Lahn twisted and turned until the bedclothes were wrapped around his legs and torso. With a frustrated sigh, he pushed off the blankets and stood up, padding barefoot to the bathing chamber, where he emptied his bladder and did a quick washup before dressing in his bedroom. Sleep had been an ephemeral thing to him for days now. He was exhausted, but every time he closed his eyes, hesaw the Warlord’s expression when he realized Lahn had known of the King’s deception. Well, perhaps Lahn had not known the extent of the King’s deception. But he had sided with King Roseir against the Warlord. Lahn now recalled the hurt and shock in the Warlord’s eyes. That look would would haunt Lahn for the rest of his days.
He made his way to the sitting room, where his uncle was taking his tea.
His uncle glanced at him and glanced away. “You look pale and tired.”
Lahn sighed. “I can’t sleep.”
“Conscience bothering you?” Domio drawled.
Lahn frowned but did not rise to the bait. His uncle was angry with him, had been angry for days now.
Lahn served himself some tea with cream and honey and took a seat across from the priest. “When can we go home?”
“Whenever you want,” the priest replied coldly.
Lahn sighed again. “What would you have had me do differently, Uncle? I had to convince the King I agreed with his plans, else we would have been thrown in the dungeon or killed outright.”
Domio pursed his lips. “And now we can leave, but the Warlord is imprisoned and will remain so.”
“We can’t help him, uncle.”
“Then we should leave, go back home,” his uncle rejoined.
“Yes.I agree. It’s too bad I can’t accept that university position. We aren’t safe here any longer.”
Domio set his empty cup on the low table and rose. “Then I will go and purchase berths on a ship. Excuse me.”
Lahn watched him go and set the untasted cup of tea to one side. He rose and walked to the balcony, where the scent of the alait rose tree threatened to overwhelm him. His head spun from exhaustion. Leaning on the balcony railing, he gazed out into the bailey then east to the city beyond the castle walls. When he thought of Kah’len, his heart sank. That kiss haunted him, the way the Warlordhad looked at him just before he kissed him, as if Lahn was everything to him. Lahn shivered and shut his eyes. God help him! His mouth tingled from the memory.
He gripped the balcony railing with such strength, his hands cramped. Turning away from the balcony, he hurried to his bedroom and packed his belongings in histwo travel bags. Carrying the bags back to the sitting room, he paced until his uncle returned.
The priest hurried breathless into the sitting room. “There is fighting in the streets. Word is that this is civil war! Come, Lahn. We must leave at once.”
They gathered their belongings and hurried down into the bailey. Everywhere they looked there was chaos, guards fighting guards, courtiers fighting courtiers.In the melee no one noticed them as they clamored into a carriage and were whisked as quickly as the vehicle could proceed through the crowded bailey.People were scurrying to leave the city and Lahn and Domio had to abandon their carriage halfway to the docks. They proceeded with their bags through alleyways tucked away from the main fighting that was taking place along the boulevard.
“We head east,” Domio told Lahn. “Let’s keep to the alleyways as best as we can.”
It was slow going and the entire way, Lahn’s heart was in his throat. Once, he looked back towards Castle Draemin and saw that the castle was on fire. Separate fires had broken out in the city and a thick pall of smoke hung low, clinging to buildings. The acrid reek of smoke choked Lahn as he and his uncle ran down one alley, pausing at the end.
Domio looked around. “Let’s cling to the buildings, away from the boulevard, Lahn. Weare about a mile from the docks. Let’s go.”
Rivulets of sweat meandered down Lahn’s back and face, burning his eyes. He wiped his eyes and ran with all his might, although his energy was flagging from days of little sleep. By the time they made it to the docks, he was stumbling.
His uncle grasped the front of Lahn’s tunic and pulled. “Keep up, boy! Our ship is there!”
Lahn’s legs were rubbery as they made their way up the gangplank to the waiting ship.
“Raise the plank!” the captain called once they were onboard.
Lahn fell onto his knees on the damp deck while his uncle spoke to the captain. His body was shaking hard from exhaustion.
Domio turned. “Come, we’ll go below.”
He helped Lahn stand and helped him to the door and down into the ship. They made their way to their cabin and Lahn collapsed onto his cot and closed his eyes.Through the open porthole he could the captain yelling orders. The ship groaned and lurched as her sails were unfurled. Behind his closed eyelids, he saw the face of the Warlord as he slept on the armchair besides Lahn’s bed in the villa. He recalled the dream in which Atana visited him, how it was a metaphor that Lahn had to decipher. The Warlord had told him that, hadn’t he? Kah’len. His eyes pricked with tears and he felt as a tear pooled into the corner of his eye and leaked out. Kah’len, he whispered.
He sat up and looked at his uncle. “Where are we going, Uncle?”
“Home,” his uncle said and turned away.
“I want to go to Tjish.un,” Lahn murmured.
His uncle looked at him. “Why?”
“Because we have to find a way to free the Warlord. We can plead with the Queen of Tjish.un. She is his aunt, isn’t she?”
His uncle shook his head. “You’re going back to your monastery. Leave the battles to the dignitaries and diplomats. The Warlord is no longer your concern, Lahn.”
Lahn fisted his hands. “I am going to Tjish.un, where I will plead for help.”
His uncle crossed his arms over his chest. “You think the Queen of Tjish.un will break treaty with North Torahn to rescue her nephew?”
“I have to believe she will.”
“This ship is heading south. We were going to City Dors and, once there, we were to proceed on another ship to City Lae.”
“Can we catch a ship to Tjish.un in City Dors?”
His uncle frowned. “Yes. You are no diplomat, boy. What are you aiming at?”
“Kah’len is my betrothed. I will plead with the Queen of Tjish.un.”
He rose and walked to the porthole, gazing out at the city and seeing thick, black smoke. Streams of people were hurrying through the eastern gate of the city and out into the countryside. Chaos reigned in the wharves. He could hear shouts and screams. He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the porthole.
“You are a unificationist, aren’t you, Lahn?” the priest asked.
“ convinced me of the foolhardy nature of unification, uncle,” he replied. “I should have killed the King.”
“And how would you have accomplished that?” his uncle challenged. “You would not have been able to get close to him.”
“He is our enemy.”
“Yes and no,” the priest said. “If he is the high priest that Atana warned you about, then he is our enemy. But you told me she named Kaelo Ys’teis.”
“She did, but my understanding is that a dream is a metaphor, Uncle,” Lahn explained. “It is never straightforward.”
“The Warlord convinced you of that as well?”
Lahn turned. “Yes.”
“I see. Well, then, we shall find a way to stop the White King once and for all.” Domio rose. “And this civil war that began this day may be our salvation and his downfall.” He stared at Lahn for a long time before he ran his hand over his face and signed. He, too, looked tired. “I will accompany you to Tjish.un, Lahn. I am proud of you that you have decided to do the right thing.”
Lahn walked to his cot and took a seat. “Kah’len is instrumental in the High Priest’s fall, Uncle. The Goddess said so. I will help him as best I can.”
Domio strode to the porthole and gazed at the city. “She burns. People will die needlessly.” He shook his head. “All because of one man’s greed and madness.”
Lahn lay down on the cot and closed his eyes. “How long before we reach City Dors, Uncle?”
“Depending on the whim of the winds,” his uncle replied. “But around two weeks, three at the most. Once we are at Dors, we will take another ship to Tjish.un. The journey across the Raiye’Itah this late in the year will prove most interesting. The ocean is a bitch this close to Kamaran.”
“The Goddess will protect us,” Lahn replied.
Domio raised an eyebrow. “You’ve given your life to her now, have you?”
“She watches over us, Uncle. She chose me. If you had seen what I saw in my dream,you would not question it.”
Domio sighed. “No, I suppose I might not at that. Well, get some sleep now. Our journey is just beginning.”
Lahn closed his eyes and, for the first time in weeks, sleep found him.