Lahn stood at the prow of the ship when Kah’len arrived with his entourage of servants and guards. Lahn watched dully as Kah’len swung from the saddle and turned to speak a few words to Rakah, who had accompanied Lahn to the port. Rakah and Kah’len clasped forearms then Kah’len was striding up the plank to the ship. His gaze locked with Lahn’s for a few seconds, before the Warlord looked away and proceeded to the aft of the ship, where the captain stood bellowing orders to the crew. As Lahn watched, four sailors pulled the plank away from the dock and began the process of securing the ship for sail.
Lahn closed his eyes, pushing tears down, as behind him the ship was tied to a tugboat to be pulled out into Draemin Bay before she was to set sail. The tears spilled down Lahn’s cheeks and he reached up with a shaking hand to wipe them away. He felt so lonely, so alone, so isolated now that Domio had another duty other than to guide and protect him. He realized he had made no friends, had continued to lead a solitary life just as he had at the monastery. Regret sat heavy as a stone in his chest.
He glanced over his shoulder to where Kah’len stood deep in conversation with the captain. Kah’len always looked strapping and handsome in his uniform, so fit and beautiful it hurt Lahn’s eyes. Their fragile and new friendship was now drying up and dying before Lahn’s eyes. Turning back to the cityscape, he ran blurry eyes along the defensive walls, his mind a long way away in the mountain monastery where he had been so helpful, respected and happy. He had wanted for nothing, had desired nothing. Now he fervently wished he had lain with the Warlord on their wedding night. He had disobeyed Atana and now he was paying for it. Closing his eyes, he fervently prayed, asking for forgiveness, for direction, for anything She may give him. After several minutes, he opened his aching eyes and shook his head. She was a whimsical Goddess, coming and going whenever it suited her. He was a fool.
Once the ship was towed out into the bay, the sailors unfurled the sails and the wind filled them. The ship gave a lurch and they were sailing.
The fleet of some 100 ships each contained 200 mercenaries. Another fleet would follow within days.
Lahn rubbed his face with his hands and turned. A young sailor stood with a rope, at the end which stood a dosi bleating placidly.
“I have brought the dosi for the sacrifice, Excellency,” the young sailor stated, his eyes shining with awe.
“Thank you,” Lahn replied, smiling at the nervous young man.
The captain and Kah’len strode over and a crowd gathered around them, Lahn and the young sailor and the dosi standing within a circle.
Lahn reached to his dagger sheath and removed the ceremonial dagger. Its sharp edge glinted in the watery sunlight. Lahn took in a bracing breath before stepping to the animal, that watched him with trusting eyes. Lahn felt suddenly sick inside. Sick of death and blood. He walked to the dosi and straddled the animal. The animal startled, but Lahn ran his hands over its head and sides, calming it. The animal gave an uncertain bleat, shifting from foot to foot.
“Be at peace,” Lahn whispered, continued to pet the stocky animal. He prayed under his breath as he quickly brought the dagger to the animal’s neck and swiftly sliced its throat. It gave a surprised cry before crumpling to the deck floor. The blood pooled and then spread like a river breaking past its shores. Lahn’s eyes fixed on the dark crimson. He began to shake and dropped the dagger. It clattered on the wooden floor. Lahn gasped as his very breath stilled in his throat. It was like some giant hand took him by the scruff and shook him like a leaf in a breeze. He began to convulse and darkness swallowed him.
He stood in a field. The stench of spoiled blood filled the air. Sickness rose in his throat and he swallowed down with effort. The sky was cerulean, clear of clouds. Even though it seemed to be afternoon, Malthos the sun was nowhere in the sky. Thick clouds of insects buzzed as he walked through a field littered by fallen warriors. Contorted faces stared blindly at the flawless sky. There were moans, but he could not find where they came from. Everyone he beheld was dead. In the distance, the sounds of battle raged. When he turned south, he saw the fray. Dust covered the battle as two vast armies met. To the west, he saw a King on a battle chariot. His robes were free of blood or sweat or dust. His eyes were chips of gray ice. His aged but handsome face took in the battle with avarice and hunger.
In the distance and moving closer was the giant image of the Goddess in full shining armor. She strode past fighting and the dead littering the battlefield. Her eyes swept past the battle, the King in his chariot, and came to rest on Lahn where he stood to one side.
“Oracle,” she said, her voice a clarion in the din of battle. “Bless this event.”
Lahn closed his eyes, the stench of death clogging his throat. Inside him, he saw an endless field. Pale pink flowers bobbed in the cool breeze, releasing their delicate scent into the air.
“Open you eyes and see,” She demanded.
Lahn opened his eyes and saw two small boys running down a long hallway, hand in hand. One had dark hair and one had copper colored hair. One was slightly older than the other. From the corner of his eye, Lahn saw another child, this one with black hair and green eyes. Soon many young children ran down the hallway, following the other two slightly older boys. All the hair along Lahn’s body rose and her felt as if he saw the very future. The children ran to three young women who stood at the end of the hallway. Lahn recognized Sjanita Thalmar, Divita Stait, and Ariahl Solastis, Kah’len’s three wives.
“You must unite the family of Kah’len Tjashensi,” the voice directed him. “All the children must be within your teaching and influence.”
“I understand,” he said.
“The future must be in your hands. All things are in flux that once were at rest. All things that once were at rest are now in flux. Do not mourn for your small emotions. Your role is greater than just your small life. Have faith in Me, Oracle. All things will be. I have a gift for you. Keep your heart open so you may receive it.”
“Yes, My Lady.”
“The altar is wedded to the scepter. All things in flux. Have hope, Oracle. In your hands I place the future.”
He blinked his eyes open. He looked around at the curious, awe stricken faces of the crew.
“Are you well?” Kah’len asked.
Lahn turned his head to see that his head was on Kah’len’s lap. The Warlord was stroking the hair from his face.
Lahn’s throat felt parched.
Kah’len said something then he was holding the mouth of a bladder to Lahn’s lips. Lahn drank tepid water that tasted like leather.
He looked into Kah’len’s concerned gaze. “You must unite your family, Warlord. Bring your wives to Draemin City, your mother and sister and your entire family.”
Kah’len rubbed Lahn’s forehead with a thumb. “Is that what the Goddess decrees?”
Kah’len helped him to sit up then to rise to his unsteady legs. Kah’len’s arm went around his waist.
“Let me help you to your cabin, Oracle,” the Warlord murmured.
They walked slowly past the dosi carcass with its congealing blood.
“Give the carcass to the sea,” Lahn directed.
Two sailors hurried to comply.
Down five steps to the walkway under the deck. The narrow walkway smelled of bilgewater and wood. Kah’len led him to a door and pushed the door open, leading Lahn into the large cabin with Lahn’s travel trunk at rest at the foot of the cot against the far wall. Kah’len led him to that cot, helping him to sit down.
Lahn closed his eyes against the wave of nausea that threatened to overtake him.
“Are you well?” Kah’len asked.
“Feel sick,” Lahn murmured. He heard when Kah’len picked up the waste bucket and set it close to Lahn’s feet.
Lahn opened his eyes when the sickness passed. He looked up at Kah’len. “Sit, please, Warlord.”
Kah’len sat on the opposite cot, rested his forearms on his thighs and stared at Lahn expectantly.
Lahn gave a strangled chuckle. “I’m sorry, Kah’len. For not trusting in you, for killing your family members without your consent.”
Kah’len stared at him for a long time before speaking. Lahn squirmed under his steady, cool gaze.
“I’ll be honest, Lahn,” the Warlord said. “I’m not sure I can forgive or forget your actions. I did not want to start my reign with a bloodbath.” He rubbed his cheek with a hand and sighed. “I also know you are privy to the Goddess’ wishes and thoughts.”
Lahn snorted. “Hardly. She tells me what and when she deems appropriate and advantageous.”
Kah’len gave him a wan smile. “Yes. I suppose that is true. I don’t pretend to understand the whims of a God. But I know my heart and I can’t promise that I can forgive you. When this comes out, Goddess only knows what will happen.” He sighed. “But what is done is done. What did you see just now, in your vision?”
“I saw the battle in the south. Many, many lives have perished. The King still lives. You must bring your children under one roof, Warlord. Your heirs must be under one roof.”
“I will do so, Oracle,” Kah’len assured him. “I will send carrier vinah to R’Nonay and Tjish.un. You also must have a child from when you lay with Sjanita.”
Lahn blushed and ducked his head. “That was a capricious and foolish act.”
“Even so, it is done,” Kah’len stated coolly. “If the Goddess had not wanted it to be so, it would not have happened.”
Lahn ached to be close to the Warlord, but he did not see a way to overcome Kah’len’s coldness and distance.
“I miss your friendship,” Lahn blurted out then blushed.
Kah’len stared at him for a long time before he roused himself and stood up. “I am thinking on it, Oracle. We are married now and it would be best if we were friends, but I cannot trust you. You have betrayed me thrice now and I cannot find it in me to trust you ever again. If I can’t trust you, I cannot be your friend. Do you understand?”
Lahn closed his eyes and felt tears prick his eyelids. His throat hurt. “Yes.”
“That is good then. That is something,” Kah’len said. “I will leave you now.”
Lahn rushed to sit up. “Please. Can you find it in your heart to at least forgive me? I was acting under the Goddess’ directive.”
Kah’len’s eyes cooled. “I understand that, Oracle. But I am who rules, not you. You are an advisor to me, my holy guide in all things, but yours is not the final say. You overstepped your bounds, Oracle. You are a liability I am not sure I can live with. Give me time. I need time to think and decide. You’ve wounded me deeply, Lahn Obeli. Not once but three times. My heart and soul are mortal and finite, as are my sense of trust, my sense of love, my desire for your friendship. I will try to find it within me to forgive you, but I cannot forget your capricious nature. It has cost me much already. Perhaps more than I can give. Now, please excuse me. I’ve work to do.”
Lahn watched helplessly as the Warlord strode out into the walkway, closing the cabin door behind him.