The Masjita reached the capital of Tjish.un, Da’hrisjah, a month after it departed Draemin City. The journey through the Raiye’Itah Ocean during the weeks preceding Kamaran proved challenging and disconcerting. The storms that raged this close to the end of the year would have destroyed a lesser vessel, but the Queen of Tjish.un’s personal ship proved sturdy and reliable even as the winds howled around her and the hard waves battered her hull. There were times when Kah’len found himself clinging to his cot, violently sick, head held over the side of the cot over a waste bucket. He was unable to keep food or water down while the worst of the ocean storms raged around him. During clear, calm days, he recovered, only to be thrown into sickness once more when another storm ravaged the ocean. By the time they reached the northern coast of Tjish.un, the clothes the captain had lent him hung from his body. When he looked at himself in the mirror hanging fromthe wall over the table where the washbasin sat, he saw only a haggard portrait of himself. His eyes looked sunken and his pallor was appalling.
Tjish.un was a peninsula on the Southern Continent between Mekh and the Eastern Continent where Torahn was located. Northern Tijsh.un was the bread basket of the nation, consisting of fields upon fields of golden grain. The capital city of Da’hrisjah lay nestled between two flanks of the Kahi River,the largest river in the known world. The Kahi traversed the entire Southern Continent, from Tjish.un in the north to the Lethyan desert in the south, changing names several times as it crossed national boundaries. It was the Kahi River that supplied fresh water to the mostly arid land of R’Nonay in the west, and provided a safe route for merchants and traders, who avoided the Sani’Rhath and Raiye’Itah oceans at all cost this late in the year.
Tjish.un was a polytheistic theocracy. Each city was named after a god or goddess in the Tjish.unen pantheon. Da’hrisjah was named after the god of creation. The Kahi River was named after the dual-sexed god of sex, desire, excess, and madness. Other cities included Ike’rhue, named after the god of love; A’leumih, named after the god of the world; Kahn, named after the god of destruction and death; and Rah’slah, the goddess of birth, hearth and marriage. The only island belonging to Tjish.un was named after Bah’nah, the god of beauty and wisdom. The highest peak in the Nthus Mountains was an active volcano named after the father of the gods, Leh. The largest lake in Tjish.un was named after the mother of the gods, Cera, while Sene, the dual-faced god of war and peace, gave his name to the twin lakes close to the border of R’Nonay. Tjish.un had ten gods in total and the Queen of Tjish.un was the High Priestess, overseeing both government and the highly complicated religious complex. Each city was the home of the god or goddess it was named after and contained ziggurats dedicated to each god and goddess, the tower being part of a complex that housed the city’s priests and nuns. Each city was governed by a priest or nun under the direction of the High Priestess.
Kah’len had learned all this at the behest of Captain Ithul’to. He had used the Captain’s extensive library to become versed in Tjish.unen history and politics. Tjish.un was a powerful nation and allied to many, many nations in the known world, including the reclusive, xenophobic nation of I’A. Now he felt confident that he could come before his Aunt, Queen Masjita, and make an impassioned plea for mercenaries to fight his father. He was unsure if she would break treaty with North Torahn, but since North Torahn was now in the throes of civil war and in a war with South Torahn, she might be persuaded to side with him. It was his intention to opt for the throne of North Torahn and to morph North Torahn’s traditional monarchy into a stratocracy, a military government with a general at its head. If he succeeded in wresting power from his father’s hands, he would choose a successor based on the candidate’s military abilities, education, and temper. He would make it a constitutional mandate that future dictators would choose the most competent, most even tempered general to succeed them. There would be separation of church and state, and he would make sure the high priest was the puppet of the autocrat.
His aunt would not be privy to his plans. She would not approve of military rule. But she didn’t have to know his plans to support him. She was shrewed and intelligent and savvy, so he would have to be on his best behavior and at his sharpest if he was to outplay her. Never again would he be played the fool, giving all his devotion and dedication to a monarch or ruler. He would be dedicated and devoted to his own plans and his own schemes. The rule of law would take precedent over even his own wishes or desires, the new constitution becoming the foundation of strength and peace over North Torahn. The nation would become the home of many religions, even if Atana retained Her privilege as national goddess. Never again would religion tear the nation apart. He would make sure of that.
On the day The Masjita docked in the capital of Tjish.un, Kah’len washed and dressed with care, taking time to remove the beard and wash his hair. Captain Ithul’to lent him a fine, dark green tunic with gold thread, dark brown trousers, and a thick dark green cloak. Kah’len had cleaned his boots and polished his sword and broadsword to a gleam. As the ship was hauled to the docks by a boat, Kah’len stood at the prow with the Captain, his eyes taking in the sprawling city before him. The city walls were tall and encased the massive city. He could see near the center of the city the colossal ziggurat which was the earthly home of the god of creation. The tower stood at least six stories off the ground and was built of red clay bricks which shone like blood in the bright sunlight. The temperatures were quite warm and Kah’len had a light sheen of sweat along his skin. Tjish.un was far south and did not have seasons like Torahn. Here, the seasons consisted of two: Molok, the dry season, and Safrain, the season of monsoons. Molok took place during the last six months of the twelve calendar months, while Safran inundated the streets of Tjish.un during the first six months of the calendar year. Religious rituals centered around surviving each season and keeping the gods content so that Molok did not evolve into a drought and Safran did not swell the Kahi River so much as to create flashfloods.
As Malthos’ light beat down upon them from a clear, cerulean sky, Kah’len leaned on the railing and gazed at the sprawling brick city. Clotheslines hung between buildings. Most buildings rose no higher than three stories, in deference to the ziggurat at the center of the city. The Queen’s palace was part of the religious complex and stood about a block from the monolith. In contrast to the brick surroundings, the Queen’s palace was built of white marble and shone like ice in the hazy distance. Gardens surrounded the expansive royal residence, plants and ivy clinging to the countless balconies and completely covering the grounds around the main building. The Queen’s residence was also no taller than three stories, but what it did not have in height, it more than made up in sprawl. From what Kah’len could see, it made up at least three blocks of the city. A wall of white stone surrounded the palace grounds and separated it from the residences of the priests and nuns and the ziggurat.
When the ship was docked, Kah’len turned to the captain and they clasped forearms.
“It was a pleasure having you on my ship, my lord,” Ithul’to murmured and gave Kah’len a warm smile.
“The pleasure was mine, Captain. I’ll return these clothes to you as soon as I am settled in.”
The captain waved away his words with a dismissive hand. “They’re yours. I’ll come with you, my lord, to assure that you have an audience with Her Majesty. As complicated as court life is in North Torahn, it cannot touch the complexities of the Tjish.unen court.”
“I would appreciate that, Captain.”
“Ithul’to, please. Come with me to my residence in the city, and I then tomorrow I shall secure an audience for you without bankrupting you. This late in the day, the Queen is involved with rituals. You won’t be able to see her today.”
Kah’len bowed, humbled. “Thank you, Ithul’to. I will remember your kindness to me. I wonder if I can find my family before I meet with the Queen.”
“I will make inquiries as soon as I greet my family. Come, my lord, I’ve not seen my wives and children in six long months.”
“Lead the way,” Kah’len replied and followed the captain from the prow.
Down in the wharves, soldiers patrolled in twos and threes. The wharves were a controlled chaos made up of dock workers, merchants, traders, and sailors. Captain Ithul’to maneuvered through the throngs expertly, Kah’len at his heels. At the city gates, the captain showed his papers and pronounced Kah’len his guest. The bored-looking guards gave Kah’len a once-over before allowing them entrance into the city. Unlike Draemin City, the streets were empty of trees and bushes. The baked brick boulevard refracted the sun’s light, intensifying the heat of the day until Kah’len’s shirt was plastered to his back with sweat.
Captain Ithul’to strode down the street, seemingly unaffected by the heat. Both men and women walked around with wide brimmed hats or their heads and faces covered by scarves. Off to the left of the boulevard, an open air market rambled all the way to the distant city walls. Kah’len could hear the hucksters calling out their prices and the quality of the wares. Colorful flags hung listlessly from their poles. Wide, beautiful pavilions filled the market. Countless denizens of the city made their way through the rows of pavilions displaying their goods on outside tables. Just to the right of the boulveard, people stood at their roofed balconies, either entertaining guests, or consuming meals or gazing out into the city. Countless red brick buildings lined along the street. Clotheslines connected the buildings and colorful clothes hung limply in the still air.
Captain Ithul’to led Kah’len to a two-story building with a tavern on the first floor and a double balcony on the second floor. The second floor was built slightly deeper than the ground floor, so that the ground floor jutted out. An expansive blue awning had been built on the bottom of the balcony floor and provided shade for several iron wrought tables, where denizens sat and enjoyed drinks and a meal.
Captain Ithul’to looked at Kah’len. “This is my building. My wives run the tavern while I am at sea. My family resides on the second floor of the building.”
Kah’len ran his eyes over the red brick building, finding the facade pleasant. “It’s a nice building.”
Ithul’to bowed. “My thanks. Come. We’ll have a hot meal before I find out if anyone knows where your family is being housed.”
Inside, the tavern was cool. An entire wall was full of windows propped open with sticks. Little holes ran along the top of the walls near the ceiling, providing room for air to circulate. The brick floor was covered with grass mats and the entire room was crowded with iron wrought tables covered with light blue cloths. Oil lamps hung from hooks on the ceiling, providing a soothing amber light to the dining room. A window was carved into the far wall and, through it, Kah’len saw the kitchen bustling with activity. The cooked meals were set on the window sill and servers would come and take them and serve the customers. There were six servers, wearing light blue tunics and dark blue trousers.
“Ithul’to!” a woman cried and ran through a door next to the serving window and into Ithul’to’s waiting arms.
They kissed passionately, eliciting wolf whistles and catcalls from customers.
When they parted, Ithul’to beamed at Kah’len. “May I introduce my first wife, Eleda?”
Kah’len bowed deeply. “An honor, m’lady.”
She blushed and curtsied. “Welcome to our home, my lord.” She turned heated eyes to Ithul’to. “Are you hungry, my love?”
He smiled softly at her. “Famished. Sick of dried fish and dried fruit. May there be a meat stew cooking?”
“When is there not?” she shot back and grinned. “Sit, my love, and I will serve you both myself. I’d best alert Naina and Salita that you are here, or else I’ll never hear the end of it.”
Ithul’to chuckled while she hurried off. He led Kah’len to a table next to an open window. They sat down across from each other.
“Welcome home, sir,” a young server murmured as he set a clear glass decanter filled with water and slices of fruit on the table. He then set two mugs on the table.
“Thank you, Solun,” Ithul’to murmured. “Happy to see you are still working for me.”
Solun blushed. “I may be married, sir, but I still need to earn a living.”
“Indeed,” Ithul’to rejoined and turned to Kah’len, picking up the decanter and pouring flavored water into the two mugs.
Kah’len picked up his mug and drained the slightly sweet water. He reached out and refilled his mug. “I had no idea how thirsty I was.”
“It’s easy to become dehydrated during Molok. Drink up, but don’t spoil your appetite.”
There were squeals from the kitchen and then two young women were running into the dining room, glancing around and squealing again when they spotted Ithul’to.
He chuckled indulgently and rose, opening his arms and embracing both young women at once. He pressed kisses to their forehead, their lips, their noses.
“How are my darling second and third wives?” he asked softly.
The youngest pressed herself to his left side. “We missed you so, Ithul!”
“I missed you, too, young lady.” He winked at Kah’len over her shoulder and pulled back from their embrace. “May I introduce Kah’len Ys’teis-Thalmar, my guest?”
The young women turned to Kah’len and curtsied.
“Pleased to meet you,” they chorused.
He rose and bowed. “The pleasure is mine.”
He noticed the youngest had a rounded belly belying her pregnancy.
“When are you due, m’lady?” he asked.
She blushed. “Soon. Twins, husband!”
He put a hand to his heart. “It is good I am wealthy then.”
They giggled happily and nodded.
“Naina, Salita! There is work to do!”
The older girl rolled her eyes. “Eleda is such a slave driver!”
Ithul’to slapped her on the rump. “Don’t badmouth your mistress. Do as she says. I’ll see you both later.”
They pouted at him but went willingly enough, reentering the kitchen through the arched doorway next to the serving window.
Ithul’to shook his head as he and Kah’len retook their seats.
“It’s difficult sometimes to have more than one wife,” the captain explained. “They are good girls, but much younger than Eleda. But Eleda had her third child and almost died from bleeding, so she cannot bare anymore children. It was her idea that I marry her cousins, although I didn’t want to. I love Eleda with all my heart, my lord, and we had three healthy children. What more did I need?” He sighed and sipped his water. “But she insisted. And now I have six, going on eight. No more.” He lowered his voice. “If I have to divorce the youngest, I will. Eight children is plenty.”
Kah’len chuckled and nodded. “I agree wholeheartedly, Ithul’to. When I was betrothed, my mother had three concubines lined up for me.” He shook his head. “Now, I count myself lucky not to have a one.”
“That’ll change, I daresay,” the captain drawled. “You are a young man. Children are the most important legacy a man can leave behind when he dies.”
Kah’len sipped his water and said nothing as the server set the bowls of meat and turies stew before them.