are you doing here in Oko?”

“Can I come in? We have to speak, and I need a place to stay tonight.”

Micha opened the door wider, stepped to the side, and allowed Vsalo to enter. He pointed to a chair and table for his visitor to sit, then sat down opposite him.

“I am here to see father, because I was told that his condition has become critical.”

Micha gave a sudden start. “You don’t know? You haven’t heard?”

“Heard what?” nervously asked Vsalo.

“Father passed away three days ago, and we buried him this very afternoon. His pain and suffering was terrible to see, but now it is over for good.”

“I had no way of knowing, because I have been…traveling.”

“What has happened to you, Vsalo? Where have you been living, and what have you been doing?”

The underground agent took several minutes to describe and explain his role and work in the insurgent liberation movement. How will my brother react to what I have made myself? wondered the activist.

All at once, Micha grinned at his brother. “You should have written and told me, but perhaps that was not at all possible. But let me reveal what has happened to me. I have uncovered many awful truths about the operations of Sturgyan Security within our country. I was a fool, hoodwinked into service to a foreign power aiming to conquer and exploit Machka. But I have woken myself to the bitter truth about our neighbors. I now recognize who our enemies have been and still are.

“I now define myself as a separatist who dreams of independence for our land. Independence from everyone, on all sides, in all directions. I can no longer be categorized as pro-Sturgyan, just as you yourself are no longer a pro-Botyan. I am a Machkan, and only a Machkan. Nothing else.”

Suddenly Michka rose from his chair, stepped around the table, bent down his head and kissed the forehead of his brother. “I wish to join up with the Revolutionary Organization you are affiliated with. My hope is to do what I can to liberate our country. And I am confident that the two of us together can convince brother Krti to join us. He has become very dissatisfied and disgruntled with our Enian rulers and masters.”

Vsalo felt breathless for a short time. “Father would be happy if he were alive, for we are becoming a united family once again.” He smiled with heartfelt joy at his brother.


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