Chapter Forty-Three: The Maltika and the Tash-tash

            Kah’len gifted Lahn and his uncle a residence on the top floor of the castle, alongside his own family’s apartments. He commissioned a new wardrobe for the Oracle, including the robes and conical hats of the Prei-Serren. The vestments were gold and silver, made of velvet and satin and silk. Lahn looked at the vestments with little enthusiasm.

            “Am I to dress as a sapi bird, then? Preen about like it’s mating season?”

            Kah’len snorted. “You have to look the part, Lahn. It is a solemn office and you shall dress accordingly.”

            Lahn crossed his arms over his chest. “Very well, Warlord. Know that the Goddess gave me a specific directive, to create an army for the Church in case the throne becomes corrupted in future.”

            “How will this army be paid?” Kah’len challenged.

            Lahn rolled his eyes. “There is more wealth locked in the cathedral’s coffers that will be needed.” He walked around Kah’len’s desk and out onto the balcony. He ran his eyes along the horizon. “I plan to clean house. The Church will be a way out of poverty for those worthy of joining her.”

            “You’ll have a fight on your hands,” Kah’len warned him. “The Church has always been a way for lesser born aristocrats to make their way.”

            Lahn waved a hand. “That won’t change. But the poorest of the poor can now be considered worthy of joining the Church as well.”

            Kah’len joined him on the balcony. “Did you see that in a dream?”

            “The Church will function as a meritocracy. I will choose my successor from the poorest children who have no parents, who roam the streets hungry and wild. The Church’s new goal is to care for the commoner’s wellbeing, not only the aristocracy’s. I will build an army and I will protect the city-state with my life.”

            “Thank you, Oracle.”

            Lahn sighed. “Call me Lahn when we are alone, please. I get sick of reverence.”

            Kah’len chuckled and caressed the side of Lahn’s neck with the back of his hand. “Such are the dangers of greatness, I’m afraid.”

            Lahn turned to look at him. They gazed into each other’s eyes and Kah’len got lost. Lahn’s gray eyes were speckled with blue and green and hazel. Such strange, wondrous eyes. He reached out again and cupped the young man’s face. Lahn closed his eyes. Kah’len bent and kissed him. The kiss was soft and polite, a mere rub of lips against lips, until Lahn opened up and Kah’len deepened the kiss. They tongues dueled, hot and wet. Kah’len gathered Lahn in his arms and held him close. He felt hard and strong and so right. He smelled of clean sweat and soap and a musk that was his own scent. It went to Kah’len’s head and he roamed his hands desperately over Lahn’s back to his buttocks. The muscular mounds filled his hands just right.

            Someone cleared his throat and Lahn pulled away, panting and looking dazed. Kah’len had never seen anyone more beautiful. Lahn’s pupils were blown and his face was flushed with his arousal.

            “The tailor is here with Lahn’s wardrobe,” Domio said dryly.

            Lahn turned and walked into the sitting room. “I hope some of the outfits are comfortable at least.”

            Kah’len stepped into the sitting room in time to see the tailor sweep in with several assistants. They carried three clothes chests and set them down near Kah’len’s desk.

            Amused, Kah’len sat behind his desk and sprawled out.

            The tailor opened the first clothes chest. “These are your ceremonial robes, your Excellency. The chest has the crouching maltika emblem to distinguish it from the others.”

            The man reached into the chest and withdrew the outer robes, which were gold and silver satin. The robes had a high collar that came up to Lahn’s jaw. The sleeves were belled and wide to allow for an inner tunic with long sleeves. The inner tunic was white silk with silver stitchings. Whereas the robe hem was long to the floor, the inner tunic only came down to the knees. The trousers were black velvet. The conical hat was gold satin with pearls around the brim and along the sides. A bright red crouching maltika was embossed on the panel over Lahn’s forehead. Black velvet ankle boots and a gold rope belt completed the ensemble.

            One of the tailor’s assistants brought in a body-lengthed mirror and placed it against the mantle of the fireplace.

            Lahn studied himself in the mirror.

            Kah’len rose from his desk chair. “You look every bit the Prei-Serren of the capital of North Torahn. Any objections?”

            “It’s so expensive,” Lahn murmured. “I feel like a hypocrite.”

            Kah’len placed his hands on Lahn’s shoulders. “You must look the part, Lahn. Your role is important and you are going to change Torahn for the better. Accept your importance, Lahn. You are chosen of the Goddess.”

            Lahn blushed and turned his eyes back to the mirror.

            “Your Excellency,” the tailor said. “I made two such formal robe ensembles. The gold one if for formal events for mid-year to end of year. The silver one is for formal events for the beginning of the year to mid-year. It is as is written in the Holy Soulkah.”

            Lahn gave a distracted nod and allowed the tailor’s assistants to remove his formal clothes and fold them carefully, setting them in the proper chest. “What about my every day wear?”

            The tailor turned to the second chest, which was blue wood. He pulled out knee-lengthed gold and silver tunics made of satin and silk with soft velvet brown trousers. “You wear the gold and silver as per the precepts of the Holy Soulkah, Excellency. The colors correspond to how you wear your ceremonial robes.”

            Lahn allowed the tailor’s assistants to dress him in his everyday wear. He grimaced at his reflection in the mirror.

            Kah’len smirked. “You look beautiful and formidable.”

            “Shut up,” Lahn huffed. He looked at the tailor. “What’s in the last chest?”

            “More comfortable everyday wear for when you are not in your official role,” the tailor replied. He went to the last chest and opened it. He pulled out short tunics and trousers of more modest cloth.

            Lahn looked relieved. “Thank the Goddess!”

            The tailor grinned. “Is his Excellency pleased?”

            “Yes,” Lahn replied.

            “You may take the chest to his Excellency’s residence,” Kah’len instructed. “The guards will show you where that is. Thank you for your fine work.”

            The tailor bowed. “Thank you for your patronage, my lord.”

            When the tailor and his assistants had withdrawn, Kah’len turned to Domio. “I shall marry Lahn tonight in the bailey. I want the marriage witnessed by the troops. You have received your wardrobe?”

            Domio bowed. “I have, my lord. I will marry you at dusk, a holy hour. Then I shall sacrifice a dosi in your honor.”

            Kah’len turned to Lahn. “Then in five days, you shall marry myself and Divita. We must head south within twelve days.”

            Lahn cocked his head. “How goes it at the border?”

            Kah’len shook his head. “I have gotten nothing but conflicting information. It is chaos down there. I won’t be at ease until I can see for myself what is going on.” He looked at Domio. “I will leave you here, priest, to care for my wife and her family. Send me word as soon as you hear she has quickened.”

            Domio bowed. “Of course, Warlord.”

            Kah’len looked at Lahn. “You and I will travel light, Lahn. Time is of the utmost importance. We will go by ship down the coast to the border.”

            “I shall be ready when the time comes,” Lahn assured him.

            At dusk, with the help from servants, Kah’len donned his ceremonial uniform and headed down to the bailey. He was trailed by six guards in full ceremonial uniforms. Domio, dressed in his priestly robes, led the way.

            The Great Hall was filled with courtiers, servants, and guards. The crowd parted before Domio. There was absolute silence as they made their way out into a clear night. The skies were velvety and filled with stars. Taitah was a scythe overhead. The air was cool with the promise of season’s end. Haltath was a mere two weeks away.

            The crowd in the bailey was thick. There was a circular space near the middle of the congregation and a wooden platform had been built there. Lahn stood on the platform, Kah’len’s three commanders behind him. The platform was surrounded by guards with steel-tipped spears. The crowd watched in utter silence as Domio led Kah’len up the five wooden steps to where Lahn stood. Kah’len reached out and took Lahn’s icy hand. The young man looked about ready to faint. He was pale and a fine tremor rushed up his slender body. Kah’len stepped close to him. Together they turned to face Domio.

            The priest raised his arms. “Behold! A new era begins! As decreed by the Goddess of this great land, I marry the scepter to the altar, that together they be stronger than apart, one to watch over the other, to maintain peace and prosperity throughout the land. Lahn Obeli, Prince of South Torahn, Prei-Serren of Draemin City, Oracle of Her most Holy Atana, I hereby marry you to Kah’len Tjashensi, Warlord of North Torahn, ruler of City Draemin. Together you will rule in balance, as decreed by the powers that be.”

            Domio took Lahn’s right hand and attached the sol’eka bracelet to Lahn’s wrist. The ring, attached to the bracelet by a small gold chain, went on the middle finger.

            “Kah’len Tjashensi, Warlord of North Torahn, Ruler of City Draemin, I hereby marry you to Lahn Obeli, Prince of South Torahn, Prei-Serren of Draemin City, Oracle of Her most Holy Atana. Together you will rule in balance, as decreed by the powers that be.”

            Domio then took Kah’len’s left hand and attached the sol’eka bracelet to Kah’len’s wrist, slipping the ring onto his middle finger.

            The serren then took their hands and placed Kah’len’s over Lahn’s. “I hereby join you in marriage. Together, until death parts you.”

            Kah’len stepped forward and kissed Lahn’s mouth, tasting the heat and wet honey of him. Around him, the crowd erupted in cheers and a number of catcalls.

            Kah’len ended the kiss, stepped back, Lahn’s hand still in his. Together they faced the crowd. The cheers rang throughout the bailey. Guards thumped their spears on the ground and the crowd chanted, “Warlord! Warlord! Warlord!”

            Kah’len raised his hand in acknowledgement of the crowd. Two guards led a dosi to the platform. Kah’len and Lahn stepped away from the animal. Domio stepped forward with a ceremonial dagger made of gold and embossed with precious jewels. He straddled the animal and deftly sliced its throat. The animal gave a gurgle before falling to its side. Domio cut along the belly and pulled out the entrails.

            Beside him, Lahn started to shake. Kah’len put his arms around him and lowered him gently to the platform floor. Lahn was pale, his eyes rolled to the back of his head.

            The crowd grew silent as the Oracle of the Goddess shook and trembled in the grips of a fit.

            “Speak, Most Holy Goddess,” Kah’len implored quietly.

            Lahn stopped shaking and opened his clear gray eyes. “All things in flux at rest. All things at rest in flux. Dust, blood, sweat, rain. Wash away the old so that the new may shine. Blood will atone and wash the altar. I come! I come!”

            Lahn’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and spittle rose to his lips. He shook violently and gasped for breath.

            Kah’len lifted him up and held him as the fit shook him like a small animal shaken by a tash-tash.

            Minutes passed before the fit stopped and Lahn fell unconscious.

            Kah’len rose and lifted his husband in his arms. He walked down the five steps to the bailey floor and from there into the castle. Behind him, the bailey was filled with murmurs and whispers. Kah’len walked quickly down the wide hallway to the tower stairs then up to the top floor of the castle. Once in his apartment, he gently lay Lahn on the nearest couch.

            He perched on the low table and took Lahn’s cold hand in both of his. He rubbed Lahn’s hand until it warmed a bit.

            His commanders entered the sitting room, followed by Domio.

            “How is he?” Maedoc asked quietly.

            “His fit is passed,” Kah’len replied, studying his husband’s face. Sleep rendered him innocent and so heartbreakingly beautiful. Kah’len brought Lahn’s hand to his lips and kissed it tenderly.

            “His fits and his visions take a lot out of him,” Domio stated with disapproval.

            “The Goddess will protect him,” Aud stated with surety.

            “Aye,” the other commanders murmured.

            Kah’len had his doubts, but he nodded, his eyes never leaving Lahn’s face.

            Maedoc shifted and took a step forward. “He will be well, Warlord. Be at ease.”

            Kah’len took a deep, shaking breath and released it. “I didn’t take the Goddess for a cruel deity.”

            “She is not,” Maedoc assured him. “Have faith, Tash-tash.”

            Daven stepped closer to the couch. “”You love the Oracle, Warlord, don’t you?“

            Kah’len took a breath. “With all my heart.”

            “Good,” his commander replied. “Good. Love will assure us a good future.”

            Once the others had gone, Kah’len remained by Lahn’s side until the young man began to stir. He blinked his eyes opened and looked around him, at first confused and disoriented, but once his gaze fell upon Kah’len, he seemed to come to himself.

            “What happened?” he asked in a small voice.

            “You had a vision. Do you remember?” Kah’len said.

            Lahn frowned and looked away. “I remember we were married and the dosi was sacrificed. But nothing after that.”

            “You had a fit and spoke words,” Kah’len said, repeating the words Lahn had uttered.

            Lahn rubbed his forehead with a shaky hand. “I wish I could predict Her ways, could decipher half of what I say.”

            “That may come with time,” Kah’len assured him, but Lahn did not look so sure.

            The young man sat up, removing the conical hat and setting on the couch beside him. “Now what?”

            “We are married now,” Kah’len reminded him. “And this is our wedding night, but I won’t force you to do anything you don’t want to do.”

            Lahn looked amused. “No, I didn’t expect you to force me. I know you are a gentleman underneath the gruff soldier.”

            Kah’len leaned forward and captured the other’s hands in his. “I am asking you to allow our marriage to be consummated.”

            Lahn sighed. “I–”

            “Lahn, the consummation of our marriage is what will tie the throne to the altar. Can’t you see?”

            “I see, Warlord. Give me time, please.”

            Kah’len sighed. “Fine, Lahn. You have your time.” He rose. “But you put everything in jeopardy while you refrain from our marriage bed.”

            Anger and a feeling of betrayal coursed through Kah’len as he rose and turned, sweeping from the sitting room into the hall. He wanted to get drunk and he wanted to get drunk now and damned be the Prei-Serren and his pride. id 0

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