The journey up the Kahi River to the capital of Tjish.un took thirty-three days from beginning to end. The riverboat they traveled on was large and squat, with a wheel on the back that propelled the boat along the placid Kahi. Goods took up the most of the hull of the boat, so Lahn and Domio slept on deck in their tents. Lahn liked to stand by the railing of the boat and gaze at the passing scenery. At first, all he saw were dry grass fields emptying out into the eastern and western horizons, but soon they came to the golden grain fields of Tjish.un. Miles upon miles of grain. Lahn had never seen such a thing, even back home in City Lae. It was no wonder Tjish.un’s main export was grain. Some of her other exports included precious jewels, gold and silver from the Nthus Mountains, and salted fresh water fish from Lake Cera and Lake Sene and the Kahi itself. Lahn learned that Tjish.un imported lumber and marble from other nations, as well as silk and furs, animals and skilled laborers.
The red dust gave way to a rich dark loam, and the red clay buildings gave way to brick and wooden structures. Lahn was told that ittle nameless towns and villages dotted the landscape along the shores of the Kahi River, behind retaining walls for those monsoon months when the river swelled and threatened the landscape with flooding. The retaining walls rose several feet in height and made the great Kahi seem a canal. The bricks for the walls had also been imported and the construction of the retaining wall had taken close to two hundred years. Before then, the wellbeing of anyone near the shores of the river had been at the whim of the weather. Now, even during Safrain, the river did not top the walls. Lahn learned from a fellow traveler that the maintenance of the retaining walls was expensive, but it was the Queen’s priority, since most of her people lived in the shadow of the Kahi.
Lahn walked carefully between the crowded tents on his way to where his uncle stood at the railing.
“Good morrow, uncle,” he murmured and leaned against the railing.
“Good morrow, child,” Domio replied. “Did you break your fast?”
Lahn grimaced. “I’m sure I can’t eat another bite of dried fish, uncle.”
Domio chuckled. “I’m sure you can, if hungry enough. Just two more weeks, now that we’ve reached the grain fields.”
Lahn stretched and groaned. “I can’t wait to sleep in a bed and have hot food.”
Domio nodded. “Yes, I quite agree.” He frowned. “We’ll have to purchase you an appropriate outfit for when you go before the Queen.”
“Do we have enough coin?”
Domio nibbled on his lower lip. “We will have to stay in cheap inns for a while, I’m afraid. We are scraping the barrel of our resources.”
“Then I think we have to throw ourselves upon the mercy of the Court and see if she will give us her patronage,” Lahn said.
“We don’t have a treaty with Tjish.un, child. We may find ourselves stranded in Da’hrisjah without funds or work.” He sighed. “We will prevail.”
“I hope so, uncle.”
Lahn had no more prophetic dreams as they traveled by river. The absence of the dreams disconcerted Lahn, worried him and gave him insomnia. While the travelers around him slept on peacefully, Lahn would stand at the boat’s railing and gaze at the lights from lamps hanging from the retaining walls. He pulled his thick cloak about his body and the hood over his head. The skies were clear and filled with stars. Taitah was in her dark phase, so there was no moon in the sky. The stars stood out, perfect and cold in the velvet sky. The smell of the river lulled Lahn, but not enough for sleep. The sound of the boat through the water was soothing. He wondered when he would sleep again and if a dream would hijack his sleep.
On the morrow, his uncle found him dozing on his feet and gently shook him.
“Go to bed, Lahn.”
Lahn blinked his eyes and gazed owlishly at Domio. “I won’t be able to sleep if I lie down, sir. I’ve tried.”
“You’ve been out here all night?”
“Yes. I rather like it, Uncle Domio. It is peaceful and soothing.”
His uncle shook his head. “You’ll get sick if you get exhausted.”
“I’ll be alright, Uncle. I’ll sleep eventually.”
This was an old argument between them. It never ended. They just retreated to their corners until the next time they spoke of it.
The days melded one into the other for Lahn. The unchanging landscape and the bright, suffocating days, and the cold, restless nights blended into a confusing amalgam of numbing hours. Before he was even aware, the ship turned into one of the smaller branches of the river and approached Da’hrisjah. The capital of Tjish.un shone red in the distance, her ziggurat rising several feet off the ground behind her tall walls. Lahn could see the sprawling city that seemed to empty into the distant horizon. Beyond her lay the Sani’Rhath Sea. The smell of the ocean clung to the city, a fresh, bracing scent that at once seemed to refresh Lahn.
He and Domio tore down their tent and rolled it up, stuffing it into their saddlebags. As the boat slowed down upon its approach to the docks, Lahn and Domio went to stand at the crowded railing. The boat crawled its way up the canal to the docks, finding an open quay to lock into before the sun was directly overhead. Dock workers pulled the boat to the stone dock and moored her there. Lahn and Domio stepped off the boat and unto the rough stone pier. They made their way with the other travelers, headed towards the city gates. The long line of visitors stood at several hundreds. Lahn despaired they would not be able to enter the city that day, but, much to his surprise, the line moved at a fairly steady pace, as ten guards stood at the entrance checking papers.
When their time came, Lahn handed over his travel papers to the guard. The guard read over his papers and glanced at him.
“What is your business?” he growled.
“We come to meet with the Queen,” Lahn murmured.
The guard shook his head. “Good luck with that. You’ll have to find someone to vouch for you. No one sees the Queen without a citizen to vouch for them. Go on, go in.”
Lahn and Domio entered under the high archway. The walls surrounding the city were several feet thick and were reinforced with steel. Once inside the city, Domio sighed and pulled them close to the wall, away from the throngs of people.
“Do you think the Queen will see us without someone to vouch for us?” Lahn asked.
His uncle gnawed at his lower lip. “Let’s find a room in town then let us sit at a tavern and hear what we hear. We’ll get a lay of the land before acting.”
After asking directions to reasonable accommodations, they made their way past the vast, sprawling open air market towards the part of the city that housed taverns and inns. They found an inn that charged a couple of kesen a night, and, after paying for a week, climbed the stairs to their room, where they left behind their saddlebags and went in search of a tavern for a hot meal and some gossip. They found a fairly clean tavern and took a seat near the windows, where they can gaze out at the street. The windows were closed against the warmth of the late afternoon, although airing holes near the top of the walls allowed for the circulation of air. They ordered ale and two bowls of dosi stew with turies and a loaf of bread with butter.
Lahn gazed out of the window while Domio struck a conversation with the nearest table. Two dock workers sat at the table and Domio bought them some ale to loosen their tongues. Lahn did not catch their names, but he turned to the conversation as Domio began his interrogation.
“Where are you from, Father?” the gruff worker on the left asked.
The man raised an eyebrow. “So far.” He winked at his companion. “Torahni everywhere, ey?”
His friend snorted.
“I was not aware too many Torahni visited here,” Domio remarked smoothly.
The man shrugged and sipped his ale. “The Warlord arrived just a month prior and begged the Queen for troops to go fight for the crown of North Torahn.”
Lahn leaned forward. “Is the Warlord still here?”
The man nodded and wiped his mouth with the back of a hand. “Yes. He leaves in a week’s time. 120,000 soldiers and a navy of 500 ships is what he got.”
“He got himself a princess, too, don’t forget,” the other pointed out and drained his mug.
Domio signalled for more ale.
“What do you mean he got himself a princess?” Domio asked.
The two men leered. “He has to marry the Princess Sjanita, the Queen’s youngest daughter. No hardship, that.”
“His lordship, the Warlord, is betrothed to someone already,” Domio said.
The two dock workers shrugged and laughed. “Now he is betrothed to two people. The Queen is no fool. If she gives the Warlord an entire army and navy, she will get something in return. She will have her blood ruling Torahn.”
The serren sat back and gazed at his nephew. “I see. Polygamy is not the norm in Torahn.”
“The Warlord will either break the betrothal to the Red Prince or he will set a precedent in his country,” the dock worker on the right said. “He has agreed to her terms, and if he breaks the terms, he will have a war on his hands.”
Lahn swallowed past the sudden dryness in his throat and reached for his mug of ale, emptying it in one go. His head spun from exhaustion and alcohol. While the other three talked, he watched as the server set the platter with their food on the table. Lahn had no appetite left, but he forced himself to eat, tasting nothing of the fragrant, spicy fare. Now what? He had been worried about Kah’len, about saving Kah’len, when Kah’len was adept enough to save himself. Lahn felt a fool. He tuned out the conversation and forced himself to finish the stew.
When the two dock workers left, Domio tucked into his meal in silence.
“Now what do we do, Uncle?” Lahn asked.
“Now instead of an audience with her Majesty, we will seek one out with the Warlord instead. It should be easier than meeting with the Queen.”
When they were done, they returned to their inn, where they bathed and Domio went into the city to find out how to contact Kah’len, while Lahn crawled into bed and stared morosely at the ceiling. He wondered if Kah’len was still angry at him, or if he would deign to meet with them. Lahn did not want to remain behind, in Tjish.un. He had every intention of going back to Torahn with the Warlord’s retinue. Lahn would offer his healing skills and see what Kah’len would say. If Kah’len would see him, that is. He sighed and turned onto his side. He had made a mess of everything, hadn’t he?
Ambient noises entered the room on the back of a cool breeze that made him sigh. He closed his eyes as exhaustion seeped through his body. The last thing he thought of before sleep claimed him was Kah’len and Kah’len’s expression when he learned of his father’s betrayal. nings,s