Chapter Three: The Terms

The boy had been quiet on the journey from the monastery to City Dors on the coast of South Torahn. He seemed pale and withdrawn. Domio turned and studied the youngster. He certainly was beautiful, Domio thought, gracile and on the small side. Clan Obeli male scions were usually tall and muscular, but the boy was almost feminine in his features. So beautiful. Domio sighed and shook his head, looking away. City Dors was about a league east. The first of the homesteads, which this far west were usually farms, had begun to appear. Beyond the dark buildings of the city, the sea glittered to the horizon.
Keron rode up ahead, brusk and impatient as always. He was desperate to head north to the border, where the Isemi were once again raiding as if the plague had never swept through their land. Keron had to stop the raids from escalating into open war. Domio would be heading to North Torahn with Lahn. He would act as the boy’s spiritual advisor, but, really, it was more to keep an eye on the lad. The boy did not know this yet, and Domio was not sure how the boy would take to the idea of a spiritual advisor who belonged to another sect of Poaism. The followers of Poa the Harvester were a grim lot, overprotective of their narratives and their fierce, bloody incarnation of the God. For all Domio knew, the boy would reject him, but Domio had been commanded by their brother, King Fael, to keep an eye on his second son and Domio would do as he had been commanded, whether the boy accepted him or not.
He looked ahead as they rode past a pasture filled with a herd of tah’lirs. The animals bleated and milled about, watching with brown liquid eyes as their party rode past.
The boy had been affectionate and playful once, before the Harvester’s dogma had broken him. Domio was determined to find that boy once more. For the sake of the boy and for the sake of peace.
“Lahn,” he said, turning to look at the youngster.
The boy turned listlessly to look at him.
Domio smiled warmly at him. “Do you know the terms of Tover’s Stipulation?”
He shrugged sluggishly. “I studied it in school, but that was four long years ago, Uncle.”
“The Stipulation demands that the marriage be given a fair chance. One year. If, at the end of the year, one or the other of the couple are unhappy, they can divorce.”
For the first time in days, interest sparked in the boy’s beautiful eyes. He sat straighter. “Truly?”
Domio nodded. “Yes, truly. But, the thing is, boy. You need to try to make the marriage work.”
“But I don’t want to be married.”
“I know,” Domio assured him. “But you might be able to make a friend out of the Warlord. It could prevent further hostilities, child.”
The boy frowned. “God Poa is a war god. He is only happy if we conquer our enemies.”
Domio stifled a sigh. “Lahn, war can be bloody or bloodless. We can fight for Poa by waging a dogmatic war. You can go into North Torahn ready to convert followers to Poa, which will please our Lord.”
“This is cowardice. People should be compelled to follow the rightful God by violence. This stipulation, this marriage, it is cowardice.”
Domio swallowed down his impatience. He tried another tact. “Have you ever seen anyone die?”
The boy looked away. “No. But I am no stranger to death. We sacrificed dosi to Poa the Harvester at the monastery.”
“But you have never held the hand of a young soldier who has sacrificed his life. Have you?”
The boy’s mouth flattened. “No.”
“So, you have never had to tell a young soldier’s wife or lover that their loved one would not be returning to them? You have never had to tell a small child that their father was now dead?”
The boy said nothing.
Domio sighed. “You will one day, I am sure. One day you will know the sorrow and then we shall see what you believe or don’t.”
The boy turned abruptly, startling his mount into a dance. He controlled the animal with some effort before glaring at Domio. “You are weak, Uncle, as is your god.”
Domio reached over and slapped the boy hard across the face.
The boy stared back, shocked.
“You are a blasphemer,” Domio said wearily. “Poa is one God. One. Don’t forget that.”
He kicked his bahil and rode ahead, leaving the boy under the watchful gaze of their soldiers.
When he reached Keron, he slowed his beast to match Keron’s mount’s canter.
Keron glanced at him. “How is it going with the boy?”
“This was a mistake, I think.”
“Giving up already?”
Domio stiffened. “He is stubborn and opinionated.”
“Aren’t we all?” Keron drawled and laughed. “He is not different from you or I. I’m not saying you have an easy job ahead of you, Domio, but I have every confidence you will succeed. He is callow, after all.”
Domio sighed. “I think your job of preventing war is easier than mine.”
Keron laughed again. “He is a good boy, somewhere inside of the dogma and the four years of indoctrination.”
“He was a good boy once,” Domio agreed.
Keron threw him a glance. “Still is, I daresay. You just have to find the gold in the dirt.”
“Easier said than done,” Domio complained and looked at City Dors as it drew nearer. “When are you leaving us?”
“Right away,” Keron replied. “The Isemi grow more emboldened each day. I can’t afford to tarry.”
Domio nodded. “I shall miss you, brother.”
“You have been a balm to me, brother. Our prayer sessions have done much to heal the wound my child’s death caused.”
“I was always more worried about your wife than I was about you.”
“She has her faith and our other children to comfort her,” Keron said and spat to one side. “Damn this dust. When will it rain?”
Domio stared at the flawless sky. He doubted it would rain any time soon.
They reached City Dors within the hour and headed straight for the wharves, where the new troops heading to the border were housed. From here, Domio would see Keron off and would board the Tjish.unen ship headed to North Torahn. The journey by sea would take about three weeks. He would have to educate Lahn on the mores of North Torahn and teach him the Common Speech. Lahn had spoken it once before entering the monastery, but the monks only spoke old Torahni. Lahn barely spoke modern South Torahni and he did so with a heavy accent. They would have to practice the Common Speech on a daily basis and Domio hoped the boy would recall what he had once known.
They rode to the military house near the docks.
Domio and Keron dismounted.
“Well, this is where I leave you, Brother,” Keron said and embraced him.
Domio pounded his back. “Good luck at the border, Brother.”
Keron nodded and stepped back. He gave Lahn a cursory glance. “Behave, young Lahn.”
The boy rolled his eyes and looked away.
Keron smirked. “I don’t envy you, Domio.”
Domio stood and watched as Keron entered the military house. With a sigh, he turned to Lahn. “Come. We have a ship to catch.”
Domio remounted and led the boy down the dusty cobblestone road that wound between the long wooden warehouses and the stone docks. Their ship, The Masjita, was a cargo ship that belonged to the Queen of Tjish.un. Her hull would be filled with luxury items such as tapestries, bolts of silk and satin, and perhaps jewels. Domio had never been in City Draemin, but he knew the city was the wealthiest in the north. He wondered if it was a beautiful city, or a sprawling horror like their own capital, City Lae. In City Lae, the King’s palace perched on a man made hill, overlooking mansions and the larger houses of the wealthier commoners, but near the edges of the city poverty clung like an incurable disease. Dirty little huts leaned one upon the other and the overcrowded conditions had allowed the plague to rage like a fire over a dry grass field.
Domio reined his bahil to a stop before the wide-hulled beauty that would take them to City Draemin. Her sails, when extended, would be emerald green and would bear the silhouette of Queen Masjita.
He looked at Lahn and saw the boy gaping at the ship, which gleamed in the bright sunlight like a jewel.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” Domio asked.
The boy slid his gaze to Domio then back to the ship. “It’s so large!”
“It carries goods for the wealthier denizens of City Draemin,” Domio explained.
“Worldly goods,” the boys scoffed and dismounted.
Domio frowned and dismounted as well, patting his bahil. He murmured a few words in the beast’s long, floppy ear and he caressed its long, graceful, muscular neck. The beast nipped gently as his hand.
“Will you be taking the beasts with you, Father?” one of their troop asked.
Domio shook his head. “Take the beasts back to City Lae and to the King’s stables.”
The soldier saluted. “Very good, my lord.”
“Have a good journey home,” Domio murmured and made a sign of blessing.
The soldiers bent their heads to accept the blessing then wheeled about and cantered back the way they had come.
“Come, Lahn,” Domio said. “Let us find meet the captain and find our cabin, shall we?”
Two soldiers remained with the wagon with their belongings. As Domio and Lahn climbed the gangplank, four sailors scurried the other way to begin to unload the wagon.
The captain, a tall, lean, jovial fellow with the copper-colored hair and hazel eyes of a Tjish.unen commoner greeted them on deck.
“Welcome to The Masjita, gentlemen,” he said with a jaunty bow. “I am Captain Ithul’to, at your service.”
Domio took the captain’s hand. “Thank you for allowing us to stow away on your beautiful ship, Captain.”
The captain grinned, showing strong white teeth. “It is my pleasure to give you a ride, Father. Come. Let me show you to your cabin.”
They walked across the slick deck to a hatch door and then down a stairs to the interior of the ship. The walkway was narrow and smelled of bitter bilge water, but it was a minor unpleasantness as far as Domio was concerned. There were glossy arched doorways on either side of the walkway. When they came to the second to last on the left, the captain stopped and pushed open the door. They stepped inside. The cabin was fairly large, with two wide cots and a desk with two chairs. There was a table against the far wall with a basin and a small barrel underneath. There were towels and washcloths and two cakes of soap stacked on the table. Colorful tapestries filled the walls. An oil lamp hung from a large hook in the wall over the desk. Under the large porthole were two buckets, which Domio assumed were for waste. The cabin smelled musty from disuse.
He strode to the porthole and pulled it open. It groaned but gave way with a little encouragement. Instantly, the fresh smell of brine filled the cabin.
“Better,” he said and turned to the other two. “This will do very well, Captain. She’s a lovely cabin.”
Captain Ithul’to bowed. “Your things will arrive shortly. I would like it very much if you would join me tonight for dinner in my cabin.”
“A pleasure, sir,” Domio replied.
The captain excused himself and left them, closing the cabin door behind him.
Lahn sighed and took the cabin near the door. He sat down listlessly and rested his forearms on his thighs, dangling his hands between his knees.
“Would you like to pray, Lahn?” Domio asked quietly.
The boy straightened abruptly and glared at Domio. “We don’t have common prayers.”
Domio took a seat across the boy on his own cot. “We do, Lahn. We have a holy book in common. The Holy Soulkah has the Book of Prayer. We share that book, if I recall correctly.”
The Holy Soulkah had been altered somewhat for the needs of the Order of Poa the Harvester, but Domio recalled that the Book of Prayer had been left unchanged.
“Did you bring your holy book with you?” he asked the lad.
Lahn shifted. “Yes. It is the only thing from the monastery I was allowed to take with me.” He gave Domio a forlorn look. “I am grateful. It is expensive, to create a book and bind it.”
“Then we can pray together,” Domio offered. “I am here as your spiritual advisor, Lahn, and your confessor. You can tell me anything you wish and it won’t go beyond us two.”
Lahn looked away. “It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. I am to marry a heathen.” He looked at Domio. “The soldiers were talking about this Warlord. The man is an avowed womanizer, a sinner who beds for pleasure alone. How is this marriage supposed to work anyway?”
Domio pursed his lips. “Are you atoliy, Lahn?”
Lahn blushed. “That is a sin! Sex without procreation is a sin!”
“I am well aware of the tenets of your faith, child. I am asking if you are atoliy.”
The boy ducked his head and dropped his gaze to his hands. They were graceful hands. The hands of an artist. “I don’t know how to answer that, Uncle.”
Domio cocked his head. “Surely you know if you prefer the company of men to that of women.”
“I’ve never lain with either,” the boy whispered.
“But we have feelings independent of action.”
The boy looked directly into Domio’s eyes. “Are you atoliy?”
“I am atol-domeinsji,” Domio replied evenly.
“Oh,” the boy murmured and looked away. “I…I think I am atoliy.”
“But you’re not sure?”
The boy shrugged. “When I was younger…” He blushed darkly. “There was this boy…” He fidgetted, refusing to meet Domio’s gaze. “Anyway. I didn’t want to be atoliy.”
“Is that why you joined the Order of Poa the Harvester?” Domio asked gently.
The boy shrugged then nodded. “I didn’t want to disappoint mother and father and they were already talking of betrothing me to cousin Uha. I couldn’t marry Uha, Uncle! I just couldn’t!”
Domio rose and sat next to Lahn, placing an arm around his shoulder. “Hush. It’s alright.”
“No, it isn’t!” the boy groused and pulled away, rising to pace. “Am I supposed to lay with this Warlord?”
“I don’t know, boy,” Domio answered honestly. “That is between you and him.”
The boy wrung his hands. “God help me, Uncle! I don’t want to sin!”
“The Book speaks of sin as sexual union without love, Lahn. It says nothing of lying in sexual union for conception. What of those women who cannot conceive?”
The boy paused and looked at Domio. “But I read it in the Book.”
“You misinterpreted the words, child,” Domio assured him. “You can make this Warlord your friend. We can love friends.”
Lahn shuddered. “I will not sin!”
“When our things are brought onboard, Lahn, I will read the words you read and I will see for myself what the words mean.”
Lahn sneered. “What makes you think your interpretation is correct?”
Domio rose. “You will respect me, boy. I am a Serren of the Order of Poa the Father. I have studied the Holy Book for thirteen years.”
Lahn glared at him. “Your way is not my way!”
Domio slapped him hard. The boy flushed and slapped him back.
They glared at one another for a long time.
Finally, the boy’s gaze slid away and he sighed. “I apologize, Father.”
Domio nodded. “You are passionate. That is good, I suppose. You wouldn’t be a scion of the House of Obeli if you weren’t passionate.”
There was a knock on the cabin door and then sailors came in carrying Domio and Lahn’s clothes chests. They set the chests in the middle of the cabin and retreated, closing the door behind them.
“Well, let us find our holy books, shall we?” Domio said.
They placed their chests at the foot of each cot then rummaged through their chests until they found their holy books. Sitting down side by side, Domio opened his book and found the verse he had studied again and again.
“Can you go to Book IV, Verse 3?” he asked the lad.
Lahn nodded and opened the book to the verse in question. He looked at Domio. “You know this verse?”
“By heart,” Domio assured him. “I am atol-domeisji, Lahn. Even if I don’t lie with anyone, my orientation is in question. But I have read the Holy Book at least ten times, lad. I have found nothing that condemns lying with another of one’s gender, as long as one lies in love.”
Lahn’s gaze slid away, to the words on his book. He licked his lips: “He must lie with his lover in love, else he sins against the Lord of Light. She must lie with her lover in respect, else she will be stripped of her life. Together, they make life which pleases the Lord.” He looked at Domio. “See? That seems clear.”
“Read some more, child.”
“Love creates love. Respect creates respect. May the lovers lie entwined to please their Lord. For the Lord feels the love they share and their love is a life they create betwixt them. Their respect is a life they create for Him. Without love or respect, it is a sin to lie with another. The lord will smite he who lies for pleasure alone. The lord will destroy she who lies for selfish reasons. That is a sin.”
Lahn looked up and sighed. “I see what you mean, Uncle.”
“The Lord gives counsel,” Domio said. “To make a marriage work, there must be love and respect. We must cultivate these things, if a marriage is to survive. Not to try is a sin.”
Lahn looked away. “Then I must try, I suppose.”
“That is all your Father asks, Lahn,” Domio assured him. “Try. But don’t forget, marriage is a two-way street. The Warlord must try, too.”
Lahn closed the holy book gently. “He is a Atanaist, Uncle. How do I reconcile with that?”
“Bring him to Poa’s fold, child. That is your duty and responsibility.”
“I will, Uncle. If it’s the last thing I do, he will come into the fold.”

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