Chapter Eight: The Argument

The rain had begun to fall in torrents once more. Kah’len stood between the open balcony doors of his apartments, wearing sleeping trousers and a dressing gown. His chest was bare and the cold wind felt good over his overheated skin. The day had been long and productive, ending with a brutal exercise session with himself and Bhne, Eseno Ilisn, and Okhar Kh’tar. They had jogged the twenty miles along Queen’s Park under the torrential rain then they had sparred with swords for two hours before stretching the stiffness from their limbs. No one had complained to Kah’len, for which he was grateful. Few could keep up with him and Kh’tar had faltered a few times, but he had gamely kept up with the other three, more seasoned soldiers. Kh’tar would be sore tomorrow, but he would get used to the routine soon enough. Kah’len expected his sergeants to be in top physical condition and Kh’tar, if he wished to remain in his new post, would align with Kah’len’s requirements.
There was an alait rose tree just beyond the balcony railing. The tree rose several stories off the ground, so only the top of the tree was visible from Kah’len’s balcony. The tree danced gracefully in the wind. The sound of raindrops falling onto the puddles on the balcony floor soothed Kah’len. He closed his eyes for a second, allowing the pattering of rain to fill his body and soul with peace. Many complained of the rain, but Kah’len liked it. He knew that it was the rain that made North Torahn a bread basket in this hemisphere. The north very rarely experience drought of any sort, although some years had been drier than others. The rich, black soil of the north lent itself to the growth of many kinds of grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. It was good for wine and spirits as well, and Kah’len himself owned a villa just south of the city where he grew grain, vegetables, and fruits for consumption and wine. His wine was becoming well-known throughout the region as delicate and complex in flavor and affordable in price. He had several merchants with whom he did business and those merchants had begun to carry his wine to Tjish.un, the Southern Confederacy, and even as far away as Farruk at the bottom of the world. Kah’len would soon have to purchase a second villa to accommodate the increased demand for his wines.
Turning from the balcony doors, he left them open and tied the sash of his dressing gown. He padded barefoot to the sideboard and poured himself a dram of ekila. Holding up the glass, he swirl the light gold liqueur against the deeper golden light from the oil lamp. He would attempt to synthesize a liqueur next, since he could never command the same price for a wine that he could for a liqueur. Next week he would retire to his villa for a vacation and work with his vineyard keeper to come up with a liqueur using lounma fruit. The intense sweetness of the fruit would flavor a liqueur nicely, he thought.
He took a seat facing the balcony doors and sipped the liqueur, enjoying the intense heat of it. Crossing his legs, he picked up the tome of poetry he had borrowed from the Royal Library. The book was a compilation of erotic poetry by the poet Nialo. When it was published some 300 years prior, it had created a scandal which had only intensified when the poet was discovered to be atoliy. The scandal had driven Nialo’s wife to divorce him and the poet, left destitute and broken, killed himself. He had been only 35 years old and his exquisite voice was silenced permanently. Now Nialo was taught in university classes as the foremost poet to come out of North Torahn.
Kah’len opened the book to the first page.
“Beloved, lay naked for my eyes to drink:
Your skin, like the frozen valleys of Yllysia,
Like a snow untouched by footprint;
I reach out with my trembling hand:
The softness of the freckled expanse,
The fragrance of your sweat and groin,
My pillar rises agains the sky of my belly.
My mouth drinks the softness of your cries.
Beloved of Atana, sweet milk of desire,
How will I survive when the morning takes you?“
Kah’len blinked. Goddess help him, so much beauty! So much longing! He had read the biography of Nialo in college for a history project. The project was a solo work, so no one had paired with him to present it. He had walked to the head of the class and given his presentation, angry inside that such a fate should befall so talented a person, to render the nation so much poorer for his demise. No one had mocked his choice of poet. The students had asked respectful questions: how old was the poet when he died? Had he had children? How was it found out that he was atoliy? How had he taken his life? He had answered the questions gratefully and had passed the class with highest honors. Today, he could answer those questions without doubt, as he had learned the story of Nialo so thoroughly that he would never forget it.
He bent his head and read the next poem, his eyes filling with tears at the words. He recognized this poem as one of the last the poet had written before had taken his life with alait rose poison:
“Beloved Goddess of my soul:
I rise on the morrow to see Malthos’ light
as it clings to the roses outside of the bedroom window.
My eyes will be dark soon
My heart will be still soon
Too much and too little of the world
Has touched and torn me to pieces
I sit in a solitude so deep,
No voice touches the hours of my day,
No kindness caresses the brow of my sorrow
No friend darkens the doorstep of my home.
How long since I last spoke to another person?
Oh Beloved Goddess!
Into your arms I fall,
Into the stillness of your soul
Into the darkness from which
None may stray.“
Kah’len sighed and set the book to one side. He finished the ekila and set the tumbler on the low table before rising and striding to the balcony doors. The torrent was now a gentle rain that pattered softly. Kah’len closed the balcony doors and turned.
There was a knock on the hallway door and he arched an eyebrow at his head servant, Eleon. The man walked to the door and opened it, bowing deeply and stepping to one side.
Prince Lahn Obeli and his advisor stood in the hallway.
“Please, come in, your Highness, Father,” Eleon murmured.
Prince Lahn walked in and gave Kah’len a tentative smile. “Good evening, Warlord. Are we disturbing you?”
Kah’len pushed down an irritated response and shook his head. “No, your Highness. Please come in. Did we have a meeting I somehow forgot about?”
Prince Lahn chuckled. “You don’t seem like a man who forgets much, Warlord.”
Kah’len indicated the armchairs nearest where the Prince stood. “Please, take a seat. And you are correct: I don’t forget much.”
They sat and Kah’len joined them, taking a seat on the sofa facing them. “How may I be of service?”
Prince Lahn wrung his hands. “May I have a drink?”
Kah’len arched an eyebrow. “Of course. Tea or something harder?”
“Ekila or mi’disj, if you have them,” the prince replied.
Kah’len nodded to Eleon, who turned to the sideboard. When the servant had served all three of them, Kah’len looked expectantly at Prince Lahn.
Lahn sipped his liqueur and cleared his throat.
“I have a favor to ask of you,” he said.
“Of course,” Kah’len replied, leaning his back against the backrest of the couch. “Anything, your Highness.”
“I was asked to join the staff at the university as a scientist,” the prince blurted. “I was a scientist at the monastery. I would very much like to work again, Warlord. Like you, I like to keep busy.”
Kah’len frowned. “You mean to work? A prince?”
“Yes,” Prince Lahn stated, emptying his glass of ekila and setting the tumbler on the side table with a firm thud. “You’re a prince and you work.”
“I’m a bastard, your Highness,” Kah’len reminded him. “My place in the royal caste is not a given. I must make my way.”
Lahn frowned. “If you had been born into legitimacy, are you telling me you would not work?”
“I’m telling you no such thing,” Kah’len retorted. “I don’t know what I would have done. You working at the university will create a scandal.”
Lahn sighed. “I don’t give a good damn, Warlord, what your people think of me. I didn’t care what mine thought when I joined the Order of Poa the Harvester. Why should I care now?”
“Your reputation reflects on me, your Highness,” Kah’len gritted out.
Lahn snorted. “You are marrying a man, Warlord. Will your precious reputation not suffer for this?”
Kah’len rose with a sigh. The prince had a point. He did not say so as he walked around the sofa to stand once more at the balcony doors.
“My lord,” the serren said. “It is important to Lahn to be of service. While at the monastery, he was working on a cure for the plague. His work is just as important as yours. Will you allow him the opportunity to continue this most important work?”
Kah’len could just hear Deirohn’s reaction. And the Queen’s. Would his sire react well or not? He was unsure. He certainly would have to ask the King if allowing Prince Lahn to work was appropriate. He would not embarrass the King or his nation.
He turned to face Prince Lahn, who had risen from his seat and now stood glaring at Kah’len.
“Let me speak to the King, your Highness,” Kah’len said. “If the King allows it, then I will not countermand it. Will that suffice?”
Lahn fisted his hands. “I am a prince of South Torahn! I don’t need anyone’s permission. Do I make myself clear, Warlord?”
Kah’len gave a mirthless bark of laughter. “You are a Prince of the blood, it’s true. But you are not a guest here, your Highness. Your presence is here to cement peace between our nations. As such, you are a prisoner of war. Or have you forgotten that we bested you in the last encounter?”
“You damned heathen!” Lahn snarled. “I would rather die than cement peace between our nations. You can take your peace treaty and–”
The priest took Lahn by the shoulders and shook him then spoke quickly in Southern Torahni. So quickly, that Kah’len understood nothing of what was said.
Lahn hissed an angry retort and stormed from the sitting room.
The serren sighed. He turned to Kah’len. “I’m sorry, my lord. He is young and brash. Let me assure you, he feels very strongly about working as a scientist. Will you impart that to the King?”
“Of course,” Kah’len replied, somewhat mollified. “Please speak to the lad, Father. I won’t be yelled at or insulted without consequences.”
“I know this,” the serren assured him. “He knows this as well. He has a hot temper, I’m afraid. His sire made a grave mistake when he didn’t go after him and physically dragged him from the monastery. Lahn has had few tell him no, my lord. He will learn.”
“I hope so,” Kah’len said and sighed. “I will speak to the King tomorrow morning.”
The serren bowed. “Thank you, my lord. Good evening to you.”
Kah’len watched as the priest swept from the room, closing the hallway door quietly behind him.
The next morning, Kah’len rose early and went to his father’s apartments before the King retired to Court. The King was breaking his fast with Oona and the Queen. Kah’len arched an eyebrow at that. What was his mother doing, breaking her fast with the Queen? The Queen hated Oona not only for being beautiful and sought-after, but for being a foreigner as well. When he stepped into the room, Queen Namia wrinkled her nose as if she smelled something rank. He swallowed a sigh and bowed to his father.
“May I have a word with you, my King?”
“We are breakfasting, Warlord,” the Queen replied haughtily.
He raked his eyes over her gaunt form. “If this was not important, I would not be bothering the King. Your Majesty.”
She sniffed and looked away.
King Roseir rose and dropped his napkin on the table. “I was done anyway, boy. Walk with me to court. We can talk on the way.”
The King thrust his arm through Kah’len’s and they walked, arm in arm, out of the apartments and into the hallway. Four guards followed them.
“Talk,” the King said.
“Prince Lahn visited me last night, Sire. It seems he is a scientist and wishes to continue his work at the university.”
The King smirked. “You didn’t do you homework, boy, did you? I did. He was working on finding a cure for Leptka’s Disease, if I recall correctly. Important work. Let him continue his work.”
“What about the scandal that will ensue?” Kah’len asked.
“It will not be greater than the scandal of two men marrying, my boy.” The King gave him a fierce grin. “You’ll weather it well enough, son, as will he.” The King frowned. “I heard you got into an argument with the prince last night.”
“How do you know that, Sire?”
“I have my ears everywhere, boy,” the King said with a snort. “You know this. Also know this, worse scandals are on the horizon. I need you to make friends with Prince Lahn, for I will need the support of the south in years to come. I have plans, my boy, that will make me quite unpopular with the aristocracy. There may be Civil War. Can you become friends with this boy, Warlord?”
“If you command it, sire.”
“I command it.”
“Then consider it done, Sire.”
The King patted his hand. “That is good, Warlord. One day I will make you privy to my plans, child. But not quite yet. The time is not ripe as yet. But soon.”
“You have my undying loyalty, my King.”
“I know this, my boy. More than anything, I know this.”

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