Kah’len’s suites were comfortable enough, if lacking in esthetics and warmth. Lahn supposed Kah’len did not need either of those qualities; he was only here temporarily. The sitting room was filled with dark wooden furniture and covered in dark velvet. There was one balcony door covered by a diaphanous dark blue curtains. The occasional hot breeze would lazily stir the curtains.
Lahn sighed and dropped onto a settee. He felt cold, despite the oppressive heat. His hands constantly shook, as if he were some infirmed old man.
“I’ll get a hot bath going for you,” Domio said. “You might be coming down with something. Let’s see if you can sweat it out.”
Lahn said nothing as the priest hurried into the main part of the suites. He felt a dream pushing into his consciousness. He began to pant and sweat profusely, despite the coldness of his skin. Closing his eyes, he gave himself over to the vision.
I am not pleased.
Lahn walked along a wild grass field. The sky was flawless overhead and the breeze from the north was cool upon his overheated skin.
My lady, what displeases you?
She appeared before him dressed in her armor, holding the gem-encrusted shield on her powerful left arm and an unsheathed sword in her right hand.
He is impulsive, proud, jealous and childish.
Lahn went down onto his right knee. He bowed his head.
Forgive him, Great Goddess. He is but a child, having been born into this life only once.
She sheathed her sword and touched his head.
But you are an old soul, aren’t you, Lahn Obeli? That is why I chose you. You will steer him in the right direction, won’t you? Kemh-Arioch cannot get a foothold in my Torahn. Once you are on my land again, things will shift dramatically. I need you to be strong, Lahn. Beware vipers! Blood will atone.
She caressed his hair. Build me a new temple and make the girl who is Queen my Prei-Sarran.
Lahn shivered as he saw the temple She wanted built in his mind’s eye. It rose several stories from the ground, made of blond stone veined by quartz, so it shone in the sunlight. On the ground, a lush garden surrounded the temple. A girl around his age wore the red robes of a high priestess and a red conical hat embroidered with gold thread. She was a beautiful girl, with creamy honey-dark skin and blue eyes. Her braid was like the finest spun gold.
He was shaken until the vision cleared. He blinked owlishly up at his uncle.
Domio had a worried expression on his face. “You wouldn’t wake! Are you well?”
Lahn sat up and wiped the sweat from his forehead with a cold hand. “Is the bath ready?”
Domio wrapped an arm around Lahn’s waist and led him down a narrow hallway to the bathing chamber. Water was so precious in R’Nonay that the people did not bathe or shower. Domio explained this as Lahn looked around the tiled room for a bathtub or a wall spigot.
“The basin is deep. Wipe your body down with a wet cloth,” Domio said. “I’ll go order us some food.”
The priest left and closed the bathing chamber door behind him.
Lahn removed his clothes and saw that Domio had set fresh clothes on a nearby stool. Dunking the washcloth into the warm water, Lahn scrubbed as best he could, making sure he washed with soap under his arms, his feet, and his crotch. Afterward, he emptied the basin over his head. There was a drain on the floor and the water emptied out into it.
He dried with the towel and dressed in fresh clothes.
Domio came back into the bathing chamber and gathered the soiled clothing. “I’ll have the servants wash these. The Warlord is in the sitting room. He says he needs to talk to you–that we leave in two days’ time. Go on. The food will be arriving soon.”
Lahn padded barefoot to the sitting room, where Kah’len was pacing before the balcony doors.
Kah’len stopped pacing and gave him a once-over. “You look on the verge of illness.”
Lahn blinked and took a seat in an armchair. “You came to tell me you have a girl in mind to be your Queen?”
Kah’len sat across from him on a settee. “How do you know this, Lahn?”
Lahn sat back in the armchair and blinked until his vision cleared. He sighed. “I had a vision just now. The Goddess has called you impulsive, proud, jealous and childish. She is not pleased, Kah’len, but what is done is done. We must proceed carefully, although now what is done requires a blood atonement. The Goddess did not reveal what that means. She wants a new temple built for her and your Queen, Ariahl Solastis, will be her Prei-Sarran.”
Kah’len was frowning. He opened his mouth and closed it with a click.
Domio walked into the sitting room at the same time servants arrived carrying trays of food. The servants set their trays on the sideboard and began dishing out the meal.
Domio waved the servants away. “I’ll serve. That’s all. You may leave.”
Once the servants had gone, Lahn turned back to Kah’len. “Have you nothing to say?”
“I’ve displeased her?” Kah’len asked.
“Yes. You’ve come to ask vipers for poison. You’ve set motion a series of events that may end badly for us. The Goddess is unhappy with you. The Oligarch and any man of his ilk is her enemy. And now he sends a Kemh-Ariochian priest with your wife back to North Torahn.”
Kah’len swallowed. “I was angry when I acted. I was angry at the Queen.”
“You have much to atone for, but at least you are saving one woman from a terrible fate. Your Queen will be safe in North Torahn.” Lahn rose and sat down next to Kah’len. He leaned close and lowered his voice. “One day you may have to return and liberate the women of R’Nonay and your ally will be the Queen of Tjish.un. I know the deal you made with the Oligarch, to invade Tjish.un. You must know the Goddess is not pleased with you due to this. There will be war and much will be lost. In the end, you will have paid a fair price for your own betrayal.”
Lahn sighed and sat back. He was shaking.
Domio knelt before him. “Eat something, Lahn. The fare is plain but good.”
Lahn sat up and took the plate from the priest and began to eat the boiled grains and roasted meats and turies.
Kah’len watched him for a few minutes. “What must I do now?”
Lahn swallowed. “Now you must marry the girl and leave her with child.” He lowered his voice. “That will lull the Oligarch into a sense of false safety. He might not betray you, Kah’len, but I can’t see that far into the future either, so I only go by what is revealed to me.”
Kah’len took a plate from Domio’s hands. “Thank you.”
For a few minutes, they ate in silence. Lahn finished and set the plate on the low table. He picked up a mug of water and emptied it.
“You will marry the Oligarch’s daughter?” Domio asked.
“I have to. She seems a nice girl, though,” Kah’len murmured and wiped his mouth with a napkin.
“What will this mean to North Torahn?” the priest demanded.
“It will mean her children will one day rule Torahn,” Kah’len said. He looked at Lahn. “All things are up in the air.” He swallowed. “Will the Goddess forgive me, Lahn?”
Lahn took a deep breath and released it. “All things are in flux. Anything is possible. Ask me nothing else; She only gives me the sight when it is convenient to Her. You have much to atone for, for because of you impulsiveness many will die now that would’ve lived. The wheel turns.” His eyes rolled in his head and he fell back. “The wheel turns!”
Domio set his half-finished plate down on the low table and hurried to lean over Lahn. He touched the boy’s forehead.
“Is he well?” Kah’len asked.
Domio shook his head. “It is hard to know, Warlord. Sometimes he burns with a strange fever, but he is not feverish now.”
Lahn moaned and opened his eyes. He turned listlessly to Kah’len. “We must wed when we reach Torahn. The scepter must marry the altar. She has demanded this.”
“It will be done,” Kah’len assured him.
Lahn sat up. He was shaky and tired. “I will lie down and rest.”
He rose with Domio’s assistance then the priest led him down the long hall to his room. The room was smallish, with a small bed and a sitting area. There was a wardrobe and a chest and two end tables on each side of the bed. There were no throw rugs on the rough stone floor and no tapestries on the walls. Domio helped Lahn doff his tunic then Lahn climbed onto the bed and closed his eyes.
Lahn felt Domio’s cool fingers on his brow. “Thank you for everything, Uncle Domio.”
He heard the priest sigh. “Rest now, Lahn.”
No dreams disturbed him that night. At least, no dream he could recall when he woke the following morning. When he opened his eyes, he felt refreshed and strong for the first time in weeks. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and rose, stretching until his back popped. He removed his finest clothes from the clothes chest and went to the bathing chamber, where he washed up again and dressed. He pulled on his travel boots after he had wiped the dust from them. He looked himself in the full-length mirror hanging from the wall and decided he looked raggedy for a prince. He unbraided his hair, brushed it and rebraided it tightly.
Domio and Kah’len were in the sitting room breaking their fast.
Kah’len rose when Lahn entered. “How are you feeling?”
“Strong and clearheaded,” Lahn replied and served himself some sweet milky tea.
“Will you eat?” Domio asked.
“No. Not hungry.” Lahn looked at Kah’len. “I need to witness the marriage.”
Kah’len set his bowl down. “The wedding will take place at high noon in the palace temple. I will have to bed the girl.”
Lahn looked into Kah’len’s beautiful green eyes. “I know this. I have no problem with this. Being the Goddess’ Oracle has given me a different perspective on things, Warlord.”
Kah’len watched him for a few seconds then nodded. “I will marry you, Lahn Obeli, but it is hard for me to trust you.”
“Then let us begin again by becoming friends once more.”
Kah’len dropped his gaze. “I’m not sure I want to be your friend. You are asking me to give you what is mine alone. You are asking a lot.”
Lahn sighed. “I know this, Warlord. Give me one more chance. If I am stupid enough to betray you again, then I will return to South Torahn alone.”
Kah’len chuckled mirthlessly. “Do you think I will let the Goddess’ Oracle return to South Torahn? If you betray me again, you will be confined to your temple, High Priest, but you will still serve me and North Torahn. I will think on your request for my friendship. But we will marry the scepter to the altar, as She demands.” He rose. “I’ve work to do before my marriage. Excuse me.”
They watched him leave the apartments and then Domio turned to Lahn.
“You ask much of him too soon,” the priest said.
“I know,” Lahn replied mournfully. “It is selfish of me, I know. But I love him, Uncle. It is the only thing I ask of him for myself, his friendship.”
“Just don’t be disappointed if he can’t give you this jewel.”
“I won’t be able to not be disappointed, sir. I am entitled to my feelings in the matter.”
“I suppose so,” the priest said.
Kah’len sent for them a few hours later, at high noon. The palace temple was a freestanding building made of dark wood and blond stone. It was domed, like the palace itself. Lahn and Domio arrived early but the place was already packed with witnesses. All men, Lahn observed and frowned. There was a raised altar in the front of the church. Over the altar stood a statue of Kemh-Arioch in armor. Lahn made his way to the front of the church to take a closer look at the representation of the god. The god appeared as a handsome youth with a smooth face. He had blond hair down his back, a shield of gold in his left arm and a pike with a gold tip in his right hand. The base of the pike rested on the ground. The god was relaxed. He wore trousers and armor over his torso. The altar table had a gold cup, a knife, and a decanter of wine. There was a white candle in a silver candle holder and a gold incense holder positioned at each end of the table. The hot, still air was smoky and musky from the burning incense.
Lahn swayed, feeling sick due to the oppressive heat and still air of the temple. Domio placed an arm around his waist.
“Be strong,” Domio murmured.
Lahn straightened his back and nodded.
A short while later, a murmur rose from the congregation. Lahn turned and saw that the Oligarch had entered the temple and led a veiled woman by the arm. She wore a light blue dress with a high collar and long sleeves. The veil fell down her back to the floor. Behind them walked the High Priest and Kah’len. The Oligarch led his daughter to the front of the temple and left her at the altar, stepping into the front of the congregation. The Priest led Kah’len to the girl and joined their hands before walking around the altar table to the front. He turned to the statue of the god, raised his arms and murmured a prayer before turning around.
The Priest looked around the room and raised his voice. “Womankind was made for mankind, as a vessel for the future. This woman now leaves her father’s house to enter her husband’s house. Her body, for his pleasure and his seed; her deeds to please him. She goes alone into his house, leaving behind her father and his protection. Her joy will be her children. Ever in the God’s gaze, she will prosper and please her new lord.”
The High Priest took up the knife and walked around the altar. He took the girl’s right hand. “I cut your ties to your father.” He cut the palm of her right hand and picked up the cup, draining some of her blood into the cup.
The priest walked to Kah’len and took his right hand. “I cut your ties to your father.” He cut the palm of his right hand, draining some of his blood into the cup.
The priest unstoppered the decanter of wine and poured the red wine into the cup. He lifted the cup into the air and bowed to the statue of the god. “I hereby make a new house, blessed by Kemh-Arioch. The house will reside in both of you, in each of you, blessed by God. From you will spring the beginning and the continuation.”
The priest handed Kah’len the cup. “Drink, Kah’len Ys’teis.”
Kah’len drank from the cup.
The priest took the cup from Kah’len and handed it to the girl. “Drink, Ariahl Solastis.”
The girl drank the remainder of the wine and blood from the cup.
The priest reached into the inner pocket of his robes and withdrew two rings. He took Kah’len’s left hand and placed the ring in his middle finger. “I wed you, Kah’len Ys’teis, and create a new house.”
The priest took the girl’s right had and placed the ring in her middle finger. “I wed you, Ariahl Ys’teis, and create a new house.”
The priest then joined Kah’len’s left hand to Ariahl’s right hand. “I create a new house, with a lord to oversee it. May you prosper and fill the world with your children. By the God’s grace and hand.”
“By the God’s grace and hand,” the congregation murmured.
The priest nodded. “You may take your bride now, Lord Ys’teis, and beget your heirs.”
Kah’len, still holding the bride’s hand, turned and led her into the hot afternoon. “,o),