It took four more days before Lahn began to feel like his old self, but the poison left a lingering weakness that would take time to dissipate. At least, that is what the healer said. Lahn burned with a low-grade fever and experienced aches and pains in his joints and muscles. He was given potions that tasted bitter or sour and pastes were applied to his wound. The pastes burned until all Lahnwanted to do was tear the bandages off. The burning eased with time, but whenthe paste was first applied, the heat of the herbs was maddening. During those times, Lahn lay still and quiet, his mind on the dream of Atana and her directive.
He saw little of the Warlord during those four days. He learned from his uncle that Commander Bhne had come with a troop of soldiers to escort Lady Kahla andher family and Lady Oona back to the city. They had departed that morning.
“And when do we leave?” Lahn asked.
Domio shifted in his seat. “Tomorrow more than likely. You and the healer will travel by wagon. We’ll leave when Commander Bhne returns in the morning.”
“Is the Warlord still here?” Lahn inquired.
“He is. You haven’t spoken to him, Lahn, like I asked you to.”
Lahn wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of a hand. “I had to think.”
“Time to talk to someone other than me, child,” his uncle chastised. “Someone who knows about the Goddess.”
Lahn swallowed and grimaced. The pain in his throat was a shadow of what it had been, a mere ache now. If only the lingering weariness would leave him!
“Will you speak to him?” his uncle pressed.
Reluctantly, Lahn nodded. “Yes.”
Domio patted his head. “Good. Let me get him for you.”
Lahn struggled to sit up, pushing the pillows into a bunch at his lower back. He sighed and closed his eyes as a wave of nausea washed over him. He swallowed convulsively for few minutes until the disconcerting sensation passed. With a sigh, he opened his eyes and glanced at the window, where sunlight filtered inand made squares of light on the area rug. This was the first day in four where ithad not rained. The room was overly warm and sweat beaded his brow. He raised ashaking hand to wipe his brow. His hand was cold despite the warmth ofthe room.
The door opened and the Warlord strode through, closing the door quietly behind him.
“You wanted to see me?” he asked.
“Please sit,” Lahn replied. “I need to talk to you.”
The general sat down in the armchair closest to the bed and leaned forward, forearms on knees. “You look a bit better. More color to your cheeks. How doyou feel?”
“This infernal weakness is creating havoc in my body,” he growled.
“The weakness will dissipate, given time,” Kah’len said. “I’ve known a few who were poisoned by alait rose. You will be weak for weeks, if not months. I’m sorry about this.”
Lahn sighed and looked away, irritated and disconcerted by this information. “The healer was not so specific.”
Kah’len shrugged. “He cannot be sure how long the weakness will plague you, your Highness.”
Lahn looked at the Warlord. “Lahn. Please.”
Kah’len smiled. “Lahn then.”
Lahn was taken aback by the other man’s beauty. He had never seen that shade of green in anyone else’s eyes. They were almost hazel, but changed shade depending on the man’s emotions. In this respect, he was different from his mother and sister. Lahn felt his heart give a painful lurch as the thought ofbeing bedded by such a man invaded his mind. He usually did not linger on such thoughts, his celibacy being important to him, but, of late, his thoughts had wandered more and more into the territory of carnal relationships. The dream hehad had thrown his faith into question, his very existence into question, his very sanity into question. He now wondered why he had dedicated his life to a belligerent, angry god with such a violent, bloodthirsty history. But, in the next moment, he wondered if this god was testing him in some way. It was all so confusing!
Kah’len placed his hand on Lahn’s. “You seem disturbed. You can talk to me, Lahn. I only want what is best for you.”
Lahn pulled his hand free, his irritation increasing. “You don’t know me.”
Kah’len sat back. “I am getting to know you and I would like to know you better, if you let me.”
Lahn sighed. “I’m sorry.” He rubbed his forehead peevishly. “I’m just so confused, so weak, so tired of this!”
“Then speak, Lahn.”
Lahn took a breath and released it. “I don’t know what to do. When I was in the throes of the poison, Atana came to me in a dream. She revealed all her aspects to me and gave me a directive.”
Kah’len frowned. “Where was Poa?”
“Ah,”Lahn said and gave a mirthless laugh. “He was a wound with teeth in my side. He was powerless and petulant, like a child.”
“I see,” Kah’len said and frowned. “All dreams are metaphors, your Highness. They are never clearcut and straightforward, so you can’t take them at face value.Poa was a wound perhaps because he caused a lot of bloodshed and pain throughout the centuries, and that may be as Atana sees him, but I don’t believe he is weak or small in any way. He is a powerful god, just as She is.What did she tell you?”
“She told me she had a duty for me: to kill your Uncle Kaelo. That he was spreading lies about her teachings.”
Kah’len’s eyebrows shot up into his forehead and he gaped. “This is too much of a coincidence to truly be one.”
Lahn shifted. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, She told you the truth. Under my Uncle Kaelo, the old ways have slowly been brought back. In our history, just after our nations split up, only one aspect of Atana was worshipped: her warrior. Southerner prisoners, mostly soldiers, were sacrificed on her altar. Her kinder, more honest teachings were pushed to the back and the pulpit became a place to rave for war and blood.Uncle Kaelo wants to bring those days back, because he wants to conquer South Torahn and he wants (and of this I am sure) to put Deirohn on the throne as a puppet king. The actual power of the throne would lie in the hands of the High Priest. We would be a theocracy once more.”
“I see. That is no different from the teachings of Poa the Harvester.” Lahn gazed into Kah’len’s eyes. “Do you believe in unification, my lord?”
“For what purpose, your Highness?” the Warlord countered. “If we are allies, then we can join in times of war to assist one another. There is no point in unifying our nations. We are too different to coexist as one nation and our differences would only tear us apart in the end.”
Lahn dropped his gaze to his pale hands. “I see your point.”
“Yes. It is a pipe-dream, I think.”
“Those days were different than we recall. I studied history, your Highness, while in university. Unificationists only remember what was good. It is mostly nostalgia to wish reunification. The nation was so large, it was hard to keep it safe and it was ungainly to rule. Corruption was rife in the farthest city-states from the capital. Governors lined their coffers and abused the citizenry. But we forget these aspects of the past, seeking only glory and, as you say, the pipe-dream.”
“Perhaps I can take a history course in university,” Lahn mused out loud, his mind wandering.
“Your Common Speech is getting good enough,” Kah’len agreed.
Lahn looked at Kah’len. “I must honor Atana’s decree to me, Warlord. I must find away to kill the High Priest.”
“We must proceed carefully, for if we fail, it will have repercussions.”
Lahn cocked an eyebrow. “‘We,’ Warlord?”
Kah’len straightened. “We, your Highness. If we send assassins to Uncle Kaelo, we must make sure they succeed. If we fail, it will only strengthen his position. And the assassination cannot be linked back to either you or myself.”
“I was trained as an assassin,” Lahn said.
“Absolutely not will you do this yourself,” Kah’len stated. “This must be done with finesse and stealth. My uncle is no fool.”
Lahn looked away petulantly. “It’s not as if I could succeed, with this weakness of mine.”
Kah’len sighed and took Lahn’s hand in both of his. “I’m sorry that you feel weak, your Highness. I will do my utmost to protect you.”
Lahn made to free his hand. He was boiling with anger. “Let go!”
“No,”Kah’len murmured and pressed a kiss to Lahn’s wrist. “You are my betrothed. You are mine to protect.”
Lahn snarled and pulled his hand free. “I am no maiden to be protected, Warlord.”
Kah’len rose and bent over Lahn. He pressed his lips to Lahn’s while Lahn struggled to pull away. He was shocked and excited at once. Even as he tried to pull away,Kah’len ran his tongue along the seam of Lahn’s mouth. Lahn gasped and the Warlord dipped his hot tongue inside of Lahn’s mouth. Lahn fought then blindly, horrified by the arousal that seeped into his limbs and cock. Kah’len kissed him earnestly, his tongue sucking gently on Lahn’s. The Warlord’s hand rubbed circles along Lahn’s quivering belly. He kissed desperately, hungrily. Arousal was as thick and sweet as honey throughout Lahn’s body. His cock was hard and aching by the time Kah’len pulled back to breathe. Lahn lay on the stack of pillows, shocked and inflamed. He bit his lip against a moan and backhanded Kah’len.
Kah’len straightened, hand to cheek. “You may pretend you don’t want me, your Highness,but your body tells me differently.”
He pointed at the tent in the bedclothes and Lahn gasped. “You cad!”
Kah’len smirked. “Perhaps I am a cad, but I am tired of pretending I don’t find you alluring and beautiful. I am tired of being lonely and pretending I don’t need to bed you.”
Lahn scowled. “Like you bedded all those women, callously?”
Kah’len sighed and sat down. “I’m sorry I ever behaved like that. I hurt a close friend deep enough that the friendship is now ended.”
“Then why did you?” Lahn hissed.
“In order to advance to the position of Warlord, I had to convince a skeptical Court that I was domeinsji. I could not have advanced so far if the aristocracy had known I was atoliy.”
Lahn crossed his arms over his chest. “Not an excuse, Warlord. You could have chosen to be celibate.”
“And been seen as emasculated, less than a man,” Kah’len countered and shook his head. “I would have been accused of being atoliy by default. I could not afford to have aspersions cast my way. I was already a bastard and outside of the aristocratic caste, even if my sire is the White King.”
Lahn sighed. “So, you are atoliy.”
“Yes. I have said so. And you?”
Lahn’s erection had subsided by now, but the ache of arousal remained.“I would not have reacted to your kiss in such a way, had I not been atoliy.”He sighed again. “Although that was the first kiss I ever experience.”
Kah’len smirked. “And you liked it, didn’t you?”
Lahn rolled his eyes and looked away, although he fought against a grin that threatened. “Don’t fish for compliments, my lord.”
Kah’len chuckled. “I won’t.” He sobered. “If you want to remain celibate, I won’t press you, your Highness, even though I won’t lie: It will cause me pain. But we can be friends, if that is all you want from me.”
Lahn flushed. “If I said I only wanted friendship, it would be a lie. Just…just be patient with me, my lord. I have to come to terms with the loss of my celibacy. Also, I would like to learn more about Atana from you, if you are willing to teach me. I have asked my uncle to teach me about Poa the Father.”
Kah’len smiled. “It would be my honor, your Highness, to teach you about Atana and all her aspects.” He rose. “You look tired. I’ll send your uncle to sit with you until you fall asleep. I need to prepare for our departure tomorrow morning.”
On impulse, Lahn reached out and grabbed the Warlord’s hand. “Thank you, Warlord.”
Kah’len cocked his head. “For what?”
“For being a patient, understanding person.”
Kah’len smiled. “You’re welcome then.”
Lahn watched him step out of the room and close the door behind him. Lahn raised ahand to his lips and ran his fingertips along the seam of his mouth. His lips still tingled from the kiss. His body still thrummed from arousal. It had been a more lush and gorgeous feeling than even the ecstasy of self-flagellation. He licked his lips, chasing the taste of the Warlord. The man had tasted of musk and mjish tea. He closed his eyes and wondered what it would be like to lie in those muscular, powerful arms. He did not have the slightest inkling of how sexual congress with another man worked. He barely understood sex between men and women. His face heated.
The door opened and his uncle strode in, closing the door behind him.
“I thought you might have been asleep,” Domio murmured and took a seat on the armchair nearest the bed. “You look flushed. Do you have a fever?”
Lahn’s blush spread until his ears burned. “No. Uh…Uncle, how do two men love one another?”
His uncle sat back in his chair. “Same as a man and a woman, with all their hearts.”
“No, sir,” Lahn said and cleared his throat. “I mean sexually.”
“Oh. Ah…” His uncle rubbed the back of his neck with a nervous hand. “I see. You are considering breaking your celibacy once you are married?”
Domio nodded, a slight blush across his cheeks. “Well. Of course I know the details.” He cleared his throat, fidgeting until he stilled. “Look at me!” He chuckled self-deprecatingly.
“Don’t chastise yourself, Uncle,” Lahn said. “You are a priest first.”
The Serren shook his head. “I am a man first, lad. Two men do much as a man and a woman do. They caress and kiss each other, rousing each other. Where they differ is during the actual act of intercourse. A woman has her ouna while the man has his kaoun. The kaoun is inserted in the ouna and the seed released during a man’s completion fertilizes the egg she releases. With two men, the dominant male must stretch the other man’s anus to prepare him for reception of the aroused kaoun.”
Lahn started and gaped. “The…the anus, uncle?”
“The very same, child.” Domio blushed and looked away. “It is…it is very pleasurable for both men.”
“You speak as if you have done it, uncle.”
“I did, before I took my vows, child. I was young and my lover was older.”
“But the anus, it is so small. Didn’t it hurt?”
“At first,” his uncle replied. “But it fades away and a great pleasure takes its place.”
Lahn looked away. “I see.” He chewed his lower lip. “You like it then, uncle.”
“Very much,” his uncle agreed. “But my lover was married and it wouldn’t have gone anywhere. The King would’ve forced me into marriage anyway. I am atol-domeinsji,so I wouldn’t have minded marriage, but I knew I would always seek men. I thought it would be best to give myself to the God in celibacy, rather than lead a duplicitous life.”
“Such was my reasoning as well, Uncle.”
Domio smiled kindly. “You were always a good boy, Lahn.”
Lahn sighed. “I will have to lie with the concubine from home anyway, uncle. My father expects heirs from me.”
Domio nodded. “It can be pleasant with a woman, too, Lahn. Even if you can’t fall in love with her, you can make her your friend.”
“Yes.” Lahn yawned widely, his jaw cracking. His eyes filled with water.
Domio chuckled. “I’ve kept you up late, and we leave early on the morrow. Sleep now,child.”
“What about you, uncle?”
“I will throw my body on that cot over there soon enough, child. Don’t worry about me.”
Lahn closed his eyes as his uncle tucked the bedclothes under his chin. As he drifted off to sleep, he recalled his passionate first kiss and smiled to himself.