Belihn could not find a quiet moment during the following two weeks to meet with Kahl. He rose early to exercise then attended Court from sunrise to sunset as a new constitution was slowly cobbled together from old laws that were just and new laws to supplant those that were not. Following the example of South Torahn, key calendar dates would become holy holidays. The solstices would be dedicated to Atana with prayer and fasting, followed by a week of celebrations in Her honor. Dibasj’s solstice would be called Ata-Dibasj and kamaran’s solstice would be called Ata-Kamaran. The first day of anasj and haltath would also be marked by fasting and prayer.
Belihn’s nights were taken up with religious studies. He had read the holy book, the Soulkah, in its entirety when he was a youngster, but there was so much he did not understand. From sunset until he retired near midnight, he retired to his sitting room, surrounded by serrens and ai-sers. The Church had not balked at the idea of his becoming High Priest. They seemed quite amenable to a theocracy. When his studies were done, in two months’ time, he would undergo a purification ritual that encompassed a week of prayer and fasting. He would be cloistered in Draemin Cathedral for one week and, when he emerged, he would be Prei-Serren of Draemin City-State.
He wondered how he was able to retain any knowledge, when he was so sleep deprived all the time. When his head hit the pillow at the end of a very long day, he would fall asleep almost right away. Kahl haunted his dreams almost every night. Belihn would wake up in a poor mood and would rise from bed to don on his oldest clothes and then, a troop of soldiers behind him, he would jog out through the bailey, pver the castle drawbridge and into Queen’s Park. Sometimes he would run south through the villas. He and his entourage would garner a lot of attention from field workers and villa owners. He needed the centering the exercise gave him. Now more than ever, he felt discombobulated, out of his depth, and completely lost. Not when he sat on the throne, for he knew what was best for the common denizens of his city-state. But when he thought of being a High Priest or of Kahl, he quite did not know what he thought.
He missed Kahl at the oddest moments: when he was distracted, when he meditated and prayed, when he was busy at Court. Those times made him feel closer to Kahl and his heart ached with his absence.
On the day of Alon’s art show, Belihn canceled his appointments and responsibilities, proclaiming Court closed until the following day. He went to the practice yards and sparred with Kurk like they used to do. As always, Kurk attacked without preambled, with brutal moves that more than once snapped their wooden practice swords in two. Their swords thudded again and again in the icy early morning and sweat poured down Belihn’s back and face. He felt truly happy for the first time in a long time. Kurk laughed as Belihn pushed him off and attacked with all his might. Finally, after a couple of hours and two destroyed swords, they bowed to one another.
“You fought well, my friend,” Kurk commented.
They dropped their intact swords into the barrel with others and left the broken ones on the ground.
“I’ve missed our jousting, Kurk.” He clapped Kurk on the back. “I’m going to an art show this evening. Care to join me?”
Kurk looked askance at him. “An art show?”
“Come on,” Belihn needled. “You can impress women that way. Don’t you think?”
They headed towards the Castle. Kurk threw his head back and roared with laughter.
“An atoliy giving me advise on how to woo women,” he said and shook his head.
Belihn found himself blushing. “We may not bed women, but we can charm them.”
Kurk sobered. “No, I’ve noticed that about you, my King.” He sighed. “If it means we go to a tavern afterward and drink, then I’ll accompany you. I’ll even scare up a young lady to be my date.”
Belihn snorted. “You never have to scare anyone, Kurk. They drop at your feet.”
Kurk preened. “That is too true, my King. When is this art show?”
“Seventh hour after midday.”
“Then my date and I will be at your suites two hours before. That work?”
Belihn clasped Kurk’s shoulder. “That works, my friend.”
Since Court was not in session, the Great Hall was mostly empty, except for servants and guards. Belihn’s personal guards escorted him to his suites on the top floor of the Castle. He bid good morning to Emira’h and her ladies-in-waiting who were breakfasting in the sitting room.
Emira’h rose and curtsied. “What will you do with your day off, your Majesty?”
“I will be attending an art show in town, your Majesty.”
The girls squealed.
“Oh, may we come, your Majesty?” Nilki asked. She was the oldest of the young women but often behaved much younger.
Emira’h frowned. “An art show?”
“Oh come, my Queen,” Salika piped up. “Women in Draemin City-State attend art shows, do they not, your Majesty?”
“They do indeed,” Belihn replied. “They simply cannot make art. I hope to change that some day.”
Emira’h looked scandalized.
Belihn tapped a finger under her jaw and she closed her mouth with a click.
“Who is the artist?” she asked with a certain degree of imperiousness.
Mari’h and Asjana squealed in unison.
Emira’h drew herself up to her full height. “If women cannot make art, then how can she?”
“Because she is going under a disguise. Alon Oh’nahry, a cousin of the Draemin Oh’nahrys.”
The girls all started talking as one.
He brought two fingers to his mouth and blew a shrill whistle. The young women startled and fell silent at once.
“I’m trusting you with a great secret,” he told them. “I trust you will keep it close to your hearts.”
Emira’h’s eyes flashed. “Is there no end to that girl’s depravities?”
Belihn took her by the shoulders and shook her. “You behave yourself, your Majesty, or we shall leave you here.”
Emira’h frowned. “We?”
“Your ladies-in-waiting are excited to go,” he told her. “I expect them to go.”
She looked unsure for a moment. “And you would leave me behind?”
“If you promise to behave you can come,” he said.
She squared her shoulders. “They are my ladies-in-waiting.”
“And I am your king, Emira’h.”
Her gaze turned stubborn and recalcitrant. She lifted her chin. “That threat does not frighten me, your Majesty.”
He crossed his arms over his chest. “Then you can remain behind.”
Her gaze turned icy. “My ladies-in-waiting remain with me. I demand it.”
“And I order that they go,” he snapped.
She narrowed her eyes and screamed, turning on her heels and running from the room into the hallway.
Asjana sighed and shook her head. “Forgive her, your Majesty. All this is new to her.”
He glanced at her. “I know, but she is spoiled. She needs to know she can be my friend, if she meets me halfway.”
The girl curtsied. “Excuse me, your Majesty. I will attend to her.”
He left the girls talking excitedly about the art show and went to his bedroom suite, where he had a bath drawn. He soaked in the warm waters redolent with aromatic oils and soap. For the first time in a long time, his day stretched out before him unencumbered by duties. He washed his hair and shaved his face before rising from the sudsy water and stepping onto the tiled floor. Two servants briskly dried him then assisted him to dress in black velvet trousers and a dark violet tunic with a long black velvet coat over it. His hair was brushed and braided. Lastly, he pulled on knee-high boots over the pants legs.
After he was done, he summoned Alona to break her fast with him. She was dressed as Alon and his mouth grew dry. He rose from the breakfast table to gape at her. She looked just like Kahl, from her dark brown eyes to her black hair and honey complexion. Except she looked all of thirteen years old and was small and scrawny.
She had done a good job with the disguise. She wore dark blue velvet trousers, a light satin overtunic and a dark blue silk undertunic with a high collar. She, too, had a velvet coat. Royal blue. She wore the hems of her trousers tucked into her knee high boots. She had somehow wrapped her small breasts so that her chest appeared completely flat. The loose overtunic and coat hid her rounded hips well.
She fidgeted nervously. “What? Don’t I look like Alon?”
He swallowed audibly and came around the table to hug her. “Forgive me. You look just like Kahl.”
They pulled back from their hug and gazed into each other’s eyes.
“I’m sorry if looking at me causes you pain,” she murmured.
“No,” he assured her. “It makes me happy.”
He raked her with his eyes, appreciating her trimness and her guileless beauty.
She blushed and he pressed a kiss to her brow. “You will become the talk of the town, my girl.”
He stepped away from her and held a chair out for her. “Sit. Let’s break our fast and then help me figure out how to woo your brother.”
She ate sparingly, nibbling on bread and sipping tea redolent with southern spices, tah’lir’s milk and honey.
He was famished, so he polished off a plate of fried strips of dosi, enasha pancakes fried to a golden turn, and flaky buns filled with honeyed fruit. When he was replete, he sat back and sipped his cup of black mjish tea.
“Which of your paintings did you choose?” he asked her.
She tucked a bit of hair behind her ear. “My solicitor and I chose what is more popular among the wealthier patrons. Portraits, mostly, and landscapes. Really, I’m terribly bored of portraits and landscapes. What I want to focus on is a new type of art that I am creating.”
He leaned towards her. “What is this art like?”
She looked unsure for a moment before squaring her shoulders. “It’s made up mostly of impressions of color and form.” She huffed a breath. “It’s hard to describe, really. You’ll have to come to my studio and see.”
He rose and pulled the chair out for her. “Show me.”
She led him into the hallway and then to the large, airy room which had been her bedroom suite sitting room at one point, but now was her studio. Paintings hung on the walls or stood propped against walls. There was a small card table with two chairs near the center of the room, a bare rough stone floor, and an easel with a table near the window. The curtains had been drawn open, so light flooded the large room. A canvas stood on the easel and he was immediately drawn there.
The painting was a spatter of colors and forms that seemed chaotic, until one looked at it long enough to see that form rose from the chaos. It intrigued him. He took several steps back to look at it from a distance and then saw that the chaos coalesced into something nameless and exquisite.
“Fascinating,” he murmured.
She stood near the open door, her body tight with tension and uncertainty.
He looked at her and smiled. “It’s incredible, girl. Truly it is. Form and sanity out of chaos.”
She took two steps towards him. “Exactly! Oh, I knew you’d see it right away!”
He slid his gaze to the painting once more. “You have a good eye for color, miss. They seem to clash on the canvas, but then you realize they flow into one another.”
“Exactly!” she sounded breathless.
He sobered. “It may take longer for the art world to embrace this form of art. Forever, it’s been about reality and realistic representations. What do you call this new form?”
“You need to give it a name,” he told her. “How about ‘Alonism’?”
She blushed to the tips of her ears. “Oh, I simply couldn’t!” She began to pace. “How about ‘chaotic form’?”
He took a breath and released it. “I’m not sure that name won’t bias some against it. They may come to the gallery already prepared to hate it.”
“Chaos in form,” she said with a nod of her head.
He considered, secretly knowing he would approach her solicitor with the term ‘Alonism.’ “That might work.”
He went to gaze at her other works while she went to write in her journal the new term.
Kahl hurried through the snowy streets to the gallery where Alon would be showing his work. It was sunset already and he was terribly late, but he couldn’t have helped it. He had had an all-day meeting with his publisher about his new book. Since the book would be sold to universities as well as book stores, he had gotten a fat advance. All he had to do was finish compiling the material into the book. Sometimes he felt lost and overwhelmed. He had written 10 journals during the war. He had interviewed common soldiers and members of the clans. He had interviewed camp followers and legal spouses. He had interviewed some of those who had lived through the siege and he knew there was a second book in there, too, about the privations that resulted from the nearly one year siege.
When he reached the gallery, a two-story thatched roof cottage with whitewashed walls and bright purple sills and doors, he paused, catching a glimpse of himself in the glass windowpanes. He looked windblown and disheveled. He took a moment to smooth his hair and straighten his clothes before opening the garish door and stepping inside. The smell of paints and sealed rooms assailed him. He coughed and removed his kamarani cloak, hanging it on a free hook by the front door. The dark floor was unpolished wood, faded in areas. A stairwell directly ahead led to the second floor. He could see more paintings up there as well. The large cottage was full of the din of voices. People crowded under archways leading to the left and the right. Servants maneuvered around the clumps of guests, bearing trays of liqueurs and wines.
He went to the left, looking over heads to see if he could spot Alona. He shook his head. No, Alon. But he only saw strangers.
He walked directly ahead and up the stairs to the second floor, where slightly less people crowded into rooms. His sister had performed a coup, or at least her solicitor had. Usually, art galleries showed more than one artist, but he saw on the walls his sister’s paintings and sketches. He felt a thrill followed by pride. He decided he’d see her soon enough and edged into a corner with a painting of Queen’s Park. He recalled when she’d painted that. She had been fourteen and he had been shocked to his core to see what the girl could do, having mainly taught herself. He saw that the paintings were cruder than her recent ones, but still the balance of colors, the realism in each canvas made him breathless.
“You should see what she is working on now,” said a smooth, deep voice just to the right and behind him.
He stiffened and turned. He bowed deeply. “Your Majesty.”
The bulky, muscular Warlord stood just behind Belihn, an Yllysian girl on each of his arms. Guards stood discreetly nearby.
“Call me Belihn, Kahl.”
Belihn took his arm and led him further into the room. They stopped before a picture of a young lad who looked a lot like Kahl.
“Self-portrait of Alon,” Belihn murmured, huffing a soft laugh. “She has balls, your sister.”
Kahl looked at the painting more closely and saw his sister under the masculine clothes and arrogant gaze. He saw uncertainty in the depths of the brown eyes.
“She is magnificent,” Belihn said, his breath soft and warm against the side of Kahl’s neck. “I adore her.”
Kahl felt a flash of jealousy and ruthlessly tamped it down. “She is fond of you as well, your Majesty.”
Belihn sighed. “I thought we were becoming friends, Kahl Oh’nahry. Was I wrong?”
“You are doing everything you said you would,” Kahl replied quietly. “You are changing the caste laws and levering the field between the classes. You beat the Tjish.unen army. It was like an insect beating a dosi.”
“She did it, the Goddess.”
“You held on until She followed through with Her promise,” he told the King.
“I had help,” Belihn replied. “And you didn’t answer my question. Are we friends?”
Kahl looked at him, swallowing thickly at Belihn’s beautiful features, so much like the handsome King Kah’len, but finer, more graceful.
“No,” he said honestly. “We are not friends.”
Belihn nodded and pulled his arm free.
“I’d like to be, though, your Majesty,” Kahl hastened to say. “More, if you want.” He slid his gaze to the Warlord and his guest, but they were a few feet away, gazing at a family portrait of the Oh’nahrys. He looked back at Belihn. “I am sorry, your Majesty. I didn’t understand when I fought with you. I didn’t not understand your responsibilities or your duty. You had to look out for the future, not just the present. I have grown up a bit since our argument, I think.”
Belihn smiled at him with genuine pleasure. “I’m glad to hear that, Mister Oh’nahry.”
Kahl frowned. “That’s my father.”
Belihn chuckled. He took Kahl’s arm once more. “Fine then, Kahl. Call me Belihn.”
Kahl mock scowled. “Are you blackmailing me, your Majesty?”
“Yes, Mister Oh’nahry.”
“We are going to a tavern for drinks and a meal after this,” Belihn mentioned as if he just thought of it. “I would like you and your sister to accompany us.”
“It would be an honor, Belihn.”
Belihn smiled. “Good. Now let’s find that sister of yours.”