Chapter Fifteen: The Command

        Lahn Obeli recovered slowly. At first he could consume only simple broths and water. Consuming even these things caused him pain. His throat was scored with little tears, but Ethon, the healer, forced him to drink both cool marrow broths and water.

        Kah’len was at first not concerned with Lahn’s mind, because the young prince spent most of his time sleeping and recovering, but, as the days passed and he grew stronger, he would sit up and stare out of the window, sullen and silent with introspection. Kah’len attempted to draw him out, but something was concerning the young man. He talked to the healer about his concerns for Lahn’s wellbeing.

        Ethon shrugged when Kah’len brought up the subject of Lahn’s silence. “He was attacked and poisoned, Warlord. Sometimes men develop an emotional malaise, a depression, that is the natural part of healing and surviving a personal catastrophe. All I can recommend is that you befriend him and keep him company until this darkness passes.”

        So Kah’len went back into the bedroom and found his twin sister sitting on the edge of the mattress and holding Lahn’s hand. Kah’len felt a momentary flash of jealousy before he shoved that uncomfortable emotion down.

        Kahla smiled at him. “He’s doing better, brother.”

        Kah’len dropped into a nearby armchair. “Yes.” He looked at Lahn. “And how do you feel right now, your Highness?”

        Lahn looked at him and swallowed carefully, shifting. “What did they give me?”

        “Ah,” Kah’len said. “A question for question. Ethon says you were given alait rose poisoning. You can thank whatever deity was watching over you that you didn’t die. Alait rose poison is the strongest known in Torahn.”

        “Ethon?” Lahn asked.

        “The healer,” Kahla murmured. She looked at Kah’len. “He must have not ingested too much of the poison.”

        Kah’len nodded. “The sword tip was coated in the poison, but it would have taken several wounds to kill him.”

        He turned his eyes to Lahn, who was staring at his pale hands clasped on his lap.

        “How do you feel now?” Kah’len asked again.

        Lahn gave a listless shrug. “Confused.” His gorgeous gray eyes looked up into Kah’len’s own. “I had a dream while I was fighting for my life.”

        Kah’len cocked his head. “A dream?”

        “Please,” Lahn croaked. “Can I see my uncle?”

        Kah’len rose. “Of course. I’ll get him for you.”

        He strode from the bedroom, irritated beyond measure. What was this game the prince was playing, talking about dreams and keeping his own counsel. Weren’t they to be married in a matter of months? Why couldn’t the little southerner trust Kah’len?

        With a growl, he made his way to the sitting room, where the priest sat with Lord Umar and the children and their nanny. Kah’len paused under the archway leading into the sitting room.

        He cleared his throat.

        Everyone turned as one to Kah’len.

        “Uncle Kah’len!” Kasi cried out and ran to him, jumping into his outstretched arms.

        “How is Prince Lahn?” Lord Umar asked.

        “He seems to be recovering,” Kah’len replied neutrally. “He wants to see you, Father.”

        The serren rose and sketched a bow to Kah’len. “Thank you, my lord. I’ll go see him right away.”

        When the priest had gone, Lord Umar sent the children to their room with their nanny.

        Kah’len walked to the sideboard and poured himself a glass of mi’disj.

        “Would you like a drink, Umar?” he asked.

        “Please,” Lord Umar replied and crossed his legs.

        Kah’len strolled back to the loveseat and handed Lord Umar his glass. He then dropped into an armchair facing his brother-in-law.

        “Is he truly on the mend?” Lord Umar asked.

        “It’s hard to say with poisoning. He seems to be recovering and the healer has told me his body is slowly expelling the alait rose.”

        Lord Umar shuddered. “He’s lucky.”

        “He’s changed,” Kah’len countered.

        Lord Umar cocked his head. “How so?”

        “He is quiet now, watchful. Ethon says this is common with people who survive a challenge such as he has.” Kah’len shook his head. “This is something more, although I am not sure what it is exactly. He seems hollowed out somehow, and I just don’t mean that he’s lost weight.”

        Lord Umar shifted in his seat. “Interesting.”

        “Yes. He speaks of a dream he had, but he won’t say what that dream is.”

        In that moment, Kahla entered the sitting room and walked to where her husband sat and took a seat beside him.

        She gave a broken sigh. “His uncle entered the room and he broke down and began sobbing like his life depended on it.” She shook her head. “I don’t understand what is going on with that one.”

        “I don’t either,” Kah’len rejoined. “But something happened while he was in the grip of the poison. He said something about a dream.”

        “He wouldn’t talk to his uncle until I left,” Kahla murmured. “He seems distracted somehow and not quite himself.” She looked at her husband. “I’ve had a couple of conversations with him, and I was getting an inkling of who he is, but now…” She sighed again. “Now I don’t think I know him at all.”

        Lord Umar patted her hand. “Perhaps we should send Kasi in to see him?”

        “He won’t be able to deal with a child in his condition,” she chastised her husband and rolled her eyes. “You know how Kasi is.”

        “I disagree,” Kah’len put in. “I think the twins would be a mistake, but he likes Kasi and she likes him.”

        “Perhaps in the morning then,” she reluctantly agreed. “It’s late and the children are being bathed before bedtime.”

        Kah’len rose and emptied his glass of liqueur before striding to the sideboard to leave the glass. He walked to the open windows and gazed out at the half-moon driveway. Overhead, the sky was hidden by a blanket of rainclouds and, even as he stared up, he saw the crackle of lightning and then there was the boom of thunder before the skies opened up and the downpour followed. He saw guards running to hide under awnings and the aelon tree out front.

        “We have to do something about Deirohn,” he heard Kahla state.

        He looked at her over his shoulder. “Leave him to me, sister. Don’t make him your enemy.”

        “He is insufferable when I do see him,” she said coldly. “He fawns and preens like an idiot then turns around and says the most horrible things about me, you and mother.”

        “He is a hypocrite,” Lord Umar muttered into his glass and sipped his drink.

        “He is more than that,” Kahla retorted. “He is dangerous! He must be stopped!”

        Kah’len turned on his heels and hurried to her side, where he knelt at her feet and took her hand in both of his. “You be calm. Aya told me you carry your fourth child, Kahla. When were you going to tell me?”

        Her eyes filled with tears. “During this holiday, but it’s been so impossible to find a happy moment to share such news.”

        He patted her hand. “I share your joy.”

        She smiled through her tears. “You always do, brother mine. The healer heard two heartbeats.”

        Kah’len gaped. “Twins again?”

        She gave a watery laugh and shrugged. “Goddess only knows!”

        Lord Umar chuckled and placed his arm around Kahla’s shoulders. “We are blessed, Warlord. Twins.”

        Kah’len nodded and hugged his sister to him, breathing in her soft scent and caressing her soft hair with his hand.

        “You need to have children, brother mine,” she whispered against his neck.

        “Soon enough. I will have three concubines,” he said and shook his head with wonder. “People will think I am being greedy and giving myself airs.”

        “Since when do you care what people think?” Lord Umar challenged.

        Kah’len laughed and stood up, letting go of his sister. “I don’t.”

        Lord Umar sniggered and rose, holding out his hand to his wife.

        She placed her hand in his and he helped her rise.

        “We’re off to bed,” Lord Umar said to Kah’len. “We’ll see you on the morrow.”

        “Sleep well,” Kah’len murmured and watched as they walked out of the sitting room and into the hallway.

        Outside the windows, the wind howled.

        Kah’len stepped out under the awning. The guard there turned and saluted.

        “You can all come inside and guard the house from the inside,” Kah’len said. “I want three of you here in the sitting room. Three patrolling the hallways and two in the kitchen.”

        The guard saluted. “Right away, my lord.”

        Kah’len went back inside while the guard went to collect his cohorts. He closed the door but did not lock it. Outside, the storm raged. Rain fell in sheets and pommelled the windowpanes and the tiled roof. He paced until all of the guards came inside and stood at strategic places around the sprawling villa.

        Even afterward, Kah’len could not find peace. He was puzzled by the change in Lahn and more than a little worried that another attempt would be made on his life. Deirohn had infiltrated Kah’len’s sphere of influence and now it was a personal matter. If Kah’len could not trust his men, things could go from bad to worse rather quickly. The men he had now in the villa he had known for years. Goddess, he had to be able to trust them! He shook his head and glanced at the storm outside. He would have to sleep in Lahn’s room and lock the door from within. That was the only way to keep the prince safe.

        He strode from the sitting room and down the hall. He came to Lahn’s bedroom and knocked.

        “Come.”

        He opened the door and stepped inside. The room was full of shadows and the reek of illness clung to the still air. The priest sat in the armchair next to the bed. The healer was nowhere to be seen.

        “Warlord,” the serren murmured.

        “Father,” Kah’len said and stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. “Is Lahn asleep?”

        “He cried for a long time and finally fell into an exhausted sleep,” the priest said and rose. “He told me he wanted to make a confession, but he said nothing. He only wept. Do you know what is on his mind?”

        Kah’len walked further into the dim room until he stood at the footboard of the bed. He leaned into the wooden structure and placed his hands on it.

        “He said something about a dream, Father, but he wouldn’t elaborate.”

        The priest looked away, at Lahn, once more. “I see. Well, I will bring a cot in here and sleep close by.”

        “I need to keep an eye on him in case another attempt is made on his life,” Kah’len said. “You are welcomed to remain also, Father, but I won’t be able to sleep unless I am nearby.”

        “No, of course. Why don’t you sleep on the other side of the bed. I’ll have the guards lug a cot in here for me.”

        Kah’len nodded. “There are guards in the hallway.”

        The priest left and Kah’len sat on the other side from where Lahn lay and pulled off his boots before lying down on his back on the two stacked pillows. Exhausted, he fell asleep before the serren even returned.

        Voices roused him some time, but he remained still, his eyes closed. The villa was quiet. Outside, the storm had abated and now a gentle rain pattered against the roof tiles and windowpanes.

        “Tell me what it means, uncle!” Lahn growled.

        “Hush. You’ll wake the Warlord,” the serren replied. He sighed. “I don’t know what your dream means, child. It would take someone much learned than I to decipher it. You must find the answer, child. It is a conundrum, an enigma.”

        “Do you think it was Atana, Father?” the prince asked, his voice small.

        The priest sighed again. “It could have been Poa testing you. You know this, right?”

        There was no answer.

        There was the sound of movement.

        “Perhaps it was the Goddess, child. This is something you are going to have to decide inside yourself. I can’t find your answers for you. The force that came to you trusts you to find your own wisdom. I believe you were given a task, a command, if you will. Well, what are you going to do now, child? Will you accept the command?”

        “I must do something, Uncle. I was given a heavenly directive. I can’t ignore it.”

        “Then do as she bid you, child. Ask his help. The young man beside you will help you if you ask him. Will you ask?”

        “I need to think!” Lahn retorted peevishly.

        “Sometimes the time for thinking is past and it is a time for action. If you don’t tell him, I will.”

        “A confessional is sacred, Father!”

        “Then don’t make me break faith and do what’s right.”

        After a moment, the prince shifted. “Will you help me, Father?”

        “I will do anything you deem necessary for me to do, Lahn. I am your confessor, your advisor, and your family. Now, rest, for it is the middle of the night. There will be more clarity in the morning.”

        “Yes, Uncle.”

        Kah’len did not stir until he could hear their deep breathing. He opened his eyes and glanced at Lahn. What was going on, he wondered?

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