Chapter Four: The Arrival

Kah’len watched patiently as the Tjish.unen ship docked. He had been at the docks for hours now, irritated and impatient.  Of all the things he would rather be doing, waiting on the arrival of his betrothed was not one of these. But he was here by order of his King, so here he would be, sitting astride Lish’tah next to his mother. Oona Thalmar was a patient woman. She reached forward to pat the neck of her bahil, Usalta.
“Take that fearsome scowl from your face, child,” she chastised.
Kah’len sighed and smoothed his features. “It’s about time the bloody ship got here.”
Oona smiled at him. “It is a great day for us.”
He raised an eyebrow. “How so?”
She frowned. “Behave, Kah’len. I thought Roseir made sure you understood the importance of this marriage.”
“I understand very well, Mother,” he retorted impatiently. “We are in no position to wage war against the heathen South, but I don’t have to like it. The South supports the Isemi and Isemi have killed many of my friends in battle. Or have you forgotten?”
“I forget nothing,” she assured him silkily. “But that is war. People die in war. You wanted to be a soldier, Kah’len, and so you are.”
He sighed and looked away from her gorgeous face. She was correct of course. He could have chosen to be anything, but he had chosen to be a soldier. He had wanted fame and fortune and had acquired both, but at such a steep price: the lives of at least three close friends at the hands of Isemi warriors. He had held more than one warrior to his chest while the life bled out of him. It was terrible. A terrible experience.
The Tjish.unen vessel was a beauty. A deep hulled ship with the emerald sails of Tjish.un, it came filled with high end goods bound for Castle Draemin and the open air market. As he watched, the Captain ordered the ship tied to the dock. A dock worker on the ground took the thick rope that was dropped down the side of the ship and tied it to the mooring on the dock. After an indeterminate length of time, the gangplank was lowered to the dock.
Kah’len dismounted and helped his mother to dismount. Their bahil were trained to remain where they were, so Kah’len dropped his reins and took his mother’s hand, leading her to the end of the pier to await the Southerners. They did not have to wait long, for the Captain of the ship strode down the gangplank, two men just behind him.
Kah’len turned and motioned to the South Torahni Ambassador to North Torahn. The Ambassador bowed and stepped forward, walking past Kah’len and his mother and meeting the Southerners mid-pier.
“Welcome to North Torahn, your highnesses,” the Ambassador said. “I am Ambassador Nder Ethael, South Torahni Ambassador to North Torahn.”
He bowed to the two men.
“I have given up my title, Excellency,” the Serren murmured quietly and clasped the Ambassador’s forearm. “Thank you for your warm welcome. This is Prince Lahn Obeli.”
The Ambassador bowed. “Welcome then, Father, and your Highness. I will introduce you to the Warlord and his lady mother.”
Ambassador Ethael led the arrivals down the slick pier to the road.
“May I introduce Prince Lahn Obeli, my lord? My lady? Your highness, this is your betrothed, Warlord Kah’len Ys’teis-Thalmar, and his lady mother, Lady Oona Thalmar.”
The Serren, a handsome man in his late twenties, bowed. “It is a pleasure, my lord, my lady.”
Kah’len turned to face his betrothed and his mouth grew dry. The young man was stunning. He was slender and on the small side, the top of his head coming only to Kah’len’s shoulders. He wore his long, black hair in two thick braid down his back, as was the custom in his country. The hair had been pulled tightly from his face, giving him a slightly exotic look. His eyes, which cooly appraised Kah’len, were large, gray and flecked with green and hazel. His lips were full and lush and Kah’len found he could not look away from them. When that lush mouth turned down in disapproval, it jolted Kah’len to look into those gorgeous eyes once more. There was active dislike in those beautiful depths now and Kah’len’s heart sank. So, not atoliy then. What could ever come of such a marriage, he wondered?
He bowed. “Your highness, welcome to Draemin City. This is my mother, Lady Oona Thalmar.”
The young man transferred his disapproval from Kah’len to his mother. “Why is your surname not Ys’teis?”
His accent was thick and hard to understand.
Kah’len stiffened, but Oona Thalmar curtsied to the young prince. “I am the Royal Concubine, your Highness.”
Still frowning with disapproval, the prince asked something of the Serren in South Torahni. Kah’len, who spoke that language passably well, only caught that the prince asked for clarification.
The Serren replied, explaining what “concubine” meant.
The prince gasped. “You introduce a whore to me?!”
Kah’len snarled, unsheathing his sword.
The Serren smoothly stepped before the prince. He turned his face and chastised the young man, who looked at Oona with open hostility.
“Apologize, your Highness,” the priest demanded.
“I will not,” the prince assured him in his language.
The Serren bowed to Lady Oona and Kah’len. “Then I shall apologize for his highness, my lord, my lady. He is young and has been living in some godforsaken monastery since he was 15. He has forgotten his manners, I’m afraid.”
Kah’len, somewhat mollified, sheathed his sword. “He has decidedly forgotten his manners.”
“Kah’len,” Oona warned. She turned to the Serren and smiled. “I’ve been called worse by detractors, Father. Come, your carriage awaits.”
The priest bowed. “Thank you, my lady.”
He turned to take the prince’s arm and steered the young man to the waiting carriage. Kah’len watched until the Ambassador stepped up into the carriage last, closing the carriage door behind him.
He turned to his mother. “I apologize, mother.”
She sighed and shook her head. “He is young and his sect is decidedly not friendly to women.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You know of this sect?”
“I did go to university, child,” she chastised gently and turned to mount her bahil. From her saddle, she looked down upon him. “Come. It should be interesting when the princeling meets your family.”
Kah’len mounted Lish’tah. “You are my family, mother.”
She shook her head and indicated the retreating carriage. “Let’s go, child.”
The ride through the center of the city garnered a lot of attention from pedestrians. Rumors abounded already that the Warlord was to marry a man, a monk of all things. A Southerner who devoted his life to Poa the Harvester. The god used to scare children into behaving. Young women pelted Kah’len with flowers as he rode past, calling out his name in adulation. He acknowledged their attention with kisses and waves. Some young women actually swooned into waiting arms. He shook his head, never having understood this part of being the Warlord.
The crowds were thick as people craned their necks to get a look at the foreign prince. Many just wanted to see what a monk looked like. Others had never seen a scion of the House of Obeli. The crowds were ten thick on the sidewalks, some spilling out into the street. The carriage and mounted escort proceeded slowly through the throng. The three hour journey from the docks to the castle took all morning and into the afternoon. By the time they reached the castle bailey, rain had begun to spatter. The smell of wet dust lifted into the air. From the north, a cold wet breeze rifled past cloaks and under hoods. Kah’len shivered as he helped his mother to dismount.
She sighed. “This rain bodes unlucky for your marriage.”
“I am not so superstitious,” he replied softly. “The princeling’s prejudices bodes unlucky for my marriage, not the weather.”
She raised on her tiptoes and pressed a kiss to his mouth. “You behave yourself, child. Be a gentleman, above all.”
“I will try,” he assured her and watched as a guard gave her his arm and led her into the Great Hall through the large arched double doors.
Kah’len gave his reins to a waiting guard and followed the prince, the Ambassador, and the Serren into the castle.
“Come with me,” Kah’len said. “I shall introduce you to my sire, the White King.”
The Serren gave Kah’len a grateful smile. “Most kind of you, my lord. Please, proceed.”
Kah’len led them to the Throne Room. He gave their names to the clerk behind the podium, and the clerk left his place and entered the Throne Room through the arched doorway to announce them.
Kah’len heard their names being announced then he offered the young prince his arm.
The prince looked at his arm as if it were a deadly insect.
“Please, your Highness, you must present a unified front,” the Ambassador patiently explained.
The prince wrinkled his nose and asked for clarification.
“You are my betrothed,” Kah’len said, patience at an end. “Take my arm. Please.”
The prince gave him a haughty glare. “I shall not. I am no invalid nor woman. I walk on my own.”
Kah’len shrugged and strode into the Throne Room, not caring whether the prince followed suit. He was done with the little princeling.
Approaching the double throne, Kah’len went down upon one knee and bowed his forehead to the marble floor.
“My King,” he said.
“Rise, Warlord.”
Kah’len looked into his sire’s warm, welcoming eyes. “Sire, may I present Prince Lahn Obeli, Serren Domio Obeli and his Excellency, Ambassador Nder Ethael.”
The serren and the ambassador both bowed, but the damned princeling merely gave the king a haughty glare.
The King’s left eyebrow raised and his lips quirked.
Kah’len sighed. At least his sire had a sense of humor.
“Welcome to Draemin City, your highness, Father,” the King said.
Serren Domio Obeli stepped forward and bowed again. “I thank you, your Majesty. I am eager to learn of your nation’s customs in order to strengthen our peace accord.”
The King’s eyes slid from the priest to the princeling. “And you, Prince Obeli? Are you not happy to be here?”
The young prince fisted his hands. His eyes flashed with fury and Kah’len put his hand on his sword.
The Serren stepped forward and placed a hand on the young prince’s shoulder. “Peace, Lahn. God preserve us, must you be so reactionary?” He sighed and looked at the King. “He–”
The young prince pulled from the serren’s hand and took a step forward. “I can speak for myself. I was hauled from my life to come here, to this infidel nation, to marry a man who beds women for sport. Do you think I should be happy, your Majesty?”
The King shifted and his gaze grew cool. “We must all make sacrifices, your Highness. Yours is not the worst nor the greatest. Are you not interested in peace?”
“Peace?” the prince asked, frowning. “That is the way of cowards.”
There were gasps from the court.
Kah’len growled and unsheathed his sword.
“Put your weapon up, Warlord,” the King said.
“Your Majesty–”
“Put your sword away, Warlord,” the King stated coldly. “We are a civilized nation and, as such, allow for freedom of speech, however misguided that speech is.”
Once Kah’len’s sword was sheathed, the King turned to Prince Lahn. “I know of your sect, your Highness. I know its bloodthirsty history. I also know it is merely a cult now, which is what it should be. The days of Poa the Harvester are numbered, as your uncle there can attest to.”
The prince flushed, his eyes flashing with fury. “How dare you–”
The Serren slapped the prince. “You will behave as your rank deems worthy or, so help me, I will end your life myself.”
The Prince was shaking with rage. His features were contorted and flushed and his eyes were cold. He sketched a bow that was barely respectful. “You, too, are entitled to your opinion, King.”
“Yes,” King Roseir replied cooly. “I certainly am. Know this, young prince: Your nation is not equipped to meet us on the battlefield, so you’d best find your respect and do it soon. I won’t abide disrespect from the likes of anyone, let alone a heathen such as yourself. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes,” the Prince replied coldly. “Your Majesty.”
“I am sure you are both exhausted from your journey. You are dismissed. My guards will lead you to your apartments on the fourth floor.”
The Serren bowed deeply and the Princeling gave a sketchy bow. Then they turned on their heels and hurried out of the room, the Ambassador at their heels.
Kah’len sighed and turned to his father. “Father–”
The King lifted a hand to forestall whatever he was going to say. “You make a friend of that boy, Warlord, and you make sure that he understands that he is essentially a hostage and not at liberty to disrespect myself, my family or my nation. Are we clear?”
Kah’len bowed deeply to his father. “You are, my King. I will do as you command.”
The King nodded, weary. “Dismissed.”
Kah’len turned on his heels, boiling with anger, and left the throne room.

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