Domio dunked the cloth into the washbowl and wrung it out before placing it on Lahn’s forehead. The young man was in the throes of another prophetic dream and now thrashed about, skin burning with a strange fever as he whispered in a language that sounded suspiciously like ancient isili. The young man had been in the throes of the dream for three days. Domio had been able to trickle water into his parched lips, but he had not eaten or awakened in three days. All Domio could do was keep the fever at bay.
They had moved to a more affordable inn while Domio negotiated a berth on a ship going to South Torahn, but few ships were headed that way. There was war all along the southern border while the north was riddled with civil war as the clans fought one another for positions of power. At least that was what the rumors said. Domio had been unable to leave Lahn’s side while the boy burned with his strange fever. The serren was exhausted from lack of sleep. He had had his meals brought up twice a day, and he had asked news of the outside world from the innkeeper, but the man only knew rumors. Yes, the Warlord of North Torahn had broken ties with the Queen and had escaped east, to R’Nonay. His family remained here, under the Queen’s protection. Princess Sjanita was being conscripted into the religious order as a priestess. So, Kah’len had broken his betrothal to the girl as well as with Lahn.
Domio rose from the bedside and gazed out the window at the crowded street. The rain had abated somewhat and the stifling heat had returned. People did what they could during the rainstorms. Domio sighed.
Domio started and turned.
Lahn was awake, his gray eyes clear and sharp.
Domio sat down at the edge of the mattress again. “Child, how do you feel?”
“Hungry and thirsty, Uncle. What happened?”
“Prophetic dreams, Lahn. They gripped you in a fever and it was all I could do to keep the fever down.”
Lahn frowned and looked around the room. “Dreams…yes.” His gaze locked with Domio’s. “Has Kah’len gone to R’Nonay?”
Domio was taken aback. “How do you know that, child? You couldn’t possibly know that.”
“She told me,” Lahn said quietly. “He is on a trajectory that will change Torahn forever.” He sighed and made to sit up but fell onto the pillows again. “He is a fool, and his pain and ego drive him.” He swallowed. “We have to go after him, Uncle.”
“He wants us to go home, Lahn.”
Lahn shook his head. “He doesn’t. His heart is still pure, Uncle. We can’t allow his hurt and pain to harden him into a cruel ruler. I have much to atone for, Uncle. It begins with us going after him.”
Domio sighed and rose. “Come, child. Let’s get you moving about before we bathe you.”
He helped the boy to his feet.
Lahn gazed at him. “Will you help me, Uncle Domio?”
Domio chuckled. “What choice have I, child? You are guided by gods.”
They walked around the room until Lahn was not quite so shaky.
Domio led him to a stool and allowed the boy to sit down. “I will order you some food, Lahn. Come, let’s head down to the bathing chambers.”
Lahn walked slowly down the hallway. He leaned on the walls and had to stop more than once. By the time they made it down the stairs and to the bathing chambers, the boy was shaking and drenched in sweat. Domio helped him doff his clothes then into the tub full of hot water.
“Can you bathe yourself while I go get some food for you?” Domio asked him.
Lahn nodded and reached for a washcloth and cake of soap.
Domio hurried to the innkeeper. The dinning room was abuzz with talk. Everyone was standing and talking.
Domio found the innkeeper. “What has happened?”
The innkeeper wiped his handkerchief along his forehead and bald pate. “The Queen is preparing to invade Torahn!”
Domio gaped. “What?”
The innkeeper shrugged. “The rumor is she is amassing a force which will leave in a fortnight. How can I help you, Father?”
“Please bring two meals to our room in an hour’s time.”
The innkeeper bowed. “At your service.”
Domio went to their room, retrieved clean clothes and returned to the bathing chamber. He set Lahn’s clean clothes on a stool.
The boy gazed up at him. “It begins.”
Domio felt an icy finger touch his spine. “What begins, child?”
“All will be decided. We must leave and soon, uncle. It begins.”
Domio bathed hurriedly then rose from the bathtub to dry and dress himself then helped Lahn to rise and dried him hurriedly. “Do you still want to go to R’Nonay?”
“We must warn Kah’len that the Queen means to invade Torahn.”
Domio started. “How can you possibly know this, child?”
“You don’t believe yet, but you will,” the boy said in a cool monotone.
Domio looked at him and saw the faraway look in the boy’s eyes. He shivered.
Upstairs, they gathered their belongings and packed them away into their travel bags. They ate quickly.
“We will go to R’Nonay on a ship. We are only behind Kah’len three days. He will still be there when we arrive.”
Domio wiped his mouth and swallowed. “What will you tell him, Lahn?”
“I will offer my services as a seer,” he whispered and shivered. He was flushed, his gaze bright. “I hope in time he forgives me and trusts me again.” His eyes filled with tears. “I love him, Uncle!”
Domio set his empty food bowl on the tray on the bedside table. “Trust in the Goddess, child. She has a plan for you.”
Lahn shivered and nodded listlessly.
“You stay here,” Domio said. “I’ll find a ship going east.”
The docks were astir with rumors. Dock workers stood around and excitedly talked, hands expressively moving. Domio found a ship headed for Mekh. He offered the captain gold to take Lahn and himself to Ktynk’te. If Domio knew Kah’len, he was headed to the capital to beg help from the oligarch of that nation.
The captain of the Deyianshi ship was tall, strapping handsome fellow with the black hair, pale features and dark eyes of his people.
He took the gold Domio gave him. “We will drop you off at the capital of R’Nonay, but we can’t dock there. The R’Nonayans are a xenophobic culture, mistrustful of strangers. I will drop you off in the bay there and row you to the nearest dock.”
Domio bowed. “I thank you.”
The captain nodded. “Be here at sunset. We leave as soon as the moon rises tonight.”
Domio hurried back to the inn and found Lahn gazing blindly out the window.
Domio placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder. Lahn did not react. Domio shook him. “Lahn?”
Lahn turned blind eyes to him and Domio shuddered. “Lahn!”
The boy shivered and blinked. “Uncle. Did you find a ship?”
“Yes. Come, we’ve little time. I’ll hire a coach to take us to the docks.”
By the time they collected their bags and made it to the docks, Taitah had risen. They found the Deyianshi ship and hurried onboard. They were led to their cabin by the captain himself.
“We will sail near shore, where Tjish.unen warships patrol. The waters between here and R’Nonay are full of pirates from Tarok’s Law. The journey along the shore takes longer, but we’ve no choice. I won’t fight pirates.”
Domio looked at the captain. “How long, if you travel along the coast?”
“Two weeks,” the captain replied, glancing nervously at Lahn, who had begun to chant under his breath.
“He is praying,” Domio said. “He’s a monk.”
The captain nodded but did not look appeased by Domio’s explanation. “I’ll leave you now.”
Lahn shook himself. “We’ll barely make it there on time, but She has told me She will guide us. We won’t miss him, Uncle.”
“That is good,” Domio said and sat down heavily on his cot. “It would be a tragedy to miss Kah’len. We wouldn’t be able to follow him. We are rapidly running out of gold.”
Lahn sat on his own cot facing Domio. “Have faith, Uncle. She is with us.”
Domio said nothing as the boy lay down on his cot and closed his eyes.
Lahn had no further dreams during the two weeks they traveled near the shores of Tjish.un. When they crossed from Tjish.un and into R’Nonay, the landscape changed radically from green grassland into desert. The Dhya Dessert encompassed almost the entire southern continent from R’Nonay in the north to Lethya in the south. Great golden dunes filled the land to the horizon. A deep, disconcerting silence had fallen over the land. They saw oases in the distance and traveling caravans led by strange leggy animals. Domio and Lahn spent countless days at the ship’s railing as the strange, silent land sailed past. They saw the westernmost city of R’Nonay, N’Tnuth’etha, as they neared the edge of civilization. The city sprawled in every direction and emptied into the desert itself, a squatting clay monstrosity. Few trees dotted the city landscape. All buildings were one or two story, built of red or gold clay. The city’s port was crammed with trading vessels and the waters were patrolled by military ships.
A fortnight after leaving Tjish.un behind, their ship approached the capital of R’Nonay. They could see the palace in the distance, a great domed building that shone white in the glaring sunlight. The rest of the city sprawled east and west and south behind tall walls. The walls were armed to the teeth by guards holding pikes that gleamed in the sun’s light.
As he had promised, the captain dropped anchor in the bay and lowered a dinghy to the water.
“We will row you to shore,” the captain told them. “From there, you are on your own. You have traveling papers, I assume?”
“We do,” Domio assured him.
The captain nodded. “Then good luck to you.”
They clamored onto the dinghy and were rowed to shore. As their boat neared shore, Domio noticed the rows and rows of tents along the city walls. Soldiers crawled in endless numbers along the shore.
“I wonder what is happening?” Domio said out loud.
The sailor rowing them ashore grunted. “Looks like an invasion force.”
Domio and Lahn shared a look but said nothing as they reached a wooden dock and climbed out. The sailor handed them their bags before rowing away without a glance back.
“Well, we’d best find Kah’len,” Domio stated with a sigh.
They walked down the slimy dock to the dusty street, where a guard stopped them.
He was tall with a domed, red plumed silver helmet that flashed in the sunlight. “Halt! Papers.”
Domio and Lahn reached into their tunics and withdrew their papers, handing them to the guard.
The guard read their names and frowned. “Why are you in R’Nonay?”
“We come to see Warlord Kah’len Ys’teis,” Lahn replied.
The guard’s frown deepened. “What is your business with the Warlord?”
“I am his betrothed sent by the King of Southern Torahn,” Lahn said haughtily, his eyes flashing fevered and unfocused.
Domio bit his lip and looked at the guard.
The guard stared at Lahn for a few silent minutes before making his mind up and nodding. “I will give you passes, but you must register with the Consulate as soon as possible. The passes I give you are only good for today. If you are caught with expired passes, you will be imprisoned and extradited as soon as possible. Do I make myself clear?”
“Abundantly,” Lahn replied. “Where is the Consulate?”
After they were given directions, they went into the strange, sprawling city and made their way to the consulate, where they were detained for several hours as a message was sent to Kah’len in the city.
“I demand we be allowed to leave,” Lahn growled after they had been waiting three hours.
“The Warlord has to vouch for you,” the consulate clerk replied for the second time that day. “If he chooses not to vouch for you, you will be extradited.”
“We have a day pass,” Domio reminded the clerk.
The clerk threw his hands up in impatience. “You will remain here until the Warlord vouches for you.”
They grumbled but found their seats in the waiting room once more.
The consulate was a great domed building, like the palace, but made of red clay bricks instead of the gold clay of the palace. The chairs were scuffed eishano wood with padded seats of dark cloth. The cloth looked worn and threadbare in places. R’Nonay’s xenophobic tendencies made it a poor nation. Domio wondered what Kah’len had been thinking, coming here for help instead of Deyiansh or Mekh or even Yllysia. R’Nonay was a military oligarchy. A repressive dictatorship ruled by the aristocracy and their preeminent general. R’Nonay had a few trade treaties with other nations, such as Mekh, Deyiansh, Albhin, and Ynha, but migration into R’Nonay was strictly curtailed. R’Nonayans did not trust strangers or different cultures. They worshipped a god of war by the name of Kemh-Arioch. Domio knew nothing of the strange, belligerent deity. R’Nonayan women led repressed, miserable lives and were not allowed to show their faces in public. Women lived in their parents’ homes until they married, then they went to live with their husbands. Only male servants were allowed to run errands in the city, away from the home. Female servants worked in their masters’ homes and never left the premises.
Domio found the absence of women disconcerting to say the least. The consulate was full of men but not a single woman. Why had Kah’len come here, when North Torahn was ruled by a Goddess?
Finally, near midnight, Kah’len’s tall form swept into the consulate waiting room. He was in full R’Nonayan military regalia: A pair of dark blue trousers with light blue stripes along the sides, a dark blue coat with light blue lapels and cuffs, a row of silver buttons along the front. He wore tall black boots and a sword belt with a gold and silver sword. Along his back was strapped a double ax. He wore his black hair in a single tight braid down his back. His gaze fell upon Domio and Lahn and flashed with ire.
He shook his head. “I thought I told you to go home.”
Lahn stood up and faced Kah’len. “I came at Her behest, Kah’len Ys’teis. I am the Oracle.”
Kah’len took a step towards Lahn. “Come with me then. We will talk, but I can’t promise that after you tell me what you need to tell me, I won’t send you home.”
“We only ask that you hear us,” Lahn said.
The Warlord nodded. “Come then.”