By the time Lahn awoke the following morning, Domio was already up and gone. The room was blessedly cool from breezes seeping in through the one window. The gauzy curtains moved in lazy arcs. Lahn stretched. It had been a long time since he had slept so soundly, for so long. He rose and swung his legs over the side of the bed. The whitewashed floor was cold on his bare feet, but he welcomed the sensation. Padding to the washbasin on the whitewashed, rectangular table against the far wall, he washed his face and rinsed his mouth out before reaching for his towel to pat his skin dry. He brushed and rebraided his hair into two tight braids before he pulled on the last of his clean clothes. Afterward, he made a pile of his laundry and his uncle’s laundry set them near the door. He would head downstairs to ask about laundry services before breaking his fast in a nearby tavern.
The hallway leading to the stairwell was quiet and cool. Lahn made his way down the stairs and went to the front of the inn, where the innkeeper’s counter was located. The innkeeper said he would have his wife wash their laundry, and Lahn paid the two kesen fee, giving the innkeeper his room number and letting him know the laundry was on the floor by the door. The innkeeper suggested he break his fast two doors down. The tavern there was reasonable and clean. Lahn thanked him and made his way out into the early morning. Already the temperatures were warm. Soon they would be stifling. Overhead, dark clouds clung to the north and Lahn wondered if it was the beginning of Safrain already. He made a mental note to inquire about the seasons at the tavern.
Despite the early hour, the tavern was crowded and noisy. He found a lone table near the wall at the back of the room. A serving lad found him quite soon and he ordered the special and a mug of water to accompany it. The lad scurried away afterward. Lahn leaned his head against the wall and wondered if his uncle had left to inquire about meeting with Kah’len. Lahn was sick of waiting. He only wanted to get this done and over with, to face Kah’len, apologize and move on from there. He found the waiting unnerved him.
The lad returned several minutes later and placed a large bowl with boiled grains, milk, honey, tza nuts, and bala berries, and a mug of clear, cool water. Lahn drained the mug right away.
“Is the anything else, sir?” the young boy asked.
Lahn smiled at him. “Yes. When does Safrain begin in Tjish.un?”
The boy flicked a glance at the windows. “Any day now, sir. I haven’t been outside, but the air feels different today.”
“The skies to the north are dark,” Lahn told him.
The boy gnawed his lower lip. “Then it might start today after all. Excuse me.”
He hurried away.
Lahn tucked away into his breakfast, finding it satisfying and filling. It had been so long since he had grain or tza nuts or honey for that matter. Weeks of salted fish and dried fruit had made him heartily sick of both.
Lahn glanced up and found his uncle standing by his table.
“Uncle. Have you eaten?”
Domio smiled and took a seat. “Yes, but I’ve ordered some mjish tea for us. You look much better.”
“I slept quite soundly, Uncle. I feel refreshed.”
“Good. The breakfast is not too bad, ey?”
“It’s heavenly,” Lahn gushed.
His uncle chuckled and shook his head. “First time I’ve heard boiled grains referred to as heavenly.”
The boy returned with a tray with a teapot and two mugs. He set the tray on the table.
“Thank you,” Domio murmured.
The boy bowed and was off in the next instant.
Domio poured the sweet milky tea into two mugs and handed Lahn his.
“Thank you, Uncle. Did you inquire about meeting with Kah’len this morning?”
The priest sipped his tea and nodded. “Yes. I went to the military complex and made an appointment. His secretary told me he has an opening this morning, so I suggest you finish up. We can wait in his waiting room.”
Lahn pushed his bowl away. “I’m done, sir. Let’s get this done.”
Outside, the skies had darkened and the wind blowing from the north was damp and cold.
“It looks like we will see the monsoon season after all,” his uncle murmured.
They hurried down the boulevard west, keeping the ziggurat in sight. It took them close to half an hour to make it to the military complex between the palace walls and the ziggurat. By then the first of the raindrops began to fall and they found themselves running down towards the barracks, making it just in time before the skies opened up and a torrent of rain began to fall. They were giggling like school boys by the time they made it to the front door of the barracks and entered within. Lahn turned back to the rain and found the gray rainfall had obscured the distance. Already puddles formed on the ground.
Lahn followed his uncle down the long hallway with its paintings of past and current generals and plaques detailing their victories. There were dark brown doors on either side of the hallway. Some opened to offices while others remained firmly shut against prying eyes. They came to the last door on the right. The plaque of the door announced, “High Commander.” The door stood open and they stepped into an empty waiting room. A young soldier around Lahn’s age sat behind a desk and rose when they entered.
“Ah, Father. You’ve returned. The High Commander will be in momentarily. Please have a seat.”
Domio sketched a bow. “Thank you, Sergeant.”
They took their seats next to each other.
Behind the sergeant’s desk was Kah’len’s office. Kah’len had left his window open and Lahn could hear the downpour through the window. Thunder rumbled, followed by a flash of lightning that lifted the hairs on Lahn’s forearms. The air took on the smell of ozone. He wondered how in the hells they were going to make it back to their inn without getting soaked to the skin.
Voices rose from the hallway and then, a few seconds later, Kah’len swept into the room, followed by three generals. They were talking and didn’t notice Lahn or his uncle. Lahn’s eyes drank their fill of Kah’len. He wore a uniform and looked positively beautiful and powerful. One of the generals glanced their way and glanced away once more as they entered noisily into Kah’len’s office and closed the door behind them. The sergeant rose and went to knock on the door, entering after a second and closing the door behind him. The door opened a second later and Kah’lens strode out.
He was frowning. “What are you doing in Tjish.un, your Highness?”
Lahn and Domio rose and bowed.
“We came to plead with the Queen to have you saved from the donjons,” Lahn replied. “But you are already saved. And now you must save us.”
Kah’len cocked his head. “How so?”
“We’ve exhausted our travel funds getting here, High Commander,” Domio replied smoothly. “We are at your mercy, for we cannot purchase a journey home.”
Kah’len nodded. “I see. Please come inside.”
They followed him into his office. The three generals bowed to Lahn and Domio.
Kah’len indicated the generals. “These are my friends: Generals Kathus, Gal’li, and Viu. You’ve met my secretary, Sergeant Sechen. Gentlemen, this is my betrothed, Prince Lahn Obeli, and his uncle, the Serren Domio Obeli.”
The generals bowed.
Sergeant Sechen shifted. “I’ll find more chairs.”
“We were just leaving,” the general called Kathus stated and clasped Kah’len’s forearm. “Until this afternoon, High Commander.”
Kah’len bowed and grinned at him. “Until this afternoon.”
The generals and the sergeant exited the room, closing the door behind them.
“Please sit,” Kah’len stated and walked around his desk. He paused at the window and took in the downpour before taking a seat behind his desk.
He gazed at Lahn and Domio. “I find it hard to stomach that after your betrayal, you come to me for assistance.”
Lahn shifted in his seat. “I’m sorry about that, High Commander, but I had to proceed carefully with your father, else we would have been killed outright.”
Domio nodded. “He made it quite clear our lives were expendable. We were allowed to leave once you were imprisoned and the main part of the army marched out of the city towards the south. On the day we left, civil war had broken out, so no one paid us any heed. We could have freed you, had we known how to maneuver around the castle, but we were blind. We didn’t know how to access the donjon and the situation had gotten quite dangerous. But Lahn had every intention of coming here to request that the Queen free you somehow.”
Kah’len sat back in his seat. “I see.”
Lahn swallowed. “How did you escape, High Commander?”
“Bhne Tehna, now Warlord of North Torahn, arranged for my escape. He paid for my fee for the ship that brought me here.” He rubbed his face. “I have a salary, so paying for your journey should pose no problem. I’ll arrange for our marriage when the war is over.”
Lahn leaned forward. “I would that we wed before you go, High Commander. I have every intent of going with you. I am a trained healer and a trained warrior. I will not sit back in some castle while you fight for your crown.”
“We can wed when the war is done,” Kah’len said. “Let me think on you going with me.”
Lahn crossed his arms over his chest. “There is nothing to think about. I was given a dream vision from Atana that said that we must wed soonest. I am going with you with or without your consent.”
Kah’len cocked his head. “You have had other prophetic dreams?”
“He has them on an alarming frequency,” Domio said.
Kah’len nodded. “Tell me about the dream that bid we marry.”
Lahn told Kah’len about the dream. “She bid I marry the scepter to the altar, meaning the crown to the faith. To clean her altar of fetid blood and to speak Her truth.”
“I see,” Kah’len murmured. “You are an Atanist now?”
“What else can I be?” Lahn asked. “She has come to me incessantly. She hounds my dreams.”
Kah’len’s lips quirked. “Yes, she seems insistent. You may come with me, Lahn Obeli, if only as my oracle. I marry Princess Sjanita in a week’s time. I will confer with the Queen and it shall be a polygamous marriage. Do you accept that the Queen of Tjish.un will act as High Priestess and that our marriage will be blessed by foreign Gods?”
Lahn swallowed. “Only if you promise me I shall be wed at Atana’s altar when we return to North Torahn.”
Kah’len nodded. “Consider it done. Where are you staying?”
“At a modest inn in the city,” Domio replied.
“You are a prince of the blood. That won’t do.” He pulled a key chain from the inside of his tunic and unlocked his desk drawer, removing a bag of coins. He threw it at the priest and Domio caught it smoothly. “That should be enough for accommodations at a good inn and for clothes for the wedding. The Queen will want to meet you. Wait a moment while I ask about inns from my sergeant.”
He rose and went into the outer office, returning momentarily. “There is an inn called The Picu’s Egg not too far from here. Find a room there and a seamstress to make you clothes. I’ll send for you when the Queen is ready to meet you.”
Lahn and Domio rose.
“Thank you for everything, High Commander,” Lahn murmured.
Kah’len nodded. “When we are married, there must be peace between our kingdoms, your Highness. My priority will be to secure my own kingdom.”
“I understand, High Commander.”
They clasped forearms.
“Good then,” Kah’len said and grinned. “You aren’t going to give me an option to send you back to South Torahn, are you?”
“You can try,” Lahn teased.
Kah’len threw his head back and laughed. “Fine. You can head the Healers’ Corps. Your responsibility will be to organize them and triage wounded on the field. Can you do that?”
Lahn gaped. “I’ve never done that, High Commander.”
“You outrank them all. Let your uncle assist you, but I cannot make you one of the rank and file, not with your status and caste. Tjish.unen society is a caste society.”
“I can help you, child,” Domio said. “You’ll do well.”
“If you insist,” Lahn said, disconcerted.
Kah’len patted Lahn’s forearm before releasing it. “I agree with your uncle. You’ll do well enough, your Highness. Now, I have work to do and I must request an audience with the Queen to inform her of my wish to marry you soonest.”