Chapter Thirty-One: The Second Betrayal

            Kah’len got a request from Lahn to meet with him, but he was so busy with martial preparations, that he found no time to meet with him until nearly a week later. If Kah’len were honest with himself, he was still angry at what he considered Lahn’s cowardice and betrayal, although he could easily see his father threatening the Prince’s life. The priest and his nephew could have released Kah’len from the dungeons during the chaos of civil war, but they had not, choosing instead to save their own necks. He would forgive Lahn Obeli in time, but not quite yet. He didn’t trust him quite yet, even if he was willing to marry the lad for the sake of peace.

            He sighed and finished signing orders. Lahn was due to arrive any minute now, so Kah’len strove to cool his anger and hurt. The emotions would only cause pain and perhaps a rift between them if he allowed them to get hold of him. He picked up the sheaf of papers filled with requisitions and orders and carried them outside for his Sergeant and secretary to disperse.

            Sergeant Gair Sechen was at his desk, speaking casually with Serren Domio.

            When Kah’len stepped out of his office, Gair rose and bowed to Kah’len. “I can take those now that they’re signed, sir, and distribute them accordingly.”

            Kah’len nodded and handed the young man the sheaf of papers. “Take your time, Gair. I have a meeting with my betrothed and his uncle.”

            Sergeant Sechen saluted. “Yes sir. I’ll return shortly.”

            When he was gone, Kah’len turned to Lahn and Domio. “Step into my office please.”

            He walked around his desk and sat down while the priest and the prince closed the door behind them and took their seats.

            Lahn wrung his hands and, for the first time, Kah’len saw that they were shaking and the prince was pale, dark smudges under his beautiful eyes.

            “What has happened?” Kah’len demanded.

            Lahn opened his mouth then shut it with a click. “I quite don’t know how to begin.”

            “You begin by beginning,” Kah’len snapped. “Are you well?”

            Lahn paled further and nodded. He looked helplessly at his uncle and the priest sighed and turned to Kah’len.

            “We had our audience with Queen Masjita,” Domio said.

            Kah’len sat back in his chair. “Go on.”

            “She made a demand of Lahn and stated that if he did not meet that demand, she would invade South Torahn and wipe it from the world.”

            Kah’len frowned. “Why would she do that?”

            The serren shrugged. “Madness or greed, High Commander. Take your pick. South Torahn is weak right now; we would never win an invasion sent by her Majesty. Lahn had to concede.”

            Kah’len grew cold inside and he found he did not want to hear about the Queen’s demand but there was little choice. He needed to know.

            “Did she ask for a trade agreement?” he asked, hoping it was so.

            Lahn gave a broken laugh and shook his head. “If it were only so easy, High Commander.” He frowned and fisted his hands. “She demanded that I lie with Princess Sjanita and get her with child. She cast a spell on me and cursed me: If I failed to quicken life in the girl, the seed of the Obelis would dry up and we would disappear from history.”

            Kah’len was not sure he had heard correctly, so he sought clarification. “You are telling me the Queen demanded that you cuckold me, lie with Sjanita, get her with child…to what end?”

            “What were her words, Uncle?” Lahn asked, looking at the priest.

            “‘There are easier ways to conquer than through war,’” the priest said. “Something like that.”

            Kah’len swallowed and cursed under his breath. “Why did you not come to me?”

            Lahn shook his head. “I was given no time. There was no time. The girl was in my inn room in less than one hour.”

            “And you lay with her?” Kah’len asked, finding the idea filled him with jealousy.

            “Yes,” Lahn whispered. “More than once. The isili with me gave me a potion that filled me with lust. I had to force myself to think about you–”

            Kah’len rose so quickly, his desk chair toppled to the ground. The other two startled.

            “No! Don’t try to placate me by telling me you had thoughts of me only while you fucked my bride-to-be.” He began to pace. “I will give you enough coin to get you back home. Our marriage is over.” He turned his head to glare at them. “I don’t want you, Lahn Obeli. You have done everything to destroy my trust and my friendship with you. I have nothing left: no patience, no trust, not even the desire to know you.” He unlocked the desk drawer and retrieved two bags of coin. He tossed it at the priest, who deftly caught it. “Now: leave my sight.”

            Lahn rose. “Kah’len please…I had no choice!”

            Kah’len turned a withering glare on the prince. “You will address me as High Commander. Leave, Prince Obeli. The sight of you sickens me.”

            The serren rose more slowly. “What about the treaty between our nations?”

            “There will be peace,” Kah’len assured him. “I need peace to establish my dynasty, so you can breathe. If in the future, the King offers his youngest son, I will accept him. Now, both of you: leave my sight.”

            Kah’len turned his back to them and stared woodenly at the falling rain. The briny breeze was warm against his damp skin. He did not turn around until he heard the door click shut behind them.

            He left his office a few minutes later, long enough for the Southerners to leave the building, and made his way out into the rainy afternoon, umbrella overhead. Rage seethed inside him. He blindly made his way past the palace gates into the gardens and then into the palace itself. Once inside the palace, he made his way to the third floor, where the Queen lived. He was stopped by the guards and he demanded to see the Queen. While he was made to wait, he paced, seething until his rage threatened to strangle him. He stopped pacing and took a deep, bracing breath. He closed his eyes and prayed to Atana for patience and equanimity. Grateful for the time he was made to wait, when the guards came to get him, he was at peace once more, slightly shaking from the strong emotions that had overtaken him.

            His mother was sitting with Queen Masjita. Sjanita was with them. The girl lit up when she saw him and hurried to his side.

            “Don’t come near me,” he found himself growling and sighed. So much for equanimity.

            “Kah’len!” his mother chastised.

            “No, Mother. You have no idea to what lengths of depravity the Queen of Tjish.un goes to get her way in all things,” he stated coldly. “I ended my betrothal to Prince Lahn Obeli and I am now ending my betrothal to Princess Sjanita.”

            His mother rose. “But why, child?”

            “It is of no matter–” the Queen began.

            “Queen Masjita made Prince Lahn lie with Princess Sjanita. If the prince failed to do as she bid, she would invade South Torahn and…what was it, dear aunt, you’d wipe it from the world?”

            The Queen rose. “You forget yourself, High Commander.”

            “No, I don’t,” he said. “You can keep your daughter and your troops. I will go to R’Nonay and ask assistance from your arch enemies instead.”

            She stiffened. “You wouldn’t dare!”

            “Watch me!” He turned on his heels and strode from the room.

            “Kah’len!” he heard his mother call.

            He increased his strides until he left the palace behind. He had enough coins on his person to buy a berth on a ship to R’Nonay. It would only take one week to get there. He would make it home and he would take R’Nonayan troops with him. He would wipe all feminine elements from North Torahn. Like R’Nonay, it would be a male dominated society. He would break off all ties to Tjish.un and her demented queen. No one made a fool of Kah’len Ys’teis. No one. e.split(/(

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