The summons from Queen Masjita came that evening, after a day filled with restless anticipation. Lahn could not help the feeling of resentment that arose in him at being made to endlessly wait for the woman until she deemed it time to meet with him. Two guards found Domio and Lahn at the inn while they were eating their supper. They looked different from the palace guards, their uniforms being a darker green with bright red lapels and sleeve cuffs.
One of the guards bowed to them. “The High Priestess summons you to the ziggurat, Your Highness. Please come with us.”
Lahn looked forlornly at the rest of his meal and rose. “Lead the way. Uncle?”
Domio wiped his mouth and rose as well.
They walked out into the damp evening. The rain had stopped and now it was stifling hot again, the humidity adding another layer of discomfort. Lahn began to sweat almost right away as he followed the quick pace set by the two guards. The streets were busy with people, despite it being close to sunset. Taverns with outdoor seating areas were crammed full of people. Overhead, the deep blue skies peaked down from in between thick, dark clouds. The air was still and so humid, Lahn found it hard to breathe.
They made it to the religious complex within twenty minutes and were soon climbing the ziggurat using the stone plank at the fore. Footholds had been built into the plank to allow for an easier climb, but Lahn found it hard to forget the building was six stories high. The red stone was wet and like dark blood. Lahn shuddered and gazed ahead. At the top, there was a large roofed space without walls. Four thick black marble columns held the peaked roof aloft. In the center of the space was a black rectangular marble table filled with golden bowls, cups, two large, sharp knives with silver handles dotted with precious stones, and manacles made of gold attached to the table corners by strong thick chains. Torches blazed from their niches in the four columns. Large incense holders made of solid gold stood on the stone floor at the four directions, filling the space with a sweet, musky scent. On the other side of the table stood a tall woman with black robes and a tall, black conical hat with a red emblem of a crouching maltika. Her face was beautiful and serene, although her eyes were cool and calculating as she watched them step into the room.
“Welcome, Prince Lahn Obeli of South Torahn,” she murmured.
Lahn bowed. “High Priestess. I am honored.”
Domio bowed also and murmured an appropriate response.
She walked around the table and approached them. The robes swirled around her. She walked barefoot and her toes were full of gold rings studded with precious jewels. Her green eyes, so much like Kah’len’s, glittered with a shrewd curiosity.
She reached a long-fingered hand and touched Lahn’s face, running her cold fingertips along his cheek. “You are as beautiful as you as innocent. I have heard you were a monk in some desolate mountain abbey. Is that correct?”
“Yes, High Priestess.”
She nodded, her sharp eyes studying him. “You left your monastery to marry my nephew.”
“Yes, High Priestess.”
She dropped her hand and stepped back. “Curious.”
“I was not given a choice,” he stated stiffly.
Her mouth quirked. “No. I am sure you were not. But now you accept your fate?”
“Yes, High Priestess.”
“Good. Do you consider my nephew a friend to you, Prince Lahn?”
“We are becoming friends, yes.”
“Then you must be a friend to my daughter as well,” she purred and smiled coldly. “I will agree to you marriage if you make a pact with me, your Highness.”
He cocked his head. “And what would the pact entail?”
“You will lie with my daughter, Sjanita, and get her with child,” she stated. “I will facilitate it for you, while Kah’len is busy with his martial chores.”
Domio shifted. “To what end would my nephew have to lie with Kah’len’s betrothed?”
Her glittering eyes turned to Domio for the first time. “To what end, Serren? My blood will run through three kingdoms. To that end. There are easier ways to conquer.”
Lahn smoothed his features, but his mind seethed with questions and the first icy finger of fear touched his spine. The woman was clearly mad, so he would have to proceed carefully and not poke the viper’s nest.
She chuckled. “I am not mad, Prince Obeli. I can see in your eyes you think I am. That’s fine. Think what you will. I will have my daughter escorted to your room at the inn and you will plant your seed in her, else we don’t have a deal and Kah’len will not marry you. My troops will invade your nation and wipe it away. Do you have doubts we can?”
An icy hand gripped Lahn’s heart. “No.”
She nodded and her shrewd eyes flashed. “Good. Then do we have a deal?”
“What about Kah’len’s rights?” Domio demanded. “You would have him cuckolded?”
She laughed again and shook her head. “My blood runs already in his veins, priest. He is already my tool. I need nothing more from him. His marriage to my daughter is a mere formality.” Her disconcerting eyes slid to Lahn again. “I would have your answer now, Prince of South Torahn.”
Lahn helplessly looked at his uncle. His thoughts clogged his mind and the beginning of a headache thrummed at the back of his skull. If Tjish.un invaded South Torahn, their nation would fall. He had no doubts about that. The might of Tjish.un, her disciplined hordes of soldiers and mercenaries, the wealth of the nation, all of it conspired to end South Torahn. He licked his lips.
“I have never lain with anyone,” he told her.
“Neither has my daughter,” she shot back, her eyes flashing with impatience and ire. “I will have an instructor attend to you. Your answer, Prince Obeli.”
He considered what his sire would say and knew the answer straightaway. The Obelis had ruled South Torahn for a long, long time. His life and comfort were of little matter in the scheme of things. He cursed inwardly and wished he had never left the comforts of the monastery.
“I agree to your terms, Queen Masjita,” he stated, despising her.
She smiled. “I am High Priestess today.”
“That is where you err,” he snapped back.
She turned and walked to the table, picking up a knife. “You will seal our deal in blood and magic, Prince Obeli. If you break your oath, I will know. Come here.”
Numbly, he walked to where she stood and he saw there was a sheaf of paper and an inkwell and pen. When he stood next to her, she took hold of his left hand with her cold one and lifted it over the wide mouthed inkwell. In a move too quick for his eyes to take in, she cut the palm of his hand. He hissed, but the pain was not terrible. She squeezed blood from his flesh and it dribbled at a steady flow into the inkwell. Reaching into a pocket of her robe, she withdrew a white cloth and pressed it to his wound, letting go of his hand. He took the cloth and continue to press it to the wound while he watched as she sliced her own hand and poured her blood into the inkwell.
She began to chant in old isili, her words a mere murmur, so he could not distinguish the words. The spell she wove slithered down his skin and spine, a cold-hot sensation that made him shiver. Her voice rose, her murmur becoming so fast, the words blurred. She set the bloody knife down on the altar and raised her hands above her head. Taitah the moon peaked from between the clouds that seemed to part for her. When the spell was cast, the Queen picked up the pen and dipped into the inkwell. She wrote ancient words onto the paper. When she was done, she signed her name and turned and handed him the pen.
He dipped the pen into the inkwell and signed his name with an angry flourish.
She laughed and looked at him. “You will seed my daughter tonight, Prince Obeli, or your kingdom will banish from the world. I placed a curse upon you. If you fail in your promise, the seed of your family will dry up and there will be no more Obelis. Do I make myself clear?”
“Patently,” he stated coldly, hating her more and more.
She nodded and stepped back. “Then return to your inn and await my daughter’s arrival.”
Lahn turned and hurried down the plank, hoping to topple and break his neck on the way down. No such thing happened and soon he was on the ground once more, nearly running to the inn before his uncle’s voice halted him in his tracks. His uncle came to stand next to him. Lahn could not meet his eye.
Domio placed a hand on Lahn’s shoulder. “You had little choice, child.”
“I hate her, Uncle.”
Domio sighed. “Put away your hatred. It only harms you. Come, we will await the princess.”
Lahn began to walk next to his uncle and wrung his hands nervously. “What do I know of making love to a woman? She’s a stranger, Uncle.”
“I know,” Domio rejoined. “Let nature take it’s course, child. Perhaps you can be a friend to her. I hear the girl is a mere wisp of fifteen years. Think of her fears and discomforts before you think of your own. I have faith in you, Lahn.”
Lahn closed his eyes and sent a prayer to Atana that the girl would quicken with life and he would not be made to do this again.
Two hours later, when full darkness had fallen and the rain had begun to patter against the windowpane once more, there came a knock on the room door. Lahn sat up on the bed and Domio flicked him a glance as he hurried to answer the door.
“I have come with the princess to fulfill the prince’s promise,” a female voice murmured from the other side of the door.
Domio stepped back.
A woman in a nun’s dark garbs walked briskly into the room, followed by a young isili and the princess covered head to foot in a long hooded cloak. Lahn looked past them and spotted two guards in the hallway.
“I will return,” Domio said to Lahn and stepped into the hall, closing the door behind him.
Lahn rose, looking helplessly between the nun, the isili and the hooded princess.
Princess Sjanita pushed the hood from her face. Her beautiful face looked pale, but her eyes were filled with a fierce determination.
“I am Sjanita Thalmar,” she said in a clear, light voice.
He nodded. “Lahn Obeli.”
The nun spoke in a whisper to the young isili, who nodded and walked to the table between the beds. It was then Lahn noticed he carried a bag. The isili placed the bag on Domio’s bed and opened it, setting a candle and candle holder on the bedside table, along with a jug of wine, two glasses and little stoppered vials.
The isili turned and looked at Lahn. “I will perform magic to assist your seed to quicken her Highness. You will drink a potion that will fill your veins with lust, so that you will become aroused.” He turned and unstoppered the vials, pouring their contents into the two glasses then filling the glasses with wine from the jug. He turned, handed a glass to Lahn and one to Princess Sjanita.
Lahn flicked the princess a glance before downing the contents of the glass. The bittersweet flavor of the wine and the potion made him grimace. He saw Sjanita swallow the contents of the glass as well and shudder at the taste.
“I will remain with you,” the isili said and began to chant his spell.
At first Lahn felt nothing but, eventually, his knees grew weak and shaky and he had to sit down. Sjanita was helped to sit beside him. He looked at her and his bleary eyes saw that she had removed her cloak and wore nothing but a diaphanous tunic that reached her knees. She was so beautiful, he thought, and innocent and he was going to deflower her to satisfy her mother’s greed. His eyes ran over her with curiosity and a growing arousal that burned in his veins. She was slender and small, coming only to his shoulder when they both stood. Her skin was dusky and her eyes were like Kah’len’s. The thought of Kah’len filled him with shame and guilt but he found his hand lifting and touching her flushed cheek. Her eyes glittered in the combined light from the candle and oil lamp. The isili had begun to chant again and the spell grew thick in the cool, rain-scented air. Outside the window, lightning flashed and thunder rumbled. The night was as tumultuous as Lahn’s thoughts.
Princess Sjanita turned into his fingers. He jumped, recalling that she was there, and turned his gaze to her. Her eyes watched with such hunger and innocence, he almost became unnerved.
“I would we became friends,” she said. “As his spouses, we should be friends.”
He nodded, although he wondered how he would feel in the morning.
She leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his mouth. Her lips were moist and soft. He closed his eyes and deepened the kiss, his thoughts filling with images of Kah’len. He groaned and pressed his tongue into her mouth. She trembled under his onslaught, but he kissed her as he would kiss Kah’len. He pulled her to him. Her softness and pert breasts felt wrong somehow, but he was too full of lust to care. His mind clung to thoughts and images of Kah’len as his hands roamed her body until his fingers found her ouna. She sighed and spread her legs as his fingers plunged into her wet heat. His fingers had a mind of their own as she pulled him down onto the bed. He lay next to her, his fingers breaching her. She sighed and he pressed kisses to her neck and shoulder. When he opened his eyes, she was lying on her back, eyes firmly shut, features flushed and damp with sweat.
He freed his aching kaoun and mounted her, filling her with his member in one vicious thrust. She cried out and sobbed but he began to thrust, anger and confusion overwhelming him. He hated her softness and her demands for friendship. He could not be her friend. He trusted neither her nor her conniving mother. He would not give her the satisfaction of becoming her friend. That gift he owed to Kah’len and Kah’len alone. His thrusts increased and, beneath him, she writhed in the throes of her arousal. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him down. He allowed her to kiss him as his arousal got the better of him and he forgot his anger and mistrust. His bollocks felt so full, they hurt, but his completion always seemed beyond reach. Beneath him, she cried out her completion and he tumbled after her, emptying his seed into her quivering body. With a gasp, he rolled away from her to lie, sated and shaking, next to her on the bed.
The nun leaned over the princess and murmured a few words about not rising, allowing for the seed to quicken life in her body.
The isili leaned over Lahn. “The spell will take hold again soon. You must spill your seed into her several times throughout the night to make sure you get her with child. Do you understand?”
Lahn nodded wearily, wanting nothing more than to sleep. It was going to be a long, long night. w